I haven’t had my promised start to the hottest summer ever, and I haven’t had my family holiday yet either. Still, I don’t know about you, but despite wanting a break from football, as soon as the season ended, I just wanted some buzz about when we’ll start it all over again.
So it’s splendid to see step two of the 2022-23 season has been announced: the fixtures list (Step one was announcing the promoted sides; NMA will publish a basic primer on these teams soon, followed by in-depth fantasy analysis as the season’s opening weekend draws near). With FPL and Fantrax likely to launch in the next couple weeks, and with many summer transfers yet to be completed, let’s gather a first impression of the opening weeks to see which potential teams/players may interest us in our season-opening drafts.
I’ll begin by naming players from the teams with the best early fixtures, and finish with a grab-bag of individuals who may offer a bonus or two when looking for attacking and defensive returns.
In the last few seasons, we have seen a stark gap between the top-two teams and the also-ran. Man City and Liverpool have finished the top two in three of the last four seasons, becoming the go-to sources for many of our fantasy picks, tempered only by price and rotation risk. I see none of that changing this season.
The defending champions won four of six opening fixtures last season. Over the last four seasons, City’s first six matches produced 16 wins in 24 fixtures with only three losses. In those 24 fixtures they scored 64 goals, conceded 17 (five of those in one closed-door game v Leicester) and produced 13 clean sheets. The Pep boys start fast don’t they!
- West Ham (A)
- Bournemouth (H)
- Newcastle (A)
- Crystal Palace (H)
- Nottingham Forrest (A)
- Aston Villa (H)
No opponents from the so called big-six in the opening games, but I see one or two potential banana skins. West Ham almost derailed City’s title bid last season, and despite Pep’s side having a superb recent record away to West Ham, it isn’t the straightforward match they would have liked. David Moyes’ men are much stronger and could very much fancy themselves to upset the big boys. Last season against the top-four sides, the Hammers beat Liverpool 3-2, Chelsea 3-2 and Tottenham 1-0, and they drew City 2-2. Likewise, well-funded Newcastle away is no longer the easy 3 points it once was, and Palace have upset City on their own soil a couple of times in recent seasons.
City scored 99 league goals last season, hardly a side needing to add firepower. Those goals were spread out over 16 players, topped by the league elite player Kevin De Bruyne. KDB played 30 times (5 from the bench), scoring 15 times while adding 8 FPL assists. That’s only the 2nd time in eight seasons at City that he has hit double figures for goal scoring.
Next was Raheem Sterling with 13 goals plus 7 FPL assists in 30 games (seven from the bench). Sterling has hit double figures for goals in the last five consecutive seasons and would be an obvious fantasy draft choice if not for his reduced playing time last season. There are also rumours of a summer move to Chelsea hanging over him.
The final player to hit double digit goals was Riyad Mahrez with eleven, plus seven assists in 28 games (13 from the bench). His lack of starts pretty much wipes out our interest in him... Except maybe in Fantrax-17 where price and “bench” coverage work together.
If only City had a goal-machine forward, young and yet to come into his prime, then maybe we could solve the puzzle... Enter Erling Haaland.
Sending fear through the Premier League, Man City bought the hottest young forward in world football. Haaland’s fantastic record for Dortmund in just the Bundesliga is formidable: 67 games (8 from the bench) producing 62 goals plus 15 assists. And then there was his prodigious output in UCL! There are questions about adapting to the EPL, particularly fitting into a City side playing a completely different style than Dortmund. Nevertheless, with those opening fixtures and reduced rotation risk due to European fixtures, it’s going to be hard not to want to start Haaland regardless of his purchase price.
While you can see City conceding in some, it’s also not unreasonable to see them keeping a clean sheet in any of the opening games. Central defenders Ruben Dias, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake seem likely to rotate, so it’s Joao Cancelo who offers the most secure start. Cancelo has a price increase to come, but he’s both City’s best defender and a key player overall. In 2021-22 he played 36 times, tallying one goal plus eleven FPL assists and 19 clean sheets. He finished the second-best points scorer for any defender in FPL with 201, a huge increase on his 2020-21 total of 138. A player that sums up Pep’s style of football and bang in his prime, Cancelo looks a must pick.
Last season’s #2 won four and drew two of the opening six fixtures last season. Over the last four seasons, it’s 18 wins in 24 with one defeat. In those 24 fixtures, the Reds scored 53 goals, conceded 21 and produced nine clean sheets. If you consider the only defeat was the 7-2 loss to Aston Villa (another empty stadium) it’s as eye-catching as City’s record. Klopp’s boys start fast don’t they?
A straightforward opening day fixture for Liverpool perhaps, but arguably the opening six look a little more of a test than City’s. Palace is growing under Patrick Vieira, becoming a stubborn side, just as Newcastle did in the second half of last season. A Merseyside derby away from home is always a test, and the trip to United will surely have a completely different atmosphere than last season.
It’s a bold fantasy manager who doesn’t select Mo Salah at any point in the seaon, but especially in the early weeks. Some have talked about his mindset heading into this campaign. After losing the Cup of Nations final, Champions League final, Premier League title on the final day, failing to qualify for the World Cup, and having to share the league Golden Boot, he remains in contract discussions with the club. That’s an emotional roller-coaster raising some questions about his approach to the season ahead. He has always struck me as having the type of mindset where he is never quite happy with his achievements, always looking to go one better and prove a few people wrong along the way. The list of disappointments from the last year or so combined with the arrivals of goal machines Haaland and teammate Darwin Nunez grabbing headlines may see Mo at the height of his motivation, which would make it dangerous to go against him. Over the first six matches of the last four seasons, he tallied 13 goals plus five assists. One more eye-catching data point: Since Mo joined Liverpool, he has scored on every opening weekend of the season. That’s seven goals plus three assists in five fixtures — and here comes newly-promoted Fulham...
FPL managers were happy to pay 13m for Salah last season. Hopefully FPL reacts by pricing him higher. Wouldn’t it make the game more fun if he could be considered a differential pick at say 15m or even 14m, or is it just me?
Elsewhere in Liverpool’s squad, with Sadio Mane moving to Bayern Munich and Roberto Firmino slowly moving down the pecking order, our choices are Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and new signing Darwin Nunez. Jota had a fantastic season with 15 goals plus 7 FPL assists in 35 games (8 from the bench), but he seems to be considered a support player rather than 1st team regular. Diaz made an amazing impact after his January move with four goals and three assists in eleven games (two from the bench). Finally, new signing Nunez had a remarkable record in the Portuguese league, scoring 26 goals and adding four assists in 28 appearances (four from the bench).
Klopp has flexibility in his attack, but the assumption is that his intent is to eventually form a first-choice front three of Diaz, Nunez and Salah. That may not be as clear in the opening weeks while we see how Nunez adjusts to the league and his new team. Perhaps Jota starts the opening games and Nunez gets eased into the Liverpool front line. So, that means Diaz is probably the other certain starter with Salah, and we could double up on the Liverpool attack if bold.
The first choice is always Trent Alexander-Arnold, and in Fantrax he always will be. In FPL however, there is a decision to be made.
In the 2021-22 season, TAA (8.4m) finished with 208 points, Andrew Robertson (7.3m) with 186 and Virgil Van Dijk (6.8m) 170. Breaking that down by minutes played we see TAA 0.07 pts/minute played, Robertson 0.07 and VVD 0.059. Robertson immediately offers us a cheaper selection to TAA. If we then view across the last four seasons, TAA totals 763 points and 0.07 PPM, while Robertson 741 points and 0.06 PPM.
I wouldn’t expect any of the trio to be rested in the season’s opening weeks if all fit and well, so Andy Robertson may just be the player who frees up funds to give you an edge elsewhere in your team.
- Crystal Palace (A)
- Leicester (H)
- Bournemouth (A)
- Fulham (H)
- Aston Villa (H)
- Man United (A)
This is certainly one of the best opening runs, and after last season’s late collapse, it’s important Arteta’s side starts well.
Gabriel Jesus has completed his move to Arsenal, so he is now a mid-priced forward who will offer alternatives to Haaland / Kane etc. In 2021-22, Jesus played 28 times (seven from the bench), scoring eight times with eight FPL assists. Over the last four seasons, it’s 120 games (48 from the bench) for 38 goals and 24 FPL assists.
But at this stage my top pick from the Gunner attack remains the ever-improving Bukayo Saka. 2021-22 was a breakout season for him, providing eleven goals plus nine FPL assists. In FPL he was the 7th highest scoring midfielder, and in Fantrax the 6th best midfielder and 14th overall. We saw an improving final ball, better and calmer finishing, and he even added penalties to his offerings. Young players often remain inconsistent, and he did seem to be carrying injuries for parts of the season, so further progress may be slower. His starting price in FPL will be very interesting with that run of games. Assuming he comes in at somewhere around 8m-8.5m, that’s just cheap enough to tempt.
I can’t quite decide what to make of the Arsenal defense. There are times I see an organised side capable of controlling opposition, but other times I see the Gunners fall apart defensively under pressure. Aaron Ramsdale sort of summed them up last season. A shot-stopping match-winner at the start, and a player showing low confidence and some self-doubt at the end. For me I will sidestep their defensive picks at least for the early weeks.
Since Antonio Conte’s appointment on November 2nd last year, Spurs’ turnaround has been impressive. Conte’s stamp was all over the side in the run-in, becoming well-organised front to back, both stubborn and aggressive. With the squad clearly buying into Conte’s ideas, the club is also backing the manager in the summer transfer window. Ivan Perisic brings bucket loads of experience and quality, Yves Bissouma adds steel to their midfield options, and there seems to be more transfer activity still to come.
The opening four matches in particular appeal. You would expect solid chances for clean sheets in two or three of them, and the reliability of starts for both Son and Kane is always reassuring when comparing to other top sides. With Chelsea likely lining up with a completely new defence, the Blues may be more vulnerable than in previous years and not therefore a fixture to be as concerned with. A strong start seems very possible with a team and club enjoying positive momentum and growing self-belief under Conte’s guidance.
The normal double act of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min will come into play. They finished last season so strong and offer great alternatives should we decide not to go the Haaland or Salah routes. Dejan Kulusevski was the value pick of the season from January and will surely see a price spike in FPL as a result. If FPL prices him low enough, he may persuade some fantasy players to play the value move again.
With the work Conte puts into his team’s shape and structure, Spurs’ defenders’ appeal grew as the season went on. The best became the two wingback positions who positionally played extremely aggressively at times. Through 2021-22 those roles were taken up by Emerson Royal and Matt Doherty at right wing-back mirrored by Sergio Reguilon and Ryan Sessegnon on the left. None of the quartet solidified starting spots but like the whole squad showed improvements. The summer acquisition of Ivan Perisic opens a little bit of a wildcard. Evan at his age he is still an excellent player and a fantasy manager’s dream if FPL classifies him as a defender. I think he starts the season at left wing-back, and we know just how strong he is technically and how dangerous in attack. If he comes in as a defender priced around 6.5m or under, then he offers a great pick to run with in those early weeks.
To offset the big teams discussed so far, I need a side that may offer us some underrated value. That brings me to Leeds. After suffering the dreaded “second season syndrome”, Leeds hung on to Premier League status with a dramatic last-day win at Brentford. Along the way, the scrap for survival cost Marcelo Bielsa his job. Under still-new manager Jesse Marsch, the turmoil may open a few under-the-radar picks to start 2022-23:
- Wolves (H)
- Southampton (A)
- Chelsea (H)
- Brighton (A)
- Everton (H)
- Brentford (A)
- Forrest (H)
Last season, Leeds’ starting 11 was brutalised with injuries, with the spine of the side hardest-hit. In 38 league games, Diego Llorente started 24, central defensive partner Liam Cooper 19, Kalvin Phillips 17 and main forward Patrick Bamford just five games. That would have been a huge challenge for any side, let alone one lacking proper depth. Star player Raphinha started 33 but had his mind elsewhere at times.
Looking ahead to the season coming, it seems likely Raphinha will move on, but the squad’s backbone will hopefully return. Combined with Marsch’s less-entertaining but less self-destructive tactics when compared to Bielsa and some thoughtful transfer dealings, we may see them settle back into mid table again.
I really like those opening two games against two sides I think may struggle this season. Chelsea of course will be tough, as will any trip to Brighton. The trio of games that finish the six should also hold no fear. When the prices come out, Leeds will be one of the first sides I look to see if I can find value.
I’m assuming at this stage that Raphinha gets his summer move to Barcelona or (if he doesn’t get his way) to Arsenal. So for our attacking choice, we will go with the star of the 2020-21 season, Patrick Bamford. In that golden year he played 3052 minutes, tallying 17 goals plus 11 FPL assists. More than that, he became a bit of a cult hero for the club after being written off as a forward who missed his chances too often. If (and it’s a big if) Bamford is fully fit, then he really appeals with that run of fixtures, especially if his price sits around the 6.5m-7m mark.
Alongside Bamford, Jack Harrison had an eye-catching second half to last season. He scored seven of his eight goals in the final 18 games. At age 25, there is still plenty of room for improvement, and he was a player who seemed to really find his feet under Marsch. He ended the season at 5.5m and should he start the 2022-23 campaign at that price, I’ll be very tempted.
Ali’s piece on new signing Rasmus Kristensen suggests that the new right-back may be worth thinking about, particularly if he comes in at 4.5m. In addition, if we have the funds, then keeper Illan Meslier may come back into our early draft teams. With the Llorente/Cooper pairing back, plus the addition of Rasmus, and with Marsch’s reputation, all combined with those tasty early fixtures — I really like the shot stopping skills of Meslier. The caveat that gives me pause is the transfer of defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips to Man City.
Best of the Rest
I don’t think I have ever not recommended/discussed Man United players in any previews before, and I almost didn’t here. The effort and general attitude of many of their players last season was a disgrace. They let a pair of managers and all fans down.
Still, that’s last season; the arrival of Ten Hag brings optimism — not a huge amount just yet, but enough for now (although the fact that Christian Eriksen can’t decide whether he’d rather move to United or stay at Brentford is certainly revealing).
With that in mind the expected front four of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all have appeal. We can expect all of them to drop in value with proven fantasy assets Ronaldo and Bruno starting the season as real differentials if the price drop is just right.
James Maddison has had plenty of words written about him becoming the next big thing in both the Premier League and for his country. So far he has failed to reach expectations, but from a 2021-22 fantasy football point of view at least, there were signs of it happening. Twelve goals plus eleven FPL assists was a career high, producing his highest FPL total of 181 points. And that was in a below-par Leicester season hurt by injuries and the demands of a European run.
2022-23 is a big season for him. He remains outside of Gareth Southgate’s England squad, and with our recent struggles, he has an opportunity to claim a last-minute seat on the plane to Qatar. Leicester’s opening six is a mixed bag: Brentford (H), Arsenal (A), Saints (H), Chelsea (A), Man United (H) and Brighton (A). Not straightforward by any means, but Maddison finished 2021-22 strong with four goals plus an assist in his last four games. If he wants to kick on further, he needs a big season.
Philippe Coutinho was an eye-catching January loan by a very ambitious Aston Villa board. Coutinho’s star had fallen somewhat after disappointing periods with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The move to Villa under new manager and ex-teammate Steven Gerrard offered the still just 30-year-old player a chance to rebound.
He was hot and cold at times, but with big goals against the Manchester clubs, there were moments of brilliance we anticipated. Both Countinho and Gerrard were new to Villa then, but now they’ve had some time to settle. A full preseason may see a better version of Coutinho emerge in GW-1. From the opening six games, the first two catch my eye: Bournemouth (A) and Everton (H). I can see a pair of wins with Coutinho surely involved around the goals. If I’m wrong, we can reassess after he plays Lampard’s men.
As said many times, Aston Vila doesn’t lack for ambition, as seen with the recent transfer dealings and manager appointment. Our expectations may meet with disappointment down the line, but early adopters may fancy themselves. Signing Diego Carlos will add security at the back. Like many a modern-day side, the fullbacks are asked to push into very high attacking positions, so Lucas Digne and Matty Cash both will appeal. Digne seems to get more fantasy manager love, and he looked more and more settled in his new home as the weeks passed. But it’s Matty Cash, a winger earlier in his career, who scored four and assisted three times last season and may yet have the higher ceiling of the two. Those opening two games against Bournemouth and an Everton sans Richarlison are appealing, and two wins would promote a lot of confidence in the group.
Having already lost Rudiger, and with both Andreas Christensen and Azpilicueta expected to leave, and with Thiago Silva being 38 (!!) years old, we all expect Chelsea to sign a whole raft of top-shelf central defenders. Last season, Trevoh Chalobah managed to force minutes into the side and overall impressed. His 99 points in 1447 minutes equated to 0.06 points per minute, matching that of Andy Robertson in a small sample. If Chelsea’s transfer dealings stutter, Chalobah would seem likely to get a sequence of starts in preseason. I expect he will be 5m in FPL, but that’s a bargain should he become a regular feature in Tuchel’s Premier League starting-XI.
Speaking of Chelsea — After his summer 2021 move to the Blues, Ben Chilwell went on a tear: 55 FPL points for 0.10 PPM scoring three and assisting one while keeping four clean sheets in his six starts before injury. He was outperforming TAA! If he is priced less than Reece James, he will be in many FPL GW-1 squads. Preseason notes and observations on his fitness and confidence will be important to us.
The final player to highlight is Newcastle right-back Kieran Tripper. Tripp’s arrival to Newcastle after the takeover brought an immediate impact. His quality is clear, and he was a positive influence in the dressing room and on the pitch. An unlucky injury saw his brief 429 minute run end on 28 FPL points, a 0.06 PPM from two goals and a clean sheet in five starts. The opening six does include games against both City and Liverpool, but Newcastle is no longer a pushover. He will be on freekicks and will have Callum Wilson available on the ends of his crosses, and Nick Pope helping him with clean sheet points. Trippier may even usurp Wilson as the first-choice penalty-taker.
So there you have my early thoughts on some of the teams and players worth considering in your initial drafts when the various fantasy platforms launch.
Which teams/players do you aim to draft for the start the 2022-23 season? How do you hope FPL price them? And what are your Fantrax plans? Please log in and let us know in the chat!
Stats, were sourced from whoscored.com and fantasypremierleague.com