How to pick a perfect Premier League fantasy football team
Who and what to look for and who and what to avoid when making your selections this season
Summer and The Ashes may be in full swing but with the new Premier League campaign less than two weeks away, the dedicated football fan's thoughts will have turned to fantasy football.
Many different competitions compete for attention, and most follow a similar pattern: the wannabe manager picks a squad of players within a set budget and then sits back and hopes for the best.
Competitors are awarded points according to how their selections perform each week and have the option of transferring players in and out of the squad, and adjusting the formation and starting XI from week to week.
The most popular game is the Fantasy Premier League, run by the league itself, which has some three million users.
So what should the prospective fantasy manager consider when picking their squad and who are the players to watch this season?
Pick players who play. No matter how well someone played at the Copa America, the Under-21 Championships or last season, if they are not guaranteed first team game time there is little point in having them in the squad. Who will be first-choice striker at Liverpool, for example, and how will Manchester United's midfield look this season?
Check the fixtures. This is an important consideration at the start of the season, says Tom Meltzer of The Guardian. It allows managers to pick a solid team that will perform well at the outset and which can be tinkered with once the season starts to take shape. So lean towards players whose teams have a relatively easy start.
Avoid new signings. This is generally good advice, one fantasy football writer who has written books on the subject tells The Week. It is impossible to know how new arrivals will settle into the English game or their new club. Fernando Torres at Chelsea and Mario Balotelli at Liverpool are cases in point. However, a massive new signing like Memphis Depay or Christian Benteke is almost guaranteed a run in the side.
Don't rely on one or two star performers. The "Zidanes Y Pavones" approach had mixed results at Real Madrid and is not the best way to pick a fantasy team either. A handful of big names leavened with cheap no hopers will not produce the goods. "You want 11 players a week who can and will deliver points," says Meltzer. "This means that it is all about finding good value: think points-per-million, not just points."
Don't be loyal. There is a temptation to pick players from the club you follow, which makes some sense as you probably know more about them. But picking your favourites does not always work, and if they fail you must be prepared to ditch them. Manchester United fans who held onto Radamel Falcao but turned their noses up at Diego Costa last season would not have fared well. Likewise, Gunners who kept hold of Mesut Ozil during his months on the sidelines last autumn could have been enjoying the points scored by, say, Cesc Fabregas.
Use transfers. You can't control injuries or form, but most games give you regular transfers and it pays to use them.
Look at set pieces. Knowing which players will be taking the penalties, free kicks and corners is very useful, as they have the potential to score more goals and assists. There is a list of who does what for each team at Fantasy Football Scout, a website that is a must read for serious managers.
Study positions. The Week's fantasy expert says looking for players who have been wrongly classified can pay dividends. Defenders operating in midfield and midfielders playing up front can add real value. Eden Hazard of Chelsea is a case in point, he, like Theo Walcott and Sanchez at Arsenal, is listed as a midfielder by Fantasy Premier League.
Check valuations. Price tags and popularity often reflect a player's efforts the previous season. Spurs striker Harry Kane is now in the same price bracket as Wayne Rooney on Sky Sport Fantasy Football after just one season. One the other hand, a talented player can endure a injury ravaged or unlucky season, and that can leave them undervalued this time round. Ross Barkley of Everton is cheaper than Samir Nasri of Man City in most games, for example. Perennial crocks (Andy Carroll, anyone?) should be treated with caution, however.
Home and away rotation. When selecting non-core players who will drop in and out of the team from week to week it is worth choosing from teams with alternating home and away schedules. That way you can make sure that, for example, your weakest (and cheapest) defender is always playing at home.
Look at promoted clubs. Cut-price gems can be found in the ranks of the promoted teams, particularly if the player is new to the Premier League. It is a risk, and defenders are best avoided, but a newly promoted player can make a big impact for relatively little outlay, says our expert.
Check websites. There are plenty of experts out there crunching the numbers. Many of the sites have their own scouting reports and they are worth following.
The Week's top picks:
The popular choice: Petr Cech (Arsenal)
Solid citizen: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Fingers crossed: Jack Butland (Stoke)
The popular choices: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
Solid citizens: Jose Fonte (Southampton), Phil Jagielka (Everton)
Fingers crossed: Tyrone Mings (Bournemouth), Kieran Tripper (Spurs)
The popular choices: Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Memphis Depay (Man Utd)
Solid citizens: Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace), Christian Eriksen (Spurs)
Fingers crossed: Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle Utd), Nathan Redmond (Norwich)
The popular choices: Diego Costa (Cheslea), Harry Kane (Spurs)
Solid citizens: Saido Berahino (West Brom), Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
Fingers crossed: Troy Deeney (Burnley), Jordan Ayew (Aston Villa)