In Depth

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

The kids are on holiday and the World Athletics Championships are in full swing, but the Premier League is waking from its summer slumber to kick off again.

And that means it's time to fine tune your fantasy football team. 

There are many different versions competing for players, but most follow a similar pattern: wannabe managers pick a squad of players within a set budget and then hope 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, as well as 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 prospective fantasy manager consider when picking their squad and who are the players to watch this season?

Guiding principles:

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 Arsenal's midfield look when Arsene Wenger has so many options to pick from?

Check the fixtures: This is an important consideration at the start of the season. "It's surprisingly easy to forget that you're not picking a squad for the entire season. Indeed, it's unlikely that any one player will be in your ranks for all 38 gameweeks. With that in mind, take a look at just the first six weeks of fixtures," advises The Times. "Wayne Rooney's Everton renaissance may sound romantic but he is facing Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester United inside the first five weeks of the season." 

Avoid new signings: This is generally good advice, one fantasy football expert who has written books on the subject tells TheWeek.co.uk. 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 recent cases in point. Last term, Lucas Perez barely played for Arsenal and it was not until the latter half of the season that Henrikh Mkhitaryan earned the trust of Jose Mourinho.

A massive new signing such as Alexandre Lacazette at Arsenal or Alvaro Morata at Chelsea is almost guaranteed a run in the side - but how will they get on?

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 neither. A handful of big names leavened with cheap no-hopers will not produce the goods. Value is key.

"Be logical - a £12m player who will score 200 points is less valuable than a £6m player who will score 110. It's that simple," says The Times.

It's the budget options that make the difference. Look at cheap defenders in solid defences and think about goalkeepers who will earn points by making saves.

Don't be loyal: There is a temptation to pick players from the club you follow, which makes 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.

Spurs fans who had high hopes of Moussa Sissoko last term would have been foolish to hold on to him once it became clear he was going to be a peripheral player. The same applied to Man United fans hoping for a Rooney renaissance. 

Followers of the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City should also pay heed as their managers tend to tinker with the team from week to week.

Use transfers: You can't control injuries or form, but most games give you regular transfers and it pays to use them. "Keeping a close eye on your team every week is the single biggest thing you can do to boost your fortunes, as rival managers will soon start haemorrhaging easy points by neglecting to swap out players who are injured, suspended and so on," says website Trusted Reviews.

Handy hints:

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 must-read website for serious managers.

Study positions: TheWeek.co.uk'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. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are both listed as midfielders, but are likely to play up front for Liverpool. Likewise, players such as "Eric Dier and N'Golo Kante are popular picks due to their budget-friendly price tags but offer little attacking threat from the centre of the park", says FourFourTwo. "Focusing on the goal-getters or raiding defenders should reap greater reward."

Check valuations: Price tags and popularity often reflect a player's efforts the previous season. Gylfi Sigurdsson is key for Swansea but comes in at £8.5m this season, while Marcos Alonso of Chelsea will set you back a whopping £7m.

On the other hand, a talented player can endure an injury-ravaged or unlucky season and that can leave them undervalued. Cesc Fabregas is available for just £7m and with Eden Hazard out injured, could be a key figure for Chelsea in the early weeks of the season. Paul Pogba had a tough first season back at Man United and is available for £8m, which makes him cheaper than Riyad Mahrez. 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. Anthony Knockaert of Brighton could be one to watch.

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 for 2017-18: 

Goalkeepers:

With only £1.5m difference between the top and bottom of the market there is no need to skimp.

The popular choice: David de Gea (Manchester United)

Solid citizen: Joe Hart (West Ham)

Fingers crossed: Ederson (Manchester City)

Defenders:

The popular choices: David Luiz (Chelsea), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)

Solid citizens: Nathan Ake (Bournemouth), Kieran Trippier (Spurs)

Fingers crossed: Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Florian Lejeune (Newcastle)

Midfielders:

The popular choices: Dele Alli (Spurs), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)

Solid citizens: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)

Fingers crossed: Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Palace), Anthony Knockaert (Brighton) 

Strikers:

The popular choices: Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Harry Kane (Spurs)                        

Solid citizens: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Josh King (Bournemouth) 

Fingers crossed: Tammy Abraham (Swansea), Wayne Rooney (Everton)

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