Fantasy Premier League opened its doors for the 2021/22 campaign, so in this, my first column of the new season, I thought I would jot down some initial thoughts on players that have caught my eye, and build a rough first draft based around that.
There is still just over six weeks to go before the season gets underway, and lots will change during that time, so I’m treating this as a kind pre-season Watchlist, which I can then develop in the coming weeks.
Also, it’s worth noting that I’ve purposefully avoided players from teams currently without a manager, as it’s hard to speculate on their potential without knowing who will be in charge. There is a huge difference, for example, between Nuno Espírito Santo and Christophe Galtier at Everton, so at least for now, I’m looking elsewhere.
I see real potential at Brighton and Hove Albion next season, and Robert Sánchez (£4.5m) stands out amongst the budget goalkeeper options.
Since the turn of the year, Albion kept nine clean sheets and conceded just 21 goals, and while it has been well documented just how much they underperformed against the quality of their performances last season, the numbers suggest they’ll finish far higher this time.
It’s also worth noting that the Seagulls play only two of last season’s top nine teams in the first eight Gameweeks.
Sánchez can be paired with Albion’s backup keeper, Jason Steele (£4.0m), providing Mathew Ryan (£4.5m) leaves the club, as expected, this summer.
Going into the season without a fully rested Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) would be a bold move, but the £4.5m defensive options look so good, selecting five of them feels like a viable enough strategy at this stage.
As a result, I can then push funds further forward.
There are some real bargains in the budget category, including Wesley Fofana (£4.5m). The 20-year-old feels under-priced compared to his team-mates at the back (see below), and takes on Wolverhampton Wanderers, Norwich City, Brighton, Burnley and Crystal Palace in the opening seven Gameweeks.
Tariq Lamptey (£4.5m) showed plenty of promise going forward last season, and while Lewis Dunk (£5.0m) remains Brighton’s main goal threat in defence, the young wing-back could be the value pick.
Pairing him up with Leeds United’s Luke Ayling (£4.5m) gives you a nice rotation pairing too, if you’re into that kind of thing:
bur | WAT | bur | bre | new | cry | WAT | nor | WOL | nor | NEW
Issa Diop (£4.5m) and Conor Coady (£4.5m) take up the final spots at the back, but if I can push a bit more of my budget into defence, Kieran Tierney (£5.0m), Vladimír Coufal (£5.0m) and Matt Ritchie (£5.0m) all look like excellent options.
The latter has been reclassified as a defender, and finished last season strongly. Between Gameweeks 30 and 38, he provided five assists in nine starts, and would have ranked second amongst defenders for successful crosses and big chances created during that period, only trailing Liverpool’s Alexander-Arnold.
In this setup, I can own three premium midfielders who all offer solid captaincy options in the opening weeks.
I’ve seen a few suggest Kevin De Bruyne (£12.0m) is over-priced, which is probably true based on last season’s output. However, his -3.26 expected goal (xG) delta, compared to +3.60 the one prior, highlights just how much variance there can be in a season, and it’s highly likely he’ll hit 200+ points providing he can stay fit.
The remaining spots go to Diogo Jota (£7.5m) and Raphinha (£6.5m), both of whom can offer real value.
Ollie Watkins’ (£7.5m) 14 league goals and nine assists last term represented a good return, but he was perhaps unfortunate not to have done even better, given that he hit the woodwork a massive seven times.
His appeal is further boosted by the arrival of Emiliano Buendía (£6.5m), who alongside Jack Grealish (£8.0m), will add more creativity to Villa’s midfield.
Last season’s touch heatmaps suggest they should dovetail nicely, too:
Jack Grealish (top) and Emiliano Buendía’s (bottom) 2020/21 touch heatmaps, via Sofa Score.
Of the three promoted sides, the only team I’m interested in right now is Brentford, especially in attack. They have finished as the Championship’s top scorers in two successive campaigns, and while elements of their play will need to be adapted to top-flight football, I think, in time, they’ll become an efficient Premier League outfit.
Their opening run is fairly tough, but it’s that Gameweek 2 fixture against Crystal Palace I think we can target, and then move on if necessary.
Ivan Toney (£6.5m) is undeniably their chief goal threat, and hit 33 goals en route to promotion via the play-offs last season. 23 of those arrived from open-play, and the fact he contributed 10 assists too is encouraging.
I may even double-up with Bryan Mbeumo (£5.5m) in midfield, who I fancy as a real differential. He returned eight goals and 10 assists last season, and though I expect him to start the campaign as a winger, he has at times featured as a forward when manager Thomas Frank has opted for a two-striker system.
Completing the squad is Michael Obafemi (£4.5m), but in fairness it could be any of the 4.5’s, as they’ll be firmly rooted to the third spot on my bench.
So, I know this first draft won’t be for everyone, but I hope having read this you can at least understand why I’ve selected the players I have, and if nothing else, it’ll be an interesting reference point to look back on in August.
I’ll update you on how it’s looking next time I check in, but for now, thanks for reading and best of luck if you are playing any of the Euro 2020 fantasy games.
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