Picking an initial fantasy team may not make or break your year but it has huge implications for how your season could pan out. The key is not to make too many gambles but given the enforced salary cap, certain risks do need to be made. Consistent performers can still be found on the cheap and don’t automatically assume the bigger names will be the biggest hitters. Here’s my week one guide to the Premier League’s official fantasy game:
Bank on him…
Twelve months ago we were unsure if Given (£5m) or Joe Hart would be Roberto Mancini’s number one at Manchester City. Hart was awarded the title and Given spent the entire 2010-2011 season looking on. He’s now £2m cheaper than Hart and playing for an Aston Villa team which regularly recorded clean sheets under Martin O’Neill. New boss Alex McLeish ran a tight ship at Birmingham and so Given will be considered by plenty this time around.
Roll the dice…
QPR’s Kenny was imperious last year, being voted Fans’ Player of the Year in a QPR team which won the Championship with a solid back-line. The step-up will faze some Rangers players but Kenny’s been here before with Sheffield United. For £4.5m he could be a suitable back-up if you need to free-up money for other players.
One to avoid…
Three Arsenal goalkeepers are valued at £5.5m or above and Almunia (£5.5m) is probably Arsène Wenger’s third choice to go between the sticks. Wojciech Szczęsny should begin as number one with Łukasz Fabiański backing him up. Almunia shouldn’t therefore be considered at all unless either picks up an injury.
Bank on him…
There is no centre-back pairing more familiar with each other than Fulham’s Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. Both collected well over 100 points last year and Hangeland was the second highest scoring defender behind Leighton Baines. Hangeland is an ever-present fixture in Fulham’s team and is always a threat at set pieces. At £6.5m he also represents decent value.
Roll the dice…
There hasn’t been a mass exodus from Arsenal this summer but first-choice left back Gaël Clichy used his searing pace to run out of the Emirates door. The Gunners are in need of a player to fill that berth and Gibbs (£5.5m) looks the most likely to do so having impressed before. Tottenham’s Kyle Walker (£5.5m) is another who may tempt some, particularly after his strong showing at the under-21 tournament this summer. However Gibbs should be a regular starter whilst Walker may share time with Alan Hutton and Vedran Ćorluka.
One to avoid…
The inclusion of the former England captain under the ‘one to avoid’ banner may surprise some but United centre-back Ferdinand (£6.5m) continues to present bad value. His frequent injuries mean he often has spells on the sidelines and he lacks the potency from set-pieces which make Nemanja Vidić, Robert Huth and Leighton Baines so enticing. Need further proof? In his last three seasons, Ferdinand’s managed 69, 49 and 92 points compared to compatriot Vidić’s totals of 148, 94 and 187. Look for Ferdinand’s role to diminish further still with the arrival of Phil Jones and the continued maturation of Chris Smalling.
Bank on him…
Rafael van der Vaart
Last year the big trio, Steven Gerrard, Cesc Fàbregas and Frank Lampard, were poor by their own very high standards. Lampard only showed flashes, Gerrard is returning to a strong squad and Fàbregas may yet start the season at his beloved Barcelona. In the next tier, Florent Malouda blows hot and cold, how Ferguson plans to fit Nani, Ashley Young and Valencia in isn’t clear and Dirk Kuyt may see less playing time. So my reliable pick is Spurs’ Rafael van der Vaart (£10m). Takes penalties and free-kicks, makes goals and is in no danger of losing much playing time to his teammates.
Roll the dice…
Every year they’ll be some debate about ascribing certain positions to certain players. Categorising Swansea’s Sinclair (£6m) as a midfielder could be worthy of such debate giving his striking tendencies. The former Chelsea and Wigan man has been highly rated for some years now but has struggled to perform in the top flight. However his form at the tail end of last season suggests he’s ready for another crack at the big time.
There are other gambles which may be worth taking. How about Hatem Ben Arfa at £5.5m? An impressive talent who creates and scores goals, the only question mark is if he will return to the Newcastle team with as much verve after his serious injury.
One to avoid…
Again the very mention of Wilshere’s name here will shock some and he seems a popular option for fantasy players this season. But let’s not forget the England man was ever present for Arsenal last year yet scored just once with three assists. He failed to score 100 points in a very good team, playing more minutes than any other Gunners midfielder. Yes he is cheap (£6.5m), but there’s a reason for this. It may be that Wilshere has a season similar to Fàbregas’ a few campaigns back when he suddenly started scoring frequently but until Wilshere shows some signs of doing so, I’m avoiding him.
Bank on him…
Villa’s Bent (£10m) is the model of point-scoring consistency wherever he ends up. Seventeen goals last year after a mid-season move, 24 the year before that, and 100 points in four of his last five campaigns. Sergio Agüero may take time to adapt to England, Wayne Rooney’s form can be patchy and there may or may not be enough room at Chelsea to accommodate Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres every week. Look for Luis Suárez (£9.5m) to continue his excellent form from last year too; I think he’ll comfortably out-score Liverpool teammate Andy Carroll who costs more.
Roll the dice…
Picking a striker to surprise is difficult but this doesn’t mean one won’t spring up and record a shed load of points. Last year DJ Campbell and Peter Odemwingie defied their valuations and had impressive years. QPR’s Bothroyd (£6m), called up by England last year, could well emulate their achievements. Were Robbie Keane to move within the division he could be an interesting proposition. He has a record of scoring goals wherever he’s gone and £5m represents good value for the man who’s scored more Republic or Ireland goals than anyone else.
One to avoid…
An obvious one by all accounts but Torres’ dire end of season form last year for Chelsea should serve as a warning to fantasy owners. At £11m he carries a hefty price tag and he won’t start justifying that until he starts netting on a frequent basis at the Bridge. Carlos Tévez’s (£12m) desire to remain out of Manchester needs to be considered too. Don’t write him off totally because we’ve seen an unhappy Tévez can still be a valuable asset but that is all dependent on him returning to City.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
“Don’t waste your youth growing up”
David Bentley’s career has never hits the heights his ego might suggest it has. A friend recently used the credo “if he was half as good as thinks he is, he’d be twice as good as he actually is” to describe Bentley and it seems perfectly applicable.
His current club Tottenham have all but abandoned him and Bentley has left the white flag planted in St Andrews after an unsuccessful loan spell at Birmingham City.
Four years ago, the story was very different. Bentley was at Blackburn Rovers and playing perhaps the best football of his career. Impressive performances at home and in Europe fuelled speculation that a big move was just around the corner.
That summer he made an interesting decision. Bentley withdrew from England’s Under-21 squad. He had played virtually the entire season at Blackburn, one which included European forays and cup runs. Bentley was on the fringes of the full national team and felt a summer in Holland at the European Under-21 Championships would cause possible burnout. Never one to downplay his aspirations, he was looking further ahead, 12 months on in fact to Euro 2008.
The withdrawal may have been a drop in the ocean for Bentley’s career but the ripples continue to reverberate today. Bentley saw the Under-21s as beneath him. Having sampled life at the top table with England, he wasn’t willing to dine elsewhere. As it materialised, England and Bentley never made Euro 2008.
He started in Fabio Capello’s first game in charge but his name barely warrants a mention when national squads are decided these days. Four years on from his ill-fated decision, Bentley may wish he’d opted to join the Under-21s that summer after all.
Fast forward to the present day and a similar quandary is facing Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
After a mammoth season which, like Bentley’s, has encompassed European excursions and lengthy cup runs, many feel Wilshere should not join the Under-21s this summer. In many respects, Wilshere’s situation is entirely different. Unlike Bentley, he is central to the senior team’s plans. Unlike Bentley, his attitude does not seem to be tainted by egocentricity. So there are even more excuses for Wilshere should he decide that a summer with the Under-21s is not high on his list of priorities.
And last night, the Guardian’s Paul Hayward, an advocate of a Wilshere withdrawal, tweeted saying the Under-21 squad was nothing more than a “development level”.
Well perhaps it can develop winners. With Wilshere in the team, England stand a far better chance of winning the tournament this summer. The nation is plagued by perennial problems when it comes to masterminding international tournaments and they lack a winning mentality.
The opportunity to nurture English football’s future lynchpin in the art of winning international tournaments should not be overlooked.
Neither should the chance to build team camaraderie. Andy Carroll, Micah Richards and Kieran Gibbs should also all feature in 12 months time at Euro 2012 and their integration will be made much easier after this summer.
It is also refreshing to see fringe members of the senior squad, which has more than a streak of self-indulgence coursing through it, willing to participate in a tournament which was below Bentley.
Winning the European Under-21 Championships would probably be a drop in the ocean of Jack Wilshere’s career. But the ensuing ripples could continue to reverberate for years to come.
“And they call him one of the best referees. That’s a joke”
It had a certain sense of inevitability. Here we had competitive players suddenly equipped with an addictive toy which they could utilise with emotions still running high.
As cricket players and American footballers already know to their cost, the forum of Twitter can easily land you in trouble. It was only a matter of time before one of the growing football contingent found the hot water. Step forward Liverpool’s Ryan Babel. The Dutchman was the first recipient of an F.A. charge after posting a picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt.
In today’s society, where humour and fun are often suppressed, Babel’s tweet was seen as out of line. The F.A. no doubt believed his artistic licence made a mockery of their much vaunted Respect campaign. But does a tongue-in-cheek picture really cause more damage to that campaign than the vile abuse referees suffer every weekend?
Are this country’s kids more likely to respond to a controversial decision on a Sunday morning with a barrage of swear words or are they more likely to go home and put their Photoshop skills to the test?
Twitter is a fantastic tool and we should enjoy the fact sportsmen have embraced it. Not only does it (sometimes) provide an excellent insight into footballer’s lives and day-to-day musings, it also allows fans to interact with their heroes. The days of footballers mingling with supporters are way behind us and if Twitter bridges the gap, surely this can only be a good thing?
My fear is that Babel’s charge will now kick-start a precedence which could see many others reprimanded for their views. In recent weeks Rio Ferdinand, Jack Wilshire and Wojciech Sczcesny have all tweeted varying degrees of outrage at referee’s decisions. If opinions aren’t tolerated then the players won’t see the purpose of Twitter and managers and owners will simply enforce social networking bans.
Without it, we will rely on the all too cushy press officer-controlled environments which we feed off now. Where footballers transform into monotonous drones and glide through interviews armed with press-bites and suitable clichés. It makes footballers appear stupid and it weakens post-match analysis to a mind-numbingly boring level.
Twitter can be dangerous but it also offers footballers a chance to be more expressive. Babel’s picture was merely a playful jibe and I sincerely hope it does not fuel the end of footballers on Twitter.