It’s only been seven weeks since the end of last season but Fantasy Premier League returns with the start of the 2020-21 campaign this weekend, meaning it is once again time to build your 15-man squad.
Last year, our annual pre-season column picked out John Lundstram, Caglar Soyuncu and Mason Greenwood as ones to watch among some more well-established options and they duly delivered. This year’s game brings new pandemic-related challenges, though.
Firstly, the transfer window does not close before the start of the season this time around, meaning that clubs are free to buy and - more importantly - sell players once our squads are already settled.
The short gap between seasons and September international break also means that we have had few pre-season friendlies and little opportunity to see how each team might line up at the start of the new campaign.
Meanwhile, four clubs - Manchester United, Manchester City, Burnley and Aston Villa - do not even play on the opening weekend. Bruno Fernandes, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and other fantasy favourites are therefore out of action for this first round of fixtures.
We’ve still included players from these clubs in the ‘Post-Gameweek 1’ sections but we recommend limiting yourself to just one outfield player from these four teams at most for now, and preferably a cheap or mid-price option.
Bench them this weekend, rotate them in afterwards, and plan to use either your transfers or an early wildcard to bring others in.
Otherwise, you want a squad of players who are actually fit, available and ready to play in order to get off to the best possible start. Here are some of the players we recommended to begin with, for what is likely to be the most challenging fantasy season in recent memory.
With goalkeepers, some like to plump for an expensive big name to ‘set and forget’. Others rotate two mid-price starters or combine one starter with a non-playing back-up. It’s your call but it’s a good idea to save your money here and spend it elsewhere.
Alex McCarthy - Southampton, £4.5m
Pound-for-pound, probably the best option. Southampton had the fifth-best defence post-restart and though that was not entirely reflected in the underlying numbers, McCarthy proved to be reliable enough as a
Mat Ryan - Brighton, £4.5m
An alternative to McCarthy who scored more points than both Ederson and Alisson last season. Brighton’s defence is a concern, though that could mean more save points for Ryan, and Ben White’s return from his loan spell at Leeds could help shore up the backline.
Emiliano Martinez - Arsenal, £4.5m
Is he Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper or on his way out? Unless we get some clarity on his future before Saturday’s deadline, it will be hard to justify moving for Martinez but those willing to take a risk could be rewarded if he becomes a Premier League regular, whether that’s at the Emirates or elsewhere.
Jed Steer - Aston Villa, £4.0m
With Tom Heaton injured, Villa’s options in goal are currently the £4.0m-rated pair of Steer or Orjan Nyland. Either could be displaced by a new signing once Villa start in Gameweek 2, but either would still work as a non-playing sub option if that’s your strategy.
Nick Pope - Burnley, £5.5m
Last season’s top-scoring goalkeeper, Pope not only kept a competitive amount of clean sheets but picked up a lot of bonus points due to Burnley’s style of play. The only concern is the price, which is a little too steep when compared with others of a similar standard.
The key to picking a defence is recognising that you’re looking for clean sheets above all else and there are often cheap options in solid defences that provide them. Look for regular starters in reliable teams and spend a little more for attacking full-backs.
Trent Alexander-Arnold - Liverpool, £7.5m
The first - and only? - essential pick. Alexander-Arnold may be the game’s most expensive defender but £7.5m is a steal when you consider that he plays in a reliable defence and creates more goal-scoring opportunities than midfielders at the same price point.
Romain Saiss / Ruben Vinagre - Wolves, £5.0m / £4.5m
Wolves’ defence is one of the tightest in the top flight and well worth your investment. Reports suggest £4.5m-rated Vinagre could leave, which poses a real headache for fantasy managers. Saiss is probably a safer option at £5.0m.
Ben Davies / Eric Dier - Tottenham, £5.0m
Tottenham’s fixtures are among the most favourable to start the new season and post-restart, there were signs that Jose Mourinho is instilling some defensive stability. Davies and Dier offer mid-price routes into a promising backline.
Kyle Walker-Peters - Southampton, £4.5m
Returning to the Southampton defence, Walker-Peters offers another cheap option and likes to foray forward from right-back. Don’t expect too many attacking returns but clean sheets may come as he starts with a few favourable fixtures against limited attacks.
James Justin - Leicester, £4.5m
Another decent £4.5m option with a caveat. The signing of Timothy Castagne from Atalanta means Justin has competition at right-back but if he starts, he offers an inexpensive route into one of last season’s better defences.
Tariq Lamptey - Brighton, £4.5m
Another £4.5m option and, among those mentioned, Lamptey is probably the most certain of his place. He has potential for attacking returns too, though Brighton’s defence will need to improve for him to become more than rotation pick in fantasy.
Tyrick Mitchell / Nathan Ferguson - Crystal Palace, £4.0m
Ferguson would be a perfect £4.0m option if only he wasn’t recovering from a knee injury. With a chance of starting when he returns, you may want to risk a price-drop anyway. If not, £4.0m team-mate Mitchell is an alternative while he covers for Patrick van Aanholt.
Aymeric Laporte - Manchester City, £6.0m
Potentially under-priced at £6.0m, Laporte is one of the few premium centre-backs worth exploring. A set-piece threat, he should also shore up City’s defence after missing much of last season through injury.
Charlie Taylor - Burnley, £4.5m
Only City kept more clean sheets than Burnley’s defence last season and Taylor appears to be ahead of Erik Pieters in the pecking order. The former Leeds left-back is cheap enough to sign and bench pre-Gameweek 1, if you’d rather save a future transfer.
Midfielders have the biggest potential range of point-scoring. Clean sheets count towards their tally and they have a greater likelihood of getting goals and assists than defenders. Many of them are not even midfielders anymore but wide forwards, who earn more points for goals than traditional strikers.
Mohamed Salah - Liverpool, £12.0m
Salah’s returns have diminished year-on-year since that brilliant break-out season at Liverpool. Still, he was the second-highest scoring player in the game last term and always a threat with captaincy. With Leeds up first at Anfield and no United or City assets in action, going without him for this first round would be a brave move.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - Arsenal, £12.0m
Re-classified as a midfielder, Aubameyang has every chance of topping last season’s 205 points given that he will now score five points per goal rather than four. His underlying numbers suggest he could suffer a little regression this season but an opening pair of fixtures against Fulham and West Ham look ideal for the captaincy.
Son Heung-Min / Dele Alli - Tottenham, £9.0m / £8.0m
Tottenham’s attack was not particularly impressive last year but Son is arguably the most reliable of their midfield options and has a decent opening run of fixtures. For those looking to save and capitalise on a potential differential, consider Alli: he’s £1.0m cheaper and has clocked up impressive underlying numbers under Mourinho.
Kai Havertz / Christian Pulisic - Chelsea, £8.5m
If Chelsea’s attack lives up to the billing, you can expect a few price rises between now and May. Havertz’s value will almost certainly climb between now and May and is worth jumping on early. If Christian Pulisic is fit to start against Brighton, he too is worth consideration.
James Rodriguez - Everton, £7.5m
A risk? Definitely, but it could pay off if James settles quickly at Goodison Park. Everton’s fixtures are relatively kind once an opening day trip to Tottenham is out of the way. Just wait and see if the Colombian is ready to start in north London before moving too early.
Tomas Soucek - West Ham, £5.0m
Quarantined with the rest of the Czech Republic national team last week, it is worth keeping tabs on Soucek’s availability. If he is cleared to play, fantasy managers will hope he can return to being the troublesome aerial presence we saw at the tail end of last season.
Raheem Sterling / Kevin De Bruyne - Manchester City, £11.5m
Once City kick into gear, there will be many managers left deliberating between Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne. The PFA Player of the Year will be on penalties but, even so, Sterling probably has a higher ceiling in terms of goal-scoring and points. Both are brilliant options.
Bruno Fernandes - Manchester United, £10.5m
Bordering on essential at the tail end of last season, Fernandes’ appeal will partly depend on whether United can maintain their penalty winning streak. Even so, his adventurous passing and willingness to shoot make him an enticing prospect.
Mason Greenwood - Manchester United, £7.5m
Greenwood’s hot streak of finishing will surely cool off but even then, if he is starting regularly in United’s front three at £7.5m then he will be worth consideration. That price is only going to rise.
The importance of forwards is said to have diminished slightly in recent years but they are enjoying something of a resurgence now, with a wealth of quality options at affordable prices.
Timo Werner - Chelsea, £9.5m
Could prove to be as essential as Alexander-Arnold. Every year, it is worth looking out for players who may have been priced a little lower than expected. At £9.5m, Werner will certainly fall into that category if he replicates his Bundesliga scoring record which saw him hit 28 goals in 34 games last year.
Raul Jimenez - Wolves, £8.5m
Arguably one of the most reliable players in the game, Jimenez rarely scores a lot of points in one go but provides a steady return of a goal here and an assist there. Wolves’ early fixtures are promising once a trip to Sheffield United and City’s visit are out of the way.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - Everton, £7.0m
Calvert-Lewin splits opinion after his muted performances during Project Restart but it is worth remembering his form before lockdown under Carlo Ancelotti and Everton’s encouraging midfield additions.
Michail Antonio - West Ham, £6.5m
The stand-out fantasy player of Project Restart has been reclassified as a forward after hauling from midfield. West Ham’s six-game start is not the best but a visit from Newcastle and then a trip to defensively-suspect Arsenal in their first two may be kinder than you think.
Che Adams - Southampton, £6.0m
Back to Southampton again, where Danny Ings is certain to attract a lot of attention. His strike partner struggled for goals last season but is also worth looking at. Adams found form towards the end of the campaign and will look to pick up where he left off.
Rhian Brewster - Liverpool, £4.5m
Like Martinez, Brewster’s prospects will depend on whether he stays or goes. A loan move to another Premier League club could open up a regular and cheap forward option with goal-scoring potential. Either wait and see or bring in early to steal a march on others.
Sergio Aguero - Manchester City, £10.5m
Not one for this first gameweek on account of his injury and City’s blank, but the prospect of Aguero at just £10.5m is too good to ignore. Injury and rotation risks apply as ever but bring him as your captain for games against weaker opponents and you won’t go far wrong.
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