Hull v Leicester
Burnley v Swansea
Crystal Palace v West Brom
Everton v Spurs
Middlesbrough v Stoke
Southampton v Watford
Man City v Sunderland
Bournemouth v Man Utd
Arsenal v Liverpool
Chelsea v West Ham
Welcome. We’ve quite a few newcomers to our league this season – and I’m pleased to say that most of the people who played last year have come along for the ride again. Of the 16 available prizes in 2015-2016, 11 were won by new managers. As I write, I still haven’t decided as to whether I’m going to introduce a manager of the week award. I think once I know how many people we have, I’ll test the water with you all again. I’d like to do it – I think it’d make it interesting – but I don’t want to reduce the league winning prize pot by too much. Another option might be to increase the prizes for manager of the month, so you’re at least getting your entry fee back. The prize breakdown will be calculated in due course. Keep checking the ‘Prize Money’ link for details. As usual the ‘Buckets Cup’ link provides you with all info on the knockout competition, which will probably start in late February/early March. Your ‘Roll of Honour’ link lists all the weekly and monthly winners, as well a the highest scoring players from each round.
The game hasn’t changed from last season. The site’s had a revamp in line with the new branding for the Premier League. We’ve still got two wildcards to utilise – one for each half of the season. The point scoring remains the same and you still get your one free transfer per week – two if you go for a week without making one. Those pesky chips are loitering around just underneath your team line up. Don’t play them by accident as it seems many people managed to do last season. Wait for those double gameweeks to kick in in the last two months.
Watch out though for the new Friday night kick offs – the first of which is on August 19th. That’s gameweek two. That means your team will have to be in by 7pm – on the Friday. Gone are those Saturday mornings sat in your pants mulling over the match previews on the internet. You’ll just have to hope for the best.
And so to deciding that all important starting line up. Getting points on the board early is key. It doesn’t take long for that pool of worthwhile players to start dwindling. Pretty soon we’ll all be picking the same team. There’s a lot to consider. Frisking the first batch of fixtures may help you determine who is in line for a good start to the campaign, but pre-season performance – (good, bad, any at all?), Euro 16 fatigue, new players, impending transfers, unwanted players – all play a part.
So here’s a theory for the opening weeks – avoid Arsenal and go all out Burnley.
The Gunners go into the season with a threadbare defence. None of their first choice centre halves are fit enough to play against Liverpool. Per Mertesacker and Gabriel are long term injured and Laurent Koscielny is still on his jollies. The Arsenal players involved in the latter stages of Euro 2016 seem to be getting a bit too much time off. Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil look unlikely to figure as well. Liverpool thumped Barcelona in pre-season with starring performances from Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. The £10 million you might have put aside for Ozil might be better spent on one of those two. They’re notoriously flaky in their opening fixtures too. Just one win in their last six attempts doesn’t bode well. Leicester, Southampton and Chelsea follow in a tricky opening month and a half.
Burnley, however, could get off to a flier. They have four home games in their first six. Three of those are against Swansea, Hull and Watford – just the kind of teams that they’ll need to beat at home if they are to survive. In their last season in the Premier League, despite their relegation, Tom Heaton amassed 150 points, enough to rank him as the best value keeper. It happens every season – don’t dismiss the keepers of the relegation favourites. They’ve always got more saves to make and often stack up the bonus marks. Check Heurelho Gomes in 2015-2016. They’ve also got Andre Gray. Gray is the most popular player from the promoted teams – owned by nearly 12% of managers across the game. And with good reason – he scored 23 goals last season, and has nine in six in pre-season.
There are others with favourable starts. Lets ignore the big boys for this week. West Brom, Middlesbrough and Everton may be worth looking at. West Brom are without a game against one of the traditional big six until gameweek 8. Pulis teams are usually reliable from a defensive point of view, and so mainstays Jonny Evans, Gareth MacAuley, Craig Dawson and Ben Foster could be worth some early investment.
Everton should shore up considerably at the back now with Ronald Koeman in charge. His Southampton team went six games without conceding in the middle part of last season. The John Stones money looks like it’s being spent well – Ashley Williams is in and Yannick Bolasie might follow. Other than their tricky opener against Spurs, games against West Brom, Stoke, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Bournemouth follow, with chances of points up top and at the back.
Middlesbrough wait until gameweek six before they meet a title challenger. Stoke, Sunderland, West Brom, Palace and Everton offer good clean sheet and goalscoring potential. They had the stingiest defence in the Championship last season, conceding only eight at home, and keeping 22 clean sheets. They’ve upgraded their keeper for the Premier League, and many managers will be tempted by a £4.5 million purchase of Victor Valdes. Ditto the £6.5 million you’ll need to pick up Alvaro Negredo at the other end of the pitch.