Fantasy Focus

A game changer

August 14, 2012
By Dale Johnson
(Archive)

The Olympics has only just been put to bed and before we know it the Premier League is upon us - which means there is just a few days to get your fantasy squad built for the new season.

Lukas Podolski got on the scoresheet against his former club
APLukas Podolski got on the scoresheet against his former club Cologne in Arsenal colours

• Click here to play - it's free

Putting together your squad at this stage of the season has always been troublesome with so many transfers happening as the deadline approaches at the end of the month, making it tough to truly predict which teams will be the real strugglers and which will be the shock performers.

Many managers will no doubt take a punt on Newcastle players after they exceeded expectations. But will they be able to repeat those heroics this time? Then there's always the defensive conundrum at Everton, who usually start the season badly but improve to become one of the best for clean sheets. And if you opt to sign the expensive Leighton Baines then you may be waiting for a return on your investment. And what of Swansea? Last season's club for bargains but now under new management.

New signings from abroad are often difficult to assess. We all remember Rafael van der Vaart coming in and hitting form straight away, with three goals in his first four games, but that kind of impact is rare.

Oscar arrives at Chelsea directly from the Olympic Games, so it may be he is eased into the team at the start of the campaign and at £7.5 million a watching brief may be best. And then there is Eden Hazard, one of the most hyped players in Europe, who scored 20 Ligue 1 goals for Lille last season and also provided 16 assists - a return which would have made him the Fantasy Player of the Year in England. But playing in France is a different level and a price of £8.4 million may put managers off.

Over at Manchester United, Shinji Kagawa has not proved as popular as expected in the early weeks of the fantasy game, currently owned by 1.1% of managers. Another new face priced at £7.5 million, Kagawa has made an instant impact during pre-season and been amongst the goals.

Arsenal have already brought in three players from overseas, with former Malaga midfielder Santi Cazorla proving a hit since being added to the game at £7.6 million. Lukas Podolski is also proving hot property with his price of £7.7 million tempting managers in, but far fewer managers have been taking a punt on Olivier Giroud at £7.2 million.

And can you risk £9.0 million on last season's Player of the Year, Robin van Persie, while his future is up in the air?

So far Liverpool have only brought in a couple of players, but that is sure to change. Fabio Borini arrives from Roma but with Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez available we may have to wait to see how much game time he will get. A price of £6.6 million will be a bargain, but only if he is a preferred striking option of Brendan Rodgers.

Then there is one of the season's budget moves after Joe Allen switched to Anfield from Swansea at a fantasy price of £5.8 million. Only Joe Cole of the senior Liverpool players is cheaper. But Allen plays in a deeper midfield role, scoring four goals and two assists, so there may be a better return from a more attacking midfielder at a less fashionable club.

Manchester City are yet to fully dip their toes into transfer waters, though they have brought Jack Rodwell across from Everton. Just how much he will play this season is open to debate and may depend on Nigel de Jong departing Eastlands - and even then he would not be an immediate selection with Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure ahead of him. Like Allen, he does offer a cheaper price of £5.1 million. Injuries also restricted him to just 14 appearances at Everton last season.

Gylfi Sigurdsson: Midfield playmaker
PA PhotosGylfi Sigurdsson: Midfield playmaker

Tottenham have brought in Gylfi Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim, a player who has spent much of career in England and became a key player for Swansea when on loan in the second half of last season. With seven goals and three assists in 13 appearances he became a fantasy must-have, but with Spurs' attacking options in midfield we must wait to see where he sits in Andre Villas-Boas' plans.

A real test of fantasy tactics comes in the first gameweek - when Chelsea and Reading will both have two fixtures as their league game has been brought forward due to a clash with the UEFA Super Cup. This means Chelsea will play Wigan and Reading, and the Royals also take on Stoke City. There is probably not much interest in the Reading players, but managers may opt to stock up on Blues for the first gameweek and assign the captaincy there too.

Of course, this does mean that Chelsea and Reading will not have a fixture in gameweek two, so it will be a case of going with a smaller squad for a week or using up transfers to shuffle your squad.

We've been listening to our managers' wishes and brought in two new features which will transform the way you approach the game.

Last season there was no way to gain any benefit from shrewd managerial moves, buying players cheap and then selling them on for a profit at the peak of their performance. This means players would be far more expensive than when a manager bought them. While there would be the points to show for it there was no other reward for picking out the bargains.

We've changed the way our transfer market engine works for 2012-13, meaning if a player rises in value your budget will rise too. But beware, if you sign a player who fails to live up to their price tag and drops in value you can also lose money.

It is important to note your allowed budget can only rise if you actually transfer that player, your budget will not change automatically purely with market price. Think of it this way: if you buy a house, you don't get any money for a rise in value unless you sell that house.

So, if you buy Robin van Persie at £9.0 million and his price rises to £9.7 million, and you then choose to sell him, you will get an extra £0.7 million to spend on your squad.

This will make the transfer market and the timing of your trades far more important, freeing up the cash to invest on players who would otherwise be out of your budget. Hanging on to players for too long could prove an error in your quest for glory.

Our other major enhancement closes a loophole which some managers were exploiting last season with substitutes. Now you must rank your bench positions in order of preference, starting with the player to the left of the bench positions as first preference. The rule still applies that a sub can only come on for a player of the same position, so the new rule is only applicable if you have two players from one position on the bench. But if, for instance, you have two defenders on the bench the top scoring player will no longer be activated first, it will now be the defender you choose to be ranked higher (to the left) among subs.

As in previous years, all managers can enter private leagues along with their friends - up to a maximum of three leagues per team. And each gameweek will lock at the first kick-off of the week. Games which are postponed and rearranged for any reason will qualify to score points in the week they are actually played.

Before the first match of the Premier League season, and also prior to the first match of Segment 2, there will be a transfer amnesty meaning managers can make as many changes as they wish without it affecting their Segment allocation. Each manager will receive 20 transfers to use in Segment 1, and another 20 in Segment 2. Unused transfers will not carry over between segments and all budgets will be reset to £100 million at the start of Segment 2.

• Remember you can discuss the game on the Premier Fantasy Forum and follow me on Twitter: @dalejohnsonESPN. Also, you can email fantasy@soccernet.com