Fantasy focus: Bargain hunting

September 23, 2008
By Dale Johnson
(Archive)

The clamour to get Cristiano Ronaldo back into fantasy teams has begun. A wise decision for the moment, only because he's available at a knocked down price of £11.4million due to people shipping him out after realised their pre-season gaffe. Bizarrely, many thousands had him in their team from the start despite the ankle operation which kept him out of Manchester United's start to the season.

Cristiano Ronaldo
GettyImages / CristianoRonaldoCristiano Ronaldo: Overpriced and half-fit?
It's highly doubtful Ronaldo is going to get enough points to justify that price tag while he is getting back to full fitness. And should he suffer a setback it will be a complete waste of a handful of transfers through bringing him in then out again.

Midfield is a hugely important area in fantasy as players can gain points for all three of the major scoring areas - goals, assists and clean sheets. While defenders can do also, they lose points for goals conceded and are far less likely to score attacking points.

It's better to invest in defenders who play for the elite clubs - or those who will finish in European places - but are not overpriced to give your side a solid base likely to get numerous clean sheets but also not lose too many from goals conceded.

The midfield is where a mini-league - and the game as a whole - is won and lost. Three of the top four points scorers are midfielders, and 11 of the top 20. And when it comes to value for money (points scored per million spent) the evidence is even more clear. The top four are all midfielders, as are six of the top eight.

That's not to say the policy should be to blow a budget in midfield, far from it. In fact, this season has proved that, for the early season at least, it's important to pick the form players early to get the most benefit.

It's true that over the course of the season the Lampards and Gerrards of the Premier League will rise to the top of the points chart. That is certainly not the case so far with only Blumer Elano and Lampard from last season's top ten appearing at this stage.

The most successful midfield selection from the start of the season has, without doubt, been Denilson of Arsenal. With the Gunners not strengthening following the departures of Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini there was an obvious gap. With two goals, three clean sheets and three assists Denilson has been a revelation.

He is by far the best value for money player available (5.88 points per million) and after the goal and assist he grabbed against Bolton there will be more and more managers bringing him in. The Brazilian remains just £5.1million while others try to find the extra £6.3million needed to bring in a half-fit Ronaldo.

Denilson is the second highest scoring midfielder, behind only to Shaun Wright-Phillips. The key to SWP was to bring him in after his move back to Manchester City. He's scored 28 of his 31 points since leaving Chelsea and his value is starting to rocket now he is scoring at 4.37 points per million.

ESPNsoccernet Podcast producer Adam Williams is testimony to this. He made that very transfer and those points have moved him up to second in the ESPNsoccernet Experts table. They are lofty heights for Adam on past performances.

SWP has gone up in value by £1.1million already and is sure to go up further at the next update.

Shaun Wright-Phillips
GettyImages / GaryMPriorShaun Wright-Phillips is now a must-have player

Another great bet for long-term performance is Stephen Ireland - an unsung hero of Eastlands hidden among Robinho, Elano, Jo and Martin Petrov. He has long been championed by team-mates and that is now being transformed into fantasy points. At just £5.4million he's still a steal and with City's new ethos is should continue to score points throughout the season.

West Brom's James Morrison, on the other hand, has scored two goals in as many games to make him second in the VFM chart but don't expect him to stay there. Anyone transferring him in will be performing some serious horseboltage (see the Facebook Fantasy Glossary).

The key now is to move for one of more of these players while you can still gain an advantage through budget increases.

Another player that falls into this category is Wigan's Amr Zaki. He has been one of the most popular players in terms of transfers over the past few weeks due to his cheap price and consistent scoring. He's third in the overall scoring charts, the top performing striker and fifth in the value for money stakes at 4.24 points per million. The Egyptian has gone up in value by £1.1million to £6.6m and people must now act fast to take advantage of any bargain that may remain.

With the big name players failing to perform so far it will be worth using up a few transfers to make the cash on the lesser lights. Not only will you increase your budget but you should get the star names at a knockout price as people lose patience before they come into form.

For instance, the star players are struggling so far. In midfield, Ronaldo (144th best midfielder), Steven Gerrard (22nd), Michael Ballack (56th) and Francesc Fabregas (82nd) have all been expensive mistakes to far. Up front, Fernando Torres (25th), Didier Drogba (62nd), Wayne Rooney (49th), Carlos Tevez (44th) and Dimitar Berbatov (49th) have also been hugely disappointing.

The early season lesson is to switch quickly to the bargain form players and trade up at the right time. We're not going to hear the end of it from 'expert' Adam, as you'll doubtless hear should you tune into the Podcast.