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ESPN FC  By Dale Johnson
Aug 11, 2014

Fantasy Focus - Squad building

The new fantasy season is upon us and already trends are starting to appear on popular players and tactics. We take a look at the game ahead of the new campaign.

STRIKERS

Life without Luis Suarez is not only beginning for Liverpool, but for fantasy managers too.

Suarez was irresistible last season, scoring 31 goals in 33 appearances to amass 253 fantasy points -- 31 percent more than the next best striker (Olivier Giroud) -- and by the end of the season he was owned by a staggering 67 percent of all managers.

Wayne Rooney can score plenty of goals in Louis van Gaal's honeymoon period.

The challenge is to know who to transfer that faith to, and there is certainly no consensus on who is going to be the standout striker. Wayne Rooney (Man United, 9.4 million pounds), Romelu Lukaku (Everton, 8 million) and Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool, 9.5 million) have been the most popular in the market so far with each of them in roughly a quarter of squads. Their performances last season merit such popularity. New Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez (9 million) comes next in a fifth of teams.

There is plenty of logic in Rooney being the most popular pick. Despite United's poor 12 months, he was still the fourth-highest scoring striker, and new boss Louis van Gaal has been given a dream fixture list to start his tenure.

In the first six gameweeks, the Red Devils play Swansea, Sunderland, Burnley, Queens Park Rangers, Leicester and West Ham. Loading up on United players in the opening weeks is going to be a must as a strong start seems highly likely. And with Robin van Persie perhaps absent in the first two gameweeks, Rooney is the obvious selection.

Starting against promoted teams Burnley and Leicester is Chelsea, which has seen Diego Costa selected in 17.9 percent of teams, but no other new striker has attracted interest of note in the market. But do you back the Costa of Atletico to turn up, or the Costa of the World Cup?

At 6.6 million pounds, Bafetimbi Gomis of Swansea is one to consider after a strong preseason at his new club while his teammate Wilfried Bony will be a good price at 7.4 million should he move to one of the Premier League's bigger clubs before the end of the window.

Newcastle's Emmanuel Riviere is also for the shortlist at 6.2 million after he scored 10 goals (19 starts, 11 sub appearances) for Monaco in Ligue 1 last term. And if Connor Wickham continues the form of the back of last season for Sunderland then at 5.4 million he will be a steal.

Jose Ulloa, prolific for Brighton & Hove Albion last season, has had a good month at Leicester and might be a good bench option at 4.9 million pounds.

And what about West Ham's Mauro Zarate? He already has experience of the Premier League from a loan spell at Birmingham City in which he impressed and he is fresh from a prolific spell (19 goals in 29 games) back home in Argentina with Velez Sarsfield. He is priced at 7 million pounds but will the Hammers' style of play suit him?

One of the classic mistakes in fantasy is to load your bench with non-playing, cheap options -- this will come back to haunt you. There are plenty of bargain-price players who will at least score you some points should your first choices not play. And with players often rotated or injured without notice you will be left with a zero-scorer to sub in.

Leicester's Tom Hopper is the eighth most popular player in the game in 11.5 percent of teams -- but it's not because he is going to score lots of points. He is the cheapest striker available at 4.2 million pounds but he has never played a league game for the Foxes before, and is unlikely to see action in the Premier League.

Selecting Hopper may well save you a small amount of money, but the points-to-spend payoff never works out in your favour. No fantasy manager towards the top of the league would use such a tactic, or a "dead bench" as it is known. Spending a little more a player such as Ulloa -- even if you are not going to rotate much -- is a more fruitful tactic. We see the same thing in midfield and defence with Burnley's Steven Hewitt and Luke O'Neill respectively.

MIDFIELDERS

Last year's Fantasy Player of the Year was Man City's Yaya Toure, the most expensive player in the game at 10 million pounds but who has still been bought by 27.4 percent of managers. But if one area brings great value options this season then it's the midfield.

Liverpool's Raheem Sterling is 7.4 million pounds, so it's no wonder he is the most popular midfielder to date. Even though he only ranked 13th last season, his second half was electric and much more is expected to add to the nine goals and five assists he provided.

Even though he suits up for rivals Liverpool, Raheem Sterling is one player who Chelsea fans enjoy watching.
Raheem Sterling should move up a level this season.

The other names at the top of the selections list are the usual suspects, but Tottenham's Christian Eriksen is in 21.4 percent of teams, despite only being ranked 21st among midfielders in 2013-14. It is a difficult one to work out because at 6.8 million it's not as though he is a clear bargain; in fact, his price looks fair with his likely points return.

The most popular "new" midfielder is again a Chelsea man, Cesc Fabregas. He was a superb fantasy player for Arsenal, with his five-year assists return reading as 11, 13, 8, 20, 13; consider that last season only Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez provided more than 10, and Fabregas' consistent excellence is clear. He also scored 30 goals in the same period.

Fabregas' price of 8.4 million does reflect his personal record and it could be argued that others in the Chelsea team, such as Eden Hazard, will spread the creativity through the side. But historically Fabregas is a guaranteed source of goals and assists.

At 6.1 million Bojan Krkic is either going to be one of the fantasy stars or biggest flops. He's been in fine goal-scoring form for Stoke in preseason and has a lot to prove after leaving Barcelona via unsuccessful loan spells at AS Roma and Ajax. He will turn 24 later this month and has reached the stage where those years of promise need to be fulfilled. He's the classic forward player classified as a midfielder -- pure fantasy gold and one for the shortlist.

And don't rule out a big season for Gylfi Sigurdsson back at Swansea. He will be the focal point of their midfield and has a track record of scoring regularly from an advanced position. We have to wonder just how good Swansea will be, but at 6.1 million there is value in the Iceland international.

DEFENDERS AND GOALKEEPERS

This can be tougher to call, simply because general managers are loath to spend too much money on players who can have their point-scoring ability essentially wiped out seconds into a game or at the very last moment by conceding a goal.

There is no doubt that spending big on goalkeepers isn't really worth the outlay. Petr Cech and Wojciech Szczesny had the highest points per game return last season, but they were vastly more expensive than other goalkeepers who perhaps may not keep the same number of clean sheets but make up for that by accruing points for saves. Szczesny was last season's top keeper and this time starts at a price of 7.6 million pounds. But his points per game was actually exactly the same (5.1) as Tim Howard (Everton, 6.2 million) and Artur Boruc (Southampton, 5.8million).

Tim Howard offers far better value than goalkeepers from the top clubs.

You probably don't want to risk Boruc at this stage with Southampton's exodus, but Howard is a great price and this is reflected in his astounding ownership level of 49.7 percent. The next most popular keeper is Swansea's Lukasz Fabianski, who has become the best value player you can hope to get at 4 million pounds after being elevated to first choice following the sale of Michel Vorm to Spurs. He should be in everyone's squad if only as second choice.

Goal-scoring defenders are a dream, and if you combine that with a top club and a cheap price you can't go wrong. And Liverpool's Dejan Lovren falls into at least two categories and is good for a goal. Still, with the price (5.8 million pounds) he was given as a Southampton player, he seems sure to play -- you simply won't get a cheaper regular defender at a major club.

Another of those Saints exiles who offers superb value is Man United's Luke Shaw. The sale of Patrice Evra surely means there is no doubt who will start the season in the team, and at 6.6 million pounds -- combined with United's fixture list -- there has to be a good points return.

The most popular defender is last season's star man, Everton's Seamus Coleman in 32.9 percent of teams. Coleman scored six goals and provided two assists last season to score 207 points; 23 more than Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in second. And with Roberto Martinez's playing style sure to rely on the full-backs pushing up there's no reason to suggest he won't have another good season.

Our final tip is for Newcastle's Daryl Janmaat -- though he will need the Magpies' new faces to jell quickly. He is priced at 5.5 million pounds and was good for a few goals a season in Dutch football. Maybe he can bring that across to the Premier League?

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