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ESPN FC  By Dale Johnson
Aug 22, 2014

Fantasy Focus: Flash in the pan?

ESPN FC's Mark Donaldson breaks down the best bargains for scoring midfielders this weekend.

Long-time followers of the ESPN FC fantasy Premier League game -- and in particular avid listeners to the sadly deceased fantasy podcast -- will be all too familiar with the phrase "horse-boltage."

- It's not too late: Sign up for Premier League fantasy

This frustrating (and for most of us, completely unavoidable) phenomenon involves transferring a player, usually not known for their fantasy worth, into your squad the second his rich vein of scoring comes to an end. This can strike at any point in the season but claims most of its victims in the opening weeks.

We are seeing evidence of people shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted already. Here we take a look at some of the most popular players in the transfer market this week and their long-term prospects for points.

GOALKEEPERS

Swansea City goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is the most signed player, seeing a sizeable 3.7 percent rise in ownership. Fabianski was tipped in this column as a must-own  in preseason due to his rock-bottom price of 4 million pounds, the lowest in the game. He was set to be understudy to Michel Vorm but following the Dutch goalkeeper's move to Spurs, he has been elevated to No. 1. Even if you do not choose to have Fabianski as first-choice, he has to be on your bench as a playing reserve. And with Swansea at home to Burnley and West Brom in their next two fixtures even that seems folly.

Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris comes next with a 2.2 percent, followed by Hull City's Allan McGregor at 1.3 percent. McGregor's penalty save and clean sheet against Queens Park Rangers makes him the top-scoring goalkeeper and Hull have a kind fixture run with home games against Stoke, West Ham and Crystal Palace together with trips to Aston Villa and Newcastle. The worry is whether Hull can juggle the Premier League with the Europa League.

Tim Howard is being dropped like a stone, deserted by 3.9 percent of managers but he remains by some distance the most selected goalkeeper in 44.7 percent of teams (Fabianski is next at 19.8 percent). Everton have a tough start to the season, meaning Howard was always a suspect choice. In the next six gameweeks, the Toffees play Arsenal and Chelsea at home and also travel to Liverpool and Manchester United.

DEFENDERS

Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny (7.1 million pounds) edges top place with a 2.7 percent rise in ownership, but signing a goal-scoring defender for one of the Premier League's top clubs hardly qualifies as "horse-bolting." It is surprising that Calum Chambers, still with his Southampton price tag of a bargain 4.7 million, is up only 0.4 percent with managers concerned just how much football he will get once Per Mertesacker is fully fit after World Cup duty.

Nathaniel Clyne celebrates after scoring Southampton's equaliser at Liverpool.

Second-most popular is a player who has not deserted Southampton, Nathaniel Clyne. It's amazing what a goal can do to the transfer market, as despite doubts over just how well the Saints will perform he is up 2.6 percent. At 5.8 million he cannot be considered a true bargain and after being ranked 42nd among defenders last season (though he shared right-back duties with Chambers) there is no historical suggestion he will be consistent. It was only his second Premier League goal (the other came in September 2012) and he provided seven assists over the past two seasons. But Southampton do have a superb run of games, playing West Brom, Newcastle and QPR at home as well as West Ham and Swansea away. That said, if you want to invest in a defender, Maya Yoshida at 5 million provides far better value and is owned by just 1.8 percent of managers.

Spurs defender Eric Dier is up 2.5 percent but is going to be a risky purchase, though that is offset by his price of 5.1 million. He scored the late winner at West Ham but was a surprise inclusion in the team, and it remains to be seen if he will still start once Jan Vertonghen is fit.

Seamus Coleman mirrors Howard in that he is the most sold defender (down 3.5 percent at a price of 7 million) followed by Man United's injured Luke Shaw (3.0 percent drop).

MIDFIELDERS

The top three signings are all midfielders, with the list headed by Swansea's Gylfi Sigurdsson. Perhaps his fantasy ability dropped under the radar after two seasons at Spurs during which he was in and out of the team -- but he still provided eight goals and four assists for Spurs despite making just 26 Premier League starts. And when you then go back to his first spell at Swansea, which produced seven goals and three assists in 17 starts, the evidence is there. A goal and an assist at Man United on Saturday has seen his ownership rise 5.4 percent at a price of £6.1m (which will almost certainly rise by 0.3 million on Saturday). As a goal-scoring midfielder, and with Swansea only playing one of the league traditional powerhouses in the next six weeks, ignore Sigurdsson at your peril.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is still in only 9.4 percent of teams.

Raheem Sterling, (up 4.5 percent), Cesc Fabregas (4.0 percent, and guarantees assists, with two on Monday), David Silva (3.8 percent), Andre Schurrle (2.8 percent) and Aaron Ramsey (1.9 percent) offer no surprises in the market but next we find another Southampton player in Dusan Tadic (1.5 percent). Tadic is the first player to appear more for their performance (in the defeat at Liverpool) than points return. He did provide the backheel for Clyne to score and looked lively throughout on his Saints debut. The key here is that Tadic is the classic fantasy gold -- an attacking player classified as a midfielder and after scoring 29 Eredivisie goals in two seasons at FC Twente, he clearly has pedigree. He comes at a tempting price of 5.5 million but it is definitely a gamble to assume goals will still flow in English football.

Remy Cabella falls into the same category (up 0.9 percent, priced at 5.8 million), after scoring 21 goals in two seasons with Montpellier. After an exciting debut for Newcastle he looks capable of performing in the Premier League and the Magpies are another club with a very favourable fixture list (away to Villa, Southampton, Stoke and Swansea; home to Palace and Hull).

Ross Barkley, who is likely out until October with a knee injury, is most sold this week down 4.9 percent. Juan Mata is surprisingly down 2.3 percent, as while Man United had a poor opening day there's still plenty in their fixture list to suggest keeping faith for now at least.

STRIKERS

There can be little surprise at the name leading the list of strikers, with Chelsea's goal-scoring debutant Diego Costa up 3.0 percent. He may cost 9 million but managers now feel he will bring his La Liga form to England rather than his World Cup efforts.

Diego Costa celebrates his debut goal for Chelsea.

Next up is West Brom's Saido Berahino (5.5 million), who was in and out of the Baggies team last season, making just 11 starts but scored twice against Sunderland leading to a 2.1 percent rise in ownership. That should be enough to cement his place in the WBA team in the short term but either he or Victor Anichebe will have to make way for record signing Ideye Brown. And with manager Alan Irvine in the market for another striker there is no certainly that Berahino will keep his place.

Most of the other popular strikers are all the big names: Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko. Goals have brought smaller rises for Aston Villa's Andreas Weimann (6.2 million), Everton's Steven Naismith (5.6 million) and Leicester's Leonardo Ulloa (4.9 million). Villa do play Newcastle and Hull in their next two games, but then face daunting trips to Liverpool and Chelsea as well as home games against Arsenal and Man City in consecutive gameweeks. Ulloa, another tipped by us in preseason, also has a very tough run of games with Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United in the next four weeks. It's doubtful that any of these three players are going to give you a desired return in your investment.

Romelu Lukaku heads the list of sales (down 2.2 percent) though those replacing Arsenal's Olivier Giroud (down 1.6 percent) may regret their actions now he is a certain starter with Yaya Sanogo injured.

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