On Aug. 16, the long awaited 2014-2015 Premier League season begins and with it the recently launched ESPN FC fantasy football will give thousands of people around the world the opportunity to have a vested interest in players and clubs by picking 15 players for their fantasy teams.
While I am not among the world's elite fantasy managers, I have seen what works and what doesn't work and offer thoughts to help you compete.
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Last year defenders were big point producers; however, when the season was over, forwards and midfielders were the players with the greatest number of points. Because of that, I recommend a fantasy formation of three defenders, four or five midfielders, and two or three forwards.
You are required to carry two goalkeepers, five defenders, five midfielders, and three forwards. I have always thought five defenders are too many, but it is what it is. So, I usually carry two low-budget defenders so I can put money in midfield and up front. I recommend a good goalkeeper who plays all games and a low-budget reserve.
Successful fantasy managers usually allot much of their budget for big-name stars at forward and midfield and then, to meet the budget limit, try to pick lesser names who could bring unexpected points. The key is having eleven players who you know will start each game.
The season is divided into two segments, and managers are given 30 transfers for each half. Unused transfers do not carry over into Segment 2. Judicious use of transfers is critical, especially to cover player injuries, and weeks in which teams play more than one game because of weather postponements or tournament conflicts.
I recommend waiting to make a transfer until late in the day before a gameweek begins. You never know if a player will go down during training or in a tournament match.
Heart and head decisions
Successful fantasy managers don't let heartfelt feelings for favorite players cloud their judgment in picking and maintaining rosters. Sometimes a player's slump never ends, so it's better to cut them loose too soon rather than hang on for weeks getting the dreaded "three points" (a start, 60+ playing minutes, and no goals or clean sheets).
There will be many new players throughout the league who have come from other leagues by way of a cash or free transfer. You never know who will have an immediate impact. Some will need six months or the entire season to fully adapt to England's weather, culture, their new teammates, and the PL style of play, while others are productive from the first game.
Picking the right player to wear the double-point armband is probably the biggest factor that separates one fantasy manager from the rest. I have never thought much of making goalkeepers or defenders a captain. While defenders return eight points for each goal, their scoring is rare and negative points come into play for every second goal they concede. The same for goalkeepers who get bonus points for every third save.
Transfer windows and other bits to know
Fantasy managers have unlimited transfers to set their rosters until the first match kicks off on Aug. 16 at 10 a.m. ET. The fantasy game is divided into two segments, with the first ending Dec. 28, and the second segment beginning Jan. 1. Fantasy managers are given 30 transfers in each segment. It is advisable to save some transfers for the end of each segment; however, unused transfers do not carry over into Segment 2.
Premier League teams are allowed to transfer players for two weeks after the season has begun. This completes the summer transfer window that begins after the final match in May and ends on Aug. 31.
January is a month of intrigue in the PL because this is the longest time (Jan. 1-29) during the season that players can be transferred to other teams or new players can be brought in from outside the Premier League. Their possible addition to your team will not cost you a transfer unless they become the fourth player from the same team on your fantasy squad. Then you will have to decide which three you want to keep.
Outside these windows, Premiership clubs can only sign players on a permanent basis if they seek special dispensation from the Football Association. This request is typically only granted for exceptional circumstances -- mainly if a team has no goalkeeper available to play in their squad.
Players can be loaned out to non-Premiership clubs outside of the windows, but Prem teams cannot bring in loan players. Again, the special dispensation for exceptional circumstances is available.
Loaned out players from one PL club to another cannot play against the loaning club (i.e. Romelu Lukaku could not play for Everton against Chelsea last season).
Africa Cup of Nations
From Jan. 17 to Feb. 8, some players will compete in the African Cup of Nations tournament in Morocco. Sixteen national teams are entered and a select group of PL players will be there while their PL clubs continue domestic play. Some managers replace a player competing in the African games and then transfer him back in; however, that strategy uses two transfers.