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May 20, 2009

Looking to the future

The fantasy season is winding down for another year but it's never too early to start planning for next term.

The cream has, in general, risen to the top with big names scooping the top points. Pepe Reina, Nemanja Vidic, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nicolas Anelka lead the way in each position proving that you do need to spend your cash on class to challenge, be it in your mini-league or in the overall competition.

To be able to pick up the very best you do have to be more creative elsewhere in your squad, looking for bargains and budget buys to balance the books. There are a number of likely lads for next season.

• Michael Kightly, Wolverhampton Wanderers

This attacking midfielder was plying his trade with Grays Athletic in non-league football little more than two years ago, but he will now get the chance to play in the Premier League after Wolves won the Championship title.

The England Under-21 international topped the assists chart in the second tier this season with 19, a superb return, and also weighed in with eight goals. If he can transform just some of that form into the top flight he will be a certain bargain. Players from all of the promoted clubs are not going to be expensive so, as with Chris Brunt of West Brom in the second half of this campaign, there can be some real gems.

The top assists for the other club guaranteed a promotion place, Birmingham City, is Sebastian Larsson with just six which underlines how much of an impact Kightly has had at Molineux and may do among the stars in 2009/10.

• Brede Hangeland, Fulham

An unknown when joining Fulham during the 2007/08 season, Hangeland has helped transform the Cottagers from a side battling to stay up to one on the brink of European football.

The Norwegian defender was priced at just £4m at the start of the season but after 14 clean sheets, one goal and a key contribution he's managed a tally of 89 points, meaning he is the seventh best defender in the game. His value has risen by £1m over the season, and it would probably have risen more if he did not play for an unfashionable club.

Hangeland's attraction will grow should Fulham choose to sell him in August, and it seems quite likely he will move on to a bigger club. Should that happen he would move clubs with a Fulham price tag, making him even more of a steal.

• Rafael, Manchester United

Brazilian defender Rafael came to the attention of fantasy managers at the start of this season but in truth turned out to be a bit of a red herring, mainly because United boss Sir Alex Ferguson chose to use him sparingly.

After bursting onto the scene as a complete unknown, he went on to start just 11 Premier League matches with a further four appearances from the bench. That means he will still be a good price next season as his value will not be exposed to a high points tally this season. Despite not playing too much he still scored 40 points with eight clean sheets and one goal.

With Gary Neville likely to take an increasing back seat with the Premier League champions, Rafael is very likely play a larger role next term and should prove good value.

• Glen Johnson, Portsmouth

The chances of Johnson being a good buy may depend largely on where he plays next season. The former Chelsea and West Ham United wing-back has grown this season to become a regular in Fabio Capello's England set-up. His driving runs and willingness to take a shot at goal have brought him to the attention of other clubs.

Portsmouth's financial situation seems set to take hold this summer, and players such as Johnson will be at the top of the shopping list for those aiming to cherry pick their best performers.

Johnson has 64 points this season, from 29 starts, with three goals, four key contributions and eight clean sheets. Comparatively it is worse than last season; he was the 15th best defender in 2007/08 and this term is 27th. However, he has more goals and assists; Pompey's poor defensive performance has affected him.

• Matthew Taylor, Bolton Wanderers

Another player who has left Portsmouth to rediscover his fantasy worth, Taylor has become a must-have in the second half of the season. The midfielder has risen in value by £1.2m to £6.7m and is the fourth best midfielder in the game - and as high as sixth overall. It's an amazing return for a player so cheap.

There is, of course, no way that Taylor will start next season valued at just £5.5m again but the fact he plays for Bolton Wanderers will mean his price does not go through the roof and he will, pound for pound, still be one of the best players to get.

With ten goals, four key contributions and six clean sheet points it's easy to see why he is right up at the top.

• Marouane Fellaini, Everton

Who? That was the general response when Everton splashed out a club record fee to land Fellaini from Standard Liege. His deadly ability to find space in the box, very much like Tim Cahill, and score valuable goals makes him a viable fantasy option.

Of course, many will point to his terrible disciplinary record as a reason to steer clear - he has 12 Premier League yellow cards this year. However, the Belgian has cleaned up his act since the infamous tenth card which ruled him out of the double-header against Liverpool towards the beginning of the year. He has only been booked twice since the end of February.

If Felliani can keep the cards to a minimum he will be a good buy. His is the 15th best midfielder; without the yellow cards he could be easily be in sixth place. With eight goals and three key contributions he's one to watch.

• Glenn Whelan, Stoke City

The former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder barely got a look in until just before Christmas but is now one of the first names on the teamsheet. He is also in the Ireland team under Giovanni Trapattoni.

He has already shown his ability to grab goals from the edge of the box, though he has only scored the one in the Premier League and has just one assist too.

With a Premier League season under his belt it could be that he learns from that and becomes a goalscoring regular in 2009/10.

• David Bentley, Tottenham Hotspur

After the highs of Blackburn Rovers, former England regular Bentley has found himself out in the cold at Tottenham. Even when first choice winger Aaron Lennon has been unavailable manager Harry Redknapp has found someone else to put into the team rather than Bentley.

Redknapp has this week admitted that he expects Bentley to leave for regular football and this is where he gets interesting. After having such a horrendous season - just one goal and three assists - his value right now has plummeted to £5.5m at a loss of £2m. It all means he will be a cheaper purchase for 2009/10.

If Bentley can again become the "big fish in a small pond" at another club he must surely get among the points on a regular basis again.

• Ricardo Fuller, Stoke City

At one stage this striker looked to be on his way out of the Potteries after an on-pitch bust-up, but his goalscoring form in the run-in as Stoke stayed in the Premier League with plenty to spare should see more interest in 2009/10.

Fuller bagged 10 Premier League goals this season and that's despite starting only 24 of their matches. His price has not changed from the £5.5m at the start of the campaign despite being the 24th best striker in the division.

If he can transfer that form into a full 38-game season he will be hard to ignore.

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