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Aug 26, 2009

The early pacesetters

We're only three weeks into the new term of fantasy and an old trend seems to be appearing, a shift in power back to the strikers.

In recent seasons midfielders have dominated the scoring, though with fantasy legend Cristiano Ronaldo now in La Liga and a more strict interpretation of the key contribution rule it could be their importance has diminished.

Granted, Francesc Fabregas may have laid down a marker with 20 points from just two games, making him the top midifelder in the game courtesy of two goals and two assists in the opening gameweek of the season. The Spaniard is now injured, however, and is set to miss gameweek four this weekend.

But it's a striker who leads the way. Tottenham's Jermain Defoe has notched up 22 points already with four goals to his name. Despite his good start, Defoe is not exactly popular and is in just 3,598 teams. Compare that to Fernando Torres, easily the most selected player with 25,048 picks, which is just under a third of all teams.

The top six strikers on value have all managed to get into double figures already while only the two costliest midfielders, and four of the top six, have managed to do the same. Defenders fare even worse with only two of the top six managing to achieve this. So strikers are living up to their pre-season billing.

It is early days to proclaim it's the season of the striker, after two disappointing seasons, but the signs are positive.

Didier Drogba fits in second for strikers, selected in 8,822 teams, but with Defoe costing £8m and Drogba £10m it's clear where the value is. Wayne Rooney is just behind on 17 points with Sunderland duo Kenwyne Jones and Darren Bent both on 14 points. It's worth noting that each of those strikers has featured in all three gameweeks. The best striker from two games is Emmanuel Adebyor of Manchester City who has scored in both games played for 12 points.

Behind Fabregas in midfield, it's no shock to find Steven Gerrard. And level with the Liverpool skipper on 17 points is Hull City's Stephen Hunt. The former Reading player proved with the Royals two seasons ago that he can be a goalscorer on a regular basis and at just £5.5m he must be the steal of the game at the moment. It's worth taking a punt on Hunt before the price fluctuations come in next week.

Aaron Lennon's goal against West Ham sees him move to 15 points with eight other players on 13 points.

Fabregas and Gerrard are the top two selections in midfield, with Gerrard way out in front. But surprisingly, Frank Lampard trails well behind Gerrard with 10,884 buys to 17,681. And those two players had just a couple of points separating them last season.

Managers with Hunt in their team have made a real killing as he's been selected in just 147 teams. That will certainly change.

Defensively, there's no doubt that the stand-out player is William Gallas. Amazingly, the French central defender has played only two games, not kept a clean sheet but still he finds himself joint top. After scoring against Everton and Portsmouth he's on 18 points.

Gallas is, by comparison, not a popular selection. John Terry is in 17,993 teams and is way ahead of Rio Ferdinand on 11,774. And Rio has yet to even play a game. Gallas can boast to have been picked in only 3,652 teams.

Level with Gallas is one of the breakthrough fantasy players of last season, Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross. With a goal and two clean sheets, the £4.5m player is proving his record last term was no one off. Listeners to the fantasy podcast will be all too aware how painful it can be to miss the boat on Shawcross.

Shawcross and Gallas have clear daylight between themselves and the rest, led by Matthew Upson of West Ham on 14 points, who does look a bargain at £5m (which is half a million more than Shawcross).

It's not been a vintage start for the top goalkeepers in the game with clean sheets at a premium. So far the smart money has largely been on those tipped to struggle. Birmingham's Joe Hart leads the list of stoppers on 17 points and holds a three-point lead to Ben Foster of Manchester United, who has the gloves while Edwin van der Sar regains fitness. With Hart and Foster both priced at £4m the short-term value must be with the United man, even if Hart has started well. Hart is in 2,054 teams with Foster in 4,079.

Stoke City's Thomas Sorensen is also on 14 points with Man City's Shay Given plus Brian Jensen of Burnley on 13 points.

If you went for historical performance over price then you will have been stung. The combined points tally of the six most expensive goalkeepers in the game is 23. And Tim Howard, who is still the most selected goalkeeper in the game, stands on -2.

So strikers have the bragging rights after the opening gameweeks, but will you shift your tactics to spend on the forward line or stick with a strong midfield?

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