Pre-Season GamesResults might not matter in pre-season friendlies but the individual performance of players provides a good indicator of their form leading into the start of the new season. As we've seen with examples from previous seasons, the break-out players (Michu in 12/13, Sigurdsson in 14/15, and most recently, Payet in 15/16), all began the season coming off solid pre-seasons. Michu was noted to have “excelled in midfield” according to avid Swansea fans, having netted once in a friendly against Blackpool. Sigurdsson came off the bench to score twice against Plymouth Argyle, while Payet bagged two goals in the space of four minutes on his unofficial West Ham debut. At time of writing, there have been a few stand-out performers in pre-season matches. Jordan Ibe (5.5m), Sofiane Feghouli (5.5m), Nathan Redmond (6.0m), Gerard Deulofeu (6.5m), Wayne Routledge (5.0m, five pre-season goals!) are all superb mid-priced midfield options that have all scored in friendly games. Either one of them possess the potential to become bargain of the season, or be labelled as the “next Mahrez”. The budget forward options from newly promoted sides Middlesbrough and Burnley, Alvaro Negredo and Andre Gray (both 6.5m), have also dazzled in pre-season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (11.5m) scored just 4 minutes into his unofficial debut for United, staking a claim to be one of the must-haves in our fantasy teams. A resurgent Eden Hazard (10.5m) also came off the bench to bag a brace against Real Madrid, giving fantasy managers some food for thought. Last season's Football League Championship top scorer, Andre Gray, has impressed in particular, scoring a massive EIGHT goals in just five friendly outings for the Clarets, inclusive of a hat-trick against Rangers. Players on set-piece duty can also be noted through friendly matches. You will want to fill up your team with more of these dead-ball specialists as they are more likely to deliver with goals and assists that make up the bulk of valuable fantasy points. Andre Gray (hint, hint!), already one of our personal favourites, will be Burnley's first-choice penalty taker. Gerard Deulofeu, as mentioned earlier, has also made his mark by scoring a scorcher of a free-kick. Spot and select attacking-minded midfield players that play higher up the pitch, as they have increased probability of delivering goals and assists, the bread and butter of fantasy football. You would want to avoid defensive midfield players such as Kante (5.0m), Dier (5.5m), whose names rarely appear on the score sheet. Pre-season has always been an underrated aspect in the build-up to a new FPL season, especially overlooked by casual managers. If time does not permit you, a simple check of match results will suffice, taking note of the goal scorers and line-ups in particular.
Team Structure & BalanceThe general structure of a FPL team is vital to ensure consistent point returns without having to make too many transfers or overhaul your squad after GW1. One of the most overlooked aspects of fantasy football is the balanced structure of a team with good budget allocation for all four positions. Amateurs repeatedly make the same error of spending a large chunk of their budget on Goalkeepers and Defenders, while short-changing the funds available for their attacking players, where the bulk of fantasy returns is rooted from. In these positions, limit your spending to 34.5m. Pay no more than 9.5m for your goalkeepers and try not to exceed 25.0m for defenders. The concept of rotation can be utilised here to good effect. Rotation refers to selecting cheap defenders as a pair/triplet from mid-table teams that have alternate favourable fixtures, giving a string of gameweeks (GW) where you may select defenders that play at home or come up against bottom half opposition. For instance, West Brom's Gareth McAuley and Middlesbrough's George Friend (both 4.5m) rotate nicely for the first 6 GWs to give a kind fixture list of STK, sun, MID, CRY, WHM and stk. You may then match these rotation pairs with the proven and premium (5.0m and above) defenders from top 7 clubs with solid defences. Leicester's captain Wes Morgan has been kindly priced at 5.0m this season, an absolute steal if Leicester can keep up their defensive form from their title-winning season. John Terry (5.5m) will likely start the season as new boss Antonio Conte's first choice centre-back. The same idea applies to goalkeepers. Hull's Elden Jakupovic (4.0m) will likely start in goal come 13th August, with team-mate Allan McGregor ruled out till January. Southampton's Fraser Forster (5.0m) and Swansea's Lukasz Fabianski (5.0m) both have great fixtures to start off with. Moving on to midfielders, this is where the majority of your budget will be spent. Forking out between 36.0m to 40.0m is recommended in this area. To begin with, a core of two or three high-priced premium players (8.5m and above) that are regulars from top 6 teams must be established. From there, add one or two mid-priced players(6.0m-8.0m) to your team, along with a budget midfielder(5.0m or cheaper), depending on your preferred formation. If you plan to opt for an unorthodox 3-5-2, the likes of Wayne Routledge (5.0m), Jordan Ibe (5.5m) and Sofiane Feghouli (5.5m) may be appeal as a 5th midfielder, rather than a cheaper player with insecure game time or low scoring potential. Personally, I'm leaning towards a 3-4-3, with 2 core premium midfielders along with 2 mid-priced players and a 4.5m bench fodder this season, given the plethora of quality mid-priced players. You should be owning one of Eden Hazard (10.0m), Kevin De Bruyne (10.5m), Riyad Mahrez (9.5m) or depending on his fitness, for GW1; Alexis Sanchez (11.0m). Andre Ayew (7.5m) could have a big season if he stays at Swansea, as Guidolin has plans to use him upfront. Nathan Redmond (6.0m) and Wahbi Khazri (6.5m) both have the talent and explosive potential to outdo their price tags. Etienne Capoue, Pierre Hojbjerg, and Jonathan Leko appear to be the best 4.5m midfield options. On to strikers, the position where the majority of points roll in. Parting with a budget somewhere in the region of 28.0m to 31.0m is a good guide to follow. As a rule of the thumb, never try to scrimp and save when picking forwards to boost your midfield and/or defence. Strikers are the focal point of attacking plays and it is inevitable that goals will come often from them. Having at least 1 premium attacker (9.0m and above) from a title-contending club is a must, though we'd recommend having either 2 premium forwards + 1 budget forward (6.5m and below) or 1 premium forward + 2 mid-price forwards (7.0m-8.5m), depending once again on your preferred formation to play. The notable premium forwards this season are namely Sergio Aguero (13.0m) a must have in our opinion, the infamous Zlatan Ibrahimovic (11.5m), as well as 15/16's golden boot winner, Harry Kane (11.0m). Picking two from the trio will give a solid forward line, but leave you short on cash for the remaining positions. I've always been an advocate of splurging on premium forwards that are proven and consistent point-getters. Given the quality and explosive potential of mid-priced midfielders this season, I strongly believe owning two premium forwards is the way to go. There isn't any mid-priced attackers worth considering for now other than Everton's Romelu Lukaku (9.0m), who could start strong under the guidance of new gaffer Ronald Koeman. Andre Gray (mentioned for the third time!), Shane Long, and Salomon Rondon (all 6.5m) all harbour the potential to have stellar seasons. However, always remember not to short-change your forwards by gambling on too many budget forwards. Rely on consistent forwards that are proven goal scorers. Having a balanced team is an important part of the fundamentals to fantasy football success. A well-structured squad provides the template to achieve consistency in putting points on the board, across tough game-weeks in particular.
Injury/Transfer News & Press ConferencesTo begin the season on the front foot, it is paramount for you to own fifteen fit and healthy players. With the conclusion of the European Championships and Copa America this summer, participating players may return to their clubs behind time, missing pre-season and face a race to be fit for the start of the season. The likes of Payet, Giroud, Ozil, Koscielny, and Sanchez could all plausibly miss their opening matches. Have a listen to press conferences (usually held on Fridays, write-ups can be found on the clubs' official websites), as coaches may reveal information regarding the availability of their players for the week. Keep up to date with injury news and stay away from players unlikely to make Gameweek 1. Too often, beginners make the same mistake of selecting fringe players that do not start week in week out. Before you know it, your fantasy team will be filled with “one-pointers”, players often making cameos off the bench that are less likely to score big points and are usually inconsistent. You would be wasting valuable transfers to rid your team of these deadwood, instead of focusing on bringing in the in-form players. As such, you may be forced to take unnecessary point-hits that will prove detrimental to your overall points. Again, press conferences may provide valuable information on the starting XI for the weekend ahead. It is also vital to keep an eye out on the latest transfer news, spotting players that have the potential to take the league by storm. Even if you are clueless about the player involved, simply carry out a quick search on his track record for previous clubs. Michu had scored 15 goals for Rayo Vallecano the season prior to his move to the Liberty, Payet had topped assist charts in Europe playing under Bielsa for Marseille, while De Bruyne had bagged 16 goals in all competitions for Wolfsburg, including a host of assists, before he returned to the Premier League. A scintilla of research could make all the difference in selecting the right players for your fantasy team. This season, our money is on United's new boy, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (9.5m). Setting the Bundesliga ablaze last season with 16 goals and 15 assists in a Dortmund jersey, Mkhitaryan has all the ingredients required to be an irreplaceable FPL asset. Leave him out at your own peril. Ahmed Musa (7.5m) is another untested recruit that could imaginably be a stand-out performer, if he's able to nail down a regular spot in Claudio Ranieri's starting XI. Keeping abreast with up-to-the-minute injury and transfer speculation is crucial to maintain a head start in opposition to your mini-league rivals. In conclusion, there is no guarantee to fantasy football success but you can certainly be better-equipped and prepared to begin every new season on the right note. By keeping an eye out for spectacular individual performances in pre-season, picking a balanced team with solid structure, as well as staying up to date with the latest injury and transfer news, you could very well be vying for the top positions in your competitive mini-leagues. We hope you took away some valuable knowledge from this article, especially for the relatively inexperienced managers, still grasping with the technicalities of the game. Most importantly, go with your gut feel and always remember decisions are ultimately made by yourself, no matter how much advice you may receive. We wish you all the very best for the enthralling season about to unfold ahead, and as they say, “May the green arrows be with you!”
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