Welcome back to yet another season of Fantasy Premier League football!
If you stuck with us during the exciting and sometimes sad thrill ride that was the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, great to have you back with us again. If you just stumbled upon our FPL content recently, a very warm welcome and hopefully you’ll find our regular contributions to the world of FPL both enjoyable and useful in your quest for a top rank come the end of the season.
Newly promoted Brentford will be taking on Community Shield winners Arsenal in the season opener on Friday, August 13th. In the build-up to that game, we will be taking an in-depth look at each of the 20 squads competing in the Premier League this season with a special focus on their FPL potential. In this ninth instalment, we will be providing a bit more insight into a new-look Spurs side under former Wolves coach Nuno Espirito Santo and the last of three promoted teams in this season preview series, Watford.
SPURS – FPL 2021/22 team preview
If there was an award for rockiest pre-season, then Tottenham Hotspur would be a prime candidate this year. It started with the reported struggle for the club to find a manager of name and reputation to follow in the footsteps of the often controversial José Mourinho. Inter’s Antonio Conte, Bayern’s Hansi Flick, Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers, all of these names and a bunch more were linked to the Spurs job, and as many allegedly declined the opportunity. All but one, that is, because the Londoners eventually did manage to sign Nuno Espirito Santo, the successful Wolves coach who led his former team back to the Premier League for the 2018/19 season and immediately established them as an upper mid-table force to be reckoned with.
In other words, and despite Spurs being a clear step-up in terms of club size and pressure to perform, the doubts surrounding his appointment at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium seem largely unfounded. Calm, tactically strong and a good man-manager, Espirito Santo could turn out to be the perfect heir to Mourinho’s squad. Having said that, improving on last season’s seventh place, preferably in the form of a top-four finish, is going to be a mammoth task for the Portuguese manager.
Of course, the Harry Kane shenanigans are not helping. Imagine signing for a club considered serial underachievers by their own fans, knowing that you can at least build a team and a new tactical approach around the league’s best striker (who was directly involved in no less than 54% of the team’s goals in the prior season), and then that striker deciding not to turn up for the first training session after his holidays. Or the second. Or the third. Not cool, to say the least, but Espirito Santo has to deal with it and he’s doing it in his own style: calm, unruffled, positive. We will see if Kane will turn up in a Spurs’ shirt come gameweek 1, that’s all we can say for now.
Spurs’ tactics sheet
One of the major causes for doubts in regard to Espirito Santo’s appointment has to do with the fact that, after the largely negative approach to games under Mourinho, the club was supposed to move into a more attack-minded direction. That’s because the Portuguese manager is not exactly known for an especially attacking kind of football.
It’s not that Santo’s football is not attractive, because it can definitely be, but it’s based on fitness and tactical discipline first of all, combined with a solid defensive foundation. His statement at the start of his tenure about first getting fitness levels up to his standards before settling on a formation should therefore be taken seriously. Additionally, it shows another quality of the new Spurs coach, namely that he is not rigidly set on a certain shape or playing style. The result could be a very hard-to-beat, hard-working Spurs side in which the attacking assets, like at Wolves, can excel.
It remains to be seen how Spurs will line up in GW1, but we feel a five-men backline is most likely, considering both Nuno’s playing style at Wolves over the past four seasons and the player material available to him at Spurs. In goal, captain Hugo Lloris seems assured of another season as Spurs #1, despite him entering his final contract year. For the central trio, the club is looking for reinforcements with Atalanta defender Cristian Romero on the way and Bologna defender Takehiro Tomiyasu strongly linked to the North London side. Of the current squad, Ben Davies and Eric Dier look like the most likely candidates for a starting spot. Sergi Reguilón on the left and Matt Doherty, who blossomed under Nuno at Wolves, on the right fill the wing-back positions.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele look set to form the team’s double pivot in the middle. For the three spots left up front, Nuno has quite an abundance of talent at his disposal, though some of them will hope for a bit of a form revival after featuring on the fringes under Mourinho. Assuming Kane stays, he will lead the line with the other undroppable and outstanding performer Heung-Min Son behind him, around him or on the wing. Dele Alli, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn and Giovanni lo Celso will be vying for the third spot in attack, either on the right flank (Moura, Bergwijn) or behind the Kane-Son duo (Alli, Lo Celso).
SPURS – Potential FPL targets
Obviously, Harry Kane (£12.5m) is Spurs fantasy pick number one. At the moment of writing he is still a Spurs player, and anyone Spurs-related will be hoping this will still be the case come the end of the transfer window on August, 31st. Kane became both the Premier League topscorer with 23 goals and the division’s assist king with 14 assists last season for a total of 242 FPL points. The season’s top points scorer Bruno Fernandes outdid him by just two points. Kane is Tottenham’s talisman, he is fixture-proof and he is on penalties as well as on more than a few free-kicks. Yes, he is very expensive and Spurs’s opening fixtures are not fantastic, but there a few safer long-term investments than Tottenham’s very own in the official fantasy game.
We generally try to focus on FPL assets besides the premium picks a lot, but in the case of Spurs, it’s just very hard to not mention both Kane and Heung-Min Son (£10.0m) when discussing their fantasy picks. With 17 goals and 11 assists, the Korean had a phenomenal 2020/21 campaign, scoring 228 FPL points, just 14 less than Kane. That’s also where much of Son’s appeal lies, because his price tag is a whole £2.5m lighter and he is registered as a midfielder in the official fantasy game. No other midfielder provided more value than him last season and with a current ownership of just over 17%, he is a relative differential pick as well.
To counter our two heavyweight fantasy picks, we are highlighting the potential budget-enabling value of Eric Dier (£4.5m). The versatile Englishman, who can play as a defensive midfielder as part of the double pivot, as one of the two central defenders in a four-men defence or as one of the three central defenders in a backline of five, was Spurs’ most-used defender last season in terms of playing minutes. He is not the one you should look for if you’re on a quest for attacking returns, in 2,520 minutes Dier recorded no attacking returns, but if Nuno manages to implement some of his much-desired tactical discipline and defensive solidity this season, the England international could be of excellent value to any FPL squad. Cherry on the cake is that Dier was raised in Portugal and came through Sporting Lisbon’s academy, so he is fluent in his new manager’s native language.
WATFORD – FPL 2021/22 team preview
With Watford, we have come to the last of the three promoted sides for this series of Season Previews and to the best defence of last season’s Championship campaign. In 48 games, the Hornets conceded just 30 goals, six less than champions Norwich, and recorded the highest number of clean sheets in the division by some margin. Exactly half of their games, 23 to be precise, ended without them conceding a single goal.
A big role in this achievement was reserved for Spanish manager Xisco Muñoz, who was appointed in December 2020 following the sacking of Vladimir Ivic. He is the one who really turned Watford into a hard-to-beat side, though at times at the cost of an attractive playing style. He was in charge during 27 games last season, a run over which the Hornets conceded just 16 goals and scored 40. Though not always lauded for his approach to games, Xisco’s philosophy might be just what the club needs to survive on their return amongst the English footballing elite after a year of absence.
The fact that Watford took just a single season to bounce back to the Prem is interesting for another reason as well, because the club managed to keep hold of much of the team’s core from that 2019/20 season. Recent Premier League experience is not to be underestimated when it comes to newly-promoted teams, even if they did get relegated. It should also not be forgotten that Watford missed out on retaining their Premier League status by just a single point and that, just a few months earlier, the team actually reached the final of the 2019 FA Cup.
On top of their promotion-winning squad, Watford have also been very active during the ongoing summer transfer window. Around £8 million was spent on central midfielder Imran Louza from Ligue 1 side FC Nantes, Club Brugge striker Emmanuel Dennis was brought in for around £3 million, and several reputed names were acquired on a free, including former Spurs left-back Danny Rose, Premier League mainstay Joshua King and Boro centre-forward Ashley Fletcher. As far as outgoing transfers go, the permanent move of Craig Dawson to West Ham has been the only move of real first-team significance so far.
Watford’s tactics sheet
When Xisco arrived at Vicarage Road in December of last year, he was presented with a Watford side used to turning up in a 4-4-2 formation in which club legend Troy Deeney had a fixed spot with André Gray next to him. The Hornets were not firing though, and as pressure on the new manager rapidly grew despite a couple of decent results as well, he opted for a tactical change. Out with the two-striker system and in with a more dynamic, expansive 4-3-3, or perhaps an attacking 4-1-4-1 describes it better. That’s essentially a 4-3-3 with an attacking triangle on the midfield.
While remaining defensively sound, in great part thanks to the staff’s insistence on maintaining a tightly knit defensive block, this tactical change brought the talented Joao Pedro to the forefront, together with talisman Ismaila Sarr. Together with Sema, Sarr got more freedom to influence attacks and come inside from the flanks, while the full-backs were allowed to join in attack more often as well. Of course, it remains to be seen if Watford decide to confront their Premier League challenge as well or if they revert to a slightly more consolidated midfield to counter the stronger opposition.
So far, it looks like Xisco will be sticking to a three-men midfield, formed out of Tom Cleverly, Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah, though these last two players are still in negations for contract extensions with the club. The likes of Philip Zinckernagel, Domingos Quina and Dan Gosling are waiting in the wings, while new face Imran Louza should be slotted in step by step as well.
In goal, the Hornets can count on two very reliable shot stoppers in the persons of veteran Ben Foster and Austria international Daniel Bachmann. The latter seems to be Xisco’s number one since the second half of last season. In defence, Kiko Femenía on the right and Adam Masina on the left look nailed-on, while last season’s central duo consisting of William Troost-Ekong and Francisco Sierralta looks set as well. It’s proven to be a successful recipe last season, after all.
In attack, the mobile Joao Pedro leads the line, flanked by Watford’s talisman Ismail Sarr and his counterpart on the left flank, Ken Sema. The likes of Troy Deeney, Andre Gray, Emmanuel Dennis and Joshua King provide Xisco with both depth and variation in an offensive sense.
WATFORD – Potential FPL targets
We’re starting this segment about Watford with their Player of the Year of last season, Ismaïla Sarr (£6.0m), who was also voted the Player’s Player of the Season. The Senegalese international has been linked with a move away from Vicarage Road ever since the club relegated at the end of the 2019/20 season, but he stayed and subsequently played a key role in their lightning return to the Premier League. Sarr, who plays as a very advanced winger but who is listed as a midfielder in the official fantasy game, scored 13 goals and provided 4 assists last season, which represents a direct involvement of 27% in his team’s goals. He’s a dribbler and was the second-most fouled player in the Championship last season, winning five penalties in the process (of which he took two himself, by the way). With a relatively kind opening set of fixtures for the upcoming season, he’s a very interesting differential pick.
The main appeal when it comes to Watford fantasy assets comes from their defence, though. As part of the Championship’s most stable defence last season, right-back Kiko Femenía (£4.5m) also registered 4 assists, a total bettered by no one on the Watford roster. Many FPL managers might remember the Spaniard from the 2019/20 season, during which he was in and out of the team for most of the campaign, but he has become a nailed-on starter for the Hornets since then. Of course, defensive resolve in the Championship is no guarantee for a solid defensive performance in the Premier League, but if Xisco manages to adapt his defensive block to the elite division, Femenía could become a very interesting budget-enabling fantasy pick.
Further on in the budget category, we find Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann (£4.5m). At first glance, there is a strange thing going on at Watford from an FPL point of view. Despite Bachmann looking like a pretty secure bet for a starting spot between the sticks, in our opinion at least, it’s his £4.0m rival Ben Foster who currently sits in 27% of all teams. And the Austrian? In just 3.3%… Not too long after his arrival, manager Xisco replaced Foster with Bachmann in the starting lineup, giving him the opportunity to record 13 clean sheets in 23 Championship appearances, and we can’t imagine the Euro 2020 participant not being the Spaniard’s first choice come GW1. Foster’s price tag (meaning some FPL managers are just looking at the cheapest goalkeeper to sit on the bench all the time) and the fact that he got a start in last season’s final game probably explain his current ownership, but it’s Bachmann you should focus on if you’re in search of a starting budget goalkeeper in a potentially defence-minded side.