FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 10 West Ham and Wolves

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 tenth and final instalment, we take a look at a European West Ham side and a Wolves side getting used to life under a new manager after five successful years under Nuno Espirito Santo.

WEST HAM – FPL 2021/22 team preview

When talking about last season’s surprising top performers, the focus often shifts to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, and with a ninth place and an exciting brand of attacking football, the Whites deserve all of the praise they’ve received. Still, when looking at the Premier League table at the end of the 2020/21 campaign, it doesn’t take long to identify another, perhaps even more impressive finish, namely that of West Ham United in sixth. With 65 points from 38 games, the Hammers actually managed to penetrate the bastion that is the English top six, just two points off Chelsea in fourth, and at least three points of ahead of London rivals Spurs and Arsenal.

This excellent result meant more than prestige though, because it has also seen the club qualify for the Europa League group stages of the coming season. After getting eliminated in the qualifying rounds in 2015/16 and 2016/17, the East Londoners will feature in the tournament for the first time since the UEFA Cup was rebranded for the 2009/10 season. A fitting reward for a great season.

When delving a little bit deeper into the underlying statistics, we can see that West Ham’s sixth-place finish was more than deserved. The Hammers were prolific in attack, their tally of goals scored only beaten by five other teams in the league, while their defence proved resolute. Only seven sides conceded less than their 47 goals. It was West Ham’s home record that particularly impressed as just champions Manchester City boasted a higher points average than their 1.79 points per home game. Some analysts and pundits have questioned the absence of crowds, in West Ham’s case the absence of an often very expectant and critical crowd, as a reason for this.

Now, qualification for European football is fantastic, both in terms of prestige and finances, but we have also seen how it can be a double-edged sword at times in recent years. Think Burnley in the 2018/19 Europa League and Wolves in the 2019/20 Europa League. In that sense, boss David Moyes will have to manage the addition of least six more Thursday evening games on top of what will undoubtedly be another gruelling Premier League season. Squad depth and player fitness will be major topics for the Hammers over the coming weeks as they will seek to do well in Europe while also aiming for another top-half finish in the league, at least.

West Ham’s tactics sheet

Despite the intense upcoming schedule for a group of players that is not entirely used to playing three times a week including away games on the European continent, it has been a very quiet transfer summer so far. Winger Felipe Anderson and central defender Fabian Balbuena moved on to pastures new, while last season’s loanee Craig Dawson was given a permanent contract and Paris Saint Germain back-up goalkeeper was brought in on a loan. Probably the biggest transfer window news so far, from a West Ham point of view, is the fact that key man Euro 2020 starter Declan Rice is still a Hammer.

In regard to the starting lineup for gameweek 1, we therefore don’t expect too many changes in comparison to last season. Moyes generally lined his men up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with an occasional switch to a backline of five. More often than not though, this was the result of injury issues in defence, which is why we’re expecting a similar set-up this season.

In goal, the reliable Lukasz Fabianski is a certainty. In front of him, Angelo Ogbonna and Craig Dawson look like the most probable pairing, with Aaron Cresswell on the left wing and Vladimir Coufal from the right wing providing attacking impulses from the back. West Ham’s double pivot in the middle, possibly one of the most reliable in the league, will consist of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek.

The powerful but injury-prone Michail Antonio is the first choice to lead the offensive line. For the three spots behind him, Moyes can choose from a bunch of attacking talent, including Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, Manuel Lanzini and Euro 2020 star Andrei Yarmolenko. Based on the pre-season preparations, Fornals seems to be preferred to play behind Antonio with Bowen and Benrahma on the flanks, though these players can switch positions easily throughout games.

WEST HAM – Potential FPL targets

Both Aaron Cresswell and Vladimir Coufal (£5.0m) are good choices for your gameweek 1 squad, and we have opted for the latter. Though the former is on lots of set-pieces and provided more assists than any defender in the official game, the latter costs £0.5m less and recorded an equally impressive 9 assists last season. In our opinion, the Czech Republic international is probably underpriced by about half a million and combined with a kind set of opening fixtures, this makes him a very appealing fantasy pick. With Newcastle away, Leicester at home, Palace home and Southampton away in the first four rounds, Coufal represents potential for returns at both sides of the pitch.

Despite missing out on considerable parts of the campaign due to injuries, Michail Antonio (£7.5m) still ended the season as the West Ham player with the highest direct goal involvement. His 10 goals and 5 assists represent an involvement of just over 19% and an total of 118 FPL points. Compared to his actual playing minutes, that comes down to an attacking return every 131 minutes and 0.52 Expected Goals per 90 minutes, a ratio bettered by just four other players in the entire division. He’s an explosive option up front and without any attacking signings so far, his starting berth seems as secure as ever.

Two players made 38 appearances for West Ham in the Premier League last season. One was cental midfielder Tomas Soucek, an enticing FPL asset himself at £6.0m, the other was winger Jarrod Bowen (£6.5m). The 24-year old joined the Hammers in the winter of 2020 for a maximum fee of £25 million and didn’t need long to find his place in East London. He got a goal and 4 assists in his first half-season at the club and got him definite breakthrough last season, when he recorded 141 FPL points, courtesy of 8 goals, 4 assists and 9 clean sheets. He’ll be hoping to further improve on that performance this season and if he does, his £6.5m price tag will end up being a real bargain.

WOLVES – FPL 2021/22 team preview

The Wolverhampton Wanderers have been a quality addition to the Premier League since their promotion back in 2018. After impressive back-to-back league finishes in seventh place in the 2018/19 and the 2019/20 seasons, last season was relatively disappointing with a 13th place. The defensive nature for which they had become known largely disappeared as Wolves conceded 52 goals in 38 games, while their attacking output was even more problematic. In the Premier League, you simply can’t hope for much if you manage to score just 36 goals over the course of the season.

Having said that, we believe a special mention of Raul Jimenez and his horrific head injury is warranted. The Mexican striker, good for 30 goals and 17 assists in the two seasons prior to last, was sitting on 4 goals and 1 assist from 824 minutes of Premier League when he suffered a season-ending skull fracture at the end of November 2020. For a side already not extremely prolific in front of goal, losing their talisman meant a huge loss. Add to that the later (long-term) injuries of the likes of forwards Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto, and Wolves’ subpar goal-scoring sounds a bit more logical.

While Podence and Neto remain flagged in the official game as of today, the big man up front is back in action, which means a huge boost for the Wolves. New manager Bruno Lage, the successor to Nuno Espirito Santo after his move to Spurs, will be looking to put last season to bed and build a new squad around the undeniable amount of talent at his disposal. With no European football to distract the team from domestic objectives, the former Benfica and Dinamo Tbilisi boss has the opportunity to implement a more attacking approach to games and to integrate a few new key figures into the team.

Wolves’ tactics sheet

Where under Espirito Santo the Wolves generally lined up in a very organised back-men backline with attacking wing-backs and a playmaking double pivot in front of it, Lage seems to favour a more classic 4-4-2 formation. In recent friendlies during pre-season though, he reverted back to Nuno’s 3-4-3 system with wing-backs. On the one hand, he might be experimenting with different systems in order to counter the very different types of opposition his men will face coming season. On the other hand, he could be checking the current squad’s ability to play with a back four. One way or another, some uncertainty exists for FPL managers in this sense.

In terms of transfers, Wolves have been pretty active during the ongoing window. Mainstay and number one for years Rui Patricio is now plying his trade in between the sticks at AS Roma, but no other outgoing transfers of first-team significance have taken place so far. On the other side, Rayan Aït Nouri’s loan agreement was made permanent for about £10 million, while Olympiacos goalkeeper José Sa has been brought in to replace Patricio. On top of that, the club signed central defender Yerson Mosquera from Colombian side Atletico Nacional, right-back Bendegúz Bolla from Hungarian side Féhérvár and talented winger Trincao from FC Barcelona on a loan.

Assuming that Lage will stick to the 4-4-2 formation that has brought him considerable success at Benfica and Tblisi, a central defensive pairing of Connor Coady and Willy Boly looks the most likely. They will be backed by the newly acquired José Sa in goal. The right-back position looks set for former Barcelona man Nelson Semedo, while the left-back spot will be between Marçal and Aït Nouri. The latter has however been used as a left midfielder on several occasions during the pre-season as well, which could represent a very interesting out-of-position fantasy asset, should Lage continue to employ the Frenchman as such.

In the middle, we find it hard to imagine that Lage will change the tried and tested central duo of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho, though the latter’s starting berth is eyed by Leander Dendoncker as well. Adama Traoré is the prime candidate to start on their right side, while the left side will be occupied by Pedro Neto once he is back to fitness. Up front, Raul Jimenez is 100% nailed-on and likely to be joined by Trincao. Daniel Podence will need to be slotted in once he is back from injury, probably on the left side of the midfield or in the forward line.

WOLVES – Potential FPL targets

Raul Jimenez (£7.5m) is the Wolves talisman and at his current price tag, probably a steal. As mentioned earlier, his last season was ruined by a serious head injury, but the Mexican’s qualities are undeniable. He has been one of Wolves’ and indeed the Premier League’s most consistent performers over the past season, recording 181 FPL points in the 2018/19 campaign and 194 FPL points over the 2019/20 campaign. Jimenez is the team’s focal point up front and on penalties as well, which only increases his appeal. Wolverhampton have been given a tough start to the season, but if they show some fantasy potential, expect Raul’s ownership percentage to increase considerably from gameweek 3 onwards.

In the Wolves backline, we found an England international and Euro 2020 participant available at a budget price. Conor Coady (£4.5m) is a mainstay in the Wolves defence, which is underlined by the fact that he played the most minutes of any outfield player last season. In a mediocre season for the team as a while, he still managed to record 106 FPL points, courtesy of 10 clean sheets and a single goal. This shows that Coady is not a pick you should consider if you’re looking for explosive returns, but if Bruno Lage manages to shore up his defence, the Englishman could provide excellent value to any FPL squad.

As we have stated in earlier parts of this series, we generally don’t tend to recommend going with fantasy assets new to the Premier League too early. The Prem is a different beast and with so many options at our disposal for every position in our squad, “wait and see” is usually a wise move. From time to time though, a fantasy asset presents itself that shows particular potential and we believe Trincao (£6.0m) could be such an asset. The Portuguese winger was loaned from a Barcelona side on the brink of bankruptcy and should slot in right into the starting eleven next to Jimenez up front. That places him in the often much-coveted out-of-position category at a potential bargain price. He has featured heavily during Wolves’ pre-season and is, in our opinion, one to keep an eye on.

For more comment join other FPL enthusiasts in FISO’s FPL discussion forum.

FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 9 Tottenham Hotspur and Watford

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.

For more comment join other FPL enthusiasts in FISO’s FPL discussion forum.

FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 8 Norwich and Southampton

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 eighth instalment, the spotlights are for newly promoted Norwich City and Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Southampton.

NORWICH – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Unless you only joined the thrilling FPL community fairly recently, say over the course of last season for example, you will surely remember the last time Norwich got promoted to the Premier League. Fondly even, if you were one of the clairvoyant fantasy managers who invested in Canaries striker Teemu Pukki from the get-go. He got off to a flying start to the 2019/20 campaign (pukki party!), and was even named both Premier League Player of the Month and PFA Premier League Player of the Month in August after scoring 5 goals and giving 1 assist in four first game of the season.

The Finnish international, who featured in every game of this summer’s European Championship, is still on the Norwich roster this season and, not surprisingly, their most expensive asset. More about him later though, because there could be more to Norwich than just their star forward. Last season, the Canaries won promotion to the Prem by crowning themselves champions in the Championship with 97 points from 48 games, a whole 6 points more than runners-up Watford. In the process, they scored 76 goals, a total only bettered by Brentford, and conceded just 36 goals, a total only bettered by Watford.

For what it’s worth, when the Canaries were promoted in the 2019/20 season and ended up being the leakiest defence in the league as they dropped straight back into the Championship, they conceded 57 goals in their promotion-winning season. If this is any indication of more defensive resolve this season, manager Daniel Farke’s men might just be more than mainly cannon fodder this season. With what is probably the hardest start to the season of any team in the division, consisting of Liverpool (home), Manchester City (away), Leicester (home) and Arsenal (away), Norwich’s progress and qualities will be put to the test straight away.

Norwich’s tactics sheet

Therefore, the first four games of the campaign are not likely to give us a very realistic idea of Norwich’s real chances of survival this season, but it can give us good indications of their qualities, both as a team and on an individual level. We doubt that many fantasy managers will be investing in Canary assets come gameweek 1, but looking at the current squad, there is clearly some budget and differential potential present.

On top of that, Farke tends to stick to the same formation, which is usually good news for FPL managers. The German coach favours a 4-2-3-1 set-up in which ball possession and patient build-up play are key principles. Back amongst the English footballing elite, they won’t be able to replicate last season’s league-topping average of just over 58% of possession, though. Up to Farke and his men to come up with an approach that compensates for this in their fight against relegation.

One of Norwich’s best and most experienced players stands in goal and goes by the name of Tim Krul, the Dutch goalkeeper who was famously brought on by Louis Van Gaal just for the penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals and then went on to stop the decisive Michael Umaña spot kick. Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson are the first-choice central duo for the moment, with the talented Max Aarons on their right side and Dimitris Giannoulis on the left side.

The departure of Emiliano Buendia, who got 15 goals and 17 assists last season, was painful, as was the return of loanee Oliver Skipp to Spurs. Chelsea talent Billy Gilmour was brought in as an almost like-for-like replacement for the Spurs man and he should be forming the double pivot in the middle with Kenny McLean. The creative three between them and striker Teemu Pukki will likely be formed out of Milot Rashica (right wing), Todd Cantwell (left wing) and Kieran Dowell in the number 10 slot.

NORWICH – Potential FPL targets

We mentioned Teemu Pukki (£6.0m) earlier as the main man at Norwich, so it only makes sense for him to be our first fantasy pick from the Canaries’ roster. Last season, the Finnish forward scored 26 goals and provided 4 assists, which represents a direct goal involvement of 40% in all of his team’s goals. The last time he starred in the Premier League, he scored a total of 11 goals despite his side being the league’s whipping boys for much of the season. Six of those goals came in his first five games of the campaign, an impressive record he is unlikely to replicate this season with Norwich’ tough opening set of fixtures in mind. It also remains to be seen how the club will cope with the loss of Buendia’s creativity from the right side, but if you’re absolutely set on a Norwich asset for your gameweek 1 squad, Pukki is probably the way to go.

Having said that, Norwich do offer a few very good budget-enabling options if your minimum requirement for such a squad player is that he is a nailed-on starter. In that case, you could probably do worse than attacking midfielder Todd Cantwell (£5.5m). During the 2019/20 season, the 23-year old managed a very decent 111 FPL points (6 goals, 2 assists) in Pukki’s shadow, while he was instrumental to Norwich’ promotion last season with 6 goals and 6 assists. Cantwell looks set to become the Canaries’ playmaker with Buendia now at Aston Villa and if they can somehow continue their good goal-scoring record of last season in the coming season, the Norwich midfielder could be good value.

Now, for our final pick we were initially going with right-back Max Aarons, who looks like a clear stand-out pick in Norwich’ defence thanks to his qualities and attacking tendencies, but we’ve eventually chosen to highlight Andrew Obomamidele (£4.0m). The young Irish central defender is not a nailed-on starter under Farke, at the moment of writing at least, but he did get some minutes during pre-season already. Seeing as every serious FPL manager is looking for that one playing £4.0m defender as fifth defender for their gameweek 1 squad, we figured Obomamidele is an interesting to keep an eye on. He is one of the back-up options to fixed central duo Hanley and Gibson, and we’re not expecting him to get loads of minutes any time soon, but if he does, he could be just what your FPL squad needs.

SOUTHAMPTON – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Like several other teams (Burnley, Brighton, Palace etc), Southampton never really had to deal with any relegation battle fears at any point during the season, despite delivering a largely mediocre campaign and thanks to the sub-par performances by the three teams that eventually got relegated. The Saints finished the 2020/21 campaign in 15th place with 43 points, 15 points more than number 18 Fulham, but also 16 points behind 10th-placed Everton. After a 16th place in the 2018/19 season and an 11th place last season, one might conclude that Southampton have not progressed as much as they would have hoped in recent years.

A final position in itself does not tell the whole story though, and that is definitely the case for the Saints. Last season, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men were actually quite prolific in front of goal as 47 goals ranked them tenth in terms of attacking output. It’s in defence where things looked more worrying, as only relegated West Brom Albion conceded more than Southampton’s 68 conceded goals. Of course, a 9-0 demolition at the hands of Manchester United, Saints’ second 9-0 drubbing in as many season by the way, does not help.

It’s not like the 2020/21 season was a complete nightmare for Southampton, because the club did get off to a flying start. After eight games, they were actually leading the Premier League (for a day) and they remained in the top three until gameweek 14. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from that point. As a matter of fact, looking at the final 25 games of the games separately, actually no team performed worse than the Saints, in big part due to an average of two conceded goals per game. They were especially terrible away from home, losing ten out of the final twelve games and winning just one.

Southampton’s tactics sheet

Solidifying the backline will naturally be a major priority for Hasenhüttl this season if he wishes to avoid the risk of being dragged into a relegation battle. Last season’s numbers are simply not good enough for a side in the top flight. At the same time, the departure of Danny Ings to Aston Villa on a free means that he will need to find a way to compensate losing 35% of last season’s goals, as the Englishman scored 12 and assisted 4.

Southampton are actually not a bad team and have an interesting set of players making up the squad with Ralph Hasenhüttl a very disciplined, attack-minded coach. More than a few times, the Saints were a pleasure to watch last season, in part due to the Austrian’s 4-2-2-2 formation and love for a high, intense press. They combine for lovely football at times, but with the big risk that the side can end up all over the place once the tactical settings don’t click almost perfectly.

Where the position in goal is usually pretty set for most teams, Hasenhüttl has hinted during pre-season that his rotation of goalkeepers Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster might continue this season. The backline will likely continue to be built of four players, with left-back Romain Perraud coming in to replace Ryan Bertrand, who transferred to Leicester City on a free. Euro 2020 participants Jan Bednarek (Poland) and Yannik Vestergaard (Denmark) form the central duo in the back, and Kyle Walker-Peters runs the right flank.

In the middle, the return from long-term injury of Oriol Romeu will make a considerable difference to Southampton’s shape and defensive solidity, and he will be partnered by captain and set-piece specialist James Ward-Prowse. On the sides, Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond provide both width and creative impulses. With the departure of Danny Ings, it remains to be seen who will join Che Adams up front. We can’t imagine the Saints won’t bring in a new striker for the starting eleven, but in case they don’t, the ultimate budget forward Michael Obafemi comes into consideration.

SOUTHAMPTON – Potential FPL targets

Danny Ings was obviously top of most Southampton season previews when it comes to interesting FPL assets, but seeing as he is no longer with the Saints, Che Adams (£7.0m) makes for a logical switch. Up until last season, the 25-year was not particularly known for his goal-scoring instinct or his direct goal involvement in general, but he changed that image by scoring 9 goals and giving 7 assists. A total of 137 FPL was more than decent for a forward who started at £5.5m in the official game. The competition in his price bracket is fierce this season, but the strongly-built Adams is nailed-on for Hasenhüttl and could once again represent good value if the Saints manage to keep up their attacking approach to games.

Ings or no Ings, the main man at Southampton is still James Ward-Prowse (£6.5m). After scoring 8 goals and providing 7 assists last season, the midfielder was in serious contention for England’s stacked Euro 2020 squad, which he eventually just missed out on. A shame for him, but not bad for FPL managers, because he will be fresher for the EPL season. When it comes to JWP, it’s important to realise that he’s an absolute set-piece expert, especially when you’re watching him live. His threat from open play is not very impressive, but his threat from free-kicks and penalties is something else. To illustrate: out of his 8 goals last season, 4 came from a direct free-kick and 3 from the penalty spot. At £6.5m, we wouldn’t be surprised to see his current ownership of 8.1% grow further in the build-up to GW1 although he has had a knee injury which has disrupted his pre-season so may miss out in GW1.

The other scoring midfielder on the Saints roster is Stuart Armstrong (£6.0m), though his style of play is entirely different. Contrary to Ward-Prowse, Armstrong does provide considerable threat from open play, which resulted in 4 goals and 7 assists last season. On top of that, both in terms of shots on goal and key passes made, the Scottish midfielder ranked amongst the best two of his team. We’re not sure if he will be able to surpass his FPL points total of last season (115), but he costs £0.5m less than JWP, is a nailed-on starter for a relatively offensive side and is currently part of just 0.4% of FPL teams.

For more comment join other FPL enthusiasts in FISO’s FPL discussion forum.

FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 7 Manchester United and Newcastle

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 seventh instalment, we’re shedding a light on a revamped Manchester United side and a remarkably quiet Newcastle pre-season.

MANCHESTER UNITED – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Manchester United’s second-place finish last season followed a third place in the season prior to that, which is their best back-to-back result since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club at the end of the 2012/13 season. We’re highlighting this, because it shows progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a manager who has perhaps been underestimated and overly criticized at times. Then again, group stage elimination in the Champions League and a League Cup semi-final plus an FA quarter-final is simply not enough for one of the world’s biggest clubs.

Still, progress is progress and United are clearly looking to build upon their recent seasons with the club once again shelling out the big bucks this season for new blood in the squad. After what might well have been football’s longest transfer saga, marquee signing (and former Man City promise) Jadon Sancho was finally brought in for a cool £73 million and the confirmation of Real Madrid central defender, four time Champions League winner and current World Champion, Raphaël Varane’s arrival followed soon after. Those are the kind of transfers that can galvanise entire clubs and that’s exactly what the red side of Manchester will be hoping for.

It’s also the kind of movement that, despite the heavy competition both domestically and internationally, makes silverware very close to a must and that might be a bridge too far just yet. In the Premier League, despite finishing in second place, the Red Devils never really looked like a title challenger, while it seems slightly overly ambitious for them to expect Champions League glory after not making it through the groups last season. More realistically speaking, the next big step for United would be to seriously compete for the prizes until the very end on different fronts this season. And who knows, in a sport as unpredictable as football, with a bit of luck that might actually lead to a first prize since their double (League Cup + Europa League) in the 2016/17 season under José Mourinho.

Manchester United’s tactics sheet

While United might not (yet) be at the level of the likes of arch rivals Manchester City, Liverpool and even Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel, the world-class quality on their roster is undeniable. Last season, OGS heavily leaned on a 4-2-3-1 formation, consisting of a technical, speedy front three supported by the constant creative impulses from Bruno Fernandes and left-back Luke Shaw. The signing of Sancho fits that approach perfectly and allows Solskjaer to continue building on a set-up that his players are familiar with, but it’s rumoured that he might be switching to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation as well for the upcoming season. The Varane transfer, and the speed, experience and superior tactical awareness the Frenchman brings with him, makes this a realistic possibility as well.

In terms of FPL fantasy assets, the main impact of such a tactical switch would fall on the available midfield picks, but for now, we will assume that the Mancunians will line up in their trusted 4-3-2-1 formation in gameweek 1. In any case, from a defensive point of view, not much would change for FPL managers as the backline looks set with captain Harry Maguire and Raphaël Varane flanked by Luke Shaw on the left and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the right. In goal, there is some doubt over whether Dean Henderson or David de Gea will start. Based on him making the spot his at the end of last season, our feeling is that the former will be Ole’s number one once he has shaken off the effects of covid that he contracted last month.

Even if Man United remain faithful to their 4-3-2-1 set-up, it looks unlikely that they will stick to the energetic, but barely creative double pivot consisting of Scott McTominay and Fred. While the former seems assured of a place in the starting eleven, it will probably be Paul Pogba playing next to him from the get-go this season. In front of those two, Bruno Fernandes is the absolute talisman with Sancho and ideally Rashford (currently injured) on the sides. The English forward is out for the foreseeable future with a shoulder injury though, which opens the doors for Mason Greenwood to start. Jesse Lingard (now out with covid) and Dan James are candidates as well, in theory, but we would be surprised to see them counted on as starters.

At the same time, Greenwood also comes in contention for a start up front. In the official fantasy game, the only listed Manchester United forwards are Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial. The former, though always a presence and often lethal, is probably not considered a 38-week starter, while Martial’s disappointing last season and injury niggles have seen him drop down the pecking order. Once fit again, Rashford also enters the number nine discussion. In other words, in attack, Solskjaer can pick, shift and rotate quite a lot with the available talent.

MANCHESTER UNITED – Potential FPL targets

In a season and a half of Premier League football, Bruno Fernandes (12.0m) posted the following returns:

SeasonGoalsAssistsFPL points
2019/20 (half)88117

Talk about hitting the ground running. His points tally of 244 was the highest of all players in the official game last season and no player is more instrumental to Manchester United than the Portuguese midfielder. Only Spurs talisman Harry Kane had a higher direct goal involvement for his side. Fernandes is sometimes labelled a “penalty merchant”, seeing as he takes all of United’s penalties (and usually puts them in the back of the net as well), but that’s just not right. The man is an FPL points merchant and with United’s kind set of opening fixtures in mind, we consider him almost just as near-well essential as Mo Salah come gameweek 1.

With Marcus Rashford recently having undergone shoulder surgery that should keep him out of the running for a couple of months, Mason Greenwood (£7.5m) emerges as an extremely enticing FPL pick. It’s true that rotation risk remains an issue for the 19-year old, but he looks like a prime candidate for a starting spot in gameweek 1 after his pre-season efforts. Last season, he ended with 106 FPL points courtesy of 7 goals and 2 assists, but possibly even more interesting is his purple patch of form at the end of the campaign. Six of his seven goals, as well as one of his assists, were actually recorded over the last eight games of the season. Greenwood missed out on Euro 2020 due to some injury issues and used the time to get fully fit for the 2021/22 campaign, which makes him a serious differential consideration for us.

Even though we don’t tend to be big fans of betting big on fantasy assets that are new to the Premier League, it’s hard to ignore the potential of Jadon Sancho (£9.5m) at United. Raised at Watford’s and later Manchester City’s academy, the 21-year old is no stranger to English football, while on top of that, he also has 104 Bundesliga games and 22 caps for England on his name already. He’s got more top-level experience than most players many years his senior and if there is any newcomer likely to slot right in, both in his team and in the league, it’s Sancho. The winger’s enormous transfer fee combined with Rashford’s absence make a gameweek 1 a real possibility although he has missed most of pre-season due to duties with England in the Euros. He is, after all, £2.5m less expensive than (the tried and tested) Bruno Fernandes, which can make a huge difference to your GW1 squad’s shape albeit he could well start frommthe bench in the first match. To top it off, his stats from last season: 38 games, 16 goals and 20 assists for Borussia Dortmund, including 2 goals and 3 assists in six Champions League group stage encounters. A small punt with big potential, in our opinion.

NEWCASTLE – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Hopes weren’t particularly high around St. James’ Park at the start of the 2020/21 season and that sentiment didn’t change for much of the season. Until the final stretch that is, when the Magpies started picking up some (goal-scoring) form and managed to clinch a more than decent 12th place in the league, 17 points above Fulham in 18th, but also 10 points behind Aston Villa in eleventh. Newcastle really crowned themselves “the kings of the bottom-half of the table”, so to say, something that most certainly would have been seen as a good achievement at the start of the season.

In the final stretch we mentioned earlier, during the last eight games of the season, the Magpies won an impressive five encounters and actually suddenly found themselves amongst the most-attacking sides in the entire league, stats-wise. Over that run, only in-form Liverpool, champions Manchester City and Spurs scored more than them, while both their Expected Goals ratio and the numbers of chances created ranked amongst the top four league-wide. This upturn in form was largely attributed to a change in formation and tactics, but more about that later in the Newcastle tactics sheet.

While the attack did its job by scoring a total of 46 goals in 38 games, no team between places 12 and 20 scored more, the defence was a worry for the Toon. With just 7 clean sheets and 62 goals conceded, an average of just over 1.6 goals per game, only West Brom, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United were leakier than the ambitious Geordies. Manager Steve Bruce will need to address this issue as a priority for the coming season if he wishes to avoid getting dragged into a relegation battle.

Having said that, Newcastle’s primary objective this season will be to avoid the relegation zone and subsequent battle all together, first of all. At first glance, their squad seems to contain sufficient quality to achieve that and possibly a bit more, but a few new faces wouldn’t harm their chances. In that sense, summer has been calm on Tyneside , with no significant transfer activity so far. Fringe players like Andy Carroll and Christian Atsu left the club, while defender Florian Lejeune was sold to LaLiga side Alavés for an undisclosed fee. Steve Bruce will be hoping for a (permanent) return of Arsenal loanee Joe Willock, while rumours are linking Newcastle to the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Man United defender Axel Tuanzebe and Marseille defender Boubacar Kamara, but no incoming transfers have been confirmed as of yet.

Newcastle’s tactics sheet

The Magpies started the 2020/21 campaign with their trusted four-man backline providing them with a certain defensive solidity, but also making them close to toothless in attack. Up until Bruce switched to a more expansive 5-3-2 formation, Newcastle ranked amongst the bottom five clubs for important attacking statistics such as Expected Goals and big chances created. Even though the tweak in formation did not really affect their defensive performances, it did have a very positive impact on their attacking output.

As we wrote earlier, their purple patch of form at the tail-end of the season seems to coincide with a switch to 5-3-2 with forward-thinking wing-backs. Not only did the Toon win five of their last eight games of the season, but they recorded some excellent underlying stats. Both in terms of Expected Goals and big chances created, they went from under-performers to a league-wide top-four ranking. What helped this upturn in fortunes, obviously, was Joe Willock’s remarkable patch of red-hot form. Despite starting just four times in the last nine games, the Arsenal youngster netted 7 times, a run that included goals against Spurs, West Ham, Liverpool, Leicester and Manchester City.

With Steve Bruce having stated on several occasions that his wish is to turn Newcastle into a more attacking side, it’s not crazy to assume that he will build on the successful 5-3-2 set-up. Martin Dubravka is the undisputed man between the sticks albeit may miss the 1st game or two of the season due to a foot injury, and the block in front of him is likely to be built up of Fabian Schär, Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles. The wing-back positions are for Matt Ritchie (left) and probably Jacob Murphy (right), though budget defender Javier Manquillo has an outside chance of featuring as well.

In the middle, Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden form the heart of the team with Miguel Almirón in front of them. Jeff Hendrick, the Longstaff brothers and Ryan Fraser provide them with competition. In attack, Callum Wilson is the talisman and much of Newcastle’s achievements this season will depend on his fitness. Alain Saint-Maximin floats around the former Bournemouth striker, though Ryan Fraser in particular could claim a spot higher up the pitch as well if he manages to pick up some form. Joelinton provides a different kind of alternative to the Magpie attack when necessary.

NEWCASTLE – Potential FPL targets

At £7.5m, Callum Wilson‘s price is probably a bit too steep for most fantasy managers, especially when looking at the alternatives in his price bracket, but we wouldn’t write him off straight away. Despite missing out on portions of the season due to injury, he did manage 12 goals and 6 assists for a direct goal involvement of just under 40% and a total FPL points tally of 134. Wilson is also on penalties for his side and with Newcastle facing a relatively kind opening to the 2021/22 season, with just a single game (a visit to Old Trafford in GW4) ranking higher than 3 on the official game’s Fixture Difficulty Rating, the Newcastle forward could represent considerable value.

As FPL managers, we always love a good wing-back and despite Newcastle not being the most free-scoring, free-flowing of sides in the Premier League, set-piece specialist Matt Ritchie (£5.0m) could be interesting. He blossomed on the left side of Bruce’s five-man defence and recorded a more than decent 3 clean sheets and 5 assists in just 1,347 minutes of Premier League football last season. He looks set for a starting spot for the coming season and is also in charge of penalties when Wilson is not around to take them. The big downside to Ritchie is his price tag, which seems a tad heavy considering the likes of Vladimir Coufal, Matt Targett and Kieran Tierney are also priced at £5.0m, but we’re still putting the Newcastle man on our watchlist.

Finally, a budget goalkeeper to compete with the likes of Crystal Palace’s Vicente Guaita, Brighton’s Robert Sanchez and Watford’s Daniel Bachmann this season. The budget goalkeeper bracket is a popular category every season and Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka (£4.5m) might just be one of your best options, should you want to go this road for your gameweek 1 squad. The Slovakian international is currently returning from a foot injury and will likely miss GW1, but that shouldn’t necessarily put fantasy managers off selecting him. After taking the starting spot from Karl Darlow late last season, Dubravka took 48 FPL points from 13 games for an average of just under 4 points per game. No budget goalkeeper performed better over that period. It’s also worth noting that over the 2019/20 season, he was Newcastle’s starting goalkeeper and recorded 143 FPL points, courtesy of 11 clean sheets and 9 bonus points. If Steve Bruce manages to inject some more defensive solidity into his side, Dubravka could be a useful fantasy asset.

For more comment join other FPL enthusiasts in FISO’s FPL discussion forum.

FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 5 Leeds and Leicester

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 fifth instalment, one of last season’s surprises packages Leeds United are up, together with Europa League participants Leicester City.

LEEDS UNITED – FPL 2021/22 team preview

If there was an award for the best addition to the Premier League or most entertaining top flight side or something of the sort, Leeds United would have probably taken it home last season. Under the eccentric Marcelo Bielsa, the Yorkshiremen returned to the English footballing elite in style after a painful 16-year absence. The Chilean manager proved to be a blessing for FPL managers all over the world, thanks to his tendency to stick to both an attacking philosophy and a fixed starting eleven, though he did implement some tactical tweaks in the second half of the season as game energy amongst players was becoming a more and more valuable resource.

When talking about Leeds, we are first of all talking about goals. The Whites scored no less than 62 goals upon their return to the Prem, a total that was only surpassed by Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Leicester and Spurs. This resulted in the likes of Patrick Bamford, Raphinha and Jack Harrison growing into some of the best-value fantasy assets in recent years. Eventually, Leeds ended just three points behind Tottenham, who qualified for the newly created Europa Conference League.

The defensive side of the Leeds story is rather different, though Bielsa’s men managed to improve considerably in the second half of the season. Still, their final tally for goals conceded halted at 54, a total superior to the defensive performances of just six teams in the league. Leeds conceded 15 more goals in the first half of the season than they did in the second, which can be attributed to a combination of factors. The return to fitness of Diego Llorente has been mentioned as a major influence, while a generally more reserved approach against top opposition was important as well. From our point of view, this is very positive, because it shows Bielsa’s ability to keep growing and improving his side as time goes on, a process that presumably has continued during their current pre-season.

Leeds’ tactics sheet

As we mentioned earlier, Bielsa doesn’t really do tinkering of any kind. Even though Pep Guardiola is a major admirer of the Chilean coach, the Leeds boss could not be more anti-Pep in that sense. He has largely stuck to a 4-1-4-1 formation last season and we expect his side to turn up that way on gameweek 1 against Man United as well. In that set-up, the Whites heavily favour attacking over the flanks. During the 2020/21 campaign, they were in the top five for chances created from both the right and the left flank.

This explains the excellent value of wingers Jack Harrison on the left side and Raphinha on the right side. Last season, they recorded 160 and 133 FPL points respectively, making a mockery of their £5.5m price tags in the process. The Man City loanee, whose move to Elland Road was made permanent for around £10 million this summer, and the Brazilian are expected to play key roles for Bielsa’s side once again this season. In the middle, Stuart Dallas and Euro 2020 star Kalvin Phillips form the heart of the midfield, while Rodrigo looks like the man designated to operate behind striker Patrick Bamford.

At the back, Barcelona left-back Junior Firpo, who was acquired for around £12 million, should slot right into the starting eleven to form an exciting partnership with Harrison on the left flank. On the right, Luke Ayling will aim to do the same with Raphinha. The central duo will likely consist of Diego Llorente and Dutch youngster Pascal Struijck, though the latter will have the likes of Robin Koch and Liam Cooper to deal with for a starting spot. In goal, Illan Meslier will hope to build on his excellent debut season in the Premier League.

LEEDS UNITED – Potential FPL targets

In Jamie Vardy, Ollie Watkins and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, just to name a few, there was plenty of quality to choose from for your forward line besides the unstoppable, but expensive Harry Kane. Against all odds though, it was £5.5m forward Patrick Bamford (£8.0m) who recorded the highest points total after the Spurs talisman, courtesy of an incredible 17 goals and 11 assists. It’s therefore no surprise that he was given the biggest price hike of all players in the official game for the upcoming season. He now finds himself in the company of similarly priced attackers like Calvert-Lewin, Watkins and Antonio, but if the former Chelsea man can replicate his performance from last season, he is still the pick of the bunch. Wouldn’t you spend £8.0m on 28 attacking returns for a total of 194 FPL points?

Despite Leeds’ defensive improvements during the season, we have kept our focus on their attacking assets for this overview, though the likes of budget-priced Luke Ayling and goalkeeper Illan Meslier look like shrewd investments as well. In support of Bamford up front, there is not much between Jack Harrison (£6.0m) and Raphinha (£6.5m). They occupy the wings for Bielsa’s side and are both listed as midfielders in the official game, which means that they get bonus points for clean sheets and their goals are worth 5 FPL points each.

Last season, Harrison scored 8 goals and 10 assists for a total of 160 FPL points, while Raphinha recorded 6 goals and 10 assists to reach 133 FPL points. It should be noted though, that the Brazilian only made his way into the starting eleven around gameweek 6. The additional upside to picking him is that he has also quickly grown into the side’s main set-piece taker apart from penalties (those are for Bamfy). This might also partly explain why he is priced half a million more expensive than his counterpart on the right flank. Both are nailed-on for Leeds and we expect their ownership to rocket considerably from gameweek 5 onwards, though Raphinha’s ownership already sits at over 22% at the moment of writing (Harrison sits in 5.5% of all teams).

LEICESTER CITY – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Overall, Leicester’s 2020/21 Premier League campaign was decent with a fifth-place finish and subsequent qualification for the Europa League. Their finish to the season was dramatic though, as they lost out on Champions League football due to a 2-4 home defeat at the hands of Spurs on the very last day of the campaign. The Foxes did manage to win the first FA Cup in their history by beating Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea 1-0 in May of this year, courtesy of a wonderful Youri Tielemans strike.

Despite missing out on a much-coveted top-four finish, Brendan Rodgers’ side showed once again that his side is one the traditional top six need to be wary of. In that sense, the 5-2 thrashing of Manchester City, as well as victories over United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, come to mind. That becomes more true when considering the number of serious injury issues the Foxes had to deal with throughout the season, including early season-ending injuries for in-form right-back James Justin and forward Harvey Barnes. As a matter of fact, of all significant outfield players, only midfielders Youri Tielemans and Marc Albrighton managed to come through the 2020/21 campaign entirely unscathed.

With the addition of RB Salzburg forward Patson Daka for around £28 million, Lille midfielder Boubacary Soumaré for around £18 million and experienced Saints left-back Ryan Bertrand on a free, and no outgoing transfers of major significance to the first-team squad up to date, Leicester looks to be preparing for another top-four challenge this season although they have just lost Wesley Fofana with a lengthy injury due to a broken leg. The FA Cup success will have boosted the team’s confidence, though the club will need to find a way to navigate the Europa League’s Thursday evening fixtures as efficiently as possible in the middle of what will undoubtedly be another gruelling Premier League campaign.

Leicester’s tactics sheet

Leicester City’s tactical set-up is pretty much set and we don’t expect major changes to their starting formation. The squad contains qualities for different lineups, including a five-man backline that full brings out the qualities of the world-class wingbacks on their roster, but Rodgers generally prefers a 4-2-3-1 set-up. This also seems the basis for the work the team is doing during the ongoing pre-season, though the improved squad depth makes it more difficult than ever to predict a starting eleven.

In defence, the central duo will likely be formed by Caglar Söyüncü plus possibly a temporary Daniel Amartey whilst veteran defender Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana are ruled out due to injury. They will be flanked by Belgium international Timothy Castagne on the right and either the young Luke Thomas or new man Ryan Bertrand on the left. In goal, Kasper Schmeichel is undisputed.

The engine room of the team will be manned by the tireless Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi, to whom new acquisition Soumaré is expected to function as backup. The attacking portion of the midfield can be completed in different ways, but the ideal trio behind striker Jamie Vardy likely consists of playmaker James Maddison and winger Harvey Barnes. The third and final spot can be filled by Ayoze Perez or Dennis Praet.

One major issue with the above set-up is the exclusion of Leicester’s best man of the second half of last season, Kelechi Iheanacho. He could fill one of the positions behind Vardy as a kind of drifting second striker with Tielemans pushing a bit further forward into Maddison’s position, with the England international shifting to the right to form a very offensive 4-1-3-2 formation. This brought the Foxes considerable success towards the end of last season and should not be discarded for the upcoming season, either.

The Community Shield match v Manchester City on Saturday 7th August will help clarify Leicester’s favoured starting line up.

LEICESTER CITY – Potential FPL targets

In our opinion, Jamie Vardy (£10.5m), despite his undeniable and proven FPL pedigree, has possibly been slightly overpriced this season, mainly due to other attractive forward options being available at considerably lower prices. Then again, over the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, the now 34-year old Leicester legend still managed 15 goals and 14 assists to reach a total of 187 FPL points. At the moment of writing, the former England striker is part of just under 9% of teams in the official fantasy game, probably due to a combination of “fears” surrounding his advancing age, his game time in the upcoming season with Iheanacho and Daka waiting in the wings, and Leicester’s less than ideal opening set of fixtures. All arguments worth discussing, but we feel that a Vardy party remains on the cards until he really shows us otherwise.

Competition is fierce in the mid-priced midfielder budget this season, with the likes of Wilfried Zaha, James Ward-Prowse, Raphinha and James Maddison all carrying £6.5m to £7m price tags, but Harvey Barnes (£7.0m) has the potential to compete with the best of them. With 9 goals, 5 assists and 7 clean sheets in just under 2,000 minutes of Premier League football, the 23-year old was on the way to his best personal season up to date, but a serious knee injury stopped him in his tracks. To make matters even worse, it also ruled him out of England’s Euro 2020 squad. Barnes has now returned to action and is making a fit impression during the pre-season, which is good news for both Leicester and FPL managers.

Our third Leicester fantasy pick was going to be Wesley Fofana, until the Frenchman suffered a serious fibula fracture in yesterday’s friendly pre-season encounter with Villareal. A real blow for Leicester, this also forced us to shift our attention to another Fox. We wanted to stay in the affordable fantasy asset category, but sticking with a nailed-on part of the starting eleven nonetheless. Enter midfielder Youri Tielemans (£6.5m). Together with Marc Albrighton, the Belgian Euro 2020 participant was the only first-team player of the Foxes who managed to stay injury-free last season. At the same time, he tied with Maddison as Leicester’s highest-scoring midfielder with a total of 133 FPL points (6 goals, 4 assists, 11 clean sheets). As we discussed earlier, Tielemans will generally operate as the more advanced half of the double pivot, but there will also be moments where he will be employed more as an attacking midfielder.

For more comment join other FPL enthusiasts in FISO’s FPL discussion forum.

FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 4 Crystal Palace and Everton

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 fourth instalment, two teams with new bosses vastly different to their predecessors: Crystal Palace under Patrick Vieira and Everton under Rafa Benitez.

CRYSTAL PALACE – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Four Premier League sides are starting the 2021/22 campaign with new managers and Patrick Vieira’s appointment at Crystal Palace is probably the one surrounded by the most questions. Is the former Arsenal legend ready for a 38-week long battlefield that is the Premier League? What kind of tactics will he be focusing on at Selhurst Park? How will Palace approach games under the Frenchman? These questions are not the result of doubts surrounding Vieira’s qualities (more on that later), but mainly due to the fact that this managerial switch marks the end of an era at Selhurst Park.

Since a few weeks into the 2017/18 season, the Eagles had been led by English veteran manager Roy Hodgson. While rarely lauded for his approach to games, Woy’s pragmatic leadership helped an often limited Palace side to mid-table finishes every season without ever really coming in danger of relegation. Usually counting on a relatively old and experienced squad (Palace boasted the highest average age of all teams last season), Hodgson’s Palace was known for a preference to lean back and hit opponents on the counter through quick breaks with Wilfired Zaha as the main danger man.

When presented by the club as Hodgson’s successor, Vieira stated that he wanted to build on the now 73-year old manager’s disciplined work and add a more attacking mindset to it. An admirable goal, that’s for sure, but a big, big challenge as well in a league that is both impatient and unforgiving. Hodgon’s work and results in South London have been underestimated at times due to the former England manager’s conservative tactics, and when looking at Vieira’s most recent record at OGC Nice in the French Ligue 1, the team looks to be facing a transformation. The question is to what extent the Frenchman can translate his preferred tactics to a Premier League-proof concept.

Crystal Palace’s tactics sheet

A quick look at the former Invincible’s tenure at the Côte d’Azur presents us with the image of a manager who likes an expressive kind of football, with 107 goals scored and 118 goals conceded in 89 games for a total of just 1.4 points per game. He has tended towards an attacking 4-3-3 formation in France and the current Palace squad boasts the qualities to emulate a similar approach. At the same time, he needs to be acutely aware of the risks that come with such tactics in the Premier League, especially when looking at the club’s opening fixtures: away games at Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and Arsenal plus home games versus Spurs and Leicester in their first eight gameweeks.

How the Eagles will turn up in gameweek 1 is still pretty much up in the air, but Chair Steve Parish and the rest of the Palace Board are clearly backing the project. Young central defenders Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen were brought in from respectively Chelsea U23 and Olympique Lyon to complement the older, more rigid defenders in the squad, and France U21 attacking midfielder and Young Championship Player of the Year Michael Olise was bought from Reading. On top of that, the talented Connor Gallagher was loaned from Chelsea’s U23 as well.

These transfers point to a more energetic style with more focus on ball possession combined with a speedy, very technical front line. Assuming Vieira will stick to his preferred 4-3-3 formation, the ideal attack will likely consist of talisman Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke and Michael Olise, though Olise is reportedly having some injury issues at the moment. Eberechi Eze should slot in there at some point as well, but he is out for the foreseeable future with a very serious Achilles injury. The three-men midfield looks to be built around loanee Gallagher, together with Jairo Riedewald and anchor Cheikhou Kouyaté. In the back, new acquisitions Andersen and Guehi will likely be flanked by Tyrick Mitchell on the left and Joel Ward on the right. In goal, Vicente Guaita is nailed on.

CRYSTAL PALACE – Potential FPL targets

One thing Vieira will be looking to accomplish this season is to make the Eagles less dependent on Wilfried Zaha (£7.0m) in an attacking sense. Nevertheless, the Ivory Coast international will remain their star man and the automatic first fantasy recommendation when talking about Palace. Last season was not his best in terms of attacking returns, but his 11 goals and 4 assists still represent a direct involvement of just over 36% in all of his team’s goals in the Prem. Only seven players in the entire league recorded a better involvement ratio. A more attacking approach to games should normally benefit Zaha and we find it hard to imagine that his goal involvement will be any lower this season. At £7.0m, he could be an interesting option once the Eagles have their difficult opening set of fixtures behind them.

Our second fantasy pick from the Crystal Palace roster is a bit of a punt, but one we feel has a decent ceiling and a limited downside, thanks to his price tag. Michael Olise (£5.5m) had an impressive break-through season for Reading in the Championship with 7 goals and 12 assists, crowning himself Young Player of the Year. The 19-year old was also part of both the Championship Team of the Season and the PFA Championship Team of the Year. Olise was amongst the most creative players in the entire league with 84 big chances created and he was his side’s set-piece specialist, as well. Of course, he is young and very little is really known about Crystal Palace’s tactics for the coming season, but at £5.5m, he has the potential to become a very effective budget-enabler.

Our final Palace fantasy pick was between goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and defender Cheikhou Kouyaté (£4.5m), and we ended up opting for the latter. The main reason for that is that every FPL manager likes a starting out-of-position asset, and the Ivorian looks to fit the description this season. He is listed as a budget defender, but expected to be deployed at the base of a three-man midfield. In truth, Kouyaté is not expected to record lots of attacking returns (he got 2 goals and 2 assists over the past two seasons) and he might be more susceptible to bookings as a lone defensive midfielder. At the same time, as a fantasy asset, he will also get 4 FPL points per clean sheet and his involvement in the middle of the pitch can also lead to better results in the bonus points index. All we’re saying is: don’t discard him straight away.

EVERTON – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Hopes were high at Goodison Park at the start of last season as elite manager and multiple Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti was appointed to lead Everton to European football. Boosted by big-name acquisitions like James Rodriguez and Allan, the Toffees got off to a flying start and looked like serious top-six challengers by Christmas. The defence looked pretty solid more often than not and they were scoring goals with DCL (Dominic Calvert-Lewin) the main beneficiary from this long patch of good form, from a fantasy perspective.

The second half of the season was less of a good-news show though, and by the time gameweek 38 was upon us, Everton were sitting in tenth place. The 5-0 thrashing at the hands of champions Manchester City was the very sour cherry on what eventually turned out to be another rather disappointing cake of a season. Then Real Madrid came knocking and suddenly the Ancelotti era at Goodison became limited to a single season. Enter Rafa Benitez.

In their search for another heavyweight to be in charge of the dressing room, the Everton management brought in the decorated and highly-respected Spanish manager. As a former Liverpool manager, his appointment was naturally surrounded by some controversy, but his managerial qualities are undeniable and the Toffees know this as well. Known as a manager with a preference for defensive stability over attacking excitement, his overall Premier League record shows an average of 1.53 goals scored per game (and just under 1 goal conceded per game). Considering the fact that last season no team recorded more clean sheets than the Toffees since gameweek 25 (8 in 15 games), Benitez is inheriting a pretty stable side, which will hopefully give him a bit more time to focus on the team’s attacking aspects.

Everton’s tactics sheet

In recent years, Benitez often played in a variation of 4-2-3-1 formations, with three technical attackers filling in behind a strong man up front. It remains to be seen how Everton will line up under the Spaniard in GW1 though, as a formation with a five-man backline looks very fitting for the current squad as well. Considering the investments that were made at the start of last season and the Board’s likely desire to avoid another major upheaval in terms of tactics (and squad), we feel an adapted four-man defence behind Rafa’s heavily favoured double pivot in the middle is the way they will go in most games.

Pickford comes off a good Euro 2020 and is a certainty in goal, and he’ll be happy that Benitez does not tend to expect miracles from his shot stoppers in terms of footballing qualities. Michael Keane will probably be partnered by Yerry Mina in defence, though Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey are candidates as well, especially when playing with five at the back. On the left, Lucas Digne is undisputed in any case, while on the right, Seamus Coleman looks like a starter for now. We write “for now”, because Everton have been heavily linked with dynamic PSV right-back and Euro 2020 star Denzel Dumfries.

The central midfield has always been a key area for the successful implementation of Benitez’ tactics. We have briefly outlined the manager’s focus on defensive solidity, and the central midfield block is where the team’s shape and tempo are decided. At each of his teams in recent years, the midfield was the team’s engine room: At Valencia, these key men were David Albelda and Rubén Baraja; at Liverpool it was a trio from Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Dietmar Hamann and Javier Mascherano; at Inter he trusted Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder; and at Chelsea, Ramires and Frank Lampard formed his double pivot. For this coming season, Abdelaye Doucouré and Allan seem favourites for starting berths, with André Gomes and Tom Davies breathing down their necks.

In attack, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is about as nailed as they come to lead the offensive line. Behind him, Richarlison will slot in on the left side (as soon as he is rested from his Copa América and Olympics exploits). That leaves two spots for James Rodriguez (who looks like the most likely candidate for the #10 position), Alex Iwobi and new acquisitions Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray. Any of them might fill in for Richarlison during the first weeks of the season.

EVERTON – Potential FPL targets

Upon his arrival at Goodison Park, Benitez did not need long to mention the qualities of Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£8.0m). He lauded the England striker’s finishing qualities and aerial presence, and states that one of his priorities was to improve the quantity and quality of service for the man up front. In that light, the addition of Demarai Gray and especially serial crosser Andros Townsend make complete sense. Over the past 2 seasons, DCL managed 29 goals (16 last season) and 7 assists (6 last season), and he ended the 2020/21 campaign with 165 FPL points. Not too shabby for a forward who started the season with a £7.0m price tag. His price was increased by a whole million for the upcoming season, but in our opinion, Calvert-Lewin can still represent excellent value.

A major aspect in that assessment is Everton’s theoretically kind opening set of fixtures. Bar their away game at Old Trafford in gameweek 7, none of their first 11 games rank higher than 3 on the official game’s Fixture Difficulty Rating. This run includes encounters with several teams who were not exactly prolific in front of goal last season, including Brighton, Burnley and Wolves and promoted sides Norwich and Watford. Combine that with Lucas Digne‘s (£5.5m) appealing price tag, and you can see why we’re expecting the Frenchman to be included in plenty of FPL squads come GW1. The left-back could benefit massively from Benitez’ appointment if it leads to him building on last season’s 9 assists with more clean sheets. On top of that, the French international will be on even more set-pieces now that Gylfi Sigurdsson is not likely to feature any time soon.

Another player who could see a serious upturn in his end product is James Rodriguez (£7.0m). His fitness has proven to be somewhat of a potential issue with the Colombian star making it to just 1,763 Premier League minutes last season, but FPL towers seem to have wanted to compensate for that with a very interesting £7.0m price tag. As a result, and on condition that Everton’s attacking pieces fall into place rather quickly under Benitez, what we have here is a potential absolute bargain. James recorded 5 goals and 6 assists last season for a total of 101 FPL points, which is not that bad for a midfielder in his price category, but feels like an underperformance for a player of his quality. Still, excluding fantasy assists, he boasted the best direct goal involvement ratio of all players on the Everton roster (0.51 per game), in part thanks to his set-piece duties. Competition is fierce in his bracket and budgets are limited, but you should at least have the Colombia international around the top of your watchlists.

For more comment join other FPL enthusiasts in FISO’s FPL discussion forum.

FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 3 Burnley and Chelsea

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 third instalment, we’re covering Sean Dyche’s Burnley and Champions League winner’s Chelsea for their first full season under Thomas Tuchel.

BURNLEY – FPL 2021/22 team preview

The 2020/21 Premier League campaign did not go down as the greatest in Burnley FC’s 139 years of history, but the Clarets did manage what they have donein every single season since their return amongst the English footballing elite in the 2015/16 season, which is staying in the Prem. In truth, the largely sub-par performances from relegated sides West Brom, Fulham and Sheffield United throughout the season made the challenge look easier than it was in reality.

Even though Sean Dyche’s men finished in 17th place with just 39 points, they did manage a gap of no less than 11 points between themselves and Fulham in 18th. Where Burnley could once be considered a good source for solid, budget-friendly defensive assets in particular, they conceded 55 goals last season. Only five other teams conceded more, including relegated West Brom and Sheffield United. Combined with a goal-shy attack netting just 33 times in 38 games, a total bettered by 17 other teams in the league, we can conclude that the Clarets played with relegation fire last season.

Of course, the fact that Burnley have operated with one of the tightest budgets in the top flight for years should not be overlooked. As a matter of fact, for the 2020/21 season, Dyche spent just £1 million. This makes the recent acquisition of 20-year old central defender Nathan Collins from Stoke City for £12 million their first significant transfer expenditure in 18 months. This was made possible by the club’s take-over at the start of the year by US consortium ALK Capital, who became owners of the club in a fashion very similar to how the Glazers took control of Manchester United. Whether this is a good thing for Burnley in the long-term remains very much to be seen, but for now, rumour has it that it allows Dyche and co to further strengthen the squad during the current transfer window.

The main area of interest seems to be the defence, perhaps with a ready-to-go player with PL experience to add to the Collins transfer. This would fit Dyche’s approach to games, but no one can deny that a creative spark in the midfield would be welcome. In that light, retaining winger Dwight McNeil should be a top priority as well. The 21-year old is apparently a serious consideration for a bunch of Premier League sides and his departure would be a hard hit for the Clarets, though the likely £30 million plus price tag would create considerable room for investments as well.

Burnley’s tactics sheet

Despite the lack of really exciting options in the team, the Burnley roster has the potential to be a considerably useful one for Fantasy Premier League managers. At £7.0m, Chris Wood is their most expensive asset, which means that the team could be a decent source of budget-friendly options, especially if Dyche manages to create a defensively solid unit in the mould of his successful 2017/18 side.

More than the players’ price tags though, it’s Sean Dyche’s tactical consistency which can set Burnley assets apart from many other potential mid-table or budget picks. The manager is known for his adherence to a 4-4-2 formation, his preference for a gritty, no-nonsense approach to games, and his tendency to rotate very little. This could, of course, have to do with the fact that there was really very little to rotate with at Burnley over the past seasons, but even so, we don’t see him switching up his style too much.

Nick Pope is guaranteed in goal with the sturdy central duo consisting of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski sitting in front of him. As it looks at the moment, they will be flanked by Matt Lowton on the right and Charlie Taylor on the left. In the middle, Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood form the heart of the team, while Dwight McNeil and Josh Brownhill are to provide the much-needed creative impulses from the midfield. Up front, New Zealand striker Chris Wood is about as nailed-on as they come, while the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Ashley Barnes and Matej Vydra can fill the second striker spot.

Expect a largely defence-minded Burnley side with a tendency to play quite a direct game, centrally through the air and from the flanks mostly. Wood plays a crucial role in this approach and has scored 10+ goals in each of his last four seasons, making him the team’s top scorer each time. If Sean Dyche manages to implement his preferred style during the pre-season, most of the Clarets’ fantasy value will very likely be found in the backline.

BURNLEY – Potential FPL targets

It’s difficult to start a discussion about potential fantasy Burnley targets without mentioning Chris Wood (£7.0m). The striker is the most expensive Claret by a long shot (second-most expensive Claret, McNeil, comes in at £6.0m), but we feel it’s justified. To put it very crudely, Burnley would probably not have made it last season without the 6”3′ Kiwi up front. With 12 goals and 3 assists last season, he was directly involved in just over 45% of his team’s goals. No striker priced under £7.0m in the official game scored more than his 138 FPL points. Wood’s big problem this season is that his starting price tag is probably a bit too rich when you consider that the likes of Ollie Watkins and Michail Antonio are just half a million more expensive. Still, at £7.0m, you could do a lot worse than a nailed-on striker who scored 26 goals and gave 4 assists in the past two Premier League seasons for a defensive side like Burnley.

Our second fantasy pick from the Clarets’ roster is winger Dwight McNeil (£6.0m), who was given a friendlier price tag by FPL towers in comparison to the big man in front of him. The 2020/21 campaign was a rather quiet one for the 21-year old, who managed just 2 goals and 5 assists in 3,068 minutes of Premier League football, but he was still Burnley’s highest-scoring midfielder with 113 FPL points. Dwighty is the team’s main creator and takes many set-pieces, which should always place him on your watchlists, at least.

As we wrote earlier, the best value at Burnley can probably be found in defence though, where both Matt Lowton and Charlie Taylor are priced at £4.5m. Our preference would go out to Lowton for his slightly more attacking role on the right side in comparison to Taylor, but there isn’t much between them. Despite a very mediocre year for the Clarets last season, they still recorded 11 clean sheets, which is where the main value will again come from for these two players this campaign. The budget defender bracket is quite populated for the upcoming season, but Lowton is amongst the candidates for our GW1 squad.

CHELSEA – FPL 2021/22 team preview

About five months ago, Chelsea were sitting well outside the top four domestically and the chances of getting anywhere in the Champions League looked small as the Blues were simply not reliable enough. Club legend Frank Lampard was replaced by former PSG manager, Thomas Tuchel, in the hopes of salvaging at least European qualification for the upcoming 2021/22 season, but the German exceeded all expectations by leading the Londoners to the second Champions League victory in their history as well as a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League.

Tuchel had an immediate impact on the club by going undefeated in his first 14 games, a club record, and radically improving their defence played a huge part in that success. Of Chelsea’s 18 clean sheets, 12 were recorded since the appointment of their German manager in January of this year. Offensively, there was still much to improve, especially when you consider the heavy investments in the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech during the 2020 summer transfer window, but even in that sense, Tuchel seemed to be more effective at implementing a certain idea and tactic than his predecessor.

Last summer’s spending spree might also explain the Blues’ lack of real activity during this summer’s transfer window, so far. Fulham back-up goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli has actually been the only addition to the squad up until now, while both Fikayo Tomori and Olivier Giroud left West London for AC Milan. The Chelsea roster looks pretty set and contains lots of world-class talent, though we wouldn’t be surprised to see them bringing in a young central defender to compete with the experienced likes of mainstays Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva, and a proven goalscorer to spearhead their stacked midfield.

The 2021/22 Premier League campaign will be Thomas Tuchel’s first full one in charge of Chelsea and it’s safe to say that expectations are high after last season’s showing. Logic would dictate that with more knowledge of his squad, a complete pre-season to implement and perfect his preferred style of football, and possibly one or two specific additions, the Blues will be building on their recent Champions League success. Their opening set of fixtures is not the kindest, which will probably somewhat slow initial investment in their FPL assets, but if Tuchel continues his good work, there could be some serious FPL value on the Chelsea roster for the upcoming season.

Chelsea’s tactics sheet

When Tuchel was presented as Chelsea’s new manager back in January, in the middle of possibly the most congested and most chaotic season ever, he said that he wanted to make the team hard to beat. A modest goal perhaps, for a club that had splashed £200+ million on reinforcements just a few months earlier, but understandable, and more importantly realistic for a side that lacked tactical stability and defensive resolve at that point. The speed with which the German implemented his ideas and transformed the team’s shape was nothing short of very impressive.

Predicting how Chelsea will turn up in gameweek 1 is a bit more of a guess than usual, as Tuchel will surely be using the pre-season to really mould the squad to his requirements. Last season, for example, a backline of three was the favoured tactical base by far, but during the current pre-season, the Blues have been experimenting with a back four as well. Therefore, it’s more useful to look at some of the manager’s basic tactical principles and how those can be executed by the current squad.

Tuchel’s Chelsea operates in a very disciplined way, which has been especially apparent in defence. The central defenders, either two or three, and the central midfield form a solid block to force opponents out wide. At the same time, the full-backs often hold wide (and relatively advanced) positions. As a team, Chelsea try to move their defensive line high up in order to keep the centre of the pitch as tight as possible, combined with an intense pressing game. As a result, the team can vary easily between more patient short-pass build-ups and quick transitions via the flanks when opponents find themselves out of position.

CHELSEA – Potential FPL targets

Based on last season’s Expected Goals over the entire campaign, only relegated Fulham and Sheffield United recorded a bigger negative difference compared to their actual output than Chelsea. This largely confirms what already looked like one of the team’s biggest flaws last season, namely their lack of clinical finishing. As a result, many of Chelsea’s attacking fantasy assets were adjusted downwards in price. The reality though, is that the Blues boast an abundance of offensive talent that is now available at very appealing prices. Former Leverkusen forward Kai Havertz (£8.5m), for example, could make a mockery of his price tag if Tuchel manages to make the Chelsea attack click. In 1,512 minutes of Premier League football last season, the German scored 4 goals and provided 6 assists for a total of 91 FPL points, which is OK for a debut season. What adds to the fantasy appeal of the 2020/21 Champions League final match winner is the fact that he is classified as a midfielder in FPL, whilst Tuchel employs him as a striker.

Less appealing from an FPL manager point of view is Tuchel’s almost Guardiola-esque tendency to rotate his starting eleven. Not even the goalkeeper was a 100% sure of his spot last season. In that light, Mason Mount (£7.5m) is probably the top pick for managers looking to invest in outfield Chelsea assets. The 22-year old clocked the most PL minutes of every first-team member and also recorded the highest points tally (147 FPL points), courtesy of 6 goals, 7 assists and 14 clean sheets. He was a major creative outlet for the Blues last season and with a clinical finisher up top, his total points could’ve easily been higher. Just to name one of his impressive underlying stats: only Man United’s Bruno Fernandes created more big chances than Mount. If things start gelling more in Chelsea’s attack, £7.5m could be a steal for the England international.

For our third Chelsea fantasy pick, it’s important to keep in mind that the context is mostly last season’s backline of five. In that formation, Ben Chilwell (£6.0m) is probably one of the best premium defenders in the official game. The risk of rotation that he carries forms a downside to his fantasy appeal, but then again, he still got 3 goals, 6 assists and 12 clean sheets to his name last season. As a left-wing back with some set-piece duties who plays for a defensively solid title contender, Chilwell is probably worth the risk. With Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs (all away) and Man City coming up (home) in their first 6 gameweeks, Chelsea’s start to the 2021/22 is tough, but bar unexpected setbacks, you can expect interest in Chilwell to increase considerably towards gameweek 7.

For more comment join other FPL enthusiasts in FISO’s FPL discussion forum.

FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 2 Brentford and Brighton

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 second instalment, new boys Brentford are up, together with the curious case of Brighton and Hove Albion.

BRENTFORD – FPL 2021/22 team preview

With Brentford, we have arrived at the first of three previews of promoted teams, the other two being Norwich and Watford. Brentford finished third in the Championship last season with 87 points from 46 games and gained Premier League status for the first time since 1947 by winning the play-offs. In their previous nine (!) play-off attempts, which included a dramatic loss in last season’s final against Fulham, the Bees did not manage to get through to the English footballing elite. You can just imagine the scenes in West London.

Brentford are not your typical football club. With former professional gambler and current majority shareholder of stats-based Danish Champions League participants FC Midtjylland Matthew Benham as chairman, the club almost exclusively bases its management and transfer decisions on stats, data and analytics. This is a first in terms of both the Premier League and the Fantasy Premier League, and it’ll be interesting to see how this translates to the appeal of their FPL assets.

Looking at last season, Brentford boast the worst defensive record of the three promoted clubs (42 goals conceded in 46 games), but also the most prolific attack. Not just out of the three promoted sides, but in the entire league. The big question is, of course, whether they can replicate this performance to a certain extent in the Premier League this season.

So far, BFC have been relatively quiet on the transfer market this summer, though huge headline-grabbing transfers are not a typical aspect of their approach to football. They have been focusing on reinforcing the centre of their lineup most of all, with the arrival of promising central defender Kristoffer Ajer from Celtic and 23-year central midfielder Frank Onyeka from Midtjylland. The club has also brought in Myles Pearl-Harris from Chelsea’s U23 squad, while central midfielder Mads Bidstrup was promoted from the reserves.

Brentford’s tactics sheet

With around two weeks to go until gameweek 1, Brentford still have time to bring in more reinforcements, but it looks like the Bees already have their business pretty much in order for their long-awaited return to the Premier League. It always remains to be seen how newly promoted teams perform in their first year at the very highest level, but Brentford under manager Thomas Frank have the potential to be an exciting and entertaining addition to the league.

As a team, Brentford are very attack-minded and able to vary their attacking play. They like to employ a high press from where they then decide for patient build-up play or a quick counter. The side boasts plenty of ball-playing quality, but thanks to their desire to recover lost balls quickly, they also create plenty of counter-attacking opportunities for themselves. We believe this is particular valuable coming season, where the Bees will normally rarely dominate possession.

Whether Frank lines his men up in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation, they always seek to overload the middle of the pitch and then release either the striker or the wingers. With topscorer Ivan Toney (31 goals and 10 assists in 45 Championship encounters), and wingers Patrice Mbeumo and Sergi Canós, they boasted a lethal strike force up front. The downside is that, logically, the Bees do get caught out of position at times, especially against patient teams who don’t mind waiting for that one dangerous counter-attack. The fact that Frank encourages constant positional switches in attack also leads to gaps suddenly appearing for quick and savvy opponents to dive into.

BRENTFORD – Potential FPL targets

We’re not sure if it’s the highest pre-GW1 ownership percentage ever for a promoted player, but striker Ivan Toney (£6.5m) is currently in almost 32% of all teams. Despite his relatively heavy price tag for a player who has just 12 minutes in the Prem to his name (from the 2015/16 season with Newcastle), the 25-year old has convinced plenty of fantasy managers with his performances over the past years. In the season 2019/20, Toney scored 24 goals for Peterborough in the League One and a season later, he bettered that performance in the Championship with Brentford by scoring 31 goals. The Premier League is a different beast, we all know that, and £6.5m is not cheap, but he’s definitely on our watchlist.

With Bryan Mbeumo (£5.5m), we’re selecting a second starting member of Brentford’s free-scoring forward line. The France U21 international is a sensational talent that combines creativity with a serious end product. Last season, Mbeumo scored 8 goals and gave 11 assists, while he recorded 23 attacking returns in the season prior to that (15 goals, 8 assists). For a now 21-year old winger, who is listed as a midfielder in FPL by the way, these stats are nothing short of fantastic. An additional plus to his FPL appeal is the fact that his price is a whole million lower than Toney’s, which makes him much more attractive for a bit of a punt with a considerable upside.

Initially, we were planning to go into Sergi Canós as third Brentford FPL target, but we noticed that many other managers and analysts listed the Brentford attacking three as their Bees to keep an eye on. For variation and also to shift the spotlight to a real budget-enabler, we’ve gone with Mathias Jensen (£5.0m) instead. The 25-year old Danish international is actually the Bees’ creator in chief, no other Brentford midfielder topped his average of 1.5 key passes per game last season, and he is also on most of their set-pieces. In terms of end product, he needs to give way to the team’s forwards though, as Jensen got 2 goals and 7 assists to his name last season. Nevertheless, a starting £5.0-midfielder on set-pieces is always worth considering.

BRIGHTON – FPL 2021/22 team preview

If you’ve been active in the FPL universe the past few weeks as you’re starting to form your gameweek 1 squad, you’ll surely have noticed that a bit of a low-key hype has grown about Brighton. A big reason for that is the fact that Graham Potter’s men have one of the best opening sets of fixtures. In the first eight gameweeks of the coming season, they are facing the three promoted sides plus away games at Burnley and Crystal Palace. As a result, the Brighton defence in particular has attracted attention.

The thing about Brighton is that, for some reason, they have not yet been able to connect a lot of good displays and excellent underlying statistics with a top-half finish yet. We won’t go into too much statistical detail here right now (data-centric managers, check them out!), but for now it suffices to say that, based on their underlying stats from last season, they would have finished fifth in the league instead of 16th. That’s a huge deviation.

In terms of FPL, such a difference between predicted and actual results can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it looks like a matter of time before many of Brighton’s budget-friendly FPL options explode in a big way. On the other hand, they’ve been underperforming for two consecutive seasons now, so why would this season be very different?

The very good thing is that even if the Seagulls underwhelm once again, you won’t have risked you entire budget on their players. The Brighton roster boasts a lot of really good value with the likes of goalkeeper Robert Sánchez, fullback Tariq Lamptey, former Ajax Amsterdam man Joel Veltman, playmaker Pascall Gross, and striker Neal Maupay all belonging to their respective position’s bargain category. We expect plenty of blue-and-white in FPL teams come gameweek 1.

Brighton’s tactics sheet

Manager Graham Potter is known for his tactical prowess and his penchant for tweaking his formations based on the opponent of the day. It’s the principles of possession, tactical flexibility, and a solid defensive foundation that decide their way of playing. Having said that, a kind of hybrid 3-4-1-2 formation seems to be Potter’s most-utilised tactic. This provides his side with defensive solidity and the possibility to quickly switch from a more offensive to a more defensive set-up by adjusting the positions of the fullbacks. It’s really quite an impressive approach when it clicks, as opponents can rarely find gaps in the Brighton defence while the Seagulls manage to quickly pass through to that same opponent’s defensive third. All that’s missing, so it seems, are the actual points…

With the departure of Ben White to Arsenal, Brighton will need to change their successful backline from last season a bit. We’re expecting Adam Webster, captain Lewis Dunk and Joel Veltman to form the central block in front Robert Sánchez. On the wings, there should be a starting berth for Dan Burn (left) and Tariq Lamptey (right, if fit). Out of this defence, only Lewis Dunk is not priced at £4.5m.

The expected double pivot in the middle of pitch consists of Yves Bissouma and Pascal Gross, though the German playmaker could be replaced by the likes of Adam Lallana or Jakub Moder. Up front, Neal Maupay and Danny Welbeck look assured of a spot unless the Seagulls do some business in the forward area this summer. With the Ben White money coming in and Welbeck seemingly nurturing an injury at the moment, we would be surprised if they don’t, to be honest. Belgian ace Leandro Trossard should occupy the #10 spot, though Lallana and Gross are candidates for this position as well.

BRIGHTON – Potential FPL targets

Our first Brighton fantasy pick is Robert Sánchez (£4.5m), partly because we don’t often get the chance to strongly recommend a goalkeeper and partly because everything is pointing at him becoming excellent value this coming season. The Spanish international conquered a spot in the starting lineup during the last season and went on to record 10 clean sheets (and 101 FPL points) in 27 games. At a price of just £4.5, that’s just very good. Combine this historic performance with Brighton’s favourable opening fixtures, especially from a defensive point of view, and it becomes hard to imagine why Sánchez would NOT be part of your squad, at least initially.

The same very much goes for right-back Tariq Lamptey (£4.5m), though with a much higher potential upside. The Chelsea Academy graduate was unlucky with lots of injury trouble last season, but when he was fit, he showed some very promising stuff. In 887 minutes of Premier League football, the 20-year old recorded 35 FPL points, courtesy of 2 clean sheets, 1 goal and 3 assists. He was also ranked amongst the most-fouled defenders and the defenders with most touches in the opponent’s penalty area, which shows the liberty he gets from Potter to bomb forward. Add his £4.5m price tag to that conclusion and you’ll understand why he is on people’s FPL radars, though ongoing injury issues dampen his appeal, unfortunately.

OK, it’s not very exciting maybe, but our third Brighton FPL target is Lamptey’s fullback colleague at the opposite side of the pitch. Dan Burn (£4.5m) offers less than his right-side counterpart in terms of attacking return potential, but he can still represent excellent value for your squad (and at 6 foot 7 inches must be the tallest full back in the EPL!). His price obviously plays a major role here and in comparison to central £4.5m-defenders Veltman and Webster (Dunk is half a million more expensive), one might expect him to get involved in the attack a bit more regularly. Last season, Burn played just over 2,000 minutes for the Seagulls in which he recorded 6 clean sheets and 1 goal. His points total of 64 is OK and could’ve been better without his unfortunate own goal against Wolves. In any case, with Brighton’s opening fixtures in mind, Burn is another good budget-enabling option for your squad.

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FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 1 Arsenal & Aston Villa

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 first instalment, we’re kicking off with Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal and an Aston Villa side that’s looking to build on last season’s more than decent 11th place.

ARSENAL – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Arsenal’s 2020/21 season got off to a motivating start as the Gunners won the FA Community Shield by beating Liverpool after penalties. That victory meant the second piece of silverware under coach Mikel Arteta in a stretch of just a few months, which understandably filled the hearts of their fans with hope for more trophies during the season.

Unfortunately for them, that wasn’t exactly the case. A poor start to the league season meant that the Gunners were never really in the race for a Champions League spot and their eventual finish in 8th place meant that the upcoming 2021/22 campaign will be their fifth consecutive one without Champions League football. As a matter of fact, the upcoming season won’t see Arsenal feature in Europe at all for the first time in 26 years. Not very good for the club, but not necessarily bad news for FPL managers.

It wasn’t ALL doom and gloom at the Emirates, though. In a very un-Arsenal fashion, Arteta’s side actually recorded the third-best defensive record in the league, just behind champions Manchester City and Chelsea, with 39 goals conceded. We dare not say whether or not they will be able to display such solidity this season, but the addition of Brighton’s 2020/21 Player of the Season Ben White for about £50 million will go a long way in that sense.

Arsenal’s tactics sheet

Though Arteta has at times caught FPL managers (and real-life opponents) off guard with tweaks to his formation and tactical approach, his preferred lineup is a 4-2-3-1 formation. In that system, the wing-backs, most likely being Kieran Tierney on the left and Hector Bellerín on the right (unless he transfers), are given considerable freedom to support the attack. With 2 goals and 7 assists amongst them, attacking returns came at kind of a premium last season, though.

While the middle of pitch looks set with a double pivot, the front four isn’t entirely clear yet. Talisman and top earner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be a starter, whether it be up front or floating inwards from the left wing. The same goes for Bukayo Saka, who will be even harder to leave out of the starting lineup after a great European Championship. Last season’s break-out star Emile Smith-Rowe could embark on the season as Arsenal’s starting number 10 after recently extending his contract, especially with Odegaard back in Madrid and Joe Willock a potential candidate to be loaned out once more. The fourth and final spot in the Gunners’ attack goes between Nicolas Pépé, Willian and Alexandre Lacazette. Thanks to a strong finish to last season, Pépé probably has the edge here, but he will also be the one left out when Auba moves to the left wing for Laca to take his place as striker. Finally, Gabriel Martinelli’s role looks uncertain still, but if he manages to stay fit, keep an eye on his exploits during pre-season.

ARSENAL – Potential FPL targets

To be honest, we feel that Arsenal is very much a “wait-and-see” kind of team in FPL, much like they have been for the past few seasons. The star man is obviously Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.0m), who comes at a premium price despite a mostly disappointing 2020/21 season. The Gabonese forward recorded 13 attacking returns (10 goals and 3 assists) and 10 clean sheets for a total of 131 FPL points. Auba has been re-classified as a forward for this season though, which in combination with his price tag should put off a lot of managers. He probably won’t be in a lot of teams come gameweek 1, but don’t forget that in the two seasons prior to last season, he scored 44 goals, gave 12 assists and recorded consecutive 205-pointers.

Contrary to Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka (£6.5m) had his best ever season last season. With 5 goals, 5 assists, 8 clean sheet and 8 bonus points, he recorded a total of 114 FPL points. Not bad for a midfielder who started the season at £5.5m. His price was increased by a million for the upcoming season, but the England youngster still looks like very good value. Coming off a fantastic Euro 2020, Saka should be nailed-on as part of Arteta’s starting eleven and to top it all off, he’s been getting more involved in set-piece duties as well.

Emile Smith-Rowe (£5.5m) is another Arsenal talent who could provide excellent value in FPL this season. The 21-year old started last season at £4.5m, kind of crashed onto the PL scene during the season itself, and ended the campaign with an impressive 74 FPL points (2 goals, 5 assists, 10 clean sheets). That’s the kind of performance that can make the difference for your FPL team. As Martin Odegaard left the club and Joe Willock might be loaned out, ESR looks set to be a starter for the Gunners in GW1 and could prove to be a great budget-enabler.

ASTON VILLA – FPL 2021/22 team preview

You might still remember the way in which Aston Villa escaped relegation in dramatic fashion on the final match day of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign. Keeping that in mind, their performance last season only becomes more impressive. For a large part of the season, the Villans were actual candidates for a top-six finish, but they eventually ended in 11th place, just 7 points off the European spots.

With the likes of Jack Grealish (edit: since sold to Man City), Ollie Watkins and Emi Martinez (edit: and new signing Danny Ings), the Villa roster boasts some exceptional talent, and their transfer activity this summer shows that the club wants to build on last season’s performances. The signing of Emiliano Buendia could prove to be a bull’s eye and the imminent arrival of Leverkusen speedster Leon Bailey feels exciting, while bringing back club legend Ashley Young looks to be both a very good and a very wise addition to a relatively young Aston Villa squad. On top of that, players of proven Premier League pedigree like Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse and Arsenal’s Emile Smith-Rowe are rumoured to be in their cross-hairs as well.

The biggest coup by a long shot would be the retention of star man and local lad Jack Grealish, though (edit: since sold to Man City). Coming off a good Euro 2020, where he featured for a total of 172 minutes as a substitute over five games and delivered 2 assists, the midfielder has recently been linked to Man City. Despite missing a part of last season due to injury, Grealish still managed an impressive 12 goals and 12 assists for the Villans, while he was also the most-fouled player in the league by some distance. Keeping him on board is the main priority this summer.

Villa’s tactics sheet

Like many other teams these days, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith likes to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with rather offensive wing-backs and an attacking quartet that combines technique and passing with the ability to exchange positions effortlessly during games. The same goes for the rest of the team to a large extent, in the sense that most of Villa’s (starting) players are very comfortable with the ball at their feet. As a result, the side can vary quite easily in the build-up as well.

Villa’s backline seems set for the moment, with the outstanding Emi Martinez in goal, and Matty Cash and Matt Targett flanking central duo Ezri Konsa and Euro 2020 finalist Tyrone Mings. The dynamic double pivot in the middle should be formed out of Douglas Luiz and Scotland international John McGinn. In attack, Smith is actually a bit spoilt for choice, especially with the arrivals of Emiliano Buendia for a hefty £33 million and Bailey for another £30-something million. Assuming Grealish plays in Aston Vila’s coming season, him and the two new boys are part of what could be a striker’s dream. That striker is the young Ollie Watkins, who was part of England’s Euro 2020 squad after scoring 14 goals and giving 9 assists in his first Premier League season. The final spot, in theory the #10 spot, would go between Bertrand Traoré and El Ghazi, though the Villans are reportedly interested in a new signing for this position as well (edit: Danny Ings signed from Southampton).

ASTON VILLA – Potential FPL targets

The Villa roster in FPL looks like a bit of a goldmine, especially when looking at their opening schedule. They are visiting promoted Watford before hosting Newcastle and new boys Brentford in the first three gameweeks. Stand-out pick is obviously Jack Grealish (£8.0m) (edit: since sold to Man City where he could be a bargain £8m in FPL), who still looks like a potential bargain despite his price having been increased by a million in comparison to last season. He’s the main man and a well-near guarantee for returns. We mentioned his 12 goals and 12 assists in 26 games last season already, but he was also in the top three for chance creation (only Bruno Fernandes and Mason Mount created more) and his points-per-match average was only bettered by seven other players in the league.

New signing Emiliano Buendia (£6.5m) is another very interesting option, especially thanks to his likely independence of Grealish’ transfer fate. Villa splashed £33 on the Argentine international who scored 15 goals and provided 17 assists in the Championship last season to become the league’s Player of the Season. If Grealish leaves, many eyes will be on Buendia to take his place as source of creativity. If Grealish stays, Buendia can form a formidable partnership on the wings with him. We just don’t think that the West Midlands club spent so much on such a proven player in English football just to bench him.

The likes of goalkeeper Emi Martinez and left-back Matt Targett are very much worthy of a mention here as well, but we feel that we simply can’t leave out Villa’s highest-scoring player from last season. Striker Ollie Watkins (£7.5m) needed no time to adapt to the Premier League as he scored 14 goals and gave 9 assists for a total of 168 FPL points in his debut season amongst the footballing elite. Only Jamie Vardy, Patrick Bamford and the inevitable Harry Kane did better amongst forwards. To make his performance even more impressive, Watkins’ Expected Goals ratio actually stood at 16.28 for the season, which means that the former Brentford man actually underperformed slightly. With favourable fixtures coming up, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him amongst the most-selected FPL assets come gameweek 1. Edit: Villa have since bought Danny Ings (£8m) from Southampton meaning Watkins more likely to play wide left in support of Ings in the centre.

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Which Summer Transfers Will Perform This Season?

It’s been a summer of sport, and to top it off, the start of the next Premier League season is only around the corner. As always, there are going to be theories about which club will perform well and at the centre of the debates are questions about the capabilities of new transfers.  

Deciding who will take to life in England like a duck to water is notoriously difficult since the speed and intensity of the EPL is infamous. However, several signings appear to be readymade for the division. So, which players are ready to make their mark?

Jadon Sancho (Manchester United)  

Jadon Sancho signed for Manchester United in July. After a fraught couple of years, the transfer saga finally came to an end when Borussia Dortmund accepted a fee for the English winger and the player agreed to the deal on personal terms. Of course, being born in England isn’t the only feature that makes Sancho stand out above the rest of his summer 2021 alumni.  

Firstly, he’s proven he can adapt to a different type of football: let’s not forget that he moved from Man City to Germany in the early stages of his career and very quickly transformed into a European superstar. Secondly, his statistics for Dortmund easily make him one of the most prodigious rising stars in world football, never mind English football. And finally, Dortmund is a massive club, so Sancho’s well seasoned as a player who has demonstrated his abilities on the big stage against some of the world’s most prolific sides.  

Sure, there’s confusion as to where he’ll fit in and he might not show his best form straight away. Still, it’s almost certain that he will highlight why he’s a wonder-kid by the end of the season, next May.  

Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa)  

No disrespect to Aston Villa, but you don’t expect a club like them to feature on a list of the major summer transfers. This epitomises two things – the lack of activity from the big guns on the market and the Claret & Blue Army’s savvy business acumen. After all, Buendia is a top signing.  

His form in the Championship proves this beyond a doubt, with the former Norwich man notching 15 goals and 16 assists in the last campaign. Overall, that equates to 107 chances created and 2.74 chances created every 90 minutes. Perhaps some would argue that this is of no consequence as the Championship is inferior to the Premiership, and technically, those critics would be correct.  

However, Buendia has featured in the Premier League, managing seven assists in a season where his club was relegated. If you need proof of his qualities, just look at the Premier League betting odds for his current/former side. The latter is 5/6 to be relegated this season, whereas the former is 7/1 to avoid the drop.  

Francisco Trincao (Wolves)  

Francisco Trincao is a Barcelona starlet and it’s therefore unsurprising that the Catalonians have only agreed to a temporary loan move for him. It’s evident that they want to keep him in the long run and aren’t prepared to sell him, even though the club needs to shed wages to resign Lionel Messi.  

This sacrifice, alone, shows you how good the up-and-comer could be because almost everyone at Barca is for sale at the moment. Whenever Trincao has played, he’s impressed at the Camp Nou. Although he only managed a total of three goals, he appeared a total of 28 times during the La Liga season, which is a lot of appearances for a 21-year-old.

One reason why the Wolves could provide the perfect training ground at which to further develop Trincao’s skills is because of the number of Portuguese players on the club’s books. From Rúben Neves to Pedro Neto, Fábio Silva, and João Moutinho, the squad is packed with countrymen that will make him feel at home. If he can adapt, there’s no reason he won’t take the league by storm.  

Let’s hope that they all perform for the sake of the Premier League. Otherwise, it won’t be a very entertaining season from a Fantasy Football perspective.