A new English Premier League season starts tomorrow, unless your name is Joey Barton, in which case it starts in mid-November. Barton picked up a 12-match ban after trying to start a fight with half of Manchester at the end of last season, and as a result he’s going to be pretty quiet for the next three months. If your name really is Joey Barton, then take some advice. Don’t go to Marseille! You really won’t like it there. Stay home, retweet some Nietzsche, and play EPL fantasy football!
And if your name isn’t Joey Barton, here’s some more useful advice; do not pick Joey Barton for your fantasy football team. But you should definitely pick a fantasy football team on the EPL’s website, because it’s free, there are some decent prizes to be won, and because you clearly have plenty of time on your hands, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. So, here’s your handy guide to Fantasy Soccer success:
Rules: You select a squad of 15 players (two goalkeepers, five defenders, five midfielders, and three strikers) with a maximum of three players from each Premier League team, and an initial total value not exceeding £100 million. Each week, you must select 11 of your 15 players as your first team; using any formation that includes a goalkeeper, and at least one defender, and one forward. If your name is Vicente del Bosque, this is not the game for you.
Your selected players acquire (or lose) points during matches in the following ways:
PLAYING TIME: Every player gets a point for playing up to 60 minutes of a match. Playing more than 60 minutes is worth another two points, for a maximum of three.
GOALS AGAINST: A shutout is big news. A clean sheet means four points each for your goalkeeper and defenders, and one point for each midfield player. In addition, your goalkeeper picks up a point for every three saves made, and five points for saving a penalty. On the other hand, each time a goalkeeper or defender concedes two goals, they lose a point.
GOALS SCORED: Scoring a goal nets four points for a forward, five for a midfielder, and six for a defender (or goalkeeper). An assist is worth three points.
DISCIPLINARY MATTERS: Each yellow card costs you one point; each red card equals three points lost. This is why you never pick Joey Barton (10 yellow and two red last season).
BEING INCOMPETENT: An own goal will cost you two points, as will a penalty miss.
BEING COMPETENT: There are bonus points on offer in each match to the best players in each game. These are decided using some obscure algorithm of performance, which leans heavily toward goals; Robin Van Persie was last season’s bonus magnet. Rafael Van der Vaart and Clint Dempsey were the best in the midfield.
You can designate one player as captain; his point score for that game week will be doubled. If one of your starting 11 isn’t picked, a substitute’s score is used (subject to the rules about formations). You can trade one player each week with no charge, and each subsequent trade costs your team four points.
And that’s it! The only decision left is whom to pick for your team. To help you out with that, we’ve been poring over last season’s stats. Here’s what you need:
GOALKEEPERS: You must purchase two, and one will almost never play, so the natural temptation is to get one really expensive 'keeper and the cheapest available substitute. That’s Joe Hart of Man City (£7 million) and the best available £4 million keeper, who is probably QPR’s Radek Cerny. Hart played every minute of every game last season, and was the highest-scoring keeper, with 166 points, so he looks like a good choice, but the risk is that if he gets injured (or Man City decide to buy Iker Casillas on a whim — hey, you never know), Cerny is unlikely to play. This approach will cost you £11 million and effectively reduce your squad to 14 players. You’re better off spending just £5.5 million on either Tim Krul, Tim Howard, Wojciech Szczesny, or Brad Friedel, each of whom played every minute last season for teams with decent defensive records, and scored nearly as heavily as Hart. For your substitute, spend an extra half million and pick up Norwich’s John Ruddy, whose haul of 97 points last season puts him miles ahead of any other sub-£5 million goalkeeper.
DEFENDERS: There are some absolute steals here; Ryan Shawcross, Ashley Williams, Danny Simpson, Fabricio Coloccini, and Gareth McAuley all had high-scoring seasons last year and they’re all £5 million. If you want to invest a few extra quid, last year’s highest-scoring defender, Patrice Evra, looks very cheap at £7 million.
MIDFIELDERS: First of all, don’t pick Clint Dempsey. Seventeen goals and 209 points last season from midfield is an incredible return, but he’s almost certainly on his way to Liverpool. Dempsey played 3,324 minutes last season (out of an available 3420), and as he’s been left out of Fulham’s squad for the visit to Norwich tomorrow, he’s unlikely to deliver that many minutes this season. If you want to spend big on a midfielder, then Gareth Bale is a much better bet; 3,216 minutes last season, and if he stays fit, he’ll be a big point scorer against this season. Savings can be had elsewhere by picking up Nathan Dyer and Joe Allen, who are £5.5 million each. Dyer only played 2,359 minutes for Swansea last season, averaging a healthy 4.65 points per 90 minutes, and he’s likely to get more game time this season thanks to the departure of various Swans, including Allen, who’s followed manager Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool. Allen comfortably outscored Liverpool’s expensive midfield last season, and should expect to get plenty of minutes at Anfield. With those two bargains, you can afford to fill the last two slots with quality mid-range purchases like Scott Sinclair (£7 million), Jon Walters, Seb Larsson, and Matthew Etherington (all £6.5 million), or Anthony Pilkington (£6 million).
FORWARDS: And so, should you sign Van Persie? It depends on whether you can afford him after signing Papiss Cisse and Danny Graham. Cisse racked up 105 points in just 1,105 minutes after joining Newcastle last season, including this Escheresque instant classic, and he’s got to be the first name on your team sheet at £9.5 million. Graham is the substitute; a bargain at £6 million, having scored 138 points for Swansea last season. You can expect him to be getting plenty of game time for the Swans again this year. Now, do you have £13.5 million left? If so, by all means pick up Van Persie, but if not, grab Wayne Rooney (£12 million) or Sergio Aguero (£11.5 million). Any of those three has an equal chance of finishing as the season's highest scorer. If your budget won’t even stretch that far, then a £10 million gamble on Torres may pay off; he’s one of only two registered strikers on the books at Chelsea, so he’s guaranteed to get minutes.
Here's our recommended starting XV:
Goalkeepers: Szczesny (Arsenal, £5.5m), Ruddy (Norwich, £4.5m)
Defenders: Evra (Manchester United, £7m), Simpson (Newcastle, £5m), Coloccini (Newcastle, £5m), Williams (Swansea, £5m), Shawcross (Stoke, £5m)
Midfielders: Bale (Tottenham, £9.5m), Dyer (Swansea, £5.5m), Walters (Stoke, £5.5m), Larsson (Sunderland, £6.5m), Allen (Liverpool, £5.5m)
Strikers: Van Persie (Manchester United, £13m), Cisse (Newcastle, £9.5m), Graham (Swansea, £6m)
And with that, you should be set for the season ahead. Good luck!
Dermot Hunt is a poker player and sports bettor who lives in North London.