EPL Fantasy Football Picks: Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
"Fantasy Football," once America's baby, is now everybody's favorite child.
Not only has it been adopted across the Atlantic, it is fast becoming a way of life for Premier League aficionados. Fridays are spent scouring the newspapers and the web for team news and match previews, and miles of column space are dedicated to fantasy football tips, tricks and results.
Manchester City play Wigan Athletic at the Etihad Stadium in the pick of the fixtures. High-flying City are in top form, having won all three games so far. They have an in-form strike force in Sergio (Kun) Aguero and Edin Dzeko, creative midfielders in David Silva and Samir Nasri and a solid—yet versatile —rearguard of Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott.
Wigan are expected to be nothing more than cannon fodder.
Arsenal also find themselves at home against newly-promoted Swansea City. The Gunners have been misfiring this season, but buoyed by their new signings, with Walcott and van Persie in goal-scoring form and Swansea yet to score this season, a tennis score is expected at the Emirates Stadium.
In another attractive fixture, league leaders Manchester United travel to the Reebok Stadium to face Bolton. Their strike force of Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Nani are going through a purple patch at the moment, and if Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez finds his goal-scoring touch too, there will be goals aplenty.
So without further ado, let us take a look at the likely suspects for each position. Read on, fantasists...
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Wojciech Szczesny, Michael Vorm, Mark Schwarzer
Joe Hart: Flying high
Michael Regan/Getty Images
If you're looking for a clean sheet, then Joe Hart is your man. He's a bit pricey, but in fairness, both goalkeeper and team command a premium.
Manchester City conceded the joint fewest number of goals last season and with the attacking reinforcements they've made this season, other teams will have fewer opportunities to attack them—as is the case with Barcelona's opponents. Against Wigan this weekend, for maximum points from your keeper, follow your Hart.
Some might scoff at the next few lines, but a somewhat cheaper option that may also grant you a clean sheet is Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny. His price will have taken a battering after shipping eight goals against Manchester United, so he'll definitely be value for money. Swansea haven't scored yet this season, so by all accounts, the big Pole is a good bet.
His talent is now beyond question, a widely accepted fact. Haven't you wondered where all the Arsenal goalkeeper-bashers have disappeared?
If your fantasy league rewards the number of saves a keeper makes, then swap sides at the Emirates and invest your millions in Swansea's Michael Vorm. He will undoubtedly face a barrage of shots from the Gunners and based on what we've seen so far this season, he's a fantastic shot-stopper. If he's somewhat lucky, he won't concede too many goals, and could make more than 10 saves.
And he's cheap as well.
My final goalkeeping recommendation is a dark horse: Fulham's Mark Schwarzer. He's made a couple of howlers this season, but you know what they say about form being temporary. The big Aussie is a top-notch goalkeeper and against toothless Blackburn Rovers, with a well-organized defense in front of him, I don't see Fulham leaking any goals.
He won't be very expensive either.
In conclusion, if you're looking for a banker, go for Hart or Szczesny, with the latter being a cheaper, though slightly riskier option. Vorm and Schwarzer both present much greater risk, but both could quite easily bring home the bacon.
The Case for the Defense: Bosingwa, Taylor(s), Kompany, Sagna, Smalling
Hitting the big time: Chris Smalling
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
There are two aspects you have to look at when buying a defender. First and foremost, his team's ability to keep a clean sheet. That's a defender's bread and butter. The attacking potential is a distant second. If a defender can score or set up goals, that's just an added bonus.
Fantasy managers often make the mistake of looking at a defender from an attacking viewpoint first. Two statistics to disprove that theory—Robert Huth was the highest scoring defender in the Premier League last season, with just six goals and Leighton Baines (11) was the only defender with more than five assists.
Baines, in fact, is a massive outlier. Not only does he rack up an incredible number of assists for a defender, but he also gets a few goals thanks to his set-piece responsibilities, both free kicks and penalties. And with Mikel Arteta now sold to Arsenal, look for his numbers to improve even further.
He is, unfortunately, out injured at the moment, so no point discussing him here.
So let's look at what we have. Similar to the consideration when selecting a keeper, the teams most likely to keep a clean sheet this weekend are Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Three outstanding candidates almost select themselves, one from each club.
Vincent Kompany, City's captain, is a defensive rock, does not get yellow-carded often (just six last season) and can pop up and score with his head from the occasional set-piece. His injury record of late has been fantastic—he rarely misses a game.
Arsenal's French right-back, Bacary Sagna, is an unsung hero. The best right-back in the league, a resolute defender with a great engine. Look for him to dovetail with Theo Walcott and create all kinds of problems for Swansea on Arsenal's right. He also has a knack for laying on goals for Robin van Persie, and with the Dutchman scoring four for his country at the weekend, Sagna is destined for an assist or two at the Emirates.
The brightest defensive star to emerge for both Manchester United and England this season is Chris Smalling. Entrusted with the right-back position, the central defender has taken to his new role like a duck to water. Strong at the back, he has been willing and able at the opposite end too. Bolton will have their task cut out against him at the Reebok.
Other defenders to consider are Ryan and Steven Taylor of Newcastle, City's Micah Richards, fit-again Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal and Jose Bosingwa of Chelsea.
Buy carefully, and be careful of what you ask for.
The Men in the Middle: Walcott, Silva, Nasri, Young, Adam, Dempsey, Larsson
Hello Premiership, I have arrived
Michael Regan/Getty Images
When it comes to choices for the engine room, fantasy managers are spoiled for choice. Based on the season thus far, there are goals and assists aplenty to be had.
Look no further than Theo Walcott to grab himself the headlines, and maybe the match ball, against Swansea. One of the few bright sparks of Arsenal's season, Walcott has scored three goals in four starts, looks sharp and has had the additional benefit of eight days' rest since his last game. Swansea might be at the receiving end of a Walcott blitzkrieg.
Manchester City have added flair and creativity to last season's steel. Samir Nasri has been signed, and he began repaying the transfer fee with three assists vs. Spurs. David Silva finally looks like the player we thought him to be at Valencia, with goals and assists. Both are somewhat expensive, but they will deliver the goods.
Ahsley Young, at Manchester United, is showing what happens to good players when they move to great teams. He immediately seems to be on a similar wavelength to those around him, unlike his Aston Villa days, when he had to work magic all on his own. He has made the left wing position his own, and his counterpart on the opposite flank, Nani, is no less of a wing wizard. Both look in superb touch and are great fantasy picks.
Now that we've skimmed the cream, let's take a look at some less fancied (read "cheaper") options. Sebastian Larsson at Sunderland has oodles of Premiership experience. He will be linking up with his old buddy Nicklas Bendtner again, and if not against Chelsea this weekend, I predict those two will be dangerous in tandem. Larsson is also a dead-ball exponent of some repute. All in all, a good buy.
Stephen Hunt at Wolves is a canny old pro and has been bringing home the points season after season for fantasy managers. He will be looking to exploit Spurs' defensive weaknesses at Molineux.
And finally, Clint Dempsey and Charlie Adam, at Fulham and Liverpool respectively, are the kind of silent performers who managers (both in reality and fantasy) love to have on their team. No frills, no fuss, but sustained accomplishment, game after game.
Up Front: Dzeko, Aguero, Van Persie, Rooney, Adebayor, Suarez,
Edin Dzeko: Top of the pops
Michael Regan/Getty Images
I'm going to keep this section short and simple.
This is where your points come from. These are the guys who get goals and (some) assists. Do not scrimp or save. Put your fantasy money here. Go for players in form. Make a striker your captain.
Could I have been clearer?
If you want to look at some potential candidates, just take a look at the goal scoring charts—this season's, with a quick peek at last season's too.
Look no further.