The return of FPL is just around the corner. The EFL kicked off last weekend and the Premier League follows on Friday August 10th with Manchester United vs Leicester.
Whether you've been avidly following pre season — looking for any clues you can get about the upcoming campaign — or you’re just about to throw a team together, hopefully this should give you some useful insights into the best and worst options for your team on the opening weekend.
It's worth noting that the World Cup finished less than a month ago, so certain players from England, Belgium, Croatia and France might still be on holiday or completing their own mini pre-season for the first couple of weeks.
I'll try to point out anybody who is affected — most of the Spurs squad — as I go through, but try to remember not to fill your team with Paul Pogba, Kevin De Bruyne and Harry Kane!
There is a RealSport league again this year, with another cash prize of £50. Head to the FPL site and use the code 20571-70568 or click here to enter.
Man City (H); Chelsea (A); West Ham (H); Cardiff (A); Newcastle (A); Everton (H)
Unai Emery kicks off with a horrific pair of fixtures, entertaining the reigning champions before facing off against another top six rival in Chelsea.
This is probably due to the backlash after the Premier League was revealed to have been keeping the top six apart in the opening and closing fixtures, so Arsenal have been sent for slaughter at the Etihad.
After that opening, things look considerably brighter for Arsenal as they face a string of newly promoted teams and sides who were more worried about avoiding relegation last year.
That kind run extends into November, so either invest early and hope Emery can pull off a couple of shocks against teams possibly still missing players (De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Eden Hazard, Olivier Giroud etc.) or make plans to bring in some Gunners with your first few transfers.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (FWD, 11.0m)
87 points in approximately one-third of a season for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suggests there is a lot more to come from the Arsenal striker.
His shooting statistics from his time in the Premier League are off the charts — shot accuracy of 61.3% and conversion rate of 32.3%, which is higher than Kane, Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku.
If Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan can start teeing him up on a regular basis then he could be one of the top scorers in the game next year.
Aaron Ramsey (MID, 7.5m)
Ramsey has been a solid if unspectacular FPL asset since his breakout season in 2013/14, but the signs are there that this could be a banner year for the Welshman.
He has had the summer off to rest and ensure full fitness for the start of the season and his new manager has spoken out about how much he likes Ramsey.
Most importantly, there's a new system of a midfield three employing a proper holding player, allowing Ramsey to get forward and make late surges into the box that so often end in goals.
Last season he had a chance every 33.3 minutes, similar to De Bruyne, Christian Eriksen and Hazard but he's at least 2m cheaper.
Mesut Ozil (MID, 8.5m)
Ozil was the hero of my team in 2015/16 when he managed 19 assists and would often get bonus points just for turning up. Since then he has struggled to match that output and last year often went missing.
However, it is possible that Emery will get the very best out of him, and that could lead to some incredible output if he is setting up a player like Aubameyang.
Last year he created 84 chances (only bettered by Be Bruyne, Eriksen and Cesc Fabregas, all of whom had more minutes on the pitch than him) and 13 big chances.
Alexandre Lacazette (FWD, 9.5m)
Aubameyang was the new star everyone was after last season, while Alexandre Lacazette failed to lift off in the same way. However, he was carrying an injury and has had the summer off to recuperate, so we could see an entirely different player this year.
It will be interesting to see how he interacts with Aubameyang, but in pre-season Emery has been playing them together in a fluid front three, albeit with Aubameyang nominally on the left-hand side, while Lacazette starts up top.
This has helped him come into the season with the same number of goals as Aubameyang. If this continues he could become the star attraction at the Gunners, and for 1.5m less than the Gabonese striker.
If Emery’s record at Paris Saint-Germain is anything to go by, it seems likely we will have a situation similar to Mauricio Pochettino and the Tottenham full backs. He regularly rotates players in this position and they end up roughly halving the available minutes.
Arsenal defenders are just too expensive to worry about rotation, and nothing is worse than a clean sheet when your pick isn't playing or, even worse, comes on for a 15 minute cameo, denying you an automatic sub.
For the last four seasons only two of his fullbacks have managed to get over 2000 minutes in a single campaign.
Cardiff (H); West Ham (A); Everton (H); Chelsea (A); Leicester (H); Burnley (A)
Bournemouth have a fairly kind start with a home game against newly promoted Cardiff, followed by a trip fellow mid-table filler West Ham.
After that it gets a bit more dicey with potentially difficult matches against Everton and Leicester either side of a trip to Stamford Bridge. These fixtures don't scream out to invest in Bournemouth, but it's not the worst thing you could do either.
Josh King/Callum Wilson (FWDs, 6.5m/6.0m)
It speaks volumes about Bournemouth’s current FPL appeal that their key assets are sub 7m strikers who scored 110 and 102 points last season. There's too much rotation throughout the squad, so you can never be sure from week to week which strikers or wingers will start.
Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
When Bournemouth turn it on their players can be fantastic FPL assets — who remembers the 6-1 vs Hull? — but those days are too few and far between. Between the two of them, Callum Wilson had more big chances last season, but Josh King scored more of his.
Nathan Ake (DEF, 5.0m)
With the arrival of Diego Rico, Charlie Daniels is no longer a sure thing, meaning your best option — if you're desperate to include a Bournemouth defender — is Nathan Ake.
The young centre back is already the lynchpin of the Cherries’ defence and is guaranteed his spot. He also has the knack of popping up with a few goals, scoring twice last season and three the year before.
However, in 2017/18 Bournemouth only managed six clean sheets, so if you do have Ake in your team for gameweek one, you're relying pretty heavily on those attacking returns.
Ake was in the top ten of cheap defenders (sub-5.0m) for shots on target as well as clearances, tackles and recoveries.
Not one of Bournemouth’s midfielders managed to score over 100 points last year. Eddie Howe likes to chop and change wingers, with Jordon Ibe, Ryan Fraser, Junior Stanislas and occasionally Daniels or Adam Smith rotating in the front three.
If any of them get a decent run at the starting XI due to an injury or suspension then they might be worth a short-term punt, but I would avoid them until the situation becomes easier to predict.
Watford (A); Man United (H); Liverpool (A); Fulham (H); Southampton (A); Spurs (H)
Brighton provided us with some decent cheap options last year, but I would be surprised if we saw many of their players in the opening lineups. They do have three fairly nice fixtures in the opening six (albeit two of those are away from home), but they also play three of last year's top four.
After Spurs they play Manchester City, but then have a decent run from October to December, so that would be the time to Invest in the Seagulls.
Pascal Gross (MID, 7.0m)
Gross was a fantastic cheap fourth midfielder last year. He scored seven goals and got eight assists, finishing with a very respectable 164 points. He has, therefore, had a price increase over the summer, but not to a point where he is unaffordable.
Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
There are plenty of options in this price bracket for managers to consider, so maybe it's not the best idea to have him from the beginning, considering those fixtures.
However, when they become kinder in October, you should remember Gross. He did create the second most big chances of all midfielders last year!
Alireza Jahanbakhsh (MID, 7.0m)
Brighton's new club record signing goes straight on to the watchlist for most FPL managers looking for a bargain. The Iranian winger departed AZ Alkmaar after achieving double figures in goals and assists in the Eredivisie.
He has also played as an out-and-out striker for the Dutch side, so there is a real prospect of an out of position (OOP) player for just 7.0m.
The watchlist is probably the best place for him right now, though, partly due to those fixtures and partly because he has come from the Eredivisie, which is notorious for players struggling to step up to the higher standard Premier League.
However, if he performs well in these opening matches, then he could be an amazing differential (currently just 1.7% owned).
Lewis Dunk/Shane Duffy (DEF, 4.5m)
It is a remarkable feat to come up into the Premier League and keep ten clean sheets in your first season. Brighton managed this thanks to Chris Hughton’s superb organisation, Mat Ryan’s antics in goal and these two centre backs looming large in front of all opposition.
Lewis Dunk played every minute last season and Shane Duffy only missed out once due to a suspension, so they are nailed on starters for your team.
Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Dunk does have an eye for an own goal (four last year!) but it's unlikely he will be that unlucky again. If you can find a good rotation partner for them then they are a bargain at 4.5m. Duffy won the most aerial duels of all defenders last year.
Mat Ryan (GK, 4.5m)
As I said above, the number of clean sheets Brighton kept was in no small part thanks to Ryan’s heroics between the sticks. He saved two penalties and made 124 saves across the season (more than any other goalkeeper who avoided relegation).
Even in games where Brighton are likely to lose, it's unlikely they will ship a lot of goals, and Ryan will clock up those save points on a regular basis. As with Dunk and Duffy, you need to find a decent rotation partner, but if you do, then he's a great pick as your number 1.
Anthony Knockaert (MID, 5.5m)
Anthony Knockaert was critical to Brighton’s promotion-winning season but, like so many players before him, he couldn't make the step up to the Premier League. He managed just one goal and three assists last year as Gross took over creative duties and the team relied more heavily on goals from Glenn Murray.
It's possible he could step up and rediscover the form that was so crucial to Brighton two years ago, but I would definitely wait until after that starts, rather than trying to guess when it will. His goal conversion rate was just 6.5% last year.
Southampton (A); Watford (H); Fulham (A); Man United (H); Wolves (A); Bournemouth (H)
Burnley have a very kind start to the season as they face two promoted sides and three teams who flirted with relegation last year.
However, the big question around Burnley this season will be how well they cope with the strains of competing in both domestic and European competitions. They have almost secured their spot in the Europa League with victory over Aberdeen, and now they probably have to face the Thursday night/Sunday afternoon cycle that has taken down so many mid-table Premier League teams before.
This fixture list almost demands that you have a Burnley player for the start of the season, but I would advise a little caution as they get to grips with their new demands.
Chris Wood (FWD, 6.5m)
Chris Wood had a difficult season last year with injuries and a lot of travel with New Zealand trying to qualify for the World Cup. Despite that, he managed ten goals and an assist in approximately half a season.
Action Images via Reuters/Craig Brough
Even if he doesn’t manage to keep up quite that pace for a full season, there is every chance he could be a 6.5m striker that reaches 150 or 160 points (which would be sixth of all strikers last year). Last year Wood had the best shot accuracy of any striker who took more than ten shots.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson (MID, 6.0m)
Gudmundsson last year was known for solid FPL returns. He is not a man who will come through with double digit hauls on a regular basis, but his underlying stats cannot be argued with and he will return a good number of assists to keep you ticking over.
Last year he recorded nine, but considering only Fabregas, Gross and Xherdan Shaqiri created more chances in this price range, he should have a better return this year.
Any of them!
Last year a Burnley defender was a stalwart in most FPL defences. I had Ben Mee in my team for GW1 and he only left my squad when he picked up an injury towards the end of the season. They have all received a price bump, but 5.0m for a defender in a strong team like Burnley is nothing.
There’s also Tom Heaton, who would have taken back the number 1 shirt from Nick Pope after the latter unfortunately suffered a dislocated shoulder, which will keep him out for most of next season. But the Clarets also signed Joe Hart, so it's unclear who will begin as their starting 'keeper.
Last year they made fewer defensive errors than any other team, showing how disciplined and well-drilled that defence is.
Bournemouth (A); Newcastle (H); Huddersfield (A); Arsenal (H); Chelsea (A); Man City (H)
It’s not a great start for Cardiff on their return to the Premier League. After Bournemouth and two of last year’s promoted sides, they face three of the top six. Beyond that, it doesn’t get much easier as they face Burnley, Spurs, Fulham and Liverpool!
Junior Hoilett (MID, 5.5m)
Only Middlesbrough scored fewer goals than Cardiff last season and made it into the top six, so there are slim pickings in their attack. Junior Hoilett, however, offers a cheap option for a fourth midfielder and he at least has some pedigree in the Premier League.
In almost a full season at Blackburn seven years ago he managed seven goals and five assists, and he was only 21!
Callum Paterson (MID, 5.5m)
The other 5.5m option at Cardiff is Callum Paterson, who was actually their top scorer in the league last year with ten goals! He moved to Cardiff as a right back, but was pushed into midfield and thrived in that position.
He’s only 23, so there’s plenty more to come from the young Scotsman, but right now he is another cheap option for your midfield, especially if you’re looking to start all five midfielders.
Sean Morrison (DEF, 5.0m)
It always seems dubious paying 5.0m for a newly promoted defender, but in this case it might actually be worth it.
Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
Sean Morrison is Cardiff’s captain, so you have guaranteed starts. He scored four times in 2016/17 and seven times last year so he has real goal threat, and he’s in a Neil Warnock side, which conceded joint fewest goals in the Championship.
Obviously, it’s likely they will concede a few more goals this year, but we have seen well-drilled defences come up from the Championship and frustrate Premier League teams. Just look at Burnley!
It’s never a good sign for FPL when both goalkeepers have the same price. All you want from your 'keeper is a guaranteed position between the sticks because either you’ve got them in a rotation, or you’ve picked one man for the full season.
Cardiff have Neil Etheridge, who played 45 out of 46 matches last year, and Alex Smithies who played almost as many matches for QPR. This situation is unpredictable and therefore is not what you want to deal with in your FPL team.