Fantasy Football Week 1: Fabregas is King

As it came, so it went. The opening week of action in the 09/10 Barclays Premier League is already down the road, the seemingly endless wait for a glimpse of England’s top stars made this season as eagerly anticipated as….well….last season’s, and 1.77m people so far have seen fit to take the life-changing plunge into the Premier League’s fantasy football game.

I say life-changing, because it is true. Honest. My own week has been spent cringing at Kevin Foley’s medial knee ligament injury, fretting over whether Frank Lampard or Wayne Rooney deserved the captain’s armband, and worshipping at the feet of Cesc Fàbregas. And my next week will be something similar I’m sure.

The men in form

It is arguably the hardest day of the season to predict a team for, the opening day. Most sides are loaded with new signings, new managers and new ideas, which makes second guessing a starting line-up difficult. As I found to my cost when Carlos Tévez was left out of Manchester City’s team to face Blackburn at Ewood Park- although a heel injury was more the reason in that case.

There are some who can be relied upon though, Fàbregas seemed to slip under the radar of the lads I know, but his propensity for performances such as the one he submitted at Everton last week made him a shoe-in for my team. Two goals, two assists, three bonus points and even a clean sheet (removed as he was in the 74th minute) earned the Spanish genius a whopping 22 points. Enough to ensure that, even without a midweek fixture, he remains top of the scoring charts.

Well, level with Glen Johnson that is. Liverpool’s £18m full back was one of the few players to emerge with any credit- or points- from the Reds’ insipid 2-1 defeat to Spurs on Sunday, and he picked up a superb 18 points last night as his side bounced back in style with a 4-0 win over Tony Pulis’ Stoke City. A goal, an assist, a clean sheet and man of the match. His Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, also chipped in, eleven points for Stevie G puts him second behind Cesc in the midfield charts, with 18.

Another England star on form is undoubtedly Jermain Defoe. Bursting into life after a quiet start in that Liverpool win, the Spurs striker rifled home a brilliant hat-trick to help put Hull City to the sword in a 5-1 win at the KC Stadium. 19 points from 2 games is good going, and his two goals for England make Defoe the in-form striker of the game.

As for the men at the back, well Burnley’s win over Manchester United grabbed enormous headlines today, and there was no doubt who the hero of that particular hour was- Clarets keeper Brian Jensen. A penalty save from Michael Carrick, an against-all-odds clean sheet and a man-of-the-match display gave the Big Dane 14 points, and makes him the league’s top scoring keeper/defender, level on points with Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross, whose opening day goal and clean sheet allows him to stay at the top despite last night’s mauling at Anfield.

The ones to avoid

Defensive midfielders. Stop it. Please. I’m not saying they are bad players, I’m really not. But for Fantasy purposes, just steer clear. Javier Mascherano, Nigel de Jong, Scott Parker & Jon Obi Mikel just aren’t cut out for points scoring. They usually retail around the £5m mark, for which price you can obtain a much more threatening player- think Stephen Hunt, Kieron Dyer, Luis Jimenez.

This may sound a bit strange, but Manchester United midfielders. You simply can’t rely on them to start, or to score points. Two games in, and their top scoring midfielder has four points. One could argue that Carrick, last night’s spot kick aberration aside, is a constant, but still the likes of Valencia, Park, Giggs, Anderson & Scholes are set for a rotational season, and therefore represent a risk at best.

Hull defenders. Right, I have Michael Turner and he is a good player, but seven goals shipped in two games make Hull stoppers the men to avoid here. Turner may well move on before the end of the transfer window, and if he does he may represent a sneaky bargain at £4.5m, but until he does he and his Tigers colleagues should be ignored.

The bargains

Hard to choose, hard to find, but the most rewarding of all I feel. Here are one or two bargains you might like to have a look at:

Stephen Hunt (Hull) £5m– Like him or not, Hunt is an all action wide midfielder with an eye for goal. He is also hugely dependable in terms of injuries and consistency. He will play, he will assist, he will score. Two in two already, at £5m the wild haired one represents a fine acquisition, both by Phil Brown and you.

Andrew Keogh (Wolves) £4.5m– Andrew Keogh is talented, make no mistake. When all eyes were on Billy Sharp’s goals at Scunthorpe a couple of years back, the connoisseurs were more impressed by Keogh’s all round class. The players’ respective career trajectories would tend to agree. With Sylvan Ebanks-Blake & Kevin Doyle short of fitness, Keogh has a chance to nail down a starting spot, and his winner at Wigan in midweek may well be the first step.

Anton Ferdinand (Sunderland) £4.5m– You ready for this? Steve Bruce. Is. A. Good. Manager. He organises teams well, he has faith in players, and his sides generally do pretty well. Sunderland should be no different. Ferdinand hasn’t had a great time on the North East, but with Bruce’s backing and Sunderland’s improving side, he should pick up plenty of points this term.

Alex Song (Arsenal) £5.5m– Bucking the trend of defensive midfielders, but that is because Alex Song is listed as a defender on the game. Therefore, he picks up clean sheets that his contemporary midfielders do not, and Arsenal’s fluid passing means he is likely to chip in the odd assist and even goal too. An improving player, and a good signing.

Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal) £6.5m– Another Arsenal player granted, but Bendtner is enjoying an extended first team run in the absence of Nasri, Rosický, Walcott et al. Might not be the deadliest finisher, but creates chances, and can score goals. A new role on the right of Arsenal’s attack may be the making of him.

Upcoming Fixtures

• Arsenal v Portsmouth
• Birmingham v Stoke City
• Hull City v Bolton
• Man City v Wolves
• Sunderland v Blackburn
• Wigan v Man Utd
• West Ham v Tottenham
• Burnley v Everton
• Fulham v Chelsea
• Liverpool v Aston Villa

Home games for Arsenal, Manchester City & Liverpool may prove points havens, Manchester United face another tough Lancashire away-day, whilst Chelsea have a local derby of their own against impressive Fulham. Sunderland at home to Blackburn may well be a good home banker, especially with Darren Bent in such fine form, whilst Burnley will be on a high after their win over United, and a game against an Everton side in disarray may just be the perfect one for Owen Coyle and his men.

My team’s performance

Last week’s column saw me put my (admittedly risky) team on the line, as well as my reputation. After all, the guy giving out the tips and advice needs to know what he’s talking about, right? Well even if I say so myself, I think its been a pretty good week for me and my Baroque Social side. 122 points leaves me pretty well placed in all competitions.

Fàbregas helped of course, 22 points on his own (if only I’d had him as captain). Two goals for Drogba, one for Rooney, one for Shawcross, one for Lampard mean my team is in decent form in front of goal. Assists thrown in for N’Zogbia & Drogba, and some neat clean sheets for both my keepers, Richard Dunne, Insúa & Shawcross mean I have been in solid points scoring form.

A poorish second week where Rooney as captain let me down, and Lampard as non-captain did not; notwithstanding, I am pleased with my start. I sit eighth in the Football Media league, well placed indeed. Credit must go to the leader, Matt Cornford and his provocatively named side “Man City = Small Club”, who lead the way with 135 points, from Thomas Cook and his “Flatulence” and this week’s star performer Rob Blanchette and his “Queens Park Badgers”, who scored an incredible 92 points (Defoe, Johnson, Gerrard, Kuyt, Lampard basically) to rocket into third place. But Baroque Social are lurking, and you would be wise to be wary!

This week’s transfer by myself is a risky one, Wayne Rooney out, Robin Van Persie in. The thinking is simple, Arsenal are at home to Portsmouth, and playing some lovely stuff. Van Persie should help himself. In theory at least. It also leaves me with a million in the bank to play with, which could be dangerous.

Prizes

So far 488 players have joined the Football Media fantasy football league where we’re giving away prizes every month.

1st Prize

The winner will receive:

Monthly Prize

At the start of every month Football Media (in association with Subside Sports) will give away a free shirt (up to £39.99 + delivery in value) to one lucky player in the FM fantasy football league. This player will be picked at random and there are 9 shirts to give away in total (Sep 09 to May 10).