In a world where you are entrusted to make predictions about the Premier League, one must have a thick skin, and plenty of Alka-Seltzer on standby. I play three different versions of fantasy Premier League, and each one of them presented its own unique horror story over the weekend. It was a series of unfortunate events somehow interconnected as one pitfall ignited the next. It was like a Rube Goldberg machine customized to work as a torture device used in whatever "Saw" movie they are up to now.
In the opening game alone, I watched my Yahoo keeper, David Dea, give me a negative score, while Gylfi Sigurdsson, who I own in another league, was left as my first bench option, a mistake that turned a top 20k rank in to a 400k rank. Ouch. In yet another league, I was head to head with a manager, I had Demichelis and he had Nasri left to end the matchup. A clean sheet would mean a win. I got the clean sheet, I got the win.
Then an hour later, I got an email from the commissioner in the league who decided the scoring system was not adequate and proceeded to change the scoring rules AMID Week 1, and the changes turned my win into a loss.
I am sure plenty of you out there had your own horror stories during Week 1, but fear not. Unless you are extremely lucky, like how Tara Reid somehow got to be in The Big Lebowski, then the odds are you are licking a few wounds of your own.
Live and learn right? With a week of matches in the books, the fantasy landscape is beginning to settle and the art of prediction becomes a more obtainable feat.
Of all the shenanigans that transpired on Matchday 1, none provided more ulcers than the result of the Manchester United v Swansea game. I spent an extra bit of time regarding how to handle goalkeepers for this coming season, urging managers to fork over a bit more cash to ensure, if nothing else, they get a healthy crack at a win. So I went for David De Gea. It wasn't even necessarily that I was drinking the Louis van Gaal Kool-Aid, it was that United had not lost their home opener in FORTY-TWO years. Now records are made to be broken, I can understand that, but you would think a 42 year old record could maybe hold up for ONE MORE DAY????
So my new strategy for keepers this season, forget it. Well, don't forget it entirely. Paying the extra cash does make sense when it comes to your keeper, and though it may take some time to rebuild your trust, it will pay off in the long run. With De Gea's performance dropping his price, I feel no need to retain him this week while United are on the road, and am giving the old fashioned uber-budget plan another chance.
Fraser Forster (Southampton) The first of many Saints to make the budget XI this week, Southie's newest #1 is currently under 4m and with their home opener against West Brom on tap, a win looks possible and a draw looks probable. Despite the 2-1 loss to Liverpool in the opening weekend, the Saints looked a solid side despite the massive turnaround in personnel. Other budget options under 7m are out there, but most are either in a tough matchup or at the very least, playing on the road. Forster also presents a possible multi-week keeper option as they play West Ham (r), Newcastle (h), Swansea (r), and QPR (h) immediately following the clash with the Baggies.
Ryan Bertrand (Southampton) I may as well just lead off with a Southie prospect in each category this week. While Nathaniel Clyne owners who dared used him against Liverpool had reason to celebrate, this may be the week to downgrade to their other fullback, Bertrand. Safely embedded in Ronald Koeman's XI, Bertrand may not match Clyne in attacking returns this season, but he does offer some threat going forward as well as a route to a clean sheet, all for the promising price of 4.56m. As mentioned above regarding Forster, this could be another extended budget option you may want to hold over Southampton's kind run of fixtures.
Neil Taylor (Swansea City) I have been looking ahead to Week 2 regarding Swansea prospects before Week 1 kicked off. I knew their were bargains to be had, especially in defense, but the defense looked shockingly poor for most of the preseason and I wanted to see their Week 1 showing against Man United before feeling comfortable in investing, no matter how inexpensive their option are. Well, they are by no means a stalwart defense, but conceding just once at Old Trafford with a home opener against Burnley due next, I am seeing plenty of optimism in using Taylor as a budget defender this week. He may not offer too much production outside of a clean sheet, but at 3.55m facing arguably the weakest promoted side in the league during one's home opener fresh off the confidence of defeating Manchester United...yeah, I'd say their is some merit to this pick.
Martin Kelly (Crystal Palace) If you invested in Crystal Palace defense last year before the rest of the world caught on, I am willing to bet you enjoyed a satisfying fantasy season. Despite the departure of Tony Pulis, I still think they are a defense to respect, especially when they are at home, though admittedly not to the degree I felt during the Pulis era. That being said, Martin Kelly, on arrival via loan from Liverpool, got a start straight into the XI in week one, and the beauty of it is, his price has gone unchanged -- the bare minimum of 1m. Now, the status of Adrian Mariappa may be the factor in Kelly's chances of starting again, but a banged up Scott Dann only helps Kelly's chances of figuring somewhere, as Mariappa can slide into a center back role without a problem. It's a new regime under transition at Selhurst Park, not many players have the job security they felt they had at the beginning of the month. With a solid bench replacement ready (and I have one for you), take a chance on Kelly.
Bench Options for Defense - as my Bargain XI is going for a 3-4-3 formation this week, this offers a couple of defense bench options to include. With the exception of Bertrand, the options listed above carry a slight risk of the player not starting. You should not be including both in your XI, but if you decide on one of them, then Aaron Cresswell should be your #1 bench option. Cresswell had a modest price rise from the minimum 1m to 1.38m, after a modest 4 point return. He is going to contribute points in some fashion every week, so he is not a bad player to stash for the long haul and a sound play for favorable West Ham home games. This week, the Hammers are on the road but the opponent is Crystal Palace who are amidst an identity crisis after the manager that saved them from relegation last season has flown the coop. It could be a 0-0 situation here, but even if West Ham concede, Cresswell should offer something. The other defender bench option, and make him your LAST option on the bench, is Liam Moore. Nailed on for Leicester and still only 1m, you have little to expect except a nailed-on player who can fill a spot you probably will never need to use for the minimum price.
James Ward-Prowse (Southampton) You may want to hurry up and acquire JWP's services before his price inflates much more. Fresh off an 11 point haul away to Liverpool without the benefit of a goal or an assist, Ward-Prowse was getting it done all over the pitch and, though he is still just a teenager, is showing incredible poise and football intellect. He may not match Adam Lallana's fantasy output from last year, but he looks the closest the Saints have as a replacement, who will be involved in building up to goals and getting the dirty work done in midfield.
Erik Lamela (Tottenham) Yes, Lamela makes the list again, and until his price approaches something vaguely resembling his potential, he will continue to make the Bargain XI. He's 1m more than last week, now sitting at 3.79m, but that is still a fraction of the price he will eventually become. Spurs will be playing their home opener, and after eking out a win against West Ham, should have the jitters out of the way and exploit visiting Queens Park Rangers with a little more panache. 6 points last week probably didn't have you doing jumping jacks, but at the price, there should be a level of satisfaction in selecting him.
Ashley Young (Manchester United) Let's try this again, shall we. While Wayne Rooney managed to salvage his fantasy day, the rest of the highly touted United prospects did not live up to the hype. In fact, they were nowhere near anything resembling hype. And yet, I am not ready to give up on Young and his 5.5m price as a bargain option just yet. While United undoubtedly were the ones making the headlines as a club that disappointed, keep in mind there were several other underachieving clubs in the opening weekend. In fact, we had to wait until the late game on Saturday to see a home team win outright. Long story short, it is understandable to be put off by United in general, especially in defense, but with Young looking to have nailed a spot down for the time being, it think it wise to not write him off just yet.
Thomas Ince (Hull City) When the deadline passed Saturday morning, one of the first moves I was licking my chops over was to bring in a 7m priced Robert Snodgrass. I recommended him here in last week's column, and though I could not find a way to wedge him into my own Week 1 XI, I knew I wanted him for that price Week 2. Well, the inevitable stroke of misfortune wielded its ugly head yet again. Snodgrass wound up ineffective as he left the game with an injury, and as soon as prices began to change, his 0 point performance somehow doubled his price from 7m to just under 14m. Well, back to the drawing board. Luckily, I did not have to roam far to find a bargain that is worth mention here. Though he has not made an incredible splash since his Premier League feet got wet while on loan with Crystal Palace last season, Ince has got a goal threat in him. He averaged one roughly every three matches during his years at Blackpool and is still young enough to develop in a positive direction. In fairness, he is no Snodgrass, but at 6.86m and home to Stoke, there is value there.
Charles N'Zogbia (Aston Villa) Believe it or not, there was once a time when N'Zogbia was amongst the greats in fantasy midfields. Since his arrival at Villa Park though, it has been a series of disappointments plagued by injury and a lackluster supporting cast. Truth be told, the situation for the Villans hasn't improved much, but they are coming off an opening day win and N'Zogbia showed flashes of his productive self during the preseason. Translation: this is an absolute punt. He did manage 6 points in Week 1 without scoring or assisting, so for a price below 6m, he has a good chance of at least being a serviceable budget option.
*As your third bench option, you should be stashing Jack Rodwell, who despite rising from his original 1m price, is still a bargain bench filler and occasional emergency starter for 2.14m
Graziano Pelle (Southamton) I promised a Saint at every position, didn't I? Hey, at least I didn't throw in Drew Brees. Admittedly, as well as I feel Southampton looked as a unit in their loss to Liverpool, Pelle didn't exactly blow me away. That isn't to say he does not have great potential, and seeing that the XI as a whole looked promising, I think it is only a matter of time before Pelle begins to deliver returns. Remember, bargains usually make themselves appear because it is a fill in player for their injured teammate who plays regularly, or it is a poor fantasy performance that keeps the price down. This latter reason is why Pelle is only 4.71m. He has no competition as the Saints main striker and I can't see West Brom giving him many fits. There are likely "other" bargain strikers you may want as their may be a blue light special this week only on some big names, but should you refrain, think about Pelle as a third forward option this week.
Emmanuel Riviere (Newcastle United) Sometimes you throw hard analysis out the window and use some common sense. Despite playing on the road, I am backing Riviere as a budget forward option this week -- simple reason, I can't picture Aston Villa keeping consecutive clean sheets. It COULD happen, sure. But the only prediction I feel is as airtight as this one is Manchester United's forty-two year unbeaten home opener streak.....sigh. Riviere has had a nice preseason and an understandable quiet showing against the reigning league champs. Look for his name to pop up on the score sheet this week, aided by the presence of Siem de Jong, who would also be mentioned as a bargain but is more of a midfielder with a disadvantageous classification as a forward. (though for a reasonable 5.23m price)
There may be some other surprising budget options leading up to this week's deadline as the Yahoo game works on their pricing system, so keep those eyes peeled managers, and check back with us regularly for any updates.
Your Bargain XI: Forster; Bertrand, Taylor, Kelly; Ward-Prowse, Lamela, Young, Ince, N'Zogbia; Pelle, Riviere
Bench: Cresswell, Rodwell, L Moore