FPL 2021/2022 Has Arrived

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Hello folks and welcome to the first bit of content for the new Premier League season.

Your humble writer has been on hiatus, spending the past few weeks decompressing from the previous season, and quite frankly, a little more time is needed. However, I am an FPL enthusiast and I have a heartbeat, so naturally I had to put my break...on break, once news dropped that FPL had gone live. It simply is too exciting a moment every year to ignore. The best way to explain it - imagine when you were young, your parents one year dropped a ton of boxes in front of you and said, "Here are your birthday presents"...a month before your actual birthday. Sure, the timing may seem off, but what are you going to do...complain? Of course not. I will rip those boxes open with the tenacity of a Velociraptor. No shame, no regrets.

So, it only felt right to kick things off by writing a column about my initial reaction to the prices around the league, and the level of difficulty it requires to assemble an initial squad one could be satisfied with. Much of my opinion will be based on events from last season along with predictions of how the landscape looks for a particular player in the upcoming campaign. This is not the sort of column to glean serious analytical information from. Let us all acknowledge, the season is a ways off, we are still in the middle of the Euros, preseason hasn't started...so it would be impossible at this point to ascertain who that starting 4.0m defender is going to be. Clubs under new management will likely see tactical changes that result in players shifting positions, losing or gaining a role in the XI, and a player's production could be directly impacted from that. But, until we see some preseason action, we can only guess as to how things will change. Long story short, some of these observations may seem a bit daft by the time the Week 1 deadline arrives.

For now, I am ready to do the "unboxing" and take a look at this season's version of the FPL game. Before we dive into the prices, my initial reaction to the game entire is one of relief and joy. That is because, as far as I can tell, there have not been any changes to the game itself. The chips are still the same. The scoring is still the same. It feels like it has been a while since the game has done this - refrain from tinkering with the scoring. With every change introduced to the game, a restructuring of one's strategy is necessary, and I am pleased to not have to spend the mental energy this time around figuring out how to adjust my approach. Let the league use this season to focus on how to better use VAR. We can play the game "as is".

Forwards Take a Back Seat

This is an observation that first sprung up last season, mainly when Sergio Agüero had basically fallen off the map as an FPL option. Premium forwards simply are not the commodity they once were in the game. Back in my early years of playing, it would be considered mad to build a team that did not feature at least TWO premium forwards (10m or more). How could you only have one of Didier Drogba, Robin van Perise, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and, of course, Aguero? You simply couldn't. At the beginning of the season, you could reasonably expect to commit about 30m of your budget to your three forwards, a 12m player, an 11m player, and maybe a 6-7m option. This usually meant you could only carry one top-tier midfielder and one top-tier defender, say a combo of Frank Lampard and Leighton Baines back in the day. The rest of your squad would be the battle of finding those mid-priced and budget players that can balance things out.

Welp, those days are over.

When it comes to team-building philosophy, probably the biggest decision one has to make is "to Kane or not to Kane". He is definitely an FPL beast and deserves to be the highest-priced forward by some margin. However, if you can bring yourself to leave him out of your thinking entirely, some of the very best options I see at forward are going for 7-8m. Leaving Kane out and going with a front line of options priced under 9m would allow you to add that extra premium midfielder and defender you wish you could afford. Trust me, as a Spurs supporter, it pains me to say, but I do not think I can make a case to spend 12.5m on Kane. Now, a move to Manchester City might see me change my tune, but it would still be a painful tune, because one of my heroes has then left for City. Players in certain seasons produce so well, you pay up for them, no matter the price. When Suarez was at his best, you paid up. Same with Aguero. But something tells me, as of this writing, Kane is not in that territory, at least as the season starts. If he starts the season setting the league on fire, fine. I will make room for him. One out of four managers have him in their sides right now, that is a figure low enough where I do not feel pressure to have him.

Jamie Vardy is the only other forward priced north of 10m, and it makes little sense to me. This is his highest starting price in his career, and yet, it is not like he is coming off a career season. His 187 points is actually lower than his average season-ending total over the last six years. And news flash, he will turn 35 this season. Of course, he is a Leicester legend, and an absolute gamer. Vardy will likely see runs of form that will justify his price, but I am hoping it will come down at least half a million by then. There is also a changing of the guard, so to speak, going on at Leicester, more on that in a sec. Meantime, allow me to wrap up my thoughts on these overpriced forwards. First...Firmino at 9m...again? I feel bad for the guy. Surely, the higher-ups at FPL Towers can see what we have been seeing in the Klopp era. Firmino's talent and contributions simply do not translate to FPL success. I cannot remember the last time I had him in my side and it is a bit of a shame. Finally, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's one-year midfield experiment is over, and he is back among the forwards at 10m. There is nothing from the previous season that should tantalize anyone into paying that much cash for him, with the added strike against him being that his goals go from being worth five points back to only four. And no clean sheet point to get, either.

Obviously players like Timo Werner, Edinson Cavani and Gabriel Jesus could emerge as fantasy studs this season, should they lock down regular playing time and make the most of their chance. But, certain factors has me leaving them out of my thinking to start the season, whether it be Chelsea's rough opening run of fixtures, the fact that Bruno Fernandes is eating up the cash for United coverage and I simply am going to wait on City players and patiently wait to opt for the one I feel will play enough and produce enough. It could be Jesus, but not for now.

So now let's talk about the bread and butter of this position, the mid-priced selections. I will not mince words, the first forward placed in my initial draft is Dominic Calvert-Lewin. I think I would consider him at 9m, so 8m seems a bargain. Everton have perhaps the easiest opening run of fixtures as well. Looking at the roster percentage numbers in early doors, the community seem to be in agreement that Ivan Toney (6.5m) of Brentford is a real steal - he is the most-rostered player in the game behind only Mo Salah and Bruno Fernandes as of this writing. Word spreads fast in the community. Toney was quite impressive in the Championship last season and may observers think his abilities will translate well into the top flight. He could be to this season what Patrick Bamford was to newly-promoted Leeds last season.

I am liking Kelechi Iheanacho at 7.5m. As mentioned above, a "changing of the guard" at Leicester may be under way. For now, it may make no difference. Both he and Vardy have shown they can start alongside each other and Iheanacho did so much with the pitch time he was given and is hitting that prime age of his career, I cannot imagine him being left out of the XI on Matchday 1. Should he maintain his role and make 30 starts or more, he should be a real bargain. Ollie Watkins at 7.5m is yet another attractive figure, particularly when you look at the first three games for Villa, so that likely explains why he is currently the second-most rostered forward at the moment.

Others in this price range with plenty of promise - the aforementioned Bamford was a model of consistency last season and 8m seems a fair price to me. Michail Antonio at 7.5 is fair and will be a popular add when West Ham are hitting good fixtures. And if Toney is not the FWD3 you want, the other two promoted sides offer strikers for even cheaper - Teemu Pukki is back at a price of 6m and while Watford may not have a nailed on forward, none of their options cost more than 5.5m, so plenty of chance for a value player in there.

Midfield Magic

Here is the meat and potatoes of your FPL side. Five midfield slots to fill and plenty of options to consider. I think it makes sense to follow the current rostered percentage to see what the community must consider underpriced players or players who are simply too essential to pass up. So let's go down the list from the top and I will toss in my two bits.

Let us get the boring part out of the way. Salah costs you 12.5m this season and Bruno Fernandes costs 12m. Assembling my initial squad, the thought process was not "can I afford both these guys?" or "are they really worth their price?". It was simply a matter of putting them straight into the side and figuring out from there how to build the rest of the team. I think it is just too dangerous to not have these two studs. They should provide you with two solid captaincy options, week in, week out, and they are players really best left untouched. Runs of low returns will see novice managers kneejerk players like this out, because they cannot justify a pair of two-point returns in a row from a player so expensive. But history has shown, these guys eventually deliver what we expect, so I am not going to make the mistake of dropping one of them only to miss out on a huge haul and spend my efforts getting them back. Set it and forget it.

There seems to be another opinion that is shared by the majority of FPL enthusiasts out there - this season's "most underpriced player" award goes to Leeds United's Raphinha at 6.5m. Given the consistency with which Leeds score and Raphinha's involvement, it seems like he could easily offer production you would expect from a midfielder that costs 2m or even 3m more. Remember, it took a bit of time for Raphinha to make the adjustment to the PL. Now, firmly settled in, he could take a further step in development and make his price tag look all the more laughable. This is a case where you don't even bother looking at strength of schedule. Leeds has shown they can find ways to score against the toughest of opposition, and it cannot be stressed enough, a 6.5m, you should not be expecting returns every week anyway. Sticking with Leeds, its a little sad to see Stuart Dallas make the move to midfield. Usually, that spells an FPL death for a player who was enjoying clean sheet returns along with his attacking production, but, at 5.5m, I think it is a fair price.

I am not saying he cannot produce at a level to justify his price but, based on everything we know heading into this season, I am pretty miffed about Kevin De Bruyne's 12m price tag, his highest starting price in his FPL career. I mean, are FPL trying to make up for severely underpricing him two seasons ago, where he could be had for 9.5m and went on to collect 251 points. Last season, he scored 110 less points. He played less, to be fair, but it was still a decline last season for him on a points/minutes played basis. It feels like you are paying extra to basically have the one City player who is nailed on more than anyone. Personally, I am not a fan of being coerced into going after a player for that sort of reason, so, for the time being, my FPL success this season is going to hinge on successfully fading Kane and De Bruyne, though KDB is easier to bring in, if for some reason I want or need to drop one of Salah or Fernandes.

Jack Grealish is the third-most rostered midfielder in the game right now, and I get it. Again, with Villa's opening three fixtures, I would expect most clubs to have one of Grealish or Watkins, if not both, as well as a Villa defender. But what intrigues me more is the addition of Emi Buendía at 6.5m. Buendia has had my attention since his first promotion two seasons ago, so much so that he was my primary target in a dynasty draft league. Unfortunately, his relegation made me lose his services in that fantasy game, but I might have a reason to bring him back. He seems the perfect short-term punt to see if he can hit the ground running with the opening Villa fixtures and, should he fail to impress, he takes up a slot at a price that should not be difficult to replace and, by a few weeks in, a player in that price range will likely emerge. But, maybe I will get lucky and Buendia is the one from day one.

Some players may seem expensive but, if given the right circumstances, are actually a total bargain. No one exemplifies this for me more with this price list than Diogo Jota. There is just so much talent there. I mean, Liverpool's front three was as about as nailed as anything in professional sports. But Jota's talent is such that Jurgen Klopp had to begin finding ways to include him along with everyone else. Jota may not be an every-week starter when this season begins, but I think he will start most games and can still justify, if not make a mockery of, his 7.5m tag.

James Maddison at 7m seems at least .5m cheaper than he should be. His playing time last season was all over the place and that may factor into his price here, but if he emerges as an every-week starter and stays fit, tons of value with upside there. Kai Havertz will be one to monitor at 8.5m. Of all of Chelsea's attacking players, he is the one I think is best situated to reach "stud" status and make his price look a bargain. Again, the Blues have a rough opening schedule, so I will be happy to wait and see on who becomes the fantasy stud of their bunch. I mean, last season, Jorginho was their top goal-scorer. Surely, that is not happening again. Get the right attacking Blue before the bandwagon fills up, and you could be setting yourself up for a fantastic fantasy season.

I realize I am on pace for a giant column here, so it is time to start being a bit more concise on my thoughts. Hey, we got the star attacking players out of the way. Just know there are a plethora of midfield options in the 6-8m range. One or two could emerge as season-long essentials, but there should always be a nice rotation of form coming and going, so this is the area where I plan to spend the majority of my transfers. One last thing - Sterling at 11m? Seriously? 1.3% of fantasy managers are on board with it. I guess it just goes to show - everyone has admirers.

The Art of the Defense

While forwards have certainly seen a drop in their importance to the overall squad, defenders have seen a growth in respect over the years. Long gone are the years of "give me Vidic and a bunch of scrubs". I remember among my colleagues, it would almost be a contest to see who could build the cheapest viable defense, thereby theoretically creating the most dangerous attack. But the times, they are a-changin'. The emergence of formations featuring wingbacks has exploded in recent seasons, and attacking fullbacks are all the rage, and why not? Who doesn't like the idea of possibly getting an attacking return AND a clean sheet?

So, naturally, Trent Alexander-Arnold is seeing plenty of early investment, despite his gaudy 7.5m price tag. He's a half a million more than Andrew Robertson, same as last season, so all seems as it should, though by last season's end, Robertson was neck and neck in points with the more expensive TA-A. What is intriguing here is that last season's production may be well below what the duo will do this year, and those in the know understand exactly the reason why - the return of Virgil Van Dijk. With VvD in the mix, Liverpool "should" return to an elite defense, adding several cleans sheets to the attacking returns of the Liverpool fullbacks. Yes, they are the most expensive defenders, but they should be. With VvD's return and a great opening run of fixtures, having one of these fullbacks is a must in my opinion.

Just sort of jumping around at this point, again using the current rostered percentage as a guide, my, were we given a gift with Wesley Fofana at 4.5m. By all indicators, Fofana is nailed on. A nailed defender on a Champions League side for 4.5m is a no-brainer to me. A perfect DEF4 that can be in your XI or make a decent sub on your bench. Speaking of 4.5m, I was very happy to see Tariq Lamptey listed at that price. In fairness, his time missed to injury last season justifies this price, but, had he played a full season, I can all but guarantee he would have produced enough to earn him a 5m tag this season. Brighton's opening fixtures are excellent. If Lamptey looks fit in preseason, he will be a hard one to ignore. The next bright young wingback that will probably wind up on a big six club in a season or two.

Luke Shaw being the most-owned defender in the game at the moment should be an indication to the higher-ups at FPL Towers that he was wrongly priced. United defensive options are 5.5m across the board, so by making Shaw that price, it pretty much makes the other options obsolete. Some options at 5m that look a bargain would include Vladimir Coufal, who was always solid for me last season, and Kieran Tierney, who has not produced yet like Coufal but has the potential to. He is the only Arsenal player I am eyeing at the moment. Lucas Digne is appropriately priced at 5.5m, but with Everton's great opening schedule, he is looking pretty essential. I have no read on any 4m options that may carve out a starting role yet, but whether one emerges or not, my DEF5 is almost certainly going to be a 4m option. Incidentally, I am looking at a 3-5-2 philosophy and getting a min-priced FWD3 as well. Initial draft reveal in moments, but let's take a quick look at the exciting world of goalkeepers first.

The Exciting World of Goalkeepers

Right, admittedly a bit anti-climactic wrapping things up with a talk about keepers, but hey, they score points too. My philosophy at this position has been unchanged since year one of playing this game. Get a cheap GK1 and get a 4m GK2. The GK2 may not have a gig, but pick one from a team that 1) the 4m GK is the primary backup and 2) is on a team that you dont mind burning one of three maximum players from a given team. Every season, this strategy works, whether it was a Jack Butland or a Nick Pope or, as was the case last season, Emiliano Martinez. Martinez is now a million more and still has loyalty from the community, currently the most rostered keeper in the game. However, the next-most rostered is Brighton's Robert Sanchez. So...Sanchez it is, for me. However, keepers that might have gone for 5.5m in past seasons are now going for only 5m, with Kasper Schmeichel being the main standout. So, maybe this will be the season I spend an extra .5m. Meh...probably not. Ben Foster is the 4m keeper most-rostered. Im not sure if the veteran is expected to be the starter this season. If he isn't I always tell people to avoid players like this. They are always the first to drop to 3.9m because high roster percentage translates to higher transfer movement which triggers a quicker price change. I've gone with Everton's Joao Virginia for now. The only listed backup to Pickford at the moment, Virginia's not on many rosters and those that have him are probably thinking the way I am and are in no hurry to sell him.

The Initial Draft

So, putting my neck out there, but here is my 100m budget spent. Keep in mind, I make no plans to tinker for another month. But for now, this looks pretty to look at for me...

GK1 - Sanchez (4.5), GK2 - Virginia (4.0)

DEF1 - Robertson (7.0), DEF2 - Digne (5.5), DEF3 - Targett (5.0), DEF4 - Coady (4.5), DEF5 - Navarro (4.0)

MID1 - Salah (12.5), MID2 - Fernandes (12.0), MID3 - Grealish (8.0), MID4 - Raphinha (6.5), MID5 - Buendia (6.5)

FWD1 - Calvert-Lewin (8m), FWD2 Iheanacho (7.5m), FWD3 Obafemi (4.5m)

Feel free to ask me what my thinking is behind these picks or why I chose to ignore a particular player. You can hit me up on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles. Enjoy your summer, get some rest and relaxation and, when you are ready, start tinkering. FPL is BACK!