Budgets are tight. The only place that DOESN'T seem to be true is Real Madrid. Elsewhere, including most of our own homes, we're having to do more with less these days. The same is true for managers in this season's version of the Yahoo Fantasy Premier League game. With the format being adjusted slightly this season, managers find themselves with a much smaller budget than last season (100 instead of 150) and just as many spots to fill (11 starters plus 4 subs). The last time we found ourselves with a budget of 100 in the Yahoo game, we only had to field 11 players. Throw in that Yahoo have started creating more realistic initial valuations of new players to the league (Costa and Sanchez enter at 12 instead of the old 6-ish entry level price). What it all means is that there's a huge premium on finding some bargain players who can actually contribute for both your bench and your starting line-up. Here is my initial list of players that I'll be watching closely throughout the pre-season (and/or in the transfer market) to see if they merit consideration as potentially productive players at a bargain rate.
As I look at the list, it consists of the following general categories of players:
- New players to the league that are just below the "superstar" level and thus not valued quite as highly by Yahoo's initial valuation.
- Players coming off serious injuries whose prices were deflated due to the injury
- Players who are known quantities that are or are likely to move somewhere that they will get more playing time
- Players who are in line to be starters now that another player has been injured or moved on to pastures greener.
With that said, here's the list. It is by no means comprehensive, it's just my initial impressions after following player movement and rumors all summer and taking a look at the Yahoo game upon release:
Ross Barkley - With Romelu Lukaku leaving and Barkley a year older, this may be the season that Roberto Martinez throws him into a feature role at the center of Everton's attack. He will make the leap one of these seasons and at his current price of 6.41 it's hard not to get excited about the possibility of this being the season.
Jack Rodwell - A former rising star at Evertonian who has been in exile after his big money move to Manchester City saw him injured a little and surpassed by City's superstar additions a lot. The transfer rumor mill has him going somewhere in the Premier League where he'd be likely to start just about every day. It isn't clear how valuable he'd be as a starter under current scoring rules but at 1.00, he'd be a fantastic add to each and every bench as a player who might get you some points in a pinch while preserving critical budget like a no-hoper.
Martin Kelly - A hot prospect about two years ago, Martin Kelly injured his ACL at the beginning of the 2012-13 season and seems to have been surpassed by Jon Flanagan in the "young right back" pecking order at Liverpool. The transfer rumor mill has the 1.00 rated fantasy player potentially moving somewhere (Aston Villa? West Brom?) where he might get a run of starts.
James Ward-Prowse - The exit door has been wide open at Southampton this summer with Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, and Luke Shaw all leaving already and others poised to follow them in the weeks to come. At a club like Southampton with a fertile academy that means young talent that has the talent to make an impact if given a chance. James Ward-Prowse is 19 and could well be the heir apparent to a lot of what Lallana brought to the club playing through the middle and on the right of midfield. We'll have to see how new manager Ronald Koeman deploys high profile acquisition Dusan Tadic but Ward-Prowse is going to make a fantasy impact at some point, the only question is whether this is the season.
Marc Albrighton - Marc Albrighton had a very bright start with Aston Villa a few years back but something went horribly wrong when Paul Lambert came to town and Albrighton barely saw the field despite an injury to Villa's other at least occasionally productive wing player Charles N'Zogbia. (By the way, I'm referring to something specific to Albrighton, not the general horrible things that Lambert has brought to town). With a new lease on life after being released by Villa and signed by newly promoted Leicester City, Albrighton seems well-poised to get a lot of opportunity to be a catalyst on the right wing for the bargain price of 5.69.
Jeffrey Schlupp - I don't get to watch the Championship much but in researching the upcoming season, all reports indicate that Jeffrey Schlupp had a very productive second half of last season at Leicester City and could be a great bargain starter at 3.00 in a market for defenders that doesn't boast too many bargain options right now.
Remy Cabella - Newcastle have brought in a bunch of new attacking talent but the early money for "most likely to make a fantasy impact" goes to Remy Cabella over Siem De Jong and Emanuel Riviere. As the theoretical replacement for Yohan Cabaye, Cabella should get a lot of opportunities for Newcastle at an almost-old-school entry level price of 7.00. If he gives you 75% of a Cabaye you'll think he's the best thing that happened to your fantasy team this season.
Joleon Lescott - Like Jack Rodwell above, Joleon Lescott made a big money move from Everton to Manchester City and like Jack Rodwell above, we haven't heard a great deal from the oddly-coifed one in quite some time. With a move to West Brom already signed, sealed and delivered there's a solid chance that Lescott could become this season's Curtis Davies for a very reasonable 6.34 price.
Daryl Janmaat - Another Newcastle replacement piece. Daryl Janmaat impressed at the World Cup and turned that into a move to Newcastle United to replace Mathieu Debuchy who moved on to Arsenal. At a slightly-more-expensive-than-I'd-like but still very reasonable 7.00, he'll be an exceptional bargain if he gives you 80% of Debuchy's production.
Neil Taylor - At one time, Ben Davies and Neil Taylor were neck and neck for the Swansea left back position as rising young players. In the middle of the 2012-13 season Taylor suffered an injury that kept him out for a significant chunk of time and Davies consolidated his position as the starter and has not given it up. With Davies rumored to be a transfer target for Liverpool and Spurs, it could present Taylor with an opportunity to jump back into the starting role on the left of the Swansea defense. Getting any starter at the bargain price of 3.33 is a great way to buy from the top shelf elsewhere and if Davies moves on, I'd recommend you do just that.
Who else are you looking at as a bargain? I refrained from including Robin van Persie who could be a huge bargain at 12.90 because a) he's still priced at 12.90 and b) his injury history coming off a long summer run in the World Cup would make me a little nervous even if RvP's own dad were the manager.