Fantasy Premiership Season Preview

Part I (Arsenal - Manchster City).
Arsenal

This is a strange starting point. Arsenal have perennial point getters throughout the team. Any other season and half your time is spent figuring out if how you can afford to field Thierry Henry. And Pires. And Freddie. And whichever defender you could afford. But this season I've spent next to no time on Arsenal. They only have one game next week so I am not considering any Gunners for week 1.

As the season continues, and this will probably be starting in week 2, is the aforementioned "how do I afford Thierry Henry" question. He is such a stud, you almost HAVE to get him if you can. One way to do that is to have affordable transfers, like Tomas Rosicky. He's an attacking player of some pedigree and looks to have a regular spot on the left of Arsenal's midfield.

In defense, Clichy should be the starting left-back when he returns from injury... and he's cheap! In the mean time, Justin Hoyte should hold down that spot and he's not much more expensive after his loan spell at Sunderland last season. Also cheap and at least temporarily starting is Johann Djourou, the other Swiss center back on the team. He won't get forward like an outside back, but again in the low $5, he's another good bet at the season's open.

Aston Villa

Villa weren't very good last season, and their best player, blog favorite James Milner, has moved back to Newcastle. Their big "signing" is new manager, Martin O'Neill. They have a few quality players but lack the creativity to really scare the opposition or excite fantasy managers. Gareth Barry is probably a good pick as he will take set-pieces, but he is susceptible to the stupid yellow. Patrik Berger probably can't come back from a long string of injuries, which is a shame. I would suggest staying away from Villa unless they show a real improvement early in the season.

Blackburn Rovers

Rovers were a good bet on the field and for fantasy teams last season. Pedersen from the off, and Reid and Bellamy later in season were good fantasy bets. This season they have new strikers in Jason Roberts who is feast or famine, and Benni McCarthy who has been pursued by Premiership teams for years but needs to prove himself in a tougher league than Portugal's. If they click, Rovers will do well, and at the transfer price of 6.24 it might be worth a flyer on McCarthy. Believe the hype! ;-)

Rovers' reputation is for toughness but don't have the defensive record to support that. But if they can stay healthy, having kept Nelsen and Savage should pay dividends. My best bet would be Michael Gray at left back. He quietly put up a pretty good average last season and as such is not too over-priced at 7-something units.

Bolton Wanderers

Bolton were a terrible team to pick from or against last year. They ruined opponents game plans and spread their own points around a number of players. This year they come into the season having lost their first-choice center backs and the Jay-Jay Okocha, the hub of the team. Stelios, Nolan, and Diouf will get their points. As will Vaz Te if he starts to see a little more playing time. But as hard as it was to pick Bolton last year, it will be harder this year. Though it just might be easier to pick against them.

Charlton Athletic

Charlton began the year on fire and ended it as bad as they started well (does that make sense?). They have Darren Bent and his 9pt a game average. They've added Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who proved in limited time last year that he can still do the business. Their midfield never recovered from Danny Murphy's benching and subsequent departure. But their attackers are still young and perhaps Ambrose, Thomas (when healthy again) and even Rommedahl will come good this season. Andy Reid is another good aquisition, and if he's in shape could provide points for Charlton and fantasy managers.

Their defense was just horrible last year and they've lost Powell and Perry (for better of for worse). I expect Sorondo to be the player that played so well for Crystal Palace 2 years ago. The Hermannator should move outside to full-back, which will help his point production but unfortunatly he's not cheap at over $9.

Chelsea

What can you say about Chelsea? For the fantasy manager, they have 2 must-haves in Shevchenko and Ballack. And their defense is so dominant that any of their defenders could be worth the money (except for Geremi as he's listed as a middie). And then there's Lampard, the second best fantasy player over the last few years, behind Henry. But priced accordingly.

But all is not easy for Chelsea, or fantasy manager looking to back them this year. Petr Cech is out injured, so Cudicini starts the season as the number 1. But for how long? Lampard and Ballack have to figure out how to play together without getting in each other's way. And fantasy managers really want to know who will start at left back for Chelsea. Will it be Bridge who seems out of favor this pre-seasson? Gallas, who wants out? Ferrira, switching over from right-back? Or Ashley Cole, switching over from Arsenal?

Everton

If Everton can stay healthy this year, they should return to the tough-to-beat team of two years ago. Their defense has gotten younger with Lescott in the back and Howard in net. And they've added Andy Johnson to attack. Arteta will be a good fantasy pick if he can avoid stupid yellow cards. And a return to form by these other players should open things up for Tim Cahill with his late runs from midfield and great ability to get on the end of set-pieces.

Fulham

Fulham were a Jekyll and Hyde team last year. Tough a home but miserable on the road. And the questions remain this year about their quality and their depth. But they have signed Jimmy Bullard who did so well for Wigan last year. He'll be given a free role in attack and responsibility for set-pieces so he should continue to be a solid fantasy pick. Collins John was the "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy" in the middle of last season, but he faded down the stretch as Coleman prefered the more physical pairing of McBride and Helguson.

The real question over Fulham will be their defense. They've signed some young center backs and have good attackingn full-backs in the likes of Volz and Rosenior. But much will rest in the (inexpensive in Yahoo fantasy) gloves of Antti Niemi. Niemi is a top keeper and like Given at Newcastle he put up a ton of points behind a very shaky defense. Might be a keeper you want to get if Fulham are at home (and if he stays cheap, of course).

Liverpool

Liverpool look to have improved the most from last year, but they are off the radar right now as they, like Arsenal, only have one game this week. However that one game is against Sheffield United, so maybe it's worth the gamble?

Anyway, Gerrard is a fantasy stud. Plain and simple. As is Pennant. And Bellamy. Alonso gets his points too. Add Gonzalez and Zenden, returning from injury, and you have to wonder what their best XI is, and if they start to share the points around the team.

In the back, Riise is finally listed as a defender and not too expensive at $7. He seems to be first choice, but if not Fabio Aurellio looks to be a very attacking full-back and would be a must have if only he were a regular. Perhaps he'll become the new Jan Kromkamp -- king of the last minute substitute clean sheet points -- as he could come in for either Riise or Gonzalez late in games.

Manchester City

Last year, Citeh let their FA Cup run over-take their league campaign and their league form really suffered. This year, they'll have to overcome early injuries and the uncertainty surrounding a squad in transition -- just this week David James has left to be replaced by Issakson, and Distin is talking to Boro.

New defensive middies, Hammann and Dabo, should allow Joey Barton more freedom to join the attack after a very positive last season. He could be a fantasy sleeper again this year. It remains to be seen who their other attackers are, as they have Vassell, Samaras, Cole and Corradi fighting for time. Trevor Sinclair is effective when healthy, but that just isn't often enough.

Finally, we have to mention Sun Jihai, a defender who plays most of his games in the midfield. That's fantasy gold! Unfortunatley he starts the season injured. But when he returns, it will be interesting to see where, or if, he cracks the starting XI.

Part 2 (Manchester United - Wigan Athletic) tomorrow.

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