SO Close...

You can almost feel the tension as the start of the Premiership season draws close. We can start counting down in terms of hours instead of days or months. The close season has been chocked full of intrigue (both the interesting - Ruud/Ronaldo - kind and the tiresome - Ashley Cole and Jose Reyes - kind). We have three new teams to consider in Reading, Sheffield United, and Watford which means a bunch of new names. As always, there are a couple new glamorous names at Chelsea. Liverpool has been extremely aggressive in building a squad they think can compete with the champions. Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham have each had some change but it is unclear whether that change has been positive or negative on balance. West Ham has fortified their squad for a run at a European place as has Everton while Rovers, Wanderers and Citeh have all lost some ground in the transfer market.

What does all this mean? Oh, happy day - the games will count again starting tomorrow. The only change to last year's format will be that I'm going to include Liverpool and Spurs in what used to be "The Former Big Two" category and call it "The Race for the Champions League". Otherwise, most weeks I'll break down my thinking on who to include in my squad in the following categories:

1. Chelsea
2. The Race for the Champions League
3. The Relegation Zone
4. And The Rest

And with that, we're off...

Chelsea - Well, lets start with the obvious - Ballack and Sheva will be as close to locks in everyone's line-up. Aside from those two, the day Yahoo released the new game, I actually had an extremely Chelsea-heavy line-up purchased. This was grounded in the notion that Wayne Bridge was an obvious choice to start at left back (which is now questionable). What SHOULD be the best value of the Chelsea veterans (Geremi) turns out not to be one because he's listed as a midfielder. Bridge is now a gamble as Ferriera may be tabbed for the left side. In midfield, Lampard seems to have refound the touch and is as valuable as always and just as expensive - same with Terry. Drogba is relatively inexpensive and seems likely to start the majority of Chelsea's matches. Robben, Cole, SWP, and Essien have to be considered question marks given the uncertainty of their roles. Cudicini is another interesting choice - he is a bargain for the first few weeks but including him could cause you to miss the boat on a less expensive keeper (Howard/Niemi) who will start over the course of the season. As a bonus, Chelsea's first week schedule is favorable.

Players Worth Serious Consideration: Ballack, Sheva, Drogba, Lampard, Terry, and Cudicini.

For the Budget Conscious: Ballack, Sheva, Cudicini

The Race for the Champions League - For this week, Arsenal and Liverpool are dead to me. Even Henry and Gerrard would be hard pressed to be SO good in their one match to justify not only a spot in your line-up but also the heavy budget expenditure. Next week will be a different story.

Things have been tumultuous (yes, I used tumultuous correctly in a sentence AND spelled it right on the first try) at Old Trafford. Ruud is gone (may he fare well in Spain) and so are the guaranteed 12-14 points/appearance. In his place is the inexpensive Louis Saha who all fantasy managers should consider. He is the most attractive Red Devil early on in the season. The rest of the attractive fantasy options are priced accordingly - Rooney, Giggs, Ronaldo, van der Saar, Ferdinand, and Gary Neville are all pretty expensive but are likely to do well given United's soft first week schedule. Heinze is an excellent option once he is healthy but he's out for at least the first match. Two of Evra, Brown, and Silvestre will likely start with Rio and GNev and might be worth consideration.

Spurs join Arsenal, Liverpool, and United in fighting for a Champions League spot and also feature one, if not two of this season's must-have fantasy picks in Berbatov and Assou-Ekotto. Keane's injury worries throws his value (as well as that of Defoe) into doubt. Lennon is another Spurs players who is a) cheap; b) full of fantasy potential; and c) likely to start most weeks - he should be a serious candidate most weeks. Dawson is another inexpensive option in defense who did well for his fantasy managers last year. My final Spurs recommendation is last year's newbie at left back YP Lee who is this year's newbie at right back but there are probably better options.

Players Worth Serious Consideration: Saha, Rooney, Giggs, Ronaldo, GNev, Rio, van der Saar, Berbatov, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon

For the Budget Conscious: Saha, Berbatov, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon

The Relegation Zone - In my mind, the relegation zone currently consists of the three new teams (Reading, Watford, and Sheffield United) plus Fulham and Aston Villa who have lost ground since flirting with the drop zone last season. Honestly, Villa don't have ANY players that interest me very much as the season starts - throw in their opener at Emirates Stadium and things look even worse for the Villians. Fulham also face a rough early schedule but at least feature a few inexpensive options up top in Helguson and Collins John (if he starts). Jimmy Bullard in a free role may also be interesting to fantasy managers in some weeks but given the Bolton/ManYoo double in the first week, this isn't the week I'd pick him.

There are a couple interesting options coming up with the newly promoted clubs. In my mind, the most interesting options are Bobby Convey (Reading) who gets assists, takes kicks, and corners from his spot on the left side of midfield. Reading also features some good strikers but they are less interesting to me given the presence of cheap options McCarthy, Sheva, Berbatov, and Saha. The other interesting option is Ashley Young of Watford. He plays a very forward wing position that is essentially a striker spot and has drawn comparisons to Henry and Shawn Wright-Philips, not bad company for a cheap midfielder. Convey has the better schedule of the two in the first week but both are worth consideration if you're looking to save money in your midfield.

It'll probably be a few weeks before we get a better idea about the rest of the guys from the newly promoted teams.

Players Worth Serious Consideration: Boa Morte, Helguson, Convey, Young

For the Budget Conscious: Convey and Young

And The Rest - Of the rest of the teams in the Premiership, West Ham has the best combination of good players and easy first week schedule. They will certainly be weaker without Ashton and Etherington in the early going but Alan Pardew's shrewd use of the transfer window has created a deep squad at Upton Park very quickly. Harewood, Benayoun, Cole, Konchesky, and Pantsil (if he is going to start on the right) are all excellent values. Lee Bowyer is the leading candidate to fill in for Etherington (if Konchesky doesn't push forward) and might be worth a look.

Away from Upton Park...Newcastle and Wigan are both one-gamers so we don't have to spend any time thinking about them...Samaras has a tough first week but is inexpensive and was productive down the stretch last season...Everton with Cahill, Beattie, Howard, Arteta, and AJ as viable fantasy options has a decent first week schedule - Howard and AJ should be of special interest given their price...I'm not willing to spend too much time on Pompey's guys yet but Glen Johnson is worth a look if you're struggling for defenders on the cheap...Rovers welcome Benni McCarthy to the Prem (finally) and he should be in your consideration set for cheap strikers (although I'm going to give it a week or two with Rovers central midfield in question)...JFH and Darren Bent should both enter your mind but with the West Ham/ManYoo combo, I'd stay away...Boro are unsettled, don't have any particularly interesting bargains and play Chelsea in one of their two matches so there's another one to stay away from no matter how much you like Yakubu and Downing...Finally, Bolton are Bolton, if you're already thinking about anyone on their squad it's going to be a long season.

And with that, I welcome you to a new season of Yahoo Fantasy Football. For the people in our private leagues, good luck (but not too much, I'd hate to get my ass whipped) and to all of you, thanks again for reading and sending in your comments.