By AVI CREDITOR
Welcome to another year of SBI Fantasy Premier League, where we'll help you make some of the tough personnel decisions over the next 38 weeks.
Anyone can tell you to start Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Cesc Fabregas. Play those guys each and every week that they're healthy and that their teams have matches.
This game is all about embracing the obvious but also picking the right captain, finding the diamonds in the rough early and the players who attract the bonus points all while playing the matchup game.
Before we get to our drafting suggestions, let's take into account a few things:
THE RULE CHANGES
The folks at Fantasy Premier League have made the game a bit more manager-friendly this season by changing some of the transfer rules. You can read all about them here. The only thing that affects gameday point scoring is that own-goals are now worth -2 points. Although that shouldn't really alter your drafting strategy, buyer beware: Manuel Almunia, Scott Dann, Zat Knight, Chris Baird and Carlton Cole each had a league-worst two own goals last season.
The relegation/promotion factor leads to some fascinating storylines as the season winds down, but it also has a fantasy impact. How will the Newcastle, West Brom and Blackpool players fare? The first few matches will be very telling on who is Premier League-worthy and can contribute to your roster.
Last season's promoted teams, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Burnley, all had fantasy-relevant players who emerged after a few weeks. Unlike in MFLS, fantasy success isn't exclusive to team success in this game.
Ultimately, every team is going to play every other team twice. That's a given. But if a giant matches up with some minnows for a few-week stretch, you'll likely want to load up on the big guys and ride the wave.
For example: Chelsea's first five matches, three of which are at home, come against West Brom, Wigan Athletic, Stoke City, West Ham and Blackpool. By contrast, three of Liverpool's first five matches are against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United. Don't pick your team or make transfers without consulting the schedule first.
Now for the good stuff:
DRAFTING YOUR TEAM
You'll need some of the heavy hitters, so you'll have to determine if you want to spread your money around, go with three top-priced strikers (such as a Rooney, Drogba, Carlos Tevez triumvirate) or midfielders (Lampard, Fabregas, Steven Gerard) and skimp elsewhere, etc.
That decision is ultimately yours. Here are some of the league's best buys to help you navigate through the player pool and augment your high-priced superstars:
Paul Robinson, Blackburn, £4.5 – As inexpensive as it gets for a goalkeeper that could easily put up improved numbers from his Top-10 season a year ago.
Marcus Hahnemann, Wolverhampton, £4.5 – Another bargain-basement keeper who should better his numbers from last season due to an improved team in front of him. The step down in points and difference of an extra £1.0 or £2.0 in your salary to take a keeper like Hahnemann, Robinson or Bolton's Jussi Jaaskelainen and have a better, more costly outfield player is worth it.
Jody Craddock, Wolverhampton, £5.0 – Offered offensive production from the back a season ago (five goals) and is a key figure in an improved side.
Ryan Shawcross, Stoke City, £5.0 – Attracts bonus points like a magnet and packs an offensive punch as well. Be wary of his yellow card propensity, however.
Antolin Alcaraz, Wigan Athletic, £4.5 – Paraguay international had a standout World Cup and has an excellent first matchup in which he can prove his worth.
Mikel Arteta, Everton, £8.5 – Health is the only question mark with the Toffees' talisman. When fit, he's as valuable as any midfielder in the game because of his ability to create and his set-piece accuracy.
Gareth Bale, Tottenham, £6.5 – His fantasy value takes a bit of a hit because he's no longer listed as a defender, but it was his offensive production and bonus-point accumulation down the stretch last season that made him a top-notch asset.
Adam Johnson, Manchester City, £6.5 – Was a bonus-point maven upon his arrival at Eastlands and is one of England's up-and-coming midfielders. Has plenty of offensive options to feed and feed off.
Matthew Etherington, Stoke City, £6.0 – Has improved his fantasy output from the season before in each of the last two years and put forth a very palatable five goals and nine assists in last year's campaign.
Barry Ferguson, Birmingham, £4.5 – Had one of the oddest fantasy lines last season. Didn't score a single goal or manage a single assist, but totaled 31 bonus points (fourth-most among midfielders). Don't anchor your midfield around him, but you could do much worse at that price for a fourth or fifth option.
Darren Bent, Sunderland, £8.5 – Scored 24 goals a season ago with teams game-planning to shut him down. Back injury might stifle his early-season numbers, but he'll produce.
Hugo Rodallega, Wigan Athletic, £6.5 – Colombian had 10 goals and seven assists a year ago and flourished under Roberto Martinez. Kicks off his season at home against Blackpool.
Cameron Jerome, Birmingham, £6.0 – One of last season's more pleasant surprises, the streaky Jerome can offer second-tier production at a third- or fourth-tier price.
Andy Carroll, Newcastle, £4.5 – Scored 19 goals in all competitions for the Magpies last season and will be a fixture up top as the team battles to stay up.
WEEK 1 CAPTAIN CHOICE
My money is on Frank Lampard (£13.0) to deliver the goods, Chelsea's iffy preseason not withstanding. At Stamford Bridge against West Brom in the first match of their title defense, the Blues should handle their opponent with ease. Lampard, the top-scoring fantasy player a year ago, is the engine that runs Carlo Ancelotti's prolific attack and should be in for a nice 90 minutes.
Who did you select for your squad? Who do you think will start off the season strong? Who do you think is a real sleeper this season?
Share your thoughts, questions and predictions below.