The 2011-12 Fantasy Premier League season showed that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is just growing larger, and fantasy owners are paying the price. Finishing at the top of your league is now all about finding the hidden gems.
Anybody can put Robin van Persie on their squad, but his price tag will be mammoth. But finding players like Grant Holt of Norwich City or picking up a Papiss Cisse of Newcastle late in the season makes all the difference. Pay high for a couple of premium players, and then do your homework.
Here are a few things to consider before we give you a list of the players we like this season.
1.) Don't take Stoke City for granted. Because of their style of play, Stoke defenders provide a ton of value. The Potters are a brick wall at home, where the mighty always seem to fall. Given their penchant for long throw-ins in the offensive end, players like Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross will not only earn you clean sheets and yellow cards, they can pop in a handful of goals from defense.
2.) Just say no to Balo. Mario Balotelli was the story Euro 2012, but he is just way too temperamental to even think about putting on your squad. Manchester City are also loaded at striker; so as much as some might love the bad boy of football, stay far, far away.
3.) You win it in the midfield. You need to find midfielders who score, plain and simple. Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Manchester United's Nani are the first names to consider, but they won't come cheap. For value's sake, consider a player like Sebastian Larsson of Sunderland.
Who we like:
1. Robin van Persie. Arsenal £9.0. Van Persie had an absurd 2011-12, and with so many rumors swirling around about his future in North London after this season, RVP has a point to prove and money to make with another gigantic season.
2. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United £9.0. You have to look twice when you see that Rooney is still only 26 years old. It seems like the Red Devils' bulldog was around in the Eric Cantona days, but he's still in his absolute prime. He showed it last season, especially down the home stretch. It's almost impossible to envision anything less than 25 goals for Wazza.
3. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City £8.8. If Aguero was just getting acclimated to the English game last year, is his 23 goals just a tune up? The only concern is City will now have the added burden of the Champions League. With a loaded stable of strikers, he could see less pitch in league matches to save him for the Champions League.
Sleeper: Darren Bent, Aston Villa £6.9. Injuries plagued Bent last season, but he still managed nine goals in 22 games for the Villans. It's not always pretty with Bent, and he'll have Villa fans tearing their hair out with some of the sitters that he misses, but he puts in 20 goals if he stays healthy in 2012-13 and comes much cheaper than the big boys. That's all we care about from a fantasy perspective.
1. David Silva, Manchester City £8.9. There's a reason Manchester City's strikers scored so many goals a season ago...Silva supplies his strikers like no other player in the Premiership. He's a brilliant player, and he'll carry a hefty price tag...but he's the best in the business.
2. Juan Mata, Chelsea £8.1. Mata is so smooth in the midfield. With a new corps of strikers in front of him, and a rejuvenated Fernando Torres, he's just going to create more chances in 2012-13. He can also pop in his fair share of goals. The case could be made that with the new additions in West London, Mata's potential for a huge season makes him a better buy than Silva.
3. Gareth Bale, Tottenham £9.0. A no-brainer after Silva and Mata. The only concern with Bale is that his style of play lends itself to the potential for injuries. That has been the case in the past, but there's not a player in the EPL who can take over a game the way Bale can when he's on. He scores more than the first Silva and Mata. The injury vulnerability is the only reason he's at number three.
Sleeper: Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tottenham £7.2. The Icelandic midfielder has looked terrific for Tottenham this preseason, and after a wonderful 2011-12 with Swansea City, big things are on the horizon for Sigurdsson. He's not in North London to replace Luka Modric, he's at White Hart Lane to do something Modric doesn't do enough of – score goals from the central midfield and lead Andre Villas-Boas' attack.
1. Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal £7.3. Six goals and an assist in 29 games last year for Vermaelen is phenomenal from a defender. In the air on set pieces and corners, he's the best in the business among all Premier League back liners, and if you have room in the budget, he's a must-have.
2. Joleon Lescott, Manchester City £7.6. Lescott battled injuries towards the end of last year, but when he was on the pitch late, it's no coincidence that City stormed to the title. He's great in the air, plus the Sky Blues are sure to put up a giant number of clean sheets once in 2012-13.
3. Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United £7.7. Despite suffering a knee injury last December that kept him out for the rest of the season, it's hard to say no to Vidic. Reports this summer are all over the place as to whether or not Vidic will be ready to return for the beginning of the season. Worst case, he'll be ready by September, and that has led to a slightly lower price tag than he'd normally carry.
Sleeper: Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham £6.5. Vertonghen was the player of the year in the Dutch Eredivisie, which is quite a feat for a defender. Brought over from Ajax to renew an an ailing and aging Spurs back line, Vertonghen is absolutely capable of being one of the leading scoring defenders in the EPL if the stars align.
1. Joe Hart, Manchester City £8.0. He'll be the most expensive keeper in the league, but he is very, very hard to pass up. He'll have the most wins in the Premiership, and although he had a sensational 2011-12, he's still getting better.
2. Michel Vorm, Swansea City £6.3. Vorm may have single-handedly kept Swansea out of a relegation battle a year ago. His performance, all season, was absolutely brilliant. He may be the best keeper in the Premier League, and on a better team he would be the top fantasy keeper.
3. Tim Howard, Everton £6.0. OK, maybe a little bit of an American bias, but Howard is as consistent as they come...and he scored a goal last year! His price tag is more than reasonable for a guy who you can plug in as your keeper and not have to worry about all season.
Sleeper: Robert Green, QPR £5.5. You immediately thought of Green letting in Clint Dempsey's goal in the 2010 World Cup when you read his name. But Green was in charge in goal for West Ham's promotion back into the Premiership a year ago. Being with QPR is a better situation for Green. QPR has money to spend and should reinforce their defense this summer which will help Green reduce QPR's dismal 1.74 goals-against. Green is the best of the second-tier keepers you'll need after you grab a starter.