As the calendar turns to August, it can only mean one thing: the start of the Premier League season is approaching. With the first kickoff just days away, many of you will be setting your initial lineups for this seasonís fantasy Premier League games. For those of you who joined us in last seasonís adventure, welcome back. And for those of you that caught soccer fever during this year's World Cup, we welcome you to a fun challenge.
Before we get into the pre-season Bargain Bin, letís spend a few moments to discuss the strategy of the game for those that are unfamiliar. If you have ever played in a daily fantasy league, the structure is very similar: each player in the game is assigned a price and you are tasked to construct a team of 11 starters and four bench players within a specific budget. Where it differs from the daily leagues is you carry your team over from gameweek to gameweek. After each week, playersí value will change based upon performances. You will then have the opportunity to transfer players in or out at their new cost. Based upon this, you can increase or decrease your budget to sign new players. You have to be careful though, because you are limited in the number of transfers you can make.
Spending that money is the strategy of the game. One tactic many people use is filling their starting XIs with the best players possible and purchasing bench players at the lowest cost, regardless if they will even see the field. It is the definition of a boom-or-bust strategy since your bench players are used if a player in your starting XI does not get any playing time that week. It can be a very successful strategy if you know your players will all be playing. However, when there are short gameweeks, either due to Premier League scheduling or because a squad is also playing a European match (Champions League, Europa League) or FA Cup match on short notice, players could see some unannounced rest. This leaves you vulnerable to getting zero production out of one of your roster spots. If you are going to utilize this strategy, it may be best to do a little research and try to find value with those bottom-feeder salaries. Weíll touch on this a little later.
As you assemble your team, it is best to think of it like buying and selling stocks. The number one rule of the stock market is to always buy low and sell high. In some regards, it is no different here. Purchasing a low-cost player and watching his salary increase as he outperforms his price is crucial on many levels. First, you are getting production at a fraction of the cost and this allows you to spend more money on higher-profile players to fill out your lineup. Second, if you have a marginal player that returns a few more dollars when you transfer him out, that money can help you purchase another player you may not have had a chance to buy originally. Obviously, at no point were you selling Luis Suarez last season. However, had you purchased Marouane Chamakh before he went on his three-goals-in-three-games streak last December, you could have increased your budget to purchase a better player than Chamakh or used it to improve at another position. In fact, last season saw players like Romelu Lukaku, Wilfried Bony, and Jay Rodriguez priced low enough early in the season to be included in the Bargain Bin.
What is the Bargain Bin? For those of you that are new, the Bargain Bin is a weekly article that provides player recommendations that come below average-cost. If you have a budget of £100 and need to fill a roster of 15, average cost then is £6.7 (with some standard rounding). Each week in the Bargain Bin, we point out players that have good matchups and may be worth a look if you need a spot replacement or are looking for a player that could return some nice value. Starting just before Gameweek 1, we will detail options at each position that are below average cost but have the potential to produce at a higher level.
This edition will be a little different. Arguably, there is no more important time to a fantasy season than the draft. Consider signing your first 15 players your draft. Now is the time to spot the Lukakus and Bonys, before their price catches up with the more expensive players at their position. With that in mind, we will start by looking for who we think could be in for a breakout season at a low cost.
Players could be priced low right now for a number of reasons: they could be unknown, as they have just transferred in from another league. Bony fits this description from last season as he was signed from Vitesse of the Dutch League.
The player could also be from a newly-promoted side. Many of these players are little-known, thus holding a low cost at the beginning of the season. Jason Puncheon scored seven goals last season for newly-promoted Crystal Palace. While doing so, he helped the Eagles remain in the top flight while also helping many fantasy squads move up in the standings.
You could also have a player getting an increase in playing time. Emmanuel Adebayor started to be a regular fixture in Tottenhamís starting XI once the club sacked Andre Villas-Boas. With his new found playing time, he scored 11 goals in 20 starts.
Will there be another Bony this season? Or Puncheon and Adebayor? Certainly, and now is the time to try and spot these players. With all this in mind, letís take a look at the players that could return the most bang for the buck.
Speroni finished last season as one of the hottest goalkeepers in the league. While he finished the campaign with a total of 12 clean sheets, it was his work with manager Tony Pulis that made him fantasy-worthy. Once the Eagles named Pulis manager, the defense improved mightily and Speroniís fantasy value was the biggest beneficiary. In the 23 Premier League matches Crystal Palace played with Pulis as manager, Speroni managed to keep 10 clean sheets. Translate those numbers out over a full 38-match season and Speroniís 17 clean sheets would have ranked him first in that category. I would not expect Speroni to lead the league in clean sheets this season, but a full season with Pulis at the helm could give Speroni a full season of good fantasy value.
The path for Fabianski to make some Premier League noise may have finally cleared. After spending seven years with Arsenal as their No. 2 goalkeeper, he signed a four-year contract this offseason to join Swansea City. Once Fabianski signed, the Swans transferred out incumbent goalkeeper Michel Vorm to Tottenham. The move should make way for Fabianski, who is coming off his best season with Arsenal after leading the Gunners to the FA Cup. He will look to bring some of that success with him to Swansea City.
Debuchy comes to Arsenal after having spent the previous two seasons with Newcastle United. The defender will see an instant boost in fantasy value due to the Gunnersí ability to keep clean sheets at a rate much better than that of Newcastle. Debuchy should slot right in to the role vacated by Bacary Sagna as Arsenal replace one French defender with another. Debuchy also took the fourth-most shots of any Premier League defender last season, a trend that is not expected to drop too much in his new role with the Gunners.
Caulker joined Queens Park Rangers after he was unable to help Cardiff City avoid relegation last season. Despite playing for a squad that managed to keep just seven clean sheets last season, he was still able to provide fantasy value thanks to his five goals, which were good enough to finish tied for second among all defenders. Now with Queens Park Rangers, he should see an increase in clean sheets while looking to contribute some goals on the attack.
Lowton had a few setbacks last season with Aston Villa while dealing with some injuries. The defender managed to play in only 23 matches, which was down from 37 the year before. He has picked up three assists in each of the last two seasons and has shown the ability to score the occasional goal. Look for him to bounce back this season while helping Aston Villa pick up some clean sheets along the way.
Barkley had the best season of his young career last year. Despite missing some time with a calf injury, he still turned in six goals while finishing with the third-most shot attempts for Everton during league play. What held him back from scoring more goals was an accuracy issue, as just 25 percent of his shot attempts were on target. Experience should see that number rise and his goal total should rise with it, should he get up to the 30 to 40 percent range. Look for Barkley to continue to grow as a player and grow his role with Everton.
Johnson turned it on in the second half of last season that helped fantasy owners that jumped on him early. Despite scoring just once during the first half of the season, Johnson scored seven second-half goals to lead Sunderland in scoring and help the Black Cats avoid relegation. Much of this was an increase in the accuracy with his shot attempts. Just 17 percent of his shots were on target through the first 19 matches. That number jumped up to 39 percent in the second half. Johnson clearly has the skill level, as he was a member of Manchester Cityís squad before coming to Sunderland. He may not be an elite goal-scorer, but he should capitalize on being the focus of the Sunderland attack yet again.
Sigurdsson is a player that should benefit from getting more opportunities. Despite making just 14 starts last season with Tottenham, he managed to score five goals. In the offseason, Sigurdsson signed with Swansea City and should see more regular playing time. An increase in shots (he had 37 last season) should also come, which has the potential to bump Sigurdsson up toward double-digit goals.
Puncheon was the leading goal-scorer and shot-taker on a Crystal Palace side that struggled to score last season. Although the team signed Fraizer Campbell over the summer, it is a move that clogs the front line while also helping Puncheon, who led the Eagles in assisted shots last season, although he only managed to pick up two assists. Another finisher should help Puncheon add assists to a goal-total that could increase as well. The assists bump can be noticed in the pre-season, as he tallied two assists during Crystal Palaceís tour of the United States. Puncheon could also add some value via clean sheets if the Eagles are able to maintain their defensive prowess from the second half of last season.
Tadic played wonderfully last season for FC Twente of the Eredivisie, as Nick Pitner has previously pointed out. But just because it has been mentioned once does not make it any less true. Southampton shipped out much of its offense from last season, and their leading returning goal-scorer is returning from a torn ACL and is doubtful to start the season. Tadic should slot right in to the starting lineup and look to replace much of the goal-scoring that was lost this offseason.
With news that Andy Carroll will miss up to four months with an ankle injury, Valencia looks to be the one with the most to gain. Coming off a strong three-goal performance at the World Cup, Valencia signed with offense-starved West Ham in July. He should be given every opportunity to fill the void left behind by the perpetually injured Carroll. With a bare cupboard (only two players scored more than five goals last season for West Ham), there is not much to compete with from a talent standpoint. The only question that remains is whether his abilities will translate into Premier League goals. It has yet to be determined, but he will get his shot.
Jelavic joined Hull City in January last season and went on to score four goals in 16 appearances. He has never tallied a double-digit goal season in his career, but he did show promise at Everton in limited action and he is still just 28 years old. Jelavic was the most active of the Hull City attack once he joined. High shot totals do not always translate to bunches of goals, but in order to score goals you have to take shots. Jelavic is not afraid to take shots and he has the skill to convert his fair share.
Riviere joined Newcastle after six seasons playing in France. The youngster (just 24 years old) will come in and look to fill the void left behind by departed striker Loic Remy. Riviere has the ability to score, as he netted ten goals for Monaco last season. The talent is much better in the Premier League, so the goals may not be as easy to come by, but Riviere should get his opportunities to shine in the Newcastle attack.
Ings broke out last season as he helped Burnley secure promotion by scoring a team-high 21 goals. Certainly that number is unattainable for the Claretsí striker this season, but he should once again find himself near the top of his teamís scoring list. That should bring something close to double-digit goals at a very small cost. Some may say that last season was a fluke, but at just 22 years old to start the 2014-15 season, Ings could prove to be a star in the making as he makes his Premier League debut.
Do you think you have what it takes to be a ďBargain Master?Ē Test your skills over at ESPNís Premier Fantasy and compete against others to see who has the best eye for cheap talent. The rules are simple: players can only be signed at below 6.7. If their salary increases, they are still able to stay on your roster. Letís see who is the ultimate Bargain Shopper!