This article is part of our FPL Best XI series.
The Premier League is back! Following a summer that included the usual offseason activity, new teams, managers and players are all gearing up for the highly anticipated return of England's top-flight this weekend.
Of course, that means Fantasy Premier League games are back in session as well, leaving owners worldwide in search of the best possible lineup on a weekly basis.
For the third straight season, I will continue to provide a weekly preview of Premier League action, with a focus on highlighting which players stand to make the biggest fantasy impacts at their respective positions in each given gameweek. In doing so, my goal is to help fantasy owners pinpoint potential standout players by providing a Best XI team for all 38 gameweeks from August to May.
Since this is a projected all-star squad for each gameweek, fantasy team budgets will be ignored, though no more than three players from the same team will be included in a Best XI squad. Factors such as scheduling, matchups, tactics, injuries, roster moves, player rotations, current form and recent history will be among the abundance of considerations taken into account for each edition. In the end, I hope my input can propel readers to a better understanding of what to expect and more importantly, Fantasy Premier League glory.
Last season, a weekly captain selection was added to the Best XI to indicate the player whose fantasy stock reigned supreme over his peers in a given gameweek. This season, an improved and expanded Best XI will also include bench players, giving fantasy owners a few extra options to consider when setting their lineups.
Just like in real-life, the Best XI bench will feature seven players, including one goalkeeper, who could still make a significant difference on the pitch, but ultimately aren't penciled in as Best XI starters due to factors such as fitness concerns, positional depth or their fantasy sleeper status.
So as another exhilarating Premier League season awaits, let's get back to the drill and take aim at the Best XI for Week 1 of the 2015/16 campaign!
Admittedly, the 2014/15 season was one to forget for Howard and Everton; however, the Toffees have an excellent opportunity to start this term on a high note, as they host promoted side Watford on Saturday. Although the Hornets will be buzzing for their first Premier League match since 2007, a road trip to Goodison Park could prove a daunting proposition. Everton finished last season with four clean sheets from their final six home matches and their established defensive unit could contrast a potentially unfamiliar Watford team that has already ushered in 10 new signings this summer.
An absolute revelation last season, the 20-year-old Bellerin progressively claimed Arsenal's right back position in wake of injuries to his teammates. Fresh off signing a long-term contract extension, Bellerin enters Sunday's opener against West Ham as the Gunners' first-choice player at his position, lending him great fantasy upside. Last season, West Ham failed to win their last 12 away Premier League matches, failing to score in their final four as well. Conversely, Arsenal is coming off a clean sheet last weekend in the Community Shield against Chelsea, as well as in their FA Cup Final triumph back in May versus Aston Villa.
Arguably the best Fantasy Premier League defender, Ivanovic finished in the top three at his position in clean sheets (17), goals (four) and assists (six) last season. In doing so, the Serbian helped Chelsea to the league's best defensive record, especially at home, where they conceded merely nine goals. To open this term, the Blues are pitted against a sneaky Swansea City side, but one Chelsea has drubbed 9-2 on aggregate across their prior two meetings. Additionally, Ivanovic supplied an assist in his latest meeting with Garry Monk's men, setting him up nicely for this time around.
The leader among defenders in assists once again last season, Baines' offensive forays mimic those of an accomplished wide midfield player, but his true defensive station makes him an even more valuable fantasy commodity. The Englishman's 70 chances created in 31 appearances easily led Everton last season and Baines should find plenty of attacking freedom against promoted outfit Watford at home this Saturday. While the Toffees' defensive record on previous opening weekends has been rather dodgy, this year's matchup is quite favorable, and, interestingly, Everton held Watford scoreless on the opening weekend of the 2006/07 season; the Hornets' last venture into the Premier League.
Eden Hazard (C)
The Premiership's 2014/15 Player of the Season, Hazard tallied 14 goals and 10 assists for the second straight campaign, and his 19 clean sheets were tops of any player league-wide. A goal-scorer in Chelsea's home opener last season, Hazard begins this season at home against a Swansea City outfit that, as previously mentioned, Chelsea picked apart with nine goals from two matches last term. Hazard also scored his first six goals of last season at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea's defense of their title could kick off without last season's top scorer, Diego Costa (hamstring). Should that transpire, Hazard would figure to be even more heavily relied upon this weekend. Regardless, the Belgian's recent exploits make him a more-than-worthy recipient of the Best XI captain's armband to start this season.
Despite missing the better part of three months due to a knee injury, Ozil still led the Premier League in needing only an average of 27.8 minutes between scoring chances he created. The German genius also paced the Premiership with 3.1 key passes per game, further evidencing his special set-up ability. This weekend, Ozil and Arsenal begin their season against West Ham at home, where they tied for the second-most goals scored in England's top-flight last term. More specifically, Arsenal's attack has dismantled West Ham's defense in their recent meetings at the Emirates Stadium, outscoring the Hammers 11-2 over the past three such encounters.
Second to only Ozil in key passes per game (2.9) last season, Silva ranked first on the Premier League's highest scoring team with 12 assists last season. While that marked Silva's fourth straight campaign with double-digit assists, the Spaniard added goals to his game as well, finishing with a career-high 12 scores for Manchester City. That goal tally included Silva finding the back of the net in both of City's matches against West Brom, who they open the season against on Monday. While any Tony Pulis-coached team will be focused defensively, Man City has notched three goals in each of their last four tries versus the Baggies.
Absent for much of last season while recovering from a torn ACL, Walcott still finished the campaign with a bang, netting a hat trick in Gameweek 38. That stellar showing came while playing center forward, where he's expected to feature more regularly this season. Even so, Walcott is still designated as a midfielder in most fantasy formats, a decision owners should look to take advantage of. To that point, a midfield-eligible Walcott has magnificently accumulated 24 goals and 19 assists despite making only 37 starts over the past three Premier League seasons. After starting up top in both of Arsenal's recent FA Cup and Community Shield repeats, Walcott should be in line for a central role again this Sunday versus West Ham, who the Gunners have fleeced for 19 goals across their last six meetings.
Winner of the Premier League's Golden Boot award last season thanks to 26 goals, Aguero spent the summer scoring three goals in five Copa America matches for Argentina. Despite his offseason activity, as well as a recent health virus, "Kun" has been cleared fit ahead of Monday's match against West Brom. Although he only faced the Baggies once last season, Aguero scored in both of his appearances against them in the 2013/14 campaign. Moreover, heading into Monday's outing, Aguero carries momentum from having scored 12 goals across his past 12 games for club and country dating back to last season.
Along with having scored in the most recent edition of Manchester United versus Tottenham, Rooney leads all players involved in the fixture with nine goals against Spurs in his career. Additionally, he leads all current Premier League players with six goals on previous opening weekends, painting a very bright picture for the Red Devils' skipper heading into Saturday's first match of the season. With Robin van Persie sold this summer, and United's marquee addition, Memphis Depay, still adjusting to an unusual central role, Rooney is expected to be at the forefront of Man U's attack in the early going. Only neighbors Manchester City scored more goals than Rooney's Red Devils last season at home, providing further reason why he could strike against Spurs come Saturday.
Although the balance of his first Premiership season was rather up-and-down, Pelle began his time in England with a flurry last year. The Italian supplied six goals and one assist through his first eight league games, which supported his final mark of 12 goals on the whole season. With that total, only nine players outscored Pelle, whose Southampton side travels to Newcastle on Sunday. Pelle recorded a pair of goals last term against the Magpies, who have a new manager, Steve McClaren, going into this season. Even under new command, Newcastle shipped the second-most goals last season, so their defensive deficiencies could propel another strong start for Pelle, who also scored Thursday in Southampton's Europa League match.
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel
In their remarkable rise from relegation last season, only one team conceded fewer goals than Leicester over their final six games. Alternatively, only one team scored fewer goals last season than Sunderland, who play at Leicester on Saturday.
Defender: Aleksandar Kolarov
With teammate Gael Clichy (ankle) ruled out, Kolarov is slated to start Monday at West Brom, who ranked in the bottom five in scoring last season. The attack-minded Kolarov also surfaced with two goals and one assist over his final five starts last season.
Defender: Jordan Amavi
An under-the-radar summer signing, Amavi finished first in interceptions per game (4.6) and fifth in tackles per game (3.9) in Ligue 1 while playing for Nice last season. However, the left back is mostly known for his tireless presence going forward, as he notched four goals and nearly two dribbles per game as well last term. To start his Premier League career, Amavi has a fairly decent matchup against promoted side Bournemouth.
Midfielder: Sadio Mane
Proud owner of the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history, accomplished in two minutes and 56 seconds against Aston Villa last season, Mane goes against a poor Newcastle defense this weekend after scoring in Southampton's Europa League match Thursday.
Midfielder: Jamie Vardy
With four goals and four assists over his final 10 Premier League outings last season, Vardy will strive to continue his famous form at home versus Sunderland this weekend. Staggeringly, only Manchester City scored more Premiership goals than Leicester over their last six home matches.
Forward: Romelu Lukaku
An injury concern ahead of Saturday's home match against newly-promoted Watford, Lukaku (hamstring) is fresh off 18 total goals from his first season as an Everton player. With the Hornets sorting out new signings, Lukaku could prove a handful to keep quiet at Goodison Park.
Forward: Diego Costa
Nobody started last season better than Costa, who racked up seven goals through his first four career Premier League games, but the Spaniard's hamstring hardships could impact his status Saturday versus Swansea, who he tormented to the tune of five goals and one assist last term.