So it is that time of year again.
The start of the 2016/17 Premier League season is just around the corner and Fantasy Premier League has officially launched. This means that wannabe managers all around the world are currently strategically planning their teams for the upcoming season; Well at least for the opening few weeks. With players such as Sergio Aguero costing as much as £13 million alone, sacrifices will once again have to be made.
As with any season, one of the most exciting periods is the transfer window. This window in particular will have captured the attention of fantasy managers with an array of talent arriving in the Premier League. With some supremely talented managers also now in charge of the league’s biggest clubs, this season could potentially be one of the tightest we have seen in years.
Ahead of the 2015/16 season, I wrote a piece on who I thought the most promising additions to the Premier League were from a fantasy perspective. The new arrivals that I shortlisted were Memphis Depay, Roberto Firmino, Dimitri Payet, Andre Ayew, Georginio Wijnaldum, Jeremain Lens and Matteo Darmian. Now that was not all that bad.
Ayew and Payet finished the season in joint tenth position on 171 points and were two of the highest scoring new arrivals to the league. Wijnaldum was the shining light in a disappointing Newcastle side, managing to score 170 points despite his side facing relegation. Firmino finished the season with a decent 155 points while Darmian ended on 108. Depay, meanwhile, seemed to find himself out of favour at Van Gaal’s United for no real reason and scored only 62 points in the process. As for Lens, the less that is said the better.
With the 2016/17 season edging ever closer, here are the new signings who I feel could make an impact for their respective clubs this year.
Sofiane Feghouli (West Ham, £5.5 million)
When I first read the news that Sofiane Feghouli was joining West Ham, I knew immediately that he was a player to consider for my fantasy team. Like with many new players in the league, it was difficult to estimate how much of the fantasy budget someone like Feghouli would consume. With Dimitri Payet priced at £7.5 million last season (now £9.5 million) I was estimating somewhere around the £7 million mark for his new teammate.
I was subsequently surprised when Feghouli was priced at a measly £5.5 million. That means that the folks at Fantasy Premier League think he will contribute as much as the likes of Arsenal’s new boy Granit Xhaka, United’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, Spurs’ Eric Dier and City’s Fernandinho. While these players in particular will operate more often in the holding midfield position, Feghouli can play as either a winger or an attacking midfielder. As a result, his increased likelihood of scoring points makes him a really attractive addition.
The only potential snags when it comes to the inclusion of Feghouli is the chance of rotation and the speed at which he adjusts to the style of English football. Payet will have his placed nailed on straight off, as will captain Mark Noble. From an attacking perspective, Feghouli will then have to compete with the likes of Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini and fellow new boy Gokhan Tore for his spot in the starting eleven.
As shown last season, however, Slaven Bilic did increasingly like playing Antonio in defence. Lanzini will also be missing when the season starts having pulled out of Argentina’s squad for Rio 2016 with a knee injury. Having scored a goal already in pre-season, the early signs for Feghouli are promising. As a budget player, he is definitely worth some deep consideration.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United, £9.5 million)
While a certain Swedish legend earned himself a fair share of the headlines following his transfer to Manchester United, it is one of his fellow signings that I am particularly interested in. After signing for £26 million, Henrikh Mkhitaryan should provide United with the creative spark that they have been lacking in recent years.
The attacking midfielder was voted the Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Season and was also the league’s assist leader with fifteen. He has also opened his account with United in pre-season- albeit in underwhelming fashion in a defeat against his old club Borussia Dortmund- so has hopefully started as he means to go on.
During his time at Dortmund, Mkhitaryan scored 41 times in 140 games over a period of three years. As a natural number ten, but with the ability and speed to play out wide, the Armenian international has the potential to make a big impact if he can adjust quickly to life in the Premier League. Mkhitaryan will have a major role to play in United’s campaign this year and subsequently is one to watch out for.
Unlike Feghouli, however, Mkhitaryan will cost fantasy managers £9.5 million. To put that in perspective he is on a par financially with Mesut Ozil, Riyad Mahrez, Anthony Martial and Dimitri Payet- all of whom have played in the Premier League before. Both Payet and Martial had their first seasons in the Premier League last year and were initially priced at £7.5 million and £8 million respectively. Being untested in the Premier League, £9.5 million is potentially a lot to pay for the pleasure of Mkhitaryan in your team. If he is able to replicate his form from the Bundesliga, however, it is a risk worth taking.
Jordon Ibe (AFC Bournemouth, £5.5 million)
Jordon Ibe is technically not a new arrival to the Premier League but after signing for AFC Bournemouth, he is an interesting prospect for the upcoming season. Now I said a very similar thing last season when I highlighted the 20-year-old as a midfielder to pick. Despite a high level of competition for places in the Liverpool midfield last season, Ibe’s form in pre-season was a positive omen in my books. The midfielder was also only priced at £5 million which, when compared to his teammates, made him a tempting proposition.
In reality, however, he managed one goal and three assists last season and did not make the impact that I was hoping. Despite arguably not earning his £0.5 million price hike this season, his Bournemouth move has made him one to consider once again. Ibe has, once again, had a decent pre-season and has opened his account in AFC Bournemouth’s 3-3 draw against Portsmouth.
After the departure of Matt Ritchie to Championship side Newcastle, Ibe is definitely the creative spark that I would be looking to in the Bournemouth team. Ibe signed for a club-record £15 million so the pressure will be on to impress. You also do not fork out a record amount for someone who is not going to feature frequently. Knowing how Eddie Howe likes to take young talent and develop them, Bournemouth could be the place where Ibe makes the impact that I have expected of him over the last couple of seasons.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United, £11.5 million)
Jose Mourinho is making a statement of intent with his signings so far this season, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic taking the majority of the headlines- as a legend of the game this is hardly surprising. Ibrahimovic has scored 392 goals in 677 games during his career.The striker has also won a trophy every season of his career since 2001, including 13 league titles.
Last season was the Swede’s most prolific, having scored 50 goals in 51 games for PSG. He was the Ligue 1 Player of the Year, the Ligue 1 Top Goalscorer and was in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year. While he is now 34 years of age, Ibrahimovic has demonstrated that he is still one of the best strikers in the world. Having also retired from international football following Sweden’s disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, his focus will be solely on winning the title with Manchester United.
The immediate concern, however, will be how he adapts to life in the Premier League. Ligue 1 is not of the same calibre as England’s top division and it is a whole lot more physical. Ibrahimovic is priced at £11.5 million, currently making him the second most expensive player behind Aguero. It is his career achievements that have earned him such a steep price but it should be remembered that he is previously untested in the Premier League.
The inclusion of the striker would be a risk based on his price-tag, but if he can come close to replicating his form in recent years then of course he would be worth it. You just need to decide whether he is a risk worth taking.
Rob Holding (Arsenal, £4.5 million)
Talking of risks, this would definitely be up there. Arsenal have just signed 20-year-old Rob Holding from Bolton and he has been included in their 23-man squad touring the USA at the moment. The highly rated England Under-21 international was recently part of the squad that won the Toulon tournament and clearly grabbed the attention of Arsene Wenger.
As he is so young, there is always doubt over the role that he is going to play at Arsenal over the coming season. As Hector Bellerin has shown, however, Wenger is willing to give youngsters the opportunity to impress and improve. The 21-year-old Frenchman is now arguably the most exciting full-back in the league and still has his best years ahead of him.
You need only look at the likes of Calum Chambers, however, to see that youngsters do not always make a breakthrough into the first team and stay there. With Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel all missing pre-season, however, this is Holding’s opportunity to impress the manager. The only centre-back who has his place in the squad nailed on is Koscielny and, while Gabriel is probably the favourite, the other position is certainly up for grabs.
Steve Mandanda (Crystal Palace, £4.5 million)
Crystal Palace have enough goalkeepers to go round- with four currently on the books- but new signing Steve Mandanda stands out. Priced only at £4.5 million, probably due to the competition for the position at the club, he is a player that has grabbed the eye at this early stage.
Mandanda has previously spent his entire professional career in France and has been named the Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year on four separate occasions, including last season. The French international has also been involved in 300 of the 304 Ligue 1 matchdays since 2008/09 which is more than any other player. As someone who has risen to the top through playing consistently for Marseille for the best part of his career, Mandanda will not be happy playing second fiddle to anyone else in the Crystal Palace squad.
With all of Palace’s goalkeepers being priced at £4.5 million it is clear that even the people in charge of Fantasy Premier League do not know who their number one will be this season. To narrow it down, it will probably be between Mandanda and Wayne Hennessey. If I had any say on the matter, Mandanda would be my number one and could play an important role as Palace try and improve on their fifteenth position of last season.
Andrew Robertson (Hull City, £4.5 million)
Technically Andrew Robertson is not a new signing but if Hull City are able to hold onto him for their upcoming return to the Premier League, he may as well be. Hull are having a less than ideal start to their 2016/17 season, with Steve Bruce quitting as manager and injuries plaguing their pre-season. Subsequently this means that Hull have only thirteen fit senior players available to them.
On a positive note, one of these players is Robertson. When Hull earned their promotion to the Premier League at Wembley earlier this year, Robertson and Moses Odubajo were two players that I was immediately considering for my fantasy team. With Odubajo out for six months, Robertson became the prime candidate. As so many players are out, Robertson has his place pretty much guaranteed for the season.
Robertson is an attacking minded left-back and has reportedly attracted attention from some of the Premier League’s top clubs in the past. The defender scored 4 goals last season, including a late consolation goal against Manchester City in the league cup. He also got 5 assists in the duration of the Championship season. If looking for a defender on a budget with attacking capabilities then Robertson has potential.
Let us just hope that he has a full team to play with come the start of the season.
Andre Gray (Burnley, £6.5 million)
Again, Andre Gray is not a new signing but he is hoping to make an impact in what will be his first season in the Premier League with Burnley. The striker was vital in Burnley’s Championship campaign last year- scoring 25 goals- and will be looking to impress this year too.
Last season I highlighted Odion Ighalo as one to watch out for despite being part of the newly promoted Watford setup. Ighalo had scored 20 goals in the Championship in the 2014/15 season and had an impressive pre-season before the 2015/16 season began. When it comes to newly promoted teams, many fantasy managers can be somewhat hesitant when it comes to including their players in their teams. I, however, included Ighalo in mine from the off for an initial price of only £5 million. Despite a disappointing end to the season, Ighalo scored 16 goals and finished as Watford’s highest point scorer. As a result, the striker is priced at £7.5 million and subsequently probably not as worthwhile in my opinion.
The lesson here is, you should not rule out newly promoted players simply because they played in the Championship last season. The Championship is increasingly becoming one of the most competitive leagues in the world and players are proving they can make the step up. The only concern over Gray may be his £6.5 million price tag. That means that he is £1.5 million more than Ighalo was this time last season. It also means that he is the same price as the likes of Shane Long, Salomon Rondon, Andy Carroll, Callum Wilson, Alvaro Negredo and Charlie Austin- All of whom have had experience at this level.
What can be said in his favour is that Gray is going into the season in form. The striker was prolific last season and has scored five goals in four matches so far during pre-season. Yes he may be somewhat riskier than those listed above but he has the quality and potential to make a big impact this season.