With the season starting tomorrow, the chances are that you have completed your draft and are either thrilled with the team that you've assembled or waiting intently for a big transfer to happen today that might hellp save your season if you can get the newly arrived player on the waiver wire. Once the transfer window slams shut, your work is certainly not done in a draft league. There are a number of expected results that we (or at least I) have been baking into my analysis of player value. How those predictions turn out and how quickly I, and other managers, identify and react to those trends will determine who wins and loses draft leagues around the globe.
What am I talking about? Here are some of the big unknowns I'll be watching through the first four to six weeks of the new Premier League season:
Newly Promoted Big Spenders Coming Good
Fulham and Wolves have both spent big on their returns to the Premier League. Unlike promoted clubs of recent vintage, both of these sides are going all in financially and finding big names willing to join their efforts to assert themselves as Premier League regulars and potentially top half finishers. I, and many other fantasy pundits, have been pushing newly arrived players like Ryan Sessegnon, Diogo Jota, and Andre Schurrle as mid-round value picks who could turn out to be top ten point producers at their respective positions.
Before those of us who drafted one or more of these new arrivals get too excited about our forthcoming draft league titles, there are reasons these guys were available in the middle rounds. Andre Schurrle has struggled since becoming a Germany legend by providing the assist that won the World Cup for his country. He scored 9 goals in 2015-16 for Wolfsburg but since moving to Borussia Dortmund has struggled to stay healthy and in a line-up packed with wide attacking options. If he and Ryan Sessegnon, who himself is making the leap from prolific Championship attacker to hopeful Premier League star, can combine to start regularly in attacking roles and show their best then the Cottagers should have a prolific attack that can support one or more excellent fantasy options.
If Fulham have been aggressive, then Wolves have taken things to an entirely new level. A day doesn't go by without a big name either being linked or actually arriving at the club. Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio, Jonny, Adama Traore, and Leander Dendoncker are the relatively recent arrivals joining guys like Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota from last season. It could be an entirely new side by the time the Premier League season kicks off. The concerns with that are a) the ability of successful Championship players like Neves and Jota making the leap forward; and b) the number of new faces that will be integrating into the team at the same time they are trying to take a step up in competition.
In both cases, the raw materials seem to be in place to support excellent team results as well as one or more exceptional fantasy point producers. If, however, one or both clubs fail to bring it all together then fantasy managers are going to have to react quickly and fill in their squads with replacements from among the inevitable surprise packages around the league before they are all snapped up.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't me back-tracking on my enthusiasm over Jota, Sessegnon, James Maddison, and others but rather an acknowledgement that every season we, as fantasy pundits, get excited about five or six new arrivals while ignoring a bunch of others. Inevitably some of those new arrivals become Pascal Gross and fulfill expectations and even surpass them and other times they become Aaron Mooy or Anthony Knockaert and show themselves to be excellent Championship players unable to make the leap due to either their own personal limitations or the limitations of the talent/system around them.
New Dawns at Arsenal and Everton
There is optimism aplenty at both the Emirates and Goodison Park. After the departures of Arsene Wenger and Big Sam Allardyce respectively, these clubs feel like they are in a significantly better position to compete heading into the 2018-19 campaign. Throw in needed recruits at key positions for both clubs and fantasy managers are expecting big things from a number of players from both clubs. From Arsenal, they will be expecting road results to be something more than the relegation-like pace that the Gunners set over the second half of last season. From Everton, they will expect an attack suddenly blessed with speed on both flanks to produce goalscoring chances at a far higher rate than it did last season.
While the changes in management as well as smart transfer dealings lead us to the reasonable conclusion that Arsenal will again be competitive for a top four spot while Everton will be competitive for seventh, it is hardly guaranteed. None of Arsenal's new recruits are proven top flight commodities in the primes of their career. At Goodison Park, the new arrivals have promise but none are iron clad. Nothing in football is guaranteed but with clubs expecting a big bump in results on the backs of new arrivals and new managers, the guarantees are even fewer.
It will be critical for fantasy managers to watch these situations carefully and determine if whatever bump in performance they built into their valuations of guys like Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Ramsey, Bellerin, Richarlison, Sigurdsson, Walcott, and Tosun are real or not. With the arrival of the trade option in the Premier League's draft game the opportunity exists to recognize a trend early and make a beneficial trade with someone who isn't paying as close attention and is still valuing a player based on their pre-season research.
Again, I'm not suggesting that either Arsenal or Everton will fail to improve this season, I think they both will and my fantasy squads reflect that fact. What I am suggesting is that the smart draft manager will be watching these two clubs very closely in an attempt to divine how their summer machinations are going to turn out.
Turmoil at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge
Much of the late summer has been dominated by talk of turmoil at both Chelsea and Manchester United. The Blues feature a constant stream of players reportedly wanting to leave from Thibaut Courtois, who has already left, to Eden Hazard and Willian who have been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United respectively (and repeatedly). No one seems satisfied with the forward situation at the Bridge with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud failing to replace what was lost with the departure of Diego Costa last summer. Throw inn the seeming dissatisfaction with the center back situation and the fact that little seems to be happening on the inbound side at any of the positions of need and many have devalued Chelsea players in their fantasy drafting process.
At Old Trafford, everyone has been expecting the inevitable bad ending with Jose Mourinho since his arrival. The only question remaining was when might it come to pass. With Mourinho not bashful about his dissatisfaction with, well, anything over the course of the summer there seems to be a strong assumption that this will be the year that things go south. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial will apparently not leave this summer but neither are happy and many are expecting that Mourinho's side will implode this season like his final side at Chelsea did a few seasons back.
The turmoil at both clubs has led to a devaluing of peripheral players from both teams. Yes, Lukaku, Hazard, and Pogba are still going early in drafts with Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta among the first defenders taken and De Gea almost inevitably the first goalkeeper taken but looking beyond the stalwarts, there are a lot of players who either fell way down in drafts or went entirely undrafted. Guys like Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Andreas Christensen went undrafted in both our Rotoworld Staff League as well as the Clash Across the Pond League featuring pundits from Rotoworld and Fantasy Football Scout. Assuming there isn't a last minute transfer miracle, someone is going to start opposite Eric Bailly at Manchester United and opposite David Rudiger at Chelsea.
Again, I'm not going to try to predict what is going to happen in either situation, what I do know is that smart managers are going to be watching the situations at Chelsea and Manchester United closely and either bringing in peripheral players if the rumors of unrest are overstated or dumping mid-tier players if the worst does come to pass.
As always, it is wise to remember that draft leagues are as much about working hard on the waiver wire and in trades during the season as they are about drafting well. A good draft can make up for a lot of ills but being the first to jump on an unexpected success like Richarlison last season or Riyad Mahrez a few seasons back is more likely to be the path to a championship. Enjoy the season and I'll be updating my take on all of the above and more as the drama starts to unfurl.