This is the column that I've always wanted to write. My favorite columns to read have always been the ones that take a far ranging approach to summing up the week's action, created on-going departments that are a little different than the usual straight-forward analysis, and inserted a little personality into the mix. Whether it is Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback for SI.com, Jayson Stark's Rumblings and Grumblings (first in the Philadelphia Inquirer as I was growing up and now for ESPN.com), or others like them - I can't get enough. I've never found a Premier League-focused column that has scratched this itch for me as a reader so, a year into this journey with Rotoworld.com, I've decided to create one. Given the Rotoworld.com focus on fantasy managers and our partnership with Yahoo.com, there will be a heavy dose of relevant content from the just-completed week but I want to move beyond doing JUST that with this column. Given that this is the kick-off of the first season of this concept, things will surely grow and evolve but the mission will always to provide the best and most comprehensive wrap-up of the week that was in the Premier League.
Now, given that we haven't had a week in the Premier League yet, I'm going to start by putting a bow on the league's summer activities as well as a few changes here at Rotoworld.com that have already happened but we haven't gone out of our way to announce formally yet.
What's New Here at Rotoworld.com's Premier League Coverage?
I'm not leading with this because I think it is more important than what has happened in the league but because it won't take nearly as long to do this as it will to summarize a very active summer across the Premier League.
The big news here is that we've made some fantastic additions to the team that will be covering the Premier League:
Ben Dinnery of PhysioRoom.com fame will be joining us to add expertise and completeness to our coverage of injury-related news in the Premier League. Ben has established a reputation as one of the leading voices on injury-related information in the PL and we couldn't be happier that he will be adding that expertise to our news and columns. Ben will be taking over the Friday Late Fitness Check feature from me starting this coming Friday in addition to publishing breaking injury news as it happens. You can always find Ben on Twitter at @BenDinnery too.
The other big news is that we are going to put much more focus on analytics this season as we try to bring you the best possible insights for picking fantasy players whether your time horizon is a few weeks (salary cap leagues) or an entire season (draft/auction leagues). Supporting this push into analytics will be Galin Dragiev who has been with us since we launched and two new additions.
- Rob Allen was a great contributor to Never Manage Alone on a volunteer basis, so much so that we have asked him to become a permanent member of the Rotoworld.com Premier League team. He will be writing on a variety of analytics-driven topics with the most frequent being a look at what the numbers tell us about likely match outcomes each week (what matches will have goals? where will the clean sheets be? etc.). Rob authored and self-published a book on dominating the Yahoo! Fantasy Premier League game and will bring that knowledge to our pages each week.
- Aaron Nielsen contributed to our season preview activities last season and this season we are looking to expand on that relationship. Aaron makes his living helping clubs, gambling houses, and game-makers project player performance from league to league and division to division. His multi-year database of player performance across 60+ leagues is as comprehensive as it gets (seriously, who has data from Argentina's second division?) allows him to project player performance like few others and we have him working for you. Aaron's first contributions this year will focus on projecting fantasy performance from among the newly promoted teams - QPR, Burnley, and Leicester City - and the players coming to the league's established teams from outside the Premier League.
Summing Up The Premier League Summer
Where do we even start with this summer? I'm going to structure my take on this summer the way I'm going to structure the column once the season starts for real. In this case, I'll give a brief explanation of what each section will contain in the event that it isn't obvious.
The Title Race - where we discuss how the aspirants for the title and the four Champions League spots are doing against those two goals.
Chelsea - Year Two is Mourinho's year. He's purchased the forward he didn't have last season in Diego Costa and a viable replacement for Frank Lampard in Cesc Fabregas. He has a fresh new left back in Filipe Luis who should be an improvement over Ashley Cole/out-of-position Cesear Azpilicueta. Finally, he has an even better goalkeeper in the finally-wearing-a-Chelsea-shirt Thibault Courtois. Throw in a full season of Nemanja Matic and that's a lot of improvement down the spine of an already very good club. Hard to see them as anything other than the favorites coming out of the summer.
Manchester City - The signing of Eliaquim Mangala certainly addresses the club's biggest issue from last season. Martin Demichelis is far better suited as a quality deputy at his age and turns a weakness (Demichelis as a starter) into a strength (Demichelis as a reserve). The acquisition of Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Fernando and Frank Lampard are all nice moves that add quality depth to a squad that wants to win the league again while pushing farther in the Champions League. Stevan Jovetic has looked reborn in pre-season but City's quest for a repeat of their title-winning exploits likely hinges on the ability of Sergio Aguero to stay healthy and productive. Given his recent issues, that sounds like it is too much to hope for with second the most likely landing spot for the Citizens.
Liverpool - It's hard not to like the way Liverpool have rebounded from losing Luis Suarez. They've bought in talent all over the pitch including some players like Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Divok Origini who may well grow into staring roles at Anfield. They looked awesome dismantling Borussia Dortmund in their final pre-season tune-up to boot. What I can't escape when I predict that Liverpool will fall outside of the top four is that they need to replace 31 goals and 12 assists from last season's total. Daniel Sturridge had 21 and 7 and could go higher if he plays more than 26 matches but even if he gets to Suarez's total from last season and wins the PL Golden Boot (which is highly unlikely) then Liverpool STILL need to replace 21 goals from an attacking group that failed to add a premium piece in the prime of his career. Maybe the defense - with the addition of Dejan Lovern and Javier Manquillo - shaves a few goals off last seasons Goals Against total but if Steven Gerrard continues as the deepest lying midfielder you get the sense that the defense will continue to be exposed. As the roster stands right this minute, it is hard to see anything but a step back for Liverpool as other teams are improving.
Arsenal - Alexis Sanchez is an improvement over Lukas Podolski. Mathieu Debuchy is probably a wash with Bacary Sagna. Calum Chambers and David Ospina add nice depth. The return to health of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott offers hope if they can stay healthy. Still, you get the feeling (full disclosure, I'm an Arsenal supporter) that as of right now it isn't quite enough for a real title run unless they enjoy health unprecedented in the Wenger era. To that end, they did bring in American Shad Forsythe to improve the club's fitness approach. Arsenal may make one or two additional high profile signings but only if Forsythe ends up being Wenger's most influential summer business with Koscielny, Mertesacker, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Sanchez and Giroud playing 32 - 34 PL matches each can you see an Arsenal winning the title.
Manchester United - The analytics crowd will tell you that that managers very rarely make an impact on the standings. Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the few that had a statistically significant positive influence on where his teams finished in the table (which is usually extremely highly correlated to spending on transfers and wages). The narrative coming out of last season was that David Moyes was the problem and Louis Van Gaal, the tactical darling of the World Cup, was a proven solution to all the problems at Old Trafford. Well, here we stand with five days to go before the season starts and Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera - two good players for sure - are all LVG and Edward Woodward have to show for their summer. Van Gaal might be one of those rare managers who can improve things by his mere presence but without significant new signings it seems like he'll be trying to do so with a squad with too much good-but-not-great in it. We'll reserve judgement until the deadline but feels like it will be an uphill climb to fourth place for the Red Devils.
Tottenham Hotspur - Another case of the club's major acquisition over the summer being a new manager. It is certainly possible that Mauricio Pochetino will be significantly better than Harry Redknapp, Andres Vilas-Boas, and Tim Sherwood but without significant reinforcements it seems hard to imagine that Spurs will jump over the reigning top four as well as holding off Manchester United. If everything goes right then they could challenge for fourth but it seems like sixth is their most likely destination.
Everton - Roberto Martinez has already had a far better summer than most predicted. Securing Romelu Lukaku on a permanent basis is a huge deal for a club is more often in the position of selling a premium player after a strong season than acquiring one. The problem is that the cost of Lukaku (and Gareth Barry) likely mean that there isn't a lot of money around the Goodison Park couch cushions to do a lot else of significance. The group Martinez has in place again was good enough for fifth place last season but projecting any upside from that spot would mean that Ross Barkley makes the leap from hot prospect to big time star very quickly. It isn't impossible but it would definitely be remarkable. Throw in incremental improvements at United and Spurs and it feels like Everton will be slipping down the table slightly despite their marquee summer move.
The Relegation Zone - where we examine events at the other end of the table as established clubs flounder and newly promoted clubs reveal who they are going to be this season.
Going into the season the newly promoted clubs are generally assumed to be the favorites to be relegated. If recent history has taught us anything it is that this almost never happens. QPR have a very strong roster that seems unlikely to be relegated. Among the established clubs, Aston Villa look to be in danger if Christian Benteke doesn't return from injury quickly and as his old self. West Brom will be a bit of a mystery after changing managers yet again and doing a major overhaul of the squad. Sunderland (no huge acquisitions), West Ham (Andy Carroll out again) and Swansea (loss of Michu, Davies and maybe Bony) also have to be on the watch list for relegation as the season begins.
Newcomer of the Year - where we track the progress of players new to the Premier League this season
There is always a wave of excitement as new signings arrive in the Premier League, especially in seasons following major international tournaments. Some of them are no more than names and (maybe) YouTube clips. Some we have seen in the Champions League and when (heaven forbid) watching other leagues. All carry great promise until they are required to actually kick a ball in anger in a match that counts. First, there are the obvious names that we will be tracking - Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Filipe Luis, Thibault Courtois, and Ander Herrera. Here are some of the other names that are intriguing early:
- Ideye Brown - Our man Aaron Nielsen is high on him and the fact that everyone else seems to have written him off after the "Alan Irvine never saw him play before signing him" storyline makes him very intriguing.
- Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle - Can they replace the numbers put up by Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert last season?
- Remy Cabella and Siem De Jong - Newcastle finally get around to replacing Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy (Riviere seems like he could be workman-like but he doesn't appear to have the upside of these two).
- Daryl Janmaat - Could he be a younger Debuchy?
- Enner Valencia - He'll get every chance to impress with Andy Carroll out injured again.
- Willy Cabellaro and David Ospina - We'll monitor playing time as both could push the incumbents
- Bojan Krkic - We'll track Mame Biram Diouf as well but given the early hype from his Barcelona days Bojan's arrival at Stoke will be very interesting because of the possible upside if he finally comes good, he's STILL only 23-years-old if you can believe it.
- Joleon Lescott, Jack Rodwell and Gylfi Sigurdsson - OK, technically none are new to the league but all three were highly thought of once and then signed for bigger clubs only to be relegated to the bench. They're back and we'll be very curious to see what they do back in the limelight.
- Erik Lamela - He's really a holdover from last year's list who we never got any data on last year so we're pushing him forward to this year.
- Promoted Players - There are lots of options here from Charlie Austin to Anthony Knockaert to Jeffrey Schlupp and others that have barely climbed on to the radar of even most rabid Premier League fans/fantasy managers.
The Joel Ward All-Stars - With a tip of the hat to Bill Simmons who creates an all-star team for any and everything in his columns (the Diane Lane All-stars anyone? about a third of the way down) we will recognize players who are performing in the more subtle fantasy statistics like tackles made and passes intercepted which made Joel Ward a household name last season (at least in households with fantasy Premier League managers in them).
This will be one of the most fascinating parts of the opening month of the season for fantasy managers in formats that reward statistics like passes intercepted, tackles made, ariel duels won, or pass completion volume/percentage. When forwards come up from the lower divisions there are at least some indicators of potential performance (age, status as a "prospect", speed, physical stature, perceived power, etc.). The evolution of secondary statistics like the ones mentioned above has them emerging but it takes a lot of digging to try to find those stats for the Championship and then try to project them to the Premier League.
The Fake Narrative of the Week - It is impossible to go a week without encountering a narrative somewhere in the football media that appears to be totally made up for the sake of gaining attention. They usually fall into the categories of made up transfer rumors, hanging on too long to a mental image of who a player was and not who he currently is, or preying on a long-held stereotype based on club, nationality, or position. When I come across them, I'll let you know and then let you know why I think they're silly.
Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about from the summer:
- Southampton's change at the boardroom level is at fault for the mass exodus - This has been discussed widely enough that there's no need to pick on any individual for reporting it but it is hard to take seriously. Let's face it, contracts aren't worth the paper they are printed on in world football. If a player wants to go, everyone seems to recognize that it makes more sense to let them go for as big a profit as possible rather than getting into an ugly battle that ends in an unproductive player eventually sold for less. Southampton had a surprisingly strong season that featured a lot of young talent on the rise. Players don't stay at a club like Southampton for too long after such a breakout season. The notable thing is that they managed to keep their kids and transfer market steals long enough for them to make some noise in the league before they left for big fees. The downside was that a bunch of them left all at once. The club isn't big enough to attract equally big names regardless of how much money they have to spend. They don't play in the Champions League. They aren't in a cosmopolitan city. There isn't huge upside for a player in moving there which leaves Southampton to overpay for guys who aren't good enough for the "big clubs" or try to reload with a next wave of smart, under-the-radar buys like Dejan Lovern was last summer. It is inevitable that all of the moves won't pan out as hoped but to blame ownership for being greedy and just pocketing big transfer fees is to ignore the reality of how the business of football works. They appear to be making an honest effort at playing the management game to the best of their ability given the circumstances of their club and this season that likely means a step or two back. The good news is that they should have enough money to evaluate their moves in January and then make more moves with a healthy transfer reserve from the summer's business.
- Liverpool are better off without Suarez - Is he a stellar citizen? No. Would you want him representing your extremely valuable brand in advertising? Not unless you were selling toothpaste or something like that. Would supporters get over it in an INSTANT if it meant winning that long-awaited next Premier League title? I think they would. Liverpool can talk all they want about depth and strengthening for the future with great young talent and wanting to field a team that supporters can be proud of on and off the field but it's a bunch of crap. Liverpool are worse off heading into this season than they were as last season ended and that's the end of the story. Luis Suarez went to extreme measures to make sure Liverpool sold him and, as above with Southampton, we relearned the lesson that contracts don't mean a thing in this game. The Reds might have minimized their losses with their summer transfer activity and put a nice PR spin on it but make no mistake, Liverpool would be closer to being title contenders if they kept Suarez and made two defensive signings (say Lovern and Moreno) as opposed to the cast of thousands they have brought in to try to balance the loss of their talisman.
Sponsor I'd Like To See - As you can see from the lack of sponsorship for this column or this page, there's room for some additional corporate involvement here at the Rotoworld.com Premier League page. In a blatant attempt to solicit any sponsors who may be reading, I'm going to start suggesting some sponsors who might want to call the nice people at NBC Sports to find out what it would take to become part of the team.
My first run at this has to go to Coke Zero. I've been addicted (in an entirely healthy way, I assure you) since Coke Zero came on to the market as a more-Coke-Classic-like alternative to Diet Coke. Since it launched in 2005, I'm sure I've purchased enough of the stuff to justify their sponsorship of this site by myself. Throw in a fairly high number of friends/relatives/acquaintances who I've pushed toward their own (totally healthy, I assure you) additions to Coke Zero and I have to say that they owe me just a little bit. As far as a more logical answer as to why they might want to be involved, those early Saturday Premier League kick-offs come pretty early even on the East Coast of the US to say nothing of the Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones. Casting Coke Zero as the official morning beverage of Premier League fantasy managers waking up really early to make sure their line-ups are set and they can stay awake for that first match seems like a no-brainer. Next move to you Coke Zero Product Manager somewhere in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Random Closing Thoughts - Well, this one's pretty obvious and it will be how we close out the column each week at least until a better idea comes along.
- My Second Club - I generally spend the first part of the season looking for a second club to root for. Choosing that club is generally based on me liking the narrative around that club or them punching above their weight or having a player who is unexpectedly productive in fantasy and I can feel like I was in on the ground floor with that team. Past editions have included Reading (their first year up), Norwich (when they had Dean Ashton), West Ham (when THEY had Dean Ashton), Swansea (two seasons ago), and Southampton last season. I never would have predicted any of those clubs would have been the choice when the season started so guessing now is a bit futile but I suspect that Newcastle, Southampton (again), Crystal Palace, and West Brom are the teams from mid-table that are likely to capture my imagination if they got their summer business right.
- Aston Villa - I'm really sad at the state of Aston Villa - they have a lot of things that should be going for them - big city, big ground, big history, passionate fan base, etc. - and they just can't seem to figure out how to take advantage of those positives. They should certainly be challenging Everton for that "best of the rest" mantle but instead we're worried that they may be in a relegation scrape.
- Manchester United - I'm really not sure how to feel about Manchester United this season. On one hand, I'm conditioned to dislike them by years and years of them being the presumptive favorites/league bullies. On the other hand, the league is less interesting without them to dislike. Jose Mourinho and Chelsea's money are convenient villains for neutrals for sure but there's also an ability to write them off as having an unfair financial advantage. Manchester City's financial advantage is even harder to get too passionate about because there is no galvanizing personality like Mourinho at Chelsea or Ronaldo at Real Madrid to root against and they generally try to play attractive football. United are great villains because, while they are a roaring success as a business, at least they have come by it honestly over the years. It almost makes me want to see them rebound quickly...almost.
- Draft/Auction Style PL Fantasy Leagues - I've been participating in draft and auction style fantasy leagues based on American sports for over 25 years, generally fairly successfully. I've played in dynasty leagues (where you keep all of your players year-to-year), keeper leagues (where you get to keep a limited number year-to-year) and leagues where you throw everyone back each year and start from scratch. This is my first season adding these types of formats to my Premier League fantasy gaming activites along with the Yahoo! and Premier League salary cap leagues. I'm very interested to see how the experience plays out over the next nine months. I've gone in heavily on Dusin Tadic in both leagues so here's hoping he pays off.