The transfer market is humming along at a rapid clip. Usually, at this point in the summer, we're awash in rumors but not a ton or real activity as the "sagas" that will define the tabloid summer continue to rumble on while everyone takes vacations or focuses on summer tournaments. With no significant tournaments to speak of this summer (sorry Confederations Cup), everyone seems to be more inclined to get to some actual deals sooner rather than later. Everton have been extremely active and promise to contiue on that path until they resolve the futures of star players Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley. The first truly big move of the Premier League summer landed today with Arsenal officially announcing the arrival of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon for a club record fee. Add to that a Sunday evening spent in Brooklyn with some of this country's finest Fantasy Premier League pundits talking draft strategy and doing a mock draft and then the Premier League announcing on it's app today that they will be releasing a Draft game (believed to be US-only) for the upcoming season and all of a sudden we have a lot to talk about.
Lacazette to Arsenal
This is a big deal for a few reasons. It shows that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger aren't going to go quietly into that goodnight after failing to qualify for the Champions League. It demonstrates that a player who, presumably, had some options is convinced enough by Arsenal that he is willing to move to the Emirates and help them attempt to reestablish themselves as a top four side rather than insisting that they qualify again before being considered by top talents. Finally, it is important because it adds another likely potent attacker to a fantasy market starved for top tier talent for draft and salary cap formats alike.
On this final point, it's worth noting that Arsenal had three very strong attacking players for fantasy purposes last season Alexis Sanchez was one, Mesut Ozil was certainly a step down from the Chilean but still a top tier fantasy player, and, unfortunately, the third was the combination of Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott who combined for 34 starts and 22 goals (with three more contributed by Lucas and Welbeck). This two-headed third contributor owed somewhat to injuries but even more so to Arsene Wenger's indecision over his preferred attacking approach. Sometimes Sanchez was central with Theo starting out wide as part of a 4-2-3-1. Sometimes it was Sanchez wide left with Giroud centrally. Eventually, Wenger settled on a center forward (Giroud or Welbeck) with Sanchez and Ozil wide in what would best be described as either a 3-4-3 or a 3-4-2-1.
The arrival of Lacazette and, to a lesser extent, Sead Kolasinac should bring Arsenal's approach for the upcoming season into focus assuming that both Ozil and Sanchez remain. The trio of Arsenal's three most expensive signings in club history - Lacazette, Ozil and Sanchez - will start the lion's share of Arsenal's matches with Ramsey and Xhaka flanked by Hector Bellerin and Kolasinac in the midfield. Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding will be the central trio behind that midfield group when Wenger is fielding his preferred starting eleven. Going on that assumption, it isn't unreasonable to look at the contributions made by Arsenal's non-Sanchez/non-Ozil attackers last season and guess what Lacazette might do from a performance point of view. If he's essentially replacing the combined Giroud/Walcott role then putting his full season (approx 34 starts) contribution in a range of 16-22 goals with strong Shot on Target, Key Pass, and Successful Take-on numbers that you'd associate with a more mobile forward (as opposed to a Giroud-like target forward) and you're looking at a guy who should be evaluated just outside the top tier of known quantities at forward in the Premier League (e.g., Harry Kane, Alexis Sanchez, Sergio Aguero, Romelu Lukaku, and Diego Costa if he's around at Chelsea).
It would be reasonable to apply a similar analysis to either Alvaro Marotta or Andrea Belotti if one of those two were to arrive at Manchester United in the coming weeks. Given that we've seen none of these players in the Premier League we have to add in a little bit of a discount for the fact that they might not successfully make the leap to England's top flight but the situation that Lacazette is entering is favorable and he should be primed for a highly successful Premier League debut campaign from a fantasy (and real) point of view.
Impact on Sanchez?
Perhaps the biggest question worth asking related to fantasy and Lacazette is what negative impact his arrival and presumed status as Arsenal's starting center forward might have on Alexis Sanchez's fantasy value. Certainly Sanchez, assuming that he's still at the club this season, will still be among the best players at his position (depending on what fantasy format you're playing what position he is listed at may vary) but will he be as good managers are expecting after his 2016-17 campaign where he switched back and forth between playing a central forward role and a wide attacking role. Sanchez's 24 goals and 13 assists this past season were a massive jump from his 13 goals and 4 assists the season before where he operated almost exclusively as the wide man in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1.
Some of the increased output from Sanchez could well be due to overall improved play but you have to suspect that at least some of that was due to where Wenger decided to deploy him for large stretches of the season. Presuming Lacazette plays centrally as part of the first choice starting line-up, it might be reasonable to expect Sanchez's goal output to look closer to that of Eden Hazard (16 goals) rather than expecting another 20+ goals season from the Chilean. At 16 goals and something on the order of 8 to 10 assists he's still a huge fantasy (and real) star but he might not be quite as good as you remember from this past season. Just something to think about as you get ready for drafts.
PremierLeague.com Draft Fantasy
Speaking of fantasy drafts, the Premier League has teased a draft game on their mobile app today with a few screens of information promising more to come later in July. The rumor mill has the game only available in the US but the information available didn't say anything definitive on the topic. As a huge fan of the draft format, this is great news as the Premier League being on board with the format will certainly help increase exposure to and trial of the draft game. I don't have any information to comment on any of the specifics of the game at this point but obviously as we learn more about the rules, scoring, and other details we will begin commenting on how injuries, transfers, rotation, etc impact players for this format in addition to those that we've covered in previous seasons.
Keeping the theme of draft Premier League formats going, here are some observations from this past Sunday afternoon spent with fantasy pundits @FantasyGaffer @ChuckBoothSport @Smokey_Loogy @SportsByGotti and @TalkinTogga (all in person) as well as @KevRov @FantasyYIRMA and @GunnerMicah (remotely) and sponsored by @NewBelgium. It was a great time where, in addition to a lot of non-sense and trashtalking about performances in expert leagues, we talked extensively about a lot of interesting fantasy topics that might be of interest as managers prepare for drafts this summer. Here's a taste:
The Value of Defenders: It is pretty well established in this group that there isn't enough scoring variance or season-to-season predictability among goalkeepers to draft even your favorite goalkeeper before the last round or two of any draft. There was a faction at this gathering, led by Mike Gottlieb, that argued that the same logic could and should be applied to defenders. That is to say that you shouldn't spend early round picks on defenders because you can get equivalent value late in the draft. After successful seasons in draft formats that owed significantly to predicting that Christian Fuchs (two seasons ago) and Marcos Alonso (this past season) would be exceptional fantasy defenders despite not coming in to a ton of hype. This isn't to say that drafting defenders is 100% predictable but it wasn't difficult to pick out that Kyle Walker and Danny Rose (when healthy) would thrive in Spurs system this past season. After listening to the arguments, I agree that it is possible to draft solid talent late (I got Laurent Koscielny in the 14th round) or even on waivers (David Luiz and Craig Dawson went undrafted) but, for me, rather than signaling that you shouldn't be drafting defenders until late or not at all, that it should signal that fantasy managers are being swayed by the glamour of the attacking positions on the field and not paying enough attention to how to actually win their leagues. While I appreciate Mike's point, I see it as an opportunity rather than a signal that there's only marginal predictability to the defender market in drafts.
The "Consensus" Pick: Due to a late cancellation we had a open spot in the 10-team mock draft. Rather than make it an awkward 9-team draft we decided to create a consensus pick in each round where we went around the table and nominated/voted on a player that would reasonably fall in that round. What inevitably ended up happening was that the "Consensus Pick" ended up being the guy that theoretically deserved to be in the round in question but that no one really wanted to put on their own team. It might have been the most instructive part of the draft. Here are how the picks unfolded for that unlucky hypothetical manager:
- Kevin De Bruyne - there's no real objection to a first round pick so don't read anything into this one
- Gylfi Sigurdsson - ditto
- Ross Barkley - We know Barkley scores well in the Togga format even in a year when he's falling out with his manager. The problem is that no one knows where he'll be and how many minutes he'll get there come next season. The uncertainty made him an ideal Consensus pick.
- Manolo Gabbiadini - With three midfielders already picked we needed to get Consensus a forward and after a blazing start to life at Southampton, Gabbiadini left us all wondering with a long barren stretch to end last season. Basically, no one really trusts him but his hot streak after arriving makes him a plausible first forward.
- Bernardo Silva - He will be a very good fantasy player at some point but given the number of attacking players at City right now his name is bigger than his opportunity is likely to be. He'll go higher than he should in fantasy drafts based on potential.
- Kyle Walker - The presumption is that he will move to Manchester City and that he'll not be nearly as productive in that system as he was in Mauricio Pochettino's system that favors attacking outside backs. Nothing against the player but none of City's outside backs were particularly useful under Pep last season.
- Ryan Bertrand - Other than the bias against defenders in some corners there was nothing particularly against Bertrand that led to this pick going to Consensus.
- Andre Gray - Another solid pick and this one even had some upside given a potential move to a more attacking club.
- Nicolas Otamendi - Otamendi has rated well in the Togga format but his play in the real world leads you to believe that his place in the City side is entirely dependent on City's ability to find center backs in the transfer market.
- Jermain Defoe - Lots of uncertainty around how much Defoe will play at Bournemouth after Josh King's spectacular second half of last season. He's doesn't do much for you on the days he doesn't score so there's a lot of risk here.
- Charlie Austin - Call it a handcuff for the earlier Gabbiadini pick, between the two they'll likely start most Saints matches and probably score in the 15 goal range so long as you know which one to pick each week.
- Nathaniel Clyne - Reuniting the former Southampton outside back pairing, Clyne is a solid, if unspectacular, pick at this point in the draft.
- Sam Vokes - We just kept picking forwards for Consensus on the premise that if he had enough of them then one might hit either on a career best season or at least each week with a good match-up.
- Thibaut Courtois - A round or two early for a goalkeeper, especially one who doesn't make many saves, but it was getting late and we were running out of solid ideas that we weren't committed to using for our own teams.
- Alfie Mawson - A solid upside play based on his performances for Swansea down the stretch and for the England U21 side over the summer.
- Oriel Romeu - We were really out of high upside ideas at this point so we went the other way with an extremely solid, unsexy pick highly likely to produce something each week as a potential fill-in on the Consensus bench.
Newcomers: Here's where some of the more talked-about newcomers to the Premier League were drafted:
- Alexandre Lacazette (Round 2; Pick 6)
- Alvaro Morata (Round 2; Pick 9)/Andrea Belotti (Round 2; Pick 10) - With Lukaku apparently agreeing to go to United Morata may still be in play for Chelsea. This is probably a good spot for whomever plays center forward at Chelsea this season Diego Costa might go a little higher as a known quantity but Morata and Belotti are reasonable picks here
- Sandro Ramirez (Round 4; Pick 4) - This presumably depends on what else Everton end up doing (Giroud?)
- Davy Klaassen (Round 4; Pick 8) - He has strong two-way potential on a good team at Everton depending on how well he makes the transition from the Eredivisie (and what happens with Ross Barkley)
- Mo Salah (Round 4; Pick 9) - Given his price he'll be the presumptive starter over Adam Lallana.
- Matt Ritchie (Round 5; Pick 2) - How will attempt two at breaking in to the Premier League go?
- Anthony Knockaert (Round 5; Pick 6) - Similar to Ritchie he had great Championship numbers but will they translate?
- Bernardo Silva (Round 5; Pick 7) - Will he get the playing time to be a valuable fantasy contributor?
- Sead Kolasinac (Round 7; Pick 3) - Big potential to be this season's Marcos Alonso as a wing-back listed as a defender
- Aaron Mooy (Round 9; Pick 2) - Another candidate to raise strong Championship stats into the Premier League
- Will Hughes (Round 10; Pick 6) - And another
- Elias Kachunga (Round 11; Pick 7) - Only a so-so goalscorer with OK but not great peripheral stats in the Championship so consider this something of a flier.
- Jonjo Shelvey (Round 12; Pick 10) - The ultimate fantasy player, in real life he makes as many bad plays as good but fantasy formats tend not to discount the bad stuff while giving credit for the good stuff.
- Victor Lindelof (Round 13; Pick 7) - Given that his presumed center back partner, Eric Bailly, went six rounds earlier, this seems like strong value.
- Ayoze Perez (Round 15; Pick 7) - I've been waiting for this guy to break out for a number of years and it hasn't really happened, not even in the Championship last season, it might just be that he maxed out young as an exciting but inconsistent attacker.
- Tammy Abraham (Round 15; Pick 10) - All about potential here but it would have been better if he'd gone somewhere (Newcastle?) with a clearer path to him starting. Swansea might be a good place to develop but Llorente and Sigurdsson, assuming both stay, are blocking his path to big minutes.
- Karl Darlow (Round 16; Pick 9) - Seems likely he'll face a lot of shots which is a recipe for a top goalkeeper in the Togga fantasy format.
I could keep going on about the mock draft for a while but rather than extend this post I'll put together a second one for either tomorrow or early next week with additional details on the Premier League Draft Game as well if those details become available in time for that post.