The new Premier League season is upon us at last and with it comes the return of Fantasy Premier League. I'll be running my league yet again this season and there will be a cash prize of €50 for the winner. As well as my fantasy league I'll also be running my predictions league again and there will be a prize of €25 for the winner.
Those prizes could increase as the season progresses depending on the money I earn from the advertising on my blog. At the moment I don't earn an awful lot but each click on an ad is free and earns me a little. I'll transfer 50% of any earnings throughout the season to the prize fund which will hopefully add up to a nice total. Feel free to click on those ads and everyone will be a winner.
I'll be giving my predictions for every Premier League game this season and those predictions will be the ones I use for my predictions league. As well as those predictions I'll be highlighting players who I think might be worth considering for fantasy managers each week. It promises to be a great season and hopefully a successful one for my fantasy team and of course Arsenal too.
It's always important for fantasy managers to be on the look out for teams who have extra games in any week and week one is one of those. Both Chelsea and Aston Villa play twice and their players have to be seriously considered by any fantasy manager. Chelsea players are definitely at a premium as they play at home to both newly promoted Hull City and to Villa too.
Villa have a couple of tough games away to Arsenal and Chelsea, but Christian Benteke still has to be a serious consideration. Any manager loading their team with Chelsea and Villa players has to be aware that those two teams won't be playing at all in week three.
It's never easy to know what players to pick but it always pays to study the fixture list and see which teams might have a good week. The choice of captain is never easy either but I would strongly advise choosing a Chelsea player in week one as long as you can be sure that player will play both games. For me it's probably a straight choice between Juan Mata and Eden Hazard with Villa's Benteke as an outside bet.
Saturday August 17
Liverpool v Stoke City
12.45pm BST, Anfield, Liverpool
Liverpool don't have any European football to worry about this season which could benefit them in the league and they need to do an awful lot better than last season. They're never an easy team to take on at home and they will want to get off to a good start in front of their own fans. There hasn't been an awful lot of change at Liverpool this summer but the Luis Suarez saga could alter that if it comes to a conclusion.
Simon Mignolet had a very good season with Sunderland last season and could be a good buy for fantasy managers. Philippe Coutinho looks like he could do well in midfield and Steven Gerrard always does. In attack Daniel Sturridge will have to take up the slack in the early games with Suarez suspended and if Suarez is sold he could be leading the line for the whole season.
Stoke starred very well last season but fell away badly in the second half and ended up parting ways with Tony Pulis after narrowly avoiding the drop. Mark Hughes has come in and so far he's more or less working with the same players Pulis had at his disposal. Stoke struggled to score goals last season and were very goal shy away from home in particular.
If Hughes can help Stoke to rediscover their defensive form then Asmir Begovic should be a good bet, as should both Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth with Mark Wilson as a god outside bet if he can get a place in the side. In midfield Jonathan Walters will probably be their top performer again and Matthew Etherington could do well too if he can stay fit. It's hard to recommend strikers from a team which is so goal shy, but Peter Crouch could do well if Hughes can bring a little more adventure to their game.
I think Liverpool should have more than enough to see off Stoke and get their season off to a good start.
Arsenal v Aston Villa
3pm BST, Emirates Stadium, London
Arsenal have had a big clear out this summer but so far they haven't managed to bring in the players that are needed to strengthen their squad. They finished last season very well and finally seemed to have sorted their defence out with only Manchester City conceding less goals than them. Their aim is to get back to a position where they are genuine contenders again, but they have a lot to do before the transfer window closes if that is going to happen.
I think Laurent Koscielny could be the Arsenal defender to watch with his eye for goal and their new found defensive strength. In midfield both Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott are the players to watch and Olivier Giroud could possibly do a lot better in his second season in English football in attack. The players who haven't joined Arsenal yet could well be the ones to make a difference for fantasy managers if they do arrive at all.
Villa escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth last season and will want to do an awful lot better this time around. They haven't done an awful lot to improve their squad but can expect an improvement if they can play like they did towards the end of the season. A lot may well depend on Benteke's ability to continue on where he left off last season with his goal scoring ability.
It's hard to see any other players besides Benteke to recommend from the Villa ranks but Gabriel Agbonlahor could do well in the first week with two games. Besides him Charles N'Zogbia is one to watch when he returns from injury.
Arsenal's squad may be thin but they should have enough to get the better of a Villa team who struggled defensively last season.
Norwich City v Everton
3pm BST, Carrow Road, Norwich
Norwich were happy to avoid relegation last season but in their third season in the Premier League they will be looking to do a little better. They were goal shy last season but have brought in two new strikers this season and will hope to have a better return from those strikers. Their home form was what kept them up last season and they will want to get off to a good start at home this time around.
Robert Snodgrass did well for Norwich last season and is still available at a good price with both Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel possibilities too. John Ruddy could be worth considering as a first or second choice goalkeeper as he's available at a good price.
Everton did very well last season but ultimately they could only manage a sixth placed finish. David Moyes has left to manage Manchester United and been replaced by Roberto Martinez. They have brought a few players in but their chances could well depend on whether they can hold on to players like Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines for this season.
If Baines and Fellaini are still at Everton this season they are the players most likely to perform for them with Gerard Deolofeu and Arouna Kone as possibilities too and Seamus Coleman can't be ignored as a defender at a very good price.
Norwich aren't an easy team to beat at home but Everton proved last season that they are never easy to beat and I can see this being a tight game ending in a draw.
Sunderland v Fulham
3pm BST, Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Sunderland have made a host of changes with Paolo di Canio brining in the players he feels will offer the club a lot more than some of those who he felt under performed last season. With so much change at the club it's hard to know how Sunderland will fare but they will want to do an awful lot better than last season. I can only imagine di Canio will want to play a more attacking style than Martin O'Neill employed.
Stephane Sessegnon could be the Sunderland player to shine again and the players brought in by di Canio deserve some consideration too. If he's fit Stephen Fletcher could grab quite a few goals for Sunderland this season and whoever gets the goalkeeper's shirt might do well at a good price too.
Fulham have traditionally struggled on their travels in the Premier League and it's something they will want to change if possible this season. Any team with Dimitar Berbatov and Adel Taarabt in it will need the other players to work very hard, but they add some flair to Fulham. Their fate could depend on whether the new owner is prepared to support the club as much as his predecessor did.
Both Berbatov and Taarabt are possibilities for fantasy managers, but it's not easy to know what other Fulham players to opt for.
I think Sunderland should be too strong at home for a Fulham team that finds life a little tough away from home.
West Bromwich Albion v Southampton
3pm BST, The Hawthorns, Birmingham
Albion had a good season last time round and a lot of that was down to the goals of on loan Romelu Lukaku. They will be hoping that either Nicolas Anelka or Matej Vydra will score some of those goals for them or that Shane Long and Markus Rosenberg will take up the slack. They will do well to match last season's eighth placed finish and would surely be happy to do so again.
I have a feeling that either Long or Vydra could be the best performers for fantasy managers in the West Brom team.
Saints invested heavily last summer and it helped to keep them in the Premier League. They have spent another £20 million so far this summer and with the players they already have must surely hope to finish safely in mid table at least. They play an attractive brand of football and can cause serious problems to any of the top teams on their day.
Both Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez have to be seriously considered yet again, but their defenders are probably best avoided.
West Brom were impressive at home last season and I expect them to get their season off to a good start with a narrow home victory.
West Ham United v Cardiff City
3pm BST, Upton Park, London
West Ham have managed to secure the services of Andy Carroll after he impressed on loan last season and have added Stewart Downing to their squad too. Downing could be the man to supply the ammunition for Carroll if the big striker can stay fit and both would seem to fit nicely into the managers more basic style of play. They managed to finish tenth last season after a brief flirtation with the relegation zone and will hope to do at least as well this season.
Both Carroll and Downing could do well this season and Kevin Nolan always bags his share of goals too. Some of their defenders are also worth considering with Andy O'Brien, Winston Reid and new boy Razvan Rat all possibly worth a punt.
Cardiff eventually managed to make it to the Premier League after winning the Championship last season. They have added to their squad from last season, but their first priority will still be survival so that they can build for the future. They may need to add a little more to their squad if they are going to do that, but the transfer window hasn't closed yet.
Craig Bellamy has to be considered as he is listed as a midfielder for fantasy managers and Andreas Cornelius could be the player to score the goals Cardiff will need.
I think West Ham's rough and ready style could be difficult for Cardiff to deal with as long as Carroll is fit to play and West Ham should win the game.
Swansea City v Manchester United
5.30pm BST, Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Swansea did so well last season to finish in the top half of the table and win the Capital One Cup too. They have brought in a few players this summer but their best piece of business could be holding on to Michael Laudrup as their manager. They place some very good football but their squad size could well be tested with Europa League football to play this season too.
Miguel Michu cannot be ignored again for fantasy managers with both Jonathan de Guzman and Wilfred Bony looking like they could do well too. Jonjo Shelvy is available at a good price and along with Michel Vorm he could be a good buy.
United have failed to add to their squad with the exception of Wilfred Zaha whose deal was agreed a long time ago. They are the defending champions and will have to be concerned to see the teams who finished behind them adding so much to their squads of last season. They will need to add significantly to their squad if they are going to hold off the challenges of City and Chelsea in particular.
Robin van Persie is again the must have striker for fantasy managers and Javier Hernandez could get a lot more game time if Wayne Rooney manages to secure the move he wants. Zaha could be the spark United are looking for in midfield and I expect Shinji Kagawa to have a good second season in English football. Patrice Evra was their outstanding defender last season and could be again unless the rumoured arrival of Leighton Baines goes ahead.
Swansea play some good football and are a tough team to beat at home and I have a feeling they will take a point off the defending champions.
Sunday August 18
Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur
1.30pm BST, Selhurst Park, London
Palace are back in the big time but they will have to cope without their star player from last season who was sold to United. Their squad doesn't have an awful lot of experience at this level and their goal has to be avoiding relegation. It won't be an easy task for them, but with Ian Holloway in charge it should at least be an interesting one.
If Palace are to have any hope they will need Marouane Chamakh to get a few goals and veteran Kevin Phillips might row in with a few too.
Spurs have added significantly to the squad which finished fifth last season and look like they will put in a real challenge for a top four spot. As I write this Gareth Bale is still a Spurs player but there are few who believe he will stay there with Real Madrid pursuing him. If they keep Bale they will be a force to be reckoned with after buying Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli so far this summer.
If Bale stays he's the obvious choice in the Spurs team with Jan Vertonghen and Soldado worth considering too.
I think Spurs will have too much attacking flair for a Palace team that looks short of quality at this level.
Chelsea v Hull City
4pm BST, Stamford Bridge, London
Chelsea have the "Special One" back in charge and will be hoping that his influence can bring the Premier League trophy back to them for only the second time since 2006. They have a very good squad and have added some quality to it during the summer and have to be considered as strong contenders for the title. They get to play twice at home in the first week and should be the pacesetters after that.
With Chelsea playing twice this week their players are a must have for fantasy managers with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard possibly being the best bets. There are plenty of others to choose from too with Peter Cech, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard all to be considered and Romelu Lukaku worth a punt if he can get a game.
Hull had a pretty good defensive record in the Championship last season and they will hope to be steady at the back again at this higher level. They have brought quite a few players in during the summer, but they still look to be short of a lot of quality. Their goal will be to avoid relegation and it won't be an easy task for them to complete.
It's hard to know which Hull players might do well this season but Allan McGregor and Robbie Brady are both possibilities.
I can't see anything other than a comprehensive victory for Chelsea in this game.
Monday August 19
Manchester City v Newcastle United
8pm BST, Etihad Stadium, Manchester
City will be eager to regain the trophy United won back from them last season and they have invested heavily to try to achieve their goal. Roberto Mancini has parted ways with them and Manuel Pellegrini has been given the task of brining trophies to the club. It could take them a while to integrate all the new players, but if Pellegrini can get it right they will be serious contenders for the title.
There are so many options at City it's hard to know which ones to pick, but Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart and David Silva are probably the three best options. Besides them Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negrado, Jesus Nevas and Fernandinho all have to be considered too.
Newcastle only just escaped relegation last season as well as making the last eight of the Europa League. They will have no European distractions this time around and will hope to perform an awful lot better in the league. They haven't added much to their squad from last season with Loric Remy's loan move from QPR being the only significant addition so far.
Remy could be a good choice for fantasy managers as could Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse.
I'd be very surprised to see anything other than a fairly comfortable win for City in this game.
Wednesday August 21
Chelsea v Aston Villa
7.45pm BST, Stamford Bridge, London
Chelsea play for the second time in this Gameweek and they need to take advantage of their two home games by winning them both. They have started the last two seasons very well and fallen away badly, but a good start under Mourinho is unlikely to given up so easily.
The players mentioned above are all worth considering and it's probably a very good idea to make a Chelsea player captain for fantasy managers this week.
Villa have a really tough start to the season with trips to both Arsenal and Chelsea and they will do well to get anything out of these games. They could be rooted to the foot of the table if results go against them, but with Benteke in their side they will have a chance of getting something.
Benteke is the obvious choice from the Villa ranks for fantasy managers and besides the Chelsea players he's probably the next best choice for captain.
I think Villa will give Chelsea a run for their money, but Chelsea will be good enough to take all three points.
Finally for this week it's probably a good idea to get your team finalised before Saturday as the Fantasy Premier League site is bound to be very busy as the deadline approaches.
Don't forget that it's not too late to join my predictions league by going to the site and using the league code FD8B8-QXS to join once you have everything set up. It's limited to 50 teams and the winner will get at least €25 which should hopefully increase as the season goes on.
There's also my fantasy league to join which is heading towards 1,000 teams at the moment and has a prize of €50 for the winner. I'm hoping to increase that prize as the season progresses by getting some sponsorship for the league name and by adding a percentage of the small amount of advertising revenue I get from my blog. You can join my league here using the code 23040-7359 once your team is set up.
That's it for this week.
See you next week.