The season is more than half-gone. The twenty-first round of league fixtures concluded with Manchester United hosting a rampaging Southampton squad unexpectedly challenging for Champions League as we begin the run-in. For many fantasy Premier League managers, the January window breathes new life into their own title aspirations and fresh blood entering the Premier League can have the same effect in FPL. Before we become enamored with the next best thing, we want to take a moment and reflect on those players most responsible – good and bad – for the position we’re in today.
In the summer, FPL Updates did a preseason analysis for each side which included both a Star Man and a Hidden Gem. Some of these are dyed-in-the-wool, club servants who have done the job again this year. Eden Hazard, Yaya Toure and Raheem Sterling have all done their job this term but it has been a pair of elder statesmen in defence who’ve carried the water at the back for FPL managers this term.
Chelsea’s duo of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic were the first defenders to break a century this season, with the duo running one-two in the total points table at their position. Both have been good in the attacking half as well, with Terry scoring three goals in his last five league outings to surpass his teammate in total. Ivanovic has been the best fantasy defender this season. He has two goals, three assists, 10 clean sheets and even better underlying numbers. The imposing 30-year-old has created at least once chance in seven matches on the spin, and has created 10 chances in his last five. Skilled on the ball moving forward, Ivanovic has actually completed 20 successful dribbles this term whilst only being dispossessed a mere 12 times.
The closest rivals Terry and Ivanovic have are the young duo at St. Mary’s, one a Chelsea man himself, Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand. Bertrand is, of course, on loan from Mourinho’s squad and established himself firmly in Ronald Koeman’s XI opposite England new boy Clyne. What makes the Saints’ duo remarkable is that both press the attack down each flank. Each remains an excellent defender and shows considerable skill tracking back as evidenced by their fine defensive stats. Ahead of Sunday’s kick-off, Bertrand had won 22 tackles and made 38 interceptions, Clyne had bested him with 48 tackles won and trailed in interceptions with 33. Both could have been classed Hidden Gems at the start of the season but enter the final four months with heavier expectations.
While some our Hidden Gems have remained hidden (Matija Nastasic, Man City; Andre Schurrle, Chelsea), others have been injured (Mesut Ozil, Arsenal), but there are several whom blossomed like a cherry tree in April. In our preview of the Saints campaign, the unfortunate Jay Rodriguez was the Star Man, but the Hidden Gem was none other than Graziano Pelle. At the time we wrote:
So far, Graziano Pelle has played with Southampton whilst on their preseason tour. Notably, he scored two goals in the first half of his debut against Sporting Hasselt in a 0-6 win. With a price of £7.5, surely he is worth a punt when drafting you Fantasy Football starting XI’s.
And has he ever been. Although the newly minted Italy international has cooled in recent weeks, his blistering pace to start the campaign sees him enter the run-in with eight goals (level-seventh) and a legacy as a creative attacking force. Within the Saints side, there are only two players (Dusan Tadic and Steven Davis) who’ve created more chances than Pelle and the Italian leads the squad in both shots on target and goals. He may no longer be priced for value but in and EPL fantasy format, he was worth his ample weight in gold.
Pelle was a revelation, but he hasn’t been the only forward to come from humble FPL beginnings only to capture the adulation of the crowd. West Brom’s Saido Berahino, West Ham’s Diafra Sahko and Spurs’ Harry Kane have shown flashes of potential in the past, with the two youngsters widely tipped for top flight success early in their careers. However, no forward has been a bigger surprise than Queens Park Rangers’ Charlie Austin. Following a gameweek 9 brace against Aston Villa, Austin found his feet and quickly rose up the scoring table. With quality shooting (30/73 shots on target) and scoring on better than 1/7 shots (12 goals from 73), Austin has proven to be economical in his approach and capable of the big performance.
His marquee match of the season was his three goal haul against West Brom, securing all three points for The Hoops. In that one, Austin had six shots on goal and a chance created as he scored on 24′ (PEN), 48′ and 84′ as QPR pegged the Baggies back from 2-0 down. The performance underlined an impressive fantasy campaign, and kept Austin firmly in the armband debate even as he posted blanks in GW19 and GW20.
But Austin’s hat-trick heroics still comes a distant third to the two performances of the season – and those both came in the same weekend. In gameweek 8, Manchester City hosted Tottenham as Southampton welcomed Sunderland to St. Mary’s. Each match would be won by the home team – each host would, in fact, record an emphatic victory – on the back of their early-season talisman. For City it was no surprise the player, only surprising the result. Sergio Aguero scored four, missed a fifth from the penalty spot, and created a chance himself. The Argentine managed eight shots on target and was dispossessed by Spurs three times as he ran their defenders ragged. The outing sparked debate about the best forward in the League – as Aguero had seen himself slowly slipping into Diego Costa’s shadow.
Indeed, Aguero was nearly upstaged in gameweek 8 by Dusan Tadic. The 26-year-old Serbian was ever-present in Saints 8-0 home win. He scored a goal, created nine chances and had three natural assists (with a fourth fantasy assist coming when he sent in a dangerous ball which resulted in an own goal). Tadic has seen his fantasy stock tumble during the festive period with negative net transfers in eight of the past ten gameweeks. He is now selected in only 4.9% of FPL sides. While his consistency may not have been good week-to-week, the midfielder has outscored Steven Gerrard, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla this season and sits just outside the top 10 at the position.
With nearly half the season remaining, there are undoubtedly new plot lines to be discussed, new jewels to be unearthed and at least one twist in the road. If the first half of 2014/15 has taught us anything, it is that the sun shines on the heralded and unheralded alike – and in the world of fantasy football, you must be willing to stake your fate on both.
The statistics in this article are published under license from Opta and appear courtesy of Togga. Togga is the fantasy Premier League draft game where every team is 100% unique. Create your own mini-league today. Sign-up and play for free.
By John Wallin of www.playtogga.com