Fantasy Football: Gameweek 1 – who should you pick this week?

Goal takes a look at the best players to pick – or avoid – on the opening gameweek of the new Premier League season and selects an XI to tackle this week’s fixtures


For those looking to make a quick start in the Goal Fantasy Football game, loading your team with Chelsea players (a maximum of three is allowed) is a great way to ensure short-term gains. The west Londonders take on Hull City and Aston Villa in a double gameweek that promises lots of of goals. In attack, Romelu Lukaku (7.5) has been the Blues’ outstanding striker in pre-season, notching five goals and providing two assists, and could be the best value pick from any of the top six clubs.

Chelsea boasted a +9 goal difference over Villa last season, conceding just one goal in their two encounters, while Steve Bruce’s side were the lowest scorers in the top half of the Championship last term. That bodes well for the Blues’ back line and those in need of a solid goalkeeper need look no further than Petr Cech (6.0).

Another newly promoted side, Crystal Palace, found clean sheets hard to come by last season as they shipped a whopping 62 goals in the second tier last season – the joint-worst record in the top 10. The Eagles’ probable centre-back partnership of Danny Gabbidon and Damien Delaney could really struggle to deal with the movement, acceleration and goal threat of Tottenham’s £25.9 million record signing Roberto Soldado (8.0).

One of the most in-form players during the close-season has been Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho (8.0). The reasonably priced Brazilian, who scored or assisted every 92 minutes last term, takes on a Stoke City side who have shown little form in pre-season and it remains to be seen whether Tony Pulis’s negative, long-ball tactics were holding the Potters back or simply keeping them afloat.


Gareth Bale (11.0) was a must-have player last season, and a Premier League fixture against most people’s tip to finish bottom of the Premier League would normally have Fantasy Football managers salivating. But Tottenham will be without the injured Welshman when they face Crystal Palace on Sunday and, with his future in doubt, he is not worth selecting.

Meanwhile, any member of the Manchester United back line is best avoided. David Moyes labelled the club’s opening fixtures as “the hardest start for 20 years” and they begin their title defence with a tricky away trip to the Liberty Stadium where they face a Swansea City side who have scored more goals (28) than any other team in pre-season.

United’s attackers remain appetising, however, but Shinji Kagawa‘s (8.0) absence from the Community Shield starting XI could signal a lack of faith in the Japan international.

Aston Villa may have a double gameweek but they face Arsenal and Chelsea – both away – in the space of just five days. In the respective fixtures last season, the Villans shipped a combined 10 goals and their defence, despite receiving much-needed reinforcements this summer, should be given a wide berth.

Villa will likely face a Chelsea team that is bereft of Juan Mata (10.0). The Spaniard, as well as countryman and Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla (9.5), have been given little game time in pre-season after their Confederations Cup exploits and are unlikely to feature much in the first few gameweeks.

Every team need to have their share of cheaper players, though some are more valuable than others. With Sunderland’s main man last term, Steven Fletcher, injured, the stage is set for new signing Jozy Altidore (6.0) to have a big impact on Wearside. The USA international has been a handful in pre-season and scored a fantastic hat-trick for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men on Wednesday night that will have boosted his confidence.

No team has picked up more wins in pre-season than West Ham, scoring 25 goals en route to eight victories. The Hammers start the new season with a home tie against last year’s Championship winners, Cardiff City, who could be in for a rough ride. Matt Jarvis (5.0) has been one of the east London club’s best performers and, even accounting for the probable absence of target man Andy Carroll, could be a shrewd selection.

Few players are as undervalued as Tottenham’s Danny Rose (4.0) this year. The 23-year-old was in brilliant form for Sunderland last season and appears to have dethroned rival left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto upon his return to White Hart Lane. Adventurous and attacking, he won a penalty in Spurs’ final pre-season tie against Espanyol and has a kind opening match against the now Wilfried Zaha-less Crystal Palace.


There is only one team worth looking at when exploring your captain candidate options and that’s Chelsea. The Blues have a favourable double gameweek, with both matches at home, and have been in brilliant form in pre-season. They take on newly promoted Hull at the weekend before facing Aston Villa on Wednesday – in the same fixture last season, they recorded an 8-0 win over Paul Lambert’s men.

Eden Hazard (9.5) has been in top form in pre-season, bagging a couple of goals and several more assists, and looks the surest bet to start of Chelsea’s horde of attacking options. If Frank Lampard is not on the field, then the Belgian winger will also take on penalty duties. Last season, the 22-year-old made an outrageous start to the season, picking up a goal and six assists in his first three games, and could easily match that return this term.

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Fantasy Football: From Coleman to Coutinho – which players are undervalued?

With only a few days left until the start of the new Premier League season, Goal takes a look at the players who could pack a lot more punch than their pricetag suggests

In the Goal Fantasy Football game, finding and picking undervalued players, bargains that may have been overlooked by others in favour of more flashy alternatives, can often be decisive. There are not many to be found amongst goalkeepers, with just 2.5 separating the most expensive shot-stopper from the cheapest, with the biggest bargains to be found amongst outfield players.

Tottenham’s Danny Rose (4.0) spent last season on loan at Sunderland, and returns to White Hart Lane as the probable starting left-back. Andre Villas-Boas appears to have little faith in Benoit Assou-Ekotto, which gives Rose, who showed his attacking intent by winning a penalty against Espanyol on Saturday, a chance to impress. Part of a better defensive unit now, and with more offensive weapons to link with, the 23-year-old could have a big year.

In previous seasons Rose might have been listed as a midfielder, much like Everton’s Seamus Coleman (4.5). The Republic of Ireland international has claimed the right-back berth at Goodison Park now, and last term made more assists per minute than team-mate Leighton Baines. The Toffees’ mean defence should see Coleman pick up plenty of clean sheets and if he is given license to bomb forward (which is extremely likely if Roberto Martinez plays a 3-4-3 formation) he could be a must-have purchase.

Cardiff midfielder Kim Bo-Kyung (4.5) is another player who could be a shrewd pick-up; the 23-year-old may have only scored twice in the Championship last year, but has been on fire in pre-season since being pushed forward into a more advanced role. Kim has three goals in five games and has linked well with Frazier Campbell ahead of him, assisting all of the forward’s goals this summer.

Staying in Wales, Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey (5.5) has impressed since moving to the Liberty Stadium. The 21-year-old can expect a more prominent role under Michael Laudrup than was given to him at Liverpool, and his four goals in six Europa League group games last term highlights his raw goalscoring potential.

Another player to leave Anfield this summer, Stewart Downing (5.0), could be set for a revival following his move to West Ham. A partnership with Andy Carroll may prove to be hugely profitable, especially with the style of football Sam Allardyce employs. If he can re-find the form he showed at Aston Villa, where he scored or assisted 14 goals in the 2010-11 season, he could be worth a whole lot more than his price suggests.

A current Liverpool midfielder, Philippe Coutinho (8.0), might just be the pick of this year’s midfielders. With Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla’s returns staggered following their involvement in the Confederations Cup, Theo Walcott carrying a niggle and Gareth Bale in limbo, the stage is set for Coutinho to shine and challenge to become the highest-scoring midfielder in this year’s game. The Brazilian scored or assisted every 92 minutes last term and has been in great form in pre-season.

In attack, Romelu Lukaku (7.5) appears to have impressed enough in pre-season to earn a starting place for Chelsea, having bagged five goals over the summer. He would be the cheapest lead striker out of any of the top six clubs, and starts with a double gameweek. So too does Villa’s Andreas Weimann (5.5), a smart pick-up for those in need of a cheap addition to their attacking ranks.

Having been labelled as Manchester City’s “main striker” by Manuel Pellgrini, Edin Dzeko (7.5) cannot be overlooked. He was top scorer for the Premier League runners-up in a support role last term and could thrive as first-choice forward. Nicolas Anelka (5.5), a former City player, has been in sensational form in pre-season, scoring seven goals in as many games, and should not be ignored either.

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Fantasy Football: From Bale to Mata – which midfielders should you pick?

With under two weeks left until the start of the new Premier League season, Goal takes a look at the midfielders you should be considering for your Fantasy Football team

With five points on offer for goals scored by midfielders in the Goal Fantasy Football game, a prolific midfielder is one of the most important assets to any team. Gareth Bale (11.0) immediately stands out – though he scored five fewer goals than Robin van Persie last season, his tally would have produced 105 points to the Dutchman’s 104.

The Welshman, however, presents a significant risk. Should a much talked about move to Real Madrid for a world-record fee be completed, it could be costly to re-jig your team to accommodate his departure. Should he stay, he will be a consistent goalscorer and reliable captain option.

Swansea’s Michu (8.5) remains good value, having scored an astonishing 18 goals last season, despite no longer being a surprise package. Few midfielders can match that goal return, and he’s already struck up a promising partnership with Wilfried Bony, though it remains to be seen if he is more than just a one season wonder.

Of course, goals aren’t the be all and end all. Chelsea’s Juan Mata (10.0) led the assists charts last term with 12, which are each worth three points. Team-mate Eden Hazard (9.5) managed one fewer, but won three penalties, each worth a point. Frank Lampard (7.5), the Blues’ topscorer last campaign, may be a less desirable choice than usual, with Marco van Ginkel (5.5) providing extra competition for the 35-year-old and Jose Mourinho set to use the veteran sparingly.

Manchester United’s midfield options present an interesting dilemma. The team kept fewer clean sheets than the rest of the top four last season, making them a less attractive option for the defensive bonus. Equally, none of their midfielders were particularly creative or prolific.

Antonio Valencia (7.0) assisted the most goals last term, but his five were equalled by defender Patrice Evra. In total, United’s wingers, Valencia, Nani (6.5) and Ashley Young (7.0), scored just two goals between them. Shinji Kagawa (8.0) is one interesting option though. The Japan international scored or assisted 10 goals in 20 games during an injury-plagued season spent adapting to English football. More game time, partly as a result of Wayne Rooney’s uncertain future, could see his points return explode.

Having kept 18 clean sheets last season, Manchester City’s midfielders are likely to be frequently rewarded with defensive points. City’s options aren’t hugely positive, though. Yaya Toure (9.0) is likely to play a withdrawn role, David Silva (9.0) has been in largely unspectacular form, and new-boy Jesus Navas (8.0) failed to score with any of his 80 shots on goal in La Liga last year.

Few players have been in as good form as Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho (8.0) in pre-season. The Brazilian has three goals to his name and has been an inventive, creative spark. He scored or assisted every 92 minutes last term, and could quickly become a must-have player. For the blue half of Merseyside, Marouane Fellaini (8.0) is less inviting; new Everton boss Roberto Martinez is unlikely to stick with the long ball tactics that were so profitable for the Belgium previously.

There’s plenty of value to be found lower down the table. Kevin Nolan (6.0) scored 10 times in the league last season, and was West Ham’s top scorer, while Swansea’s Jonathan De Guzman (5.5) is the side’s designated set-piece and penalty taker. Those looking for a gamble may be enticed by Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa (6.5); if he can stay fit, he has a huge up-side.

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Liverpool gunning for the top four – Coutinho

The 21-year-old was integral to the Reds’ blistering end to last season, and is convinced this form will give the club belief to mount a charge for Champions League football

Coutinho insists last season’s impressive finish to the Premier League season has left Liverpool feeling confident of mounting a top-four challenge this term.

Brendan Rodgers’ men lost just one of their last 16 matches in the league campaign, with the Brazilian No.10 and fellow January signing Daniel Sturridge at the heart of the revival.

And Coutinho is adamant this form means the Merseysiders will head into the new season full of belief in their ability to return Champions League football to Anfield.

“Some new players have arrived to help us and the team finished well last year, so we hope to be able to finish within the top four,” he told the club’s official website.

“That’s what we have always fought for, but we should think on a game-by-game basis because the competition is very long and we have to sustain good performances throughout the whole season.”

Coutinho wowed the Anfield faithful with some dazzling trickery and vision last season, and the 21-year-old revealed the secret of his success is his laid back nature on the pitch.

“I always try to be relaxed, always play football and enjoy myself because what I like doing most is to play football, so I’m not concerned with pressure or such things,” he added.

“I just try to enjoy myself on the field and always do my best to help the team.

“I’ll work as hard as I’ve always done, always trying to improve each day as much as I can and always trying to learn from the more experienced players and the manager. Always working hard is what is most important.”

Luis Alberto is another like Coutinho, enthuses Liverpool boss Rodgers

The Reds manager sees similarities in the two youngsters, with the new signing from Sevilla able to have an impact immediately as well as in the seasons to come

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes that new signing Luis Alberto is in the same mould as successful January recruit Philippe Coutinho.

The forward joined the Reds from Sevilla on Saturday and the Anfield boss feels that he can make an impact immediately as well as in the long term.

“He’s another Coutinho-type,” Rodgers enthused to talkSPORT. “We brought in young Philippe Coutinho in January when he was 20 but he had good experience and, more importantly, fitted the profile of what we’re trying to do here and what we’re trying to build.

“Young Luis is exactly the same – a talented, very highly rated young player when he was at Sevilla but obviously spent last season at Barcelona B.

“He’s a big talent and one for now that can play. He’s got competitive games behind him and is one we see progressing over the next few years. Importantly, he knows the type of game and model we’re trying to work in.”

Luis Alberto joins Kolo Toure and Iago Aspas as new faces at Anfield this summer and Rodgers was happy to praise his other signings as well.

“Kolo Toure is a player I’ve admired since he came into the Premier League,” he observed. “He was a wonderful servant for Arsenal and a part of that ‘Invincibles’ group and did exceptionally well. And, in the transformation of Manchester City, they brought him in as one of their key players.

“We’re losing an absolute colossal player in Jamie Carragher, who was absolutely brilliant for me. It’s very, very hard to replace that type.

“Kolo Toure will give us that experience and winning mentality.

“He’s still very fit, very strong and will come in, offer that support and fight for his place in the team.

“Iago Aspas was one of the stars for Celta Vigo. He’s a goalscorer, he’s quick, dynamic, aggressive in his game and has a winning mentality.

“I feel these are the types of players that can come into Liverpool and keep our momentum moving forward. Players that are hungry to succeed, because that’s important for us.”

Coutinho can fire Liverpool into Champions League, says Enrique

The Spaniard believes his Brazilian team-mate can help the Reds finish in the top four of the Premier League next season after impressing since his move to Anfield

Liverpool defender Jose Enrique believes Philippe Coutinho can help the club return to the Champions League next season.

The 20-year-old joined the Reds in January from Inter for €10 million and proved an instant hit, scoring three goals in 13 league appearances as well as notching up seven assists.

And Enrique believes such vision and efficiency may prove the difference for the club across a full season.

“Coutinho is a very special player,” Enrique told the club’s official website. “His vision and his passing is incredible and he’s an amazing lad as well.

“It was really good to have him in the team and he proved to be a great signing. For me, Coutinho was the best player in the Premier League in the second half of the season.

“He’s still young and improving but I think he will be very important for us next season when we will fight to get into the top four. Hopefully he will help us achieve our target of the Champions League.”

Enrique was also full of praise for England striker Daniel Sturridge, another successful January signing for the club and also challenged any summer signings to hit the ground running in similar fashion to the duo.

“We will have some new players as well to help us next season and if they do as well as the two players we signed in January then we will be in a great position,” he added.

“As well as Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge was on fire. He scored lots of goals and showed he has all the qualities needed to be one of the best strikers in the Premier League.”

Rodgers hails Coutinho's impact at Liverpool

The Brazilian has made a dazzling start to life in the Premier League since his arrival from Inter in January, and his manager believes there is even more to come

Brendan Rodgers admits he is surprised at how quickly Liverpool new-boy Philippe Coutinho has adapted to the Premier League, and predicts he will get even better next season.

The young Brazilian has scored three goals and wowed Reds fans and neutrals alike with some stunningly incisive passing since his £8.5 million arrival from Inter in January.

And Rodgers believes the prodigious 20-year-old possesses all the attributes to be a key part of his plans for years to come.

“When you bring somebody in during January you hope they can make an impact,” the Liverpool boss told reporters.

“You are also looking at it as a six-month adaptation period before you get the best out of them from pre-season onwards.

“We are all pleasantly pleased and surprised by how well he has done. His numbers tell you the story in terms of goals and assists.

“At the minute, you can’t ask any more. The key thing is that he works his socks off as well. He is a real team player.

“He has genuine man strength. He’s 20 years of age but he’s not a boy. He can look after himself. His body work is great, he is small in stature. The best players very rarely get tackled because they are so bright and clever.

“You can see he can use his body if needs be, but he has to become adapted to the physical game here as the Premier League is very physical.

“He’s been a real find for us in terms of the price we paid. Hopefully his value will be much greater than the cost in the coming years.”

Sturridge makes things easy for me, insists Coutinho

The Brazilian dazzled during Saturday’s 6-0 thrashing of Newcastle, but is adamant that having such quality strikers in front of him makes his creative role much simpler

Liverpool new-boy Philippe Coutinho insists the attacking quality of fellow January arrival Daniel Sturridge made it easier for him to shine against Newcastle on Saturday.

In the absence of the suspended Luis Suarez, Coutinho played a key role in the dismantling of the Magpies at St James’ Park, including two assists and several stunning through balls.

But the Brazilian is adamant the the off-the-ball movement and finishing ability of the likes of Sturridge and Suarez makes them a playmaker’s dream.

“He is an excellent player and very intelligent,” Coutinho told reporters. “He has a lot of technique and scores a lot of goals – I am very pleased to play alongside him.

“Luis and Sturridge move a lot and that makes things easier for the player with the ball – we can put the ball in the empty space and I think that makes things easier for the player that plays behind them.

“By playing with huge players like the ones we have at Liverpool I can learn a lot and I hope to be able to learn more every day to get better and better.”

As well as contributing to three of his side’s goals on Saturday Coutinho, who signed from Inter in January, has scored twice for the Anfield side in just 10 games – form he is keen to continue.

“I believe the game was very important, all of the players played well and we achieved a very important result,” he added.

“I believe my performances have got better and I think it was my best game here. I hope that I can continue to improve.

“I love to create assists. When you play up front you want to create chances, either for yourself or your teammates, and score goals. I hope to help the team by doing this.”

Rodgers warns Liverpool against placing high expectations on Coutinho

The Reds’ manager believes too often young players suffer from the burden of expectation, but praises the Brazilian’s impressive display in Saturday’s 6-0 away win at Newcastle

Brendan Rodgers insists Liverpool should not put pressure on young attacker Philippe Coutinho following his excellent performance in the Reds’ 6-0 away win over Newcastle on Saturday.

The Brazilian playmaker moved to Anfield in January for a fee of £8.5 million from Inter Milan and has since become a regular in the first team, scoring two goals in his nine starts.

Rodgers, however, is determined to avert pressure and expectation away from his young star, though conceded that Coutinho had made a brilliant start to life in the Premier League.

“We build up players in the country and put them on a pedestal and then quickly nail them down,” Rodgers told the club’s official website.

“He’s had an outstanding performance and people can see why we brought him in. He’s 20 years of age and fits the culture of what we’re trying to do here.

“He’s technically strong and he’s a very humble boy. He works hard, you can see the effort in his game, the pressure, the intensity, so he fits in really well, but there’s a long way to go.

“If you look at the stats you’ll see I haven’t eased him in gently. He’s played nearly every game.”

Coutinho was central to his side’s attacking threat at St James’ Park in the absence of Luis Suarez, setting up Daniel Sturridge for Liverpool’s third goal with a particularly impressive through-ball.

Rodgers continued: “It was a wonderful demonstration of what we’re trying to do here. Offensively, we passed the ball very well first and foremost and we scored six goals, but the balance in our game was good too.

“There was organisation, educated pressure on the ball and when the chances came we were ruthless. It was an outstanding performance.

“To go there and beat Newcastle 6-0 when you know the home team really needs the victory, I think it tells you more about our performance. The players were outstanding.”

Sturridge and Coutinho revel in leading roles for Liverpool

The talented duo were in supreme form in the absence of Luis Suarez as they masterminded a 6-0 rout of Newcastle to stretch the Reds’ unbeaten run in the league to five games

By Charlie Scott

Liverpool adjusted to life without Luis Suarez admirably at St James’ Park on Saturday as they thrashed a below-par Newcastle side 6-0. Their biggest league win of the year was a thing of clinical beauty.

Daniel Sturridge – so often ridiculed for his selfishness and poor decision-making – was scintillating, while Philippe Coutinho’s impact on the game was such that at times he seemed to be playing with a different ball from the other 21 men on the pitch.

The Brazilian was the undeniable star as Brendan Rodgers’ side dismantled a Magpies team who have now lost four of their last six league matches. The most important thing, however, was that they did it without Suarez.

Thousands of words have been written analysing the Uruguayan’s misdemeanours, while the FA’s decision to hand him a 10-match ban led many to question what impact his absence would have on the Merseyside club.

The length of that ban means that he misses the remainder of this season and the first six games of the next campaign but any fears that Liverpool’s form might plummet as a result were certainly quelled by the pairing of Sturridge and Coutinho on Saturday.

The Anglo-Brazilian partnership thrived at St James’ Park, albeit against a Newcastle team distinctly lacking in both form and confidence.

Rodgers eulogised about both of their performances after the game, which saw Sturridge score twice and Coutinho slice open Newcastle’s defence again and again with his diverse range of passing.

“I think Sturridge can be one of the best strikers in Europe in a few years. He was phenomenal today,” the Reds boss told reporters after the game.

The former Chelsea striker not only showed his finishing ability but also his willingness to make intelligent runs off the ball to create space for his team-mates and to bring them into play with neat lays-off and well-chosen passes.

When asked about the impact of his young South American playmaker Rodgers was equally complimentary. “Coutinho can play in a couple of positions. He’s a master technician,” the Northern Irishman enthused. “He might be small in stature but you can see his strength. The weight of his passing is incredible.”

Two Coutinho moments in particular stood out. The first was a superb pass with the outside of his right boot that set Sturridge away and allowed him to tee up Jordan Henderson to make it 2-0. The second was when he tussled with Hatem Ben Arfa to win possession on the left wing, then dribbled to the edge of the Newcastle box and scooped a delicious pass through a gap between Steven Taylor and Mathieu Debuchy to Sturridge, who added a third for the visitors.

The game saw both players produce arguably their finest displays in a Liverpool shirt to date and, with Suarez serving the first of his 10-match ban, the timing could not have been better.

However, it is important to acknowledge that, although Liverpool, and their January signings in particular, were very good, Newcastle were also very bad. The Magpies have the most porous defence in the division, having conceded 66 goals in 35 games. Even 20th-placed Reading have been more miserly.

While Pardew and his team now find themselves embroiled in a battle to avoid being drawn into the relegation zone, Liverpool are in a strange position in the sense that, with just three games left to play, they are five points behind Everton in fifth and six points ahead of West Brom in seventh.

The Merseyside derby next time out gives them an opportunity to further narrow the gap and move closer to surpassing their local rivals, yet even that – while giving them bragging rights – would not alter their position in terms of European qualification.

This takes the pressure off and it also gives Rodgers a run of games to encourage Coutinho and Sturridge to forge a relationship without relying on Suarez. The understanding built now must last at least until August.

The young attacking duo have the weight of expectation on their shoulders but, if their showing on Saturday is anything to go by, they should thrive on it.

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