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The Wormburner: Big At the Back, Sieve at the Back

November 8, 2019 — by Rob Kirby0

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Trolls live under bridges and in Premier League defenses. Lots of trolls under many bridges (Premier League defenses)—seemingly most of them. No team is immune, not even the main players floated in various Big at the Back strategies early season.

Liverpool Celebrity Slump

When it comes to clean sheets, even the celebrity Liverpool defenders have disappointed, the number of clean sheets equal to that of Arsenal and Southampton (2) and just one better than Norwich (1). People haven’t been flocking to Arsenal, Southampton or Norwich for clean sheets…or they shouldn’t have been. Dejan Lovren could be available for pickup in a player pool near you, but do you want him for one week, starting this week? For the top of the table clash against the Pep Guardiola Terror Squad? With Joel Matip expected back after the international break, nabbing Lovren would essentially equate to picking him up specifically for the game against Manchester City, the defending champions that have many excellent attackers who will be highly, highly motivated. Lose this match and maybe they say goodbye to the title. A defensive masterclass from either side is not out of the question, and Liverpool at Anfield is a solid proposition, but there will probably be goals in this head to head, as there have been in past editions.

Sheffield United Surge

Manchester City and Sheffield United lead the league with 5 clean sheets apiece for the season. Back when Sheffield United stuffed Arsenal, it just seemed like the Gunners just blew it, but it wasn’t a fluke. Sheffield United may only have scored only 12, but they have conceded only 8. They have surrendered more than one goal only twice, and to respectable attacks (Leicester and Chelsea). They lost to Liverpool but kept them to one goal score line, something few others can boast. They beat Arsenal, they have surrendered one fewer goal than Manchester City. It could be a bubble, but it’s also a continuation of the defensive solidity from the Championship, so it may not burst as expected. Perhaps just deflate reasonably. As stated a few weeks back, “one of Enda Stevens, Jack O’Connell, George Baldock, John Egan or Chris Basham could offer solidity and success to any weak spots in your back line. And don’t forget ‘keeper Dean Henderson.” (What, type it all out again?)

For those willing to not think of Sheffield United simply as a promoted side destined to scrape the bottom of the barrel now that they’re at the top table, there is hope and promise beyond just blind faith. While Sheffield United have shown a solid defense thus far, three stern tests await. The fixtures are not tempting. As a caveat, the perception may be largely based on the names rather than the current 2019/2020 incarnations. Spurs and Manchester United have been in tailspin modes. One would expect both to correct these trajectories soon and sharply. It’s just a question of when. Either could rise up to full frightening force in any matchweek. They’re overdue, really.

Old Faithfuls Will Return to Glory…One Day 

So, Tottenham. The only team not named Norwich City to have only one clean sheet in the Premier League this season. They come up against the surprise package of the season this weekend in the Blades. Trigger high excitement and the overly loud sound effect for a narrative klaxon alert. If you have predictive powers and can get inside the head of Mauricio Pochettino, you might be able to get a one-week pickup of Ben Davies, with Danny Rose having played in the Champions League midweek against Red Star Belgrade. There are never any guarantees in pickups based on presumed rotation, though.

And yet picking up one of the Blades defenders still tempts, even if one has to ride out a couple bad fixtures. A promoted side, in the top six. Where Spurs and Manchester United are not. Elite teams with premier defenders who used to score like ultra-elite defenders but have been soberingly fallible of late. If it pertains to Liverpool and Manchester City, most certainly for Manchester United and Tottenham as well. Chelsea haven’t kept things watertight as much as free-scoring. And at this point most don’t expect any more than the industry minimum of clean sheets with Arsenal.

Leicester and Sheffield United have good defenses. Both have conceded the league’s lowest with 8 goals each, with Leicester on 4 clean sheets and Sheffield, 5. Snap up any available at the former, while perhaps waiting a couple weeks is best with the latter. The Foxes host Arsenal next, but they have positive fixtures thereafter with players not named Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. For the defensive Blades of Sheffield, you may want to wait out the tricky fixtures right up next (Spurs away, MUFC home, Wolves away). Or not… Spurs away isn’t what it was. Nor Manchester United at home. Wolves can have trouble with teams that don’t go all-out attack, so maybe they’re not such bad fixtures after all?

South Coast Streaks & Fixtures Without Form

Three clean sheets in a row at Bournemouth? One could get used to consistency like this, but it sure seems like a trap. However, if this defensive solidity is genuinely a going concern, Nathan Aké and Diego Rico just became a lot more interesting. Attacking points aren’t out of the question, and Steve Cook probably deserves a mention as well.

Brighton have 4 clean sheets for the season. They also have away trips to Old Trafford, Anfield and the Emirates in three of the next four. The other match is Leicester at home… The club would be passing a serious litmus test if its defense can stand up to that opposition. Seems like rough waters and “wait and see” from this vantage.

Newcastle have good fixtures and a defense that still has the fingerprints of Rafael Benitez all over it. Bruce is not tanking the team as popular opinion had assumed to be truth to be held self-evident. The problem is that it seems that the back line is in total flux, with Florian Lejeune and Fabian Schär returning from injury, but not quite yet. Uncertainty is a killer.

Most times, you hear “rotation” and picture it as alternating, the polite taking of turns. It need not be strictly binary—but more or less it ends up adhering to a pattern of sorts that we as humans that seek meaning in pattern recognition learn to get a feel for. Every other game, such and such happens. Or one in three. Or one in never.

Southampton and Watford have good fixtures, but are those defenses you can put unconditional trust in? Darryl Janmaat could get an assist, but will the -1 for every 2 goals conceded undermine any attacking gains? In the available player pool of your neighborhood Real Fantasy Football league, Southampton probably has the full complement of starting defenders to choose from. But will you?

Random Rotation Notes

Manchester City has a defense you can trust in, but not a cemented lineup that you can predict (this is not news, in fact it seems sort of ridiculous to even take the time to point it out). Pep Guardiola has an interpretation of the concept akin to “if anyone understands the principles, then magic will cease to exist.” He a little dramatic, interpreted from an ancient Knights Templar era, with the trappings of zealotry and possibly a dangerous mix of sadism and self-harm/self-sabotage.

Éderson looks to be out of contention against Liverpool, but going for Claudio Bravo for one week only, and that week is away to Liverpool…how bad is the keeper you’d be dropping? Because Bravo may triumph at Anfield, but also very possibly maybe not?

In other news, Just when you thought Joao Cancelo and Benjamin Mendy were slated to start (they had been rested midweek), it was Kyle Walker and Angelino instead! And Kyle Walker scored a goal and assist, making an unclear situation that much more unclear. Pep is the ultimate in inscrutability and it would be hilarious if one weren’t making decisions based on guesswork and possibly losing in a head-to-head as a result.

Random note, final thought: Joe Gomez. Youth was supposed to be the way. Did the muttonchops kill it, or are muttonchops still the future?

Watch this space, fantasy sports fans.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). It did not get its annual copy of the Premier League script. Please give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience if you manage to track one down.

CommentaryEnglandNews

The Wormburner: Cameos and No-Shows

November 1, 2019 — by Rob Kirby0

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Some players tantalize with visions of dancing sugar plums and prancing points hauls, but beware–it may be trap. Based on one or two eye-popping results, you come nosing around. They sucker you in: they’re available and they just pulled in a major points haul. How can they not continue in this rich vein of form, as evidenced by this rich vein of form. (It’s the circular reasoning that really gets you.) And then suddenly they’re taking up space in your team, not scoring for your team, from now til infinity and you curse the day you voluntarily stepped right into the trap.

For one reason or another they just don’t work out. Actually, it’s really simple why they don’t. They don’t play. Or they only sort of play. Because when they play, they’re great. But they since they don’t play reliably they are reliably not great for the fantasy game. The odd benching, who cares. But the 5-minute runout at the end of the match as the third substitution, when there’s no time for anything but a 1-point appearance point and you probably have better points on the bench, it just kills it. That’s when it becomes toxic to the winning ways of your team. Cameo artists will not help your peace of mind, but they can offer huge highs alongside the lows. It won’t make up for it necessarily, or not definitely, but then that’s why they’re gambles.

Divock Origi essentially defines the role of “major rotation risk but when he plays he scores.” He will score. But will he play? Don’t know, but if he plays he scores. Will there be a ten-game gap or so between appearances? Very possibly. Probably. There are zero assurances other than the fact he has demonstrated a constant, freakish ability to score in clutch situations. Pinning down the time and location of these fleeting masterclasses, however, may be harder than nailing down the GPS coordinates to the ends of a rainbow, but that’s how it is.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has scored three and assisted one in his last two appearances, but these have not come in the Premier League, so what use is that for anyone in a draft Premier League game? It’s a tease, is what it is. He’s scoring braces in the Champions League (?!), as well as scoring and forcing own goals in the Carabao Cup, but anyone who has him in the league has been seeing a whole lotta nothin’. He could be one for the immediate future, though. Like Origi, he is just one step removed from the starting role that would make him something closer to a must-own. Coming into the festive fixtures, rotated players across the top clubs will get more opportunity through more games, and may get their chances (not wishing injury on anyone, its just they happen when games come fast and quick). If it becomes apparent before waivers that a star striker at one of the top clubs will be out for a while (and the go-to awaits in the available player pool), they are the players you’d snap up upon confirmation the starter is out. But if you’re in a league position where there’s no chance of getting one of the first waiver picks and managers are active in choosing off the waiver wire, sometimes you have to take a preemptive strike and pick them up before there are any guarantees.

Wilfried Zaha earned another penalty last week, but RFF owners saw nary an assist or attacking point, because he ain’t scoring goals and Real Fantasy Football doles out points only for scoring penalties, not getting fouled. Also classified as a forward, he features none of the perks of midfielder scoring, so a point fewer for every goal and a point fewer for every clean sheet. Unless he goes on a tear, which he hasn’t been, he may not be the fantasy dynamo many have been led to believe. He may always move to another club come January, though, so he remains a wild card. Zaha is more of a no-show than a cameo. Ironically, he’s playing all the matches. It’s more that he’s just been checked out. If he looks like he’s checking back in, go for him. Crystal Palace are 6th in the table and he is their best player. He just hasn’t been anything like it of late.

Phil Foden got a rare runout in the Champions League, then got two yellows/red-carded in the Champions League, but did that grease the track towards first team football? Not in the Premier Leage. Or not quite yet, but one would have thought this was the ideal opportunity. Anyway, a starting position under Pep is a relative term regardless, with an everlasting game of musical chairs in midfield. At least he’s not risking burnout at an early age. If you have Foden, will you be starting him, assuming no harm if he doesn’t play because players on the bench will be happy to step in for you? Maybe not so fast. That’s why the 1-point cameo is so evil. Often it’s blocking the way for someone who legitimately put in a shift to come off the bench. You stare at the benched number and remember why some free agents are so free and available in the discard bin.

David Silva was supposed to be much riskier this season than any other, a tag he has defied this season, though it’s far from over. What about Riyad Mahrez or Ilkay Gundogan? Either one or Foden will mostly deliver only from the bench because no manager can predict when they’ll perform. Do you start them if it’s as likely they’ll get a 5-minute cameo as a no-show or the elusive starting spot? The week after a double-digit week for a free agent player at an excellent club will always be tempting. You go nosing around, you get suckered in all over again and only remember the error of these ways after an interminable stretch of 1-point cameos and no-shows. Pep Guardiola’s rotation formation is a vortex where players refuse reliability at every turn. Getting on the pitch reliably doesn’t seem that tall a task until you realize that at City, it is.

Kieran Tierney has been lauded as one of the best left backs around, a rival to Andrew Robertson both in the Scotland setup and beyond. So far in the league, though, it has only just started and there haven’t yet been hat tricks of assists. In Arsenal’s Thurs/Mon schedule Tierney had been locked into the midweek cup schedule, excelling in the Europa League and Carabao Cup, but blocked out of Premier League output. Now he seems timed in phase with the Premier League schedule. Will our gobs be smacked?

Gabriel Martinelli is another new Arsenal player who used the Carabao Cup to maximum benefit. After his side bowed out to Liverpool in the epic 5-5 (5-4 pens) clash, will Martinelli and other young Gunners get a chance in the main event between the cups? Although the youth players and new recruits won’t get that crucial blooding/runout anymore, it may have lasted juuussst long enough to bring most of the peripheral players into the fray. Perhaps it would have been productive to progress, possibly even win the Cup, but we are fantasy Premier League managers, not Kroenke Enterprises.

Brighton under Graham Potter appear to be poised for good things, and by extension does that mean Leandro Trossard will cut the mustard if called upon? Or Aaron Connolly? Without finding out from Marcelo Bielsa the most effective to spy at a club’s training ground, what to do? Suffice it to say the Wormburner doesn’t know but is very interested. Both prospects look promising. Just don’t pin every hope you’ve ever had on the gamble paying off.

In the enduring enigma/saga of a Chelsea-managed Christian Pulisic, the 21-year-old’s days on the sidelines may be over after scoring the hat trick against Burnley, but he leveraged the possible momentum recent substitute appearances, culminating in an assist in the match before Burnley that earned himself the platform to deliver a hat trick. That said, he has still only started 4 league matches and has a whole slew of Lampard youth favorites to stay ahead of to stay on the pitch. But he made the statement he needed to make with the time allotted. Pulisic is basically a former no-show turned cameo who may have played himself into first-teamo. A success story! Unless it’s still a trap… Callum Hudson-Odoi and others won’t necessarily be cast aside so easily.

Stay tuned, fantasy sports fans.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). It did not get its annual copy of the Premier League script. Please give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience if you manage to track one down.

CommentaryEngland

Missing Persons, Crisis Clubs

October 25, 2019 — by Rob Kirby

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Manchester City did not authorize this recent plot line for the movie it consented to star in. Neither would Spurs or Manchester United have expected to get ejected from the studio lot so rudely and brazenly—and easily, really. Owners of Paul Pogba, Christian Eriksen and even Harry Kane may feel aggrieved if they employed a first draft pick for the privilege. Similarly, those who parted with an early pick to snap up Aymeric Laporte, Kyle Walker or Éderson may feel short-changed by not only fewer-than-expected clean sheets but also by more-than-expected multi-goal losses. All these players would still be expected to right the ships in time.

Manchester United and Tottenham are all mixed up, disoriented and discombobulated. After some disappointing results, United held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw, while Spurs and Watford rolled snake eyes as well. This means all four teams are theoretically exactly equal—no diff’rence between ‘em—which sort of throws the league table on its head. It is also not really true… The league table shows the teams in 1st, 7th, 14th and 20th, respectively. That’s a freakishly balanced interval from first to last right there, from alpha to omega in perfectly spaced symmetry. Expect Daniel James to continue powering the MUFC ship forward. But who else is propels the craft alongside? One of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial will need to re-emerge. (Check to see if Andreas Pereira may be available, if he appeals.) New signings at Spurs could turn fortunes around, but it’s too early yet to know how Giovanni Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon will affect fortunes.

Brendan Rodgers has third place in the dental vise grip of his bionic teeth, and the schedule offers the Foxes the fixtures to keep it up. They are not in crisis, unless everything was meant to be spearheaded by Ayoze Pérez and it’s a problem that Jamie Vardy has channeled his form and consistency from a couple years back and the goals that never left have returned. In the supply line to the Chatbanger, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison offer the rare commodity of a quality midfield attackers who are actually listed as midfielders in the game. Çaglar Söyüncü may still lurk loiteringly around the waiver pool, managers’ fear of having to pronounce his name aloud keeping them at bay.

Chelsea, in the process of “finding itself” during a walkabout gap year, enjoys the rave reviews it has been getting for complying with its disciplinary transfer ban and exploring the cavernous ranks of the players the club never it thought it would actually resort to using. All the new stars will have been picked up by now, but Callum Hudson-Odoi could still be kicking around. At this point, someone may even have dropped Christian Pulisic, who shouldn’t be left for dead just yet. One wonders when Michy Batshuayi or Olivier Giroud may get a regular runout in the side, although Lampard’s preferences now seem clear.

At Arsenal, it’s really kind of an encore performance of déjà vu all over again, with league player pools likely stacked to the gills with its discarded defenders. The introductions of returned players Hector Bellerín, Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney may change defensive fortunes at the club and provide some names and faces for your depleted back line, if you think the Gunners won’t in fact concede in every match forever onward. Nicholas Pepe will also have felt hugely encouraged by a midweek brace in the Europa League.

And all the while, Liverpool has tuned in what seems a live-action rebroadcast of an old ‘70s classic. It knows all the lines and has a grin as wide as seven Klopps. It may have some fluttering butterflies in the old tum-tum. The seven giant-toothed grins may have a touch of the forced-march uncomfortable to them, but a 6-point lead is a 6-point lead (even if it was more recently an 8-point lead). Anyone is the starting XI is a good pick. They are also all picked, but former Gunner Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may yet have a say in the rest of the Liverpool season, if a couple Champions League goals are any indication. Phil Foden got sent off midweek against Atalanta with a second yellow. Does that increase his chances in the domestic league? Of the two, the AOC route seems the more trustworthy of the two, but that’s between players trying to break into two of the best midfields and attacks in Europe,   

It used to be that Crystal Palace was bereft of talent, with the exception of Wilfried Zaha. Now it’s almost the opposite, with Zaha seemingly checked out. Will he rediscover something approaching re-engagement? A January move to another English side? None of the above? Should we always have known Jordan Ayewwas the superior option?

Everton were supposed to gobble up all the points and possibly engorge themselves on a Top 6 finish at season’s end. This is not currently looking likely. Moise Kean has not taken the league by storm yet, but together with Alex Iwobi, the new boys can and should work out.

Watford have a few good fixtures, so it could be time to legitimately put some faith behind the mercurial talents of Gerard Deulofeu or Abdoulaye Doucouré. Maybe even a defender, who have had barely a sniff at relevance this term.

Nathan Redmond was supposed to be one of the driving engines of the Southampton Hassenhuttl revolution. Che Adams, as well. Neither have been. But also the revolution has not happened as advertised anyway. Danny Ings has proven a proposition, in what almost seems the wrong calendar year.

Wolves are difficult to pin down. They can keep a clean sheet against Manchester City but continually confound any expectations in the easy wins department. Adama Traore could be great if he nails down a full time role. It’s hard to know who plays the full 90 in any given match, though. Patrick Cutrone has been logging more minutes.

Sheffield United defenders look solid. All its defenders have scored well, particularly the ones in some versions of the game like John Lundstram that aren’t actually defenders… (To clarify, in mimic of reality, Lundstram is listed as a MID in Real Fantasy.) One of Enda Stevens, Jack O’Connell, George Baldock, John Egan or Chris Basham could offer solidity and success to any weak spots in your back line. And don’t forget ‘keeper Dean Henderson.

Teemu Pukki, Emiliano Buendía, Todd Cantwell and the rest of the Norwich attack, they’ve proven that there’s lightning nearby if there’re enough bottles handy—it’s just hard predicting precisely when, where and how many. So when they went and battled to a nil-nil with Bournemouth, it was a head-shaker. A scoreless draw with the other high-scoring team that gifts goals for fun was not what they expected, perhaps not what they deserved, but it’s what they got. Although a victory over Manchester City seems like it should reap triple-axle performance bonus points in the league table, sadly for Norwich City, it does not. They look capable of springing huge surprises, particularly opening the occasional can of whoop-ass on a cocky heavy hitter, but they can’t seem to unlock the recipe to the routine win.

Aston Villa has a degree of credibility in both attack and defense but beware—the club also has one of the most brutal schedules upcoming. Only Crystal Palace has a worse road to hoe for the next few.

GW10 will have new changes to the narrative—it’s the way this all works. We wait to see who will applaud the script revisions both hands and who holds their head in both hands.

Stay tuned, fantasy sports fans.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). It did not get its annual copy of the Premier League script. Please give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience if you manage to track one down.

CommentaryEnglandNews

The Wormburner: Top 7 Plus 1, Big Style

October 4, 2019 — by Rob Kirby

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There is no margin for error in the title race, or rather a working yardstick measurement from last season does exist and the width of that margin was just over 1 cm, which you will admit for a title race is tight enough to drop a letter and respell. Tite.

How does this relate to your draft fantasy team, again? Fantasy points mainly come from the top of the table. While there will always be gems in the scrappier, more unsuccessful and less fashionable teams, usually league points correspond to a good ratio of “goals for” to “goals against.” Not to overly drop menacing, mathematical gang signs and all, but the more you have key players in the winning teams that are reaping respectable Premier League points returns, the better your chances of scooping up the once-removed draft fantasy points. No one’s taking anything away from the John McGinns, the Callum Wilsons, the Teemu Pukkis and others. No one’s casting aspersions in the general direction of one’s Milivojevics or one’s Nathan Redmonds or one’s Gylfi Sigurdssons. One’s most fervent wish is that one cherishes not only one’s Salahs, de Bruynes and Raheems but also the world’s Richarlisons, Raul Jimenez’ and Ryan Frasers.

Just saying, it often helps a player out in fantasy points if they’re at a team that doesn’t ship goals like freight or celebrate them as rare club milestones.

Seven wins in seven reveals Liverpool to be students of recent history, setting a brisk pace at the top, with memory of no room to breathe last season still fresh in mind. Manchester City, despite having financed the lecture halls of the tight-margins enlightenment and orchestrated the beauty and the severity of the lesson-giving, seems to have failed to register the meaning of the lesson, perhaps mistaking goal difference as the true religion.

(Pep Guardiola sings to himself incorrect words of a nonexistent nursery rhyme: “Lose by 1, win by 8/Lose by 2, win 80-thream/Merrily we row, row we row merrily/Rotation’s but a dream.” Klopp eyeballs anyone who looks about to interrupt the song to clarify the league points system to the Catalan, threatening off all comers.)

Both Top Two teams dominate completely. Briefly distracting from the normally on-message narrative, Norwich introduced a slightly unbelievable subarc wherein they defeated the most powerful team in the galaxy, but Manchester City then sort of erased it by winning 80thream at Watford, like setting off some futuristic memory-wiping electromagnetic pipe bomb. Liverpool nearly let slip a 3-0 lead against Salzburg, but that’s a whole different competition and they did still squeak it out. So while both the top two still more or less dominate completely, it may not be every single match, and not every victory will necessarily be a clean sheet, but just about any starter or almost-starter at either club is a good pick. None of their players will be available in the draft format for ten-team leagues, possibly even 8-team leagues, so we move on. (Maybe check to see if anyone dropped Allison.)

As for the best of the rest, it’s a bit of a free-for-all in the Top 7 Plus 1, with Leicester throwing a legitimate glove in the ring for third, where the club currently finds itself. The Top 7 isn’t a thing, incidentally, so by extension a Top 7 Plus 1 isn’t a thing, either, but even more so, since it’s dependent on the first speculative hypothetical turning out to be nonfiction. Now that that’s settled, in piping-hot The Brodge Is Back news, Brendan Rodgers has the side fit and firing in both attack and defense despite a challenging opening run of fixtures. Jamie Vardy and James Maddison stand out among standouts, making eye contact, taking names, reminding chatters of consequences, as per the Chat Something Bang Something Accord of 2015/2016. Youri Tielemans, Ayoze Perez, Jonny Evans, Ricardo Pereira, Ben Chilwell and Caglar Soyuncu all look set to continue points-gaining ways. Just maybe after the GW8 encounter with Liverpool, although Vardy won’t be too daunted by any opposition. Still, not ideal. After Liverpool, Leicester has a sea of kind fixtures poised to deliver rainbow-flavored joy to the Skittles and vodka faithful.

While the Foxes have defense and attack waving happily and fluffily like a small catlike wolf’s tail, at fourth-place Arsenal, you’d really only back one of the two. In case there is remotely any confusion, the attack. Anything affiliated with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is excellent. Anything not, file alongside The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. Arsenal is in a race against itself to outscore goals conceded, and it’s neck and neck. (Current goal difference: +1—take that!) While most of the starting XI at Leicester look like solid picks, at Arsenal it’s Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette (injured), Pepe (still PL-unproven) and a few speculative youth picks. With Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock emerging from the academy and making it onto the pitch more regularly, there could be opportunities. And Dani Ceballos could always channel his inner Burnley again. Mesut Özil could make a surprise return one day. Continuing to languish on the bench seems increasingly likely, however.

Arsenal is a top six team currently in the top four but chances are most of the clubs defenders are available for waivers. And with good reason. Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney could possibly change that around, but it’s almost the second international break already. To expect the players to seal up one of the leakiest defenses in the league while also not aggravating the long-term and lingering side injuries each has been carrying…that’s a tall ask.

West Ham find themselves in lofty environs for the first stretch in a while. Productive forwards and midfielders abound, whether they be new signings (Sebastian Haller), like-a-new-signings (Andriy Yarmolenko) or players that never stopped being excellent (Felipe Anderson). One wonders if Marko Arnautovic wonders what it might have been. Especially with Lukasz Fabianski potentially out for a while, the attack holds more promise than the defense. West Ham seems the team currently in the top six that would be least likely to end the season even in the top seven, but time will tell.

Spurs haven’t fully gotten going yet, and the manager seems slightly unstable, but all the component parts exist to lurch back into Champions League final form when it does all theoretically click back into gear again. Complicating matters, the team did just get somewhat humiliated in the Champions league by a five-goal margin. Fear not, Lilywhites asset-holders. The attack remains solid and the rest of the outfit should come right in time. Hold the faith, even in light of European batterings. Or pillories in the press. Or from the manager himself. While Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen shine brightest, Tanguy Ndombele has earned more attacking returns than expected already, displaying an appeal most holding midfielders lack. Jan Vertonghen is back in the starting lineup, and may prove available in the waiver pool. Rescue him. Uncertainty at right back decreases the desirability of Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters.

Lampard loves all youth prospects not named Christian Pulisic. Lampard is the whistle-wearing megaphone bearer for the Chelsea Project Youth Academy Epicenter of Excellence, but liberal mindedness to England as the centre of excellence and the countenancing of foreign Croatian-American former Borussia Dortmund youth excellence scum are really quite different propositions. Perhaps having just turned 21 in mid-September, Christian Pulisic aged himself off the team sheet. Whatever the reason, he now spins long rambling yarns to a roomful of insta-grandkids about being the last dinosaur transfer signing to sully the fresh-faced Olympian Corinthian ideals of the club. Chelsea has enthusiastically supported all youth projects since presumably the very beginning. At the very least, long before any official bodies imposed a two-window transfer ban. Except it also possibly began shortly after the club spent £58 million on Pulisic during the January 2019 transfer window. At any rate, all players Lampard worked with or faced in the Championship seem like viable starting articles. Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount will likely have been gone for a while now, but perhaps Fikayo Tomori has gone overlooked.

Far-flung from the top four, or the current Top 7 inventoried above, Manchester United goes into GW8 in tenth. New signings Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James have all turned out to be excellent—new recruits bedding in hasn’t been the problem. The problem is the rest of the team. Injury to attackers like Anthony Martial in light of non-replacement of Romelu Lukaku haven’t helped, nor have high-profile penalty misses. Manchester United could get it going and pull together a good run, but they don’t seem the team most likely. Conventional wisdom says that Manchester United won’t be bobbing at the water level of the split between halves in the table for long, but the team has had enough recent experience with subpar seasons to not put continued mediocrity completely out of the realm of possibility. Manchester United could very likely sack their manager due to club-worst records, which doesn’t scream investment, but it would be wisest not to count MUFC out quite yet.

The Top 7 will probably include Manchester United by season’s end, meaning another will drop out. (The Top 7 isn’t a thing, again.) This post has just assumed it will be West Ham United, but it could very easily be another.

Stay tuned, fantasy sports fans.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). It did not get its annual copy of the Premier League script. Please give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience if you manage to track one down.

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The Wormburner: Solid Starters in 2019/2020

August 22, 2019 — by Rob Kirby

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Almost everything changes when you double the sample size. So you can tear up last week’s one-week history of nearly everything, because the new data has stomped on it like cleats on a doormat (proceeding to shred it with the studs). 

Riyad Mahrez’ one game streak of starting matches ended abruptly. Likewise, and related, his orchestrating role in triple assists and double-digit point hauls disappeared. He neither started nor got an attacking return during his 1-point runout on the pitch in GW2. Harry Kane blanked. Mo Salah also blanked. Raheem Sterling scored two fewer goals than the previous week (but he did score and is joint leading scorer this season, on 4 goals).

The corrective effect of a second week saw a spreading of the wealth with a new cast of characters, in addition to the regression of many of week one’s heaviest hitters. In GW2, Teemu Pukki became the new hat trick hero and the first Premier League player to score four goals in his first two matches–and one was against Liverpool. Pukki is the joint leading scorer this season, alongside Sterling. Scandinavians and non-Scandinavians alike rejoice, together in harmony. All this to say, if Pukki is inexplicably still available in your draft fantasy league, get him. But his days as an under-the-radar pick have passed. Elements of the supply line could still be kicking around, though, whether Emi Buendía, Marco Stiepermann, Max Aarons or Todd Cantwell. The Norwich attack looks fertile, although matchups against Chelsea and Manchester City in the next three may deter.

And then, like some ruthless Caesar or brute centurion, John Lundstram unceremoniously stepped out of nowhere and ripped the crown of “best fantasy defender to walk the planet” from the head of Burnley’s Erik Pieters. Lundstram became a sudden sensation with a goal and a Sheffield United clean sheet, translating his out-of-position defender status into a midfield goal number-crunched with defender goal points and defender’s clean sheet points. Not bad for someone not playing in defense. Although Lundstram is likely available in nearly every league there is, the Wormburner vermilogical advice would be to stay away, but fortune favors the brave. He does play, for now, so there’s that. If the Blades defense turns out to be a force of nature (and if he holds onto his midfield spot), however, Lundstram could burn non-believers.

Connecting threads between gameweeks 1 and 2 do exist. Manchester City and Liverpool are exceptionally good, but they are not flawless in defense. A trinity of attackers—Sterling, Teemu Pukki and Ashley Barnes—proved capable of carving out goals for themselves regardless of fixture circumstances. Meanwhile, Everton boasts a perfect record in defense, yet to concede a goal in the new season. It is admittedly early days.

Pukki and Barnes may not keep pace with Sterling in perpetuity, especially with the immediate fixtures for each, but they look capable of scrapping goals in difficult games. With the Everton defense enjoying a favorable run of fixtures, it could just be down to the opposition, or it could tentatively mean the club has kept up last season’s late stability. The weaknesses that pundits have warned may get exposed with no Idrissa Gueye protecting the back line may yet show, but two shutouts in two begins to build a case for the defense. We shall see. Everton has the schedule and the momentum to reward managers of both defensive and attacking players.

Kevin de Bruyne collected two assists, one each to Sterling and Sergio Agüero. Chances are he’s not available for a free transfer. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford look like they will keep getting dividends. They too are unlikely to be available because all recent luminaries are long gone from any free transfer scenario by now. And they’re not just recent luminaries. Mason Mount at Chelsea might have been available a week ago, or possibly Pukki or Barnes, but those days are gone. If Mount does happen to still be there for the taking, he looks as likely as any to flourish in the Lampard new-look side, and likelier than Ross Barkley by the latest mile marker. Lundstram is probably still available, of course, but it remains to be seen if he can even outscore even his defensive teammates, some of whom have have a better-demonstrated history of getting in the goals.

For players that are available for free transfer—not just the league’s high fliers that will never again be available for waiver consideration—the best bets are probably with the promoted sides, or with rejuvenated relegation-spot sides from last season. Both the Brighton attack and defense should have some offerings, with seemingly viable candidates in Leandro Trossard, Neal Maupay, Martin Montoya and others. West Ham, Burnley and Southampton may have legitimate available options in attack and defense, as well. Check to see who may have been discarded or overlooked. Also check to see if they’ve started the last two matches…

Among the promoted sides, Sheffield United has appealing defenders, if not the most favorable schedule or odds of weekly clean sheets. Norwich fullbacks and attack could reap attacking dividends, and there are promising candidates in the Villa midfield with Jack Grealish and John McGinn. Norwich and Sheffield United’s stock has risen since draft day. Villa is comparatively lagging, but the Villans have scored goals and McGinn drew first blood against Spurs in GW1.

Even with European Thursday nights, Wolves look up for the fight across both defense and attack. Leicester under Brendan Rogers threatens to light things up with its many midfield options. Upheaval at established sides could offer some entry points. Chelsea is a work in progress but there’s a reward to go with the risk. With new managers at Brighton and Newcastle, as well as the promoted sides, not every roster knows its final template.

Many questions remain at sides in the top six with stiff competition for spots. Will David Silva prove to be a 1-point cameo albatross most weeks? It seems highly possible, and you could probably extend the same to Ilkay Gundogan and debatably Mahrez. Barring a thinning of the ranks, these are not currently rock-solid starters. Likewise Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Will he get points? With a certainty of starts, he would, yes, but does he or do we have that certainty? Xherdan Shaqiri, the same. Will Dani Ceballos see off the incumbency of Mesut Özil? Possibly, but not as an automatic. Where do Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon fit into the final mix? João Cancelo? Will Kyle Walker-Peters survive as first choice moving forward? Two weeks of lineups and on-pitch action still aren’t enough to know definitively on these, and even at season’s end we may never know why Manchester United has so many center halves.

The likelihood of either Christian Eriksen and Paul Pogba leaving the Premier League looks far lower than at any point during the off-season, but a mega bid for either could yet shake things up significantly and see job openings in two top attacking spots. Meanwhile, doublecheck before making any trades for Alexis Sánchez, as he may be shipping out to Serie A.

We know more, but we still know only a fraction of anything.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). It did not get its annual copy of the Premier League script. Please give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience if you manage to track one down.

Check out last week’s ‘Burner and relive the memories: Extrapolating from 1

CommentaryEngland

The Wormburner: Extrapolating from 1

August 16, 2019 — by Rob Kirby1

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Can players be judged to be wildly over-performing after one week? Without a doubt, at least from the point of view of this armchair critic. What better time and place, really. What’s most recent is most real. Even if commentary were forbidden, points hauls from the league’s least-likely naturally trigger disparaging comments by reflex. Opening weekend contains the entirety of the known universe of the new season, which means everything. These results foretell the season ahead. Just derive blanket conclusions based on the sample size of one, take a bold binary stance and it’s easy as you like. Back up ’til you hear glass.

Extrapolating from GW1 and populating results forward for 37 game weeks, it’s glaringly apparent that Erik Pieters is the best fantasy defender to ever walk the planet. Two assists and a clean sheet, and that was just week one, except, as stated, that’s everything, because it’s the known universe of all that exists and it gets mentally multiplied by 38.  

The data also tells us Riyad Mahrez is impervious to rotation. Based on exhaustive week one analysis, he plays every match and assists like crazy, always in the same multiple of three. Speaking of trinities, you may consider Raheem Sterling’s rate of three goals a match unsustainable. A golden boot tally of 114 in a Premier League season, by this logic, seems “unrealistic.” Harry Kane at two goals a match for the rest of the season sounds incrementally less preposterous, but with Burnley’s Ashley Barnes also ending the game week with two goals, should we expect an amicable custody agreement of the metal shoe, or a pair of silver boots?

Flukes are a thing. But then, statistically improbable streaks do happen–cast the mind back to players like Étienne Capoue in seasons past. It’s part of what makes the fantasy game so compelling and infuriating. To be clear: when Sterling scores a hat trick, not a fluke. Harry Kane scores in August, a brace at the death? It was just a matter of time. Tanguy Ndombele scores in his debut? The eyebrows move, but only because of his goalscoring numbers at Lyon (1 goal in 66 appearances), not because anyone considered him a talentless hack. These are not what’s meant by the league’s least-likely. Likewise, Mahrez will assist. It’s mainly a matter of whether he plays.

Bournemouth’s Chris Mepham may fit the profile of an over-performer. Definitely getting warmer. The near-range shot was his second-ever senior goal, resulting from a scrum after a dead ball outside of the opposition box. But if getting a goal is wrong, who wants to be right?

Any mention of defenders scoring notable points naturally brings the discussion to the best fantasy defender to walk the planet, Erik Pieters. One potential warning is that he wasn’t a lock for a starting position, stepping in as a late replacement for Charlie Taylor, who hadn’t had a full preseason. A double assist and clean sheet later, the pecking order may have changed. It should be pointed out that the first of the two Pieters assists was really a long, sideways-sliced defensive clearance before Barnes latched on to the high bounce and made the goal on his own. (The second, another Pieters-Barnes production, was great from both.) The points still count, of course, but something to consider in gauging future points. Pieters will be a good pick if he nails down his role, no doubt. It’s more a question of expectations. Is he a great pick? Does he definitely keep the position long-term?

Divock Origi is the eternal question mark wildcard with a great name. Origi netted a goal and an assist against Norwich, The assist was a bit generous, as the deflection for the Hanley own goal was sizable and significant. However, a consistent body of over-performing work threatens to suggest Origi may actually be the genuine article—the man did score two against Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League and then the goal over Spurs that put Liverpool in the clear in the Champions League final. So, either he’s quality or it’s a case of “any Liverpool attacking slot is guaranteed golden opportunities.” Both could of course be true. His header against Norwich was solid enough. If Origi enjoyed a guaranteed starting spot and Sadio Mané weren’t returning to the fray, it might be a go-er. But the former doesn’t and the latter is. Mané even specifically replaced Origi in the 74th minute for his triumphant post-Africa Cup of Nations return, which he followed up with a fresh new brace in the Super Cup victory over Chelsea on Wednesday. All that to say that actually Mané may need a rest after 120 minutes in Europe after all, so maybe Origi enjoys a longer stay, if a precarious one. A returned Mané inserts directly back into the attacking trident.

Leander Dendoncker’s nearly goal for Wolves against Leicester would have stood as a massive statistical outlier, had it stood. The defensive midfielder’s name itself possesses both the sound of an almighty thump and a mouthfeel of pure disbelief. So, Dendoncker struck, but then VAR struck back. The goal was ruled out through the evil auspices of technology, so nothing to see here.

Perhaps, like so many masked villains in Scooby-Doo before him, he would have gotten away with it, too, if not for the meddling kids and their meddling VAR. (Dendoncker is not a villain, but Velma, Daphne and Fred really are somewhat insufferable killjoys.) VAR may of course itself become a hyper-performing entity, gobbling up all the ill gotten gains of other, more actual, human players. The meddling could engulf everything. Until it gets registered into the player pool and makes itself pertinent to the fantasy game as an actual entrant, however, it remains largely meaningless. Unless it truly does rise up to become a supervillain, in which case the throwaway insult to cartoon crimefighting’s finest wasn’t the world’s best move. We’re going to need them.

And with that…

If freak-luck merchants are wreaking havoc in your league, or if one of the smug Scooby-Doo 3 has ever caused you personal harm, too, give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). It drafted poorly but is trying to look on the bright side: early picks in inverse-standings waiver priorities.

 

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The Wormburner: Late Pick, Last Ditch, Draft Day

July 31, 2019 — by Rob Kirby

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Sunday is draft day in the Wormburner league.

With pick 8 of 10, it hardly seems realistic or worthwhile to put Salah, Kane, Sterling, Aubameyang, Agüero, Mané or Eriksen in the queue, except sometimes someone picks someone bizarre and you get one of the sleek models after all. It would be delinquent and wasteful not to do so. Somebody could very conceivably not choose Eriksen, for example, so there’s that. Either way, the heavy hitters won’t clutter the queue for long once the draft starts. One could maybe score a top-six or top-seven pick with slot number eight, you never know. Dare to dream.

But who comes next in that series, assuming those seven come to pass? Who’s eighth-best? Firmino? Vardy? Rashford? Kevin de Bruyne? It’s de Bruyne, isn’t it. Or is it Eriksen, because the custom first seven weren’t calculated correctly? Is Eriksen even a first-ten pick?

When you don’t have conviction on first pick, the first and most fundamental draft decision–which one player do you build the whole team around?–it’s possible that like me you may be feeling the classic symptoms. The room has gotten perceptably, uncomfortably, warm. Fear receptors/perceptors have sharpened. A large apex predator seems to be growling from extremely close range, right behind you.

It may be the best last chance to get a sorta-swaggering heavyweight striker. Alternately, it could be the one chance to get a solid attacker from Liverpool or Manchester City. With the choice of Firmino or de Bruyne, maybe you get the two-birds-one-stone combo meal, except de Bruyne isn’t remotely a striker. Regardless, while both excellent, then first choice is the debatable third-best at either of the two clubs. That doesn’t exactly scream slam-dunk awesome. And yet the offer is probably the best available. Unless maybe Vardy. We’ll see. All number of bouts of crippling indecision to navigate between now and then.

On the plus side, with the snake draft, a late first-round pick transitions quickly to an early second-round pick, so the horizon suddenly illuminates, spanning outward in nearly infinite elite midfielder majesty. A fair few goalscoring forwards hang around, miffed at not having been picked straight away. Can one genuinely get two satisfying bites of a cherry? Why not?

The big names will disappear, first Liverpool and City, then Kane and Aubameyang and then it picks up speed in a blur of attacking midfielders and vanishing players as the clock speeds to zero.

The draft will begin:

Pick 1:  Mohammed Salah
Pick 2:  Harry Kane
Pick 3:  Raheem Sterling

Maybe I can still get Aubameyang.

Pick 4:  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Or Agüero.

Pick 5:  Sergio Agüero

Stop thinking of players you hope won’t get picked (Mané and Eriksen). It keeps triggering their selection.

Pick 6:  Sadio Mané
Pick 7:  Christian Eriksen

Pick 8, mine.

Maybe I dodged a bullet. Rumblings around Eriksen suggest he could depart up until the extreme last moment of the transfer window. Choosing someone with the first pick and then seeing them jet off to Madrid for a medical would be gut-punchingly painful. The best choice would be someone rock solid, someone so attached to the club that the powers that be couldn’t shift them even if they wanted.

Pick 8 (me): [countdown clock seems imposing]
Pick 8 (me): [countdown clock seems to be plummeting]
Pick 8 (me): [countdown clock seems to be just about done]

Someone the club couldn’t shift even if they wanted to.

Pick 8:  Mesut Özil

Fingers crossed Alexis Sánchez is still around come Pick 13. Or the actual one I’d probably pick, foregoing the former Arsenal go-to’s for the newest recruit, hot off the press: Nicolas Pépé, not included in the game at drop time. But even on a write-in ballot, he is the best bet of the three.

Good luck on the draft ahead, and here’s hoping you get not only the first bite of the cherry, so delicious, but also that second, elusively refreshing fruit bite.

The Wormburner plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). The column generally drafts very poorly (but then improves!).

Feel like reading a past Wormburner, such as the inaugural one? Or “the other one”?

Please give a follow on Twitter with @The_Wormburner and @robertpkirby

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The Wormburner: Mock Draft This

July 26, 2019 — by Rob Kirby2

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A mock draft is the way to go, 100 percent. I should here admit that I have never partaken of draft mockery and have no immediate plans to do so. No plans to rectify fantasy footballing deficits, no plans to better myself.

It would seem pointless then to talk about a hypothetical mock draft–and hypocritical?–having always rejected it for theoretically taking too much time or exacting too steep a cost in the transaction of one’s soul. So, how about we reel that one back all quick-like and I just propose a list. Withdraw from the super-official full-on rehearsal wedding and propose a gentler advance planning in a more minimum-effort sort of way. Unless that sounds too pushy.

Welcome back to the Wormburner, where the topic of the day is all things drafting, minus most things drafting. A couple thoughts on prep for the draft. One on mental visualization, at least.

Past seasons (for me) have generally been spent trying to repair the mistakes made in the summer draft, especially the you-only-get-one-shot early picks. Everyone will always blame every/any mistake on a glitch in the system, or vindictive auto-draft function bent on random persecution, or freak episode of celebrity dognapping that tanks everything, but if we are being honest with ourselves, it is nearly always operator error. People freeze up and make the wrong 50-50 decision, or don’t catch late-breaking big-ticket transfer news, or forget to turn off autodraft after intentionally selecting it in the “on” position. And some do just objectively draft poorly. 

Two of my first four draft picks usually go horribly sideways, which by nearly any metric represents a terrible success rate. The sting is a lasting one. Players available in the first four rounds generally never resurface in the player pool, barring injury or Luis Suárez biting ban. There are possibilities to nab emerging players along the way, and in the January transfer window, but it generally takes a timely waiver pick and a bit of luck.

Don’t blow the early picks. I keep doing it, year after year, and it’s painful looking at the evidence of draft day meltdown for 38 consecutive game weeks.

While no one here will discourage theatrical drawings from hats or dividings of square pieces of paper, it’s easier to just write down/type/voice dictate/copy and paste the top points scorers from last season. Add in any gut feelings for hot prospects among the promoted teams or from big splashes in the transfer market, as applicable. There always remains the option of dreaming up nine imaginary friends with attendant banter in a WhatsApp group, but one then risks the legitimate accusation of the whole venture having gotten well sidetracked.

Take the top 50 points scorers from last season. Eliminate, add and reorder names as desired. So much the better if you think one player overperformed in 2018/2019, or another underperformed and should be elevated in the queue,. Maybe another flies under the radar on overall points, a mid-season transfer who registers only half the expected points total of a full season. Scout the promoted teams enough to know who’s starting striker, main creative midfielder and penalty taker. As to the mental mock draft, basically just imagine how the player list will evaporate from round to round. In a mock draft-esque calculation of the player exodus between a 4th pick and 17th, then 24th and so on (in a snake draft of a ten-team league), you can get a better idea of what’s realistic for the first few clutch rounds—the marquee players you won’t have a shot at again. It helps gauge who is realistic as a third striker, or as third, fourth and fifth midfielders. Four rounds in, with the 40 most obvious players gone, the player pool takes on a much humbler look.

Read up on Joelinton and Haller/Hammer–new names that come with serious price tags and starting striker roles–but they’ll presumably be gone in the second or third round, sight unseen. Cast a wider net to support strikers and attacking midfielders at less-fancied establishments, ideally with a couple left-field picks in mind for the leaner rounds. Don’t just choose recognizable names of defensive midfielders at big clubs when the pickings get slim. You’ll just end up dropping them. Go for an attacker at one of the lowlier clubs. Or anyone remotely associated with dead balls. Consistent starts are crucial, but only with attacking bite do players truly satisfy–defensive midfielders don’t cut it, Choose someone who can pick up a goal or assist every so often, even if there are a few question marks involved. A bench is three deep.

Though the transfer window will be closed by the beginning of the season, it most likely won’t be by most people’s draft days, which commonly take place the weekend before opening weekend. A couple high-risk assets may not be worth it due to flight risk, but maybe that’s one of those high-risk/high-reward situations people are always blathering on about.

Just as a quick aside before sign-off, a “mock draft” could be the accepted noun form of an intense insult session on another’s draft, not one’s own, ideally in a broadcast arena. Which sounds like quite a bit of fun.

So until the Great Mock Draft to follow The Draft to come, choose long-term guaranteed attacking starters for the first picks, gamble on a couple riskier players with high ceilings in the scrappy rounds, buy low/sell high, don’t waste an early pick on a keeper, and remember to “take risks,” “play it safe” and other wise contradictions in the annals of the elderliest of time-honored traditions.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). An FPL addiction never totally leaves the bloodstream, but late-season team conformity in the standard game can get a little played out.

Feel like reading a past Wormburner, aka “the other one”? Have at it.

Follow on Twitter with @The_Wormburner and @robertpkirby