The Wormburner: Solid Starters in 2019/2020

August 22, 2019 — by Rob Kirby0


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 ( 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


The Wormburner: Extrapolating from 1

August 16, 2019 — by Rob Kirby1


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 ( It drafted poorly but is trying to look on the bright side: early picks in inverse-standings waiver priorities.



The Wormburner: Late Pick, Last Ditch, Draft Day

July 31, 2019 — by Rob Kirby


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 ( 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


The Wormburner: Mock Draft This

July 26, 2019 — by Rob Kirby2


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 ( 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



Jaffe Wins the 2013 Golden Baby

August 6, 2013 — by Kyle Schriner


This past weekend in Berkeley, California, the 2012-2013 winner of the Sexy Power Division of the Fantasy Premier League, Craig Jaffe, was presented with the league’s famous “Golden Baby” trophy. Mr. Jaffe won the the division with 2,199 points and had a global ranking of 12,982 out of over 2.5 million.

Jaffe, alias Numnuts, noted the secret to his success this year was not participating in the craze surrounding Robin Van Persie. RVP led all players with 262 points for the season but cost north of 13 million pounds. Instead of spending so much money on one player, Jaffe spread the money to upgrade mid-market players and increase his overall point total. When pressed on the subject of RVP, Jaffe pointed out the bias for giving big name players bonus points is ridiculous as players like RVP simply have to walk on the pitch and are handed two or three points. While this bias should be reflected in their market value, Jaffe believes RVP’s price is still too high.

Jaffe admitted he was scared he may lose his lead in the last four weeks to Adam Peters, aka Master Blaster, and Tyler Carpenter. Both players ranked in the top of the division all season and are past winners of the division. Jaffe engaged the unusual tactic of riding Arsenal’s back four to help him hold the title. Interestingly, all three players are avid Gunners fans. In fact, Jaffe has been a Gunners fan since 1984 when he was invited to train at Arsenal’s facilities and play a match at Highbury.

In January 2013, Jaffe took a trip from California to London and caught three matches: QPR v. Manchester City, Arsenal v. Liverpool, and Fulham v. Manchester United (the infamous match where the stadium lights went out). While he said the trip was a “blast,” he believes it did not give him an inside track on fantasy league. Jaffe said his favorite stadium was Craven Cottage.

When asked what advice he has for new fantasy players, Jaffe said the key to the game is the mid-market players, which can make or break a team. He encourages fantasy players to pick these players carefully and analyze their potential on a weekly basis.

[Update: The following was received from 2013-2014’s most Sexy Powerful man Tyler just now (Sunday June 1, 2014), with subject line “Come to daddy”:

Home again after 3 long years. Thanks Craig!