Pre-season training is well underway and a number of Premier League clubs have already started their busy schedules as they look forward to the opening weekend of action. The FIFA World Cup was a great success but has added complications for pre-season and therefore us as fantasy football lovers. Many of the big stars are still on holiday because of their exploits in the World Cup so it could still be a few weeks until we get to see them in action once again for their clubs.
Will they be fit and sharp for the first game? Will the new superstar striker fit straight into the system the rest of the team is used to playing? Will there be time for a good understanding to be formed between the new ‘keeper and his back four?
For some of these things we’ll have to wait and see. For others, it will become clear during the few games they do get to play together before the big kick off. Add into that the fact that some players will really hit the ground running because of an excellent pre-season or a slight role change in the team and you cans see why delving into the messy world of pre-season friendlies is a valuable endeavour.
Each week we’ll give you a roundup of what’s been going on plus a specific look at each team (once everyone has kicked off), building up to a final pre-season review with players to consider taking a risk on heading into the new season.
These first couple of weeks of post World Cup pre-season have given opportunities to the young players coming through the development squads to shine and some of them have certainly done that, whilst some of the more senior members of the squads have given their manager something to think about too.
Chelsea’s old guard have combined well with the fresh blood who won last season's Barclays Under-21 Premier League title. John Terry has scored 3 goals in two appearances whilst Ivanovic has also chipped in with a goal plus a 20 minute spell as a central striker. A new tactic from Mourinho? Probably not. If you’re looking for a youngster coming through the Chelsea ranks Isaiah Brown has been impressive, scoring a brace against Wycombe, but you sense with the wealth of attacking midfield options at their disposal the youngsters would have to show something incredibly special just to warrant a place on Mourinho’s bench.
With Liverpool playing in Europe next season and Rodgers’ reputation for bringing through young English talent it’s worth keeping an eye on Jordan Ibe. He’s assisted all three of Liverpool’s goals in their two games so far and may be given a chance in the first team later in the season if injuries hit the squad as the fixtures start to build up.
Darren Bent put in an impressive performance against Mansfield Town where he bagged a couple of goals plus an assist as he tried to prove his worth to manager Paul Lambert (or encourage a team to come in for him). With Benteke likely to miss the beginning of the season through injury Villa will need the goals that Bent can offer them if they want to steer safe from relegation again this year.
One of the most impressive performance so far is that of Crystal Palace who hit 13 (THIRTEEN) goals past Austrian part-timers GAK Graz. The standout performer was Stephen Dobbie who scored 4 and assisted 3 in a fantastic second half performance. He didn’t make it into the 25-man squad last year but is hoping to show he’s up to the task.
Pelle, the new boy on the block at Southampton, had an excellent debut as he showed his predatory instincts to score a couple of first half goals in Belgium for the Saints. Despite not finding the back of the net against Swindon in their 1-0 victory, if he continues scoring goals in pre-season and adjusts quickly to the Premier League then he could be an excellent fantasy football option, especially with an affordable £7.5m price tag. It’s also worth keeping an eye on who takes Shaw’s place at left-back; a bargain could be found if they choose to promote Targett from the academy or even move Clyne there and let Chambers play right-back. More on this as it develops over the coming weeks.
New Arrivals at Liverpool and Swansea
First starts have been handed to lots of new signings over the early pre-season games including high profile names such as Rickie Lambert and Batetimbi Gomis. Lambert struggled to make any real impact against League One Preston North End in the 45 minutes he was on the pitch, whilst fellow new boy Emre Can hobbled off with what appeared to be a calf strain after just 20 minutes. Gomis didn’t manage to get on the scoresheet for the Swans but did look lively during the first half in their 1-1 draw with Chivas Guadalajara. Swansea then ended their pre-season tour of the US with a lacklustre 2-0 defeat to Minnesota United giving Garry Monk lots to think about, especially since they were so poor in the final third despite controlling possession. With them losing key players in Vorm and Davies it will be interesting to see how they set-up next season.
West Ham’s new signings Cheikhou Kouyate, Mauro Zarate, Diego Poyet and Aaron Cresswell all made appearances in their goalless draw away to Ipswich. It was Cresswell, who received a great reception from the club he left earlier in the transfer window, who impressed most as the left-back hit the woodwork in the first half and generally looked lively throughout. His price tag is high this season but he created a lot of goals for Ipswich last year – much will depend on how many set pieces he gets to take.
Newcastle, who have been busy in the transfer market, were able to hand starts to three new players in the shape of Jack Colback, Ayoze Perez and Siem De Jong. De Jong, the former Ajax captain, was on hand to score a first half goal as he lashed home the rebound as his own free kick struck the wall. It wasn’t enough though to prevent Newcastle from losing 2-1 to League One outfit Oldham Athletic. Newcastle then travelled to Australia where they defeated Sydney FC 4-0 with another debutant, Emmanuel Riviere, scoring one and assisting another. Siem de Jong built on his good debut by scoring another goal and as a £7M midfielder could prove to be a fantasy football gem if he keeps up this habit to become a consistent goal-scoring midfielder.
West Brom started pre-season early and had already played three matches before some teams had even kicked a ball! Graham Dorrans grabbed a couple of goals whilst Berahino also got on the scoresheet as they won all three games, albeit unconvincingly. A few key players were missing due to injury (Lescott, Brunt, McAuley, Morrison & Dawson) so Baggies fans will be hoping the performances improve in line with the fitness of the squad.
Debuts were handed to Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass during Hull’s 1-1 draw with North Ferriby where Shane Long tucked away a penalty. Robbie Brady and George Boyd both scored a brace in Hull’s more convincing performance as they beat Harrogate Town 5-0.
Stoke also had the chance to field new players during their 1-1 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach but it was Premier League veteran Peter Crouch who grabbed they goal after being picked out by Walters in the box. Mame Biram Diouf, Dionatan Teixeira, Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell all got the chance to show what they could do for the first time and with the arrival of Bojan too it will be interesting to see how the team comes together in the next few weeks.
Burnley started their pre-season exploits strongly with a convincing 8-0 win against Grossklein of Austria. Lukas Jutkiewicz made his debut and grabbed a brace after finalising his move to Turf Moor from Middlesbrough earlier in the week. Ashley Barnes and Marvin Sordell also both scored twice against the Austrian fifth-tier team in very hot conditions.
Sunderland also made a winning start to their preseason campaign as they beat Darlington 5-1. It must have been great for Sunderland fans to see Fletcher back in a Sunderland shirt after an injury hit season. He managed to grab a couple of goals and is one to look out for in the coming weeks as he gets himself fit for the beginning of this season since he’s a proven Premier League goal-scorer and is very reasonably priced at £5.5m.
Be sure to check back next week for a round up of the next block of fixtures plus a team-by-team summary as fixtures continue and the World Cup stars head back to training and the big kick off draws closer.