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Premier League Fantasy Football Game

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If the Premier League was an ice cream, it would lick itself. That’s a fact. The money swishing around the self-proclaimed “Greatest League on Earth” has given the English top flight plenty of reason to look very pleased with itself.

But whilst Premier League fans bemoan ticket price increases, kick-off times altered for the benefit of television, and the tyrannical dominance of the evil “Big Four”, few fans will have any room for complaint with this particular little gem. Make no mistake, when it comes to Fantasy Football, the Premier League has every right to call itself the Greatest League on Earth.

With over 1.7m players (and counting), stuffed with enough statistics to leave John Motson happy, and up to date enough to cater even for West Ham’s ever-changing jerseys, fantasy.premierleague.com offers Fantasy Football gamers the ultimate stress-free, yet ultra competitive game, easy to use, easy to play, and easy to love.

Getting Started

As with pretty much everything with this game, getting a team set up is refreshingly straightforward. At the Home Page, clicking the sign up button will bring you to a simple registration page, where the basics (email address, password, name, post/ZIP code) are entered. The next step is to confirm your favourite Premier League club- not essential you may think, but each club has its own fans league to be won come the end of the season- and select from a series of email bulletins which you can receive from the Premier League. These include: Premier League news bulletins, Premier Reserve League bulletins, Academy news, TV listings and Press Releases. Once you are happy with your lot, and have accepted the usual terms and conditions, you can complete your registration and start building your all conquering side.

Setting Up Your Team

First things first, a team name. Sensibly, the Premier League limits team names to a maximum of twenty characters, and there are filters in place to ensure that obscene or offensive team names are not allowed. God knows what fans of Deportivo Wanka will do then.

Once your team name is in place, the next stage is, naturally, the team colours. Of course this is not a vital component of a Fantasy Football game, but it is a nice touch, one which adds to the whole experience. Select your shirt, shorts and socks, then which type of email newsletter you wish to receive (text format, HTML format or neither), and you are ready to head into the wonderful world of the transfer market, armed with £100m.

Picking Your Team

Right, now we’re talking. Finally a chance to show what we are really made of. This is where a manager really earns his keep, never mind Barcelona-inspired strips and Smiths-inspired team-names, it is the players that win you Fantasy Leagues, and at Premierleague.com, you need to select fifteen of them:

- 2x Goalkeepers
- 5x Defenders
- 5x Midfielders
- 3x Forwards

Selecting your players is a far less arduous task than on some other sites I could mention (cough, ESPN), with the players arranged neatly into a whole host of categories. Search by club, search by position, search by value, or search by any of the points scoring criteria (goals scored, assists, goals conceded, clean sheets, etc etc).

Your budget, as mentioned, is £100m- or, as Mark Hughes calls it, “loose change”- and you are limited to a maximum of three players from any one team. Now whilst £100m would just about secure you Cristiano Ronaldo in the real world (or would it?), thankfully on this game his value is a more modest £14.6m, meaning that you don’t have to spunk your entire budget on the arrogant one.

The pricing system, whilst not always totally accurate, is done in such a way that whilst it is possible to build a side with three or four big name players, players will need to have a good knowledge and understanding of the so-called lesser clubs if they are to build a successful team. The likes of Breda Hangeland, Leon Osman, Stephen Ireland, Geovanni & Amr Zaki have emerged this season as surprise packages both in real life, and fantasy. Players who took a punt on these players as “fillers” will be enjoying more success than those who went all out for the likes of Torres, Rooney & Carvalho at the start of the season.

The squad system also poses an interesting conundrum, do you pick 15 players who are likely to play each week, ensuring you always get a full team out onto the pitch? Or do you scrimp and save with cheap and cheerful substitutes, and go for that extra quality in your first eleven- thus leaving yourself susceptible to injury or suspension? The importance of the squad players is often highlighted as the season wears on, particularly when the Champions League knockout stage starts, or over the Christmas period when the games are coming thick and fast.

As a general rule, it is usually advisable to have a star in each area of the field, a Ferdinand at the back, a Gerrard in midfield and an Adebayor up front, but it is possible to steer clear of the stars if need be, a lot of the top scoring teams this season have been built with Bolton, Fulham & Hull at the core.

Formation

So once your squad is selected, it is time to decide who will be in your starting XI, and who will be doing a Solskjaer. The game allows players to use any of the following formations

- 4-4-2- for the purists
- 4-3-3- for the Mourinhos
- 3-4-3- for the gung-hoers
- 3-5-2- for the wing-back revivalists
- 4-5-1- for the Rafas
- 5-3-2- for the defensively minded
- 5-4-1- for the defensively obsessed

Each of these systems has its strengths and weaknesses of course, and is hugely dependent on the players selected. A team top heavy on attacking quality would be advised to stock up on midfielders and attackers (3-4-3 maybe), whilst a squad packed with more clean sheets than a five star hotel may look to cash in on that tightness with a more defensive system (5-3-2 perhaps).

Substitutes

Once you have decided on your starting XI and formation, you can cater for any eventuality by selecting the order in which your substitutes will appear. Substitutes come into play if one of your starting eleven misses out, whether through injury, suspension or rotation. Obviously your substitute goalkeeper will only appear if your first choice stopper misses out, but for the other subs it is possible to ensure that your spare striker comes in first if necessary, meaning a study of the week’s fixture list may be important in deciding which of your bench players is most likely to pick up points.

Captain

The importance of the captain has been the subject of some fevered debate in the media. Fabio Capello kept Gerrard, Terry & Ferdinand hanging on like X-Factor wannabes whilst he decided on his permanent England skipper, whilst Arsene Wenger believed that Cesc Fabregas was the man to lead his Arsenal side out of their latest crisis, rather than William Gallas. Some opined that in modern football, the captain is merely the man who performs the pre-match coin toss and wears the armband, others (including me) disagreed.

But in Premier League Fantasy Football, the importance of the captain is in absolutely no doubt. The reason is simple, it isn’t about setting an example, representing the club at press conferences, or vociferous pre-match talks. No, the captain in this game earns double points, making him easily the most important player in your team. Put into perspective, the top scoring player of this Premier League week earlier this month was Antonio Valencia of Wigan (16 points), meaning that having Valencia as captain this week would have earned you 32 points for just one player (the average TEAM score for that week was just 42 by the way).

Unlike other games, and to Capello’s delight I’m sure, there is no limit to the amount of times you can change your captain throughout the season. Take advantage of a home fixture for Liverpool against Hull by handing Steven Gerrard the armband, before cashing in on Adebayor’s fixture with his bunnies Spurs, or banking on John Terry’s guaranteed clean sheet at home to West Brom. Under-estimate the power of the armband at your peril.

Setting Up/Entering Leagues

Ok, so you have released your stunning new strip, you have completed your transfer business, you have announced your skipper to the assembled press, you have informed the four unfortunate lads who are on the bench this week, it is time to get competitive!

Automatically upon registering, the game will enter your team into a number of leagues against others who meet a certain criteria. These include:

- Fans of the same club
- People who joined in the same Gameweek as you
- People from the same country

This is all well and good, but what you really want to do is compete against that smug git from Bookkeeping who reckons that Tim Cahill is better than Xabi Alonso, and against that Manchester United fan from your street who insists that Jamie Carragher is a poor man’s Rio Ferdinand.

Well here, doing just that is incredibly easy. If you wish to set up a league of your own, or join someone else’s, simply clicking the leagues button on the main screen will take you to the ever-so-easy-to-navigate menu.

Setting up a league of your own is simple, you give the league a name, and you are given an eight digit league code, which you can distribute to those fortunate enough to be invited in. Conversely, you can join another person’s league by entering in their league code at the “Join Private League” option.

In addition to this, you can also enter Public Leagues set up by the game itself. These are randomised leagues selected from the 1.7m+ players out there, and are an interesting way to pit your wits against a selection of players from all over the world.

Once you have entered all the leagues you wish to, you can keep in touch with your progress from the main page. All your leagues, plus your position within them, will be listed on the right hand sidebar, and clicking on a specific league will take you to a more detailed league table.

Another neat feature is that each league has its own individual forum whereby league members can engage in banter with other managers- sample messages from my own personal league include:

“Zaki Zaki Zaki Zaki Zaki Zaki!!!!”

“Not only do they have a s**t name and a snide toad as a manager but tims team are also copying the league leaders transfers bringing in hit men like berbatov. I think the bitter baffoon should be barred from next years league”

“Living up to the paranoia in his name. I point out that Berbatov is high profile, the targetman for the league champions and much cheaper than other top strikers. Lots of people will have him. Whereas Belhadj is a relatively obscure player that I brought in 2 wks ago and then sure enough the following wk he appears in Andy’s team. Andy has copied me for seasons now.”

Ok it might be childish, but it adds to the competitive edge in the game, and gives the wannabe Fergies a chance to practice their “mind games” on the Wengers of their league (trust me, it happens, see above!).

Transfers

As Roy Keane knows only too well, it is in the transfer market that a manager can be judged most harshly. And Fantasy Football is no different, I personally have lost count of the number of times I have announced that Player X is a “waste of space” and replaced him with Player Y, only to see Player X go on a ten match scoring streak, whilst Player Y’s training seems to consist of cow’s arses and banjos in equal measures.

In Fantasy Premier League, there is no limit on the amount of transfers that can be made throughout the course of the season, and no transfer window (UEFA take note, please). The only snag with regards to transfers is that only one change per Gameweek is “free” with each transfer after costing 4 points.

Wild Card

In addition to these transfer rules, each team is given one transfer wild card per season. The wild card enables managers to make as many transfers as they like, without any point deductions. Ideal if your team is beset by injuries, suspensions, loss of form, or all three.

These wild cards are also good for switching in a group of in-form players whom you were unsure about before the season began. But beware, player values fluctuate every week so £100m in December won’t go as far as it would have gone in August.

Scoring Points

So, how do you get points in this game? Well the full rules list is to be found here. This explains in depth every eventuality in terms of points scoring, but the basics are pretty self explanatory, with points awarded for:

- Appearances
- Goals scored
- Assists
- Clean Sheets
- Saves
- Penalty saves
- Bonus (man of the match points)

and points deducted for:

- Every two goals conceded
- Yellow Cards
- Red Cards
- Penalties Missed

As you can see, these rules are far from complicated. Assists can be a grey area, but Fantasy Premier League seem to have it boxed off nicely. Being tripped for a penalty counts as an assist (cue cheers from Andy Johnson’s corner at Craven Cottage), as does a shot/cross which deflects in for an own goal.

The biggest controversy usually comes from the award of the Bonus Points. So controversial in fact that it merits it’s own little section.

Bonus

The concept is good. A player has a storming game, wins every aerial duel, wins every 50-50, doesn’t waste a single pass, yet because he doesn’t score and because his keeper lets a hatful past him, he earns no points. Fair? Not really. Step forward, bonus points. Here is how the website explains the idea:

“With Fantasy Premier League, the three best performing players in each match receive additional bonus points. Three points are awarded to the best player, two to the second best and a single point to the third.

Player performance is assessed by Press Association analysts, all of whom are ex-professional footballers, who attend each match. This assessment takes into account the quality of a player’s overall performance and their contribution to the match result.”

Sounds perfect? It isn’t quite. You know those idiots on Sky Sports News who fawn over Lampard, Gerrard, Ronaldo & Rooney just because they have managed to tie their bootlaces effectively? Well it is these people who are making the Bonus Point decisions in this game. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect the big name players to receive bonus points no matter what their contribution to a game- e.g. Steven Gerrard picked up a bonus point for his performance against Manchester United back in September. Nothing wrong with that you may think, but Gerrard was only on the field for 23 minutes!

Did you watch Everton’s game at Wigan last month? The one where Henri Camara came off the bench to give the Latics the win, where Lee Cattermole and Wilson Palacios dominated the midfield impressively, and where Tim Howard pulled off a pair of superb saves? If you did, then you will be stunned to hear that the full three bonus points were awarded to…..Mikel Arteta! The Mikel Arteta who was jeered by his own supporters for failing to beat the first man with a series of set pieces, who was over-run by Michael Brown, and whose performance in that game led to some pretty scathing analysis in the following day’s Liverpool Echo. So you see, “experts” don’t always get it right. Having said that, the beauty of football is in interpretation, and a difference of opinion is no bad thing, even with points at stake.

The Pundit

Confession time here, I hate pundits. I hate their wise-after-the-event smugness, the way they can spot the correct option from a television gantry with a multitude of replays, the way they know exactly what Scolari/Benitez/Wenger/Ferguson is thinking, or what he should be thinking. They clutter up the television and radio day after day with their “insight” into the goings on at Manchester City, their analysis of “what went wrong” for Roy Keane, and their opinion on how Fabio Capello can “make England great again”.

But this particular pundit is, whisper it, actually quite good. He doesn’t sit picking holes in Cesc Fabregas’ positioning, he doesn’t guess as to whether Frank Lampard & Deco enjoy playing in the same side, and he doesn’t clog up the airwaves. All he does (if it is even a he!) is point out the in-form players, point out potential fixtures which will give players good points scoring opportunities, and offer a trio of weekly tips as to good value for money players within the game.

Of course he/she isn’t always spot on, they wouldn’t be called a pundit if they were, but their analysis is more than just lazy speculation, they have put genuine thought in. No kneejerk reactions here, and their accuracy rate is pretty impressive- Bosingwa, Michael Turner, Geovanni & Amr Zaki were all tipped to perform well in the first couple of weeks of the season, and have gone on to be among the top points scorers this season so far.

Prizes

So, “What’s in it for me?” I hear you cry. Ah you megalomaniacs get everywhere don’t you? Well Fantasy Premier League, it has to be said, hasn’t pushed the boat out as far as, say the Telegraph or the Times, with regards to prizes. But considering that this game is free-to-play, and the other two are pay-to-play, that is hardly surprising.

But that doesn’t mean they are offering nothing. The overall winner of Fantasy Premier League 2008/09 will win a VIP trip for two to a Barclays Premier League match (the identity of which is determined by The Premier League) featuring a team of the successful player’s choice. The Winner’s Prize includes travel, two nights’ hotel accommodation, two match tickets, pre-match meal and £250 spending money.

Not bad at all, there are even monthly prizes to be won as well. This season the person who finishes top of the monthly leaderboard will be declared Manager of the Month and will win a digital camera, an mp3 player, and a Premier League club replica kit of the Winner’s choice.

And whilst that means there are only eleven prize chances for each manager throughout the season, and the fact remains that office/school/family pride comes before two tickets to Wigan v Bolton anyway, it is a nice touch, albeit a typically corporate one from the Premier League.

Overall

Overall, it has to be said that whilst the Premier League can be considered a faceless corporation looking to take our Merseyside derbies to Malaysia and making us get up early on a Sunday morning to watch our side, it has done a pretty good job with its Fantasy Football Game. The purists may insist on Opta Index stats to decide the true contributors, rather than the flawed, opinionated Bonus system offered here, but it is hard to argue with the ease of use, the presentation, and the detail of the Premier League’s offering. Every stat is at your fingertips here, from league tables, to scoring charts to assist leaders to best discipline, there are also links to every Premier League club’s official webpage, as well as latest news updates, fixture lists and the usual ticket information.

Overall marks:

- Presentation- 5/5
- Points System- 4/5
- Ease of Use- 5/5
- Popularity- 5/5
- Website- 5/5

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