This article is part of our FPL Best XI series.
The 2013-2014 season is finally upon us! After a summer that included numerous managerial changes atop the Premier League and the usual shuffling of players (with more transfers to come), England's top flight is set to kickoff Saturday.
Each of last year's Champions League qualifying teams enter this season with unique story lines that include title-holders Manchester United starting life without manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea welcoming back Jose Mourinho, Manchester City incorporating their expensive offseason signings, and Arsenal once again scrambling for reinforcements. Outside the Big Four, a handful of clubs have their sights set on European competition, while Premier League new-boys Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, and Hull City look to prove their worth.
Clearly, it is shaping up to be another exciting season and what better way to follow the action than playing fantasy soccer? Throughout the 2013-2014 campaign, I will provide a weekly preview of Premier League action, with a focus on highlighting which players stand to make the biggest fantasy impacts at their respective positions in each given gameweek. In doing so, my goal is to help fantasy owners pinpoint potential standout players by providing a weekly Best XI team.
Team budgets will be ignored, but no more than three players from the same team will be on a given Best XI. Also, factors such as scheduling, matchups, injuries, roster moves, and league history will be considered, in hopes of helping readers achieve fantasy Premier League glory.,
Gameweek 1 features 11 matchups, with Chelsea and Aston Villa each playing twice. Additionally, a number of players will be returning to their respective clubs late this week after meeting up with their national teams for international play. That being said, let's take a look at this week's Best XI.
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool) – Mignolet's sensational play for Sunderland last season earned him a summer move to Liverpool, where he pushed out long-time keeper Pepe Reina to become the Reds' No. 1. The keeper could experience some jitters in his Anfield debut, but his opponent, Stoke City, may not test him much. The Potters managed a dismal 13 away goals last season, so Liverpool's new keeper could very well start his tenure off with a clean sheet.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) – Ivanovic is almost a no-brainer in Gameweek 1, with two matches against favorable competition. To start, Chelsea hosts promoted side Hull City to begin Jose Mourinho's second stint as manager. Hull should be hard-pressed to score against a vastly more experienced and skilled Blues defense and The Special One's return should have Stamford Bridge buzzing. Then, Aston Villa will travel to London on Wednesday. Villa will be coming off a weekend fixture at Arsenal and Chelsea allowed just 16 goals at home last season. As such, the Serbian has a decent possibility of two clean sheets and offers potential offensive contribution after chipping in five goals and one assist last season.
Jose Enrique (Liverpool) – Enrique, unlike some of Liverpool's other starting defenders, won't be coming off international duty, so he should be fresh for when Stoke City come to Anfield this weekend. This matchup favors Liverpool's defense, since they allowed just 16 home goals last season (compared to 27 away), while Stoke barely cracked double-digits in away goals last term.
Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) – City allowed a league-low 34 goals in 38 games last term, making Kompany, the club's captain, a decent bet in any gameweek. Couple that with a home fixture against a Newcastle team whose attack has not been together very long, and Man City should keep the Magpies at bay in Manuel Pellegrini's managerial debut.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Hazard's first season in England saw him score nine goals to go with 11 assists, but the Belgian is expected to better those numbers in Year 2 under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho. The 22-year-old is a world-class winger who Mourinho could deploy similarly to his former pupil at Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo. Make no mistake, Hazard is no Ronaldo, but with home matchups against Hull City and Aston Villa, the Chelsea man could torment defenses in similar fashion this gameweek, with the additional possibility of two clean sheets.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal) – After scoring for England in the midweek, Walcott's blazing speed and much improved finishing ability should be on display again Saturday against Aston Villa. The wide man tallied a career-best 14 goals and 10 assists last campaign and will be facing a porous Villa defense that allowed a whopping 69 goals during the 2012-2013 season, so Walcott could be in for a big season opener.
Juan Mata (Chelsea) – Mata was the straw that stirred Chelsea's drink last season, dishing out 12 assists to match his 12 goals. Throw in another talented striker in Romelu Lukaku and a proven manager (Mourinho), and Mata should set the Premier League alight again this season, starting with two favorable home matchups against Hull City and the aforementioned Aston Villa defense.
Kevin Mirallas (Everton) – The Belgian posted a modest six goals and three assists last season, but has had a strong preseason and goes against a weak Norwich defense this weekend. Also, Mirallas often plays in the final third, giving him extra value as a midfielder, and his skill set should mesh well with new manager Roberto Martinez' offensive philosophy.
David Silva (Manchester City) – Silva's statistics dipped during his third season in England, but the Spaniard could find new life under manager Manuel Pellegrini, who brought in a couple of Silva's compatriots in Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas this summer. Additionally, Silva is pitted against Newcastle, who finished with last season's fourth-worst defensive record.
Robin van Persie (Manchester United) – After switching from Arsenal to Manchester United last summer, van Persie slotted home 26 goals and provided eight assists en route to a Premier League title. The Dutchman is fantasy soccer's best striker and offense should be on showcase when United faces Swansea this gameweek.
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) – The Belgian exploded onto the scene in his first Premier League season last year, scoring 19 goals. That performance drew the interest of several clubs this summer, but Benteke renewed his commitment to Villa by signing a contract extension earlier this offseason. Despite two difficult road matchups against Arsenal and Chelsea, Benteke is always a candidate to score as the focal point of the Villians' attack and his two matches this gameweek better his chances.
Ivanovic – Kompany – Enrique
Hazard – Walcott – Mata – Mirallas – Silva
Van Persie - Benteke