This weekend welcomes the start of the 2009-10 Barclays Premier League, and Chris Dring trawls through the fixtures to give you some fantasy managing tips
The usual suspects for any Fantasy Football team lineup: Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney (left), Liverpool's Fernando Torres (centre) and Chelsea's Frank Lampard. All are slated to score big points in this season’s Barclays Premier League competition. AFP
AT last, the torment of a summer without football will end Saturday night. Not only can we lie back on our sofas, or head to the nearest bar, and blissfully waste away our nights staring at a TV screen cheering on the greatest league in the world, but we can now participate online and see if we have what it takes to be the next Alex Ferguson. If you haven't yet signed up to the Post's fantasy league, then get online now and join in to add extra significance to each match in what should be the most thrilling Premiership season to date.
The season opener of Hull City at Chelsea is surely the most obvious result among Saturday's fixtures. Hull miraculously escaped relegation last term, mainly due to a woeful Toon army. I can only see them battling the drop again this time out, and I expect Chelsea to steamroll them comfortably. Any Chelsea players in your fantasy team are surely guaranteed points, but if you have Lampard, Anelka or Drogba, certainly make them your team's captain. This game should be a barometer in class between the strugglers and contenders for the season.
Oil-rich Man City travel to Blackburn with the weight of expectation firmly hanging over Mark Hughes' head. Can he gel his overpaid stars into a team? With a whole host of attacking options at his disposal, I think you'll have to play the waiting game to find out his preferred starting 11. Blackburn's summer acquisitions look weak on paper, and this game should be a dogged home side trying to nullify its visitor's newfound flair. Who'd bet against Adebayor scoring on his debut, as he is almost certain to start with Tevez struggling for fitness?
One would expect Aston Villa at home to defeat a Wigan side that has had their star players prized away from them for greener pastures. With Young and Milner proving the ammunition from the flanks, Villa could generate a lot of points and should create the opportunities for whoever O'Neil prefers in attack.
The standout game on Saturday is the late kickoff of Everton v Arsenal, in almost a case of beauty against the beast. Arsenal looked fragile last season, despite playing the most attractive football. Key players in this one could be Cahill or Jo for Everton, and Van Persie or Asharvin for the Gunners. Both teams will be desperate for a good start to the season, and the game is likely to be played at a frantic pace. Wenger's young guns might just have too much extra class, and I fancy them to sneak a winner.
On Sunday, we get a chance to see two of the four title hopefuls in action. First up, Man United will hope to banish last week's poor second-half showing at Wembley by beating newly promoted Birmingham. Even without the now-departed Ronaldo, they should have enough in their armory, and one would expect them to be fired up in front of the Old Trafford faithful. Hart should be a busy keeper with Rooney set to play through the middle. He's certainly my key man to watch and a sure banker for points for your team. Apart from Carrick, it's hard to be sure of who will play in midfield. Berbatov has something to prove, and with Birmingham unlikely to pose much in the way of offence, any starting United defender will be a good choice.
Liverpool travel to Spurs, with both facing a defensive crisis that should hopefully bring us plenty of goals. Both teams can hardly muster a centre half between them, so I'd stay away from picking any defenders from this game. Torres and Gerrard (if he's fit) will ultimately hold the key for the Reds, but as with Man City, it's hard to tell who Redknapp will choose to play upfront for Spurs. If Liverpool can start the season they way they ended their last campaign, then Spurs could be in trouble. With the departure of Alonso, Liverpool could struggle to maintain their crisp passing game. The game will most probably be decided by the performances of the Reds' only two truly world-class players.
The attractiveness of the fantasy league is that the remaining fixtures, as unglamorous as they might appear, could bag you the points to keep you flying high in the table. Stoke striker Beattie is going to fancy his chances at home to Premiership debutants Burnley. Nugent has been scoring for fun in preseason, and with Portsmouth having been forced into selling their star players he could be one of the surprise packages amongst the cheapest players on offer. Make sure you sign up before 5:30pm Saturday to put your armchair knowledge firmly on the line.