In fantasy soccer games that only award points for goals, assists and clean sheets, figuring out which opponents you should fear or not is as simple as looking at the table and seeing which clubs concede the most goals. It's not quite so easy in a game as complex as ours.
While teams that allow the most goals naturally find themselves conceding plenty of points in the ESPN game, due to goals earning 10 points a pop, the correlation between the two is far from direct. So, if the worst defenses in the league do not directly inform which opposing teams to target, what does?
Admittedly it's difficult to find an exact match with something as complex as this, but possession is a far better match to points allowed in the ESPN game. In fact, it's nearly 25 percent more accurate than goals conceded!
Here's a look at where every team in the league ranks in fantasy points allowed, possession and goals conceded, to help spot the best matchups.
The obvious takeaway from the top of all of those categories is that it's typically wise to avoid Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham as opponents when selecting your fantasy team. This is, of course, far from shocking news as managers tend to shy away from playing big-name teams already but, as you can see with Manchester United, that isn't always the case.
United, off the back of their run under Jose Mourinho, are ranked ninth overall in points allowed ... which is a nice middle ground between their possession and goals conceded rankings. Forwards have typically struggled against them this season, but midfielders tend to fare quite well. The Red Devils actually barely eek into the top 10 for fewest midfield points allowed and, even since the coaching change, have still allowed at least one 10-plus point performance from a midfielder in five of their last six matches. It's not like only elite players have managed this feat though, with Philip Billing, Victor Camarasa, Pascal Gross, and David Brooks all accomplishing this as of late. So, if there's a midfield player that you rate that's facing United, they could prove an interesting differential as your opponent's instinct may be to stay clear.
Speaking of David Brooks, Bournemouth are really the epitome of the point that possession dictates how many points a team will likely give up in the ESPN game, as they rank exactly the same in both (12th). Despite this, they tend to both score and suffer some pretty big point tallies. Of the top 100 individual weekly performances this season, six of them have been scored against Bournemouth, including the best week of the season (Paul Pogba's 45.8-point outing in December). Six of this season's 25 most prolific fantasy outings have involved Eddie Howe's side. This makes them a very interesting option to select players both for and against, as their style of play tends to allow for open matches and, consequently, high fantasy totals.
Brighton, on the other hand, stand out as one of the biggest outliers in this table as they have a massive difference between their ranks in possession and ESPN points allowed. While Chris Hughton's side struggle with the former, rarely dominating the ball, they still limit their opponents with arguably the most defensive tactics in the Premier League. So yes, their opponents frequently have possession, but then often find doing anything with it to be quite difficult. This results in many low-quality shots from Brighton's opponents ... which is exactly what they want. Add in the fact that they block the third most shots in the league (which means your forward doesn't even get the .5 points awarded for a shot), and Brighton begin to look less like a club to target and more like one that you'd really rather not deal with.
The same could be Newcastle and Crystal Palace. Both look like relatively easy opposition on paper, but both rank top five in fewest 25-plus points allowed performances (three each). Each are also top-10 in fewest points allowed to a particular position, with Newcastle particularly stingy against opposing forwards and Palace good at keeping the opposition's midfielders in check. So, when picking your team, just know that your players' ceilings may be capped when facing these clubs and it's likely best to look elsewhere for captain options.
Teams that you should feel confident about picking players (and captains) against can be found at the bottom of that table. While Fulham are dead last in points allowed, due in large part to them boasting the league's worst defense, it's Cardiff that seem the most ideal multi-purpose opponent. The Welsh side are one of the three easiest teams to face at every position and have also been the victims of a league-high 11 of the top 100 performances in the ESPN game this season. Basically, when crafting your team, make sure you have at least one player playing Cardiff.
As for the rest of your team, the choice is up to you! There's been a long-standing debate between form and fixtures in the fantasy soccer community, and it certainly won't end because of this article. Personally, I think picking form players helps you make a solid team while picking the right fixtures helps you beat your opponent. Both are important but the analysis here should help with the latter as you build our your lineups.
As for now, I will leave you with a table of each club's strength of schedule for Matchweeks 24 and 25, which is combined into one scoring period in ESPN Fantasy Soccer. Let this help you break ties as you pick your lineup for the week ahead.