The pre-season preview continues! If you haven’t already I’d start with Part 1 which sets out my thinking on strategy for pre-season.

For everyone else, let’s get straight into some players!

The Challengers

These are potentially very strong dividend challengers but usually have some kind of barrier to overcome. They might need to establish at a new club, break into the side, or overcome some extended bad form or an injury.

So we’re very likely to have a higher failure rate in this category than we did in Core players which are more established. That’s completely fine though and having some flops is part of trading. What’s important is how we manage those flops.

My staking strategy as described in the recent portfolio clinic article is a good thing to bear in mind here. We may start the season with quite a wide spread of Small Buys in some more speculative players, then as we see pre-season and the opening games we can offload the weak and concentrate money in the strong.

As the season starts up we’ll be trying to use our really detailed Scouting to make sure we can drop the bad ones and load up on the good ones before most do.

If we pick 10 good “Challengers” maybe 5-7 tops will actually go on to succeed. But some of those should yield very handsome profits if starting at a value price, and if we can get out of the other 3-4 that stagnate or drop before too much damage is done that should give us a huge profit overall. Even if we budget for 1 misfortune where we take a significant hit. Because it’s going to happen to the best of us.

A key thing is that when buying a player with some kind of challenge to overcome we are getting a price to match. Often that will be the case as the market tends to be overly negative when a player has a short term problem.

In this way, sometimes these trades can actually be lower risk than a Core pick if you are getting the right price.

If a player is currently unpopular but retains high potential you may be getting them at a low where their poor performance is already assumed and they may not have far to fall if they don’t improve. And yet if they do settle down and improve the upside can be very high. 

These can be players that nobody seems to want. Until they do.

James Rodriguez

This move to Everton looks very likely now. And it’s an intriguing one.

There is no doubt in my mind he is a sleeping giant on FI. He’s been held back by rotation in both of the last two seasons be that Bayern or Real.

I give him a 5 out of 5 stars for potential in my ratings though and that’s not without good reason. I don’t give those out cheap in fact only 3 midfielders have it.

Is this Everton move the one that is going to bring out that potential? Not likely. But could he get somewhere close, enough to justify the £1.69 you pay now? At that price something like 3.5 out of 5 stars (which is around 5-7 good scores a season) would be more than enough.

There is a good chance of that, and being a high profile player incoming to the EPL he will likely get a little help from media along the way. He still has stardust as people still remember him for his World Cup exploits. He’s newsworthy.

He’ll also be at a club where he’ll be the undisputed main man most likely with a coach that knows him and likes him.

The deal is not over the line yet. And it’s not exactly the move I would have picked but given how completely depressed the price has been he’s still value even after a price rise.

Donny Van de Beek

He looks Manchester United bound and it’s a big payoff for holders. A big move was likely for him and it’s one of those pretty obvious transfer picks that have little downside at the starting price. 

If I flick to the transfers section he was in there in early February at just £1.99. £3.47 on the Blue Button now and if holding you don’t have a hyped up no hoper. He has some real potential.

He’ll need to challenge for performance but media should help him out at least shorter term as he moves. And then for as long as he remains new and shiny. 

He’s versatile which I generally don’t like as it adds uncertainty. But none of his usual positions are objectively bad. He’s capable of pulling the strings in the middle but also gets forward and scores and assists. 

I’m fairly optimistic because if you just wanted a holding midfielder to sit deep I’m not sure this is the player you’d buy. He’s got the ability to add goals so my assumption would be OGS will use that. 

Just speculation and we’ll never really be able to say until we see at least some friendlies. But for now it’s enough to know he has real potential and isn’t dead on arrival like many transfer trades.

There will always be fickle friends jumping on the bandwagon and you can bet some will exit as soon as he isn’t winning media that day.

So there’s two viable strategies in my view. Take advantage of any spike for media and just cash out, monitoring the early numbers to see whether he is worth buying back.

Or, you can just hold, clean up a bit of media, and then evaluate the early numbers deciding then whether to sell or keep.

In my mind it’s a toss up as to which one of those will work out optimally.

Bad strategies would include piling in now or not paying very close attention to any early minutes he plays friendlies or otherwise.

Thiago Alcantara

I almost included him in Core but the likely transfer does introduce that little element of uncertainty.

I’m not actually too fussed about that though.

He’s the calibre of player where he is only realistically going to a big club. He’s a world class player in his prime. He’ll generally be signed for the here and now and wouldn’t accept rotation. 

And he kinda does what he does – it would be amazing if anyone signed Thiago and then asked him to play anything but his usual game which is extremely performance friendly.

There is the risk that he doesn’t settle at Liverpool or elsewhere but I think that’s manageable by watching early games closely. 

And if he ends up staying at Bayern? All good.

29 gives him years left at the top for a big club and Spain. And now that dividends have doubled £2.56 on the Blue Button looks a snip, even after a rise recently. 

And if he starts adding EPL media to his dividend totals too? Tasty.

Leroy Sané

Sané could do really well at Bayern, no doubt.

I’d expect his output to be fairly similar to Gnabry’s. Which is to say he’s not a powerhouse that will be challenging every single week but he’s a strong pick that will challenge regularly and is particularly useful when there is a run of CL games. Or indeed for Euro 2021. 

He probably will be intended as a first teamer assuming he settles. He has been given the Number 10 jersey which is a vote of confidence for sure. And it would probably be Coman that sees the brunt of that rotation. But likely we will see Gnabry/Sané/Coman rotating with each other at times and that’s acceptable.

There are a few issues.

The main one is the classification in midfield, which is mildly ridiculous. If Gnabry is a forward then Sané, likely played on the opposite wing, should be too. There is a good chance that is changed but with OPTA you never know when that will happen.

Certainly early on when Sané starts people should have optimism as he is new and shiny. As things drag on though that midfield position is a worry. As a forward he is well within range of wins based on historic numbers. In midfield… it’s going to be tough to beat whichever big baseline midfielder of the day gets a matchwinner.

Given he is not that much cheaper than Gnabry’s currently modest £3.92 bid price I am not sure why you would pick Sané over Gnabry if having to choose. Although we do not have to choose necessarily – I like to cover multiple Bayern players right now.

He could be a breakout star but for me it is one to monitor, mainly because of that midfield classification. He would have to improve a lot to compete regularly in midfield, and whilst Bayern is a positive environment to do that, so was City. So it seems hard to believe he can get that much better.

That said, if holding I’d probably let him run into the season. Not everyone knows he might struggle and an early goal or two might see excitement just because he’s new at the club.

If not holding the best scenario might be that he struggles early on and dips in price on the bid – making him a viable pick up in hope of a likely reclassification to forward at some stage.

Jeremie Boga

Boga, 23 year old Sassuolo forward, has some strong links to good clubs, most notably Napoli and Atalanta.

Given that he’s also a good hold at his existing club who are a rare smaller club that are competitive for performance, it isn’t a huge transfer gamble.

He’s a forward with high involvement all over the pitch and it puts him a cut above the vast majority in terms of baselines. He’s also added 11 goals this season at a middle ranking club which is impressive. I think he’s unlucky not to have put up more big scores than he has.

That sort of level is enough to justify his £1.53 bid or close to it easily so if he moved to Atalanta I’d expect better. At Napoli I would too but it will require 2020 Napoli to stick around rather than any drift back to the awful first half of the season they endured last term.

A good “Challenger” pick as he can improve and rise a lot but you’d have to be pretty unlucky to get a big drop from his current reasonable price.

Raphael Guerreiro

Actually, Guerreiro is probably better included under the “Core” selections rather than the challengers. 

His reclassification to defence makes it pretty easy for him to carry a £1.85 price tag. He should continue at wing back for Dortmund and if there is any uncertainty it could be that he is reclassified again into midfield. Wingbacks are a grey area.

This would not be ideal as it is in defence where he can really dominate. However for the money he is capable of occasionally challenging in midfield even if that risk were to materialise so I don’t think it is a disaster.

A really solid choice that doesn’t tax the brain too much.

Eden Hazard

Pretty much a nightmare start to life at Real, often due to injury which is unfortunate.

When we have seen him on the pitch the numbers have been very encouraging for FI purposes and he’s unlucky not to have made an impact, only finishing letting him down.

He’s generally played well and was winning over fans. Unlucky that versus City with all eyes on him he had a poor game because most of the time he’s looked good. But the CL game will be all the majority of people watched.

Negativity often opens up value though and there is huge profit in going for unpopular players that have indicators they can recover.

£2.69 on a bid for Hazard is borderline outrageous for a 29 year old Real Madrid key player. All he really has to do from there is stay fit and the improvement should come.

A good player to take into the season at the price in my view. But it’s one of those you need to be brave and go for or not. Clearly he has challenges but the price is to match. And if he starts the season well much of that value could disappear very quickly. We don’t want to go chasing it in after the fact.

So picks like this require a little bravery and being willing to do what others won’t – this aversion to a player who has had a rough season is exactly what creates the potential value.

Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech

I’ll start with a word on Chelsea and it’s easier if I group these 3 new signings together.

(I am bravely assuming Havertz does complete his deal as it is so close.)

Genuinely performance suitable players in the EPL have high price ceilings. 

Trouble is, there isn’t actually that many of them. It’s a tough league and the reason clubs like Bayern do so well in performance isn’t just because they are brilliant it’s because they are smashing up very weak sides. 

Not so in the EPL where very few games are a total walk over.

Yet we see time and again traders get way too optimistic on young EPL players who never really had a chance of justifying their price. 

Chelsea are particularly bad for it in recent history. Mount. Abraham. Gilmour. Tomori. When they rocketed in value last season and then dropped in price later this wasn’t unlucky for those holders – it’s because they didn’t really understand the real performance quality of those players.

Ironically, the most FI suitable players who did have a chance at Chelsea like Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek or Alonso were either injured or out of favour for much of the season.

So Chelsea last season were just plain awkward. The fashionable players people wanted to buy were atrocious. And the unfashionable players people didn’t want to buy were potentially brilliant if they could get on the pitch which was mixed.

However this season looks a different proposition. Here are three new Chelsea players who can be both fashionable and suitable for FI.

It’s hard to put much between Havertz, Werner and Ziyech as trades.

All have strong potential and it’s legitimate to be optimistic on the performance chances of all 3. At least until we see some numbers in Chelsea shirts.

Ziyech probably has the biggest question mark if only because his excellent stats are mainly produced in the soft Dutch league. However, I note that when facing tougher opponents in the Champions League or Europa he maintains his levels or thereabouts which is encouraging.

He gets a few minus points for being slightly older at 27 but he is a player in his prime and that’s not an age where you start severely slashing the price he probably has at least 5 years ahead.

And he has no big international side which will count this year. I think Euros are going a little unnoticed at the moment (possibly because it all came to nothing because of Corona). But that’s not likely to repeat and we should not sleep on the importance of this as a factor. The internationals coming up in Sept/Oct should be a reminder.

Balanced against those two small negatives he is also considerably cheapest of the 3 and I’d have no hesitation paying £3.38 for him even after the rise. 

He’ll need close monitoring but it’s always a tricky judgement call with these players. If you sit and wait for more evidence you may miss that day one explosion. But it may also let you avoid a player that turns out to be a bust. No real right answer on that because in just one or two games luck is a huge factor.

This is where a good staking strategy can help out. Because I’m confident in him historically but there are question marks at a new club, I might go for a Small Buy here and then up it later if we see something convincing. And if it goes badly it’s not too painful to get out of.

is one of those players who has the potential to really cut it in the EPL so he’s very exciting. He’ll possibly be the most exciting EPL joiner since Bruno Fernandes.

However before we get carried away he is still young and still has to adapt and fit into the side. And for the last few months certainly he’s been carrying a hefty price tag.

If he slots in behind the striker as expected that’s probably the ideal position for him and he has every chance of doing well. 

We’d need to monitor him if he joins to check his historic numbers are going to translate to the EPL. But he’s a player that ticks just about every desirability box there is. He’s also been dropping in price after a period where people got very carried away ahead of the transfer.

The dividend increase makes this calculation a lot more favourable too. £5+ may seem like a lot now but I would expect £5-6 to become much more common throughout this season, the dividends support those valuations for good FI suitable players.

A good choice in my opinion certainly at that £5.64 bid or thereabouts. Holders will want to watch it closely in the early games of course and I’m sure he will be heavily covered in Scouting.

Werner is a fairly similar story. Not quite as strong in terms of overall involvement but he also doesn’t need to be as Forward is an easier category. He’s good enough to compete for wins and if he becomes a leading EPL striker he is likely to pick up plenty of media too. 

Like Havertz he has been dipping after the transfer as lots of traders have that robotic “buy the hype sell the news” kind of style. But at £5-6 I’d be very confident to take him into the season and he could be a player who genuinely deserves a premium price tag if things go well for him.

Philippe Coutinho

Not unlike Rodriguez above, Coutinho is a potential FI powerhouse – if only he can get his club situation resolved.

Arsenal is the strong rumour although Koeman may decide he can’t give up a player of such quality if Messi does indeed leave. Either way, it seems hard to believe Coutinho would accept a season languishing on the bench having just won the Champions League. 

So I’m not overly worried about the transfer gamble most credible outcomes are likely to be decent.

An Arsenal move would likely generate short term hype although Arsenal are something of a turn off for performance. 

However, I think I’d back Coutinho to punch through that he is just so strong, much the same as Bruno does it from Manchester United who aren’t exactly the easiest platform to succeed from. 

And in any case, the short term media would likely tide holders over at least until they can evaluate a few games.

A stay at Barcelona provided he was first team under Koeman would be another positive outcome. He’d likely need to prove he’s got the minerals with some wins but given the pitch time he is well capable of that.

£2.40 on the bid or anything close? Clearly he’s got some challenges to overcome like all players in this article but I think the price is right for that. The upside is potentially huge and with him coming off a drop and at a relatively low price it feels like a good time to move.

Antoine Griezmann

Another potential high performer who has been a casualty of awkward team selection.

With Koeman in charge I am much more optimistic. Koeman is set to employ such revolutionary coaching techniques as “playing players in their best position”. Inspired right? That’s why he earns the big bucks.

Griezmann in his natural position can be a cut above the vast majority of forwards for performance scoring. We certainly see this for France.

Particularly if Messi moves on I think Griezmann should really improve. And if Messi doesn’t, Koeman’s pledge to play Griezmann in his natural role will help anyway.

Given the negativity of a rough season the price is still beaten down to just £1.85 on the bid. Yet there are many reasons to be positive now and the price is very right. 

Marco Asensio

Asensio has certainly made an impact on his long awaited return from injury. Eased into the side with limited minutes as expected but still managed 3 goals after the season restart. 

And per minute the baseline numbers are very solid too. 

If we cast back to 2018 and 2019 when he was playing regular games he shows some elite level FI numbers. As a regular he could be one of FI’s best.

He has real potential to be a breakout player of next season. At 24 he is entering his prime. Plays for Spain. Ticks just about every box there is going.

And is still just £1.73 on the bid or £1.99 on the Blue Button despite being up at £2.28 just a couple of months back after good performances. It’s a little crazy to see people selling him that cheaply.

He’s got to establish in the team in a squad jam packed full of talent but that’s true for the majority of Madrid players and Asensio has a really good chance.


Dani Parejo

This was a bizarre and unexpected series of events at Valencia where the board fell out of with key players including captain Parejo. 

Had the status quo been maintained Parejo would have entered the season as a comfortable value option at around £1.40 to £1.70 depending on the bids. Most likely, in this dividend structure, he’d have blown that valuation away.

He still could. But we have to see how he settles in and indeed whether he can get penalties at the new club. Cazorla has moved on who was the previous taker so there is a chance. Parejo isn’t completely reliant on penalties for goal threat but penalties are his real weapon so it would be a blow if he didn’t get them for sure.

We have seen two friendlies with Parejo in the side and he looks like… Parejo. Which is good. He picks up where he left off with huge involvement which will build those baselines.

Ironically he played against Valencia on what must have been a strange day. He ran the midfield for Villarreal and it’s very likely he is an instant key player.

£1.62 again looks like a value option and if he does get penalties I’d expect £2 with ease before long. If not, £1.62 isn’t bad.

For holders it’s worth pausing on how awful this could have been as such an expected shock could have left him at an unsuitable club or even a move to an ineligible league. Villarreal has to count as a win and it gives him a decent platform to do his thing.

Alexis Sanchez

Sanchez has landed on his feet at Inter and his nightmare has come to an end.

Traders are very slow to forget a flop though and this will often cost them. When you have a player who genuinely improves at a time when his price is rock bottom you can be onto a winner.

That can be the case here. Sanchez just signed a 3 year deal with Inter where he’ll be a leading player in a Champions League side expected to challenge for Serie A too.

He’s competitive in the Forward category, not every week but certainly strong enough for this bargain bucket price.

The IPD alone will cover this price tag. 

He’s 31 with a long contract.

And he is a simply astounding 84p on a bid or even £1.16 on the Blue Button looks value.

You will get people in chat groups who can’t get over the past who will say “but he was bad at Manchester United! And he’s 31!”. But I would suggest these people wipe the dribble from their keyboards and then think again. 

Those historic problems are behind him. And the price more than compensates for the age.

Really not much to dislike here for the money. It’s just really obvious value and all you really need to do is be willing to think a little differently to most.

Ciro Immobile

He could have comfortably slotted into the “Core” player article but as a veteran he is a bit more of a challenging trade. Which isn’t to say not profitable!

Immobile has been on ludicrous £1.30-£1.40 bids for a while but went up rapidly to £1.77 at the lowest bid now. 

I think people really get themselves muddled sometimes with age. Some traders just avoid it all together thinking you can’t possibly buy players over 25. This is so limiting. Especially given that a players prime is actually closer to 26-31. 

These veterans are amongst the best players around yet have comparatively lower prices often making them value.

The issue is timing with veterans. And there is no better time to hold veterans than when there is a full season ahead and contracts are nice and stitched up. 

Immobile won the Golden Shoe as Europe’s most prolific striker last season. And he just signed a deal until 2025. He leads for Italy. He leads for Lazio who are in the CL and should challenge for the Serie A title again.

In what world is he only worth £1.70-£1.80 after this dividend increase?

Taking advantage of this kind of blindness is a much more reliable way to profit than trying to actually win dividends and it’s why most gains on FI still come from capital appreciation.

Sometimes profiting from this sort of thing feels embarassingly easy. It’s not like this is something people haven’t seen before. Immobile was the second most profitable player in my pre-season predictions last season for almost exactly the same reasons as exist now. 

People really sleep on this stuff.

Riyad Mahrez

If he played full matches every week Mahrez would be an FI powerhouse. Pep’s tinkering limits that a bit but he still gets significant minutes. 

Players don’t need to play every game. If they are this strong then they can make the games they have count for enough.

Most likely, he’ll get his big wins, including potentially on those Gold Day’s, and this current £1.66 bid price will be looked back on with a wry smile. It’s just too pessimistic on a good player.

It was only January he was up at £2.27 on the Blue Button and it wouldn’t take a great deal to see him back there.

If you are willing to go for such players when they are down you can take a tidy profit relatively easily.

Also consider:

Florian Thauvin
Joao Cancelo
Mario Pasalic
Christian Eriksen
Naby Keita
Domenico Berardi (actually Berardi could be Core he’s very solid)
Achraf Hakimi
Exequiel Palacios
Kerim Demirbay
Fabian Ruiz

More coming later in the week including the real potential wonderkids. Check back then!

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