Star Player and Punt - Gameweek 1 - Aaron v Marco

Where did the summer go? The new Premier League season is here and it’s time to kick-off our new weekly feature, revealed by Sleno in July. Two FPL Dugout Contributors go head-to-head each Gameweek, pitting their Star Player, a free choice, and their Punt, a player with less than 4% ownership, against their fellow Contributor, in a classic “winner stays on” format.

First up, it’s Aaron versus Marco, for the privilege of facing Sleno in Gameweek 2.

Aaron’s Star Player – Eden Hazard

I had first pick of the Star player and it was a straightforward choice. With doubts over Mata’s fitness, and Lukaku, Torres and Ba seemingly competing for the lone striker role, Hazard seems the most risk-free choice.

Selected by 32.4% of teams at the time of writing, Hazard looks the ideal choice for the armband, with a double Gameweek against Hull and Aston Villa at the Bridge a tantalising prospect for a player who can score or assist for fun.

Likely to be fielded on the left of a front three or the role in “the hole”, Hazard will take his share of corners and free-kicks, and is also next in line for penalties when Lampard isn’t on the pitch.

The prospects look good, then, and after blitzing last season’s opening double Gameweek 1 with two double-figure returns, there’d be no surprise to see him do it again.

Marco’s Star Player – Romelu Lukaku

Reacting to Aaron’s pick of Eden Hazard, I only really have the option of matching up and going with a Chelsea forward. Benteke or Van Persie were options but as Chelsea have two games against two of the sides destined for the lower end of the table, I feel this move is rather enforced on me.

Big Rom or Romelu Lukaku is a risk Aaron wished not to make, but it’s a gamble I feel is more than worth the pick. Lukaku has been in excellent form in pre-season and so far 21.6% of managers have selected him for the opening week of the season.

Lukaku outscored both Ba and Torres points-wise last season despite playing over 500 minutes less than both his Chelsea counterparts. Baby Drogba has also accrued 5 goals in 7 pre-season matches which overshadows the solitary goal that Ba and Torres have mustered between them.

Lukaku looks a sure pick for the double Gameweek. Despite starting for Belgium in midweek, he was withdrawn before the end and will surely avoid Jose’s rath. (Eden Hazard played in that very same game.)

Many Fantasy managers will be nervous about selecting Lukaku with the trip to Old Trafford round the corner (remember his hat-trick against United at the Hawthorns last year), and Chelsea’s blank Gameweek 3, but we all saw how profitable the double Gameweeks were last season. After all, if you want to win the game you have to start well, and Lukaku could be the catalyst your team needs.

Aaron’s Punt – Jozy Altidore

It would’ve been easy to select another double Gameweek player, perhaps from Aston Villa, but I wanted to mix it up a little more.

Sunderland’s new striker, Jozy Altidore, is my choice, with a home fixture against Fulham the perfect platform to hit the ground running for the 7.0 priced FPL forward.

Under the guidance of Paulo Di Canio, I think we’ll see a different Sunderland this season, with more purpose and panache.

In Jozy Altidore, Sunderland have a player who scored 31 goals in 39 domestic matches for AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch top-flight last season, and with Steven Fletcher still out injured, Altidore is set to lead the line for Di Canio’s outfit.

Granted, Altidore was ineffective during his time with Hull in the Premier League in 2009/10, scoring 1 goal in 28 games, but he was only 19 years-old back then. Now 23 and with more experience under his belt, we should see a different Altidore, one with a point to prove.

Indeed, a hat-trick and an assist in United States’s 4-3 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in midweek suggests a man in form.

Trips to Southampton and Crystal Palace follow Sunderland’s opener against Fulham, so now is the time to take a punt on a player selected by just 1.4% of FPL managers, before the schedule turns very nasty from Gameweek 4.

Marco’s Punt – Iago Aspas

Sneaking in under the 4.0% selection criteria, my punt for Gameweek 1 is the 3.7% selected Iago Aspas. Aspas has been in great pre-season form since arriving from Spain, netting 4 times in 7 games. Mainly deployed on the right wing of a front 3 and priced at 7.0m, he offers potential value for those that cannot afford a Sturridge or Coutinho at 9.0m a piece in their squads.

All the talk last week was of Rodgers deploying Aspas as the main striker to face Stoke at Anfield on the opening day, but recent talk of Sturridge being fit for the season opener has dampener these rumours somewhat. I feel however such is Aspas’ form, he is destined for a full 90 minutes and if Stoke’s poor away record continues then Aspas could be the beneficiary of that.

As a longer term prospect, Aspas’ place looks assured, and even if the turbulent Luis Suarez returns, he will be farmed out on the opposite wing leaving Sturridge the main goal threat.

I’m sure we will cover the England youngster in weeks to come. For now as we assemble our troops and lead them into battle, it’s the little unknown gems that define our seasons, and in Aspas could lie potential to be a very shrewd acquisition over the weeks ahead.