How to play ESPN's Premier League fantasy soccer game

It's hard to believe, but the 2019-20 Premier League season is less than a month away! Liverpool, the reigning European champions, will get things started by hosting newly promoted Norwich City on Friday, Aug. 9.

This also marks the beginning of the second season of ESPN Fantasy Soccer. Now feels like a good time to share a few things I learned from Season 1 -- a season in which I finished 24-6 in my fantasy league, collecting 29 of a possible 30 bonus points and ending up 18 points above my closest rival.

So, without further ado, here are five tips to help you finish at the top of the table in your league next year:

Goals, goals, goals!

One of the best things about ESPN's game is that you can accumulate points via several categories. That being said, goals remain by far the most valuable commodity, worth 10 points apiece. That's where your focus should be when starting to build your lineup each week.

In particular, you should be looking for goals from your Tier 1 and Tier 2 forwards. However, that's easier said than done. Three players (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah) tied for the Golden Boot last year, but they each only scored 22 goals in a 38-game season.

When choosing my forwards in any given week, I generally look at which players are hot, and which teams are heavy favorites. When Manchester City hosted Huddersfield Town in Matchweek 2 last season, was anyone really surprised when Man City won 6-1 and Sergio Aguero finished with a hat trick?

I also look at shot totals, because players who shoot a lot tend to score a lot. Salah led the league in shots last season, and Aubameyang and Mane were both in the top 10. Plus you earn fantasy points for shots as well in the form of two points for a shot on goal and half of a point for an off-target shot.

Balancing act

Forwards are like home-run hitters in baseball. They have some huge games, but they also strike out a lot. When forwards don't score goals, they generally deliver very few fantasy points, because they don't do much else besides shoot. Therefore, I take a more balanced approach when it comes to midfielders. I don't want a fantasy lineup stacked with nothing but sluggers, because that will lead to lots of weeks in which I fall flat on my face.

Assists are the second-most lucrative category in our game, worth five points each. They're also harder to come by than you might think. Eden Hazard, the league-leader last season, had just 15 of them -- and only seven players finished in double-digits in that category.

Chances created (passes that lead to a shot) are only worth one point each, but there's a lot more of them. James Maddison led the league with 100 chances created last season, and Hazard was right behind him with 98. When choosing my Tier 1 and Tier 2 midfielders, I tend to pick players who create a lot of chances, in addition to providing some goal threat. If they get a few assists, that's a bonus.

Pass and move

You only get 0.1 points per pass completed in our scoring system, the lowest amount of any category. However, you shouldn't ignore passing, because it still has a huge impact on the game! That's because players can rack up a ton of completed passes in a single match. Jorginho led the league with 2,783 of them overall in 37 appearances last season. That's an average of 75.2 (or 7.5 fantasy points) per game. That's worth 75% of a goal!

When choosing my Tier 3 midfielder, passes completed is usually my primary concern. You won't find players who score lots of goals in Tier 3. I'd rather pick someone with a high floor -- a player you can count on to deliver, at worst, a solid fantasy total each week.

Looking at team possession percentages can help here. For example, Manchester City led the league in possession last season, at 67.7%. Cardiff City finished last in that category, at 34.5%. So when Man City and Cardiff got together, you could expect some Man City players to rack up huge passing totals. Sure enough, when they met in Matchweek 6, Man City ended up with 78.6% of the possession and three of their players each had more than 100 passes completed in the game.

Full stop

When picking defenders, particularly if you've played other fantasy soccer formats in the past, your first instinct is to choose fullbacks, since they are much more involved in their teams' offensive attacks. Yet, the top three defenders in terms of fantasy points last season were all center backs: Virgil van Dijk, Aymeric Laporte and David Luiz.

Why? Well, passes completed come into play here, too. Laporte was second in the league in that category, Van Dijk was third, and Luiz was fifth. Center backs are the safer play at both Tier 1 and Tier 2 defender.

That being said, there are times when it might be worth the risk to pick a fullback. For instance, Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold set a new Premier League record for defenders with 12 assists last season, and teammate Andrew Robertson had 11. When Liverpool are up against one of the minnows of the league, players like these are indeed more attractive.

Guessing game

Goalkeeper is the most unique position in the game. Keepers can post a big score with a clean sheet (10 points) plus a few saves (3 points apiece). However, he also can do serious damage because this is the only position to have players who routinely finish with negative scores, since every goal conceded costs you five points.

I tend to play it safe and pick a goalkeeper from one of the top teams in the league. Liverpool's Alisson and Man City's Ederson led the league in clean sheets with 21 and 20, respectively, last season, and they finished first and third in fantasy points at their position. Still, you can gamble at this position as well. Hugo Lloris finished second in fantasy points, ahead of Ederson, despite only having 12 clean sheets. That's because Lloris made 101 saves, significantly more than either Alisson (76) or Ederson (58).

West Ham's Lukasz Fabianski led the league in saves with 148, and finished fourth in fantasy points. Unfortunately, he also had just seven clean sheets, and conceded three-plus goals on five different occasions -- including three to lowly Huddersfield back in March. A bad game from a goalkeeper can be far more damaging than a bad game from a forward, midfielder or defender. So, be careful!