Everton’s attack is back
After a disappointing season languishing in mid table, Everton gave all a reminder of their potential with a 3-1 victory over Chelsea. Roberto Martinez went too far in last year’s campaign to keep the ball at all times and switched things up this year, giving Romelu Lukaku a friend to play with up front in Arouna Kone. The result is far more direct play that thrives on the counter attack. With this setup Ross Barkley now plays behind two strikers and, like many attacking players in the hole, has looked vastly improved compared to previous abject showings. Martínez faffed about trying to put a square peg into a swiss roll when he experimented with Barkley in a deeper position last season, but hopefully the Spaniard is content to leave him in his current position.
The main difficulty with Everton is knowing what fixtures they thrive in. They’ll experience both ends of the spectrum with visits to Old Trafford and The Hawthorns in the next few weeks. With defence never being Everton’s forté, John Stones makes for an underwhelming fantasy pick compared to his real life performances. Lukaku looks set to be having his best non-loan season and should continue to rack up points. It’s splendid to see Everton’s enterprising attack return, after last year’s hiatus.
Beware Manchester City away from home
The league leaders have asserted themselves in every game so far. At home they’re a juggernaut, if you don’t pick any City players when the fixture is at the Etihad, think again. Their suffocation of possession and widespread talent is a recipe for fantasy success. Joe Hart kept the most clean sheets last season and 185 goals over the last two seasons speaks for City’s potency going forward.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team isn’t a one trick pony. This season has already seen them pick up maximum points away to Everton and West Brom with none conceded. If anything, they can dominate games and break down a deep-lying defence better than any side in the league. But give them a feisty tackle, a hostile atmosphere and a fired-up, possibly tipsy Alan Pardew to rile up his Argentine counterpart – Manchester City lose their way somewhat. Petulance is something that runs through their side and it was never clearer than on Saturday. Once their natural flow was disrupted the passing began to go askew and the attacks were repeatedly halted. Granted they were missing David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero but the difference in their temperament was palpable. Fortunately for them they got away with it this weekend due to Kelechi Iheanacho’s late intervention. (who else? Classic Iheanacho.)
At the Etihad City are still a banker against three quarters of the league. There’s no fixture that makes the Citizens a no-go zone for your side, but see caution in away fixtures against sides like Palace, Stoke and Leicester. The Champions League is getting into the swing of things this week, Sergio Aguero’s status is questionable after Scott Dann’s reducer and their next two away league games are at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford. Perhaps it would be wise to moderately temper expectations for City when they go on their travels.
Rodgers fails to recognise the true issues with Liverpool
This isn’t something we learnt this weekend, but it seems apt to discuss it now. Around an hour before kick-off at Old Trafford, Rodgers handed out another line-up that was difficult to parse. Danny Ings, Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke could have comprised an effective diamond. Rodgers instead told Ings to man the left wing and Firmino to float around aimlessly, if we’re to go by the Brazilian’s performance. Lovren kept his spot and further enhanced Morgan Schneiderlin’s and Jose Fonté’s reputations as the rare players who made the Croat look decent. Joe Gomez, a centre-half who was signed from Charlton Athletic, a midtable Championship team, suddenly didn’t look like a ready-made Premier League left-back. Quelle surprise.
The main issue with Liverpool still is the insistence, presumably from Rodgers, to play the ball out from defence. Gary Neville touched on it when commentating, but this is something that has been a continuous thorn in Rodgers’ side for 2 years, perhaps more. Even when they had all the success in 2013/14, the defence repeatedly conceded possession with alarming frequency.
Like with many big clubs right now, it’s tough to see Liverpool’s true plan, on the field or off. There’s a plethora of attackers for Rodgers to use but it only seems to tempt him into increasingly wacky systems that couldn’t possibly be part of any ‘philosophy’. He needs to establish a core of players to build up on and quickly. You get the sense he won’t be given the time to do so.
Villa aren’t ready to push on
Fantasy football isn’t just about knowing when to pick up the in-form players, it’s equally crucial to snuff out the fool’s gold. We may have our first example with Aston Villa this weekend. They took a 2-0 lead with fantastic strikes from Carles Gil and
a Peaky Blinders extra Jack Grealish. You could forgive many for thinking Villa were sneaking a win as they have often managed to do away from home the past few years. De Laet, Vardy and Dyer all piped up with objections and in the space of 20 minutes it was Goodnight, Mister Tim.
Our favourite gilet model unchained Villa from the defensive restraints imposed by his predecessor, Paul Lambert. Under the Scot, somehow the side made pace look boring with central midfielders often refusing to venture further than the halfway line. The now departed Christian Benteke was often the only player worthy of selection for a fantasy side, unless you bought into Andreas Weimann’s inevitable early season form. But with Sherwood, have some possible budget options have emerged?
Um, no, not really. The attacking options aren’t pretty. Gil picked up an injury, and Grealish’s looks promising but Bakary Sako appears one of many more favourable picks in that price bracket. The best option, Scott Sinclair, is in a random purple patch that he hasn’t shown signs of since 2012. Rudy Gestede didn’t start on Sunday. Gabby Agbonlahor still lives in 10-foot barge pole territory and manages to look overweight while being fast. Please sir, can we have our Libor Kozak back?
Newcastle are the same as last year, sans drama
West Ham and Dimitri Payet, who is looking very tidy indeed, took up much of the analysis on Monday Night Football with Carragher and Neville. A less exciting takeaway is that Newcastle look absolutely identical to last year and the year before, just without the overbearing farces regarding Alan Pardew, John Carver or Mike Ashley.
For all the supposed ‘overhaul’ in the summer with McClaren’s hiring and a few purchases of permanent players. It shows how the narrative switches with some noisy activity in the transfer market. Newcastle’s side has gaping holes. Vernon Anita is their main playmaker and Andreas Pirlo he most certainly is not. Papiss Cisse has quietly evolved into a poor man’s Defoe. They won’t be relegated, but if anything this season will be duller than the last. Rather than the typical pre-Christmas spike in form then a catastrophic drop off, the Magpies look set to turn their 2015/16 campaign into one big grey mush.