Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

Standard

Leicester go five points clear, Arsenal and Spurs leave their contest feeling disappointed and Swansea virtually guarantee some Welsh representation in the Premier League next season. 5 things we learned from the weekend:

Another reminder to mostly avoid derby matches

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t find the North London Derby gripping to watch. Everyone groans at the cliche of ‘form goes out the window’ for rivalry games and with the recent results for Spurs and Arsenal it was hard to tell if that cliche held true or not. With both teams coming off narrow defeats but pushing for the title, it was declared the most important fixture between the teams ever to be contested. Unfortunately, all of this excitement and entertainment made it nigh on impossible to pick a fantasy team suited to the occasion.

Michael Oliver came armed with a yellow card to White Hart Lane and he wasn’t afraid to use it, while the peculiar trend of Arsenal’s big games this season always involving a red card continued. This is the main reason to avoid selecting players participating in derby matches, the widespread dispersion of disciplinary cards of both colours.  Personally, I tend to steer clear of defences in particular for these games. Francois Coquelin isn’t a factor in fantasy football, but his rush-of-blood red card could have happened to anyone and Eric Dier probably should have gone for a slightly early bath. There aren’t many derbies left this season, but proceed with caution when 2016/17 rolls around.

Lukaku becoming a fully fledged star

Saturday eventually morphed into a day of doom and gloom for the Toffees, whose disappointing season has started to linger into ‘Roberto Martinez might actually get fired’ territory, especially given that new owners are in town. Regardless of yet another lead being let slip, Romelu Lukaku showcased his complete game – aside from penalty taking – against West Ham and it’s getting to the point where he’s making Everton’s attack deadly week in, week out. Firstly, he went about sending Reece Oxford back to the U21s in the process of scoring his first and then set up Aaron Lennon to create the two goal advantage that Everton’s non-existent defence would lose.

Lukaku at under £9.0M is really undervalued in FPL and this is in a season where Riyad Mahrez (£7.3M) and Jamie Vardy (£7.8M) are stamping their authority all over the league. The Belgian has 18 goals, second in the goalscoring charts to only Jamie Vardy, and he could have boosted that tally even more against West Ham only to let a couple of chances go. Many seem to always have the sense that Lukaku never quite lives up to his billing and it’s difficult to understand why. Lukaku should be enjoyed for what he is right now, which is a striker who’s clearly on the path to being world class. As fantasy managers, we should enjoy him before his price is set in double figures next season.

Newcastle and McClaren should have parted ways a while ago

It was fitting that Ayoze Perez was the one to score for Newcastle while they still came out second best against former relegation candidates Bournemouth. The Spaniard is a rare spark of life in this Newcastle team when he plays so, naturally, Steve McClaren left him on the bench for the games prior to this one. It’s not just Perez that has received this puzzling treatment. Seydou Doumbia, of CSKA Moscow and Roma fame, threatened Stoke City in midweek when he came off the bench. Who did McClaren choose to start vs Bournemouth? Emmanuel Rivière of course, of 1 goal in 23 appearances fame.

No one is saying this Newcastle squad should be challenging for anything serious. But looking at what McClaren is working with, they should at least be able to score goals freely. Starting Rivière feels like he wants to get sacked and truthfully it has never looked like his heart was really in it. In fantasy terms the club feel like a poor man’s version of Manchester United, where you know there’s good players in the squad but it’d be wasting transfers and money to go after them while they’re under the direction of van Gaal or McClaren. Clubs should always look to be patient with their managers, but McClaren was a poor hire from the start and it’s only getting worse.

Bertrand Traore will be a sleeper next summer

Chelsea’s conveyor belt of prospects, most of whom might make a couple of starts during the season then fade into obscurity, is hard to keep up with at the best of times. However Bertrand Traore looks like he might stick around a tad more permanently. In the Premier League he’s up to 2 goals and an assist in just 166 minutes, as well as his recent emergence being the only interesting thing about Chelsea right now. The question is: will we see him starting next season under the next Chelsea manager?

Presuming Hiddink departs over the summer and Chelsea look to recruit as they normally do, it isn’t such a simple path to the starting XI for Bertrand. For example, Chelsea opened 2013/14 with Kevin De Bruyne in their side and he looked like he might be part of a funky new look Chelsea attack. But Mourinho and Chelsea decided otherwise and moved him onto Wolfsburg in the following January, so you just never know. But if Bertrand Traore looks set to get minutes from the off next season, pick him up. Or you could always just get him in your teams now of course, why wait?

Manchester United are just like every other team now

In the last couple of seasons, as soon as United look like they’ve found something and get on a bit of a roll someone like Tony Pulis and his West Brom team turn up to ruin it. Louis van Gaal has to be frustrated with the result at The Hawthorns that brought about the abrupt end to their winning streak, yet the way it happened was simply bemusing. The notorious Juan Mata picking up 2 yellow cards in nearly as many minutes? Not only is this iteration of United less talented than squads we’ve seen before, it’s also less intelligent. We all grew up dealing with Sir Alex Ferugson’s monolithic team, so to watch them playing with 10 men against West Brom and not being able to scrap a result just isn’t very…United.

On the positive side, Anthony Martial looks really dangerous regardless of where he plays and that versatility makes him an enticing prospect for the foreseeable future in fantasy football. If he can switch almost seamlessly between the left wing and leading the line, he’ll get plenty of minutes which for obvious reasons is a good thing. We don’t really know what Marcus Rashford is yet and I imagine he might be a tad overpriced next season because of his reputation. One final piece of advice for the coming double gameweek frenzies, perhaps you should drop your United defenders if Michael Carrick really is going to continue starting over Morgan Schneiderlin. I thought we’d solved this issue before, van Gaal?

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

Standard

The League Cup marks the home stretch of the football season, when everything’s going to get even more enthralling. It proved so this weekend with Arsenal disappointing, Leicester scoring late winners and Louis van Gaal chucking himself to the floor. Oh Premier League, how we missed you.

West Ham are embodying the Premier League

While Manchester City were busy with their Capital One Cup affair, whisperings of a race for the top 4 started over the weekend. Old Trafford hosted what was undoubtedly the biggest fixture, but it was in East London where another dramatic weekend kicked off. A visit from Sunderland was hardly a prospect to get pulses racing but West Ham made it so by taking the lead on the half hour mark before having to fend off an unprecedented surge from the Black Cats. The visitors were led by another solid outing from Wahbi Khazri that solidified his status as the main Sunderland player worth consideration in fantasy football.

Suddenly it became clear during this game that the team responsible for West Ham’s most successful season in recent times is representative of everything that English football is right now. It’s an athletic squad with one or two extremely talented and creative players creating for the rest and it all makes for attractive viewing at times. However the other side of the Premier League was showcased when they couldn’t control the game in the slightest and their defence looked increasingly permeable. It devolved into chaos in the latter stages, which wasn’t helped by the questionable decision from Slaven Bilić to replace Emmanuel Emenike with Andy Carroll. It left the Hammers struggling to find an outlet as attack after attack fizzled out with balls towards Carroll. They do indeed have a sniff of the top 4, but this defence looks set to run out of luck in its next few games.

Palace continue to get cooked defensively

If there’s one thing that a Premier League team should do, it’s not falling victim to a first half flurry of goals to a Tony Pulis managed team. A dire 2016 continued for the Eagles on Saturday night as a no longer moody Saido Berahino spearheaded West Brom’s attack, scoring 1 and hitting the post in a refreshing performance. Even so, the ease at which they got their trio of goals has to be alarming for Alan Pardew. His side are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league this year and they’ll still be looking for a Premier League level striker to start in the summer. The best news of the night for Palace fans was that it only took their manager 45 minutes in this game to decide that Adebayor is washed up. Nice signing, that one.

It’s been an exposing few months for Pardew. He continues to play Yohan Cabaye in midfield which is fine in some situations because he’s a nice player and he’s beneficial to an attack, but if there’s only one other central midfielder alongside him the backline are in for a rollercoaster ride. With James McArthur out, using both Mile Jedinak and Joe Ledley together with Cabaye might provide the protection Palace need to get out of this slump.

Koeman losing his mind a little

Recently, Southampton have had a enjoyable surge towards the places that can bring the dizzying heights of the Europa League and all the Thursday night glory it holds. It has come off the back of a renewed defensive effort with Fraser Forster back between the sticks, which has been Southampton’s main strength for 3 years now. Chelsea came to town this weekend and now that they’re back to a respectable level, some managerial caution would have been understandable. But managerial caution does not comprise of playing zero attacking midfielders and benching Sadio Mane, that’s just excessive. That’s Pulis-esque.

Who does Ronald Koeman think Chelsea are, Leicester? Saints won the reverse fixture 3-1, so it wasn’t as if there had been some previous thrashing that caused Koeman to think twice. Mane is having a down year with his goalscoring but he’s still deserving of a place in Southampton’s starting XI . Although the ‘Shane Long and chill’ plan gave them the lead, the 2 shots on target is indicative of how they fared going forward for most of the game. This rather unperturbed Chelsea team can be got at and it’s reasonable to think that a mildly more adventurous team selection would have seen Southampton take home a share of the points.

Throw away the Spurs stereotypes

It takes a good manager to improve a solid team into a title contender. It takes an even better one, a brilliant one to erase the embarrassments and failures welded deep into a team’s culture and establish a new order that showcases everything the previous one didn’t. Mauricio Pochettino is most certainly brilliant. If Leicester keep up their title contention to the final throes of the season then Claudio Ranieri will be the likeliest candidate to win Manager of the season and the Italian has had his shining moments this season tactically.

But no one has completed a steeper task than what Pochettino faced with this team’s identity and if it makes you feel better you can call them the Tottenham Pochettinos because there’s nothing ‘Spursy’ about them this season. In these games they’re just grinding away all the time . Perhaps unlike Arsenal, if Spurs don’t win the title this year it won’t be the fault of their manager. Coming from behind to beat Swansea was the manifestation of all his work to give this club an edge in which it’s lacked for so long.

Injury crisis may have been a blessing for United

Young players are a curious prospect. The inexperience is palpable sometimes and they hurt the team’s performance, as they get ran ragged by their footballing elders on the opposing teams. But in other cases, such as Manchester United this season, their lack of enlightenment serves them well. We’ve seen van Gaal anaesthetize this squad to the point where goals have been a genuine struggle despite the millions of pounds lavished on recruitment. It took a rash of injuries – and Wayne Rooney’s was especially important – and the resulting injection of youth for this United team to get going.

Marcus Rashford’s form is reminiscent of Anthony Martial’s prosperous beginnings in the Premier League. Safe to say that the ‘score with every touch’ plan doesn’t sustain for long, but he’s looked sharp. Memphis Depay decided to wake up and now that he has, he’s quickly become one of the more exciting players to watch with his unexpected touches of flair and Jesse Lingard’s continuing improvement is encouraging. He’s one more name to add into the mix for England’s Euro 2016 squad, which looks increasingly difficult to predict. All good news for United, but don’t anoint van Gaal as the savior just yet, let’s see what his team selections look like when United have more than half of their squad fully fit.

 

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

Standard

Don’t rule out the appearance of spring Sunderland

Prior to their monochrome rivals and fellow relegation candidates surrendering in a 5-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, spring Sunderland launched their annual bid to remain in the Premier League slightly early, discounting their draw against Liverpool last week. Every year, usually after a managerial change, Sunderland as we know them are replaced by ‘Spring Sunderland’ who thoroughly outplay sides at times and inexplicably pick up points against the big boys. If Spring Sunderland lasted an entire season, they would finish comfortably in mid-table.

In all honesty, Wahbi Khazri wasn’t on my radar of ‘active professional football players’ until he signed for Sam Allardyce in late January. Unlike most of Sunderland’s foreign imports – and there’s been enough of them – he’s noticeable on the pitch, fun to watch and pretty good! An albeit fortunate goal and an assist put away another mundane United effort. They still can’t defend, but if they can go forward like they did against United then yet another Mackem mess might be cleaned up.

Chelsea benefit from Newcastle capitulation

For whatever reason Chelsea, in what is undoubtedly a lost season now, have decided to play risk-free football. Guus Hiddink doesn’t care for fun and has chosen to stick it on autopilot with his mentally checked out squad. Goals will come of accidental consequence and to be fair the defence has looked a lot better when the midfield is only playing dead certain passes. Just ask Louis van Gaal and the ‘defence’ he built. Fortunately for the Blues, Newcastle look pretty checked out too, despite being firmly embroiled in another serious relegation fight.

Fabricio Coloccini wanted to leave Newcastle a couple of years ago for his native Argentina before Newcastle desperately kept him. Maybe there was a reason. The 34 year old looked well past his sell-by date chasing Diego Costa for the third goal and hasn’t impressed all season. Combine this with the sluggish dark side of Jonjo Shelvey showing up and it was no contest, even against this sleepy Chelsea team. Steve McClaren has to get more out of the attack and just hope to outscore some opponents down the stretch of the season.

Crystal Palace need to keep plugging away

2016 brought many new things into the world, but it hasn’t conjured up a win for the Eagles. They’ve missed Yannick Bolasie more than Alan Pardew surely would’ve expected and the signing of Emmanuel Adebayor is a medium-risk, medium-reward move that Palace didn’t really have to make. Sure, they’ve needed a striker all season, but shelling out for Adebayor is the exact move that the smarter clubs don’t bite on. I’m lukewarm on him in fantasy, but if he’s still starting when Bolasie comes back then maybe have a look, depending on other fixtures that gameweek.

They matched Watford in most departments, Yohan Cabaye hit the post and Joel Ward missed a late chance but, like many teams, Palace couldn’t seal the deal facing the Hornets. It’s a test of endurance for the South London club, who are now staring at a slowly dying season in mid-table but safely tucked away from the relegation scramble below them. Their next league game is against a Tottenham side that will have played in the Europa League just 3 days before. I quite like the sound of that.

This is why Tony Pulis doesn’t get relegated

5 years from now, wherever we all are, no one will remember a damn thing about this West Brom team. Not even Baggies fans. To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure that people could recall details about the team right now. This is how Tony Pulis has never been relegated. He brainwashes everyone into forgetting about his crew of infinite centre-halves and Salomon Rondon and then BAM. You lose 1-0 on a dreary Saturday afternoon. The mightiest team in all of the West Midlands (er…sorry Villa) came back with a defensively stout thud this weekend.

Everton never saw it coming. Or perhaps they did see it coming, but just very, very slowly as it dawned upon them that the goal they seeked for so long would not arrive. It seemed likely right up until the moment a chirpy Pulis shook Roberto Martinez hand and left with 3 points in his back pocket. To the Welshman, the fruitless attacking football of the opposition is merely collateral damage. The full extent of it: 34 shots, 26 chances created for Everton. 1 shot on target for West Brom. A visibly shocked Martinez press conference after? Priceless.

Aston Villa make everyone else look good

Without even having a chance to let my emotional pain subside after that Welbeck goal, I forced myself to watch Liverpool take on Aston Villa. ‘Take on’ might be too strong a turn of phrase. Liverpool’s mere attendance was enough to strongly sway the outcome of this one and Jurgen Klopp’s comments after the 6-0 massacre summed it up: “This is not a day for us to sing songs”. The German clearly understands the level Villa are at right now.

Last week’s 2-0 win over Norwich shouldn’t have fooled anyone into thinking they might retain their Premier League status. But it did suggest that Remi Garde might have managed to morph his side into a merely ‘bad’ team, improving from ‘cataclysmically bad’. 10 minutes of this game was enough to show otherwise. The way Liverpool eased their way into a 6 – SIX – goal lead was painful for anyone who watched. More painful than losing 2-1 at the Emirates after holding on with 10 men for so long? That I couldn’t possibly say.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

Standard

Leicester hold their ground at the top, Tottenham solidify their title contention status and, hey, Aston Villa won! What a season. Here’s 5 things we learned:

Ranieri’s defence fueling 2016 surge

After Robert Huth scuffed in a goal 2 minutes in, Manchester City reluctantly started their barrage on the Leicester penalty area. Raheem Sterling got loose several times and there must have been roughly half a dozen occasions when pullbacks flashed towards the 6 yard box. No matter. Wes Morgan has some meaty thighs that were made to block shots. Leicester’s attack has been nearly as blistering as it was before the turn of the New Year but the defensive showings that Ranieri has eked out, the ones Nigel Pearson never could, have been the difference. By the way, the thinking that Ranieri has changed nothing after Pearson’s departure is completely wrong.

When defenders have to block endless amounts of attempts on goal, it’s usually not a sign of a good defence. Saturday’s matinee in Manchester didn’t see one of Leicester’s better defensive performances by any means. But they did enough. That should really be the motto of Leicester’s back 4, they do enough. Not many teams will hold Manchester City to one consolation goal at the Etihad. 5 clean sheets in 7 games now, and Huth’s brace led Leicester to be 6 points clear at the top. What a sentence that is!

Stoke looking softer as season progresses

Teams do have identities and look a certain way when playing well. When the Potters are firing on all cylinders, their attack is fast and vicious, then backed up by a robust defence. Mark Hughes watched his team look the exact opposite of that against Everton. Cold, wet, windy cliches are nice and all but they mean nothing when the home team fails to perform in the same conditions. Suddenly, Stoke have morphed into a team that doesn’t truly thrive in their natural habitat.

Stoke signed 23 year old Giannelli Imbula in the transfer window and he might develop into a nice piece some day, but as of right now he’s not a good defensive midfielder for a Premier League club. He also looked absolutely freezing cold. Giving Lukaku and his friends a lot of space is football suicide and it happened over and over again. Ryan Shawcross has a slightly inflated reputation but his absence in recent weeks has been marked. The main fantasy implication from all this is Jack Butland continuing to fall behind in my fictional budget keeper rankings.

Chadli maintains his infuriating ways

Last season Nacer Chadli would float through a game and do nothing really of note in a comfortable Spurs win. Then the full-time whistle would blow, you’d look up and oh. Chadli would have notched a goal or an assist, somehow you noticing. This season’s been much of the same, except without any of those goal things. Even for a neutral, watching Chadli is a tantalizing yet thoroughly unsatisfying experience.

He missed a couple of chances against Watford in a game Spurs dominated from the off. The main flaw for Pochettino’s men is that they have games where they can’t create anything but this wasn’t one of those times, as 8 shots on target would attest to. Still it was only after Chadli came off that Spurs were able to break the deadlock and it was the Belgian’s replacement Dele Alli who provided the pass. It was an extremely impressive win for Spurs going up against a packed defence and sets them up nicely for next weekend’s clash with Manchester City. Don’t expect to see Chadli start though.

Watford lacking firepower outside of Ighalo, Deeney

For their trip to White Hart Lane, Quique Sánchez Flores left all his attacking players outside of his reputed front two at home. Deeney didn’t even make the starting line-up as Watford tried to clog up the game up and, if we’re being cynical: played for a draw. It’s not an awful strategy against this Spurs team, but unfortunately for Watford, their hosts have just started to hit their stride in front of goal.

As they were getting torn apart in front of their own goal, it was no prettier at the other end. It was a tale of 3 defensive midfielders and Ighalo battling a very good defence, with predictable results. Considering their reliance on two players to score and direct style, Watford are sort of like a more extreme but less talented version of Leicester. They’ll be just fine for the rest of the season, but they might want to look at inserting some creativity into the side during the summer.

Arsenal need to prove their mettle – but they’ve done it before

It’s been another turbulent week at the Emirates. Fraser Forster’s palms held the North London club to a goalless draw on Tuesday night while Leicester and Manchester City picked up 3 points elsewhere. This was only a minor setback, but a setback nonetheless which only meant one thing: crisis. Arsenal apparently only deal in crises and surefire glory, even though they’ve had neither for years. Looking ahead, yet another vital spring period beckons. Sandwiched between fixtures against some Spanish side called Barcelona, they’ll face Man Utd (A), Swansea (H), Tottenham (A) and West Brom (H).

The narrative is that Arsenal suddenly transform into a wet blanket for games at this point in the season. But Arsenal historically have performed very well. Over the past 5 seasons in Premier League fixtures played between Champions League ties, Arsenal’s record is 9W-1D-2L. In other words, they perform a little above what they normally do during the season. Promisingly for all involved with the club, Alexis Sanchez is slowly resembling the same person who racked up points last year. Arsenal will face another chance to prove they’ve changed, now is not the time to desert your Arsenal representatives in your fantasy teams.

Midweek Review – from fantasybet.com

Standard

Leicester win in sensational fashion against Liverpool, Manchester City are hot on their tails and Arsenal…are not. Here’s 5 things we learned from the midweek extravaganza:

It’s a sad sad situation

The West Midlands’ Premier League representatives, West Brom and Aston Villa, aren’t having the greatest of seasons. Tony Pulis continues to commit crimes to football, starting 4 CBs and 2 defensive midfielders against the might firepower of Swansea. But anything the Baggies are doing pales in comparison to the campaign their local rivals are having. Villa’s campaign has been so bad it’s basically transcendent.

Jordan Ayew, who’s been the one barely shining light in the past couple of months, surrendered his responsibilities in the game with a blatant elbow on Aaron Cresswell. West Ham finished the job against the sorry 10 men of Villa, but an even sadder picture was to be seen on the sideline. Do you recall Pepe Mel, West Brom’s forlorn manager in the 13/14 season? Imagine him with a French accent and an entirely different physical appearance, but with the same eyes. Those same, sad, suffering eyes. That’s Remi Garde. Let’s just expel Villa from the Premier League now?

Dele Alli’s points are no fluke

When Tottenham signed Dele Alli a year ago in the January transfer window, it seemed like a standard move to amass as much talent as possible by another Premier League. A loan move to a Championship club looked to be on the cards, or if he stayed at Spurs then a season of watching from the subs’ bench. Er, nope.

Not enough people seem to be recognising how amazing it is that Alli is ready to contribute this soon at his age. 19 year old midfielders starting week in, week out for a possible top 4 team? Yeah, that doesn’t happen too often. It’s also easy to dismiss Alli’s efforts, the goalscoring especially, as just a purple patch of form. Goals from central midfield are an elusive, inconsistent element in football and flash-in-the-pan stretches do occur for the likes of Mark Noble and James Morrison over the course of 38 games. However you only have to watch half an hour of Spurs play to see the runs Alli makes and the volume in which he makes them. Given Eriksen’s passiveness at times, Alli is essentially a second striker at times for Spurs.

It’s why Henderson still feels like a nice option in FPL to me. If midfielders get themselves into those positions over and over again, good things do eventually happen.

Guess who’s back, back, back

I’ve actually resisted writing about Leicester too often, just for the sake of being impartial. No longer. When Vardy’s long range strike went in my voice chords were briefly out-of-order and the second, albeit hardly as fashionable a goal as the first, led to another setback of my ability to speak without rasping. Vardy was 100% for the Stoke game and this game. You already know what happens when Vardy’s fully fit. He scores.

It wasn’t hard to notice that something was wrong with Vardy, from Boxing Day onwards. Even at Everton, where he notched 2 assists, he didn’t have that blazing speed that ripped through the league in the Autumn. After his month-long blip the England international is back and scarier than ever, if he’s now choosing to score from outside the box as well.

Nothing’s certain in FPL though. After Manchester City and Arsenal, Leicester have a pretty soft fixture list which looks ever so inviting for owners of Vahrez. However it might also present the first extended run of games where opponents hunker down against them and sit deep. Aston Villa got a result against Leicester’s doing this but that also came in the stretch where Vardy wasn’t quite his scumbag self so, who knows? It’s going to be so, so exciting to follow and you should definitely spend your Saturday morning/lunchtime watching events play out at the Etihad between the top two teams in the league.

Fraser Forster can help Southampton get back to what they do best

I didn’t watch Arsenal game against Southampton live — Leicester were busy doing things — but Twitter reports were suggesting that Forster was essentially performing some of the greatest saves of all time with alarming frequency to repel Arsenal’s siege. I was suspicious. Arsenal fans have a tendency to think every goalkeeper is having a career-best game. Then I saw the extended highlights and well, ok, Forster did evoke his performance for Celtic against Barcelona a few years ago.

The result was the essence of what made Southampton so good for half of last season, the means in which they got it was very different. Instead of limiting shots they instead relied on Forster saving them over and over again, yet they still came away with the clean sheet and a point so all’s well that ends well. A lot of Southampton’s defensive regression had been put down to losing Morgan Schneiderlin and that’s still true, but Forster’s return has led to Ronald Koeman’s team having their stingiest stretch with 4 consecutive clean sheets. That alone suggests it might be a tad too late to hop onto the Southampton FPL train, but getting their No. 1 keeper back – as it would for nearly every club – will lead to an uptick in their results.

Chelsea’s attack difficult to parse

Guus Hiddink has watched his team score 9 goals in their 4 matches prior to playing Watford on Wednesday night. They also put 5 past MK Dons in the FA Cup, but their Championship opponents elected not to play a midfield in that game, so it’s hard to put much stock into that game. Diego Costa is running a lot harder and snagged his typical goal vs Arsenal, Oscar has joined Willian on the 2015/16 list of productive singularly-named Brazilian players but it’s still feels wrong to place our fantastical managerial faith in this attack.

A trip to Vicarage Road is like quality control for Premier League attacks. Chelsea couldn’t ultimately crack it but they continued their promising play. Still, we’re left to ponder how valuable the team can possibly be in FPL. Their prices are all still bloated and will be for the rest of the season. Hiddink has certainly steadied the ship but what Wednesday night’s events proved, if anything, is that Chelsea’s attack can’t be counted on against any decent defence.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

Standard

A classic weekend of football came to a climax in a dramatic, hard fought 1-0 win for Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium. Vardy looks 100% again for the first time this year and Louis van Gaal has been pushed further towards the end of the plank. Here’s 5 other things we learned from this weekend:

Naismith might just get job done

Until a new signing plays for his club, we never really know how they’ll fit in. I thought Leroy Fer was going to be really good for Norwich a couple of seasons ago. Unwilling to be burnt again by a big transfer by the Canaries, I was cautious when Naismith made his debut against Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime. Within 5 minutes he was making me feel very foolish.

Alex Neil’s side just looked different. Pre-Naismith, their attack has been a grind of long balls to Mbokani or fruitless runs by Nathan Redmond. Wes Hoolahan has probably been their most consistent attacking player, even though consistency is the Irishman’s biggest flaw. You get the picture, it’s been an ordeal to find goals. In comes one petit Scotsman and Norwich suddenly were driving forward with purpose. He was the lifeline between Mbokani and Norwich’s midfield, and made the runs that Hoolahan has the ability to pick out. Naismith isn’t a starlet and he’s moving towards the tail-end of his career but he’s changed Norwich’s attacking dynamic completely. He might even be able to make Cameron Jerome score.

Henderson remains reliable option

A particularly irritating ankle injury has kept Jordan Henderson sidelined for a substantial portion of this campaign and Liverpool missed his sprinting, rampaging presence in midfield. Emre Can continues to underwhelm despite his clear physical and technical talents and Lucas Leiva looks frankly, a little washed up.

Jurgen Klopp’s captain gave one of his better performances since his return this season against Norwich and, in very Jordan Henderson fashion, scored Liverpool’s second just as it look like the team was about to fully capitulate. Henderson has long been underrated as a player and it’s no different in fantasy football. You only have to watch one Liverpool game to see that his runs from deep will be converted into points at some stage. Admittedly, Henderson’s value lies more in that he’s a reliable fourth midfielder over the course of a season, but in daily fantasy he could be deployed as a crafty differential.

Manchester City have invested poorly in their defence again

Why is it that, even if Manchester City signed a thousand centre-backs, Martin Demichelis would find a way to come crawling back into their starting line-up? It’s become one of the most inevitable season events. Anyway, the main purpose of this little ‘lesson’ regards the other Argentine centre-back playing for City. Nicolás Otamendi.

I’ve been giving him the benefit of the doubt all season, after his pricey transfer from Valencia the past summer. “He’s playing behind Yaya Toure and next to Kolarov. Manchester City never defend that well. It’s his first few games.” But after his play against West Ham, there was no benefit to him and certainly no doubt. Otamendi has just been very bad this season.

Somehow, someway, Manchester City have bought another dud in defence after buying Otamendi, Eliquim Mangala and the eternal Demichelis in consecutive seasons in the search to find a partner for Vincent Kompany, who is now of course injured. Send your sympathy to Joe Hart playing behind this bunch. Speaking of Hart though, he’s still due for his once-a-season critical mistake, so look out for that one…

Midtable doing anything but sorting itself out

Remember how Southampton were having a down season? They’re 7th in the league. You’ve heard a lot about Watford’s success behind a stout defence and endless waves of Ighalo and Deeney, too. Well they lie two places below the Saints. Stoke are sandwiched in the middle. And Crystal Palace, who it feels like haven’t won in roughly forever (19th December, 2-1 vs Stoke) are only in 10th. Such is the new age of the Premier League, where the middle classes are actually pretty damn good.

The moral of the first half of the season for this group is probably: the chaos is never ending. If there was a round robin tournament between the above 4 teams, literally no outcome would surprise me. It’s an impossible task to make much sense of them for your fantasy team. Of course there’s directions in which you can lean. Watford’s defence, a Stoke winger and Jack Butland, let’s not forget Charlie freaking Austin who scored on his debut for Southampton because of course he did. If you can be a beneficiary of this midtable scrum, you will have done pretty well. It’ll only got more twisted from here on out.

Everton going backwards

Nothing’s really changed with Everton all season, but it’s only recently that there’s been widespread criticism of Roberto Martinez and his team. The defence has rightly come under fire the most, with Tim Howard catching the majority of the flak and John Stones experiencing his first taste of negative press. But affairs up at the other end of the pitch aren’t going swimmingly either.

Everton have enough talent to work things out in attack, which helps when the stategy is failing. Ross Barkley started the season in a role closer to the striker, removing him from the heat of midfield and lessening the chance of him losing the ball in dangerous positions. But, seemingly to accomodate an improving Gerard Deulofeu, Martinez has shifted Barkley back to where he’s dropping deep to collect the ball. It highlights every flaw Barkley has; decision making, passing range and negates his obvious talents.

It’s clear that Everton have too much natural ability in their team when going forward for them to have a dry spell, so I wouldn’t abandon Lukaku just because he blanked in this game. But Roberto Martinez is clearly not utilising his resources well right now because if he was, Everton wouldn’t be in 12th.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

Standard

A ridiculously exciting Saturday of football was followed by an underwhelming Sunday and then an iffy encounter between Swansea and Watford, all while the transfer window continued to rumble. Here’s 5 things we learned from the weekend:

Jonjo Voldermort adds missing dynamic to Newcastle’s midfield

Excuse the cheap joke at his expense, but there’s a new saviour in Newcastle and his name is Jonjo Shelvey. Many, myself included, were indifferent to his £12M transfer up north. I’ve never been a particularly strong Shelvey advocate, but McClaren and Co. were clearly keen and decided to give him a shot at redemption, following his unprecedented exiling at the Welsh club. He lined up alongside Jack Colback in a 4-2-3-1 and it certainly worked a treat as Newcastle considered themselves  unlucky to only take a 2 goal lead in at half time.

Projecting for this team long-term, I’d say that Shelvey’s addition does genuinely make Newcastle a dangerous proposition going forward, with McClaren finally coming to the conclusion that Perez and Mitrovic are his first choice pairing up front. It also means Wijnaldum will never again be pigeon-holed into that deep midfield role where he struggles. But don’t be picking up Chancel Mbemba or Daryl Janmaat any time soon. Shelvey looks like he can add some value to the team, but shielding the defence is most certainly not his forte.

Gut check time for Norwich

Norwich were reportedly in for Benik Afobe during the transfer window, but it was Afobe they saw poking the ball past Declan Rudd to score and cap off a 3-0 win. (I told you last week about Afobe.) Their frontman, Dieumerci Mbokani shanked his best chance wide from 25 yards. It’s been a chronic issue for the East Anglian club and the weekend brought their third consecutive loss, and in those three games combined they only managed a single goal. It’s getting closer and closer to the time in the season where the relegation picture becomes all too clear for about 5 or 6 clubs.

Norwich have had probably the quietest time of anyone this season. If they fail to pick up anything in their next two games against Tottenham (H) and Liverpool (H), we’ll learn a lot about the squad. Squads can react differently under pressure and we’re yet to see this effect on Norwich. Most seasons, there’s one relegation-threatened yet resilient team who can earn you plenty of points down the stretch of the season by pulling out unlikely results. Think Connor Wickham for Sunderland in 13/14. The Canaries look set to bring in Steven Naismith and he’s exactly the sort of nondescript player who wins someone a lot of money in April and May. But first, let’s see what Norwich are made of in the coming weeks and whether they’re worthy of our fantasy faith.

Charlie Austin isn’t guaranteed to succeed with Saints

“Bargain!” came the cries of much of the football community, when news broke early Saturday morning that Southampton were bolstering their ranks by signing Charlie Austin for the mere fee of £4M. He was a fantasy favourite last year scoring 18 goals in a typically rancid QPR side and made himself the second best budget English striker (Hi, Harry) that performed way, way above their price. Graziano Pelle hasn’t resembled what he once was in what’s been a middling season for Saints, most likely due to the departure of Morgan Schneiderlin.

On balance, Austin is worth the gamble for Ronald Koeman. It’s understandably difficult trying to concoct a viable attack from the aforementioned Pelle, the erratic Shane Long and a weirdly under-performing Sadio Mane, who seems to be dangerous in most games he plays but just can’t score. But it’s not a cut-and-dried decision. There’s widespread suspicion over the state of his knees so don’t be surprised to see Ben Dinnery, the frequent bringer of bad news, looming with frequent updates on Austin each weekend. Southampton also rely on an unholy amount of crosses to sustain their attack and while Austin is fairly proficient in the air, he played alongside Bobby Zamora last season which took a hefty burden off of him. It’s not a guaranteed fit, but if anyone needs a pep in their step going forward it’s Southampton.

Giroud and Arsenal need one of Ozil, Sanchez

Olivier Giroud is possibly the most polarizing player in the Premier League, carving out an ability to be overrated by many and underrated by an equal amount. He grabbed two against Liverpool, who have unwillingly become one of Giroud’s favourite foes as the Frenchman scored in 3 of his last four outings against them. Suddenly that was it. It was Giroud’s turn in the spotlight, once again. There would be no transfer rumours between Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon. No more debating whether Walcott was better up front. This was it. Olivier’s time to shine.

Well, it didn’t go entirely to plan. Arsenal came away with a mildly frustrating point, but also grateful just to avoid one of their trademark collapses to a mid-table side. But Giroud, wonderfully handsome spearhead that he is, could not offer much in front of an eternally bitter Stoke crowd. What became resoundingly evident as Oxlade-Chamberlain toiled in vain, was that if Arsenal are to be the elite offensive unit we’ve seen then it’s imperative that they have a talisman available, either of Chilean or German nationality. Fortunately for Arsene Wenger’s side, the pair should be cleared for selection by next weekend. Unfortunately for Olivier Giroud, it is no longer his time to shine.

Motivation the key determiner in the second half of the season

Swansea have been tossing and turning since around about September, going through arguably their worst stretch of form since being promoted back in 2011. Gomis looked angry, Sigurdsson subdued and Jefferson Montero sadly nowhere to be found after lighting up several fullbacks at the start of the season. It resulted in their promising manager Garry Monk being dismissed and the club being drawn into their first real relegation fight. Although their substandard performances have put them there, the danger of the drop does give them the drive to win games such as a Monday night clash with Watford.

The Hornets, by the way, look like this season’s West Ham. Having had an auspicious first half to the season, it’s extremely difficult for them to kick on at all after the turn of the New Year. They won’t get European football of any sort and are very comfortably tucked up in mid-table away from the bottom three. This will probably be reflected more in their attacking output than their defence which is tried-and-trusted. In other words, take the risk and lay off Ighalo and Deeney a touch if you want to try and stay ahead of the competition.

In the second half of the season, motivation can be just as big a factor as the talent on the pitch.