Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Leicester hit a Jonathan Moss sized bump and Tottenham subsequently close the gap at the top to 5 points. We know for sure now that Villa are down, but which North-East side is joining them and will Norwich be there to follow them? 5 lessons learnt from a tumultuous Premier League weekend.

Sunderland prolong the relegation battle

The scrap for survival could have been settled this weekend, but Sunderland have given it a new lease of life. Combined with Newcastle’s win the tussling could continue right down to the final weekend. After looking sharp at times against Leicester last weekend, the Black Cats secured their first win in 7 emphatically. It felt a fair victory as Sunderland have clearly improved since their January additions. In comparison, Norwich have sort of been the opposite: scraping wins here and there despite looking just as poor as they have done all season.

Jermaine Defoe, as said before in this space, does very little to help his team win in his overall performances. But the fact of the matter is he gets shots off at a good clip and scores a decent amount of them and he’s probably been a net positive for Sam Allardyce’s side. After hosting Arsenal, they’ll face three iffy defences in Stoke, this weird iteration of Chelsea and Everton. For his price, Defoe looks a nice budget shout in those gameweeks.

Newcastle finally perform

Frankly it feels like Newcastle have won about 3 times all season. The league table tells us this is a lie and that at the Magpies have actually had 7 victories. Their most recent one over Swansea was crucial. Anything other than 3 points would have essentially sent them down but capitalising on a flagging Swansea squad and Sunderland’s win, Newcastle will now have the smallest of chances to escape. The gap to safety is only 3 points (with a game in hand) but it looks all the more gaping when seeing 3 of Newcastle’s final 5 fixtures are against some of the form sides of the division – Manchester City, Liverpool and then Spurs on the final day.

Andros Townsend made his presence felt on the scoresheet for the second time in as many games, which basically constitutes a blazing hot streak of form for a Newcastle player. The defence notched a clean sheet and it was well deserved after limiting Swansea to purely half chances. On the other end 3 goals probably flattered them as a couple of scrappy efforts found their way into the back of the net. All in all, I don’t feel so hot about picking up any Newcastle players, more because of their death row of fixtures than anything else. The overriding feeling is that it’s a shame we didn’t see a well-coached Newcastle team all season rather than their McClaren mess that last far too long.

Rashford an enigma going into next season

What with their cross-town rivals picking up speed again, the Champions League looks well beyond Manchester United now. It’s mostly just van Gaal trying to provide the illusion of competence now or, failing that, the sign that he’s building for the future. One example is his usage of Marcus Rashford, but evaluating the 18 year old’s true impact is difficult.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with Rashford’s performances to the naked eye. He’s quick and his finishes against West Ham in midweek and then Aston Villa looked clinical. The only issue is that he’s been so clinical, that it’s not quite representative of his attacking output. Many people pointed this out over the weekend but in the league Rashford is currently converting 50% of his shots into goals. That is an absurd percentage and clearly unsustainable. So while his price might look tempting next season, it might be best to wait until his finishing rates come back down to Earth.

Manchester City will be a problem next season

Remember how the confirmation of Manuel Pellegrini being replaced by Pep Guardiola threw off the whole Manchester City side? And how De Bruyne got injured around that time too and now he’s back City’s attack is humming again? Funny that. That swoon put them out of the title race and it the killer blow was probably the Leicester game where the winner would go to the top of the table. But Robert Huth and that Mahrez goal happened so now City will have to settle for duking it out with Arsenal to avoid playing a Champions League qualifier.

While Otamendi and Mangala’s developing partnership is promising the potential of City’s attack has returned to the mindblowing level it was at a couple of seasons ago. Although City are understandably not given many opportunities to showcase it they are absolutely lethal on the counter as Aguero’s second goal showed, which included some guy called Samir Nasri! Chelsea a bit of a joke right now but City have done and will do this to a lot of teams next season. Aguero and De Bruyne look like must haves for fantasy teams, regardless of the price.

Spurs are blowing past average teams

Stoke have had a nice season and will be very happy with another top ten finish under the management of Mark Hughes. Marko Arnautovic has been converted from talented headcase to regular contributor and Stoke also possess intriguing players who aren’t quite there yet like Giannelli Imbula. They’ve over-performed a little this year and will struggle to break into the Europa League in the coming seasons, but they’re a nice team who have their moments.

Tottenham ate them alive.

It’s stunning how Spurs have gone from a stale team going forward to this sudden onrush of incisive threat that comes at you for 90 minutes and won’t stop until it is satiated. Just as impressive is Dele Alli fitting into such a quality side in his ‘rookie’ season in the Premier League. Stoke had no shot of stopping them and it’ll take an otherworldly vintage Tony Pulis masterplan to stop them next weekend. If that doesn’t materialise, Spurs will overwhelm them just as they have to a bunch of oblivious midtable clubs.

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Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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By the time Spring comes in the Premier League, there’s dead rubbers all over the place and certain teams looking to book holidays. So, focusing on the games that mattered at either end of the table – 5 things we learned from the weekend:

Leicester can rout teams too

No Vardy, no problem. Leonardo Ulloa scored twice in a charged Leicester performance that blew past Swansea and put them eight points clear at the top of the table in April. (Read that sentence again). The very same Leonardo Ulloa who was so awful before Christmas has come back to play a crucial part in the title challenge. Sunday was his best showing yet. Even if Vardy returns from suspension, Ulloa may be in with an outside chance of starting but Ranieri will surely recognise that his best team includes Okazaki and Vardy up front. The Argentine also suffered a minor back injury which could harm his chances.

There were new contributors that made their mark too. Schlupp did begin the season as the starting left back but was an absolute livewire in his first start in 2016. Listed as a defender in fantasy, he’s worth a look in as Leicester’s defence will to keep securing clean sheet after clean sheet. Demarai Gray continues to improve after looking completely out of his depth, his blistering run down the right flank eventually culminating in Leicester’s fourth goal. A game to prove that Leicester aren’t a one man team and a game to prove that they don’t just scrape by in these games.

Riyad Mahrez stepping up in a huge way

It’s been an interesting period for Mahrez and one that’s difficult to fairly evaluate. He’s been having less of the ball, marked much more diligently and then as a result put in a couple of torrid performances. Yet at the same time he managed to concentrate his impact into singular, pivotal events. In that well-documented series of 1-0 wins – Leicester’s impersonation of Euro 2004 Greece – Mahrez came up with two winning goals in games against feisty physical opponents.

If ever there was a time for the return of the gliding, free-flowing and PFA Player of the Year award winning Algerian – it was now. Vardy’s absence meant Leicester couldn’t stretch Swansea across the length of the pitch so easily, requiring more patient building of attacks. Mahrez responded to his increased responsibility resoundingly. Neil Taylor had no chance of covering him and the finish after Ashley Williams’ error was never in doubt. If Vardy’s absence is prolonged, Mahrez showed that he can turn it up when the stakes are highest.

Allardyce has finally made Sunderland defend some

After looking like the softest team since Fulham in their relegation season, Sam Allardyce has managed to drill some defensive resilience into this tepid squad, helped by his January signings. They still look favourites to claim that final spot outside of the bottom 3 as Norwich are floundering and Newcastle’s mini-revival under Rafa Benitez might be coming too late.

Jan Kirchoff has been a steady, if not completely mobile, presence directly in front of that shaky back 4. Just as important, perhaps more so, has been the uptick in general intensity and tempo from Sunderland’s forwards without the ball. Jermaine Defoe still won’t do much, but Wahbi Kazhri’s quality is matched by a tenacity that showed against Arsenal. Fabio Borini’s only virtue is putting himself about a bit. Despite all this, no-one should be too eager to make a late-season play for Sunderland defenders in fantasy.

Spurs will make deep lying teams pay more often than they won’t

In what became a deflating night for Spurs it’d be easy to forget that for 45 minutes this was another blitzing performance from Mauricio Pochettino’s men. West Brom lined up in their typical 9-0-1 formation with faux wingers but it did little to stop the home side from breaking through and creating chances at a high frequency. Boaz Myhill did well to push Harry Kane’s shot onto the post and Christian Eriksen threatened with a long range free kick. When the goal did come it was in ugly fashion but well deserved. One simple set piece forcing Craig Dawson to put into his own net. Alas, this would not be the defender’s last involvement in the match.

Even in the early stages of the second half when West Brom finally made their presence felt, Erik Lamela hit the post after another flowing move. It was a stark reminder of how drastically this team has improved and at the very thing that the team struggled to do for so long. Since Harry Redknapp’s iteration, Spurs haven’t been a team that flowed as such. Now, they’re cutting teams open with a movement and a flair that has led them very nearly to a title. The only issue in the short-term is…

Dele Alli may be missed

Referee Mike Jones missed this little incident but the rest of the viewing masses didn’t. As Spurs held on to their 1-0 lead, the recently named PFA Young Player of the Year concluded another one of his off-ball runs he span on the spot and landed an iffy punch into Claudio Yacob’s midriff. It wasn’t anything to compare to Anthony Joshua but it still didn’t look good on tape. Provocation was unclear but the pair had a previous coming together in the first half.

It seemed set to hang over the events of the night, marring another Spurs win until Dawson did that for them. If Alli is indeed banned, it’s a huge blow for this team which relies on him heavily to make the incisive cuts around Kane. Eriksen is a key cog in the attack but getting in behind isn’t his game at all and Lamela just doesn’t do it as well. Heung-Son Min will likely come into the side – this is by no means the level of drop-off that Leicester experienced going from Vardy to Ulloa – but the loss of Alli, who’s breakthrough season was wholly unprecedented, is one that might just crumple Spurs’ title challenge once and for all.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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1-0 to the Leicester again, Aston Villa lose in the most depressing match of all time and Payet scored another gorgeous free kick. All becoming rather predictable this Premier League season, isn’t it? Here’s 5 things we learned:

Arsenal breezing past teams without pressure

It’s perhaps a little harsh to give Arsenal backhanded compliments when they dismantled Watford as thoroughly as they did. But if you fail against Swansea and then a severely short-handed United side, criticism will come from all angles. Saturday afternoon saw Arsenal at their very best, it’s just a shame that Arsenal at their very best means them turning over Watford in a quiet game at Vicarage Road. If they win enough games the end of the season might give them another chance to prove themselves under pressure.

In the meantime, buy lots of Arsenal stock right now in the shape of defenders and midfielders. Alexis Sanchez is due so many goals he might explode any second. It’s started already so it might be worth hopping on that bandwagon and seeing if it has any legs on it. Iwobi is the cheap option and his two recent goals will buy him time in the starting lineup, so he isn’t as risky as he might initially seem. Get your Arsenal players now, before the stakes ramp up to something meaningful.

Norwich pull out another crucial win

Well, well, well, here come the Canaries! And Cameron Jerome is nowhere to be found! How surprising. In all seriousness, Norwich are fighting to be better than Newcastle and Sunderland, with the reward being another Premier League season. Safe to say that the quality at the bottom this season seems even lower than usual and that’s without mentioning Aston Villa.

Norwich came out on top in a classic 6 pointer and their triumph left them 4 points clear of Sunderland. They’ve come on strong in the last few games and it’s all a bit out of nowhere. The addition of Stephen Naismith initially looked like it was going to transform Norwich’s attack into something effective but it didn’t transpire quite like that. In this game and their previous win over West Brom there’s been 4 different goalscorers which suggests there’s no really good candidate to transfer in for fantasy and the defence isn’t anything special either. Maybe admire Norwich’s resurgence from afar.

Southampton are crossing the ball way too much

I’ve moaned all season that Ronald Koeman has been playing overly cautious lineups without either Sadio Mane or Dusan Tadic or very occasionally absent of both players. It’s been a bizarre development given the successes the pair had last season but this weekend’s gripe doesn’t revolve around that. (This gripe isn’t much of a gripe at all, because I’m a Leicester City fan so Saints’ inepititude was fine by me.) The issue with Saints is that they cross the ball far, far too much.

It could be argued that Koeman is looking to play to the strengths of his squad, as Southampton do have one of the more imposing squads in the Premier League. The only thing was, it played right into Leicester’s strengths too. Facing Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, two man mountains, how are you going to fire in cross after cross in the hope that it’ll work? Crosses are an inefficient method of attack anyway but they were especially ineffective against Leicester. It’s turned into a nice season for Saints after an uncertain start but their attack could do with some fine tuning.

Tottenham don’t like the taste of their own medicine

There’s a team from the East Midlands that has the ‘unlikely title challenge’ story on lockdown, but we shouldn’t forget how unprecedented it is for Tottenham to be in this position either. Mauricio Pochettino has created another high-intensity, high-pressing team with this Spurs squad that has seen huge improvements at both ends of the field but especially in defence. They possess probably the best defence in the league while their attack is more of a functional affair than a beautiful one, their constant ball pressure being a huge reason they’re scoring more and conceding less.

The pressing that they unleash on everyone is exactly what hurt them in their game at Anfield however. They only mustered up chances off of Liverpool mistakes and the goal was a special piece of work by Harry Kane out of nothing. They consistently struggled to beat Liverpool’s pressing; Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen both excel when given enough time on the ball but the pair were shutdown for long stretches of the match. The attack has always been the less convincing aspect of Spurs this season and if teams want to beat Spurs, then these teams are going to have to go press Spurs.

Mahrez increasingly marginalised as Leicester grind

As is now well known Claudio Ranieri endured a brief yet disastrous time with Greece not long before returning to England. The extent of it: 4 games played resulting in one draw and three losses. It was a far cry from when Greece were at their best in Euro 2004, grinding out three 1-0 wins in the knockout stages to win an unlikely Championship. With his current employers, Ranieri has seen his side take up a similar style. Of course, Greece were far more defensively minded than Leicester but the results of Leicester’s previous 4 wins don’t suggest much difference. 1-0 (The Ulloa game). 1-0. 1-0 (The Okazaki game). Then today: 1-0 (The Morgan game).

There have been consequences however. Riyad Mahrez scored the winner in two of those fixtures but his influence continues to waver as teams load up on him. Southampton started off sacrificing any attacking output on the left by ordering Matt Targett to stick to Mahrez wherever he ventured and it worked. Later in the game when the Algerian did get loose, he wasn’t quite his incandescent self. This cuts both ways. You can either assume that he’s due a good performance or drop him if it seems like a consistent trend that will harm his fantasy performance. I’m leaning towards the latter.

 

 

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Manchester City look to have dropped out of the title race while Spurs maintain Leicester’s pace at the top of the table. In other news, Newcastle and Sunderland are as bad as each other. 5 things we learned:

Everton fully stocked with terrible defensive players

A hefty amount of criticism has been levelled at Roberto Martinez, rightly so, in recent weeks. When a team loses so many comfortable leads, it’s fair to look in the direction of the dugout and enquire as to why it keeps happening time after time. In the early Saturday kickoff Everton decided to be proactive and not give themselves a chance to let another advantage slip, instead conceding two first half goals in a thoroughly awful display. When you’re making Danny Welbeck look like a natural goalscorer, something is seriously wrong in your defence.

Martinez has played his part in their defensive woes yet a quick scan of the Everton team revealed an astonishing amount of bad defensive players. The Spaniard noted the absence of Gareth Barry after the game, but Barry can barely move around the pitch anymore. Muhamed Besic, who did play, is the polar opposite of Barry as he showcased his ‘headless chicken tendencies’ and ended up marking nobody in Arsenal colours. Leighton Baines was never a good defender to start and has had a torrid return from injury while Funes Mori’s goals have masked his deficiencies at actual defending. Baines and Coleman were terrors in fantasy football with their attacking prowess not so long ago, but there’s little point in selecting them when the Toffees are this leaky.

Leicester continue to bounce back from poor performances

Here are Leicester’s past 5 results (W) 1-0 vs Palace, (W) 1-0 vs Newcastle, (W) 1-0 vs Watford, 2-2 vs West Brom, (W) 1-0 vs Norwich. On the surface it looks like a model of consistency. The funny thing is, Leicester’s performances have varied fairly dramatically during this stretch. Against Norwich and Newcastle, Leicester created very little, taking the few chances they had. This weekend against Palace and their win over Watford saw them getting back to a healthy level of attacking, where they could afford to miss a couple of shots. Strangely their best performance by far was against West Brom but they could only come away with a point from that one. Football, eh.

The point is Leicester keep getting results when it looks like their performances are drying up, but then they kick it up a notch in the following game anyway. The defence has been praised as the driving force for the Foxes in recent weeks so there aren’t really any unsung heroes left in Leicester’s team now. Although Vardy’s goalscoring has slowed to a halt, he’s still playing well overall so I wouldn’t abandon him in fantasy. Despite their form, the international break is coming at a good time for Leicester and the likes of Marc Albrighton and Vardy who’ve looked gassed towards the end of games, although the latter will presumably play some minutes for England. Let’s all just hope that no injuries befall any of the squad while they’re away.

West Ham need to kick on for any top 4 push

The Hammers’ campaign to make Pep Guardiola sweat over Manchester City’s Champions League status for next season has been a fun sideshow. Everyone loves watching Dimitri Payet, everyone prefers Slaven Bilic to Sam Allardyce and the Boleyn Ground is generally getting a good send off this season. Happy days, all around! Unfortunately their top 4 push looks set to fizzle out soon unless they can find another gear for the home stretch. They counted themselves unlucky to draw 2-2 at Stamford Bridge courtesy of a contentious penalty, but West Ham are starting to run out of steam a little bit up front.

They found two routes to goal against Chelsea, one was from 25 yards and one came via the foot of Andy Carroll. Both are unsustainable methods, as are the Dimitri Payet free kicks that keep flying in from all over the place. If you find yourself getting desperate trying to make up ground, dropping Payet is one risk worth considering. West Ham are creating less and less as the weeks go by and they’re about to face a few decent teams, including Arsenal and Leicester. Differential season is here, take some risks!

Rafa’s Newcastle are…different.

First things first, Newcastle look marginally better under Rafa Benitez than Steve McClaren and Newcastle fans might readily accept a draw after 6 consecutive losses to their rivals. However, there are a couple of things to remember before we praise Rafa. Firstly, it couldn’t exactly not improve after McClaren. Secondly, Newcastle are still quite clearly a bad team. There’s a very good chance that their new manager will still have to exercise his opt-out clause in the summer. The two games Rafa has overseen have been nationally televised and Newcastle players are notorious for upping their game when Sky Sports come to town. The worst culprit is Moussa Sissoko, having been pining for PSG’s attention ever since he arrived on Tyneside.

The line-up choice from Benitez was alarming and it had predictably questionable results as Sunderland looked far the more decisive and threatening team for long stretches of the game. Playing Shelvey as the main central midfielder in front of an already iffy back 4 was nothing if not gutsy and continue to give Newcastle defenders an extremely wide berth if that’s a tactical decision that persists. Also, Jack Colback playing as a left back will surely not result in anything other than tears for all involved. With the rate their season is going, Newcastle would be happy if they could prolong the battle to the final weekend, let alone hope to stay up. It’s a strange, strange world with Rafa in charge of the Toon.

Demichelis must leave City this summer

Manuel Pellegrini has had a decent run with Manchester City. He’s brought more domestic success, overseen the arrival of younger talents such as Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne and generally maintained the high level of football that the Etihad Stadium is getting used to. It’s not exactly Ferguson-esque but the Chilean has done a solid job at the helm. However Pellegrini’s generosity handing out league starts for Martin Demichelis, of whom he worked with at Malaga, is a mistake that’s happened far too often.

The Argentine was so poor on Sunday afternoon he probably would have made even Everton’s defence worse. The 17 year disparity between him and Marcus Rashford couldn’t have been more evident when the young United attacker breezed away from his counterparts weary legs for the only goal. It could be excused if Demichelis had the defensive nous to handle his own responsibilities but this has proven beyond him also in the past year or so. It isn’t likely that the former Bayern Munich defender is still hanging around in Manchester come September time. Pep Guardiola is not coming to the Premier League to suffer fools.

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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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

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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

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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.