Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Sunderland and Norwich are scrapping to stay up, the top 4 looks all sealed off by now and then there were two in the title race; Leicester and Spurs. 5 things we learned from the weekend’s matches:

Hammers defence finally exposed

For the early fixture against Arsenal, Slaven Bilic went 3 at the back before switching things up again at half time. It was a clear change of system, but it didn’t look like they had much of a plan to stop this humming Arsenal attack still. The game had a weird pattern, with Arsenal racing into a 2 goal lead before Andy Carroll of all people pegged them back, eventually forcing a draw. Strangely West Ham were actually extremely positive (or risky, one could say) in their play rather than sitting and countering. Unless you’re organised and compact without the ball, which West Ham aren’t, that is not a strategy that will work against Arsenal.

If West Ham want to sustain their league postition for next season, they’ll need to develop something of an identity on the defensive end. Bilic might want to look at making the team press higher and with much more intensity. They have the tools to do so, their centre-halves are fairly quick and the squad has a fair few top-level athletes throughout. If a higher press isn’t implemented then something needs to be altered, because they’ve been riding their luck for much of the season in defence.

Watford show little signs of changing

Quique Sanchez Flores found a recipe he could consistently rely on early in the season: Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo will link up off of scraps for the goals while the rest of the team grafts defensively. It worked really well, although they’ve faded over the course of the season. Ighalo and Deeney are an interesting pair to look at. Deeney does a lot more defensive work and is probably the better overall player, but fantasy points make Ighalo look much better. The Nigerian is helped in this sense by the fact that he never, ever looks to pass the ball so his stats grow while Deeney is left to fume at him.

The Hornets will still need to tinker with a few things over the Summer. One-dimensional approaches will work for a season or so, but eventually teams will figure you out. It gradually happened to Burnley last year; once the opposition took Danny Ings out of the game there was little to worry about. We know that Watford’s strikeforce can do damage, it’ll just be difficult to replicate their output next season in exactly the same manner.

Gylfi Sigurdsson has decided someone’s mini-league somewhere

When Steven Naismith signed for Norwich, I touted him as a possible differential. That didn’t quite come off, but the tradition of one player coming alive for a poorer side and carrying them for a few matches. It was continued by Gylfi Sigurdsson who since 2015 ended has notched 9 goals and 2 assists for a blah Swansea side. In other words, he’s been absolutely on fire.

This run has taken him up in the fantasy rankings to the point where he’s the 7th highest scoring midfielder in the whole league after a slow start. Every midfielder ranked above him is at 14% ownership or higher. Sigurdsson’s ownership? Nearly half that, at 7.9%. In other Swansea news Jefferson Montero, who was tearing it up at the start of the season, has started getting minutes again after a long time out. This is welcome news to Swansea fans, because he’s good, and all neutral football fans, because he’s damn fun to watch.

Liverpool have potential to be a top 4 side

Thanks to a Premier League campaign that frequently found itself stalling combined with their prolonged Europa League involvement has lead to Liverpool playing a few dead-ish rubbers on quiet Sunday afternoon. With Leicester and Spurs vying for the title either side of their game with Stoke, Liverpool didn’t get much publicity for their excellent 4-1 win over Stoke. It doesn’t just look like a small Spring emergence either, Jurgen Klopp’s side might get good really soon. Top 4 kind of good.

The first team – stocked with the likes of Emre Can, Divock Origi and Alberto Moreno – has a lot of players who you know have talent and there’s something there but it hasn’t quite been coming together consistently. Now finally they look like they’re on the verge of becoming bona fide top level contributors. Can in particular is developing into quite the unit in midfield. Everyone is clearly better off when Sturridge is in the team and it’s been key to Liverpool’s little run down the stretch of the season. The England international has evolved from burning teams with his pace on the counter in 13/14 to a more deliberate, creative force up front. If, if, if they can keep him healthy next season, look out for Liverpool.

Martial needs to grow as a striker

A season that started with such a rush has devolved into something much less rewarding for Anthony Martial. Labeled a panic buy when arrived at Manchester United, the Frenchman kicked off his Old Trafford career with a decisive goal against Liverpool. This isn’t such a bad way to announce yourself as a Red Devil. Yet going into the penultimate month of the season, Martial’s goal tally stands at just 8 with 3 assists to go with it. Granted, he’s played as a wide forward for much of the season but there’s clear room for Martial to develop as a goalscorer.

The main issue is he just doesn’t shoot enough. There was a clear example where he worked it well all the way to the Spurs penalty area before allowing a speeding defender to come and intervene. That situation has to generate a shooting oppurtunity, if not for Martial then for someone else. He can glide by players and always looks a threat but that doesn’t materialise often enough into a shot or drawing a foul. Looking ahead to next season, I’m still pessimistic as to the fantasy prospects in United’s squad while they remain under Louis van Gaal’s tutelage. Rashford provided a brief injection of life into the attack but it’s still a real grind for United to score. Set to finish outside the top 4, we’ll watch closely to see if the Dutch boss survives.

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Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Memphis gets the engine running again

It was painfully predictable, yet it still happened. Memphis Depay, out-of-form toiling winger, went and scored himself a goal and acquitted himself far better when playing through the centre. Remind you of Raheem Sterling briefly last season? A handy Ander Herrera cross was finished by the Dutchman for the opener, yet they were fortunate to leave Vicarage Road with a win – which came via Troy Deeney’s intervention with his posterior.

It wasn’t just Depay’s shift into the striking role that was the sole cause for the improvement. He seemed far more willing to make runs to disrupt an impressive Watford defensive unit, while Jesse Lingard did the same around him. Whether Depay’s form will decline if he reverts back to the wing is worth considering. The more worrying thought may be that United’s attack may have been more due to addition through subtraction as captain Wayne Rooney was absent for the weekend. Worth pondering before they travel to league leading Leicester next week.

Manchester City fold again

We’ll get to Liverpool in a second, but Manchester City sustaining a second 4-1 loss to another resilient opponent is just as big a story. As usual they kept possession well, but against the younger, more athletic teams such as Spurs, West Ham and Liverpool, City are getting beaten up. Some of it is explainable, Demichelis’ weak point is obviously pace but Eliqium Mangala was billed as a physical specimen in defence when he moved from Porto. If he couldn’t handle Liverpool’s runners, what exactly is his purpose in this City squad?

Despite the piles of money that has already gone on the squad, there still looks to be a rebuilding job next summer at the Etihad. The truth is, it’s going to be really hard to build around — with those springier teams in mind — a slowing Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero. None of those three are good enough on the other side of the ball, at least not to sustain a trophy challenge on multiple fronts. Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne initiated the much-needed youth movement. Now Manchester City must go through with it.

The most fun teams in the league? Not who’d you think

Claudio Ranieri has built the most fun team to watch by gearing the team towards attack. The attitude towards defence? “We can try, I guess.” Leicester have 48 goals and goals conceded combined (which admittedly is a bizarre metric), which would rank 1st in the league if it was actually a real thing. They’ve scored in every single game this season and the narrative surrounding Vardy with his incredible streak hasn’t hurt either.

Outside of the East Midlands, the fictional award for second most entertaining is hotly contested. Crystal Palace weren’t quite themselves on Monday night and surrendered 3 points to Sunderland, but when their wingers are firing few matches are more fun to witness. The Yannick Bolasie factor is also very significant.

Merseyside has two flourishing sides that can explode for goals on any given weekend. Liverpool occasionally still choke to a relegation candidate and Everton under Roberto Martinez are prone to have a defensively-lacking dud of a performance once every two months or so. Generally though, tuning in to the Scouse supported sides will be entertaining.

Honourable mentions go to West Ham, who just can’t be trusted enough to turn up to games against non-elite teams.

Norwich showing difficulty of being mediocre on both ends

Often the secret to surviving the Premier League is discovering the team’s identity and doing so quickly, then playing to maximise it. More often than not, it will be a stout defence and midfield such as the one Watford have shown off so far. On the other end of the spectrum could be a team like this year’s Bournemouth, an overmatched but fluid attacking outfit that gives itself a chance purely based on scoring ability, although injuries will sadly deny us of seeing Bournemouth’s full potential. On occasion a more niche team emerges, such as Swansea with a suffocating possession-based style or Stoke, who came armed with Rory Delap’s long throws and not much else.

The main problem with Norwich is finding their identity. The trio of Russell Martin, Sebastien Bassong with Alexander Tettey shielding the back didn’t function well enough two years ago. It hardly seems the added experience will change that. Going the other way and it’s a similar story. Wes Hoolahan is good and Nathan Redmond has noticeably improved since his previous top flight exploits, but neither can carry the East Anglian club without a reliable striker to look for. Dieumerci Mbokani, as odd as this sounds, could make or break Norwich’s season.

Andy Carroll is redundant in Slaven Bilic’s current team

The Hammers were thoroughly outplayed by an increasingly frightening Tottenham side, but their cause was harmed by Andy Carroll being the outlet for what looks little more than a hard-working, diligent side without the services of Dimitri Payet. Bilic will most likely be better off slotting in someone like Mauro Zarate to pair up with Diafra Sakho in future, after witnessing a lumbering Carroll fail to keep up with the pace of the London derby.

It looks bleak for the former England international, who seems to deal more harm than good to this pacy iteration of West Ham. That is, when he can step onto the field fully fit which has been an alamingly rare occurrence since his permanent move to South London. After seeing their blunt, fruitless effort on Sunday evening, West Ham join a growing list of clubs that will be willing to take a pricey punt on Charlie Austin, in a bid for goals.