Midweek Review – from fantasybet.com

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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.

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Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Second season disorder

Crystal Palace last year. Southampton in 13/14. Swansea in 12/13. Newcastle in 11/12, remember Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba? Now we’ve seen Leicester rip through the league, powered by Jamie Vardy and a dangerous bunch of sidekicks behind him. Welcome to the second season experience.

The Foxes’ surge was most recently punctuated with 3 goals against a stern West Brom side playing the type of football not even Tony Pulis’ mother could love. Leicester is up there as the story of the season, eerily reciprocating Chelsea’s stunning slump. Although Leicester finished strongly last Spring, the transformation made over the summer has been instrumental in their success. Claudio Ranieri’s appointment was condoned by very few but he’s the clear frontrunner for Manager of the Season, his case helped by another typically smart, proactive outing this weekend.

Riyad Mahrez returned to his mischievous point-snagging ways serving justice to those who, without paying attention, assumed he had gone off the boil for good. Ranieri did briefly drop him seeking defensive solidity and then rested him after the international break, but the Algerian was always going to come back into the fray. His development from last season is just as marked as Vardy’s. Under Nigel Pearson the winger would have plenty of touches and runs, only for them to lead into nothing productive, a sort of inverse Nacer Chadli if you will. His first goal against West Brom, sprinting off the ball to meet convert Marc Albrighton’s millionth cross, illustrated how he’s now channeling his obvious ability into goals this season.

Nitpicking the league leaders

Manchester City’s difficulties lie on a road thoroughly mapped out and well travelled by observers from the past few years: Their best players are injured. With Aguero and Silva out, Manchester City were unable to break down Norwich at the Etihad which is a little worrying as the East Anglian visitors aren’t watertight like West Brom or Watford. Wilfried Bony remains an uncertainty. Letting Edin Dzeko go and prioritising the Ivorian was a lateral move at best. He does seem to have learnt Dzeko’s trait of scoring useless surplus goals though, piling 3 on against Bournemouth two weeks ago. The upcoming international break will helpfully buy more time as Aguero recovers.

Arsenal’s current optimism is reminiscent of the 2013/14 season before a visit to Old Trafford, where United won 1-0 thanks to RVP, initiated the grounding of that title challenge. Arsenal were widely praised on Saturday for ‘winning ugly’ against Swansea while Manchester City ground out their own 3 points against Norwich. It’s only more noticeable with Arsenal because it’s so rare. After their 2-0 win away to Manchester City last season we collectively gushed over Coquelin and Arsene Wenger discovering defensive resistance. 2 weeks later they surrendered at White Hart Lane. That exact fixture is up next for the Gooners and trepidation remains a tad hard to shake off with this team. Two Spanish fullbacks though, so that’s a plus for me.

Liverpool uncork the goals

Philippe Coutinho kickstarted his pretty dreadful season thus far with 2 goals against Chelsea. It was also done in the Brazilian’s style, having developed a quirky knack for scoring in games where he doesn’t play as well overall.

Chelsea’s defence may as well have been credited with the assist for Benteke’s goal. Not many would volunteer to get in the way of Christian Benteke but the professional footballers playing against him were the most likely candidates. Not so, it seems.

I was dubious of Benteke’s prospects under Klopp but an early one will settle him. Liverpool face challenging sides in the next month but both ends of their play are showing improvement. Spanish fullback Alberto Moreno is fun to watch but was directly responsible for Chelsea’s opener, which is less fun.

The key to the Weekly Freeroll?

Central midfielders are often forgotten about in a fantasy midfield. For good reason too, given that there are eligible players for midfield like Alexis Sanchez and Dimitri Payet. But in the hunt for differentials, turning to the engine room might be a wise move. We already know about Jordan Henderson and Yohan Cabaye who have history of producing in that area. Many other are lounging around who will have near zero ownership worthy of a weekly punt.

Yann M’Vila has proven to be one of the few reasons to watch Sunderland this season. He’s tough tackling but skilled, with some set piece responsibilities. There was a lot of reasonable scepticism over Chieck Kouyate’s start and his prosperous start and surely enough the goals of August and September dried up. Yet for a cheap price you get an energetic player who will make runs forward in an attacking side. It doesn’t hurt that he gets to play in close proximity to Payet every week either.

Fernandinho has long been an underrated component of Manchester City’s well-oiled machine. He’s probably the biggest punt considering he does all the dirty work playing next to Yaya Toure. Danny Drinkwater has a dire first touch (trust me) but it was his ball that set away Jamie Vardy for his eighth consecutive goal. Leicester have the most lethal attack outside of the top 2 and Drinkwater is a classic candidate for being ‘due a goal’. The Weekly Freeroll awaits you.

Remi Garde has his hands full…or empty?

90% of new managers come in with platitudes of attacking mindsets and looking to get the team playing some ‘good football’. The former Lyon boss, who enjoyed Monday night watching his Aston Villa comfortably lose to Spurs, was no different. Andy Brassell, European football expert, said as much, “He creates the environment in which players can express themselves, and favours attacking, possession-based football.”

Yet where does he fashion this attacking team from? Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew? Jack Grealish’s reputation is still high despite him doing the square root of naff all. It’s far easier to envision Villa as the counter-attacking, anti-possession outfit they were for most of the past few seasons. Nice as it is to play ‘good football’, some squads just aren’t as cut out for it. Garde has a serious task cut out for him in the West Midlands.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Everton’s attack is back

After a disappointing season languishing in mid table, Everton gave all a reminder of their potential with a 3-1 victory over Chelsea. Roberto Martinez went too far in last year’s campaign to keep the ball at all times and switched things up this year, giving Romelu Lukaku a friend to play with up front in Arouna Kone. The result is far more direct play that thrives on the counter attack. With this setup Ross Barkley now plays behind two strikers and, like many attacking players in the hole, has looked vastly improved compared to previous abject showings. Martínez faffed about trying to put a square peg into a swiss roll when he experimented with Barkley in a deeper position last season, but hopefully the Spaniard is content to leave him in his current position.

The main difficulty with Everton is knowing what fixtures they thrive in. They’ll experience both ends of the spectrum with visits to Old Trafford and The Hawthorns in the next few weeks. With defence never being Everton’s forté, John Stones makes for an underwhelming fantasy pick compared to his real life performances. Lukaku looks set to be having his best non-loan season and should continue to rack up points. It’s splendid to see Everton’s enterprising attack return, after last year’s hiatus.

Beware Manchester City away from home

The league leaders have asserted themselves in every game so far. At home they’re a juggernaut, if you don’t pick any City players when the fixture is at the Etihad, think again. Their suffocation of possession and widespread talent is a recipe for fantasy success. Joe Hart kept the most clean sheets last season and 185 goals over the last two seasons speaks for City’s potency going forward.

Manuel Pellegrini’s team isn’t a one trick pony. This season has already seen them pick up maximum points away to Everton and West Brom with none conceded. If anything, they can dominate games and break down a deep-lying defence better than any side in the league. But give them a feisty tackle, a hostile atmosphere and a fired-up, possibly tipsy Alan Pardew to rile up his Argentine counterpart – Manchester City lose their way somewhat. Petulance is something that runs through their side and it was never clearer than on Saturday. Once their natural flow was disrupted the passing began to go askew and the attacks were repeatedly halted. Granted they were missing David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero but the difference in their temperament was palpable. Fortunately for them they got away with it this weekend due to Kelechi Iheanacho’s late intervention. (who else? Classic Iheanacho.)

At the Etihad City are still a banker against three quarters of the league. There’s no fixture that makes the Citizens a no-go zone for your side, but see caution in away fixtures against sides like Palace, Stoke and Leicester. The Champions League is getting into the swing of things this week, Sergio Aguero’s status is questionable after Scott Dann’s reducer and their next two away league games are at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford. Perhaps it would be wise to moderately temper expectations for City when they go on their travels.

Rodgers fails to recognise the true issues with Liverpool

This isn’t something we learnt this weekend, but it seems apt to discuss it now. Around an hour before kick-off at Old Trafford, Rodgers handed out another line-up that was difficult to parse. Danny Ings, Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke could have comprised an effective diamond. Rodgers instead told Ings to man the left wing and Firmino to float around aimlessly, if we’re to go by the Brazilian’s performance. Lovren kept his spot and further enhanced Morgan Schneiderlin’s and Jose Fonté’s reputations as the rare players who made the Croat look decent. Joe Gomez, a centre-half who was signed from Charlton Athletic, a midtable Championship team, suddenly didn’t look like a ready-made Premier League left-back. Quelle surprise.

The main issue with Liverpool still is the insistence, presumably from Rodgers, to play the ball out from defence. Gary Neville touched on it when commentating, but this is something that has been a continuous thorn in Rodgers’ side for 2 years, perhaps more. Even when they had all the success in 2013/14, the defence repeatedly conceded possession with alarming frequency.

Like with many big clubs right now, it’s tough to see Liverpool’s true plan, on the field or off. There’s a plethora of attackers for Rodgers to use but it only seems to tempt him into increasingly wacky systems that couldn’t possibly be part of any ‘philosophy’. He needs to establish a core of players to build up on and quickly. You get the sense he won’t be given the time to do so.

Villa aren’t ready to push on

Fantasy football isn’t just about knowing when to pick up the in-form players, it’s equally crucial to snuff out the fool’s gold. We may have our first example with Aston Villa this weekend. They took a 2-0 lead with fantastic strikes from Carles Gil and a Peaky Blinders extra Jack Grealish. You could forgive many for thinking Villa were sneaking a win as they have often managed to do away from home the past few years. De Laet, Vardy and Dyer all piped up with objections and in the space of 20 minutes it was Goodnight, Mister Tim.

Our favourite gilet model unchained Villa from the defensive restraints imposed by his predecessor, Paul Lambert. Under the Scot, somehow the side made pace look boring with central midfielders often refusing to venture further than the halfway line. The now departed Christian Benteke was often the only player worthy of selection for a fantasy side, unless you bought into Andreas Weimann’s inevitable early season form. But with Sherwood, have some possible budget options have emerged?

Um, no, not really. The attacking options aren’t pretty. Gil picked up an injury, and Grealish’s looks promising but Bakary Sako appears one of many more favourable picks in that price bracket. The best option, Scott Sinclair, is in a random purple patch that he hasn’t shown signs of since 2012. Rudy Gestede didn’t start on Sunday. Gabby Agbonlahor still lives in 10-foot barge pole territory and manages to look overweight while being fast. Please sir, can we have our Libor Kozak back?

Newcastle are the same as last year, sans drama

West Ham and Dimitri Payet, who is looking very tidy indeed, took up much of the analysis on Monday Night Football with Carragher and Neville. A less exciting takeaway is that Newcastle look absolutely identical to last year and the year before, just without the overbearing farces regarding Alan Pardew, John Carver or Mike Ashley.

For all the supposed ‘overhaul’ in the summer with McClaren’s hiring and a few purchases of permanent players. It shows how the narrative switches with some noisy activity in the transfer market. Newcastle’s side has gaping holes. Vernon Anita is their main playmaker and Andreas Pirlo he most certainly is not. Papiss Cisse has quietly evolved into a poor man’s Defoe. They won’t be relegated, but if anything this season will be duller than the last. Rather than the typical pre-Christmas spike in form then a catastrophic drop off, the Magpies look set to turn their 2015/16 campaign into one big grey mush.