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.

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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Manchester City leave it late once again, Liverpool get bullied by West Ham and god damn, Chelsea really are back. Here’s 5 lessons we learned from this gameweek:

West Ham well placed to continue challenging top sides

The only downside in the Hammers’ 2-0 victory over Liverpool was that they’ve surely used up their annual ‘Andy Carroll has a good game’ card. Indeed the pony-tailed brute rose up from Liverpool’s nightmares to crash home Mark Noble’s cross, vaulting the club into the top 6. It’s been a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors effort in recent weeks, grinding out results with bench players sans Dimitri Payet.

But now the pirouetting Frenchman is back and it is highly recommended he goes back into fantasy teams. Payet came off the bench for half an hour and showed little sign of needing to acclimatize. It’s slightly amazing how much Bilic’s side already rely on Payet to create for them even though he was only signed in the summer. West Ham face  the shoddy defences of Bournemouth and Newcastle after the FA Cup next weekend. Can you honestly turn down the prospect of a well rested Payet going up against Steve Cook and Fabricio Coloccini in consecutive weeks?

Liverpool suffering same chronic issues

Jurgen Klopp was a good appointment in the long-term for Liverpool, but it’s a fair expectation that he would improve the side some this season. Instead the performance Liverpool gave against West Ham – apathetic, soft and in the case of Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke downright awful – was similar to the corresponding fixture last season, a 3-1 defeat. It doesn’t bode well for Klopp that despite his ranting, raving and long-haired presence on the touchline Liverpool are failing to deal with the same issues that have plagued them for years.

Good teams always have bogey fixtures, but Liverpool genuinely can’t be trusted to turn up against any frisky mid-table side and it’s been this way for years. This inconsistency as well as being average in both attack and defence makes their squad a terrible option in fantasy football for the most part. They have the arrogance and tempo of a team that possesses real quality despite showing the latter sporadically. There’s issues to be fixed that run deep through the team, perhaps deeper than a managerial switch can manage.

Leicester trying to adapt

0-0’s can often be meritless ordeals to watch but the Foxes goalless affair against Bournemouth was definitely not an example of such. The battle lines were drawn early as Eddie Howe opted for a sort of ‘death by central midfielders’ approach, lining up in a 4-5-1 that clogged up the centre circle and its surrounding area. Claudio Ranieri this season has cycled through Shinji Okazaki and Leonardo Ulloa to partner Jamie Vardy, but both have been ineffectual. It was Ulloa’s turn to start Saturday but the less said about his performance the better.

Ulloa was taken off at half time for Nathan Dyer, moving Riyad Mahrez into the centre. Ranieri knows that the league is starting to key in on Mahrez and Vardy, so the Italian is looking to unleash them in different ways. The space that Dyer provided allowed Leicester to beat Bournemouth’s midfielders. In the second half Vardy got in behind on several occasions, one time leading to a penalty and red card. It will be fascinating to see Leicester try to mold their team and sustain a top 4 challenge in the coming weeks, especially as it was announced on Sunday evening that Vardy was to have a ‘minor surgery’. Keep selecting Mahrez

for the next month and monitor the shots on target totals closely.

PS: Ulloa seriously sucks this season. Leave him alone at all costs.

Healthy Manchester City are serious threat to Arsenal

Before touting City as the best side in the league, it’s worth pointing out that Arsenal are topping the table despite not having their best player, Alexis Sanchez. But.

There’s always a but when Arsenal are top of the league. I can’t help it. Manchester City’s ceiling – with an engaged Yaya Toure, a fit Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany – is very, very difficult to top. Late goals come and go but with Manchester City’s 2-1 smash and grab outing against Watford, it felt like their quality just willed them not to lose. It wasn’t the first time such a late intervention has benefitted City this season either, really good teams find a way.

Can you count on their defence? Not really. Do they provide the same effort from game to game? Probably not. But even in this topsy-turvy season City have the pure talent that can override whatever the opposing team. Arsenal are clearly legitimate title contenders and quite rightly the current favourites. But it won’t stop them looking over their shoulders at all times, especially if Manuel Pellegrini can find a nice effective set of ankle braces for Aguero.

Academy Award Season is coming up

Excuse the dreadful joke, but Oscar is quietly starting to get it together under Guus Hiddink. Willian has been the individual highlighted by many this season but it’s reasonable to doubt that his goalscoring will continue. For Chelsea this season seven of the Brazilian’s eight goals in all competitions have come from outside the box. That rate of blasting absolute screamers into the back of the net rarely carries on for an entire season.

Oscar meanwhile looks to be driving Chelsea’s return to form. The team as a whole has had a little more ‘pop’ to them in recent weeks, dating back to their visit to Leicester when Mourinho was still employed. But Hiddink’s appointment has certainly been a catalyst for the improvement. Against a wounded Palace team, Costa made runs and Fabregas made passes that had simply stopped happening towards the end of the previous regime. Eden Hazard left the game early with some sort of injury which leaves some creative slack to be picked up by Oscar, increasing his chances of points.

Chelsea are definitely back which evokes mixed feelings for me, but if the fantasy manager inside of you wants to benefit, Oscar should be the Chelsea midfield pick over Willian.

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Lingard shows importance of offball movement

In celebration of what is apparently Jesse Lingard week, it seems an apt time to share one takeaway I had from his breakout against West Bromwich Albion: his off-ball movement is more useful to this current United side than anything Memphis Depay can do on the ball. To quote Dutch legend Johan Cruyff:

When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball 3 minutes on average … So, the most important thing is: what do you do during those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball.

Manchester United have been criticised for their stagnant attack, most recently by Paul Scholes. How do you fix it? Off-ball movement! I talked about it last week with Riyad Mahrez and how it has transformed his game. Depay, I have no doubt, is a more talented player than Lingard and may supplant him by May. But Lingard without the ball is showing a little more willingness right now that Depay hasn’t. It manifests itself in fantasy as well, where we constantly see players whowe perceive as more talented struggle to get games. Lamela was one who had this issue when he joined Spurs two years ago but is enjoying a promising campaign so far.

With Rooney’s worrying physical decline in mind, Louis van Gaal needs to look for energy around him to compensate. Lingard was ready and could be set for a prolonged spell in the side as a result.

Irrelevant set piece takers

Set pieces matter in fantasy football. This is not newfound wisdom suddenly being bestowed. There are benefits to finding set piece takers, Steven Gerrard accumulated points almost solely based on this in 2013/14, which wasn’t too much of a surprise given that his mobility was, ahem, limited that season.

On Saturday evening Stoke poured some more fuel onto an already roaring fire occurring at Chelsea. This fuel came in the shape of a flowing attack that included Glen Johnson, which is rather impressive given that the fullback hasn’t been associated with the term ‘flowing’ since his Portsmouth days possibly. Nevertheless, Stoke cut through Chelsea in open play. The old myth regarding Stoke’s play has mostly dissipated but they still regularly start 6+ hulking figures across the field which might lead you to think some goals from corners might be in order.

Not so. Since Mark Hughes appointment in 2013, Stoke have finished bottom 3 each season in goals scored from set pieces. It certainly makes you re-consider your budget players, especially around mid-table. Sorry Xherdan Shaqiri and Charlie Adam, but no thanks. In case you were wondering Spurs currently lead the league in set piece goals, such is the power of Christian Eriksen.

Leicester astound again, without much of the ball

So, so many fantasy managers were pleased to see that Vardy has seemingly escaped punishment for an uncouth gesture towards a linesman during Leicester’s win over Watford. I know what you’re thinking, “Vardy, uncouth? Never!”. Me too, me too.

Leicester’s blitzkrieg attack has shown signs of stumbling though. It was running on fumes at the weekend as Leicester had just 40% possession, but still managed 6 shots on target. Yet they had to be gifted the game by the Tottenham edition of Heurelho Gomes, who let Kanté’s shot slip by before needlessly clearing out Vardy to give away a penalty.

It’ll be very interesting to observe how the entire attack, not just Vardy, fares against the bigger sides that lie in wait for them over the next two months. They’ve proved they don’t need possession to score, but it’s hard to envision Leicester maintaining their 100% scoring record in the league for the next few games. Who knows, perhaps Jamie Vardy is limitless.

Newcastle have character issues but are a solid side

The narrative that has enveloped Tyneside is warranted. Mike Ashley is sapping that club of its soul and there is a real disconnect between the club and its fans that is only set to grow. That much we know to be true and worth talking about. Yet I can’t help but feel as if too much of that gloomy pessimism is projected onto the team at times. It’s not helped by the BBC choosing to have Alan Shearer make sweeping comments on Match of the Day whenever Newcastle lose a game.

The performance against Bournemouth would certainly not give cause for an end-of-season DVD to be commissioned. Newcastle gave a dry performance, perhaps industrious if we were being generous. I’m just not sure that Newcastle are a bottom 5 side, let alone in danger of being relegated.

Measuring squad quality on paper is highly subjective and not a particularly accurate barometer of how good a team is. But a quick scan suggests that Newcastle, at a conservative estimate, have a better squad than Aston Villa, Norwich, Bournemouth, Sunderland (even though they can never beat them) and Watford possibly.

All this being said, Steve McClaren is not a Premier League quality manager.

Losing Payet kills West Ham

Occasionally, you can make out a schoolboy side from within West Ham’s squad. Andy Carroll the walking header, Kouyate bombing about all over the pitch and Dimitri Payet, the only kid with a bit of talent who the whole team passes to and essentially says, “Do something with it, please.”. Oh Dimitri, you will be missed.

All of that is an oversimplification, of course. West Ham are pretty good all over the park, but the extent to which Payet has to create for them seems greater than any other. Manuel Lanzini has contributed more than anyone predicted and Victor Moses has been ok, but now is when we’ll see just how heavy or light of a load they were really carrying.

There is somewhat of a striking problem developing at West Ham as well, while Diafra Sakho is out. Andy Carroll can’t be trusted while Enner Valencia and Mauro Zarate show flashes from time to time. The challenging Christmas period will give us an idea of how much Slaven Bilic has really improved this team beyond adding Payet.

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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Managerial crises abound – Sherwood, Mourinho, maybe even Arsene Wenger isn’t safe with his side top of the league. On the field, here are 5 things we learned:

Persist with Chelsea, if you dare

The Chelsea recommendations I made last week did not factor in just how dire the situation has gotten at Stamford Bridge, compounded by their collapse away to West Ham. Reports of Jose Mourinho’s demise were not greatly exaggerated.

In the weekend build-up there had been recent discussions of Chelsea going back to their roots as Mourinho picked consecutive sides with the primary aim of repelling the opposition.  Without that prior contextual reading, no one would have known any change had taken place. If only they had their summer target John Stones, who is clearly masterminding Everton’s defence still…yes, he would have sorted this mess out.

Persistence might be key here. Although the world does seem to be crumbling around one certain Portuguese man, the apocalypse could just create some nice differentials. Azpilicueta is still a Spanish fullback, so he’s always a consideration. You think Baba Rahman is due his first Chelsea goal? You go for it.

Simmer down with Everton

The fixtures for the Toffees have many drooling but there will inevitably be one week where Ross Barkley will go for 1 solitary point. As evidenced by the league table, an away game against Arsenal is the one of the most imperious tasks a Premier League team could be set right now. Even so, Everton created far from an optimum amount on Saturday and took their consolation through a deflected shot from Mr. End Product himself, Ross Barkley. Looking at the next two games:

Sunderland (H) – Allardyce stops Sunderland from receiving the Andrex award for porous defence, which now goes to Bournemouth. Not the sodden dying puppy of a team they were at the start of the season, unfortunately for Everton.

West Ham (A) – Will possibly end up being the best team outside of the recognised top 7, should not be viewed as an easier fixture.

To be fair after that they face Bournemouth and Aston Villa, which could be referred to as ‘Points Galore’. Yet as obvious as this advice is, don’t blindly follow the fixture list. Crystal Palace at Goodison Park seems like another banana skin lying in wait in for GW15.

Tough to say what’s up with Swansea

While the questioning of Garry Monk’s job security was certainly undeserved, Swansea’s stodgy performances have been puzzling. Not ‘what-on-earth-has-gone-on-with-Chelsea-and-who-swapped-Eden-Hazard-with-his-lazy-twin’ kind of puzzling, more ‘Ashley Williams looks a little off his game‘ pondering.

As aforementioned in this column, these midtable teams are streaky. (See Palace, Crystal.) It has already begun to even itself out with their condemnation of Sherwood at the weekend. After a well-fought win over Manchester United Swansea looked set to inflict their Welsh possession-based attack on the whole league.

Gomis was universally praised for his role in the United game, but his form right now looks more representative of his ability. The Frenchman was poor for large swathes of last season before only picking it up towards the end and his monstrous crawling celebration might be a rarer sight in this campaign than we originally thought.

Watford showing importance of defensive midfield

Watford’s defence is becoming more heralded as the season goes on and they’re showing that to create a rock solid spine the place to strengthen is actually in front of the back four. The centre-half pairing has been a Championship regular and a Werder Bremen squad player. It would be unfair to completely dismiss their roles during the season so far, but the midfield should take more credit here.

Two new signings have inspired this clean sheet machine of a team. Valon Behrami, when he has played, proved to be the better of veteran Napoli midfielders compared with the sluggish Gokhan Inler, now struggling at Leicester. Surprisingly Etienne Capoue has been impressing after a washy spell at Spurs. If QPR had made the exact same signings however I can guarantee both would be playing terribly right now.

Talking of washy spells at Spurs, how about Heurelho Gomes! The oft-mocked Brazilian is a top 3 keeping option right now, given his value. After the Manchester derby dud, start looking forward to the battle of budget attack vs budget defence when Watford continue their psuedo-rivalry with Leicester on the 7th November.

Avoid Derby games – weird things happen.

Cue up the X-Files music whenever a local rivalry pops up in the fixture list. Strange events are about to occur. This weekend Manchester City re-morphed into a rugged side at the back with few mistakes. It took place only a couple of hours after Sunderland became the first team to ever ‘steal’ a 3-0 win. Although it did come against Newcastle so the spookiness was foreseeable.

In all seriousness though, the cliché ‘The form book goes out the window for these games’ is applicable. Another catch is the high volume of cards, of both red and yellow persuasions, that are dished out to teams of close proximity. A North London derby comes bearing its rivalry witchcraft in two weeks time. The fantasy manager inside you should be wary.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Newcastle won! Jurgen Klopp drew 0-0 with Tottenham! Leicester came back from 2 goals down again! Oh, what a jolly exciting weekend. The moral of the weekend as you’re about to find out is get Spanish fullbacks. Here’s 5 things we learned:

Bournemouth are brave, but limited

Long-term injuries have bizarrely swept the league in a frightening fashion which Bournemouth have found out all too well in their debut Premier League campaign. Max Gradel, Tyrone Mings and most painfully Callum Wilson have all been lost in the massacre. Even more worrying is how Bournemouth’s defence has been largely untouched — given that Mings had not started for the Cherries pre-injury — but still shows no signs of being able to repel a Premier League attack.

Conceding 5 goals at the Etihad is not a horrific showing. Manchester City will continue to do that to many respectable sides this year. But as a defensive unit Bournemouth have looked on par with Sunderland and given Allardyce’s appointment even they should improve somewhat. Clean sheets are a slightly safer guess than trying to pick a goalscorer from the back and an appealing fixture should not sway you to pick one from Bournemouth. These are not the budget defenders you are looking for.

Arsenal seem sterner but beware banana skin fixtures

The main complaints with Arsenal are so tired and repeated that Arsene Wenger must have permanent tinnitus from sentiments like these:

“They need a top-class striker!”

“The defence will never hold up to a title challenge.”

Of course these could still prove themselves to be partially true. Theo Walcott came off after 60 minutes without a grabbing a goal for Olivier Giroud, who promptly did. That narrative will continue to spin but Arsenal’s defence can be cautiously judged as improved. It relies on Francis Coquelin holding up for 50 games this year but let’s put that to the back of our minds, eh?

Popular perception has often been unfair to Arsenal. They conceded the second least goals last season but televised capitulations have lived long in the memory. It might be a good idea to stock up on Spanish fullbacks. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal are producing the points that we might start to expect of Alberto Moreno on Merseyside. Away to Swansea seems like a banana skin for Arsenal so fill your boots with Spanish left-footers selectively.

A trend to go with – West Ham away from home

Sometimes we over-complicate things. Actually fantasy football managers pretty much always over-complicate things. It just works sometimes, that’s all. An established pattern that seems worth investing in across the field is West Ham’s national tour. A home defeat, coming to a football stadium near you.

Against Palace at the weekend they didn’t muster up a lot of opportunities but like a month ago against Manchester City they secured victory. Manuel Lanzini is not someone many had pencilled in a sa contirbutor when the season started but alongside growing cult hero Payet he’s flourishing around the country.

Don’t do that! I see you hovering the cursor as well as your devious thoughts over Andy Carroll for next week’s game against Chelsea. There’s an unwritten Andy Carroll rule that’s been in effect since 2012 that all should adhere to. Don’t pick Andy Carroll in fantasy football.

Go against your wishes and back Chelsea

It’s been a month since Diego Costa enraged anyone who associates themselves with a club named Arsenal. Swallow your dignity and take a deep breath: pick Diego Costa and perhaps Begovic if he takes your fancy. Begrudging as it may be, a glance at the league table shows Chelsea may be about to embark on a positive streak. Can you envision the Blues being 11th in the middle of November? Nor can I.

The backing comes with caveats of course. Jose Mourinho has no idea how his midfield is going to be set up so don’t bother trying to guess anything there. The Loftus-Cheek and Ramires tandem we saw trotted out on Saturday would interest only a fool. Fabregas, Hazard and Oscar’s statuses are unknown. The defence picked up a clean sheet against Aston Villa (Quelle surprise.) but Azpilicueta is the only one nailed on.

Spanish fullbacks, I’m telling you!

Behind Vardy and Mahrez, Leicester are lacking at the back

No clean sheets. 17 goals conceded which is fourth worst in the league. You sense past the Premier League’s top goalscorer and Riyad Mahrez (who will be starting again now, honest), Leicester are hiding one of the worst defences in the league. Robert Huth and Wes Morgan are strong but stately in their manner. Not to be crass but Huth and Morgan could get exposed by pace in a game of walking football.

They aren’t helped by those around them. Schlupp and Fuchs will oblige in their attacking duties with pleasure but aren’t offering a lot of protection from the flanks. A similar problem has emerged from last season with a lack of size across the pitch. Two smaller central midfielders and no height up front means huge mismatches at set-pieces. It showed with both of the Saints’ goals coming from centre-halves. To sum it up:

Things Leicester are good at: Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez

Things Leicester are bad at: Defence