Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


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


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


Everton fail to exploit lesser teams

The failure to close games out has haunted many a team and Everton were not to be spared of this anguish against Norwich on Saturday. Romelu Lukaku spurned a couple of golden chances as the Merseyside team failed to capatalise on an extremely potent attacking display. Gerard Deulofeu continued his sparkling form and looks to be the team’s lead creator now. The reason Roberto Martinez has shifted Ross Barkley back deeper is unclear and will definitely impact his fantasy value.

However despite many bemoaning Everton’s wasteful attack, the real reason Norwich stayed in the game is the defensive shape Everton have and their resilience at set-pieces, both of which are non-existent. Gareth Barry and Co. made Norwich look more than competent in attack, which takes some doing. Making a push for Champions League means Everton have to take 3 points from these opportunities, yet their league leading 8 draws show that they have failed to do this time and time again. Arsenal, to take one example, often have games where they could score 5 in one half. Yet when they only muster one goal, they’ve consistently shown the ability to close out games. Everton must learn this they want to progress as a team.

Koeman needs to fix Saints’ midfield

In the face of adversity managers show their true colours. For the majority this will lead to a ‘batten down the hatches’ mentality and this weekend Ronald Koeman proved he was very much in this majority. Away to Crystal Palace, the Dutchman started three centre-halves, flanked by a fullback on either side and then selected Victor Wanyama and Oriel Romeu to sit in midfield. Even George Graham would have called it unambitious.

It didn’t exactly work either. Palace’s goal came rather easily as Yannick Bolasie squared for Yohan Cabaye, who not one of the 7 defensive minded players decided to track, which rather negated the point of selecting the side Koeman did. The decision to not start Dusan Tadic was questionable, but the main issue Koeman must recognise and focus on is the balance of his midfield. With Morgan Schneiderlin gone, it is paramount that Southampton turn their attention towards scoring rather than attempting to re-create the solidity the once had.

Van Gaal missing the forest for the trees

Speaking of Schneiderlin, what on earth is he doing being left on Manchester United’s bench? In the desperation to generate some goals Van Gaal has dropped the player who was keeping their defence solid while still failing to ignite the attack. With Rooney out, Van Gaal has no excuse for what is a miserable attack, but if this is a long-term problem then the least he could do is play Schneiderlin who, at times, has made Chris Smalling and Daley Blind look better players than they really are.

Admittedly United’s backline is plagued with injuries. The only first choice defender left is Blind, who was easily evaded at a corner for Josh King’s goal, which proved to be the winner. The pressure Van Gaal has come under in recent weeks and the incessant ‘attack, attack, attack’ is clearly impacting his decisions for the worse. It is eerily similar to when Moyes began to second guess himself with the press breathing down his back, which does not bode well for the Dutchman’s future.

Manchester City are going to challenge for the title

After being thoroughly outplayed by Stoke, Manchester City decided to respond by closely imitating the performance at home. Normally so imperious in front of their fans, City looked determined to chuck this one way. Swansea City have looked hapless of late but were suddenly empowered by the home side’s floundering. It is worth wondering if Pellegrini and his squad are struggling to shake a sense of listlessness.

This group has won the title before and with seemingly daily reports of Guardiola agreeing to take over from next season, it could be possible that the entire mood around the club is one of lethargy. It’s certainly reflecting in their play this season. They’ve floated through many games, being crushed in games against Liverpool and Tottenham where they met real spirit and fight. City are just unfortunate that the top of the league is in such a mess that there will be a title challenge from them, whether they like it or not.

Watford look most likely candidate to regress

Every Premier League season sees some new faces rise into the top half of the table before Christmas and 2015/16 has been no different. Most notably Leicester City have ascended the pile after mistakenly being tipped for relegation, but they are joined in the top 10 by Crystal Palace and Watford. Annoyingly though, things seem to become a little bit more sensible and straighten themselves out over the winter.

The Hornets seem like the side who will be the most vulnerable to plummet into plain old mid-table. Newly-promoted sides, for whatever reason, often can’t sustain form as well as a team in their second year. They also face a tough stretch from now into the beginnings of January as they face Liverpool, Chelsea (Hm), Spurs and Manchester City. This will provide a stern test for Watford’s excellent defence while also probing at their attack. If teams can figure out how to take Ighalo and Deeney out of the game, there won’t be much help in the goals department from other areas.


Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


Vardy is finally stopped, Everton and Crystal Palace provide some exciting Monday Night entertainment and the Chelsea dumpster fire continues to rage. 5 things we learned from the weekend:

Manchester City need to adjust to midtable revolution

Manuel Pellegrini has become accustomed to the occasional blip to an anonymous opponent. Last year Stoke stole 3 points at the Etihad after Mame Biram Diouf bagged the only goal of the game, literally sprinting the length of the pitch with the ball all the way into Joe Hart’s net. The soft core of the side has already been exposed many a time but this year it might be more vulnerable than ever.

Stoke were superior throughout in their weekend matchup, giving the type of performance – explosive and innovatory, all while maintaining a rugged underbelly – that the visitors increasingly fail to combat. It could be argued they were the unfortunate victims of Xherdan Shaqiri’s breakout game, who finally showed his potential. Yet it’s still a tough task recalling many games where Manchester City win despite adversity. The squad is full of front runners, Raheem Sterling and David Silva in particular often go quietest when they are needed most. With the rapidly improving middle-class of the Premier League Pellegrini must spark his side for these games, or risk witnessing these ‘blips’ become a regularity.

West Ham’s injury crisis is worse than Arsenal’s

Any recent passing interest in football will have provided you with coverage of the apocalyptic injury crisis Arsenal are attenuating to endure, while other clubs are prospering with fully fit and fresh squads at their disposal. In truth, the crippling Winter months affect almost everyone and almost always benefits the more privileged teams, such as Arsenal. Despite their conservative transfer activity, Arsenal still have strength in depth which others don’t.

One clear example is West Ham, who failed to convert what was a winnable game against a dour Manchester United team. We already knew Dimitri Payet’s absence would be painfully clear in a team that is starved for creativity outside of the Frenchman and perhaps Manuel Lanzini. The Hammers traveled to Old Trafford without Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, the two pace merchants that formed a successful tandem last year as well as Lanzini who has been far better than anyone thought. Not only do they miss that pairing but Slaven Bilic is then forced to play Andy Carroll who, at times, seems to have a detrimental impact on the team’s play. Victor Moses departed the first half with an injury and knocks to quality contributors, such as Pedro Obiang have all added up.

All of this combined with the success of some other mid-table clubs has made probable that they finish in the bottom half of the table once again. West Ham have a soft festive fixture list, but I’d be wary of them if they don’t have their non-ponytailed frontline back.

Watford show Norwich the benefit of defined attacking strategy

As Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo stretched Norwich’s defence to breaking point over and over again for 90 minutes, you could forgive Alex Neil for feeling a little helpless. The Scot cycled through his entire strikeforce, deploying the entire arsenal which resulted in one, solitary shot on target. Lewis Grabban started, Mbokani came on to assist him and then had to partner Cameron Jerome up front. Safe to say that the trio are not firing on all cylinders, with the entire team grabbing 4 goals in 8 league games. They, like Bournemouth, are the current main beneficiaries of terrible North-East football and Aston Villa’s perpetual crisis.

Watford, on the other hand, are loving life as they moved into the top half of the table. Watching them imparts a sense that the squad that has found its purpose in life. Troy Deeney was born to battle Sebastien Bassong and Ryan Bennett. Ighalo is everything that Saido Berahino should be, if he was ever released from Pulis’ clutches. Quique Sanchez Flores and his team know what they’re trying to do each game with results to back it up, Norwich are just trying to find a viable option up front.

Willian’s Chelsea contribution overstated

A few weeks ago when Chelsea were showing signs of rebooting their torrid campaign, Willian was proclaimed by some as the only attacking performer who had produced consistently throughout the season. The recency bias was in full flow at that time, as Willian had scored some sensational free-kicks in consecutive weeks that had helped Chelsea secure results in the Premier League and in Europe. The truth is he just hadn’t been as noticeably awful as his colleagues, a statement he enforced with his showing in the 1-0 home defeat to Bournemouth.

The dirty secret with Willian is that he’s possibly the most boring player to watch in the Premier League, considering his athletic and technical abilities. Whether this is his own fault, or that of a certain sharply-dressed Portuguese man in close proximity to the pitch, is debateable. It only takes a small amount of squinting to see Willian is just James Milner on fast-forward. That’s not a particularly bad thing, a winger who tracks back and is very selfless in their play can be invaluable, just as it was to Chelsea last season lest we forget. But his inability to do much damage against Charlie Daniels and other average fullbacks must be part of Chelsea’s inability to pick up the slack left by Eden Hazard and Diego Costa this season. One last thing when seeing his : Willian cost around £32 million.

Swansea must keep the ball to rebuild their season

Peculiarity was the theme of a drizzly affair at the Liberty Stadium. The season has taught us that Leicester winning 3-0 away from home is not unusual. The fact that it came against Swansea is also less surprising than it would have been 12 months ago. But there were more intricate details from the match that made for odd viewing.

The raw stats say that Swansea had 59% possession, although a lot of it was ineffectual Leon Britton dallying in his own half. Swansea are not like Crystal Palace waiting to pounce on the counter. They can do that, as they showed in their 2-1 win against Manchester United back in August. When teams need to bounce back, they’ll always revert to their core identity, which in this case for the Swans would be dominating possession to an even greater extent.

For all the criticism spun Van Gaal’s way at United, his style has led to the best defensive record in the league. With Ashley Williams not looking as infallible as usual, Garry Monk would be best served overloading the opposition half and playing some safe, possession style football as they enter an important stretch of games over Christmas.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


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.

Hodgson must choose what he wants England to be


October has never been the time to discuss international football too intensely. The collective football world is either coming off a major tournament or slightly too far away from another. There’s still lots of time for development throughout the season which, carrying an inevitable recency bias, will matter more than right now. We should treat Roy Hodgson’s latest squad like an in-law, pleasant nods while suppressing more honest opinions in our own heads. — ‘Ryan Mason? Haha, yes of course!’ Internally tuts. — This new edition of ‘Hodgson selects an in-form player’ will be mildly intriguing with Jonjo Shelvey looking to fill a hole in midfield. Hodgson in all his tenure has never employed the same side in the same formation. It suggests there is opportunity for everyone within the squad to stake their claim. Even Jamie Vardy. Unfortunately the only meaningful game is against Switzerland, negating the chance to see how everyone performs against credible opposition.

One of the most fascinating facets of Hodgson’s prospective decision-making will be in the centre back department. John Stones’ inclusion in this discussion is impressive given he only truly broke into Everton’s side in the second half of last season. Half a season of football was enough for Raheem Sterling to start in a major tournament so why can’t Stones after this season? Everton under Roberto Martinez are not quite porous, but certainly have an air of permeability that Stones’ insertion into the side has, understandably, failed to fix alone. His actual defending is decent — it’s rare to find a truly great centre half now, even less so at Stones’ age — but the ability on the ball he has showcased is arguably the best of any centre back in the Premier League. This is even more of an asset to England who have long struggled to keep possession against quality opposition. Stones can amend this with his willingness to play the ball out from the back, compared to someone like Cahill who often appears flustered for England. Stones’ chances of starting increase with each game he plays. There’s the small bonus of being able to fill out at right back if needed, but England have a multitude of players to do. Stones represents  a decision that shows what Hodgson values in his side, if he recognises the issue of ball retention then Stones is a crucial pick to set England on the right track.

Chris Smalling briefly looked like he’d created a cocoon in May, locked himself in, then emerged a dominant central defender. His physicality was never an issue but it now seemed matched by his concentration during the game, leading to 3 clean sheets in 4 games. Yet, as with many things at the start of the season, not all is as it seems. Playing behind Carrick and especially Schneiderlin creates the safest of havens for Smalling. In the defeat to Swansea, when United’s midfield was bypassed frequently, the same defence appeared from the mist of last year. United will quite possibly lead the league in clean sheets this year if they persist with this midfield, but the role that Smalling has to play is reduced enough to flatter him. This context is important to consider if having to decide between Stones and Smalling. Toss in the deficiencies Smalling has with the ball and it should be an easy decision.

One man who might stop this decision from having to be made is Gary Cahill. He’s been a certainty in the team since his move to Chelsea. However with Zouma lurking and the possibility of Stones’ arrival, Cahill has a serious chance of losing his spot for club and country. He provides an acceptable medium of Stones’ technique and Smalling’s physicality without excelling in either area. The experience of playing previously for Hodgson and with Joe Hart will also surely count for something. Tactically this trio of central defenders gives Hodgson the chance to play a higher line no matter who he selects. With the fullback slots likely to be manned by Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, England will have respectable speed right across the back line for the first time in many years.

Without Jordan Henderson, Hodgson can try out some new looks in the centre. Carrick should start given his unparalleled ability to take care of the ball and protect a defence. As mentioned before, England’s main issue lies with attacks stagnating in midfield. This could be put down to numerous games against lesser sides in qualifying who have sat deep making England create in front of them. Jonjo Shelvey isn’t the player to fix this, in fact his inclusion would more likely exacerbate the issue but Hodgson will no doubt experiment with him. James Milner and Fabian Delph cannot deal with this either, but both provide increased defensive effort which leaves Shelvey’s prospects looking dim. A possible solution is placing Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, someone who will drive forwards with the ball breaking the monotonous and often lateral nature of England’s advances. Hodgson has never really shown an experimental side in regard to unconventional lineups though. There are few other noteworthy developments in midfield, unless you’re an optimist on Ryan Mason’s career.

Wayne Rooney’s stuttering form to start the season has led to the biggest questioning of his ability he’s ever faced which is a testament to his consistency. Over the last 18 months Rooney, now stripped of his speed and agility, has looked to transition himself into a wily finisher who can facilitate for other attackers around him. While his own goals dried up, many praised his passing, work rate and leadership. While this was all deserved for the most part, there was always the nagging sense that you could put Rooney into a Tyne-Wear derby and not really notice him. His first touch has long deserted him and the work-rate that was so often the reliable base of any Rooney performance is no longer there to be counter on. The England goalscoring record could provide a welcome distraction from his glaring inadequacies right now. The moral of this ongoing story? Be the captain of every side you play in.

Yet there are more discussions outside of the swirling debate that orbits Rooney eternally. Harry Kane looks off-colour or is returning to his normal abilities, depending on which way you’d like to look at it. It’s probable that Kane simply needs a rest. Danny Welbeck’s injury will hurt England, given his quality performances on the international stage that contrast with his time at Arsenal so far. Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge and Saido Berahino will need some games to show they should be in contention. Don’t rule out Callum Wilson getting a call-up for the November games, if he prolongs the purple patch he’s in right now.

So, Jamie Vardy, eh? As a relatively rational Leicester fan, I feel well positioned to discuss him and his second call-up to the national squad. Many raised their eyebrows seeing him picked again. He is neither a prolific goalscorer (yet) nor a consistent starter at a top team, leaving him dangerously outside of the accepted venn diagram of ‘Prestige players’ and ‘Rampant goalscorers’ which comprises of all England players ever. This leaves his selection to be ridiculed by the numerous doubters of the England squad. On top of this, he’s disliked for generally being a horrible player for your team to play against. He is rather like having a sneaky swig of someone’s gin at a house party: quick, reckless and only produces the sensation of vomit tunneling up your trachea, if his hardened face and busy elbows are up against your club that week. But like your Dad will say with the gin, “You get a bottle yourself when you’re older, more experienced and you’ll love it son.”. The same will occur with Vardy. Once those three lions are on his chest, you may find your one-way feud with him thawing somewhat, the burning sensation in your throat fading away.

I’m not here to tell you he’ll revolutionise England’s side or even make a palpably positive contribution. His first touch is questionable and his vision is clearly the most unrefined aspect of his game, often overlooking easy passes in favour of head-down-racist-in-a-casino type charging. However there is one thing to be said of his ability. Vardy is elite, possibly unmatched, in his harrying of defenders. Now this in itself is likely to be scoffed at, “Strikers are for scoring goals, what use is this ‘harrying’ you speak of?”, a particularly obnoxious friend might exclaim. Yet if Vardy’s relentless pressing in combination with his pace has led to several goals in the Premier League (just watch the 5-3 win for Leicester against Manchester United), then why not for England? Without Danny Welbeck to do the dirty work up front, Hodgson will go looking for a replacement. Harry Kane’s heavily fatigued, Theo Walcott’s a little out of sorts, Vardy might even start.

Now that really is a reason to discuss international football in October.