Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


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

Leicester can rout teams too

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

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

Riyad Mahrez stepping up in a huge way

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

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

Allardyce has finally made Sunderland defend some

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

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

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

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

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

Dele Alli may be missed

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

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


Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


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.