Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Leicester hit a Jonathan Moss sized bump and Tottenham subsequently close the gap at the top to 5 points. We know for sure now that Villa are down, but which North-East side is joining them and will Norwich be there to follow them? 5 lessons learnt from a tumultuous Premier League weekend.

Sunderland prolong the relegation battle

The scrap for survival could have been settled this weekend, but Sunderland have given it a new lease of life. Combined with Newcastle’s win the tussling could continue right down to the final weekend. After looking sharp at times against Leicester last weekend, the Black Cats secured their first win in 7 emphatically. It felt a fair victory as Sunderland have clearly improved since their January additions. In comparison, Norwich have sort of been the opposite: scraping wins here and there despite looking just as poor as they have done all season.

Jermaine Defoe, as said before in this space, does very little to help his team win in his overall performances. But the fact of the matter is he gets shots off at a good clip and scores a decent amount of them and he’s probably been a net positive for Sam Allardyce’s side. After hosting Arsenal, they’ll face three iffy defences in Stoke, this weird iteration of Chelsea and Everton. For his price, Defoe looks a nice budget shout in those gameweeks.

Newcastle finally perform

Frankly it feels like Newcastle have won about 3 times all season. The league table tells us this is a lie and that at the Magpies have actually had 7 victories. Their most recent one over Swansea was crucial. Anything other than 3 points would have essentially sent them down but capitalising on a flagging Swansea squad and Sunderland’s win, Newcastle will now have the smallest of chances to escape. The gap to safety is only 3 points (with a game in hand) but it looks all the more gaping when seeing 3 of Newcastle’s final 5 fixtures are against some of the form sides of the division – Manchester City, Liverpool and then Spurs on the final day.

Andros Townsend made his presence felt on the scoresheet for the second time in as many games, which basically constitutes a blazing hot streak of form for a Newcastle player. The defence notched a clean sheet and it was well deserved after limiting Swansea to purely half chances. On the other end 3 goals probably flattered them as a couple of scrappy efforts found their way into the back of the net. All in all, I don’t feel so hot about picking up any Newcastle players, more because of their death row of fixtures than anything else. The overriding feeling is that it’s a shame we didn’t see a well-coached Newcastle team all season rather than their McClaren mess that last far too long.

Rashford an enigma going into next season

What with their cross-town rivals picking up speed again, the Champions League looks well beyond Manchester United now. It’s mostly just van Gaal trying to provide the illusion of competence now or, failing that, the sign that he’s building for the future. One example is his usage of Marcus Rashford, but evaluating the 18 year old’s true impact is difficult.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with Rashford’s performances to the naked eye. He’s quick and his finishes against West Ham in midweek and then Aston Villa looked clinical. The only issue is that he’s been so clinical, that it’s not quite representative of his attacking output. Many people pointed this out over the weekend but in the league Rashford is currently converting 50% of his shots into goals. That is an absurd percentage and clearly unsustainable. So while his price might look tempting next season, it might be best to wait until his finishing rates come back down to Earth.

Manchester City will be a problem next season

Remember how the confirmation of Manuel Pellegrini being replaced by Pep Guardiola threw off the whole Manchester City side? And how De Bruyne got injured around that time too and now he’s back City’s attack is humming again? Funny that. That swoon put them out of the title race and it the killer blow was probably the Leicester game where the winner would go to the top of the table. But Robert Huth and that Mahrez goal happened so now City will have to settle for duking it out with Arsenal to avoid playing a Champions League qualifier.

While Otamendi and Mangala’s developing partnership is promising the potential of City’s attack has returned to the mindblowing level it was at a couple of seasons ago. Although City are understandably not given many opportunities to showcase it they are absolutely lethal on the counter as Aguero’s second goal showed, which included some guy called Samir Nasri! Chelsea a bit of a joke right now but City have done and will do this to a lot of teams next season. Aguero and De Bruyne look like must haves for fantasy teams, regardless of the price.

Spurs are blowing past average teams

Stoke have had a nice season and will be very happy with another top ten finish under the management of Mark Hughes. Marko Arnautovic has been converted from talented headcase to regular contributor and Stoke also possess intriguing players who aren’t quite there yet like Giannelli Imbula. They’ve over-performed a little this year and will struggle to break into the Europa League in the coming seasons, but they’re a nice team who have their moments.

Tottenham ate them alive.

It’s stunning how Spurs have gone from a stale team going forward to this sudden onrush of incisive threat that comes at you for 90 minutes and won’t stop until it is satiated. Just as impressive is Dele Alli fitting into such a quality side in his ‘rookie’ season in the Premier League. Stoke had no shot of stopping them and it’ll take an otherworldly vintage Tony Pulis masterplan to stop them next weekend. If that doesn’t materialise, Spurs will overwhelm them just as they have to a bunch of oblivious midtable clubs.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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1-0 to the Leicester again, Aston Villa lose in the most depressing match of all time and Payet scored another gorgeous free kick. All becoming rather predictable this Premier League season, isn’t it? Here’s 5 things we learned:

Arsenal breezing past teams without pressure

It’s perhaps a little harsh to give Arsenal backhanded compliments when they dismantled Watford as thoroughly as they did. But if you fail against Swansea and then a severely short-handed United side, criticism will come from all angles. Saturday afternoon saw Arsenal at their very best, it’s just a shame that Arsenal at their very best means them turning over Watford in a quiet game at Vicarage Road. If they win enough games the end of the season might give them another chance to prove themselves under pressure.

In the meantime, buy lots of Arsenal stock right now in the shape of defenders and midfielders. Alexis Sanchez is due so many goals he might explode any second. It’s started already so it might be worth hopping on that bandwagon and seeing if it has any legs on it. Iwobi is the cheap option and his two recent goals will buy him time in the starting lineup, so he isn’t as risky as he might initially seem. Get your Arsenal players now, before the stakes ramp up to something meaningful.

Norwich pull out another crucial win

Well, well, well, here come the Canaries! And Cameron Jerome is nowhere to be found! How surprising. In all seriousness, Norwich are fighting to be better than Newcastle and Sunderland, with the reward being another Premier League season. Safe to say that the quality at the bottom this season seems even lower than usual and that’s without mentioning Aston Villa.

Norwich came out on top in a classic 6 pointer and their triumph left them 4 points clear of Sunderland. They’ve come on strong in the last few games and it’s all a bit out of nowhere. The addition of Stephen Naismith initially looked like it was going to transform Norwich’s attack into something effective but it didn’t transpire quite like that. In this game and their previous win over West Brom there’s been 4 different goalscorers which suggests there’s no really good candidate to transfer in for fantasy and the defence isn’t anything special either. Maybe admire Norwich’s resurgence from afar.

Southampton are crossing the ball way too much

I’ve moaned all season that Ronald Koeman has been playing overly cautious lineups without either Sadio Mane or Dusan Tadic or very occasionally absent of both players. It’s been a bizarre development given the successes the pair had last season but this weekend’s gripe doesn’t revolve around that. (This gripe isn’t much of a gripe at all, because I’m a Leicester City fan so Saints’ inepititude was fine by me.) The issue with Saints is that they cross the ball far, far too much.

It could be argued that Koeman is looking to play to the strengths of his squad, as Southampton do have one of the more imposing squads in the Premier League. The only thing was, it played right into Leicester’s strengths too. Facing Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, two man mountains, how are you going to fire in cross after cross in the hope that it’ll work? Crosses are an inefficient method of attack anyway but they were especially ineffective against Leicester. It’s turned into a nice season for Saints after an uncertain start but their attack could do with some fine tuning.

Tottenham don’t like the taste of their own medicine

There’s a team from the East Midlands that has the ‘unlikely title challenge’ story on lockdown, but we shouldn’t forget how unprecedented it is for Tottenham to be in this position either. Mauricio Pochettino has created another high-intensity, high-pressing team with this Spurs squad that has seen huge improvements at both ends of the field but especially in defence. They possess probably the best defence in the league while their attack is more of a functional affair than a beautiful one, their constant ball pressure being a huge reason they’re scoring more and conceding less.

The pressing that they unleash on everyone is exactly what hurt them in their game at Anfield however. They only mustered up chances off of Liverpool mistakes and the goal was a special piece of work by Harry Kane out of nothing. They consistently struggled to beat Liverpool’s pressing; Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen both excel when given enough time on the ball but the pair were shutdown for long stretches of the match. The attack has always been the less convincing aspect of Spurs this season and if teams want to beat Spurs, then these teams are going to have to go press Spurs.

Mahrez increasingly marginalised as Leicester grind

As is now well known Claudio Ranieri endured a brief yet disastrous time with Greece not long before returning to England. The extent of it: 4 games played resulting in one draw and three losses. It was a far cry from when Greece were at their best in Euro 2004, grinding out three 1-0 wins in the knockout stages to win an unlikely Championship. With his current employers, Ranieri has seen his side take up a similar style. Of course, Greece were far more defensively minded than Leicester but the results of Leicester’s previous 4 wins don’t suggest much difference. 1-0 (The Ulloa game). 1-0. 1-0 (The Okazaki game). Then today: 1-0 (The Morgan game).

There have been consequences however. Riyad Mahrez scored the winner in two of those fixtures but his influence continues to waver as teams load up on him. Southampton started off sacrificing any attacking output on the left by ordering Matt Targett to stick to Mahrez wherever he ventured and it worked. Later in the game when the Algerian did get loose, he wasn’t quite his incandescent self. This cuts both ways. You can either assume that he’s due a good performance or drop him if it seems like a consistent trend that will harm his fantasy performance. I’m leaning towards the latter.

 

 

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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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

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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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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.

The forgotten storylines of the 2014/15 Premier League Season

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Did you hear about Sugar Ray Rooney, who got knocked out on his very own kitchen floor? Of course you did. The story just oozed juicy tabloid goodness, and it quickly became the biggest news in Premier League football. In the event you forgot what happened—a near impossible task—Rooney gave a not so subtle reminder after he scored United’s third goal against Tottenham. The striker threw punches before falling down, this time not right next to his dining room table. The message of the celebration, similar to Luis Suarez’s diving antics before David Moyes’ feet a couple of seasons ago, was clear: “Piss off.” The issue with these tabloid ‘mega-incidents’ is that they steal valuable column inches from other stories—you know, about the rest of the league— that barely get an utterance from writers and pundits. Everyone wants more attention. Leicester wanted a bit of the national spotlight so bad they had to pretend to sack their manager. Case and point: On a chilly winter night earlier this season, Liverpool trumped Tottenham in a fantastic match where even Mario Balotelli scored. Harry Kane continued his unprecedented form and the result itself had implications in an increasingly gripping race to exit the Champions League at the last 16 stage at about this time next year. But no one noticed, or really cared, that Nikica Jelavic had scored his 8th Premier League goal to help Hull claim a vital win against Aston Villa. At the time, the goal put him level with Wayne Rooney (albeit the midfield version), Pellè, and Lukaku. But, predictably, Balotelli was the spotlight. These sorts of storylines will never shock you or anger you, and some are downright irrelevant. But you don’t know what you’re missing in the Premier League until you peel back the first few layers of media coverage. So give these a read, and then go back to the latest controversy involving a big team.

EVERYBODY HATES DANNY ROSE

It’s a common sight at White Hart Lane: between the Harry Kane headers and late Christian Eriksen free kicks, an eagle eyed viewer can spot a grumbling Danny Rose knocking about down the left flank. He’s got plenty to grumble about. Rose starts for Spurs, despite arguably not even being their best left back. And no one likes him. Not even in a fearsome way, Rose just gets on everyone’s bloody nerves. Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck had a constant tussle with him in the latest North London derby. Seriously, tune into a Spurs game. Rose will either kick someone or be kicked himself. He’s the Mario Chalmers of the Premier League. It doesn’t matter that you might not know who Mario Chalmers is. Just know that you can type his name into YouTube and one suggestion is ‘..getting yelled at.’

WEST HAM’S BATTLE WITH ALLARDYCE AND CARROLL TO PLAY ATTACKING FOOTBALL

In a squad full of Englishmen not quite good enough to play for England, one man will fight to stop a cultural rebellion and form the last stand of hoofball. Allardici – The Out-tacticer, a Netflix original. The Hammers started off the season on fire, inspired by several figures across the pitch. Diafra Sakho has excelled, despite being a fairly risky purchase from Ligue 1; Aaron Cresswell swelled the multitude of good English left backs; Enner Valencia has been deceptively better than his goalscoring record suggests; and Stewart Downing is the latest inverted winger to emigrate to the middle of the pitch, predictably causing an uplift in his performances. And then in came Andy Carroll, returning from injury as ever. Being a well-known Allardyce favorite, only a few were wary of the imminent threat posed to passing football as we know it. The worst case scenario plays out before our eyes as Carroll scores two of the most quintessentially Carroll goals, thumping a pair of headers past Fabianski. Carroll was suddenly undroppable and West Ham’s quality of play declined parallel to their league position. Allardyce can talk about his ability to adapt better than other managers all he wants, the guy had to be forced to implement the speedy, expansive play everyone enjoys. It then slipped all too easily back to his comfort zone in his heart where Carroll resides. Now with the pony-tailed big man inevitably ruled out for the season, we’ll see who wins this power struggle over football aesthetics.

4-2-3-1 HAS DIED DOWN A LITTLE

Formations aren’t tactics. They’re a crucial wrinkle in analyzing football. Playing three at the back has had a weird renaissance, mostly stemming from stubborn van Gaal and Rodgers stumbling upon it. QPR, Hull, and recently Leicester have all dabbled in the system at times. But more under the radar is the abandonment of the one striker lineup. Last season, diamonds were Liverpool’s best friend, allowing them to roll out a devastating combination of Sturridge and Suarez. It’s led to a few others trying it out, West Ham being an aforementioned example. Those that have used three central defenders have generally had more than one striker. Inevitably there have been some diehards. North London provides a safe constituency for 4-2-3-1; Arsenal and Tottenham are unmoving, while Chelsea only deviate in the biggest games. It’s probably still the most utilized system and the template for modern football lineups. Yet it’s not encompassed the top tier as it did perhaps two years ago.

LONG LIVE THE TARGET MAN

In a world of inside forwards and false 9s, the evolution of the game briefly looked as if it would relegate the hulking target man to the lower leagues. But it turns out the classic style of player is still thriving in the Premier League, more than it has in years. This season, three of the league’s top five goal scorers are a snarling Diego Costa, a deceptively nimble Harry Kane, and a plain and simple Charlie Austin. It’s a great injustice to the trio to pigeonhole them as bulky bullies that score goals with the finesse of a Neil Warnock press conference. Yet while all three are talented forwards, each one of them represents at least six feet of aggression and force. Collectively, they’ve scored 10 headers, and in Costa’s case none of the goals were struck from outside the box. The two Englishmen have had to create something from nothing much of the time:  Kane often has to stimulate an apathetic Spurs attack, while Austin has carried the heaviest of loads for QPR admirably.