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.

 

 

 

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Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Coming up to the halfway mark in the season and recent events, as well as this weekend’s games, have had big implications on Fantasy Football for the rest of the season. Here’s 5 lessons we learned:

Ding doing, Mou is gone

Upon hearing of Jose Mourinho’s sacking, there should have been one thought for fantasy players: ‘They’re free.’ Eden is free. The defence is free. Even Cesc might be free. Free from the curse of third season Mourinho and his maledictions. Guus Hiddink is here to bring us an extra source of points at the weekend and turn this Chelsea season around! The first half of that sentence is appealing, the second merely a necessary by-product.

I’ve already had two false starts proclaiming Chelsea’s resurgence so there should be some caution tagged on to Chelsea. After exorcising all of their former Portuguese master Chelsea claimed their first post-Mourinho win against lowly Sunderland, who’s only redeeming feature is that they’re not Aston Villa. However there was definitely some freedom to be found on the pitch at Stamford Bridge. Oscar, while still looking like the third member of a Brazilian boy band, flocked around and looks set to be a good differential prospect for the next gameweek.

Martial might be a sleeping giant

As a result of the not so flying Dutchman’s piloting of the club, Manchester United now seem to have a lot of sedated players that should make for excellent choices in a fantasy lineup, if and when van Gaal is usurped from the cockpit. The prime example is Anthony Martial, who has managed to look like a threat even while playing under this current regime. Imagine what he’d do with teammates who haven’t been brainwashed by ‘the philosophy’.

Price-wise he’s still a a couple of tiers below the premium players but this actually means naff all season given the success of Vardy and Ighalo. However strikers are often like Cesc Fabregas, they have half seasons. See Michu a couple of years ago for Swansea, who was spitting hot fire until January. Now Martial got off to a ridiculously prolific start in English football that was obviously unsustainable, but it may be the case that the Frenchman could be one of a few to kick on in the New Year. The removal of Louis van Gaal could be the catalyst for this.

Norwich are not the underdog you’re looking for

Leicester, Crystal Palace and Watford all currently obtain places in the top 7. If there was ever a season to defy the footballing hierarchy, it’s this one. Norwich haven’t quite got the message, but they had their highlight win of the season on Saturday at Old Trafford. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t look to be anything worth counting on.

Let’s look at the goalscorers. I’ve bemoaned Cameron Jerome’s faults this season before and feel very comfortable anointing him as the worst starting striker in the league this season, now that Aston Villa are starting Jordan Ayew. The teammate that Jerome assisted later on, to win Norwich the game, was Alexander Tettey. The Norwegian midfielder averages roughly one goal every 25 games. Essentially, the result at Old Trafford was far more indicative of Manchester United’s struggle than any Norwich improvement.

Bournemouth are frisky but unsustainable

Right now Eddie Howe’s team are reminiscent of Burnley last season in that they’re making a midseason run and convincing some that on the back of just 11 or so players, a Ginger-ish manager and a barrel of pluckiness they can survive relegation. And like Burnley when watching them there’s the nagging sense, even with each upset, that the season isn’t going to end well for them.

Using this admittedly unproven logic, the time to take a punt on some cheap Bournemouth players would be around now before the good times run dry and there’s always some wacky results during the jam-packed Premier League winter. But long-term, the signs aren’t good. Junior Stanislas’ and Josh King’s respective breakthroughs are unprecedented given that both played sparing roles in the Championship last season. It’s not early-season Scott Sinclair levels of anomalous performance, but I’d be wary of counting on them to contribute much more this season.

West Brom will meander through – but need defence to do so

The Baggies are probably the quietest club in terms of press coverage and to be quite honest, the most boring from a partially objective viewpoint. Chris Brunt is boring. Craig Gardner is boring. It was far more enjoyable when Saido Berahino played and was giving neutrals a reason to watch West Brom. Of course, this doesn’t matter to their chances of staying in the Premier League. Tony Pulis has fashioned a steady, sturdy team which won’t go down but won’t get heart rates up. Such is life under the Welshman.

However what does matter to their chances of staying up is the defence, which has been uncharacteristically leaky. The team has conceded 12 in 7 and hasn’t kept a clean sheet since a visit to a harmless Norwich side on the 24th of October. To be fair, it came over a tough-ish stretch of fixtures and against Bournemouth they played with 11 men for only 34 minutes. West Brom will have to re-capture their defensive prowess to avoid falling into the stresses and strains of a very open battle for 18th place in the division. Either that or hope that Salomon Rondon catches fire. I know which probability I’d back.

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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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.