Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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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.

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Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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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.