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.

Leicester City – FPL Breakdown

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Leicester are a slightly intriguing prospect going into this season for fantasy football and for football of the real variety. Leicester’s Great Escape™ was well documented and now the club will be looking to consolidate this season to avoid having to repeat any heroics, as enjoyable as it was. Adding to the intrigue is the (re)sacking of Nigel Pearson, which of course in the context of fantasy football creates all kind of caveats relating to signings and who gets played each week. One good example already is Shinji Okazaki, signed days before Pearson was unexpectedly sacked, now at the mercy of Claudio Ranieri. Add this to Leicester’s evenly balanced squad in terms of point scoring and you have one big fat question mark of a club.

There’s positive intrigue too, however. In recent history there’s been a side, in their second season after being promoted, who have flourished unexpectedly. Crystal Palace, Southampton and Swansea were the beneficiaries from the past three years. Given that Leicester are the only candidate for this year, it provides at least one reason to monitor the club and also a ready-made explanation for any success.

A word of warning, the message that will run throughout this preview is ‘Proceed with caution’. Towards the end of last season where Leicester got on a roll they were playing 3 at the back. In all likelihood Ranieri will be playing 4 at the back, which will have a ripple effect on the whole composition of the squad. I’ll allude to this in regards to the players it affects in particular as we go through. There’s a lot of factors still yet to be settled with the squad so my overall advice is to hold off on anyone not a certainty for the first couple of weeks.

 First Five

  • Sunderland (H)
  • West Ham (A)
  • Spurs (H)
  • Bournemouth (A)
  • Aston Villa (H)

It’s a shame Leicester are such a question mark, because the fixtures are quite tasty. They retain this same flavour until we get to December and the Christmas period where with your Leicester players you should, like a wise man once said, drop it like it’s hot. But I find by December it becomes a war of attrition as everyone’s team is half dead with injuries. Even so, Leicester will likely hit a wall after November, so buyers beware.

Goalkeepers

  • Kasper Schmeichel (4.5)– Leicester’s goalkeeping rotation last year was at points a merry-go-round of sadness due to injuries and an elderly Australian man. But Schmeichel towards the end was absolutely on fire. Leicester have shown no signs of looking to upgrade here and are more focused on keeping the Dane, if anything. Certain to start barring injury. There is reasonable concern about the defence in front of him but it isn’t markedly worse than what his competitors (Guzan, Pantilimon) will see.

Verdict: A nice rotation keeper at his price, if you’re looking for two playable keepers. I’ve got him paired with Cech, for what it matters.

  • Ben Hamer (4.0)– Did ok in his starts when Kasper was injured last season but couldn’t displace Mark Schwarzer and his zimmer frame.

Verdict: Probably as useful as any 4.0 money saving option, which is to say not that useful at all.

Defenders

  • Wes Morgan/Robert Huth/Marcin Wasilewski (4.5)– I’ve seen a lot of people with either Huth or Morgan. The latter somehow has a 19% selection rate which made me laugh in a sort of ‘fucking hell’ way. I’ve gone for Morgan over Huth, because he’s the captain and Huth has an iffy injury history. They both go up for corners, so no Coloccini situations here. Wasilewski started with the pair at the back for some of last season but I doubt he gets many games in this campaign. He shits out yellow cards and does some dumb shit that makes you wonder how he wasn’t sent off last season.

Verdict: Can’t really go wrong with Huth or Morgan at 4.5. They’ll pick up a few more clean sheets as Leicester will hopefully be a little more settled than last season. Even if you are in possession of a ten foot barge pole, leave Wasilewski alone.

  • Christian Fuchs/Jeff Schlupp (5.0)– There is a certain Fuchs and Schlupp Conundrum here, which sounds like a 19th century German Novel. Fuchs, signed from Schalke on a free, is an attacking fullback with an eye for set-pieces although if Cambiasso returns this could be negated. Schlupp actually played on the left wing mostly last season and the two could play together. However Leicester have plenty of options in attack and there’s no guarantee for either to start. Like many things in life, it will come down to Ranieri’s preference.

Verdict: Both are tasty attacking options here but without knowing whose starting it makes the pick a little dicey. Fuchs is probably the starter, but keep an eye on Schlupp who, if played on the wing, will score some. Any FPL hipster like me who had him last season will know this. Leave it a couple of weeks to simmer before looking to bring one in is my suggestion.

  • Paul Konchesky (4.5) – Leicester fans spent half of last season crying out for him to be benched. He’s not at 4.0 so he can’t even be your bench mascot, which makes him even more pointless.

Verdict: LOL.

  • Richie de Laet (4.5) – A possibility. Albrighton was playing on the right of a 3-5-2 last season and may play there again this season, but de Laet is a conventional right back who ‘fackin’ runs about a bit’. There’s also the chance that Fuchs and Schlupp occupy both the fullback slots.

Verdict: If de Laet can get himself into the XI, he’s worth a pop at 4.5 as a semi-competent attacking fullback, who’ll likely be under the radar to many. But definitely a gamble if you’re planning on choosing him from the start.

  • Liam Moore/Danny Simpson (4.0) – Moore psyched many into grabbing him at the start of last season when starting for Leicester. He soon lost his place but now Pearson is gone (rumours of some dispute there) he may have a chance if Ranieri wants some pace in the backline. Moore can play some right back, but it seems Leicester have more suitable replacements with Albrighton and Schlupp/Fuchs. Simpson has legal issues at the moment and is unlikely to appear this season.

Verdict: Moore might be a nice look at 4.0. You can bench him but with a chance of appearing it’s not as if there’s a corpse on your bench. Pick up Simpson to give your team a ‘bad boys’ reputation in the mini-league.

Midfielders

  • Andy King/Matty James/Danny Drinkwater/Dean Hammond(4.5)– Not an enticing group by any means. James is out for the season as the red exclamation mark will tell you. Drinkwater works hard and could start a fair few games, but he’s likely to be in rotation and won’t be particularly productive either. An accurate fantasy representation of King would be for him to disappear if you played him. Once he takes the cloak of invisibility off he pops up with a goal now and then, although if you’re banking on Andy King to be your secret weapon I suggest you find another pastime. Hammond is a defensive midfielder who will play sporadically so have fun with that one.

Verdict: Hammond and James are evidently just fodder. Drinkwater and King are viable options for a fifth midfielder if you’re really cash strapped, but look at the 5.0s if you want something sexier.

  • Riyad Mahrez (5.5)– The Algerian international is growing on me as both a player and a fantasy pick, but not enough to be in my own side yet. When watching him, he often seems more influential than he really is, carrying the ball well without any tangible results. Having to create off the wing took its toll on him in some games,  but in the tailend of the season he had a short spell in the centre behind two strikers and predictably was more productive as a result. Leicester has a shedload of strikers to use which makes this a possibility next season too.

Verdict: Go for it. Look at his competition in that price bracket. Of the 4 players that scored above him (Ki Sung-yueng/Brunt/Colback/Larsson)  two had unprecedented years with points and can you really bring yourself to select Brunt or Larsson? Regardless of where Leicester are in the table Mahrez will have his part to play. The only thing to look out for is if Ranieri brings in a big box of wingers when he moves to Leicester, but otherwise you should feel confident he’ll start.

  • Marc Albrighton (5.0)– Meh. Did well from right-wingback last season and any Villa or Leicester fan will attest to his crossing ability. Less sure about his chance of starting than I am about Mahrez, and his tendency to hug the touchline doesn’t lend well to goalscoring despite him picking up a couple vs Chelsea and QPR last Spring.

Verdict: One of the better attacking options at 5.0, but I’d rather take Nathan Dyer myself. If he’s starting consistently, then maybe consider him but not worth going out on a limb for from GW1.

  • Anthony Knockaert (4.5)– Claudio Ranieri will have to take a serious liking to him for this pick to be worth it. There’s been some chatter as to a loan move away from here and it’s understandable. Knockaert loses the ball far too much and is…lethargic in his defensive duties.

Verdict: Doubt he scores more than 30 points this season. So it’s a no from me.

  • Others (4.5-6.5)– Cambiasso’s status is still up in the air as of when I’m typing this. Recent reports suggest he’s signing another 1 year deal, with the option of a coaching role. He was a timely goalscorer for Leicester but I’d question the likelihood of him repeating that. Will start every league game if he’s here and feels fit enough. Has some set-piece duties but he’s still a holding midfielder and will likely be 5-6.5. Leicester have also been in for N’golo Kante, a diminutive midfielder from Ligue 1, land of the 0-0. We look light in midfield so expect a signing or two, but central midfielders in a lesser side are hardly goldmines for points.

Verdict: Cambiasso really comes down to how much you like having bald players on your team. If he’s underpriced at 5.0 or mayyybe 5.5 then pick him up, but above that? Leave him. I reckon Kante would be around 5.0 and wouldn’t rush for him ahead of trusted budget options like Jedinak and Matic.

Forwards

  • Leonardo Ulloa (6.0)– Caused some waves last Autumn with a hot start, and then couldn’t buy a goal or even a start at points between December and March. I’ll say about him what I’ll say with every Leicester striker: No one has any idea who is going to play. Naturally this will turn most off of all the forwards listed here, but if you’re willing to gamble then Ulloa could be your man. As a sort of working-class man’s Pelle, he will get flick on assists to go with his streaky finishing ability.

Verdict: Personally I wouldn’t, just because of the no guarantee in regards to his place in the team. But at 6.0 you could do worse and I’d recommend sticking him on your watchlist. If he gets on a roll, try and at least ride out the rest of his form.

  • Jamie Vardy (6.0)– For some inexplicable reason, loads of people seem to think Vardy is a young talent. I don’t know if it’s because he never stops running but I see some discussing his ‘potential’ and whether he’ll ‘break out’. Nuh uh. Overpriced at 6.0, if you pick him you’ll be perplexed at his weekly 2 points but the lad plays with his head trained on his feet constantly and finishing is an afterthought in his style of play.

Verdict: Quick flow chart: Are we playing Manchester United in 2014? YES ⇒ Pick him. NO ⇒ Leave him alone.

  • David Nugent (5.5)– Prolific penalty taker but they’ll be harder to convert from the bench, where Nugent will probably be for a sizeable portion of the season. He was a Pearson favourite and although his personal performances weren’t anything to write home about, Leicester played a damn sight better with him.

Verdict: You’d have to be extraordinarily fortunate to pick this guy, play him and he returns more than 2 points. Save yourself the trouble and look elsewhere.

  • Andrej Kramaric/Shinji Okazaki(6.0)– Technically he’s very good and scored plenty of goals at his last club. Unfortunately this applies to both and with Vardy and Ulloa to compete with, it’s difficult to justify going for one where more certain options you could plump for are easy to find. Kramaric is really talented and Okazaki comes from decent Bundesliga stock so they have their pros, but I can’t talk myself into either.

Verdict: The Callum Wilson I have in my squad says there’s tastier options with less risk. Okazaki is a complete unknown to everyone unless you happen to watch a lot of mid-table Bundesliga sides but I did find this highlight mix, which is amusingly titled ‘Samurai Footballer’. Um, don’t expect that to be chanted at the King Power.

Overall Summary

Four that I’d recommend in particular are Schemichel, Morgan, Huth and Mahrez, there’s way too much uncertainty with the squad to be sure of anyone else. It’s advisable to keep a very close watch on Leicester in the first few weeks though. There’s a soft opening schedule to perhaps capitalise on and remember, Leicester might just be that next second season gem. If Ranieri can find his glasses and zimmer frame, that is.