Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


Sunderland and Norwich are scrapping to stay up, the top 4 looks all sealed off by now and then there were two in the title race; Leicester and Spurs. 5 things we learned from the weekend’s matches:

Hammers defence finally exposed

For the early fixture against Arsenal, Slaven Bilic went 3 at the back before switching things up again at half time. It was a clear change of system, but it didn’t look like they had much of a plan to stop this humming Arsenal attack still. The game had a weird pattern, with Arsenal racing into a 2 goal lead before Andy Carroll of all people pegged them back, eventually forcing a draw. Strangely West Ham were actually extremely positive (or risky, one could say) in their play rather than sitting and countering. Unless you’re organised and compact without the ball, which West Ham aren’t, that is not a strategy that will work against Arsenal.

If West Ham want to sustain their league postition for next season, they’ll need to develop something of an identity on the defensive end. Bilic might want to look at making the team press higher and with much more intensity. They have the tools to do so, their centre-halves are fairly quick and the squad has a fair few top-level athletes throughout. If a higher press isn’t implemented then something needs to be altered, because they’ve been riding their luck for much of the season in defence.

Watford show little signs of changing

Quique Sanchez Flores found a recipe he could consistently rely on early in the season: Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo will link up off of scraps for the goals while the rest of the team grafts defensively. It worked really well, although they’ve faded over the course of the season. Ighalo and Deeney are an interesting pair to look at. Deeney does a lot more defensive work and is probably the better overall player, but fantasy points make Ighalo look much better. The Nigerian is helped in this sense by the fact that he never, ever looks to pass the ball so his stats grow while Deeney is left to fume at him.

The Hornets will still need to tinker with a few things over the Summer. One-dimensional approaches will work for a season or so, but eventually teams will figure you out. It gradually happened to Burnley last year; once the opposition took Danny Ings out of the game there was little to worry about. We know that Watford’s strikeforce can do damage, it’ll just be difficult to replicate their output next season in exactly the same manner.

Gylfi Sigurdsson has decided someone’s mini-league somewhere

When Steven Naismith signed for Norwich, I touted him as a possible differential. That didn’t quite come off, but the tradition of one player coming alive for a poorer side and carrying them for a few matches. It was continued by Gylfi Sigurdsson who since 2015 ended has notched 9 goals and 2 assists for a blah Swansea side. In other words, he’s been absolutely on fire.

This run has taken him up in the fantasy rankings to the point where he’s the 7th highest scoring midfielder in the whole league after a slow start. Every midfielder ranked above him is at 14% ownership or higher. Sigurdsson’s ownership? Nearly half that, at 7.9%. In other Swansea news Jefferson Montero, who was tearing it up at the start of the season, has started getting minutes again after a long time out. This is welcome news to Swansea fans, because he’s good, and all neutral football fans, because he’s damn fun to watch.

Liverpool have potential to be a top 4 side

Thanks to a Premier League campaign that frequently found itself stalling combined with their prolonged Europa League involvement has lead to Liverpool playing a few dead-ish rubbers on quiet Sunday afternoon. With Leicester and Spurs vying for the title either side of their game with Stoke, Liverpool didn’t get much publicity for their excellent 4-1 win over Stoke. It doesn’t just look like a small Spring emergence either, Jurgen Klopp’s side might get good really soon. Top 4 kind of good.

The first team – stocked with the likes of Emre Can, Divock Origi and Alberto Moreno – has a lot of players who you know have talent and there’s something there but it hasn’t quite been coming together consistently. Now finally they look like they’re on the verge of becoming bona fide top level contributors. Can in particular is developing into quite the unit in midfield. Everyone is clearly better off when Sturridge is in the team and it’s been key to Liverpool’s little run down the stretch of the season. The England international has evolved from burning teams with his pace on the counter in 13/14 to a more deliberate, creative force up front. If, if, if they can keep him healthy next season, look out for Liverpool.

Martial needs to grow as a striker

A season that started with such a rush has devolved into something much less rewarding for Anthony Martial. Labeled a panic buy when arrived at Manchester United, the Frenchman kicked off his Old Trafford career with a decisive goal against Liverpool. This isn’t such a bad way to announce yourself as a Red Devil. Yet going into the penultimate month of the season, Martial’s goal tally stands at just 8 with 3 assists to go with it. Granted, he’s played as a wide forward for much of the season but there’s clear room for Martial to develop as a goalscorer.

The main issue is he just doesn’t shoot enough. There was a clear example where he worked it well all the way to the Spurs penalty area before allowing a speeding defender to come and intervene. That situation has to generate a shooting oppurtunity, if not for Martial then for someone else. He can glide by players and always looks a threat but that doesn’t materialise often enough into a shot or drawing a foul. Looking ahead to next season, I’m still pessimistic as to the fantasy prospects in United’s squad while they remain under Louis van Gaal’s tutelage. Rashford provided a brief injection of life into the attack but it’s still a real grind for United to score. Set to finish outside the top 4, we’ll watch closely to see if the Dutch boss survives.


Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


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


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.


Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com


Managerial crises abound – Sherwood, Mourinho, maybe even Arsene Wenger isn’t safe with his side top of the league. On the field, here are 5 things we learned:

Persist with Chelsea, if you dare

The Chelsea recommendations I made last week did not factor in just how dire the situation has gotten at Stamford Bridge, compounded by their collapse away to West Ham. Reports of Jose Mourinho’s demise were not greatly exaggerated.

In the weekend build-up there had been recent discussions of Chelsea going back to their roots as Mourinho picked consecutive sides with the primary aim of repelling the opposition.  Without that prior contextual reading, no one would have known any change had taken place. If only they had their summer target John Stones, who is clearly masterminding Everton’s defence still…yes, he would have sorted this mess out.

Persistence might be key here. Although the world does seem to be crumbling around one certain Portuguese man, the apocalypse could just create some nice differentials. Azpilicueta is still a Spanish fullback, so he’s always a consideration. You think Baba Rahman is due his first Chelsea goal? You go for it.

Simmer down with Everton

The fixtures for the Toffees have many drooling but there will inevitably be one week where Ross Barkley will go for 1 solitary point. As evidenced by the league table, an away game against Arsenal is the one of the most imperious tasks a Premier League team could be set right now. Even so, Everton created far from an optimum amount on Saturday and took their consolation through a deflected shot from Mr. End Product himself, Ross Barkley. Looking at the next two games:

Sunderland (H) – Allardyce stops Sunderland from receiving the Andrex award for porous defence, which now goes to Bournemouth. Not the sodden dying puppy of a team they were at the start of the season, unfortunately for Everton.

West Ham (A) – Will possibly end up being the best team outside of the recognised top 7, should not be viewed as an easier fixture.

To be fair after that they face Bournemouth and Aston Villa, which could be referred to as ‘Points Galore’. Yet as obvious as this advice is, don’t blindly follow the fixture list. Crystal Palace at Goodison Park seems like another banana skin lying in wait in for GW15.

Tough to say what’s up with Swansea

While the questioning of Garry Monk’s job security was certainly undeserved, Swansea’s stodgy performances have been puzzling. Not ‘what-on-earth-has-gone-on-with-Chelsea-and-who-swapped-Eden-Hazard-with-his-lazy-twin’ kind of puzzling, more ‘Ashley Williams looks a little off his game‘ pondering.

As aforementioned in this column, these midtable teams are streaky. (See Palace, Crystal.) It has already begun to even itself out with their condemnation of Sherwood at the weekend. After a well-fought win over Manchester United Swansea looked set to inflict their Welsh possession-based attack on the whole league.

Gomis was universally praised for his role in the United game, but his form right now looks more representative of his ability. The Frenchman was poor for large swathes of last season before only picking it up towards the end and his monstrous crawling celebration might be a rarer sight in this campaign than we originally thought.

Watford showing importance of defensive midfield

Watford’s defence is becoming more heralded as the season goes on and they’re showing that to create a rock solid spine the place to strengthen is actually in front of the back four. The centre-half pairing has been a Championship regular and a Werder Bremen squad player. It would be unfair to completely dismiss their roles during the season so far, but the midfield should take more credit here.

Two new signings have inspired this clean sheet machine of a team. Valon Behrami, when he has played, proved to be the better of veteran Napoli midfielders compared with the sluggish Gokhan Inler, now struggling at Leicester. Surprisingly Etienne Capoue has been impressing after a washy spell at Spurs. If QPR had made the exact same signings however I can guarantee both would be playing terribly right now.

Talking of washy spells at Spurs, how about Heurelho Gomes! The oft-mocked Brazilian is a top 3 keeping option right now, given his value. After the Manchester derby dud, start looking forward to the battle of budget attack vs budget defence when Watford continue their psuedo-rivalry with Leicester on the 7th November.

Avoid Derby games – weird things happen.

Cue up the X-Files music whenever a local rivalry pops up in the fixture list. Strange events are about to occur. This weekend Manchester City re-morphed into a rugged side at the back with few mistakes. It took place only a couple of hours after Sunderland became the first team to ever ‘steal’ a 3-0 win. Although it did come against Newcastle so the spookiness was foreseeable.

In all seriousness though, the cliché ‘The form book goes out the window for these games’ is applicable. Another catch is the high volume of cards, of both red and yellow persuasions, that are dished out to teams of close proximity. A North London derby comes bearing its rivalry witchcraft in two weeks time. The fantasy manager inside you should be wary.

Bournemouth, Watford and the fairy tale that isn’t


If you’re unfamiliar with the Championship, let a Leicester City fan who has experienced several seasons in the division tell you: it’s a fucking bloodbath.

The 2014/15 season has had roughly seven teams, all coming from various backgrounds, in and around the promotion places. Derby County, Brentford, Ipswich Town, Norwich City, Middlesbrough, and Wolverhampton Wanderers have featured in the scramble, with all but two—Norwich and ‘Boro—ultimately missing out on the playoff final. That match, often dubbed the £90 million game, will take place on May 25.

But for now, let’s focus on the two teams that have already been promoted and thus saved their fans hours of playoff-induced heart-attacks.

Bournemouth’s ascent to the Premier League has been widely celebrated by fans, journalists, and basically any living biped, given the underdog narrative. If you thought Burnley was a fairytale story, just wait until you hear about the Cherries, whose home base, Dean Court, has a capacity of just 11,700.

They sat in 21st place in League One when former player Eddie Howe returned to manage the club for a second time in October 2012. Survival, both in a footballing and financial sense, would have been enough to please a desperate fanbase, but Howe won them promotion to the Championship for the first time since 1990. And this year the wonderful tale of tiny Bournemouth continued, with the team topping the table to gain promotion yet again, this time to the Premier League—the club’s first-ever promotion to England’s top flight.

The rise of Bournemouth has been lauded as a miracle. But technically, a miracle is defined as “an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.” The ascent of the South Coast club has certainly been extraordinary and welcome—yet is has also been fairly explicable.

A quiet, often isolated Russian by the name of Maxim Demin owns the club, and has poured in substantial funds. It’s been reported that Bournemouth sustained losses of more than £10M during the 2013/14 season, mostly due to high player wages. To compare, Yeovil Town  who were promoted alongside Bournemouth, recorded a profit of £1.4M. To use an obscure canine analogy, the Cherries appear to be a rather plump Labrador, deceptively stashed inside the body of a skinny mongrel.

Taxidermy aside, these timely injections of capital into the club can be translated into a few decisions in recruitment. Top scorer Callum Wilson was signed last summer, for a fee believed to be around £3 million. They beat out numerous rivals with, at the very least, a competitive wage offer. In addition, the club were flush enough to facilitate loan moves for Kenwyne Jones and Artur Boruc. Jones, the bulky forward, is still on a hefty Premier League-level wage, as is goalkeeper Boruc. These aren’t the actions of a club that has come across promotion to the top tier entirely by accident.

Watford, the other team to win automatic promotion this season, let the Championship title slip from their grasp on the final day when they drew at home to Sheffield Wednesday, who unwittingly ruined thousands of bets. The Hornets will celebrate just as merrily, though—in the last six years, the team finishing second in the Championship has placed above the winners in the following Premier League season.

Famous for being Elton John’s supported team and notorious for wearing yellow, Watford have not ascended to the lucrative lands of the top flight in an orthodox manner. Four managers in 37 days definitely does not conform to the usual ideals of consistency leading to progress. The average tenure of a Championship boss is around a year—or 1/19th of a Wenger—so managerial turmoil isn’t surprising to anyone. But to experience such extensive turnover, and then to get promoted in spite of it, is simply unprecedented.

There’s far less of a plucky feel to Watford, though, with significant reproval directed at the owners. Giampaolo Pozzo, who also owns Granada CF and Udinese, purchased his stake in Watford in 2012. In what’s surely an unrelated coincidence, Watford have received several talented players from those two clubs over the past few years. Eleven of the 28-man squad, including the third-highest scorer, Matej Vydra, have previously turned out for either of the two sister clubs, and the squad itself includes 16 different nationalities. And while loans are a habitual portion of every Championship squad nowadays, Watford has taken it to a new level, forcing the Football League in 2013 to limit the maximum number of loanees that can be in match-day squads to five. This, however, has been partially circumvented with “permanent” deals that can quickly be reversed back to Granada or Udinese.

From the stories of Bournemouth and Watford emerges a depressing moral, and a sad truth: fans of Championship clubs just have to hope that they are next in line for a mysterious consortium who can boost the quality of the players by any means necessary. It only takes a brief glance over recently promoted sides—Leicester City, Hull City, Southampton—to see clubs that were beneficiaries of wealthy ownership. No wonder so many people were ready to fall in love with Burnley this season.

There are obviously thresholds for fans: Vincent Tan’s favorite color was not appreciated by Cardiff City supporters when it was imparted all over their team, and he ultimately conceded defeat earlier this year, allowing the club to revert to its traditional blue. QPR, meanwhile, have seen themselves sucked into a gorge of swollen contracts as a direct result of their initially deep pockets.

But the lesson remains: provide a substantial level of raw capital and catapult yourself over those that can’t match your checkbook. When observing from this wider perspective, even the feel-good narrative of Eddie Howe and his tiny team-that-could absorbs a darker hue from the continuous brush of modern football.

Yet this has long been the way of the beautiful game. As it turns out, money can buy happiness, of sorts.