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.

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Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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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

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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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The League Cup marks the home stretch of the football season, when everything’s going to get even more enthralling. It proved so this weekend with Arsenal disappointing, Leicester scoring late winners and Louis van Gaal chucking himself to the floor. Oh Premier League, how we missed you.

West Ham are embodying the Premier League

While Manchester City were busy with their Capital One Cup affair, whisperings of a race for the top 4 started over the weekend. Old Trafford hosted what was undoubtedly the biggest fixture, but it was in East London where another dramatic weekend kicked off. A visit from Sunderland was hardly a prospect to get pulses racing but West Ham made it so by taking the lead on the half hour mark before having to fend off an unprecedented surge from the Black Cats. The visitors were led by another solid outing from Wahbi Khazri that solidified his status as the main Sunderland player worth consideration in fantasy football.

Suddenly it became clear during this game that the team responsible for West Ham’s most successful season in recent times is representative of everything that English football is right now. It’s an athletic squad with one or two extremely talented and creative players creating for the rest and it all makes for attractive viewing at times. However the other side of the Premier League was showcased when they couldn’t control the game in the slightest and their defence looked increasingly permeable. It devolved into chaos in the latter stages, which wasn’t helped by the questionable decision from Slaven Bilić to replace Emmanuel Emenike with Andy Carroll. It left the Hammers struggling to find an outlet as attack after attack fizzled out with balls towards Carroll. They do indeed have a sniff of the top 4, but this defence looks set to run out of luck in its next few games.

Palace continue to get cooked defensively

If there’s one thing that a Premier League team should do, it’s not falling victim to a first half flurry of goals to a Tony Pulis managed team. A dire 2016 continued for the Eagles on Saturday night as a no longer moody Saido Berahino spearheaded West Brom’s attack, scoring 1 and hitting the post in a refreshing performance. Even so, the ease at which they got their trio of goals has to be alarming for Alan Pardew. His side are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league this year and they’ll still be looking for a Premier League level striker to start in the summer. The best news of the night for Palace fans was that it only took their manager 45 minutes in this game to decide that Adebayor is washed up. Nice signing, that one.

It’s been an exposing few months for Pardew. He continues to play Yohan Cabaye in midfield which is fine in some situations because he’s a nice player and he’s beneficial to an attack, but if there’s only one other central midfielder alongside him the backline are in for a rollercoaster ride. With James McArthur out, using both Mile Jedinak and Joe Ledley together with Cabaye might provide the protection Palace need to get out of this slump.

Koeman losing his mind a little

Recently, Southampton have had a enjoyable surge towards the places that can bring the dizzying heights of the Europa League and all the Thursday night glory it holds. It has come off the back of a renewed defensive effort with Fraser Forster back between the sticks, which has been Southampton’s main strength for 3 years now. Chelsea came to town this weekend and now that they’re back to a respectable level, some managerial caution would have been understandable. But managerial caution does not comprise of playing zero attacking midfielders and benching Sadio Mane, that’s just excessive. That’s Pulis-esque.

Who does Ronald Koeman think Chelsea are, Leicester? Saints won the reverse fixture 3-1, so it wasn’t as if there had been some previous thrashing that caused Koeman to think twice. Mane is having a down year with his goalscoring but he’s still deserving of a place in Southampton’s starting XI . Although the ‘Shane Long and chill’ plan gave them the lead, the 2 shots on target is indicative of how they fared going forward for most of the game. This rather unperturbed Chelsea team can be got at and it’s reasonable to think that a mildly more adventurous team selection would have seen Southampton take home a share of the points.

Throw away the Spurs stereotypes

It takes a good manager to improve a solid team into a title contender. It takes an even better one, a brilliant one to erase the embarrassments and failures welded deep into a team’s culture and establish a new order that showcases everything the previous one didn’t. Mauricio Pochettino is most certainly brilliant. If Leicester keep up their title contention to the final throes of the season then Claudio Ranieri will be the likeliest candidate to win Manager of the season and the Italian has had his shining moments this season tactically.

But no one has completed a steeper task than what Pochettino faced with this team’s identity and if it makes you feel better you can call them the Tottenham Pochettinos because there’s nothing ‘Spursy’ about them this season. In these games they’re just grinding away all the time . Perhaps unlike Arsenal, if Spurs don’t win the title this year it won’t be the fault of their manager. Coming from behind to beat Swansea was the manifestation of all his work to give this club an edge in which it’s lacked for so long.

Injury crisis may have been a blessing for United

Young players are a curious prospect. The inexperience is palpable sometimes and they hurt the team’s performance, as they get ran ragged by their footballing elders on the opposing teams. But in other cases, such as Manchester United this season, their lack of enlightenment serves them well. We’ve seen van Gaal anaesthetize this squad to the point where goals have been a genuine struggle despite the millions of pounds lavished on recruitment. It took a rash of injuries – and Wayne Rooney’s was especially important – and the resulting injection of youth for this United team to get going.

Marcus Rashford’s form is reminiscent of Anthony Martial’s prosperous beginnings in the Premier League. Safe to say that the ‘score with every touch’ plan doesn’t sustain for long, but he’s looked sharp. Memphis Depay decided to wake up and now that he has, he’s quickly become one of the more exciting players to watch with his unexpected touches of flair and Jesse Lingard’s continuing improvement is encouraging. He’s one more name to add into the mix for England’s Euro 2016 squad, which looks increasingly difficult to predict. All good news for United, but don’t anoint van Gaal as the savior just yet, let’s see what his team selections look like when United have more than half of their squad fully fit.

 

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Manchester City leave it late once again, Liverpool get bullied by West Ham and god damn, Chelsea really are back. Here’s 5 lessons we learned from this gameweek:

West Ham well placed to continue challenging top sides

The only downside in the Hammers’ 2-0 victory over Liverpool was that they’ve surely used up their annual ‘Andy Carroll has a good game’ card. Indeed the pony-tailed brute rose up from Liverpool’s nightmares to crash home Mark Noble’s cross, vaulting the club into the top 6. It’s been a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors effort in recent weeks, grinding out results with bench players sans Dimitri Payet.

But now the pirouetting Frenchman is back and it is highly recommended he goes back into fantasy teams. Payet came off the bench for half an hour and showed little sign of needing to acclimatize. It’s slightly amazing how much Bilic’s side already rely on Payet to create for them even though he was only signed in the summer. West Ham face  the shoddy defences of Bournemouth and Newcastle after the FA Cup next weekend. Can you honestly turn down the prospect of a well rested Payet going up against Steve Cook and Fabricio Coloccini in consecutive weeks?

Liverpool suffering same chronic issues

Jurgen Klopp was a good appointment in the long-term for Liverpool, but it’s a fair expectation that he would improve the side some this season. Instead the performance Liverpool gave against West Ham – apathetic, soft and in the case of Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke downright awful – was similar to the corresponding fixture last season, a 3-1 defeat. It doesn’t bode well for Klopp that despite his ranting, raving and long-haired presence on the touchline Liverpool are failing to deal with the same issues that have plagued them for years.

Good teams always have bogey fixtures, but Liverpool genuinely can’t be trusted to turn up against any frisky mid-table side and it’s been this way for years. This inconsistency as well as being average in both attack and defence makes their squad a terrible option in fantasy football for the most part. They have the arrogance and tempo of a team that possesses real quality despite showing the latter sporadically. There’s issues to be fixed that run deep through the team, perhaps deeper than a managerial switch can manage.

Leicester trying to adapt

0-0’s can often be meritless ordeals to watch but the Foxes goalless affair against Bournemouth was definitely not an example of such. The battle lines were drawn early as Eddie Howe opted for a sort of ‘death by central midfielders’ approach, lining up in a 4-5-1 that clogged up the centre circle and its surrounding area. Claudio Ranieri this season has cycled through Shinji Okazaki and Leonardo Ulloa to partner Jamie Vardy, but both have been ineffectual. It was Ulloa’s turn to start Saturday but the less said about his performance the better.

Ulloa was taken off at half time for Nathan Dyer, moving Riyad Mahrez into the centre. Ranieri knows that the league is starting to key in on Mahrez and Vardy, so the Italian is looking to unleash them in different ways. The space that Dyer provided allowed Leicester to beat Bournemouth’s midfielders. In the second half Vardy got in behind on several occasions, one time leading to a penalty and red card. It will be fascinating to see Leicester try to mold their team and sustain a top 4 challenge in the coming weeks, especially as it was announced on Sunday evening that Vardy was to have a ‘minor surgery’. Keep selecting Mahrez

for the next month and monitor the shots on target totals closely.

PS: Ulloa seriously sucks this season. Leave him alone at all costs.

Healthy Manchester City are serious threat to Arsenal

Before touting City as the best side in the league, it’s worth pointing out that Arsenal are topping the table despite not having their best player, Alexis Sanchez. But.

There’s always a but when Arsenal are top of the league. I can’t help it. Manchester City’s ceiling – with an engaged Yaya Toure, a fit Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany – is very, very difficult to top. Late goals come and go but with Manchester City’s 2-1 smash and grab outing against Watford, it felt like their quality just willed them not to lose. It wasn’t the first time such a late intervention has benefitted City this season either, really good teams find a way.

Can you count on their defence? Not really. Do they provide the same effort from game to game? Probably not. But even in this topsy-turvy season City have the pure talent that can override whatever the opposing team. Arsenal are clearly legitimate title contenders and quite rightly the current favourites. But it won’t stop them looking over their shoulders at all times, especially if Manuel Pellegrini can find a nice effective set of ankle braces for Aguero.

Academy Award Season is coming up

Excuse the dreadful joke, but Oscar is quietly starting to get it together under Guus Hiddink. Willian has been the individual highlighted by many this season but it’s reasonable to doubt that his goalscoring will continue. For Chelsea this season seven of the Brazilian’s eight goals in all competitions have come from outside the box. That rate of blasting absolute screamers into the back of the net rarely carries on for an entire season.

Oscar meanwhile looks to be driving Chelsea’s return to form. The team as a whole has had a little more ‘pop’ to them in recent weeks, dating back to their visit to Leicester when Mourinho was still employed. But Hiddink’s appointment has certainly been a catalyst for the improvement. Against a wounded Palace team, Costa made runs and Fabregas made passes that had simply stopped happening towards the end of the previous regime. Eden Hazard left the game early with some sort of injury which leaves some creative slack to be picked up by Oscar, increasing his chances of points.

Chelsea are definitely back which evokes mixed feelings for me, but if the fantasy manager inside of you wants to benefit, Oscar should be the Chelsea midfield pick over Willian.

 

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.