First XI: Week TwoTuesday, August 27, 2013
Eleven (give or take) items that caught my attention from the week in fantasy Premier League football, and how they may shape your decisions going into next week.
- The result of the weekend, without a doubt, was Cardiff City's 3-2 defeat of Manchester City. City spent big this off-season, bringing in two strikers, a winger, and a central midfielder. What they didn't get was a center back. They go three deep with Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, and Matija Nastasić - and each of those three are quality players. But with Kompany out for a month, Nastasic only fit enough to make the bench, Javi Garcia got the start at center back. That's not a new tactic. Roberto Mancini did it at times last season. But it is surprising that Manuel Pellegrini persisted with the experiment. If he wanted to field a midfielder at the back, how about Gareth Barry, who started his career in defense, or Jack Rodwell, whose best position is presumed to be there too.
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Or how about Dedryk Boyata? The young Belgian looked good in pre-season and was supposedly convinced by Pelligrini to stay at City and take his chance. If he can't crack the bench on such an occassion, he much be rethinking those assurances.
This should be a temporary issue. Pelligrini will learn how things are in the Premier League and not take any club - especially not a promoted side hosting a title-contender in their home opener - lightly. He should have Nastasic back to partner Lescott. And he gets a home date against another promoted side, the Hull City Tigers, who have lost one of their new attacking signings, Yannick Sagbo, to a stupid red card against Norwich.
I would back City to bounce back and claim a clean sheet this weekend. However, over the longer term, they're going to have to sort out their defensive personel, and support Joe Hart, before his indecision becomes a liability.
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- But enough about Manchester City. We need to give credit to Cardiff. They played a great game, and in coming back from a goal down, did themselves a world of good. Even in the first half, they were getting at City's defense and causing them problems? Maybe they're another club, like Fulham or Stoke, that just play better at home. If so, they'll be happy to host Everton before travelling to Hull. There are some exciting fantasy possibilities in the Cardiff side. Peter Whittingham takes set pieces, Kim Bo-Kyung seems to have a free role behind Fraizer Campbell, who is leading the line very effectively for the Bluebirds, and Aron Gunnarsson has shown that he has an eye for goal. It's a good time to invest in Cardiff, and their prices will help elsewhere in your side.
- One place you may choose to spend your fantasy budget is in the defense. So far defenders are posting big points. While there are some relative bargains, like Mathieu Debuchy and Kolo Toure, most decent picks will run you 10 and up. Leighton Baines is over 20, but he's playing a more advanced role under Roberto Martinez, and has set pieces in his locker. Another new option is an old favorite - John Arne Riise. JAR is back in the Fulham team after being frozen out for Kieran Richardson and Matthew Briggs. He may yet move on before the window closes, but for now he's the starting left back, taking Fulham's free kicks, and faces Newcastle United who have the lowest shots on target percentage in the league (5.88%) and have yet to score a goal.
- Baines is playing despite Manchester United bidding for his services. So is teammate Marouane Fellaini. [Meanwhile Yohan Cabaye misses another match for Newcastle United as Arsenal negotiate his transfer. I wonder what the difference is - the professionalism of the player(s), or the organization(s)?] With Darren Gibson injured, Fellaini has been playing a deeper role, opening a spot in midfield for youngster Ross Barkley. We tipped him in last week's column for at least a bench role, and while four points isn't a great return it's still twice what you paid for him. If Fellaini does move to Manchester, there will be room for both Gibson and Barkley in Everton's midfield.
- Everton's old boss, David Moyes, is on the other side of that transfer business, but it's probably not top of his mind. That spot would likely be the saga around Wayne Rooney. So far, Moyes has seemed to handle the situation well, and on the pitch, Rooney, who made his first start today against Chelsea, has been playing well on the pitch. You probably don't want to invest in him at Liverpool with the swirl of speculation around him, but if he remains at the club, and if his price stays reasonable, he'll be an interesting pick - and differential from Robin van Persie - for fantasy managers.
- Chelsea were able to bring a striker off the bench. A World Cup winning international at that. Granted, Fernando Torres isn't Fernando Torres any more, but he was available. As was Romelu Lukaku. Moyes had... Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young, and Shinji Kagawa. Both teams have three fit strikers in their teams. Manchester United started their three - van Persie, Rooney, and Danny Welbeck - while Chelsea didn't even have Demba Ba in the match-day squad.
- Chelsea's team selection may have been as much of a sales pitch to Rooney as Moyes'. By not playing any of his three strikers, and having Andrew Schurrle as the furthest player forward, Jose Mourinho could have been making the point to Rooney that he, Rooney, could play as Chelsea's main striker. What remains to be seen is why neither manager trusts the player that could - should! - be a key member of their teams. Neither Juan Mata nor Shinji Kagawa got off the bench. Mata is nominally recovering from injury, but it still seems odd how he's been handled so far this season. Kagawa is the bigger mystery. He should be a key player for the Red Devils but can't get on the pitch.
- Swansea's only goal this season was Wilfried Bony's consolation against Manchester United. They are doing well in the Europa League, and maybe that's taking it's toll on their league form. Regardless, you notice that they're passing the ball longer. Jonjo Shelvey, in particular, played a lot of long, unsuccessful passes. Maybe it was a tactic to bypass Spurs' new big, physical midfield. But going forward, I expect Bony to start matches and Shelvey to sit. Bony's introduction to the starting line-up will also allow Michu to drop into his more favored, deeper position. Michu's slow start to the season has dropped his price. The Swans don't have a great run of games, but you would expect them to start scoring sooner rather than later.
- Spurs' midifield is indeed an imposing group now. Etienne Capoue, Paulinho, and the returning Sandro are tall, physical, and will give toe to toe with pretty much any midfield in the league. Capoue and Paulinho in particular are interesting for fantasy managers as those players are racking up points from both attacking and defensive endeavors. Next for them is to strike up a relationship with Roberto Soldado. The forward was hardly involved in the match against Swansea. He did put away the match-winning penalty, but he hardly touched the ball otherwise. Hopefully Spurs can find a better balance and that they can get players like Soldado and Nacer Chadli more involved in the attack.
- Spurs' next match is the North London derby against rivals Arsenal. Arsensl veered into crisis and back faster than ever this season. They have a thin squad, but have won their last two matches, scoring three goals in each. Olivier Giroud has scored in each of Arsenal's last four matches, but for fantasy managers, that's all he's doing. He's returning no other points. He's getting a chance and taking it - which is great in real life, but lousy for fantasy. Lukas Podolski even worse. He's fantasy fool's gold. He was not a factor in the Fulham match, except for the fact that he won the match with two well taken goals. His place in the side was at the expense of Luke Jack Wilshire, and I don't expect Arsene Wenger to do that too often, or with any regularity.
- Like Spurs and Swansea, expectations are high for Southampton. They addressed positions of need, brining in Dejan Lovren and Pablo Osvaldo, and added strength to strength adding Victor Wanyama. However, with all the record transfers, the bright spot for the Saints so far has been academy graduate, Jason Ward-Prowse. Playing on the right of midfield and taking set pieces, he's returning 10 points per game while only costing half that.