Neal Thurman

Yahoo! Premier League

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Late Fitness Check - Week 12

Friday, November 22, 2013

Coming out of international breaks is typically the time when the internet is flooded with articles about how showings in qualifiers or friendlies have changed the fortunes of those vying for the World Cup roster of whatever country is of most interest to the writer and audience.  It always strikes me as funny how definitive these pronouncements are based on somewhere between zero and 180 minutes of football played over two weeks.  At the same time, similar analysis is rarely applied to how a player's league fortunes are likely to impact their World Cup prospects.  Since we focus almost entirely on the Premier League in this corner of the NBC Sports empire, here's my take on some players who will have their World Cup chances impacted greatly based on how the rest of the Premier League season plays out.  As you will notice, most of the players are from national teams - England, Spain, Belgium, and Brazil - where there are lots of candidates for places.  You won't see mention of players like Shinji Kagawa who will be an important player for Japan regardless of how things play out in terms of playing time at Manchester United.  He'll be in the Japanese squad on talent alone.  The same cannot be said of players discussed below:

Roberto Soldado - Spain has struggled to fill the "9" position and while Soldado has filled it ably in the past and continues to get playing time at Spurs, he certainly isn't flashing the form that says "I need to be on the plane to Brazil".  This isn't entirely his fault as Spurs are struggling to get him the opportunities he needs but at some point it will be easy to look at how well Negredo is playing in tandem with Sergio Aguero and push Soldado further down the list. 

Marouane Fellaini - Based on his performances at Everton over the last two seasons as first a holding midfielder and then in a more attacking role you would have had him pegged as a must-start player for Belgium.  With each passing match where he doesn't start or, maybe worse, does start but looks ineffective his place in a very talented squad has to be slipping.  It's hard to see where he'd be left out entirely but if he's been a fringe player at United for 9 months by the time the World Cup comes around then Belgium might have to re-think their best formation and whether Fellaini has a place in it. 

Theo Walcott - It wasn't that long ago that an injury to Theo Walcott was a massive loss for both Arsenal and England.  With the improvement of Aaron Ramsey and the arrival of Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini, Arsenal now have great depth.  On the England side, Andros Townsend has thrown his hat into the ring as fast-talented-but-not-quite-as-productive-as-you'd-like player on the right.  With Walcott coming back into the Arsenal squad this weekend, his ability to earn a consistent starting role and produce results in that role will be critical to his chances of first making the World Cup team and second starting.  With Daniel Sturridge also able to play from the right, it might not be two from three between Townsend, Sturridge, and Walcott and if Sturridge continues to score at anything close to his early season pace, then it's really Townsend vs. Walcott for one spot.

Aaron Lennon - With Townsend firmly ahead of him at Spurs he likely has no shot of going to Brazil unless he makes a January move, starts playing well, AND someone ahead of him in line gets hurt.  With Holtby and Lamela also seemingly ahead of him in Spurs midfield, it's probably a good idea for him to find a new club regardless.  

Thomas Vermaelen - Arsenal are better with Mertesacker and Koscielny starting.  Vermaelen played well enough deputizing against Manchester United but if he is going to be anything more than a reserve for Belgium then he's going to have to play regularly somewhere.  Whether that comes as a result of injury at Arsenal, a temporary loan or a permanent move is the question.  Right now, he's presumably in a dog fight with Jan Vertonghen (who is playing regularly and well at Spurs) to be Vincent Kompany's partner.  His outlook will certainly improve if Kompany can't get healthy and stay that way but at full strength, Vermaelen looks like a reserve in the Belgium side right now. 

Olivier Giroud - Giroud is a reserve in the current France side and is competing with Karim Benzema (who has started most recently) and Loic Remy (who is having an exceptional season at Newcastle).  It seems unlikely that Remy is going to see a dip in playing time as the guy at Newcastle who scores the goals but with rumors persisting that Arsenal are pursuing Benzema or perhaps another "lead" forward it is very much within the realm of possibility that the guy who started off the Premier League season on fire ends it as a reserve and on the outside looking in when France head to Brazil. 

Jesus Navas - There is so much talent available to Spain the difference between being on the plane to Brazil or not is likely not huge.  Navas came to the Premier League as a reserve in the Spain squad after starting 37 matches in La Liga for Seville last season and the season before.  With Navas having started fewer than half of City's Premier League matches this season and not looking particularly good when he has gotten playing time, it will take a big second half surge to ensure that he maintains his tenuous hold on a spot on the plane to Brazil. 

Chris Smalling - Smalling has consistently been part of England squads under Roy Hodgson as a reserve at both center back and right back.  The concern for Smalling will be that his Manchester United teammate Phil Jones can play those same positions as well as holding midfield and he's actually starting matches regularly for David Moyes.  Moyes has given Smalling some high profile starts (Manchester City and Arsenal) but those have generally come because of injuries to teammates like Rafael.  If Smalling continues to be a reservee at United his versatility will have to overcome the regular football being played by Steven Caulker and Michael Dawson

Lukas Podolski - Podolski has played regularly for Germany to the tune of 111 caps by age 28 which is an incredible number.  It's hard to see a player like that being left out of the squad assuming he's healthy.  The big question is where he is in a pecking order that includes a lot of attacking talent.  Like Walcott above, Podolski faces a fight to return to Arsenal's starting line-up once he's healthy.  If he is starting and productive in a team that is challenging for the Premier League title then his chances of significant minutes for Germany go up.  If he is a reserve or struggles to make a meaningful contribution in a starting role then he may well see himself relegated to a spectator with great seats come the summer. 

You'd like to think that the January transfer window will be all about clubs making themselves better for the second half of the season but with the World Cup a financial opportunity for top level players with endorsement potential as well as pride on the line, there will be an undercurrent for these players and others related to what is best for their chances of getting to Brazil and playing a meaningful role once they get there. 

Now, on to this week's Team News and the impact it should have on your thinking about your fantasy line-up for Match Week 12: 

Everything you need to know heading into Match Week 12: First XI | Player Productivity Analysis | The Free Kick | AM's Player Picks 

Hull City v Crystal Palace - Big news for Hull as they see Robbie Brady, Allan McGregor and Robert Koren all return.  With Crystal Palace visiting this is the ideal time to pick up Brady who has been very productive when healthy and playing.  With his price back down to 8.11, he can help balance out squads that have started to accumulate high priced players. McGregor is also an interesting possibility priced 0.01 higher than Brady but I'd be concerned with his reflexes coming off an injury layoff.  All it takes is one goal for you to be upset about taking that risk. 


Everton v Liverpool - The Liverpool derby starts off the Premier League weekend and both squads are extremely healthy coming into the match.  Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard have minor injuries but both played against Germany in mid-week and should feature at Goodison Park.  With two well-matched teams playing in a bitter rivalry match, the real question is how much you want to invest here beyond the obligatory keeping of Luis Suarez.   I'm initial inclination is to say "not too much". 


Newcastle v Norwich - The big news here for owners who have been smart enough to stick with Mathieu Debuchy is that he will miss out on this match due to yellow card accumulation.  Presumably those of you holding him at a major discount will push him to the bench and find someone else for this spot in your starting line-up.  This is the sort of thing that the new bench feature is perfect for.  Elsewhere, unless you were thinking of shocking your friends and rivals by starting Ricky van Wolfswinkel then there's not a great deal of news that you need to have.  Loic Remy and Yohan Cabaye are both great options for your team for a match Newcastle should win fairly easily. 


Stoke v Sunderland - If ever a match had the potential to be a dreary nil-nil draw with more cards than chances, this is it.  There are no injuries or suspensions that should be considered significant for fantasy managers but Asmir Begovic is definitely worth considering.


Fulham v Swansea - Will the addition of Rene Meulensteen as Martin Jol's assistant/replacement-in-waiting be enough to shake Fulham out of their doldrums? Hard to say really but I certainly wouldn't bet on it.  With Brede Hangeland (injury) and Sascha Reither (suspended) still out of action, Fulham are also missing their two best defenders.  With Michu and Pablo Hernandez out on the Swansea side, there is little doubt who the man likely to take advantage of Fulham's abject performances is - Wilfried Bony.  At 11.45, he's a great bargain compared to the Wayne Rooneys and Daniel Sturridges of the world.  The other thing worth watching for is the inclusion of the "other" Moussa Dembele who has been lighting up the rumor mills and youth leagues and has been touted as a future star.  He seems unlikely to start but if he gets a substitue apperance this week or in the near future it would be worth watching to see what all of the hype is about. 


West Ham v Chelsea - There are some good things in the team news for fantasy managers.  1) Winston Reid is likely still out which means West Ham's defense won't be at it's best; 2) Fernando Torres will be out meaning Samuel Eto'o will almost definitely start; 3) Eto'o is priced at a very reasonable 8.89.  The only downside I see here is that Eto'o falls into the category of forwards who don't do much at all fantasy-point-wise other than score.  In Match Week 11 he managed to come in with single digits despite scoring a goal.  His value goes up this week because a) we are very sure he'll start; b) West Ham aren't very good; and c) some other options (Aguero, Negredo, Soldado, Lambert, and Giroud) and Robin van Persie (who will likely start) is at least under some doubt after missing time with Holland and being mentioned in the United Team News.  


Arsenal v Southampton - The news for Arsenal is about players - Mertesacker and Walcott - returning to fitness.  Mertesacker will go straight back into the line-up off of his goal against England.  With Arsenal and Southampton both playing strong defense this season the real question here is how many points you think there might be in this match.  The Southampton story has been a great one but it's hard to see people staying invested in Boruc, Fonte, and/or Lovern.  Likewise, players like Giroud at Arsenal have had some strong matches but aren't strong enough in the absence of goals to make them buys in a match like this.  Like the Liverpool Derby, my inclination is to stay away from this one other than the obligatory Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil.  What I haven't decided is whether this is a week to push Ozil to the bench as Jeremy suggested in First XI.  I'm much more likely to go with Brady or Cabaye in his place rather than Coutinho at Everton.  


Follow the RotoWorld_PL team on Twitter: Galin | Jeremy | Neal | Nik | Steve 


Cardiff City v Man Utd - Cardiff are almost entirely healthy and available for the visit of the defending champions.  The much more interesting part of the story here is on the United side.  The team that came together to beat Arsenal and seemingly right their ship won't be available to take the field.  Phil Jones, who was huge versus Arsenal, and Michael Carrick, who is always important to the Red Devils, are both definitely out.  They may also be joined by Nemanja Vidic who is returning from a concussion and Robin van Persie who is dealing with an ongoing toe injury.  My guess is that Vidic misses out and RvP starts.  What do we make of a United team missing it's spine playing on the road against a team that has invested heavily in defense and generally played well at home including a win over Manchester City and a draw with Spurs?  I'd invest much more carefully in this one than you ordinarily would in Manchester United playing against a newly promoted team. 


Man City v Tottenham - That Manchester City have been incredible at home will be the dominant storyline heading into this match.  What that will fail to capture is that other than a transitioning-to-David-Moyes Manchester United and good-but-not-great Everton, the also haven't played anyone good at home either.  Before assuming that City will brush mis-firing Spurs aside like they were Norwich, let's remember that David Silva and Vincent Kompany will both miss this match lessening City's attack and defense respectively.  I'm not saying that City won't grind out a 1-0 or 2-1 win but let's not get carried away and over-invest in the guys in the light blue playing against a very stingy defense. 


West Brom v Aston Villa - There's a lot of news here about players that are important for their respective clubs but who don't move the needle for fantasy managers at all.  There was a time when news about Chris Brunt and Gabby Agbonlahor's health was must-have news but that time was two or more years ago.  They're now just afterthoughts and fond memories of fantasy production gone by.  


Enjoy the matches and remember to Get all of your Premier League news at RotoWorld 

Neal Thurman manages the Rotoworld's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.
Email :Neal Thurman

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