What a week we have in front of us. We've already seen a huge transfer with Juan Mata heading from Chelsea to Manchester United. There are so many storylines that you could discuss from that starting point alone that it leaves a writer's head spinning. Here's a quick sampling of storylines that probably merit an entire feature rather than the one or two sentences I'm going to give them here because this is an injury analysis column and not the Juan Mata show:
- Financial Fair Play - Is this the first example of a petro-club (Chelsea) making a sale that looks like a bad idea competitively (selling a very good player to a potential rival) for the sake of balancing the books for FFP? In years past, Chelsea would have let Mata rot on the bench before loaning him out to a mid-table Premier League club that had no chance of harming Chelsea before eventually selling him to a foreign club when the right deal came along.
- Momentum for United - Whether Mata actually improves United on the field much or not the acquisition of a headlining player has to be a huge psychic boost for the club and supporters after a summer and first half of the season that had everyone associated with the Red Devils a bit miserable.
- Real Change? - While Mata undoubtedly represents the acquisition of a very good player, United are still aging and understaffed in a lot of other positions (CB, RB, LB, and Holding Midfield) that represents the spine of contending teams. Unless United intend to win by just outscoring their opponents then they will need to quickly turn their attention to replacements for Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Rafael (who isn't old but doesn't seem to have gained Moyes' trust), and Carrick/Fellaini/Cleverley.
- Formation - Assuming RvP, Rooney, Januzaj, and Mata are all healthy how do United line up? I would suspect that the ideal formation would be with RvP as the target man with Rooney, Mata, and Januzaj playing behind him in the same way that Hazard, Oscar, and Willian support whichever of Chelsea's mediocre forwards happens to be starting that day. The only concern with this option is that it leaves United vulnerable to the thing Mourinho feared with Mata in the line-up, too few attacking players doing their part in defense. Mata's deficiencies are documented (they're why he's no longer a Chelsea player) and Januzaj hasn't impressed in this respect either (which is understandable given his age but doesn't help with defensive cover even if there's a good reason).
- Disrespect - Who exactly is Mourinho disrespecting with this sale? To my mind he's saying either that he doesn't fear United and is therefore willing to sell to them because they are no longer a "real" rival with Moyes at the helm OR that he doesn't fear Mata and that there's a reason that Chelsea had so much trouble in the league with Mata as their best attacking player over the last two seasons. Either way, with Mourinho's track record of exceptional performance one wonders if United should be as excited about this deal as they are given that Chelsea were willing to do it in the first place.
- Rooney as Technical Director - What a miserable spot United are in now that this story has broken regardless of the truth of it. When it was reported that Wayne Rooney has been included in discussions about United's transfer activity, you have to think that Moyes and the club have lost all power when it comes to dealing with a player who is nearing 30 and whose skill set seems unlikely to age well. The club is left to either deny that they have given Rooney this level of access to management goings-on (and in saying so essentially underscore that he's NOT part of their strategic planning process just as they want him to sign an extension that they're sure to regret) or admit that they HAVE let him inside the "room" and set a precedent for other players to use to determine the extent that the clubs values them. In this in 18 months when Adnan Januzaj is agitating to have similar "inside access" as part of his next contract.
- Conclusion - Galin covered some of these topics as well as providing a great fantasy analysis of the Mata deal here and his conclusion was that this could well be a "win-win" for both clubs in the short term. That may be the right conclusion but I can't help but think that Chelsea's downside is very limited given the plethora of talented attacking midfielders still on their roster (and joining now that Mohamed Salah has come in for Mata) while Manchester United will need to do a lot more work before we consider them to be title contenders for 2014-15 even with Mata, Januzaj, Rooney, and a healthy RvP as their very potent attacking core.
While we wait to find out whether United can continue their rebuilding or someone else (Draxler to Arsenal?) jumps into the mix with a headline-grabbing transfer, we have mid-week matches and that means injury and suspension news and all of the fantasy analysis that comes with it.
Check out the rest of our Week 23 Fantasy Premier League Coverage: Nik's Picks | The Free Kick | First XI
Manchester United v Cardiff - We may get to see not only the debut of Juan Mata against Cardiff but also the returns of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie who both trained on Monday. The uncertainty associated with the attacking duo's return means that it is tough to recommend either with the presence of players like Aguero, Suarez, and Hazard available as starters with very little risk of them not starting. Not that I think you were thinking about picking him but it is worth the reminder that Nemanja Vidic is still suspended.
Norwich v Newcastle - The only particular news that is of interest to fantasy managers is that Mathieu Debuchy is available again after serving his suspension and just in time for a very good match-up against Norwich.
Southampton v Arsenal - Lots of players returning for both sides here with Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, and Thomas Vermaelen all likely to be back for Arsenal while Artur Boruc and Rickie Lambert will both be back for Southampton with a chance that Victor Wanyama may also come back. The critical absence for Southampton will be Dejan Lovern who is out with an ankle injury while Arsenal are likely to be missing Jack Wilshere. Arsenal are unlikely to feel Wilshere's absence much with so many of the rest of their midfielders healthy - it is likely that Ramsey will jump in to his spot. The Lovern absence is critical for the Saints because he has been very good and they are thin at the back.
Swansea v Fulham - Swansea continues to suffer from a bunch of injuries. Michel Vorm and Nathan Dyer may both return but Michu, Canas and Shelvey are all out. Wilfried Bony may well be a good pick this week with Fulham being Fulham and Swansea at least slowly coming back to health.
Crystal Palace v Hull - Not much of note here that fantasy managers are likely to care about.
Liverpool v Everton - There are a bunch of injuries to secondary players from a fantasy standpoint in this one with Bryan Oviedo, Jose Enrique, Glen Johnson, Lucas Leiva, and Daniel Agger all out. Some more important fantasy players potentially joining them in Ross Barkley, Phil Jagielka, and Seamus Coleman (apparently not a good week to be a fullback from a Liverpool club). This match is a tough one to call given the quality of both sides and the ferocity of the derby so I assume most managers aren't looking to invest heavily in this one so these notes are mostly FYIs rather than being critical.
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Aston Villa v West Brom - Aston Villa may get two important players back from injury with Gabby Agbonlahor and Nathan Baker both likely to be available for the visit of the Baggies on Wednesday. PhysioRoom.com is indicating on Twitter that Agbonlahor is unlikely to feature but will at least get the courtesy of a late fitness test before he is ruled out entirely. West Brom will be welcoming back Gareth McAuley but will be without Stephane Sessegnon who will be out for a month with a groin issue. Reports on PhysioRoom.com's Twitter feed indicate that Nicolas Anelka will be in the squad for this one but no word on whether he will start as he awaits his appeal on FA charges that could rule him out for five matches.
Chelsea v West Ham - Chelsea should be dominant here with Fernando Torres the only expected absence while West Ham will be missing their typical large number of players headlined by Winston Reid whose absence can not be overstated given the sorry state of the Hammers defense this season. Chelsea's attacking players - Hazard, Willian, Eto'o, and Oscar - are all solid bets given the apparent lopsidedness of the match-up at Stamford Bridge.
Sunderland v Stoke - Not much of note from either side to make fantasy managers stand up and take notice. For those in the US, probably not worth getting caught watching this one online or at your favorite local sports bar.
Tottenham v Manchester City - The only two players sure to miss out on this one are Erik Lamela and Samir Nasri. There are a number of players who are likely (but not 100%) to return including: David Silva, James Milner, Alvero Negredo, Paulinho, Andros Townsend, and Jan Vertonghen.
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