Neal Thurman

Matchday Wrap Up

print article archives RSS

Overreaction Tuesday - Week 37

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Remember those naive days of August and September 2016? Somehow, we talked ourselves into the notion that this was going to be the most competitive Premier League season on record.  There were an overabundence of world class managers.  Manchester City and Manchester United spent huge to start addressing flawed squads.  The stink of Jose Mourinho, Part Deux was off at Chelsea.  Heck, even the mid-table clubs were throwing money around on big name players with the promise of a "next Leicester City" rising from the funds provided by new TV contracts.  

 

Like the big build up to a top of the table clash that ends up as a cautious affair with more cards than shots, it didn't quite live up to the hype, did it?  As we approach the last few matches of Week 37 and anticipate the final day of the season there really isn't much left to play for.  We have known for quite some time and with only a few occasional hiccups of faith that Chelsea were going to win the title with at least a couple of matches to spare.  As is regularly the case, it would end up being the relegation battle and the race for the remaining three Champions League spots that would really keep our attention over the last few weeks but, alas, even that failed to materialize.  Hull City and Marco Silva didn't quite have enough to overcome the mismanagement disaster that was the first half of the season.  Liverpool and Manchester City went against recent type and were on the fortunate end of some odd bounces as they solidified top four places almost to the point of certainty.  Arsenal are charging hard but if City and Liverpool do what they're supposed to do over their final matches then nothing that the Gunners do will make the final six days of the season any more dramatic.  

 

Before we buy in to the narrative that this wasn't a very good season, let's not succumb to recency bias and the myths created by recency bias.  There have been lots of great stories and hopefully you will find your way to one or more of the excellent video retrospectives of the season sure to be produced over the next few days and into Sunday as we wish the 2016-17 season a fond farewell.  Before we wave goodbye to the season, I'd like to comment on two of the stories that somehow seem to have stayed out of the mainstream conversation this season. Both, not surprisingly, involve Jose Mourinho despite the fact that he has orchestrated what would be a fairly unremarkable season at Old Trafford if his name (and that of Zlatan) weren't attached to it. 

 

Conte is Winning with Mourinho's Team

The popular description of what Antonio Conte has done this season is that he has won with essentially the same team that finished 10th last season.  I understand that it is fun to point out how much better Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, Thibaut Coutrois, and Diego Costa have played under Conte than they did under Mourinho last season.  If Mourinho delighted in tweaking everyone on his way up to the managerial mountaintop, it is karmic justice that similar shots get leveled at him as he stumbles down the opposite side of that mountain.  But really? How is it that Chelsea can spend over £100 million on four players, three of whom played nearly every match, and the manager gets credit for getting players with a track record of world class performance to live up to what we know they are capable of.  

 

Chelsea added the 2015-16 Player of the Year and two other very strong starters to a team that was talented enough to win the Premier League in 2014-15.  The core of the team - Hazard, Courtois, Matic, Azpilicueta, Willian, and Costa - are still firmly in the prime of their respective careers.  No doubt that Conte did a nice job fitting a style to the talent on hand.  Using a 3 man central defense helped mask the error-prone ways of both David Luiz and Gary Cahill while letting Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, neither exceptional defenders, do what they do best in wide spaces.  Still, it seems that the most important thing that Antonio Conte brought to the Blues this season was not being Jose Mourinho.  Removing whatever poisonous atmosphere was created last season and getting his exceptional talents back to their best was his greatest achievement.  

 

Perhaps the best way to summarize my point is that if the 2015-16 season had never happened, would you have been surprised to wake up and find that Chelsea had won a Premier League title with their 2014-15 core of stars plus bringing in the reigning (people's) Player of the Year despite having a different manager?  I sure wouldn't.  Honor Antonio Conte for what he has accomplished but let's not make it out to be a shock that he came out on top with exceptional talent.

 

Claudio Ranieri: This Season's Mourinho

Personality, and what of that personality the media decide to portray of a public figure, goes so far in how we think of that figure that public figure that it can obscure some difficult questions.  A little over a year ago, the second Jose Mourinho era was imploding at Chelsea amid accusations of player revolt.  I'm sure there are people who know exactly what went on behind the scenes that led a number of important players to appear to quit on Mourinho.  I'm not one of those people in the know so I'm not going to speculate on exactly what the dynamics were.  What I can say with certainty is that the character that Jose Mourinho has created for himself in the media and the one the media has willingly embraced made it incredibly easy to create narratives around Mourinho being primarily, if not exclusively, at fault for what went on.  The "Mourinho Must Go" stories were flying fast and furious as if he were his long-time foil Arsene Wenger and there was no outrage at the injustice of it all.  The media had their villain and the narrative nearly created itself.  

 

Fast forward one season and we encounter Claudio Ranieri in almost exactly the same situation.  The team that he had won the championship, and not only A Championship but one of the most improbable championships of all time in any sport, were imploding.  There were rumbles of the players revolting behind the scenes with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez playing the parts of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard from the Mourinho saga.  No, there were no public incidents of the Eva Carneiro variety that could act as a touchpoint to turn the masses against Ranieri but the rest of the circumstances were shockingly similar.  

 

From this vantage point, the biggest difference between the two situations is the underlying character that the media had built up during the championship season and how ready it was to be assaulted.  Whereas Jose Mourinho had willingly taken up a prickly, arrogant "us/me against the world" mentality, Claudio Ranieri was cast in a kind, grandfatherly way.  Where Mourinho's press conferences gave no quarter and asked none Ranieri's history as an OK manager at Chelsea and overall demeanor was respectful, friendly and occasionally playful.  The media aren't stupid, they know that you can write a brutal takedown on the arrogant one but you don't write scathing takedown pieces on a kindly grandfather who just achieved a dream result.  

 

I'm not meaning to imply that beneath that grandfatherly exterior that Claudio Ranieri is a Mourinho-like figure but I'm pretty sure that nowhere in the world has a professional football manager gotten to the top flight in their country by consistently being the character that Claudio Ranieri played in news conferences.  Managing a team in a top flight athletic endeavor requires that you be incredibly demanding of yourself and your players as you strive against other incredibly talented people to achieve a goal that only one can achieve.  What we've seen from the Foxes under Craig Shakespeare tells us that somewhere along the line, Claudio Ranieri clearly lost his locker room as surely as Jose Mourinho did the season before.  The fact that no one spent nearly the time digging into what exactly went on at Leicester City as they did at Chelsea the season before is a testament to the power of the media figure jointly created by manager and press.  The power of that image is why Jose Mourinho is largely blamed for the messes at Chelsea (which, in fairness, do seem to be mostly his fault) and Manchester United (which probably isn't to nearly the extent he's taking the blame) while Ranieri seems to have avoided the blame for the relegation form he was overseeing with the Foxes.  

 

Looking Forward

I play fantasy Premier League on a lot of platforms encompassing a lot of formats.  Two of the leagues that I'm in allow managers to carry over some players from season to season (for those not familiar with American fantasy sports these are usually referred to as Keeper Leagues - where you are allowed to keep a few players from season to season - and Dynasty Leagues - where you keep your entire squad season-to-season and only have a draft for new players coming into the league.  The benefit of playing in these leagues is that it gets you thinking about what might happen next for players that are currently not worth having on a squad.  These are typically guys who could move elsewhere for more playing time over the summer or young players ascending into more playing time.  Here are a few players that have crossed my mind as I look to tweak my squad:

  • Andrew Robertson - With Hull City relegated, Robertson has already been strongly linked with a move to Liverpool where he would be an ideal fit taking over for James Milner on the left side of the defense.  It would be even better for Robertson if Jurgen Klopp were to join the growing list of managers starting three center backs.  Robertson would be fantasy dynamite as a wingback with slightly less defensive responsibility a la Marcos Alonso.  
  • Luka Milivojevic - He wasn't the biggest name to arrive in January but I'm betting that Big Sam will see Palace improve to the level they should have been at all season last season and with Milivojevic taking penalties I see him being a worthy starter in draft formats and even salary cap formats as a bench option if his price is low enough. 
  • Rob Holding - The obvious narrative is that Holding is just, erm, holding the third spot in Arsenal's new three man central defense until an expensive veteran arrives over the summer.  I don't think so. Arsene Wenger would like nothing more than to throw a big "I told you so" to the rest of the Premier League by making a relatively low-profile/inexpensive youth purchase into a regular starter for the Gunners.  He's made a few errors but has generally looked the part and the peripheral stats are solid. 
  • Jay Rodriguez - The Southampton man has shown flashes of his former self when given a chance since returning from injury.  I suspect that he will likely be elsewhere (Newcastle? West Ham?) next season where he should get greater opportunity.  Definitely some upside here if such a move happens. 
  • Jack Stephens - Another rising young talent at Southampton took over when the Saints lost both first choice center backs for the season to injury and transfer.  Due to a small number of matches played Stephens will not appear high on automated draft queues but with starter minutes next season he should be an excellent value assuming VVD gets his transfer to a bigger club. 
  • Lamine Kone - With the Black Cats relegated the path should be open for a move to rejoin Big Sam at Selhurst Park.  He did extremely well in a similar situation last season and I'd be in on Kone under Big Sam again with a better overall squad supporting. 
  • Granit Xhaka - I was down on Xhaka entering the Premier League which was the right posture to take at the time but momentum has swung in the other direction and I think it will make him a value pick next season.  The widespread disappointment at his performance and playing time as compared to his transfer fee has people significantly down on his prospects.  At the same time that fantasy manager frustration is boiling over, Xhaka's performances are improving quickly.  He will never be a fantasy dynamo because he doesn't look like he's going to get many goals or assists and he will continue to get more than his share of yellow cards.  That said, his assist total is likely to rise beyond this season's meager number and his minutes and peripheral contributions (interceptions, tackles won, and key passes) are on the rise.  He shouldn't be more than your 3rd or 4th best midfielder but if he's your 4th midfielder in a draft league next season I think you'll be pretty happy with your team. 
  • Kieran Gibbs - Assuming that the rumors are true and Sead Kolasinac is arriving at the Emirates you have to expect Gibbs will be leaving.  If he's starting as often as his health will allow somewhere in the middle of the table then he should be an above average fantasy defender. 
  • Pablo Zabaleta - A move from City to West Ham is rumored that would see his playing time increase.  He might not be a 38 match starter but if he starts 30 or so I'd be interested in having him on my fantasy team again after a season or two of barely being fantasy relevant as a bit part player at the Etihad. 
  • Daniel Sturridge - Next season's Christian Benteke, Sturridge is going to get a transfer elsewhere after proving that he doesn't really fit in under Jurgen Klopp.  Whether it is Everton, West Ham, West Brom or Stoke City, there is a forward-needy club out there in mid-table who will give Sturridge a chance to overcome his injury issues and start every time he's healthy.  I'd expect production in the Benteke/Defoe range at a minimum if he's the presumed starter somewhere. 

 

This is just my fairly low risk list of guys who are already in the Premier League whose fortunes are highly likely to improve next season.  Clearly we don't know how the summer transfer window will play out so the above may well change and others will be added to both this list as well as the list of players losing value over the summer (we're looking at you Jack Wilshere) which we'll start diving into soon. 



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



Highest Searched Players over the last 7 days



Video Center

  •  
    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings

    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings
  •  
    Short: Waiver Wire

    Short: Waiver Wire
  •  
    Short: Saves & Steals

    Short: Saves & Steals
  •  
    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings

    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings
  •  
    Boyer: Hot Hitters

    Boyer: Hot Hitters
  •  
    Short: Waiver Wire

    Short: Waiver Wire
  •  
    Short: Saves & Steals

    Short: Saves & Steals
  •  
    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings

    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings