We have a full mid-week slate this week so I’m going to go through my column in a more rapid-fire fashion than usual. Otherwise, I fear that there will be readers out there who are still reading the final paragraphs of the column when the matches start up again on Tuesday. So, without further ado, here’s the speed round version of MMM.
The theme of the week is clearly managerial change. Spurs have a new permanent manager. Arsenal have an interim manager. Watford will likely move from Category B to Category A as they continue their managerial merry-go-round. Manchester United clearly need a new manager. Everton probably do to.
Ultimately, though, the lens that any managerial change should be looked through, especially when fantasy managers are looking to determine if players are likely to become more or less effective after a change, is whether anything important is likely to change other than the name of the person the camera pans to when something important happens in a match.
Spurs have squeaked by in three matches they should have dominated. The attack is better and Dele Alli looks like vintage Dele Alli again. That’s a marked improvement. Elsewhere, the defense looks like it will remain a problem which is surprising given Mourinho’s track record.
We’ll have to wait to see what change brings at Watford but one would expect the first interview question will revolve around the prospective new manager’s opinion of Troy Deeney and Ismaila Sarr and how to get the best out of some talented attacking pieces while clamping down at the back.
I’ll get to Arsenal and Freddie Ljungberg’s debut in the Weekly Arsenal section below but…ugh.
The Title Race
Liverpool still don’t look fantastic but they keep pulling away from Manchester City who people continue to call the primary contender for second. I know that being two-time defending champions entrenches us in statements like that as does the presence of Pep Guardiola but Leicester City just look like a better, more balanced, more confident team. Liverpool look like they’ll run away with the title so the big question is really around the race for second which, bragging rights aside, doesn’t mean much.
The Big Surprise
Kudos to West Ham for turning the narrative of them falling apart and Manuel Pellegrino being next in line to be fired on its head. By going into Stamford Bridge and beating a scorching hot Chelsea side they have probably saved their manager’s job and at least provided some reason for hope. Even more surprising is that they did it with some of their big name acquisitions – Sébastien Haller and Anrdiy Yarmolenko specifically – on the bench.
The Weekly Arsenal
I have two issues with an entirely predictable result at Carrow Road. The first is that Freddie Ljungberg put himself in a terrible position by selecting Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka, and Mesut Ozil. Yes, Emery handled each player poorly but none of them have shown any glimpse of promise against Premier League caliber competition. By starting the trio, Ljungberg set himself up for failure. Anything other than a complete turnaround in quality of play from the three would mean that the chance to use the change in manager as a springboard to a new beginning would be lost. At least trying something different – perhaps Rob Holding, Lucas Torreira, and Nicolas Pepe – could be explained away in the event of a poor showing as players too long out of the first team needing to get their sharpness back.
Perhaps more disturbing when it comes to the overall state of Arsenal as a functional organization was the news that Emery’s dismissal had been “in the works” for some time. So, let me get this right, the Board has known that they wanted to do this for a while and they decided that the right time to do it would be on a Friday ahead of back-to-back matches on Sunday and Wednesday? Rather than using the International Break to allow Freddie Ljungberg to put a plan together and go through a few training sessions with the first team that might shift tactics or approach they decided “let’s give him about 36 hours between being announced as the new manager and playing his first match!”.
The sign of good management at any level, but especially at the highest of executive levels, is an understanding of how to put people in positions to succeed. I, along with all Arsenal supporters, hated Ljungberg’s first starting line-up. What we can’t blame him for is not getting appreciably different results with almost no time to implement any change. Just baffling.
My Other Favorites
Perhaps we should expand this to include Sheffield United because they are really having the sort of enjoyable run that makes me happy about the Premier League even as Arsenal descend further and further down their dismal spiral.
Also, it’s hard not to enjoy a player like Lys Mousset enjoying a breakout season after trying to break in to the Premier League at Bournemouth for three seasons. When a player comes into the Premier League as a 20-year-old from a non-elite French side like La Harve there isn’t (or should be) a clear timetable for reaching his potential. I suspect it was a frustrating three seasons for Mousset, Eddie Howe, and Bournemouth supporters. That it is now being paid off at his second Premier League stop is a nice reward for what I suspect was a lot of hard work without much immediate repayment in results or playing time.
The match between Wolves and the Blades confirmed Sheffield United’s place among the good stories of the season. Wolves have been in legitimately good form unlike recent scalps Manchester United and Arsenal. Going to the Molineux and coming away with a point is a legitimate accomplishment.
Moving over to Leicester City, perhaps the most amazing thing that has come from this season so far – even taking into account Sheffield United’s ascent and the rapid fall from grace of Mauricio Pochettino – is the steady drumbeat of Leicester City wins and strong performances. The only items of note from the win over Everton were the identity of the man of the match – Kelechi Iheanacho who, I have to be honest, I forgot was still at the KP – and the lateness of his winner. Winning has become normalized under Brendan Rodgers at Leicester City and so the story is that it almost didn’t happen.
Fantasy Ups and Downs
After each weekend, I’ll update players whose fantasy stock is up or down based on what we saw over the weekend.
Stock Down: Nick Pope – He’s had a strong season but both the of goals conceded to Crystal Palace were poor from the goalkeeper. They weren’t outright mistakes but a Premier League goalkeeper should have at least gotten closer to saves in both cases.
Stock Up: Vincente Guaita – A clean sheet on the road against Burnley and what looks like a cakewalk of an upcoming schedule with a home match against Bournemouth tomorrow followed by @WAT, BHA, @NEW, and WHU.
Stock Down: Kieran Tierney – One wonders what the Scotland international has to do to get in the Arsenal side. Tierney certainly hasn’t been an immediate star but Kolasinac hasn’t offered a great deal but a second manager has shied away from starting Tierney. Not a good trend.
Stock Up: Matt Doherty – The Wolves right back started out the season slowly and was even rotated in favor of Adama Traoré for a stretch. With Traore now starting further up the pitch Doherty’s production seems to be returning and he now sits as the 13th most productive defender in the PL.com scoring system despite playing fewer than 60 minutes in 6 of Wolves 14 matches so far.
Stock Down: César Azpilicueta – The Reese James era seems to be happening and Azpilicueta is certainly not a sure thing anymore. Whether he’s a rotational option or a reserve now isn’t clear but he’s not the rock solid starter that he was as recently as last season.
Stock Up: Toby Alderweireld – The Belgium international had only a single fantasy performance above two points in the PL.com system through Week 13. He now has two. Not exactly a rebirth but hope for a player who has only 30 points on the entire season.
Stock Down: Emi Buendía – Two matches in a row on the bench and four points in the standings for the Canaries. It sure feels like he’s a reserve now.
Stock Up: Jonjo Shelvey – A starter in four consecutive matches after four matches out and he’s scored in two of them. With the Magpies needing attacking sparks from anywhere they can get them, look for the trend to continue.
Stock Down: Andriy Yarmolenko – He hasn’t played a full 90 minutes since late September and yesterday saw him benched in favor of Fornals. What happened to the heady run of late August and September?
Stock Down: Sébastien Haller – Only a goal and an assist to show for his past six starts and now a benching. Maybe it will be the kick in the pants his season needs but with the Hammers having won at Stamford Bridge without him starting it seems unlikely he’ll be restored immediately.
Stock Up: Kelechi Iheanacho – A goal and an assist in his first 28 minutes of Premier League action this season. He’s still not worth owning in fantasy since he’s not unseating Jamie Vardy anytime soon but from “I forgot he existed” to “he’s now outscored Ross Barkley and Pedro on the season” in 28 minutes is the definition of Stock Up.
My Fantasy Fortunes
Ugh, in the interest of the length of the column, I’ll cut back significantly on this section because there’s nothing positive or insightful to report from my fantasy weekend.
The Waiver Wire
As you start looking forward to the last match week before the international break, here are some thoughts on waiver priorities:
Goalkeepers – Vincente Guaita is available in multiple of my 8-team leagues and I already referenced the easy upcoming schedule.
Defenders – Matt Targett doesn’t have a great upcoming schedule (@CHE, LEI are his next two) but it is much easier after that through New Years Day and he’s produced crooked numbers in five of his eight starts this season with a goal, two assists, and two clean sheets.
Forwards – Neal Maupay hasn’t done much since his goal against Everton in Week 10 but he’s playing against Arsenal on Thursday which has been a get-well opportunity for forwards recently.
The Top Six
Call me a sucker for overreaction if you will but if Spurs are going to get narrow victories in spots where they were drawing or losing before the managerial change then I’m back in on them finishing top six. They aren’t going to catch Liverpool, Leicester City, or Manchester City and I don’t think they’re going to catch Chelsea but I do think their talent advantage over Wolves and Sheffield United should put them ahead of those two great stories.
Maybe it’s just because I want it to be true but Norwich City look back to being the punching-above-their-weight success story of early in the season rather than the disaster of the past couple of months. For me, though, Newcastle just aren’t getting enough goals from their forwards. It’s hard to put them in a projected relegation zone after they earned a draw with Manchester City this weekend but it’s just hard to see where the goals to stay up are going to come from.
As mentioned, we’re turning right back around with matches in midweek starting with two on Tuesday. The most interesting fixtures will be on Wednesday with José Mourinho traveling to visit old club Manchester United with his new club Spurs and, of course, the Merseyside derby. Thursday brings a second chance for Freddie Ljungberg to show that he can move the Gunners away from the malaise of Unai Emery tenure, or at least this season’s version of it. Enjoy the matches!