Gameweek 8 saw one of those monster captain’s hauls fantasy managers dream about, but which only happen a few times a season. Which got a lot of fantasy managers’ seasons back out of mini-league jail. And Gameweek 8 saw a certain simian fantasy manager follow his beloved statistics into top 5000 heaven. Let’s explore the lessons this week provided . . .
Oh, Now He’s Serious.
It’s been coming. Jose Mourinho has consistently threatened that Diego Costa would be rested to protect his hamstring injury (or whatever sort of injury it is). But fantasy managers, especially those twice fooled, were not buying and the Brazilian, er, Spaniard topped all fantasy captain polls, as fantasy managers universally responded to Mourinho’s presser with a – ‘no, Jedi-Master, your Jedi mind games do not work here’. Especially after Costa managed two full games for Spain (less 6 minutes) over the international break. Alas. Costa was not even in the Saturday squad, whether suffering from his dodgy hamstring or a fit of Mourinho pique, who knows ? Press reports suggest Costa could be out for three weeks and fantasy managers went into template destroying overload – over 50,000 fantasy managers have transferred the “essential” Chelsea forward out so far. If Costa, does indeed, miss next week’s Manchester United game, the transfer floodgates will well and truly open.
Meanwhile Chelsea hardly missed Costa as Loic Remy – a French international, mind – replaced him. The midfield picked up the goal scoring slack as Cesc Fabregas, recently much maligned in fantasy football world as “only an assist guy”, took the opportunity to score a sublime goal in 1-touch combination with Eden Hazard and Oscar. The latter may begin to accumulate fantasy manager admirers after an excellent performance, which included a stunning free kick goal. He has 24 fantasy points in the last three gameweeks and had 135 fantasy points in 2100 or so minutes played last year. He’s on 2.9% ownership at 8.3 mil. Fantasy managers might also be on the alert as to whether Felipe Luis (now down to 5.4 mil) can turn Cesar Azpilicueta’s uncharacteristic red card and 3-game ban into a run of games.
Southampton Rock the Template.
‘There are days like this’, Gus Poyet acknowledged after a match in which his troops increasingly looked more and more interested in a decent shower and a few post game cold ones, and ‘today was my day’ – Poyet’s words were something to that effect. His team had just been run over by a rampant Southampton and it was 8-0 when the final whistle mercifully sounded. Graziano Pelle, to be fair, has matched his statistics with results, including a goal for his country over the international break as well as his two against Sunderland. But Dusan Tadic had so far flattered to deceive. No more. The Serbian international turned his Dutch league form and early season attacking numbers into a riotous 23 fantasy point game. Another whose stats had caught the eye prior to this game, Sadio Mane, was a second half substitute but notched his first goal of the season at a price point slight better than Tadic (6.9 mil). Southampton’s clean sheet was their 4th of the season and while most of the back four have seen price rises, Toby Alderweireld (5.0 mil) seems to have won the centre back slot alongside Jose Fonte. ATFPL has been a “buy” on Southampton, none more so than our own ITWT, whose fantasy team hit for a 45 point Southampton trifecta. The schedule turns difficult beginning in Gameweek 13, but not too many Southampton asset holders will be feeling worried this week. If Costa remains injured and Southampton put in a performance anywhere close to this against Stoke City next week, look for Pelle’s ownership and price to go through the roof.
Sergio Aguero Just Changed Our Season.
It’s all there – pace, power, touch, and the finishing ability of a master artist touching up a sublime landscape. Nobody can touch Sergio Aguero for pure ability inside the box and he struck for four against an overrun Tottenham team whose previously imperturbable captain Younes Kaboul had the look of a deer in headlights. Ag was, as they say, unplayable. Aguero’s only fault was a perhaps too casual penalty, saved by Hugo Lloris. However, he took yet another penalty which he buried. The knock on Aguero was his injury history, and the poser over the international break was whether, given his injury history, he was worth getting in to your side for 12.2 mil. For those of us lucky enough to have bet on it, and further bet on the armband, the Argentine has turned the season around on what looked a pleasant Manchester afternoon. A few other fantasy managers, I am sure, saw place rises in the several hundred thousands. You can’t get him for 12.2 mil anymore; over 91,000 managers have brought him in already and one suspects that will not be the end. Not even close. For those fantasy managers who don’t have him, and assuming your team doesn’t require major surgery, the poser now becomes whether to wait until after Manchester City’s midweek Champions League match in Moscow, anticipating a further rise from the impatient. Although the near term schedule is not great, four of the next six away and the Manchester derby at the City grounds, fantasy managers would seem hard pressed to do without the only superb fantasy option in a side which looks full of goals. The games are more fun to watch on the couch than from behind it.
George Boyd, Budget Rock Star.
George Boyd was a transfer deadline day signing for Burnley. In fantasy terms, Boyd brought the twin virtues of a rock bottom price (4.4 mil) and, more importantly, guaranteed starts as a reportedly record Burnley signing. Boyd had 2 goals and 3 assists in 1200 minutes played in a stop start season for Hull City last year, so the kid has, as they say, some game. Few fantasy managers noticed – Boyd is owned by 1.8% of managers. And those that did despaired of ever getting more than the obligatory 2 appearance points as Burnley have looked as inept as cats on skates in front of goal. Even in those situations where you get to put the ball down 12 yards from goal and kick it without anybody in the way except a 2-foot wide goalkeeper, at an 8 yard wide goal, known as a “penalty kick”. Not even them. But George Boyd proved a fantasy rock star on Saturday. He hit the cross bar, missing a first half goal by inches – but scored a scrappy second half goal to bring Burnley back into the match against West Ham at Turf Moor and, more importantly, send his fantasy owners into delirium. This is ‘cuz a certain world class manager decided he was mad at the Spain manager, and mad at the those bad reporters who di’n’t really believe him when he said in Portuguese inflected English that his star striker was injured. So there, see ? He’s injured. Not even in my squad. Because the Spain manager played him. Twice. And I won’t ’cause – he’s injured. See ? Injured. End of story.
George Boyd: get-in-my-side-lad !
Another budget rock star on the day was Gabriel Obertan who was, reportedly, invited to leave by Newcastle this summer. Perhaps because his touch is excelled by just about anyone you might pick up from among those scruffy foreign looking lads looking on in a 5 v. 5 in the park on a Sunday afternoon (“right, you there, what’s your name? “Vujadin” ? Right, okay, you are now “V” – V play on the right side”). Who knows ? In any event, the man who was given only enough time for a cup of coffee at Manchester United was good enough to find a reprieve for Alan Pardew’s job for another few weeks with a nice seeing-eye strike from the top of the box late on in Newcastle’s first win of the season. Obertan has – and I love this cliche – “bags of pace” – which has lately caught the eye of the apparently now desperate Pardew. He has started the Frenchman two games in a row after a bright cameo in Gameweek 6. Obertan is priced to sit on your bench (4.4 mil) without complaint until a certain world class manager . . .
The serious point here is that the 5th midfield position (or 4th/5th defender positions) should never be just a pure after-thought or a ‘how low can I go’ decision. It may even be worth spending an extra 0.5 mil to get a sure starter and – even better – someone who scores the odd goal. Because you never know when a certain world class manager will . . .
Maybe It’s a Brendan Rodgers Problem, Not a Mario Balotelli Problem.
2-2 late on at Loftus Road for a Champions League side – can you say – “awkward” ? But Liverpool was given a get out of jail free card by Stephen Caulker’s own goal; only a few seconds before, Caulker stood halfway in the Liverpool end, a bit of a spectator, admiring a Queens Park Rangers free kick, just before Liverpool’s lightning break from that very same free kick had him racing full pace at his own goal in an effort to catch up to Raheem Sterling, played in behind the previously spectating QPR centre backs. Yes, “awkward” (high, sing-song voice). Best advised – in the future when your side desperately needs a point and there there are only seconds left – watch free kicks from the centre circle, not your opponents half. And maybe mention to your holding mids – “hold”. Just a thought. QPR should probably have been home and dry in a first half which saw Leroy Fer play his own personal game of “cross bar” and Charlie Austin perhaps caught in two minds while 1 v. 1 with Simon Mignolet. But missed chances always seem to cost teams in QPR’s position and so they did Sunday. At any rate, a mildly encouraging performance for QPR and you can even add a couple names to your watchlist – Eduardo Vargas (6.4 mil) – who scored twice in a 12-minute cameo. If he gains Harry Redknapp’s confidence, he might be one to look for after the trip to Manchester City in two weeks time. And if you are working with a 3-5-2 in your fantasy team, you might add ol’ Bobby Zamora to the watchlist. Currently priced at 4.3 mil, Zamora owned the Liverpool centre backs on Sunday. If Redknapp persists with 3-5-2, and route 1 football, and Zamora gets regular starts he becomes one to think about.
There is nothing wrong with Liverpool that a certain Uruguayan striker wouldn’t solve but he would not have been available yet in any event. Football websites have been lit up with “Balotelli is rubbish” posts and, indeed, the Liverpool attack looks a bit of a disjointed mess until opposing centre backs decide to spectate for a few minutes a game (see goals 1 and 3, Loftus Road, Sunday, October 19, 2014). But this criticism of Balotelli looks misdirected; there is a manager for this team, one who is lauded for his tactical expertise. And presumably one who gave the okay to Balotelli understanding his strengths and weaknesses. Time for a Plan B from Mr. Rodgers, perhaps. There is an overused line these days ‘it is what it is’ which can be applied to Balotelli – ‘he is what he is’. There can have been no shortage of tape to see what sort of player Rodgers was getting in and it seems likely that anyone bothering to look at the tape might have said – ‘brilliant touch’ and ‘superb finisher’ and ‘powerful in the air’ along with ‘gets out of sorts early if he’s not getting the ball’, or ‘tends to be selfish when isolated’ or ‘not pacey enough to run in behind’ or ‘seems better with a partner at forward’. Perhaps soon, with Daniel Sturridge never fit for longer than it takes to eat a large meal, Fabio Borini or Rickie Lambert will get a game alongside the mercurial Italian in a 4-4-2. Until then, we may continue to see Balotelli, isolated on top and edging ever closer to melt-down mode (check the resume, he has a . . . history). However, get someone close to the man and we may see a few more of the brilliant touches and flicks that sent Steven Gerrard free to clip a shot just past the edge of goal in one of the few Liverpool first half highlights. Balotelli ‘is what he is’. Liverpool fans and fantasy managers will be hoping Rodgers reviews the tape to see what sort of player he bought.
Meanwhile, aside from the Tottenham game, which now looks a distant dot in the rear-view mirror, Liverpool look a team searching for consistency and a pattern of play which can achieve last year’s attacking threat. And in defense, the cheerful early days when fantasy managers were loading up on the likes of Alberto Moreno and Dejan Lovren are long gone and the Liverpool back line is looking like a Fantasy no-go zone. Indeed, Lovren can be had for 5.3 mil, having dropped 0.2 mil in recent weeks, indicating the scale of the sell-off.
The Liverpool midfield looks like it will be carrying the fantasy load for those wanting Liverpool assets, with Raheem Sterling ticking over nicely and Jordan Henderson (6.0 mil) still a good value. Steven Gerrard gets little fantasy respect these days but has 2 goals and an assist and sits 12th in points among midfielders. Rodgers has some work to do with this squad and aside from the three midfielders mentioned, Liverpool do not look a team you want more than one player from.
Nothing Like a Visit from Villa.
The bigger clubs have found Aston Villa out, as 0-3 to Arsenal, 0-3 at Chelsea, 0-2 to Manchester City, and now 0-3 to Everton scores attest. Aside from glimpses against Arsenal and Manchester City, Villa’s attack has looked a dead cat bounce, as long as we’re picking on cats today. But Villa’s torrid schedule has ended with this one and one can hope better days to come for the Birmingham side.
Only a ‘ghost ship’ manager would not have thought about bringing in some Everton assets with Villa coming to town and a few more very promising games ahead in the near term schedule. The big names – Leighton Baines, Sean Coleman, and Romelu Lukaku – all delivered. We have explained our Baines love in the past, but aside from those fantasy manager ‘casuals’ and those fantasy managers with the patience to spend 7.0 mil on a player fully capable of running up three or four weeks of 1-pointers, Baines looks tough not to consider now for the rest of you. At 5.5 mil, Phil Jagielka has been on for both Everton clean sheets and has 2 goals. Ross Barkley returned to the lineup and while it didn’t mean a place on the bench for Steven Naismith, his owners will be concerned. Barkley was excellent and received some post-game praise from Martinez. Lukaku and Coleman are under 10% ownership for those managers looking for differentials with the potential to go big. One to watch might be Antolin Acaraz at 4.3 mil, brought in by Roberto Martinez from Wigan last year, with Sylvain Distin apparently out of favor and John Stones injured.
The Ability to Concentrate.
West Bromwich Albion conceded most of the possession at home on Monday against Manchester United but came away with a point owing to 2 minutes of brilliance from Stephane Sessegnon and Saido Berahino. The latter sits 4th among forwards in points scored and looks very much like an excellent 3rd striker. As any coach can tell you, it is difficult to get a striker to remain patient and focused when the side is chasing the game. Berahino ? No problem. A goofy onside error by Rafael permitted Berahino a late run on goal and the U21 England man finished from an angle against a great goalkeeper. With 5 of the next 8 at home, and 2 of the away matches pretty pleasing, would you bet against 3-4 goals from this kid ? On fire.
Andre Wisdom, who looks more like an American football linebacker than a Premier League right back, is a 4.1 mil buy option in a settled back 4.
Meanwhile Manchester looked all over the shop in a new 4-1-4-1 set up. Robin van Persie is at 2.2% ownership which represents a remarkable vote of confidence on this evidence. Aside from Angel Di Maria, no one in this side looks worth the money.
Good Managers Produce Good Fantasy Options.
Certain managers at ‘smaller’ clubs get too little respect but produce quality fantasy options. We are thinking here of Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, and, my favorite, Sam Allardyce. Hull City managed a draw at Arsenal, Stoke City won at home, and West Ham won at Turf Moor. Despite a difficult near term schedule, Hull City remain a good option. Defender Andrew Robertson (4.5 mil) looks nailed on no matter Bruce’s favourite tactical set-up. Mo Diame has slotted in as Bruce’s favored attacking mid and cannot stop scoring at 5.4 mil – and forward Abel Hernandez (6.9) has 3 goals in 5 games. Hughes has budget attacking options in Victor Moses and Peter Crouch – oh, and a mean, settled back 4. Allardyce has done some fantastic business in the off-season and, like his Bolton side, look a European threat. New forwards Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia are excellent attacking players, Sakho with the price point. Stewart Downing continues to look a budget midfield option and Mark Noble remains an underrated, if expensive, 5th mid. Sakho looks looks the pick of the lot, but, obviously, competes with an array of forward options.