We head into Gameweek 7 with a bit of guarded optimism. A 73 point week did not move the meter in our mini-leagues and the bump to our overall rank (OR) was not particularly substantive, but our first green arrow of the season offered some consolation. Very much like one of those scruffy 1-1 draws against superior opposition, where we endured our opponent’s 70% possession and nicked an equaliser late on off a set piece. We’ll take it. We move on to Gameweek 7 (GW7) acknowledging that there is an elephant in the room we are trying to ignore . . .
The Romelu Lukaku Out Gamble.
Roughly 100,000 net managers have dropped Romelu Lukaku the past two weeks. I welcome my fellow madmen to a unique club: the Desperate Managers Association, formed primarily by managers in the nether regions of OR, top 1,000,000 need not apply. Our resolve will be heartily tested this week as Crystal Palace roll into Old Trafford having lost all six games this season and having failed to score as of yet. Oh, and conceding 13 goals. Manchester City smashed five past them last weekend. Lukaku, of course, scored twice in Moscow on Wednesday in a Champions League game. This is probably not the week where Lukaku reinvigorates his nickname from years past: ‘trollkaku’. We’ll have to take our punishment and hope that Sergio Aguero or whoever you may have picked up in place of Lukaku rolls on in the difficult fixtures ahead for Lukaku. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, we are looking for you for the solace of “cover”.
Meanwhile Harry Kane is away to Huddersfield Town. He’s had some recent success on away grounds . . .
The Roberto Firmino Dilemma.
Roberto Firmino was a hot option after the first three games after two 12 point performances. Although three blanks since have cooled the ardor, he remains in over 25% of teams. I think he remains a good option as a mid-priced forward. Last year Firmino was a bit of an OOP midfielder, given he was generally the nominal central striker in Liverpool’s formation where he was as often a false #9 as a true #9. He scored 180 points, which had he been classified as a forward would have translated into 158 points if we take away his midfielder’s clean sheet points (11) and the extra point per goal for midfielders (11). Given the quality of Mohamed Salah, the addition of Sadio Mane from last year’s injury shortened season (and red card ban) and the return of Philippe Coutinho, one might expect a reasonable improvement on 158 points from Liverpool’s ostensible central forward. And Daniel Sturridge’s demonstrated selfishness in recent appearances does not suggest he’s likely to replace Firmino in the starting 11 too often via rotation. So, I still think Firmino represents a good, long term value.
Here’s the problem. The game is moving on and almost demanding three high priced forwards. Even if you have the likes of only two of Lukaku, Kane or Aguero (and plenty of managers have gone all in, gutting their midfields to get all three), the three highest owned forwards, Alvaro Morata, Gabriel Jesus (despite the rotation), and Alexandre Lacazette all look like explosive alternatives to Firmino, albeit all ~2.0 mil more expensive. And Jamie Vardy is off to a flyer this season (five goals in six games) at the same price point as Firmino. Vardy’s schedule now brightens considerably (bou, WBA, swa, EVE, stk) with the three games against top four sides before Christmas all at King Power Stadium.
It’s also probably worth noting that Jurgen Klopp has shown a disconcerting habit of pulling Firmino early in recent games. He’s played 79, 66, 78, and 63 minutes in his last four league games and again had a short night in Moscow on Tuesday in Champions League.
Again, I think he’s a good long term mid-priced option, but holding will, indeed, surely test your patience.
Mid-Price Midfielders and Rotation.
One thing which has fuelled the stampede to a big budget three forward line for many managers has been the availability of some mid-priced midfielders producing the goods. While more high-end guys like Christian Eriksen and Mohamed Salah lead midfielders in points, the next two are players available at one time for 8.0 mil: David Silva and Henrikh Mikhitaryan, now at 8.4 and 8.5 mil respectively (and both in Stoosher FC’s side since the beginning; it’s not been all bad so far). At the time of his injury, Paul Pogba was the leading midfield point scorer at 8.0 mil originally.
While Pascal Gross (5.7 mil) remains among the midfield points leaders as a budget option, one wonders if his GW4 18 points were a one-off. I have the same fear with respect to Eric Choupo-Moting (Chou-Mo)(5.6 mil) who struck for 15 points in GW4; and has otherwise added 1, 3, 2, 2, and 2. Chou-Mo is in my side. I’m not sure there is a budget guy managers can truly love; perhaps Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie (6.0 mil, 4 assists) or Christian Atsu (goal, assist), whose price remains his chief virtue to date. It’s probably too early to make a call on a quality budget mid or perhaps this is the nature of budget mids; we hope to look at the end of the season and see them north of 130 points.
But while a budget mid sprinkled with star dust has so far eluded us, there remain other mid-price options at the two clubs at the top of the league, all three in the top 15 midfield scorers and all “differentials” at this time with ownership under 5% of managers. Leroy Sane’s price started at 8.5 mil and has dropped now to 8.3 mil. He is 6th among midfield point scorers. His minutes played reads like this: 22, 68, 8, 33, 12, 90. He’s averaging 5.6 points per game (ppg). Raheem Sterling sits eighth among midfielders in points and his minutes played reads like this: 12, 45, 90, 0, 90, 60. He’s averaging 5.3 ppg. Anthony Martial (8.0 mil) had three assists and scored a penalty in Wednesday’s Champions League match and sits 14th among midfielders in points. He has three goals in very limited league minutes which look like this: 10, 15, 75, 18, 2, 0. Jose Mourinho has suggested Martial picked up a knock on Wednesday which suggests that despite an appealing fixture in Crystal Palace this week he remain a watchlist prospect only.
I guess the question becomes whether one of these three, despite the very real risk of rotation, are not worth the price point above the budget guys. Both City and United look ruthless in attack; City with 21 goals, United with 17 – next best are Chelsea and Liverpool on 12. Is it better to have a player who is in and out of a high scoring team and who demonstrably contributes goals and assists when he plays v. a budget player relentlessly rolling up 2-pointers with the odd good week ? Since you are unlikely to captain these players, why not accept some boom and bust v. the steady drip, drip of 2-3 pointers and a once a month goal ? And certainly no one is immune to rotation at any of the sides competing in Europe, as owners of Salah, Sergio Aguero, Ben Davis, Gabriel Jesus – all of whom have sat at least one start out – can attest.
Points per week. Gross: 2, 2, 3, 18, 7, 3. Sane: 1, 2, 1, 13, 1, 16. Sterling: 0, 6, 4, 0, 9, 13. Martial: 10, 6, 3, 1, 6, 0. Right now, Gross, the best budget guy available, edges it. But just. But all four have double figure point weeks. Anyone betting Gross has more double point weeks than any of the other three by season’s end ?
Martial is at the top of my watchlist. If he can begin to see a few more league starts, he will fill a Pogba size hole in my lineup.
We have struggled with it this week, but Tommy notes Nathan Redmond (6.4 mil) as a potential midfield enabler in the games ahead. Redmond has the second most goal attempts for a midfielder with 21 and also has 13 key passes to back up his goal threat. Redmond has yet to find the back of the net this season for goal shy Southampton. But the schedule remains superb over the next five: stk, NEW, WBA, bha, BUR. Redmond clocked in with seven goals and 126 points last season and has started every game so far this year. We can also suggest Nacho Monreal (5.4 mil) as a differential (4.1% ownership). In Arsenal’s three game clean sheet run, Monreal has 5 bonus points. The near term fixtures look good although mci/TOT await in GW11/12. Monreal’s total points the last two years: 115, 152, which definitely ain’t bad.
From the Engine Room.
In the engine room under the Morten Gamst Pedersen Stand of the BoulStadWest, home to Stoosher FC, the management team are doing their best to mitigate the likely impact of Romelu Lukaku this week. We are a bit bleary eyed from watching game film and our task only looks all the bigger after Lukaku’s brace in Wednesday’s Champions League game. Man in form ? Check. Likely armband candidate ? Check. Awful opponent ? Check. Well-owned ? Double check.
We pulled the trigger on bringing in Alvaro Morata for the departing Roberto Firmino early in the week to take advantage of the price bump. Firmino remains on the watchlist, but the team needs to “cover” Big Rom’s likely goals and while Firmino looks a good mid-price option we need someone with the cajones to compete with Big Rom going forward. We are already holding two other aces: Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero, so this really gets down to a mano-a-mano competition.
The midfield, of course, looks threadbare with only David Silva and Henrikh Mkhitaryan apparently up to the task. We consider Richarlison a promising enabler (2 goals and an assist) but school remains out on both he and Chou-Mo at this stage.
Our defence has been “anchored” by Marco Alonso, he of last week’s YC and 58th minute departure. We have managed to guess wrong on a number of occasions with our rotation lads and each week we seem to have a clean sheet on the bench. Similarly, we have had clean sheets from Ben Foster and Rob Eliot on the bench as well the last two weeks.
We push on into GW7 warily. We are a bit torn on the armband between Kane and Mkhi. Both were on fire in the midweek Champions League clashes. I would normally jump at the chance to captain a high flying mid in a home game v. horrid opposition where a goal, bonus points and a clean sheet point look potentially on offer. But Kane’s explosive return potential – in particular on his travels – may rule the day.
Unfortunately, we harbor no illusions about our capacity to get that decision right in this most catastrophic of seasons.