It has been a seemingly interminable wait for Gameweek 8 (GW8) as World Cup qualifying has brought joy to many a small country and heartbreak to a few big ones. Our American manager has remained in the locker room since late Tuesday night thinking about an unfathomable result in Trinidad & Tobago. The game was only available on a Spanish speaking channel in the States and our manager does not speak Spanish. But a 2-1 result needed no interpretation. Meanwhile, he has put his Russian translation dictionary back on the shelf.
The manager must now pick himself up ahead of GW8. Over the international break the management team at Stoosher FC have had a hard, confrontational meeting with its management consultant Ghost Ship, Inc. (GSI). For a side which has finished outside the top 100,000 in FPL only once in 10 years, we face the very real possibility of a second such finish. And GW8 finds us with a difficult transfer decision as well, as new man Alvaro Morata limped off in GW7 on 34 minutes with a hamstring problem.
There is only grim determination in the eyes of the management team as we head into GW8 . . .
A ‘Come to Jesus’ Meeting.
The Stoosher FC board brought in GSI over the Christmas holiday last season in response to our then catastrophic overall rank (OR) position to assist the management team’s seemingly clueless approach to transfers. While the management team was skeptical, generally following GSI’s advice (which generally entailed answering the question “why bother ?” to our GSI’s representative’s satisfaction with respect to any proposed transfer) saw the side rise from below 600,000 OR on Christmas to roughly 40,000 OR and a third place finish in our main mini-league.
At this point 600,000 OR seems like a dream position.
Over the international break the board insisted we meet with the GSI team again, having largely ignored GSI’s advise and then its pleadings since August. And we did meet over the course of 3-4 evenings. We could not have faced these meetings without a good supply of beer and we had several cases of Newcastle Brown Ale stocked in the ‘fridge. GSI’s representatives declined a beer in these meetings, which, of course, is the reason we do not fully trust them. GSI’s affable rep Ben Thar and his assistant Don Dat treated us to a wholly unpleasant appraisal of our season’s transfers (‘sure, as long as you’ve got the ‘fridge open, I’ll have another one while he goes over this’), including releasing Harry Kane one week only to get him back the next.
But the real coup de gras was GSI’s use of a program found at www.game-change.co.uk (hat’s off to our own Llama), which demonstrated that had we done absolutely nothing to our GW1 team; left the armband on Romelu Lukaku, not changed our original 4-3-3 formation, kept Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas despite their GW1 red cards – in essence had we gone to the Alps to commune with nature for 7 weeks without access to a phone or computer (a suggestion Ben Thar and Don Dat actually made in late August to us to be honest), the Stoosher FC team would have 18 more points than it currently has. Despite countless hours studying stats, taking two point hits, pulling the wildcard button and endless hours reviewing various permutations and possible transfers. 18 points LESS than doing nothing at all. That hurts.
Essentially, GSI has convinced us that we are not good at transfers. Or at least those we don’t contemplate for at least a full week. And so we have been compelled by the board to accept GSI’s single condition for remaining as consultant: we can make a transfer or transfers only every other week. This will allow time for reflection and promotes planning. And it also provides for an easy ‘mini-WC’ if necessary every other week. Ben Thar and Don Dat emphasized that our new mantra should be ‘manage the squad’. And they insisted we hold our transfer this week, despite the very likely fact that Alvaro Morata will miss the Crystal Palace match.
After the two GSI lads left, there was a long rueful silence. One of the lads then said something about not trusting a man who doesn’t drink. We laughed. Still, Alvaro Morata stays. That’s why we’ve got Tom Carroll. Manage the squad.
The International Break.
There are always a few injuries during an international break (IB) and so there have been this time as well. Sadio Mane looks like he may face several weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring issue and Sead Kolasinac is a doubt to name two prominent players. There are a few others as well. There is also a great deal of hub-bub around players arriving back late, in particular from South America. In-demand players like Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho are under the microscope for their national team minutes and expected late arrival back to camp. If a manager is on a WC, I wouldn’t worry too much if either of these players is on your radar. I would ascertain my target was not injured in his final international game and buy. Even if the player only gets a cameo this weekend, presumably you didn’t buy him for a one-week one-off. You really can drive yourself nuts worrying about a player’s minutes in his first game back from the IB.
Last week’s successful call on Nacho Monreal (first goal in three years) has brought a certain smugness to the back room staff. We are plumbing for another ‘small ball’ guy this week in Aaron Cresswell (1.2% ownership) at a price of 5.0 mil. Creswell has been a part of West Ham’s three clean sheets in the last four games, including 3 bonus points and West Ham have a good near term schedule: bur, BHA, cry, LIV, wat, LEI, eve, before the schedule turns a bit ugly. Cresswell has a good history; in his two full, injury-free seasons he has 133 and 129 points, with 2 goals and 4 assists in each of those seasons. If we sort defenders by the ‘Creativity’ factor, only Ben Davies tops Cresswell’s number. Cresswell’s Creativity rating is miles above third place Leighton Baines. We can only assume crosses and key passes are a substantial component of the ‘Creativity’ standard. In any event, with the aerial threat of Andy Carroll and a proven finisher like Javier Hernandez, Cresswell carries not only clean sheet potential but an attacking threat as well over this good run of fixtures.
Liverpool v. Manchester United.
We look forward to the Saturday early breakfast game (here in the States) between these two giant clubs with the two managers with outsized personalities. With Philippe Coutinho blinking on our watchlist, we want to see if Liverpool can pose the same threat they did last season against the big clubs . . . without Sadio Mane. The side suffered significantly last season when Mane went to the African Cup of Nations and subsequently was injured. Mohamed Salah gives them the pacey outlet they lacked last year without Mane and perhaps that will prove the key to the match and Liverpool’s ability to retain it’s free scoring ways.
United have been virtually impenetrable in league this year (conceding 2 to Stoke away in GW4; 3 clean sheets on either side of that game . . . 6 clean sheets in 7). It will be interesting to see who Jose Mourinho sets at left back to deal with Salah’s pace and threat. David de Gea is the leading point scorer among goalkeepers and with Phil Jones a slight doubt and with a history of injuries, de Gea has gone on the watchlist as the cheapest, reliable source of clean sheets in the United squad despite United’s tricky set of fixtures ahead.
And, although we have Marco Alonso’s budget busting price tag on the books, Antonio Valencia’s six clean sheets, frequent raids down the right wing, and fantastic attacking history has put him squarely onto the watchlist. Some United defensive ‘cover’ seems one of those ‘must haves’ and the lack thereof explains a bit about Stoosher FC’s OR.
This is also one of those heart v. fantasy team contests; a Liverpool fan with Henrikh Mhkitaryan and Romelu Lukaku in my team. Can I dream of a 2-1 Liverpool win with a Mhki to Lukaku goal ?
More likely one of those stale Mou-away-from-home-against-a-big-team 0-0 bore draws. Don’t spoil my breakfast, Jose.
From the Engine Room.
Alvaro Morata’s injury has cast a pall around the engine room. Surely we could have counted on him for a brace against a limpid Crystal Palace side. And a fixture with a Morata for the armband written all over it. Ah, well. Our visits with GSI has convinced us that this week we should hold the transfer and rely on two free transfers next week to make any changes. The decision to hold a transfer every other week feels a bit liberating because for the first time in a long, long time we are thinking in terms of a plan; the structure we want and the players we want. With the time and space to think through our next moves.
Even a -4 next week with 3 transfers seems more attractive than limping along making a short term fix each week with our one free transfer. Yes, Stephen Ward for Ahmed Hegazi this week might have saved us a bit in team value and possible immediate return. And certainly Ward looks the sort of player you can always play when Burnley are at Turf Moor and even occasionally on the road. But that ‘small ball’ move can be done next week as well. And at this juncture, the squad needs some bigger replenishment than swapping out rotation defenders.
No, we’re going to count on Tom Carroll to step in for Morata if necessary in a 3-5-2. We’re going to manage the squad. Perhaps next week we’ll go boldly into the market or perhaps we’ll play some small ball. But for the first time in a long time, it feels like we are back in the saddle with a plan of attack.
We’re in a big hole. But it finally feels like we’ve stopped digging.