There are a lot of things to say after being pent up for two weeks for the international break but they all seem to be trumped by the news that Roy Keane has left Manchester United. He hasn't been a significant fantasy player, well, ever but the resolution of his free agent status might have a great deal of impact on the value of various fantasy players. Imagine him replacing Kishishev at Charlton - he may not be the Roy Keane of old but I'm guessing that there'd be a lot more clean sheets with him in front of the back four. Ditto Everton - he'd give back the bite missing since Gravesen departed last January. Of course, he could end up at Celtic to fade into obscurity. Nothing particularly relevant for this week but something to ponder in your spare time.
On to this week's action that features a bunch of recently hot teams (Arsenal, ManYoo, Blackburn, Newcastle, and Everton) on the road and a set of home teams that are either uninspiring (Boro, West Brom, Sunderland, Birmingham) or slumping (Chelsea, Citeh, Spurs, and Charlton). After looking at the match program, the only match-ups that seem attractive for fantasy purposes are Liverpool hosting Pompey and Everton traveling to West Brom. Spurs hosting slumping West Ham SHOULD be a nice match-up but I've seen too many of my fellow managers fall prey to picking Spurs players in recent weeks to get too excited about it. With that said, here's how the week breaks down...
Chelsea - Welcome back to the pack. How's that investigation of the "crisis" going? Certainly, losing Drogba to suspension won't help things out any but you have to figure that Lamps is licking his lips at the prospect of facing an already bad Newcastle defense further depleated by the loss of Steven Taylor to a shoulder injury. Crespo's status is uncertain due to a hamstring as is Arjen Robben's status. Between the internal pressure, the loss of their streak, and Newcastle's porous defense, this seems like it would be a good weekend to bet on Chelsea's offense to rebound with at least three goals. On the other side, you have to think that Newcastle's offense will do no better than one goal against Chelsea. Emre and Owen are the most likely to figure in that goal but it probably isn't the weekend to pick either player up if you don't already have them on the cheap. If you do, it's probably worth suffering through a bad weekend with them.
The Former "Big Two" - Man United travel to suddenly struggling Charlton and on top of that, it seems likely that Gary Neville will play some part in the proceedings. Throw in the positive momentum from the win over Chelsea and you have the makings of an away win. Look for Cristiano Ronaldo to figure more prominently now that he's signed his contract extension. Not only are United's offensive players a good bet but for the first time in months, it might be a good idea to pick up van der Saar and/or a United defender. Charlton has struggled to put goals on the board and even though the defense is still somewhat unsettled, they have a reasonably good chance of earning a clean sheet. The biggest question in my fantasy EPL world right not revolves around Darren Bent - is it worth keeping him at 6.03 and hoping this is just a slump or has he burnt out after a fast goals scoring start a la Massimo Maccarone a few years ago or Jose Reyes last year? I'm not sure I know the answer to this one. Danny Murphy is an easier case because I have him for close to market value and this seems like a good week to jump off that particular bandwagon.
On to Wigan where the Gunners are set to travel to visit the second place team in the Premiership - who would have guessed? With all of their left backs injured, the Gunners defense will be makeshift at best with some combination of Toure, Campbell, Senderos, and Cygan filling the two centre back spots and the left back spot. Given Wigan's record, status as home team, and Arsenal's sketchy traveling record, it's probably not the weekend to invest in the Arsenal defense. Might not be a great week for the offense either given Wigan's stingy ways. Henry will get his points and van Persie is on a hot streak but outside of those two, I'd stay away from the Gunner's offensive players this weekend. On the Wigan side of the ball, I have a hard time believing that they'll shut out the Gunners (although I have a hard time believing they're in 2nd place after 11 matches so what do I know?). Furthermore, their most interesting fantasy player Pascal Chimbonda is due for a mediocre fantasy weekend after scoring in two straight and getting a bunch of clean sheets. I'd advise against spending a ton of money on him - if you have him on the cheap, then by all means keep him around.
Against the Relegation Zone - Sunderland, West Brom, and Birmingham have settled nicely into the bottom three spots in the standings but all three are afforded at least a chance to climb up this weekend with home matches against opponents who aren't particularly frightening. Birmingham faces the toughest test in a visit from third place Bolton Wanders. My initial inclination is to run away from this match screaming and I hope to God that it isn't on TV. I guess that's my seconed reaction too - nothing to discuss here from a fantasy standpoint. If forced to throw out two names from this one, I'd put out the always interesting Jermaine Pennant and Stelios whom no one has heard from in a while (meaning, he's probably due to do something worthwhile).
Sunderland welcomes Aston Villa in what promises to be a blah affair. Bouma and Hughes are back in the Villa defense providing some level of hope that Sunderland won't get healthy at the Villians expense. James Milner is always a good prospect and Dean Whitehead is an inexpensive point producer for the Black Cats but, like the Brum/Bolton match, there isn't a ton of fantasy intrigue or opportunity in this one. You might have to pick up a Villian on offense just because of the rate that Sunderland gives up goals (two per match on average).
Finally, we have West Brom hosting back from the dead Everton. WBA gives up goals almost as freely as Sunderland so Everton might actually score one or two. Andy van der Meyde and James Beattie are the most likely to figure in the points if that does happen. And yes, I say "likely" with the full knowledge that Everton has scored four goals so far this season in the Prem.
Random Notes - My favorite match-up of the weekend features Liverpool and Pompey. I'm betting there's a clean sheet in this for Liverpool as well as a goal or two - crazy, I know, but it's going to happen. Lualua seems to have shaken off his malaria but I think I'll wait a week or two before I take any action based on that information. Slumping Spurs host slumping West Ham who are also missing their lynchpin Nigel Reo-Coker. This should lead to some opportunities for Spurs - who knows if they'll do anything with them. Jeremy, how'd that Spurs thing work out for you the last few weeks? If you're looking for a good bet for at least SOME points at a relatively low price, Teddy Sheringham will be starting for the Hammers. Fulham's trip to Boro will be interesting as Fulham are without their creator Claus Jensen as well as Luis Boa Morte. That's a lot of fire power to lose especially with Boro getting both central defenders back this weekend. Yakubu is a great bet at striker given Fulham's mediocre defensive record on the road. Surging Blackburn travel to Manchester City in what promises to be a grinding affair. Only once this season have Citeh failed to limit their opponent to a single goal or less while Blackburn always brings it's goonish reputation and Robbie Savage to their matches. Mort Gamst Pederson is always a good choice and Sun Jihai is being tipped to play central midfield in the absence of the suspended Joey Barton. Andy Cole has quietly had a nice fantasy season and might be a good solution at striker again this weekend.
Good luck and happy shopping...