We arrive at what should be an auspicious occasion for Fantasy EPL managers - there are a few teams playing two games this week. A few good picks and you can put some serious distance between your team and the rest of the people in your group or make up some ground in the worldwide rankings. This situation always creates a little anxiety for fantasy managers however, it must be even worse this week as the teams that are usually sure things - Chelsea, ManUnited, and Arsenal - haven't been their usual fantasy selves recently. Arsenal are certainly the worst of the bunch but none of the three have had many players worth the money recently.
As a heads up, the teams with two matches this week are: Charlton (Liv, @Tot); Liverpool (@Che, @Cha); Bolton (Wig, @Brm); and Birmingham (Ars; Bol) - not a ton of excitement out there, and even less on the news that Rafa says that he's going to be "rotating" his line-up a lot.
On to the analysis:
Chelsea - What an opportunity missed by ManYoo and Liverpool. Chelsea haven't been good since Drogba/Essien left the line-up but neither of their "closest" pursuers have been able to capitalize on that fact. With only one match this week and against stingy Liverpool, you have to think that Chelsea's offensive players aren't the greatest bet ever this weekend. You can't ever count Lampard out but this probably isn't the weekend to switch TO him.
The former "Big Two" - At least ManUnited scored a bunch of goals in mid-week despite their overall terrible form. Saha has scored twice in his last two matches but certainly doesn't pick up much else in the way of points so if you buy him, you'd better hope he scores. Ruud is obviously in fine form having racked up 20.00 fantasy points in 30 minutes after putting the fear of God into managers everywhere by starting the game on the bench. Evra, despite his total inability to mark anyone is still a good bet. A match against Fulham should make his life a little easier as well. Ronaldo might be an interesting choice because United's midfield issues might force SAF to play him.
It pains me to write this but Arsenal are in shambles. Henry will probably still get his points but I can't think of a single other Gunner who a) will definitely start; b) definitely contribute. Ordinarily, you'd think a trip to Birmingham would be a nice looking match-up for the Gunners but with no defenders that anyone has ever heard of, and a struggling midfield, I can't see including anyone other than Henry. van Persie is now expensive enough (12+) that he probably isn't worth the risk of a bad offense and an uncertain rotation policy. From the Birmingham side, Pennant - along with Gerrard - is a must start this weekend and Sutton probably isn't a terrible idea either against Arsenal's weak central defense.
Against the Relegation Zone - West Ham host Sunderland in a match-up that might end up looking like a two-gamer all on its own. Blog favorite Dean Ashton is going to score against the Black Cats - take it to the bank. Etherington will also have a strong weekend vs. Mick's boys. The only question is who will partner Ashton - the hot Zamora or Harewood. As you read my opinions on West Ham for the rest of this season, please keep in mind that I have irrational expectations of Ashton based on his performances last year.
We've already discussed Birmingham above which leaves us with Pompey who travel to Newcastle. All I have to say about that is YUCK. Emre is back but he's not really a bargain so I'm not sure why you'd want him over someone like Joey Barton who also takes kicks. I really don't have much positive to say about Pompey or the rest of the Newcastle team so I'm just going to move on.
Random Fantasy EPL Notes - Bolton have two matches this week but lack an outstanding fantasy player that managers should get excitd about. Stelios isn't playing against Arsenal in either match so he's unlikely to be exceptional but might be worth a look - Wigan striker Neil Mellow will definitely start and might be worth picking up... Everton and City have had mixed results but I expect Everton's form (low scoring) to win out over City's occasional tendency to score a lot Nuno Valente isn't a bad call in what has started to be an efficient defense... Boro host Villa and Stewart Downing and James Milner should be at the top of managers minds, you shouldn't go with any of the strikers featured in this match unless you have a gut feeling about one of them and if you need to think about a defender in this match, well, I'm sorry... West Brom hosting Blackburn is an interesting match-up - Blackburn is coming off a big win against ManUnited which is usually when they stumble so I'd stay away, as usual, not much on the WBA side to think about... Finally, Charlton face two excellent defensive teams in Liverpool and Tottenham while their offensive catalyst, Danny Murphy is gone leaving the potency of Charlton's offense in question, Marcus Bent is a good bargain to consider up top...
Due to my schedule, I've had to do this before all of the injury reports are in - please take a look at BBC.com or Soccernet.com before you finalize your rosters.