Now that that silly Carling Cup thing is out of the way, it looks like some level of normalcy will return to EPL schedules everywhere. Just in time for that happy circumstance Frank Lampard and Ruud van Nistelrooy have picked up injury concerns that are serious enough to make them doubtful but not so serious that we KNOW for a fact that they'll be out. This underscores what is certain to be an interesting week for fantasy managers everywhere - especially when it comes to picking strikers.
Chelsea - For the second week in a row, Chelsea play a bottom of the table team. The Blues go into this week's match with West Brom with a great deal of uncertainty. Lampard looks likely to miss out as he tries to recover ahead of the return match with Barcalona in midweek. Eidur looks set to take his place at the top of midfield and may be a nice pick-up - not the best striker out there this week, but a good striker for CHEAP (5.95) on a good team against a bad one. That said, you're filling a striker spot with a midfielder which violates one of the fundamental rules that we here at the Fantasy EPL Blog believe in. Elsewhere for the Blues, the defense looks to be somewhat unsettled - Gallas is not fully fit, Del Horno seems to be in the doghouse, so who knows how the Chelsea back line will look. Will Del Horno be given another chance? Will Huth - coming off a goal against Italy midweek - deputize again in the center of defense? Despite a likely clean sheet, my inclination is to stay away from Chelsea defenders unless I have the $$ to upgrade to Terry. As usual, no Baggies merit any serious consideration against a top of the table squad.
The Former "Big Two" - Can you really count a trip to West London to face Fulham as an away match? If you do, then you probaby want to stay away from any Arsenal players (yes, even Henry) because they just haven't been very good on their travels. Henry always has a chance to have a breakout match but he's no longer the certainty he was in years past. In fact, the entire Arsenal offense looked lost for about 60 minutes last weekend against Rovers. Only towards the end did they start clicking in the absence of the copious space that Real Madrid provided in the center of the park. Adebayor managed to nick 8 points in the last few minutes of the match and might be a reasonable bet for the money up front. Reyes was ineffective against Rovers although Fulham's defense will never be confused for Blackburn's. Eboue is still a great bet since he's cheap and shows some offensive potential on the right side of defense. On the Fulham side of the ball, you have to like both McBride and Helguson who has been on a crazy hot streak. N. Jensen might be an interesting pick-up as he deputizes for injured Wayne Bridge bombing balls into the box for Fulham's two target men.
Now we get to the really difficult match of the week. Manchester United, fresh off crushing Wigan on neutral ground, face them at the JJB. The biggest question revolves around whether Ruud will have recovered from his stomach virus sufficiently to reclaim his starting spot. If he doesn't, you have to like Saha for 7.19 starting at the top of an offense that has been producing in recent weeks. This is also the weekend where Cristiano Ronaldo repays my faith in him over the last couple weeks as he kept his roster spot on my squad while others dropped him. Rooney is likely to put up some points but given his cost, I'm likely to stay away. For my money, the United back line is either too expensive or too uncertain depending on who we're talking about so I'm ignoring them against competent opposition since there are much better match-ups to be had. For Wigan, Camara seemed to be the only really bright light in the Carling Cup final but there are much better options.
Against the Relegation Zone - An up and down Manchester City squad welcomes back Captain America Claudio Reyna just in time to replace suspended Joey Barton in the center of midfield. Oh yeah, they also welcome Sunderland to the City of Manchester Stadium which can be seen as nothing but a good thing for the Blue section of Manchester. My gut tells me that Darius Vassell is the guy to go with here despite the fact that Riera and Samaras are cheaper. Darius has had some outstanding fantasty matches this year and seems due for another. I tried to do some digging to find out why he didn't play vs. Liverpool but there was precious little to be found and he is included in the squad for Sunday's match. For Sunderland, well, that's probably not even worth the effort just expended in typing the name of the club and the rest of this sentence.
Birmingham head to Boro in what is sure to be touted as a "relegation six-pointer" when, in reality, it would take a lot for Birmingham to push past Boro over the next 12 matches. The best news related to this match is that Downing seems to be recovered from his knee issue and looks to be back in the squad. I look for he and long-time Blog favorite Yakubu to be in fine form against the Blues. With Pennant having had another personal incident this past week, you have to wonder if he'll be included. If there are no reprocussions for his actions, he's always a good one for your line-up. If there's even a hint of a doubt, it might be worth considering Riera or Milner instead.
Speaking of Milner and his buddies from Villa Park, they round out the relegation zone opponents as they host Pompey. Right now, I have Luke Moore and Milner in my line-up but Moore is a doubt for me as I ponder the other forwards who a) have good match-ups; b) are cheap; and c) might have a higher percentage chance of starting. If I were O'Leary, I'd be starting Moore every chance I got but there's a reason Villa are struggling so you can't just assume these things. I'd stay away from the rest of the participants in this one - Villa's defense is too banged up to assume they'll keep the sheet clean and Pompey is pretty much terrible despite Jeremy's slurping of D'Alessandro.
Random Fantasy EPL Notes - Newcastle host Bolton in what promises to be an unpleasant match from an aestetics point-of-view - Emre, Nolan and Stelios are the only guys I'd even consider and I can't say I considered any of them for very long...West Ham host Everton in a match-up of a team that has been scoring a lot of goals against a team that hasn't been giving too many up - I'm sticking with my boy Ashton for this one but certainly understand the argument against doing so, Etherington and Harewood aren't bad bets either, not much positive to say about the Everton guys...Liverpool host Charlton and you have to like a host of Reds in this one - Gerrard and Kewell are great bets and this seems like a good match-up for Crouch as well, on the defensive side of the ball Kromkamp is likely to deputize for Finnan on the right which is a good thing and Pepe Reina will likely get his standard 15 points in net, Charlton will be bad, 'nuff said on that topic...We close the week with Rovers visiting Spurs in what is likely to be a gritty, gutty match with a lot of vigor in the tackle and at least twice as many yellow cards as goals - Rovers are missing MGP and Bellamy will have to essentially go it alone against an excellent defense...Carrick and Mido are always pretty good bets for Spurs but this week doesn't seem like the best week to select them.