So, apparently my choice to keep Shay Given wasn't the greatest ever. Who saw Darren Fletcher scoring a brace coming ahead of time? If it had been Rooney scoring more than the one, I'd have been completely good with Given's performance but it wasn't to be. A very interesting weekend though. It would appear that ManYoo will have trouble defending their title. Assuming that injuries don't make a major impact on what comes next then Chelsea will be a cut above ManYoo, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Citeh. I can't say I have much of a feel for which of those four clubs will fall out of the Big Four. Here's something to think about before you answer - which teams are the most dependent on one or two players and therefore the most likely to be impacted by injury?
Maybe I'm just being biased and finding scenarios that are advantageous to Arsenal but I have a hard time seeing ManYoo doing anything of note if they lost Rooney for an extended stretch (which wouldn't be a shock given his injury history). Ditto Liverpool if they lost either Nando or Gerrard (and do any of us have a hard time envisioning Nando getting hurt again?). I'm perfectly willing to admit that neither Arsenal nor Citeh have a single player who is as consistently good as Rooney (this year), Gerrard, and Nando have been. What they do have in place of consistent stars are a bunch of well-above-average players. For instance, I could easily see Arsenal doing just fine (again) if Cesc, Arshavin, or RvP were to go down and obviously Citeh were very competitive with K2, Robinho, and Tevez either out or at something less than full strength.
Does this mean ManYoo or Liverpool should be the odds on favorites to miss the Champions League spots? Of course not. What it does mean is that they are likely more vulnerable than you think. They could get lucky and be relatively injury-free for the entire season (it happens). If they're not though, it could become clear very quickly which team won't make the grade.
OK, here is the in no way clunky transition from my opening ramble/rant to the analysis of the week ahead in fantasy footie... after the jump.
If you're looking for clear cut advantages in this week's match-ups then you'll want to focus your team-building efforts on adding players from Liverpool (hosting Hull), Citeh (hosting WHU), and Spurs (hosting Burnley). I know, I know - didn't Burnley just beat a quality opponent last weekend? Haven't they beaten ManYoo and Everton already this season? Well, here's what you're looking for - in all of Burnley's matches the home team has scored 14 goals and the away team has scored 1 (DBent's goal last weekend). If you're looking for a trend then look for Spurs to blow out Burnley something like 3-0 and then turn around and beat up Birmingham next weekend 2-0. You have to wonder why home field makes such a difference to professional athletes but it clearly does in their case. Here's to the supporters at Turf Moor - apparently you are not only the 12th man but also the 13th and 14th.
Other top half teams - Arsenal, ManYoo, Chelsea, Everton, and Villa are all on the road against slightly below average or worse teams (Fulham - they haven't been up to last year's standard, Stoke, Wigan, Pompey, and Rovers). You should have at least a mild interest in all of these but none of those match-ups is SO attractive that you should be betting heavily on them by bringing in average players from those teams. Those should be reserved for top teams at home against the absolute worst-of-the-worst.
The one match-up that I'm really having trouble getting a handle on is Sunderland hosting Wolves. On the surface, this should be lopsided enough that you'd be interested in going after Sunderland players (DBent, Andy Reid, and Craig Gordon). For some reason, I'm not feeling it. The only bad match that Sunderland has had at home was vs. Chelsea and everyone has been bad against Chelsea this season. I guess it was watching them do SO little against a far less talented Burnley team last weekend (even the goal they got was entirely due to a defender being lazy/inattentive and playing DBent onsides - even an average pub team plays team defence better than that most of the time). Anyway, consider this a warning about betting too heavily on Sunderland.
Best Value Forward of the Week - I really hate going out on this limb but I'm trying not to let this guy's sins from previous seasons impact how I'm looking at what he's doing this year. Who am I talking about? The frequently injured Louis Saha. He seems to have found the fountain of 2003-04 (when he scored 20 goals in the league). I'm not saying he's going to be injury free but while he is still healthy and playing against teams like Pompey even thought the match is at Fratton Park. Comparing Saha's price and potential output vs. the higher-priced forwards like Rooney, Torres, and the like makes him the much better buy.
Best Premium Forward of the Week - So, this pretty much gets down to the injury report. We should all be expecting that Liverpool and Chelsea will win fairly comfortably. The question is whether Drogba will indeed be fully fit (that seems to be the rumor thus far this week). Assuming he is healthy, then Drogba has consistently been the best striker in the Prem thus far. Torres had a great weekend last weekend but he's also been invisible occasionally. One other note - even though Nando had the higher profile weekend, Drogba outscored him in fantasy. Just saying. Did I mention that he's cheaper too? Case open and then shut. This is only an OK weekend to pick up Rooney or RvP - if you're spending the money, I'd go with Drogba and if you can afford two then Torres would be second with Rooney just behind.
Best of the Rest - DBent (despite my bad feeling from above), EdS (still at a pretty reasonable price), Defoe, Benitez, and Diamante (he's taking a lot of kicks including PKs which makes him valuable and Noble less so).
Best Value Midfielder of the Week - Welcome back to this category Aaron Lennon. With his price having dropped and Spurs schedule having taken a turn for the better (Burnley, @Bolton, @Pompey, and Stoke before their next high profile opponent) after a brutal start that included Liverpool, ManYoo, and Chelsea. The worry with Lennon has always been that he has trouble sustaining his form but thus far with the exception of last weekend he has been consistently good this season. No reason to think that Burnley has a defender who is going to be able to contain Lennon's speed.
Best Premium Midfielder of the Week - Funny thing last weekend. During the live chat (shameless plug) a bunch of us were ripping Ashley Young for his sub-par performance thus far this year. Many of us had jumped on the bandwagon for what looked like (and was) a favorable match-up. We even went so far as to strip him of his "BF" title because he's not the value he once was. Imagine my surprise when he ended up with 9.5 points from what looked to be a quiet match. He's still not back as a blog favorite nor is he the winner in this category this week but I thought it was worth pointing out. I'm looking for Gerrard to rebound this weekend with a favorable match-up and be the pick of the week (boring, I know). If you don't want to go with the obvious, I'd say that Cesc is your second choice (and significantly cheaper).
Best of the Rest - Andy Reid, Ballack, Rosicky, Hunt, Cahill, Milner, THud, and make sure you're monitoring Yuri Zhirkov to see how Chelsea brings him back in now that he's regaining his health. He isn't guaranteed a spot in CHE's midfield but you have to think they'll give him a shot over Malouda who hasn't done that much to justify his place this season.
Best Value Defender of the Week - Well, all of the excitement right now is about Heitinga. He's inexpensive, he's starting at a wing back position for a good team, and he has a great match-up against a team that hasn't done much scoring this season (3 goals in 6 matches). Sometimes it's just that simple.
Best Premium Defender of the Week - If money were no object at all then Glen Johnson would be the guy but if you keep in mind that you're shooting for an expected value of at least 1 fantasy point for every dollar/pound/unit spent then expecting GJohn to produce between 12 and 13 points at a minimum seems like a lot to ask even against strong opposition. I'm much more inclined to spend the money on Insua or John Terry on the chance that one or both can get to 10 points this weekend against weak opposition.
Best of the Rest - Dunne, Warnock, Hutton, Distin, Richards, Bridge, and McCartney
Best Value Goalkeeper of the Week - I know I stuck with him when I shouldn't have last weekend but Shay Given is back to being the man now that his price is lower and the opposition isn't as talented.
Best Premium Goalkeeper of the Week - Pepe Reina hasn't had much of a fantasy season thus far but hard to see Liverpool not getting the Clean Sheet for him this weekend. Compared to Cech and Friedel (who also have good match-ups but are on the road and more expensive) it seems like a pretty clear case.
Best of the Rest - Mannone (Almunia is still listed as "doubtful" on PhysioRoom.com), Cudicini, and Gordon.