This is going to come in pieces and I apologize for the delay. The Arsenal/Chelsea wrap-up alone has taken me more than an hour to write. I hope the time translates to quality, though I'm afraid it doesn't.
Regardless, our look back at the week that was - and who did and did not make the Manager's fantasy team - and our attempt to use that to inform future choices... after the jump.
Arsenal 0 - 3 Chelsea
I'll be disappointed by anything less than another 20pts from the Ivorian.And I was not disappointed. Save for an early booking - and the infuriating habit of going down as if shot at the slightest bit of contact - Drogba was back to his best this week. As a fantasy manager, it was great to see him back and to justify the faith in him after all of the news, innuendo and rumour around his rib injury. And for the 6% of fantasy managers who sold him over the last two weeks... consider this an open thread for venting.
While Drogs was back sooner than expected, it looks like Robin van Persie will be out for months rather than weeks as was originally reported. It is hard to judge how the Gunners are coping with the loss. Chelsea are such a better defence than Sunderland that it's hard to see progress. Home to Stoke will be the real test. It's a must-win game. Eduardo simply has to convert his chances into goals and the likes of Arshavin and Fabregas will have to be the creators of said opportunities.
They'll have to convert because the can't trust their defence any longer. Since he came back for the Spurs match, Almunia has made six saves and allowed five goals. The problem is that other than the Spurs the match (4 saves, 0 allowed) he has let in a goal more than the saves he's made (1, 1, and 3) since and has been deep in the red for the last two weeks. As a consequence he's a cheap option now, but is he any more attractive than PRobbo at this point? Well, maybe by virtue of the opposition but it will take a brave fantasy manager to back him against Stoke who are masters of the 1 shot, 1 goal win or tie.
Due to this defensive fragility, there has been a lot of talk - and 3% of fantasy managers taking action - about selling Vermaelan. I wouldn't recommend it if you have him at 6. Who can you get for that price with half or even one-third of his points? I would hope that this match was a nadir for Verm but considering the limited value of defenders this season - and their relatively dear price tags - it's a spot just left alone.
On the other hand, while I'm not backing any Arsenal players this weekend, it will surely be fun to watch them. And if they happen to come down in price a bit ahead of a reasonable December... well, that would be nice too.Yes, and now it will just take a bit of faith and bravery to get in on Arsenal players.
But back to Chelsea before we move on... they are sure point getters (Drogs and Lamps in attack; Cech and any of the defenders) but there is no value there. Joe Cole is the cheapest player that would be likely for minutes and fantasy points, but he's so hit or miss with a relatively low ceiling (2 pts or 12) that it hardly seems a bargain. Chelsea will be worth looking at when they have an easy January schedule and replacement players playing major minutes.
Everton 0 - 2 Liverpool
Two households, both alike in dignity,That's good stuff. I wish I'd written it on Friday.
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
This latest edition of the Merseyside derby matched two teams alike in disarray. But perhaps lumping their troubles together is unfair. Yes, they are both on bad runs of form and both are missing key players. But save for Torres, Babel, and to some degree Aquilani, Liverpool are almost back to full strength. And while they've dropped out of the Champions League, they are in the Europa League and just two points off 4th place and it's qualification for next year's CL. Meanwhile Everton are themselves still in the Europa League but domestically they are two places, and just three points, above the relegation zone. And their injury list still reads Jagielka, Arteta, Osman, Neville, Anichebe, Vaughan and now Yobo. And while Liverpool were perhaps lucky to win the game 2-0, they will have gained some self-belief whereas Everton continue to look for answers.
For fantasy purposes, Liverpool interest me more than Everton going forward. They've both been terrible, yes. But Liverpool have played a tougher schedule over October/November and Everton's December includes two Europa League ties, so they only have 5 matches to Liverpool's 6. And those five include Spurs, @Chelsea, Birmingham City, @Sunderland and home to Burnley. Liverpool have a meaningless (for them) match against Fiorentina, then play @Blackburn, Arsenal, Wigan, @Portsmouth, Wolves, and @Villa. I don't know that I'd trade matchups in any of those weeks save for the final one.
As for individual players, I was able to get Reina into my team before his price went up. 8.27 isn't cheap for a keeper this season, but I'm hopeful that Liverpool can go on a run now. Pending Torres' health, N'Gog is still a decent bet at 7.05 and Aquilani is still out there at 5.31 having just made the one sub appearance against Birmingham.
For Everton, everyone's favorite unpronounceable Russian winger is back and he could have scored against Liverpool. If you held on to him you're a happy fantasy manager now that he's back. If you are looking to him now, he's no longer a cheap option at 9.12 but you could do worse with the money. It was a surprise to see Jo in the lineup, but if that becomes a trend he's available at 7.08. However, there are three strikers now - Jo, Saha and Yakubu - fighting for one spot.
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 - 1 Birmingham City
Another match-winning goal from Lee Bowyer. Another clean sheet for the City defence. Another disappointing outing for Wolves.
Bowyer is flourishing in an attacking role behind Birmingham's two strikers. All the credit in the world has to go to McLeish for first putting together a solid defence, and then allowing his team to play a little bit of football on top of that solid foundation. Unfortunately for fantasy managers, Birmingham player's values have risen with their performances. You won't get a defender for less than 7.77 (Carr) and Bowyer himself is now over 11. The value could be at forward with CJerome (7.35) and CBenitez (6.65) but they haven't done anything of note yet. However, with a December run of @Wigan, West Ham United, Blackburn Rovers, @Everton, Chelsea and @Stoke they might be worth a gamble for a few weeks... say if you've sold Drogba at 10 and change and are looking for options.
The wheels are starting to come off for Wolves and this weekend's match at home to Bolton looks a six-pointer. They needed to get points on the board before now because after Bolton they play @Spurs, @Manchester United, Burnley, @Liverpool and Manchester City to finish off the year. Not that we bet on or against Bolton (unless we do) but Doyle, Jarvis and Stearman might be good bets this weekend. Just be sure you get shot of them quickly.
Aston Villa 1 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
Of course, Wolves players look a lot less attractive when you realize that you could have Villa players this week as they host Hull. More on Hull in a moment.
This is taking days too long. Time to crank it out... bullet-point style!
- Villa face Hull before then playing most of the top teams. Get in on them now, but get shot quickly.
- Downing back and doing the business
- Milner, Carew and Young Luke are affordable options. Can't argue with Gabby (if you can't afford Rooney, say), or Ashley Young. Friedel is a bit of a gamble as Hull have been doing better and Villa can be brittle.
- Sunderland continue to suck on the road while Wigan are reasonable bets at home. And Sunderland are @Fulham this week. Wigan host Birmingham.
- Rodallega continues his fine season even as a nominal left-sided attacker. He's taking kicks (albeit pretty poorly) and getting goals. At least at home.
- Is there a more anonymous striker in the league than Jason Scotland? Of the eight strikers in the game who have played 14 matches, Scotland is the only one without a goal and ties with Robbie Blake, who is really a midfielder) for a low of six shots on target.
- Speaking of anonymous... N'Zogbia? Gomez? It's so bad that Scharner is now an attacking middie. At least he's getting the goals!
- "[T]his is the other match in which I'm looking for goals." And I wasn't dissappointed. Points from CCole and Collison. Big day for Stanislas who is taking kicks. Wither Mark Noble?
- Alexander was MIA and was taken off as he got increasingly close to a yellow card.
- Eagles is getting a run in the team and is looking dangerous. Burnley are at Pompey next and there could again be goals from both sides.
- West Ham host ManU this week (so look to pick up your Red Devils) but then are @Birmingham, @Bolton, Chelsea, Portsmouth, @Spurs. I may keep Collison, but I'm starting to lean towards selling him. Maybe for O'Hara...
- ... who was taking kicks again for Pompey. KPB gets the PK, but how many games in a row can that continue? He did take some late, long-range shots as well. He's probably a good bet this week against Burnley but so will be O'Hara.
- I had more faith in Pompey than this and so didn't pick Giggs. Rooney was always too rich for me. But facing WHU next you better believe that I've got them on my team for this week.
- Another dissappointment for Citeh and another precious point for Hull. Bullard gets an "Alexander" - what I'm calling a player who gets PKs in consecutive matches - but he's not cleaning up the points otherwise. His return seems to have reinvigorated Hunt, however.
- Citeh start Robinho over Bellamy, which kills my fantasy team. However Robinho didn't do jack s#*t between October and March last year and that trend continues.
- Citeh defence too fragile for Given to be a good play. Shame as they started so well, but I guess his PK save against Birmingham was a warning. A high point, rather than the start of a trend.
- Hull's schedule gets tougher now - @Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers (ok, so that's not tough), @Arsenal, Manchester United, @Bolton, Chelsea, @Spurs, @Manchester United. You may feel free to bet against them again now.
- Duff does the business where Dempsey (the more popular pick, and on my team) doesn't.
- Bolton have a nice run of games coming up - @Wolves, Manchester City, West Ham, @Wigan, @Burnley, Hull - and they'll need to take points from these games to save their season and Megson's job. MTay anyone?
- AJ may be out for Fulham for a while. And where is Murphy? Baird continues to be a nice pick in his absence, but he's got to be getting close to a return.
- Dunn limps out of this one with a calf injury, thus ending my interest in the match (not really). He's a doubt for this weekend. Shame to lose a player in that kind of form - for Rovers and for fantasy managers - but there are close options at his price for us at least.
- PRobbo keeps a clean sheet and makes me very, very happy. In fairness to him, he hasn't had a negative week all season. Which this year is really a positive for a keeper. But Rovers host Liverpool this week and you just know PRobbo will burn you at some point. Right? He always does, doesn't he? But damn, he's an attractive option at 4.70.
- Stoke travel to Arsenal next. They can hope to get a point by shutting down the Gunners but they need to be more dangerous themselves before anyone but Sorenson is relevant in fantasy.