What should we make of the Tevez saga? It is being reported on heavily because there is so much drama associated but for me, the bigger question revolves around the implications on the title race. Citeh are playing well but their attack against teams other than West Ham seems to be just enough WITH Tevez. If Tevez's heart isn't in it even a little bit, you can see those 1-0 and 2-1 wins becoming draws pretty quick. I say this even more so of Tevez than I would of most strikers because so much of his game is passion and effort as opposed to Henry or CRon-like wild displays of skill.
How will the returning Lamps do? Lest we all forget, Big Frank wasn't doing too much early in the season BEFORE he went under the knife. He only managed a TOTAL of 21 fantasy points in Chelsea's first two matches of the season. That doesn't sound bad on the surface but remember that Chelsea scored 12 goals in those two matches and Lamps was on the field for 10 of them. Not exactly the type of return you'd hope for from a premium player. Was he already carrying the injury? Who knows. I guess my point is that we'd all be wise to take a cautious approach with a 32 year old midfielder coming back from a serious injury and facing questions about his role in what is still a fairly new system for him. The upside is that his price has dropped to under 13 so we don't have to pay quite the premium we're used to to see. To complicate matters further Chelsea's schedule reads MAN, @ARS, BOL over the next three matches. In other words, tread carefully.
How "for real" are Bolton? Every year we get a team that makes it to the New Year punching significantly above their reputation if not their weight. In different years it happens at different parts of the table. Whether it is a newly promoted team hanging in the top half or a perpetual mid-table team butting up against a Champions League spot, this is hardly a new script. The usual suspects are Spurs, Everton, and Villa and with Spurs having made "the leap" last season to replace Liverpool the question becomes is this year's pretender a real one or just the product of a pretty good team that has gone on an exceptional early run? My answer is as follows - Bolton are "for real" to the extent that the league-wide parity continues into the second half. If you look at their results, they've taken exactly 1 point (the draw with ManYoo) that you wouldn't bet on them to get again in the second half (they have yet to play Chelsea). Furthermore, they actually dropped some points you'd expect even a mid-table team to pick up (Home to Fulham, Blackpool, and Birmingham should have been 5 or 6 points instead of 3). It seems likely that all of the teams ahead of Bolton will go on an exceptional run of form in the second half (that's what top teams do). On the other hand, if Bolton just does what it should in the second half of the season and doesn't lose Elmander or Coyle they seem a pretty reasonable bet to finish in the Top 6 - hard to see them cracking the Top 4 unless Tevez leaves Citeh high and dry and/or Bale/VDV have serious injury troubles in the back half of the season.
With those random thoughts out of the way, on to the Week Ahead starting with our analysis of the schedule and what it holds for fantasy managers:
Wherein we discuss those match-ups that DO hold significant value for fantasy managers and those that just LOOK like they hold value but that will bite you if you invest too heavily:
- Citeh vs. Everton - I know Everton (and Howard) were at least OK last weekend but I have to say I'm still not convinced. Eveton's reputation and those of some of the players are much more impressive than the reality this season. Even with Tevez a question, I see this as a strong match-up for Citeh.
- WBA vs. Wolves - Wolves just aren't good on the road and WBA has continued to defy expectations even with Odemwingie injured for much of the last two months. I'd guess something on the order of 3-1 to Albion. Did I mention that Wolves have 1 point and only 5 goals from their 8 road matches?
- Blackburn vs. WHU -WHU have managed 3 points from their 4 road goals which is actually pretty impressive. That said, Rovers are excellent at home with only six conceded at Ewood Park all season and WHU's efficiency seems unlikely to get them another road point this weekend.
- Liverpool vs. FUL - The third of 3 road teams without a road win that will have fantasy managers licking their chops at the possibilities. Fulham have gone WHU a bit better and collected 5 points from only six road goals while Liverpool have been strong at Anfield losing only once and conceding only 6 all season. Between Wolves, WHU, and FUL all traveling, there could be a lot of CS points out there this weekend.
- Arsenal vs. Stoke - I'm not saying that Arsenal aren't going to win but between Arsenal's mediocre home form and their traditional difficulty with physical teams, this has the look of 2-1 card-fest rather than 4-0 drubbing.
- NUFC @ Birmingham - 8th traveling to 16th can LOOK appetizing but don't be fooled by this one. Birmingham are an entirely different team, especially at the back, when they are at home. Newcastle aren't a bad road team but they definitely score less and BRM concedes less at home. Upside seems to be a 1-1 draw for NUFC with nil-nil a very likely outcome. Regardless, not that many points to be had.
- Tevez - Assuming, you know, he actually plays. If he does, he is THE guy to have.
- Torres - He's been disappointing away from Anfield but his home record is much more impressive and this weekend's opposition is anything but impressive so for this weekend, he's worth the money.
- Diouf (Mame) - Cheap, good match-up and coming off of a scoring effort. Not going to lead your line but certainly an Enabler Deluxe this weekend.
- N'Gog - Speaking of Deluxe Enablers, N'Gog has looked far more competent recently and his price is right for what could be a big day for the Reds at Anfield.
- Balotelli/Jo - Hard to know what to make of this duo or even if we'll know ahead of time which (if either) of them will partner Tevez. If we get a strong vibe then there's value to be had even in Balotelli who may be crazy but also very talented - think of him as Mido PLUS (anything could happen any given week). For a low price, that's interesting. If his price starts to edge up, he becomes MUCH less interesting.
- Agbonlahor - I don't love the match-up but it isn't horrible and his price is incredibly cheap for someone who generally returns some value for a double-digit price. Obviously, we need to know for sure that he's over his virus from last weekend but it didn't sound serious.
- MGP - He's been pretty solid for about six weeks and the match-up is a great one. The price is a bit high so if you have him, keep him. If you have the money, then buy him. If not...
- DDunn - He's managed to stay healthy for a nice little run of matches. The match-up is a great one HOWEVER this is usually when the other shoe drops for Mr. Dunn and he limps off with a hamstring issue after about 15 minutes. On paper, I love this pick. History has taught me to temper my enthusiasm. The upside is he's reasonably priced so I'll let you decide how you feel about the injury risk. If he goes 90, I think it will work out well for you.
- Brunt - His price keeps going up but he's a great bet even at the higher prices because of the match-up.
- Tchoyi - A bit up and down from a fantasy standpoint but he's rumored to be playing at forward this weekend with Odemwingie injured and the price is right. Lots of value in midfielders who cost 7 or 8 this weekend.
- Silva - He was very good last weekend and fortunately his price stayed low. Seems to be an automatic pick these days so unless something happens in the Europa Cup match, he should represent value.
- Meireles/Maxi - With Gerrard still likely out, you have two options in the LIV midfield. Meireles is the steady option (likely to get you between 6 and 9 points) and Maxi (likely to get you 3 or 15). They cost about the same and for statistics/economics geeks the expected value is about the same for both but everyone has to decide what sort of risk/reward bundle they prefer.
- Kolarov - He should be back in the line-up for Citeh and worth the money with a clean sheet a reasonable outcome at home against EVE.
- JBoat - I could have just doubled up on the previous entry and promoted both Citeh wing defenders but my only misgiving about Boateng is that he seems more likely to be rotated with Richards a viable alternative - not so many alternatives on the left.
- Skertl/Konch - Liverpool solid for a CS and they're the cheapest ways to get in on it.
- Tamas - He was really solid early in the year from a fantasy standpoint and hasn't really had a complete clunker. Given the match-up and his price, he's not a bad option if you're looking to replace someone like Coleman who isn't likely to do nearly as well this week as he did last.
- Jones - Very steady all year for Rovers and the match-up/price combination makes for good reading. Of all of these recommendations, he seems the most likely to return his value - the only downside is that he seems unlikely to blow it away.
- Robbo - The price is low (6ish) and the probability of a clean sheet is high. Pretty easy choice if you're buying new this weekend. Even more so if you still have him under 4.
- Reina - His price has dropped heavily and with a great match-up you find him on the bargain rack at 7.34. A nice alternative for people who still have Robbo scars from seasons past.
- Hart - If you have the money, he's the guy but his cost drives him to 3rd place on this list.
- Szczesny - If Fab21 remains out, he's not a bad bet but I'd place him a distant fourth to the two above.
- Carson - If you're going to get on this bandwagon at all this season, this would seem to be the time. Incredibly cheap and at home with a great match-up against a team that doesn't score much. My only hesitation is that he doesn't get many saves so without the Win/CS he doesn't hold much value. By contrast, bottom of the table Robert Green has nearly 50% more saves than Carson.