With the Manchester teams continuing to dominate the standings - both real and fantasy points - we come upon the first real test of the season. Chelsea arrives at Old Trafford as the first team not already eliminated from the title race to face either high-flying Manchester side. I don't really believe that Chelsea are in the race for the championship but with the collection of raw talent on hand and the fact that we're early in the season means we can't entirely write the possibility off (like we can for Arsenal, Spurs, and Liverpool). Additionally, the memory of the United/Chelsea match at the close of last season should also be fresh in the minds of fantasy managers as there weren't that many points to be had there.
The occasion of Manchester United vs. Chelsea brings us a major dilemma. Do we assume that United will continue to plow ahead with their domination of their opponents? If we make that assumption then it is a strong move to keep the United players - DDG, Rooney, Chicharito, etc - who you may have at a discount.
The alternative is to assume that Chelsea will make things very difficult for United and regardless of the outcome, make fantasy points hard to come by. If you make that assumption the question becomes "where do I spend the money I'd been plowing into ManYoo players?"
I wish there were some statistical technique that I had unearthed to give you some hidden insight into the answer to the dilemma posed above. Sadly, I don't have anything like that handy and if I did, I'd be gambling on my inside information rather than writing about it. What I will push forward are a few thoughts:
1) United are at home and over the past four seasons they are 3-1 against Chelsea at Old Trafford (when Chelsea were arguably more talented) with two clean sheets. The last 2 matches have been 2-1 affairs with one going in each direction.
2) I like Chelsea's array of talent a lot more now with Mata, Sturridge, and Lukaku attacking, Luiz at the back, and AVB seemingly willing to tell Torres to have a seat until he starts doing his job and scoring goals. The flipside of that statement is that the roster still feels disjointed with an odd mix of fading talents (JT, Lamps, Drogs, Elk) and rising stars (the group above and maybe Ramires if you're feeling charitable about his potential and athletic skills). What Chelsea still lack is a core of exceptional players at the peak of their powers to bring together the old and the new. FloMal, Mikel, Alex, Ivanovic, and Torres (plus Essien) were supposed to be those guys and while only Torres has been abjectly horrible none of the others among the healthy of that group have been exceptional either. FloMal has had some exceptional stretches and Ivanovic has had some stretches of well-above-average-ness but that's about it. More than enough on most days but not against the United buzzsaw.
3) By contrast to the picture of Chelsea painted above, United have a great combination of young (DDG, Smalling, Jones, Anderson, Cleverly, Welbeck, the twins, and Chicharito), old (mostly just Giggs and Rio now that GNev and Scholes have retired), and exceptional players in their primes (Rooney, AY, Vidic, Nani, and Evra). When playing at home, it is going to be hard to overcome that combination.
Overall, my verdict (in the tradition of this year's version of this column) is that I'd favor United's attackers to do very well in this match-up but I'm not as bullish on their defenders and DDG being able to hold a clean sheet. Verdict: Advantage United Attackers.
With my extended United vs. Chelsea preview out of the way, here are some notes on the other notable match-ups for the coming week:
The Home Teams
Bolton vs. Norwich - Bolton are hard to figure so far in that they haven't had a test that will help us gauge where they are against a solid-but-not-great opponent. Of their first four matches, one was against a clearly over-matched QPR team and the other three were against teams clearly superior to Bolton (especially an injury-decimated Bolton) in pure talent. Norwich are certainly closer to QPR than United/City/Liverpool but where they fall on that continuum is also hard to judge this early in the season, especially now that the newly promoted teams have a few matches of experience in the Prem behind them. I suspect that Bolton will rebound with a win but that Norwich will score at least one goal. Advantage: Bolton Attackers.
Everton vs. Wigan - Fans of The Sports Guy will recognize "The Ewing Theory" as the name for the inexplicable phenomenon when a team plays better after losing their best player (to injury or that player leaving the team) because everyone else snaps out of being dependent on that player and gives more effort because they can no longer loaf and expect that player to create magic. While Arteta is hardly a "franchise" player at the same level that Patrick Ewing was for the Knicks in his prime, he was undoubtedly the team's best player over the past 4 or 5 years but things had grown stale. While much was made of Everton not having money to spend on a replacement, I'm in favor of the notion that Arteta AND the rest of the Everton squad will be re-energized by the move. I see a tight home win and clean sheet for the Toffees who will welcome struggling Wigan. Advantage: Everton Defenders.
Wolves vs. QPR - Wolves ran into the inevitable buzzsaw that is K2's first match for a new team (he's scored on his debut for Arsenal, City, and Spurs). QPR is playing better with their new additions but I don't think it is enough to overcome Wolves at home. I do see the QPR attack getting on the board but I can see Wolves scoring two or three which makes their attackers pretty attractive. Advantage: Wolves Attackers.
The Away Risks
City @ Fulham - Hard to call anything about City a risk thus far. Hopefully we've learned our lesson with spending big on away players hoping that you'll cash in on a clean sheet but it's hard to see this being anything short of a 3-1 or 4-1 match the way City are playing. That their Champions League group stage debut was at home will mean that they are not coping with extensive travel despite an intense mid-week match. Advantage: City Attackers.
Arsenal @ Rovers - Hard to come to any conclusion other than that Rovers are really pretty poor. Their opposition thus far this season (Wolves, Villa, Everton, and Fulham) has hardly been a Murderer's Row and yet they've only managed 3 goals and a solitary point and home has been even worse with 1 goal and no points accumulated. The only question is whether Arsenal's attack will start looking more like the Arsenal attack we're used to seeing as some of their suspended players (Song and Gervinho) come back into the mix with the new acquisitions. I'll call myself cautiously optimistic about Arsenal's chances to put up big fantasy points.
My apologies again to those who showed up expecting a Live Chat this past Saturday. I was expecting to at least be able to get online to post that I wouldn't be available due to my vacation travel schedule but for some reason we weren't able to get online Saturday morning while we had been on most of the week. We'll be back this weekend and hopefully you'll all be back to join in the fun.