The big points once again came from mid price or even budget players like Abou Diaby, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff. It is becoming almost as important to get these budget picks as right as your premium players such is the gulf between the best and average budget picks.
Having lost ground on other managers in the past few weeks am I firmly in differentiate mode, and that will be the theme of my picks and tips over the coming weeks. I think we've hit the point in the season where it's time to 're-load' and think whether players like Darren Bent, ThomasVermaelen and Cesc Fabregas still offer the best use of your cash.
5 things we learned this week
- Stats don't lie, reputations do. My calculations showed Fulham as the 7th best clean sheet choice this week but I downgraded them based on the perception that surely playing defenders against the free-scoring champions is unwise. This is one of the key failures in fantasy football and I fell foul of it this week. It's the same phenomenon that makes people take favourites in handicapped betting - the fear of looking stupid. If you pick, say, Chelsea, to keep a clean sheet against West Ham and it goes wrong then you're unlucky, but if you pick Fulham against the Champions and they get whooped then you were foolish. For this reason we often shy away from the rational decision and opt for the safe pick. As I have said before with my GK-rotate strategy so long as you make consistent decisions each week, over the course of the season you should end up playing the right players most of the time.
- No defensive unit can be consistently relied upon. This time last year, United were in the middle of a 14 game stretch with zero goals conceded. The best run this season has been by Chelsea (5 games: weeks 10-14) with the second best the four gameweek stretches by Blackburn (weeks 13-16) and Villa (weeks 15 - current). United have not managed back-to-back clean sheets all season while Liverpool and Arsenal have managed this just once. For me, this means it is an absolute must to have 5 fit and healthy defenders on the bench so that you can rotate them each week, and possibly consider going with a 3 man backline to give you even more flexibility. I don't normally condone paying 4 points for a transfer but with the double gameweeks coming up in week 20 for Arsenal, Fulham and Stoke (all solid defences) it might be worth using an extra transfer if you have a dud sat on your bench to bring one of these boys in.
- No result is guaranteed. Although not directly impacting the fantasy side of the game, the fact that anyone can get a result against anyone (see Portsmouth v Liverpool, Everton v Chelsea and Fulham v Man United) means that more than ever you must check the stats and play the rational matchup not based on preconceptions. The extra parity we are seeing this year can help and hinder a fantasy team. It is useful in that players playing against United, Chelsea and Arsenal etc are not total write offs and decent returns can be had each week. However, on the flip side, there are no more Ronaldo's, who you can plug in and captain every week knowing that his side will drill the lesser opposition on a weekly basis. Of course this too can be seen as an opportunity in that your entire £100m can be used rather than 50% of owners cancelling out a £14m asset like Ronaldo and relying on the other 10 men to differentiate their teams.
- Chelsea are going to struggle during the African Nations (and not for the reason you think). I love Drogba and rate him as the third best player in the Premier League (behind Torres and Fabregas in case you are interested) and one of the world's premier strikers. However, an even bigger miss from now until the end of the African Nations will be Michael Essien. Consider that in the 14 games the Ghanaian has played in, Chelsea have conceded 9 goals but have shipped 5 in the games since he got injured. Perhaps more important for fantasy purposes is that in 8 of the 10 games Essien played and Chelsea won, they kept a clean sheet. It is this ability to lock out an opponent that prevents Arsenal from winning the title or being a top rate fantasy defense and without Essien I am worried Chelsea are going the same way. I still rate them highly - indeed I will still have them as my number one defense most weeks - however, I don't think Ashley Cole is now a must own and I would possibly advise against having 2 Chelsea defenders when they go away from the Bridge.
- Man City cannot be relied upon. Though clearly a ridiculous decision, the surprise by pundits of the sacking of Mark Hughes is unbelievable to me. The Telegraph nail it when they say Hughes "wasn't - and now emphatically isn't - the Abu Dhabi Group's man" and his sacking was on the cards from day one. It was clear all along that the City bosses wanted a big name to match the team of stars they want on the field each week. Anyway, from a fantasy perspective the change can hardly hurt as City players have been inconsistent at best (Bellamy, Tevez and Wright Phillips) and massive underachievers at worst (Adebayor, Barry and the whole defense). Santa Cruz got two on the weekend but he would surely hold more power under Hughes than Mancini due to his ties from Blackburn so who knows who will be favoured under the new regime. I will stay away from City for now but keep the likes of Adebayor in mind as someone that might help you out if he can be motivated in the right way in the future.
Stay tuned for the clean sheet analysis and why not post your thoughts below or @plfantasy in the mean time. As always, thanks for reading . . .