Friday, August 31, 2012

Gameweek Three Preview



We are still limited to subjective views on the captain picks for the week as stats for this season are too few while stats for last season are outdated for most players. Rather than arbitrarily focus on just one of two players, I've added some rough notes for all the main contenders below, including an overall summary of where my thinking is leading me for the week.

In terms of playing the fixture, it's City players - by a distance - who look like the best targets and with Aguero sidelined it has become a little easier to focus our attention on the key men:

Carlos Tevez . . . all but guaranteed the start with Aguero sidelines . . . looks fit and healthy and has earned the praise of Mancini over the past couple of weeks; doubts regarding his place in this squad are probably over . . . 2 goals in 2 games so far this season . . . (comparatively) budget price tag means Rooney or Aguero owners can bring him in and free up cash to use elsewhere (most likely on one of the number of emerging star midfielders) . . . 8 shots, 4 on target give him rates which should allow for sustainable success going forward.

David Silva . . . looked okay against Southampton but missed penalty which gave him 0 points for the week . . . unlikely to get another chance from the spot with Balotelli, Tevez et al around . . . rested last week so is highly likely to retake his place in the team . . . 4 chances created and 4 shots in just 90 minutes equals or exceeds all other elite midfielders on a per minute basis.

Yaya Toure . . . not as flashy as his teammates, but consistently delivers returns, particularly when allowed to push upfield . . . De Jong could be leaving the club which could indicate that Yaya will be stuck in a deeper role more often (though this is partly offset by the arrival of Rodwell) . . . has the manager's faith to help the team when needing a goal late, as oppose to players like Silva/Nasri who are often subbed like-for-like . . . 7 chances created leads all City players to date

Samir Nasri . . . looked much better this year than last . . . at risk of being rotated if Mancini brings in another forward like Balotelli for the home fixture (possible) . . . threat from set pieces has been significant already this year . . . 5 chances created and 4 shots only just exceeds Silva's totals but in almost double the minutes his price tag is still an issue.

After City, it's local rivals United and Spurs who look well positioned for success this week. These two teams are convenient to discuss together given the question marks raised after a number of their players' roles over the past couple of weeks:

Robin van Persie . . . more valuable now that Rooney is injured in that van Persie will now be sure to play up top and won't be eased into the team slowly . . . could assume penalty duties, particularly in Rooney's absence . . . only manager 1 shot this past week, but took it beautifully . . . sustained success in the short term will mean him gelling into the side quickly . . . tough to justify his price tag over, say, Tevez, but still has the potential to lead the league in points.

Shinji Kagawa . . . Ferguson has raved about him so far, also indicating he believes Kagawa can pickup double digit goals from midfield . . . Rooney's absence for a couple of weeks not only solidifies Kagawa's place now, but also gives him more time to impress and lock down future minutes in that lucrative role . . . 5 chances created and 4 shots in 160 minutes are solid totals which still have room to grow as he settles in.

Antonio Valencia . . . better player than fantasy option . . . potential to be deployed at right back has declined with Rafael looking decent last week and Young now sidelined for a couple of weeks . . . 14 crosses and 3 created chances this past week while playing in midfield are very encouraging . . . with the other injuries in the side Valencia looks like a safe bet to take a more advanced role and this could be the best chance in a while to get on the bandwagon early.

Emmanuel Adebayor . . . should be an asset at some point this season as he is one of a handful of players who in the right situation can simply be played every week without fear of being totally shut down by the better teams . . . Defoe seems to be an afterthought and thus regular minutes seem assured once he gets his fitness (this week is probably too soon to bank on that).

Gareth Bale . . . started quietly in terms of returns but his underlying stats still look good . . . 13 crosses, 6 chances created and 7 shots all tell the tale of a player very much involved in the team's offence again . . . addition of Adebayor, Dembele and possibly Moutinho will add some much needed edge to this team without stealing minutes from Bale so his place in the side looks stronger than ever . . . great fixtures coming up, starting this week, makes Bale a perfect buy option for those looking to ditch a benched Chelsea player or stuttering starter.

We also have the players whose team may not come with the almost inevitable goals you get with one of the big sides in the league, but individually they account for a large enough percentage of their team's success to warrant consideration here.

Demba Ba / Papiss Cisse . . . based on prior year data the fixture this week is good, but based on what we've seen to date from Villa, the fixture could be excellent . . . not too much to split between this pair hence why Ba looks to be much better value . . . 6 (3 on target) shots for Ba and 4(1) for Cisse backup this point so far . . . at just 7.6m Ba can be a very good second striker or an amazing third front man and should be a strong buy candidate for anyone needing to free up cash and currently stuck with one of the pricier but less effective forwards

Hatem Ben Arfa . . . not great stats so far from Ben Arfa with just 2 chances created and 3(1) shots . . . 18 touches in the final third is also a concern, as is his average position, which is about as deeper as it ever was last season . . . Spurs have played two tough games thus far though with the fixtures very much opening up from here on . . . still represents a risk at this point if we're talking about captain duty though.

Michu . . . great success so far, looking sharp in front of goal, adding a level of composure rarely seen at his position . . . some caveats to be found in his underlying stats with 24 final third touches and just 3 shots on target (all hitting the back of the net) suggesting his that not only is his current level of production unsustainable, but the fall may be sharp unless he can get a bit more involved . . . 26% ownership makes him tricky to deal with as every goal leaves you further behind the pack, but grabbing him essentially wipes out one spot of 7m from your team as you just break even with everyone else . . . underlying stats don't put me off owning him (indeed I liked him in the preseason) but captain status is a bridge too far for now.

Finally, we have the elite names whose fixture isn't overly kind for the week. If you want to 'play the fixture' stay away, if you believe in form and class trumping everything, dig a little deeper:

Santi Cazorla . . . hasn't made the splash in the headlines like Hazard but the process has been just as impressive with only the end product differing (largely due to more clinical finishing from Torres) . . . underlying stats are off the charts with 10(3) shots and 9 chances created both leading all midfielders . . . very safe option in terms of minutes with few legit options to take regular minutes away from him . . . if you believe anyone in this Arsenal team will finish chances, Cazorla has Fabregas like potential yet is still relatively unfancied (8% ownership) . . . Liverpool still represents a fairly tough game and we may not have seen Arsenal play well enough to start captaining the Spaniard

Luis Suarez . . . one of the players who consistently messes up any shots per goal formulae, generally, as they say, buying plenty of lottery tickets to try and win the prize (league leading 13 shots already this term) . . . better finisher than people credit him with, though it must be accepted that output is going to be erratic . . . Liverpool have looked better in possession and should only improve as Rodgers' system is embedded . . . genuine threat from set pieces is a plus over many of his rivals . . . tough and price tag still make him tough to own and/or captain.

Final thoughts
Regular readers will know I skew conservative with many decisions, including the awarding of my weekly armband. Players like Michu and Adebayor can help separate you from the pack but your 'wins' are generally remembered (and retold) more than the more numerous losses and thus I tend to prefer the more boring but reliable picks from the elite players in the league. If you believe in the data even a little, City make an irresistible play this week and that will likely lead to Tevez and his 39% ownership earning the captain's nod most often this week. Silva is also a very strong option for me and having had the week off last week is probably a touch safer to start here (Balotelli and Dzeko are still lurking in the wings remember).

If you're scared of Mancini's penchant for rotation, or don't own any City players, the bridesmaids for the week are Bale and Kagawa, both all but locked into very good sides who enjoy good fixtures. They probably lack the upside of Tevez and Silva but they also bring a touch more security so make nice options for those with an aversion to those in sky-blue.

I've been promising a reader question column for two weeks now, but I assure you one is due this afternoon (eastern time) so fire the questions/comments below or @plfantasy and I'll get to them all before this week's deadline.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pressing the rest button: part II - cutting ties

Yesterday I gave a couple of big name players who have received negative attention during the opening couple of weeks, but who I feel have a good chance to rebound almost immediately. I intended for the list to be much longer but quickly ran out of names. The same problem does not occur here. Below are some players who I have lost, or never had, faith in and who, for me at least, should be considered for sale now. The priority with which you make the moves will depend on how many other issues you have (ie sell your injured/benched players before someone who is occupying an overly defensive position) but in all cases I believe the below list of players to be held by too many managers:

Juan Mata - There is obviously a huge difference between scouting players for fantasy purposes and for real life. I'll often give a snap opinion about a player on Twitter after just a couple of games (as anyone who has seen my swooning for Hazard will attest) but would not dream of suggesting that Hazard is already a world class player. To reach that pantheon he needs sustained excellence. To be an elite fantasy player though, he needs to just do what he's doing, providing his teammates don't regress too far with the amount of chances they are converting.

Mata is the main loser in the rise of Hazard. He's a very very good player, possibly better than Hazard still, but his deployment has simply been too deep to be an effective fantasy asset. His position is more akin to the Yayas and Modrics of the world, neither of who attracted huge fantasy attention at 8.0m until recently, never mind 9.0m+. I like to describe these players as having a tendency to 'assist the assist' (entries for a better nickname are welcomed) and Mata is so far the poster child for this unfortunate group. The fact he is fairly entrenched in the side (though Di Matteo did suggest he would be rotated) means the priority to sell isn't as immediate as, say, Sergio Aguero, but with the off week this week, I'd suggest the majority of teams who own Mata will want to consider moving on.

Ramires - Mistake number two with regards to Chelsea came with my suspect decision to value Ramires' minutes in the opening double gameweek over Michu's advanced role. Long story short, Ramires is not locked into this team anymore with suposed bit part players like Ryan Bertrand apparently ahead of him in the pecking order. Throw in Oscar and Marin who are yet to settle into the side, and you have a player who could unfortunately find himself surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge. His upside was never great but represented a decent, reliable player in a good team, but alas, no more. Sell.

Rio Ferdinand - I'm not necessarily saying that Ferdinand is done as a player altogether but he is old, rarely fit and blew his chance to reestablish himself alongside Vidic before Evans, Jones and Smalling return from injury. At this stage I'd prefer to take a flyer on Rafael than Ferdinand, but the prudent move is probably to either stick with de Gea or abandon this United unit until we can be sure who will play where.

Gael Clichy / Aleksandar Kolarov - This was always likely to be a tricky situation and nothing has happened to suggest we are any closer to a clear solution. Give up trying to guess and just grab Zabaleta until Richards comes back, at which point we'll need to reevaluate again.

Joe Allen - I loved the idea of Joe Allen at Liverpool in the preseason, suggesting his price tag made him just too tempting to pass on. I thought that rather than forming a pivot with Lucas - where one would defend and one be allowed to push on - Allen would permanently occupy that middle spot occupied by the likes of Yaya or Modric. Alas, against City his average position was actually deeper than Glen Johnson (playing right back) and his 1 chance created and 1 shot (0 on target) in 2 games add further weight to the case against Allen. I wouldn't say it's a priority to move him as players in his role have had success before (Song last season) but in a team which doesn't look likely to score a hatful of goals, I just don't see him being involved enough to ever be more than a good sub, which can be found for less money than 5.5m

Scott Sinclair - Not much to add here other than that he might be worth watching in 18 months as he tries to force a move from City to Sunderland. Good player but not good enough to get enough minutes at City to be fantasy relevant, particularly given the fact he doesn't even appear to fit the system very well. A puzzling move for him.

Victor Moses - Similar story here as I just don't see him generating enough minutes to be relevant. I hope I'm proven wrong on this one (and Sinclair) but I wouldn't go near either for now.

Rafael van der Vaart - Whether he stays or goes I don't see how Van der Vaart can be relied upon for fantasy production this year. I like the Dutchman a lot and would liken him somewhat to Berbatov, whose weaknesses are easy to identify and the first to be attacked when things go wrong. That's all somewhat irrelevant though as - like Berbatov - he seems to be slowly being forced out, with Sigurdsson and now Dembele brought in to compete for minutes (not to mention other arrivals like Willian). I'm not enamoured with Sigurdsson's prospects for the price either but I'm willing to give him time where as Van der Vaart's looks to have already run out.

Antonio Valencia / Nani / Ashley Young - I've not lost all hope in this group just yet, but if I owned any of them and was planning to use my wildcard, I'd move on. I'd rank them Valencia-Nani-Young in terms of minutes played, but with Valencia liable to (a) play at the back and (b) play against the better sides, his fantasy value also takes a hit.

There are obviously other players who I would personally not wish to own, but the above are just a sampling of the 'bigger names' and more widely owned options I've lost faith in.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pressing the reset button part I: who to keep faith with

I could open here with an inspirational quote about experience simply being the name we give our mistakes, or that the Chinese symbol for crisis incorporates the brush stroke symbolizing opportunity. However, I'm neither (a) smart enough or (b) in a perky enough mood to do so. The deployment of my wildcard in gameweek 3 is not me seizing an opportunity, it is full blown damage limitation in what has been a disaster of a season to date.

I normally scribe a few random thoughts on wildcard usage as we approach the double digit gameweeks but seeing as I'm going through the thought process as we speak, I may as well add my rambling thoughts to the pages of the interweb for all to see (and based on the success of my preseason selection, ignore).

Scouting your own team: who to dump and who to keep
The exciting part of playing your wildcard is deciding who you want to bring in. Most likely you will have a couple of names in mind because they've impressed to date, have great fixtures coming up, come at a low price etc. We'll get to these in the next post but before we do, it's equally important to consider which of your current players to keep.

It's tempting to simply massacre the whole side, particularly in situations like this when you are on the back foot and playing catch up rather than deploying your wildcard at will in the later weeks of the season. The problem with that thinking is that it can cloud your judgement and lead to the same ill advised decisions which put you in this mess. Below are a couple of players, in no particular order who have seen a fall in price over the opening weeks or have generally been shunned but yet still have good prospects to bounce back:

David Silva - we all know how much I love Silva so his inclusion here isn't a huge surprise, but consider some facts. His chances created per minute top all of the top midfielders other than Cazorla while his 28 touches in the final third in just 91 minutes is tops in the whole league, adjusted for playing time. 4 shots (1 on target) isn't anything to salivate over, but again, on a per minute basis he would still compare favourably to his peers. We can't simply ignore playing time and I do fear that over the season Mancini is going to continue to frustrate, but given the fact that City looked fairly blunt without him against Liverpool, you have to think Silva will be locked into the team for the next few starts. I don't believe that contract negotiations are having an impact and believe this is purely a case of small sample sizes. With Hazard off this week and City facing QPR at home, he's staying on my own team for now.

Gareth Bale - With Spurs stuttering in the first couple of games it's easy to sleep on Bale but he's quietly continued where he left off last year, aside from the final product. His 7 shots place him 5th among all midfielders while his touches in the box ranks 4th. Throw in his 6 chances created (ranked 6th) and 13 crosses (4th) and you have the complete offensive arsenal he brought last year, just with no end product as yet. The reintroduction of Adebayor should help and though the Spurs midfield is somewhat congested, Bale looks to have the surest guarantee among pretty much all the elite midfielders in terms of playing time. Finally, the fixtures look simply irresistible with NOR, @RDG, QPR in the next three plus AVL, @SOU and WIG also due up over the next eight gameweeks. Bale is a buy option right now and his owners will surely be rewarded for a bit of loyalty.

Lukas Podolski - those first two players were no brainers for me but Podolski is less clear cut. Anecdotally I think he's looked good in the opening two games, which is significant as he was deployed in both roles he will occupy this year so we don't need to be overly concerned about who he lines up alongside. The stats however aren't encouraging with just 4 shots, none of which have forced a save from the goalie. Now, though I don't say it enough, stats don't tell the whole story and scouting with your eyes is also important, but however good a player looks, if he doesn't take shots, he doesn't score. Arsenal's fixtures are a mixed bag over the coming weeks which makes Podolski a risk to the point that if you own him and not Tevez you're probably making that move. If however, you own both, the German has shown just enough to stick around and thus he might earn a reprieve for a couple more weeks.

Kevin Nolan (et al) - He doesn't come with the excitement of a Michu but Nolan is who we thought he was: a decent player who gets into good positions and finishes with confidence and composure. The point here isn't so much about Nolan in particular (though I do like the former Bolton man), but more that the grass isn't always greener. Change for change's sake is not advised after just a couple of games and players in that mid-range category need to be given some time, providing their underlying stats are reasonable. It's rarely the best use of your transfers to keep switching between these mid-level options unless a true star emerges (we'll see how Michu goes over the next 4 or 5 weeks) so Nolan (or Walters, Larsson, Dembele etc) owners should think carefully before just assuming the other guy is better than the incumbent.

City defenders - Four goals in two games is obviously a somewhat disastrous start for a defense whose parts cost anywhere between 6.0-7.5m. Last season there was a correlation of 85% between shots surrendered inside the box and overall goals conceded. Four of the league's top five defenses in terms of clean sheets ranked atop the shot inside the box rankings with Newcastle being the only exception to the rule. This year City have given up just 12 shots in the box, good for a third place ranking behind Arsenal and Newcastle (who have ironically done much better in this category with much less fantasy success, seemingly doing so just to make me need to qualify every sentence I write in this pararaph).

In short, I have no doubt City will be just fine, with Mancini obviously targeting a tightening at the back, and hopefully a move away from the three-at-the-back formation which hasn't impressed over the past month or so. The only goal they've conceded this year which is slightly concerning is Southampton's second which City were slow to cover but the others either came from set pieces (which should be addressed in training and have never been a particular issue in the past) and one from a series of odd deflections.

The question remains as to which City players are safe to target but with Richards still out for a month and Kolo Toure highlighting his weaknesses this past week once again, you have to think that Kompany, Lescott and Zabaleta are as safe as most elite options for the foreseeable future. I'd be happy owning any of the trio but if playing your wildcard it appears to make sense to roll the dice with Zabaleta, so long as you accept that he will inevitably be rotated at some point soon (is anyone immune?)

Anyone else have any players off to a slow start we should still believe in? Post them below or send them to @plfantasy and I'll discuss them in tomorrow's post on which players I'm ready to give up on already (or at least sell).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lineup Lessons: Gameweek 2

Arsenal
Mannone, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Diaby, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud, Gervinho.
Subs: Martinez, Andre Santos, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Djourou, Coquelin.

Just the two changes here with Mannone replacing the injured Sczcesny and Giroud getting the start up top with Podolski shifting out wide, forcing Walcott to the bench. I don't particularly care for the "Arsenal play too much football with no cutting edge" narrative as I'd suggest it's more often a case of simply not having the depth in quality as the likes of City and United and the 'overplaying' critique is a convenient rationale. That said, in two games this season it has been their final chance conversion which has let them down, though again, I'd say that's a more an issue of comparing Gervinho and Giroud to Aguero or Rooney rather than a philosophical issue with Wenger's system.

Giroud looked okay, but didn't do much to encourage anyone he's going to replace van Persie, though he did look better in the final 20 minutes when playing with more natural width in Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain. I liked Podoloski a lot heading into the season and having now seen him operate both up top and wide on the left, I'm comfortable keeping a 'buy' tag on the German. The basic stats tell of a disappointing 2 shot (1 on target) day but he received plenty of touches in the final third (25) and his 3 dribbles echo a player whose direct runs could help this team out of trouble at some point this season.

Cazorla once again was probably Arsenal's best player, racking up 6 shots (2 on target) and dominating possession with 102 touches, 77 in the Stoke half and 50 in the final third. The elite midfield group is looking very good at the top end, led by three new arrivals in Hazard, Cazorla and Kagawa. Arsenal haven't looked as dynamic as Chelsea or United to date but so long as you have faith that this unit will start scoring, Cazorla looks nicely placed to dictate the flow of fantasy points and should be carefully considered before assuming Hazard is the only option.

Aston Villa
Given, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Clark, N'Zogbia, Herd, El Ahmadi, Bannan, Delfouneso, Bent
Subs: Guzan, Ireland, Holman, Delph, Weimann, Lichaj, Burke.

Herd, Bannan and Delfouneso came in here with Holman, Delph and Ireland making way. I didn't have the misfortune of watching this one but 61% Everton possession along with 22 shots to Villa's 9 suggest the changes didn't exactly have the intended consequences. This is not an impressive side with even the previously reliable Bent struggling to get involved (4 shots, 0 on target in 180 minutes). El Ahmadi has registered a handful of shots and created some chances which wouldn't be too notable if it weren't for his price tag of 4.5m. Along with Reading's Danny Guthrie I see him as the pick of the minimum price options and could therefore have some use a 5th midfielder.

Chelsea
Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole, Mikel, Meireles, Bertrand, Hazard, Mata, Torres
Subs: Turnbull, Essien, Romeu, Ramires, Lampard, Oscar, Sturridge

Chelsea have been the source of fantasy nightmares for me so far this season, first with my apparently foolish decision to ditch Hazard for Mata at the last minute and now with my equally foolhardy decision to grab Ramires over Michu to take advantage of the double gameweek and his 'all-but-guaranteed' place in Di Matteo's lineup. I can only assume the Chelsea boss is almost exclusively motivated by a desire to troll the hell out of me.

Having started at the same price, Hazard is now worth 0.5m more than Mata and that gap will surely widen by at least 0.2m or so over the coming gameweeks. I've been mightily impressed with Hazard so far, but moving Mata for the Belgian now doesn't make sense given Chelsea's lack of Gameweek 3 fixture, even if delaying costs you ~0.2m. Make a move now to free up sufficient cash so that you have around 10.0m spare to ditch Mata for Hazard in GW4 if you so desire.

We haven't seen much of Oscar or Sturridge yet this year so further rotation could be due in the future but in standard weeks the majority of this side looks fairly settled.

Everton
Howard, Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Osman, Pienaar, Gibson, Naismith, Jelavic, Fellaini
Subs: Mucha, Heitinga, Mirallas, Gueye, Barkley, Coleman, Anichebe.

A slightly more attacking lineup here from David Moyes, with Neville shifting to right back and Naismith getting the start in a surprisingly offensive midfield. Fellaini wasn't deployed quite as far forward as in gameweek one, with Naismith and Pienaar providing more options from out wide, but he was of course on the score sheet once again and did manage to get 3 shots away (1 on target). At 6.7m he is still a touch pricey for a player who lacks much in the way of proven fantasy success nor a prolific scoring record elsewhere but he very much ticks the 'opportunity' requirement and could easily make a run as this year's Jon Walters.

Everton only gave up two shots on target, both from midfield, making it two decent defensive displays to open the season. Jagielka, Distin and Baines all appear to be fairly safe here, though the presence of Heitinga still makes me somewhat nervous about reccomending Distin too strongly. The other two though are pretty expensive and come at the same price as solid options from the league's (supposed) best defensive sides.

Fulham
Schwarzer, Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Briggs, Duff, Diarra, Dembele, Kacaniklic, Ruiz, Petric.
Subs: Stockdale, Kelly, Baird, Sidwell, Kasami, Rodallega, Halliche.

A decent display here from Fulham, who ceded plenty of possession and chances to United (as many a team will do this year) but also gave them some trouble at the back with a good attacking gameplan. They were extremely efficient when in possession, with the five midfielders completing 94% of their passes including every single one in the final third of the field. I was perhaps a little harsh last week suggesting Fulham might find it hard to score too many goals, as I failed to give enough credit to Dembele who reminded everyone this week why some of the biggest teams around could be interested in his talents. His completion rate (49/50), chances created (3), touches in the final third (12) and shots on target (2/2) all told the tale of a player more than capable of driving a team onto success, even against one of the league's best teams. Providing he stays at Craven Cottage I like him quite a lot this year.

The defense seems to be what it has been for some years now - reliable in the easier fixtures but not quite good enough to start every week. That fact makes me hesitant to pay 5.0m for Hangeland, instead favouring Hughes, though as we noted last week, the return of Senderos could potentially cloud Hughes' security.

Liverpool
Reina, Kelly, Skrtel, Coates, Johnson, Lucas, Allen, Borini, Gerrard, Sterling, Suarez
Subs: Jones, Jose Enrique, Carroll, Henderson, Downing, Carragher, Shelvey.

Raheem Sterling got a surprising start on in the front three here, and impressed both his manager and this humble blogger. I don't think anyone is convinced that Downing is a long term answer for a side with greater ambitions than mediocrity, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Rogers try a few different names here as he puts his stamp on this side. At 4.5m Sterling would obviously be very intriguing if he were to lock down a first team place, but despite Rogers' praise, I don't think we're there yet. He is one to keep an eye on though.

Another player to receive praise from Rodgers was Joe Allen, though from a fantasy perspective the news is less cheerful. With Lucas limping out of the game, Allen dropped even deeper than last week, completing just 3 passes in the opponents third. This doesn't preclude assist altogether as Liverpool do sometimes try and spring the offside trap but Allen's 0 through balls and 1 chance created suggest he wouldn't be the man to benefit there either. There was much excitement over the prospect of getting a budget player plugged into a pretty good lineup but in reality Allen is really only comparable to the Cleverly/Barry/Scholes group, none of whom provide much upside for their price tags. I'm not suggesting it's a priority to dump him given the lack of great options in his price range, but if you're sat on cash and a free transfer, you should consider just what it is you expect from the former Swansea man, then maybe move him on for one of his former teammates (Dyer or Michu).

Man City
Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Toure, Kolarov, Toure, De Jong, Milner, Tevez, Nasri, Balotelli
Subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Dzeko, Savic, Rodwell, Silva, Razak.

Just as we all suspected: Kolo Toure is getting minutes ahead of Joleon Lescott. Luckily for Lescott owners, they didn't miss much as City looked somewhat vulnerable at the back and failed to notch their first clean sheet of the season. With Richards injured, Zabaleta actually looks like the safest option after Kompany, though after a game off here (and a so-so display from Toure) I'd be surprised to see Lescott on the bench again next week.

Up front I was amazed to see Silva benched, and then kept there until late in the game with Nasri being extremely disappointing in this one. I understand that Mancini needs to rotate his team to keep players fit and massage egos but this team to me looked like one which was setup to keep things tight and hope for some magic from Tevez or Balotelli, but was largely found wanting in both areas. If City are to advance further in the Champions League this year I fear this kind of lineup will be more commonplace as the season wears on, which could make it tricky to select who to back in our lineups.

The two goal scorers here probably give us some clues as while neither had an ideal game - just two shots, one on target for Tevez while Yaya was forced to play in a deeper role until Rodwell was introduced - both showed that they among the best in the league at converting their limited opportunities into goals. Indeed, without the threat of Aguero, one can make an argument that Tevez is a good a front option as anyone, despite being 2.5m-3.0m less than his cross-city rivals at United. Yaya meanwhile is often overlooked as a fantasy star (by me included) but whenever he is allowed a more offensive, he always seems to capitalise. My issue remains that he is rarely given such a role but I'd be willing to be proven wrong here is Yaya can continue to get his chances.

Man Utd
De Gea, Da Silva, Carrick, Vidic, Evra, Cleverley, Anderson, Valencia, Kagawa, Young, van Persie.
Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Rooney, Giggs, Hernandez, Welbeck, Scholes.

At times United looked very dangerous going forward with Kagawa standing out with a promising combination of pace, intelligence of precise passing. He lead the midfield unit in shots (4, 2 on target) along with a decent amount of possession in the final third (19 successful passes, 35 touches). Given that he's also the cheapest of the potentially elite options for United, coming at a substantial discount to cross town rival Silva, he seems like a great pickup, right? Well, as always, there is a 'but'. The positioning of Rooney in this side is a source of concern for me, as I don't see how he can easily lead the line (with van Persie on the left) given his tendency to drop into the exact same position occupied by the attacking central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1. In the brief period that happened last week, and to a lesser degree this week, that area of the field became too congested and United lost a lot of their attacking shape. The solution seems to be for either Rooney to change his game a bit and stay out wide, or not drop deeper from the front role, or for him to be deployed in that AMC role, which then leaves a huge question mark as to where Kagawa will play.

He can of course shift of wide, but that area is also congested with Valencia, Nani, Young and Welbeck all vying for playing time of their own. After discussing this on Twitter during the game, most readers seem to think Kagawa has already lept to the top of this pile and should therefore play as much, or more, than everyone, whether in the middle or out wide. I'm not sure I'm quite so bullish about his security in the side (I had the same debate about Young last year who ended up fizzling out as the season progressed) but I do agree that, on balance, Kagawa looks as safe as anyone in this whole front six. With Rooney injured (allegedly for 4 weeks but I'd be amazed if it was that long) Kagawa looks like a very good pickup for the short term at least, and anyone looking to dump Mata should look long and hard at Kagawa and decide if the extra 1.0m is worth it to pass on Hazard.

For the first time ever I opted for an elite 'keeper this year, and have promptly been rewarded by two pretty shaky defensive displays from United (if not De Gea himself, who has been okay though could be questioned for Fulham's second this week). In fairness, the back line still has a patchwork air to it and should stabilise once options like Ferdinand, Jones and Evans return but however you cut it, it's been an underwhelming start to the season. Ferdinand and Jones are set to return next week at which point United face Southampton and Wigan so let's not make any rash moves just yet, but struggles in those games would probably lead to required changes. Jones' return makes Rafael a tricky player to judge as you love his offensive ability and price tag but I don't believe he has Ferguson's confidence to start regularly until he shows a bit more reliability at the back.

Newcastle
Krul, Simpson, Coloccini, S Taylor, Santon, Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Anita, Gutierrez, Ba, Cisse.
Subs: Harper, Williamson, Perch, R Taylor, Amalfitano, Marveaux, Obertan.

As a Newcastle fan you would probably be a touch concerned by the lack of real quality outside of the starting eleven, but for fantasy fans it makes things much easier. They didn't enjoy the best of games against a good Chelsea side but they still created chances and I'd feel confident rolling out Ba, Cisse, Ben Arfa and probably Cabaye every week, while the defense remains a very good mid-level option who only need to be dropped in the toughest of fixtures (like this one). We will need to monitor players' fitness as the season progresses such is the size of this squad, but for now just enjoy one of the few lineups around which combines ability and security.

Norwich
Ruddy, R Martin, Bassong, Barnett, Garrido, Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Pilkington, Jackson, Holt
Subs: Rudd, Surman, Hoolahan, Morison, Tierney, R Bennett, C Martin.

Chris Hughton doesn't appear to have settled on his first team yet which is making it very hard to really recommend anyone from this lineup. Bassong and Garrido came in at the back, though with Turner missing for this one we still can't be sure who the first choice back four is. With Tierney gone though and Barnett likely to follow, the 4.0m options are no more and thus the value of this team as reliable 5th defenders may be gone anyway.

Offensively there isn't too much to get excited about either though Snodgrass once again took up some nice positions, as did Pilkington on the other wing. I don't see either as being prolific and have several other 6.0m options I would rank ahead of them , but they are at least relevant which is more than can be said for parts of this lineup. The story with Holt is a similar story for: decent player, decent prospects but probably priced too high to ever represent great upside.

QPR
Green, Traore, Hill, Ferdinand, Da Silva, Mackie, Diakite, Park, Hoilett, Cisse, Zamora
Subs: Murphy, Derry, Johnson, Taarabt, Wright-Phillips, Onuoha, Bosingwa.

I have pretty much given up on assessing this team until Dawson / Carvalho / Bosingwa arrive/start and Hughes settles on how many of his somewhat talented attacking options he can afford to play at one time (note to Hughes: the answer is not six).

Southampton
K Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox, S Davis, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Do Prado, Rodriguez, Lambert
Subs: Gazzaniga, Sharp, Ward-Prowse, Richardson, Shaw, Seaborne, Puncheon.

No disrespect to Wigan, who are probably better than most of us think, but losing at home to them does not bode well for the Saints' season. To their credit, Southampton gave it a good go, opting for a rather attacking 4-5-1 which played like a 4-3-3 for large parts of the game (Rodriguez and Do Prado joined Lambert up top). They managed 16 shots, with 6 on target but lacked that little bit of composure at key times and came up against a very good keeper in Al Habsi. Lambert hit the target with all 3 of his shots and any jitters after his week one benching should probably not be dismissed. He will get chances in this league and has shown he can convert them making him a useful option at 6.0m if the fixtures fall nicely.

Stoke
Begovic, Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson, Pennant, Cameron, Whelan, Kightly, Walters, Crouch. Subs: Sorensen, Palacios, Jones, Upson, Delap, Shotton, Jerome.

This is a very nicely settled sides which continues to get a lack of respect from pundits who resort to the same old, tired "tough to play against", "physical" and "long ball" narratives. Simply, they aren't as good a team as Arsenal or many of the opponents they face but they have a number of players who play their roles very well and enjoy some good link up play with Crouch and the ever impressive Walters. Fantasy wise it's hard to highly recommend anyone outside of Walters until perhaps Etherington returns, but defensively the side continues to impress and should be strongly considered as a very good addition to your squad. At 4.5m Begovic could well be the key to a successful rotation strategy for 2012-13.

Swansea
Vorm, Rangel, Chico, Williams, Taylor, Britton, de Guzman, Michu, Dyer, Routledge, Graham
Subs: Tremmel, Tate, Moore, Dobbie, Agustien, Gower, Davies.

I spend a good deal of time waxing lyrical about Swansea so as a change of pace I will offer a note of caution. In two games they have scored 8 goals but have only had 11 shots on target. Needless to say such a rate is unsustainable and unless they suddenly start creating more total shots (19 in 3 games so far) their goal average is obviously going to significantly decline. There is talent here for sure with pretty much everyone being ownable other than probably De Guzman, but the talk of captaining Michu or paying points to grab him or Dyer seems premature at best, or plain reactionary at worst. True, it would have worked this week and Michu took his goal beautifully but this Swansea side will slow down in the coming weeks so your expectations of what you're getting from Michu and co should be managed. By all means grab him (after all I recommended him in the pre season) but do so knowing you are getting a very good 7.0m who is unlikely to continue this level of production for long.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program: this defense is pretty good. Again, they probably aren't a top defensive unit but for 5.0m you are literally laughing all the way to the bank. Despite his fortuitous goal, I wouldn't particularly rank Rangel ahead of his teammates as Chico and Taylor have both provided decent options from set pieces already this year (getting on the end of them, that is). Gun to my head I'd take Rangel at this point but if you own anyone from this back line I'd be happy staying where I am.

Tottenham
Friedel, Walker, Gallas, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto, Livermore, Sandro, Lennon, Van der Vaart, Bale, Defoe
Subs: Cudicini, Naughton, Jenas, Sigurdsson, Adebayor, Townsend, Caulker.

Another team with potential, another team with a questionable lineup. You have to think it's just a matter of time before Adebayor takes his place up front in this lineup given the lengths Spurs were willing to go to to get him and the somewhat lack of excitement they have shown about playing Defoe with regularity. At that point Ade could become an ownable asset but coming in at higher price than the likes of Tevez, Podolski and Ba makes me hesistant to hold my breathe. The midfield looks surprisingly  complicated given Villas-Boas' apparent committal to playing two defensively minded options in the middle. That leaves Van der Vaart and Sigurdsson scrapping for minutes unless one of them is deemed able to push out wide in place of Lennon. Spurs have a sensational run of three games coming up but we're probably limited to playing Bale of the front six unless you want to take a significant risk.

Defensively I believe Spurs will be just fine having conceded just 13 shots in the box this year (t3rd) while holding good possession numbers across the field. This back four looks like the one which will play the majority of games, though with Kaboul taking a knock we still can't be sure who the number two centre back is (assuming now that Vertonghen is locked in).

West Brom
Foster, Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Mulumbu, Yacob, Dorrans, Morrison, Fortune, Long.
Subs: Myhill, Rosenberg, Brunt, Lukaku, Gera, Dawson, Jones.

The back half of this side looks fairly settled but as we noted last week, as 5.0m options they don't rank too highly on my personal shortlist. The four attacking spots in the side still appear uncertain with Lukaku and Rosenberg lurking on the bench and Odemwingie ready to return. Hopefully Lukaku will lock down a first team place soon as based on his limited first team action so far his upside is the greatest.

West Ham
Jaaskelainen, Demel, Reid, Collins, McCartney, Tomkins, Noble, Diame, Jarvis, Nolan, Cole
Subs: Henderson, Maynard, Maiga, Vaz Te, Taylor, O'Brien, Diarra.

West Ham were the architects of their own downfall defensively this week and after the early mistakes they struggled to get a foothold in the game. The first team looks fairly settled but with Maiga waiting in the wings and Jarvis coming in, I am less bullish of Nolan's prospects but I'm okay sticking with him for now.

This defensive unit should be somewhat reliable as the season progresses, particularly at home. Allardyce generally puts a focus on keeping things tight at the back so Demel and McCartney should continue to warrant 5th defender consideration, though you should still pick your matchups carefully.

Wigan
Al Habsi, Alcaraz, Caldwell,  Ramis, Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Figueroa, Di Santo, Maloney, Kone
Subs: Pollitt, Jones, Crusat, Watson, Gomez, Boselli, Beausejour.

Wigan are probably better than we credit them for, but from a fantasy perspective I just don't see a lot to get excited about. The defense isn't bad but with their 4.5-5.0m price tags they come at the same cost as players from better teams so unless we see consistent returns from this back line I'm not buying. Kone and Di Santo have both racked up decent shot totals and have the makings of a useful partnership which is worth monitoring.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Player Pool

The premier league game offers us the choice from over 500 players, though as we all know a majority of these will never even catch a glimpse of Premier League turf this year, never mind play well enough to warrant consideration in our hallowed fantasy lineups.

Players are excluded from consideration for a variety of reasons: injury, lack of opportunity, an overly steep price tag or simply not being very good. This year, rather than simply having a list of players I consider 'ownable' (though don't necessarily love), I've tried to make the pool a bit more presentable. Now, I must add a caveat here as unlike the majority of information you find on the site, a number of the views taken in the below table are pretty subjective. My opinion on a player's long term playing time and/or short term fitness is based on reading other news sources rather than any 'inside' information which roughly translates to a number of them being guesses. I do my best to stay up to date, but the fitness information can sometimes be tricky to find so I recommend also looking at other sources before acting.

The chart shows all the players who I believe tick all four boxes needed for fantasy success: fitness, playing time, value for money and role. Where I believe there is doubt over any of the above, I have given the playing a half score. You can also see those players who tick three or more boxes and while you generally don't want to be holding too many of these, they are the players worth monitoring as they could become valuable given a change in playing time or fitness.

The player pool will updated on a weekly basis within the newly added page, found here.

By Team

By Position

Gameweek Two Preview

These early season rankings columns are tough as we only have prior year data to rely on, which has the potential to be outdated following the various moves in the off season. Alas, the show must go on, so without further ado here are this week's forecast goals per game for each team. Note that for the promoted sides I have used an adjusted number based on their performance in last year's Championship (further explained here).


Captain Picks
Readers from last year will remember that I used to provide data on the various captain picks to help assist with our weekly awarding of the armband. I am currently working on some updated data which will hopefully balance the various weights of different factors (opponent, form, season performance etc) to give us an effective ranking for the week. Until then (and until we have a reliable sample size for this season) we're stuck with the same old subjective views, which I will keep brief:

Wayne Rooney - United have the best fixture of the week and with some confusion remaining over who will play, and where, in this team, the generally reliable Rooney looks like the best pick. He managed 4 shots last week (2 on goal) and his 42 touches in the final third tell the tale of a player who was involved in the action all game. I have some concern about where Rooney will line up if van Persie starts, but he was still successful when Tevez and Ronaldo were in town so he should still be able to continue his success (even it may be limited somewhat).

Robin van Persie - 17% of managers are already on board but for me this is a very risky play. The elite market is somewhat clouded with the injury to Aguero, but even so van Persie looks like a gamble given the fact his role and playing time are not guaranteed for the week. I have no doubt he will succeed in the long run, and would probably edge him ahead of Rooney if he starts up top, but I would want to see a bit more before I'd be willing to captain him, unless you're out of other viable options.

Eden Hazard - For a while there, the question at Stamford Bridge was whether Chelsea would score a goal this year not assisted by Hazard. It goes without saying that he won't continue this torrid form for long (or more precisly, his teammates won't continue to convert created chances at such a high rate) but the first looks have been very promising (with 135k managers bringing him in this week). If you own the Belgian it's going to be hard not to captain him and though I generally caution against overreaction to new signings, you won't find any arguments here to doing so.

Fernando Torres - There was once a time I rated Torres as possibly the best player in the Premier League. I don't buy that he is 'finished' and I genuinely believe he can once again he be a lethal forward in this league. However, I don't think - as some have suggested - we are there yet. There were promising signs against City in the Community Shield and the first two games of the season have been solid (7 shots, 1 goal) but he still looks somewhat hesitant in front of goal and lacks the consistency of some of the other elite forwards. I can see him being ownable at some point but captaincy is a bridge too far in my eyes.

Carlos Tevez - The fixture isn't easy based on the stats, though I suppose that depends on how much weight you put in Liverpool's dismal display last week. Tevez has been impressive in the preseason and again last week and should be the main beneficiary in Aguero's absence as his minutes now look to be all but guaranteed (though Mancini is always liable for a surprise or two). His 3 shots on target last week were as good as any other forward and if he continues to generate these numbers then goals will surely follow.

Michu - I wouldn't personally put Michu on this list, but he currently leads the FFS poll so his name is worth mentioning. It was obviously an impressive debut for Michu but I'm a touch worried about some of his peripheral stats such as his 4 touches in the penalty box and 2 chances created, if we are going to suddenly throw him among the league's elite. At 6.5m (sorry, make that 6.8m now) he can still represent outstanding value if he lives up to his potential but to captain him a game which represents a good, but probably not outstanding fixture seems premature.

Gareth Bale - Bale didn't have a particularly noteworthy gameweek one, though he did manage a couple of shots and created a couple of chances to remind us of his fantasy ability. Spurs have a good fixture this week and Adebayor should add a familiar threat up top to give the team a bit more purpose. Hopefully van der Vaart will also feature as this side lacked creativity with both him and the soon-to-depart Modric out of the side. I was pretty shocked to see his ownership at 19% and if you're one of those who invested this has to be one of the games where he gains captaincy consideration. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lineup Lessons: Gameweek 1

Arsenal
Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Diaby, Arteta, Cazorla, Walcott, Gervinho, Podolski
Subs: Mannone, Andre Santos, Giroud, Ramsey, Djourou, Coquelin, Arshavin.

Not too many surprises here, though I had assumed Santos would get the nod at left back over Gibbs. Gervinho's inclusion was also mildly surprising, though Wenger had mentioned on several occasions that Giroud was not ready to start in gameweek one and thus he found himself on the bench. Over the course of the season I would expect Giroud to get significant minutes up top with Podolski pushed out wide in those games. Koscielny and Sagna are due back at the end of the month and thus I would temper any early excitement there might be over Jenkinson and Mertesacker.

The team looked better going forward than the final score suggests though I suppose one could argue that the game was a reminder that players take time to fit together, with the occasional move breaking down due to miscommunication or players drifting into the same space (this seemed to happen fairly often down the left flank in the first half with Gervinho (#27), Podolski (#9) and Cazorla (#19) all occupying a fairly small area at times - see picture on right showing players' average position).

Nothing happened here to change my view on this team: they remain a good option for attacking talent with Podolski and Walcott remaining my favourite picks in the side. Defensively I think they'll be fine but will struggle to justify their price tags, assuming the pricier Koscielny and Sagna come into the side soon. That said, a healthy Sagna could be intriguing given the advanced position Jenkinson took (see #25 on the above picture) against Sunderland though the full backs tend to support, rather than create chances in Wenger's system so we shouldn't be overly excited just yet.

Aston Villa
Given, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Baker, Holman, El Ahmadi, Delph, N'Zogbia, Ireland, Bent
Subs: Guzan, Bannan, Weimann, Lichaj, Herd, Burke, Gardner.

The defense lined up a little different to what I expected with Lowton and Baker getting starts at the predictably unpredictable full back positions. In all honesty though it probably doesn't matter as until we see a lot more from this team the defense isn't really one to be investing heavily in (though at 4.0m Baker could quickly become interesting if he entrenches himself in the team). Going forward things we as expected other than Ireland getting the nod over Weimann, who impressed at the end of last season. I thought Lambert might go with two up top, or Weimann just off Bent but he opted for the ever popular 4-2-3-1 instead. I didn't see much of the game but the heat maps and average position diagrams suggest that N'Zogbia was dragged inside too often which prevented them turning their dominant possession numbers (66%) into many clear cut chances (2 shots on goal). I don't see a whole lot to get excited about in this lineup though that front three have all provided memorable fantasy seasons in the past so they at least allow us (and presumably Villa fans) to dream of what might happen later in the season.

Chelsea
Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Mikel, Hazard, Mata, Bertrand, Torres
Subs: Turnbull, Essien, Oscar, Ferreira, Meireles, Sturridge, Cahill.

A couple of interesting moves here, first with Luiz being preferred to Cahill and second to Mikel starting over the fit again Essien. I had heard that rumours of Essien's demise were greatly exaggerated but at least for now it looks like that central spot is Mikel's to lose. As for Cahill, I had him pegged to start over Luiz and with no hints of injury of a lack of fitness it would seem Di Matteo disagrees. Either way, Cole seems to make most sense here if you believe this unit can return to their once stingy glory days.

Hazard grabbed the headlines but I thought Mata was actually the more impressive player throughout (though Hazard of course showed impressive glimpses too). The problem is that Mata (#10) tended to drop deeper into midfield to collect the ball from the defense and then lay it off before the majority of Chelsea's attacks fully blossomed. We'll see how the team lines up when Ramires is healthy but Mata owners should be on notice that they might have the right man but in the wrong place. If Mata continues to play a deeper role I would be more than happy to switch him out for Hazard who looked lively and should generate good assist numbers for the year.

Everton
Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Osman, Gibson, Neville, Pienaar, Fellaini, Jelavic.
Subs: Mucha, Heitinga, Naismith, Gueye, Barkley, Coleman, Anichebe.

Monday night football is one of the unfortunate sacrifices one makes when moving across the Atlantic so I didn't get a chance to see this game. The pundits (and indeed most of the stats) tell of a game in which United dominated possession but couldn't make their limited chances pay and were punished at the other by a very good display from Fellaini (#25). Fellaini playing off a front man isn't particularly strange as he's assumed that role before, but it was surprising to see his average playing position, which was essentially that of a second forward. One game is obviously not a sample size to get excited about, but this was more than just a player netting a fluke goal. He managed 6 shots (2 on target) for the evening and that advanced role is reminiscent of the one which made Tim Cahill a useful fantasy asset for several years. At 6.5m he isn't a steal but if this offensive deployment becomes a trend he could quickly start paying back that investment. The increased use of Naismith in future weeks could well render this argument moot though, so be careful before piling onto the big Belgian (incidentally, Naismith (#14) is amusingly shown above in what looks like a sweeper role, having been introduced in the 89th minute. We can probably assume his next game will involve more offensive minutes).

Elsewhere the team was largely as expected, though I was surprised to Heitinga miss out on both a centre back and centre midfield spot. I'd still be a touch nervous owning anyone from the Distin / Hibbert / Heitinga trio which screams rotation but if you want access to this team for under 6.0m you have no choice.

Fulham
Schwarzer, Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise, Duff, Diarra, Dembele, Kacaniklic, Ruiz, Petric
Subs: Stockdale, Kelly, Baird, Sidwell, Kasami, Rodallega, Halliche.

Fulham's lineup was exactly as expected, once we knew for sure that Dempsey would not be included. They didn't exactly miss their talisman either, with Petric, Kacaniklic and the ageless Duff picking up the slack. Long term, you have to worry a bit about where the goals will come from unless Petric has a very good year,  and it's tough to single out anyone from the front six for fantasy attention.

Defensively the team looks as solid as ever with old faithful Aaron Hughes restored to the central defense for another year of budget fantasy returns. Given the threat of Senderos though, I might actually be tempted to stick in Hangeland who seems locked in to play every week and brings a better offensive threat than Riether and probably Riise. Petric - along with many of the other new arrivals - deserves more attention but that can only really come after we've seen at least a couple more appearances.

Liverpool
Reina, Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson, Lucas, Allen, Gerrard, Downing, Suarez, Borini
Subs: Jones, Carroll, Cole, Henderson, Carragher, Adam, Shelvey.

As the third goal hit the back of the net, Twitter practically exploded with #Rodgersout tweets. I will assume they were tongue in cheek from even the most critical of Liverpool supporters, but still, it wasn't a good start for the former Swansea man. The good news is that, for now, the lineup looks to be predictable and was exactly as expected with the exception of the injured Jose Enrique who could feature as early as next week.

I'm not going to write a defense off after one game, but when you're paying 6.0m you need to be capitalising against the West Broms of the world, even if they are a useful side at home. In fairness, of course, the sending off played a major role here so let's not jump to conclusions, but that too will have future repercussions as a central combination of Skrtel and Carragher will struggle against sides with any pace whatsoever.

It was a mixed bag of a debut for Joe Allen as while he completed 66 of his 69 passes, helping Liverpool to 60% possession for the game, he didn't muster a shot on goal all day and only 13 of his passes came in the opponents third of the field. At 5.5m he sticks out as being underpriced at Liverpool and that could well still be the case, but he needs to be compared with the likes of the now departed Song, Rodwell and Carrick, rather than anyone taking more advanced positions on a weekly basis. The presence of Lucas made me think he would be allowed to make some venturing runs forward but on this week's evidence his domain will be limited to that middle third where players tend to 'assist the assist' rather than generating big fantasy totals. He's still very much ownable but be careful how high you set your bar here; he isn't a must own player.

Luis Suarez drew a typical amount of criticism from those labelling him as a wasteful finisher who lacks the 'clinical ability' of a Michael Owen or Robbie Fowler. Suarez is a frustrating player some times (not to mention one who appears to be somewhat dislikeable which doesn't help his case with the media) but the stats tell a different story to the current narrative. Since joining Liverpool Suarez has hit the target with 43% of his shots (per ESPN) with 12.5% of them hitting the back of the net. Compare that to Rooney's numbers of 45% and 13.6% and have a player who is admittedly not in the elite group of players, but is hardly Liverpool's biggest problem either. Throw in that Suarez takes a lot more shots (often self generated) and you can allow even more slack in those numbers. Now, this isn't necessarily forgiveable from a Liverpool point of view as ill advised shots are hardly the makings of an efficient scoring team, but from a fantasy perspective we must be careful not to get caught up in this same old narrative. Suarez remains well priced at 9.5m and while I would personally take both Tevez and Podolski over him, I see no reason to lose faith in a player who led the league in attempts this week with 8.

Man City
Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Silva, Rodwell, Toure, Nasri, Aguero, Tevez.
Subs: Pantilimon, Milner, Dzeko, Kolarov, Savic, De Jong, Balotelli

The much anticipated 3-5-2 never materialised with Mancini opting for a standard back four instead. Rodwell got the nod over De Jong though from a fantasy perspective neither should be registering on your radar. The front line was headlined by the injury to Aguero which, while not as bad as first feared, is serious enough that his owners need to make the move now as 11.4m is simply too much to have on the bench for even a couple of weeks. The natural replacement is Tevez, who I ranked close to Aguero anyway and looked good again this week.

If Nasri can solidify himself in the first team then there's an argument to be made that he could represent better value for money than Silva given his 1.5m lower price tag, but I'll need a while to be convinced on this one, especially if Sinclair arrives to add further congestion to the front five.

Defensively, giving up a couple of goals against Southampton is obviously a blow, though it should be noted that they scored with their only two shots on target. I'd stick with my original assessment that Lescott makes the most sense here, though with Richards out for the medium term, Zabaleta should also prove to be a reliable pickup for a number of weeks.

Man Utd
De Gea, Valencia, Carrick, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Cleverley, Scholes, Kagawa, Rooney, Welbeck
Subs: Lindegaard, Da Silva, Anderson, Berbatov, Young, van Persie, Wootton.

Well that didn't really go to plan, did it. All the concern about if, and where, van Persie would play was rendered moot when Everton arrived with a very conservative gameplan which the new look United side simply failed to break down with any consistency. Given the lack of end results it's hard to suggest that this side is now going to be entrenched for too long, but I think we can draw a couple of clues as to Ferguson's depth chart. Other players have arrived more recently but I believe Nani is still favoured among the wide players and would probably once again tip him to lead them in minutes played (in midfield only, Valencia will surely play more if you include his minutes at right back, which aren't too useful for fantasy managers). The only factor that might cost Nani (#17) in the long term is his tendency to drift inside, which might frustrate Ferguson to the point of deploying Valencia or Young out wide. This is particularly the case when Rooney (#10) leads the line as he tends to drop into that position occupied this week by Kagawa (#26) leaving a very congested head of the formation. We can immediately see how much further upfield van Persie (#20) played in his brief cameo, which bring up the interesting question of where Rooney will play if that position is given to van Persie? Either way it would seem to limit Kagawa's minutes in the middle of the field and thus I'm still at odds as to which United midfielder to back here.

Defensively you have to feel this side will be fine, so long as either Ferdinand or Evans returns soon. From a fantasy perspective we'd like to see Rafael grab that right back spot but I believe it's going to continue being rotated, thus rendering both he and Valencia tough to own.

Newcastle
Krul, Simpson, S Taylor, Perch, Santon, Ben Arfa, Tiote, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Cisse, Ba
Subs: Harper, Williamson, Anita, Gosling, R Taylor, Shola Ameobi, Obertan.

Newcastle continue to make a good case for being the best fantasy team in the whole league. Even with the big names carrying knocks, the first team still ended up looking like the one setout in the team previews with the exception of the injured Coloccini. A couple of readers questioned whether or not Ryan Taylor would start but my suspicions were confirmed this week with Santon and Simpson getting the nod. R Taylor will get minutes at some point this year which makes this whole group somewhat tricky to own, but I still believe that long term managers tend to gravitate towards players in their natural positions which is always going to count against R Taylor. Personally I would avoid all the confusion and just go with S Taylor, whose threat from set pieces should just about equal about equal out with the full backs offensive points anyway.

This front six remains very promising and the two who shone this week (Ben Arfa and Ba) remain my personal picks. Now Ben Arfa has been handed penalty duties I would underline him as being one of the better mid-range options around while I see Ba and Cisse as essentially the same player and thus Ba's price tag is extremely attractive. Indeed, with trouble at the top of the forward list, a strategy is emerging to go with three mid range options (perhaps topping out with Tevez at 9.0m) and Ba would be very close to the top of that list.

Norwich
Ruddy, R Martin, R Bennett, Turner, Tierney, Pilkington, Howson, Johnson, Surman, Snodgrass, Holt
Subs: Rudd, Hoolahan, Morison, Elliott Bennett, Vaughan, Barnett, Lappin.

The good news is that the team lined up largely as expected, though it was surprising to see Hoolahan riding the pine after a decent first year in the Premier League last time out. The good news ended there though with Norwich being soundly beaten by a Fulham side widely tipped to struggle to score goals. They gave up 60% of the ball to Fulham along with surrendering 15 shots, which suggests even with a stable lineup there may be limited value at the back here. If you grab someone like Tierney for 4.0m they may be spot startable, but for now I would steer clear until we see a marked improvement under Chris Hughton.

Going forward, Snodgrass (#7) was tipped to take a role behind the front man, but it was actually Andrew Surman (#11), who I didn't even expect to play, who was given the job. Again, opportunity is only one facet of fantasy success as you need ability and a surrounding cast of players too, but anytime you have a 5.0m player essentially playing up front it warrants mentioning. Norwich's lack of possession makes it tricky to assess Surman's performance but he's one to add to the shortlist for the next few weeks.

QPR
Green, Onuoha, Ferdinand, Hill, Da Silva, Taarabt, Park, Diakite, Hoilett, Mackie, Cisse
Subs: Murphy, Derry, Johnson, Wright-Phillips, Nelsen, Dyer, Zamora.

I really struggled to predict this lineup in the pre season and while we were on the right track, things are set to change to again with Bosingwa and Dawson both said to be arriving shortly. One would guess that those moves would give us a settled back line of Fabio-Ferdinand-Dawson-Bosingwa, though Onuoha and maybe even Nelsen could have something to say about that. Based on this week's woeful efforts though you won't want to be anywhere near this back line for some time. The arrival of Dawson, a useful player, should sure things up but the midfield still looks lighweight and very attacking which will expose the defense for the foreseeable future.

The front six looks very hard to predict, and while Zamora and Wright-Phillips were the big name casualties this week, I'm not sure we can write anyone into the first team in anything but pencil for now. Perhaps Cisse or even the enigmatic Taarabt emerge from the wreckage of opening day as become useful starters but until this team gets an identity and has a cohesive strategy and structure I don't see that as a likely possibility.

Reading
Federici, Gunter, Pearce, Gorkss, Harte, Leigertwood, Robson-Kanu, Guthrie, McAnuff, Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak
Subs: McCarthy, Mariappa, Hunt, McCleary, Tabb, Church, Cummings.

I was surprised to see both Gorkss and Pearce hold their places in the lineup, with new arrival Mariappa held back on the bench. How long that will hold true remains to be seen with further changes likely when Shorey gets healthy. Though it hardly gets the pulse racing, I still like Gunter here who gives reliability on a decent team for a bargain price.

This side is going to struggle for goals and this week's game did little to persuade me otherwise. That said, Guthrie and Pogrebynak are both talented players who come at the league minimum (at least among those who might sniff the field) and so could still have use in the coming months.

Southampton
Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox, Ward-Prowse, Lallana, Schneiderlin, Puncheon, Rodriguez, Do Prado
Subs: Gazzaniga, Lambert, S Davis, Sharp, Richardson, Shaw, Seaborne.

As expected, my 'forecasting' (read: guessing) didn't fare too well with several players getting unexpected minutes and of course the biggest story being Lambert being held on the bench. I honestly don't know what to make of the move, which is particularly puzzling when you see Do Prado leading the line (meaning it wasn't just a case of needing only one forward and Rodriguez being preferred for his counter attacking ability). We'll see if Adkins - who is so far defending his decision (not that he needs to) - gives in and plays Lambert next week, but in the meantime his owners are left in a tough position. Given he's likely your third forward (and did after all score this week) I'd be okay hanging on to him presuming you still like his long term prospects.

Though it was a valiant display against City, no single player really stood out in this one. Seeing as they were playing the champions and equipped themselves as a team very well, let's hold off judging the individuals for another couple of weeks.

Stoke
Begovic, Wilson, Huth, Shawcross, Wilkinson, Whelan, Kightly, Whitehead, Etherington, Walters, Crouch
Subs: Sorensen, Jones, Ness, Delap, Shotton, Jerome, Palacios.

Stoke came out as expected, though I still believe Geoff Cameron might get minutes in the side sooner rather than later having finally been cleared to play. Both full backs here look fairly entrenched in the side and represent very good value at just 4.5m. Pulis remains unaffected by others' opinions and continues to deploy a solid team who remain one of the more reliable teams around. With Whitehead and Whelan both playing fairly deep, this (a) protects the defense and (b) allows the full backs to get further forward thus increasing their chance for assists. Wilson will shortly be cast aside, whether for Goran Popov, Martin Olsson or someone else but Wilkinson appears to have Pulis' confidence and has the makings of a solid rotatable defender.

Walters continues to play very high up the field as is essentially a second striker. His 4 shots again this week are very promising and I see no reason why he can't enjoy a season close to his 2011/12. Teammate Kightly found the net this week but he wasn't heavily involved throughout so I wouldn't classify the game as a breakout performance. At 5.5m he's obviously cheaper than Walters but I see him more in the lottery category with literally tens of others so I wouldn't follow the inevitable masses bringing him in.

Sunderland
Mignolet, Gardner, Cuellar, O'Shea, Richardson, Larsson, Colback, Cattermole, McClean, Sessegnon, Campbell
Subs: Westwood, Wickham, Kilgallon, Meyler, Bramble, Saha, Elmohamady.

It's hard to know whether to praise Sunderland for their game plan or suggest they got lucky, having ceded 70% of possession and 23 shots to an Arsenal team who just couldn't convert on the day. In Sunderland's defense they forced Arsenal into taking 9 of those shots from outside the area and only one of those taken inside the box forced a save from Mignolet. In truth, if they play a similar game plan too often they won't be so fortunate but the unit should be good enough to pick up a few more clean sheets at a budget price. I'll be happier when Brown returns but regardless I like Cuellar as a useful 4.5m option, starting this week with the visit of Reading.

Offensively Saha will likely get as many minutes as his fragile body can manage, which based on past seasons will be just enough to render both him and Campbell unownable. Sessegnon and McClean remain decent options though at least a portion of their upside is already accounted for in their slightly inflated prices. It's worth noting that Campbell (#9) was actually pushed out wide against Arsenal with Sessegnon (#28) leading the line. His 8.0m price tag should really then be compared with other forwards so you need to decide if you like him more than the likes of Ba and Jelavic.

Swansea
Vorm, Rangel, Williams, Chico, Taylor, de Guzman, Michu, Britton, Dyer, Graham, Routledge
Subs: Cornell, Tate, Moore, Agustien, Gower, Richards, Tremmel.

Oh how I love this team. Take away the talented talisman and their highly rated manager and they just keep on ticking. Michu was one of the new arrivals I liked the most and had him pencilled into my own lineup until the last minute when I cleverly decided to double down with Ramires (don't ask). He looks very composed in front of goal though he remains more of a midfielder playing in the 'Lampard / Gerrard' spot in a 4-3-3 rather than someone like Walters is playing off a front man. Thousands will obviously pile on (81k at time of writing) and I wouldn't necessarily argue, but to play devil's advocate he only registered 4 shots for the day with 2 on target: the kind of numbers which will obviously not give rise to a prolific goal haul. In short he was good value at 6.5m and remains so at 6.6m and while one game has not made him a must own player, the next 7 games look pretty delicious.

The back line looks nicely settled and at 5.0m I'd be happy with any of them, particularly in light of the aforementioned fixture list. Elsewhere in the front six I'd say it's as you were, with Dyer and Graham remaining decent options.

Tottenham
Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Livermore, Sandro, Lennon, Sigurdsson, Bale, Defoe.
Subs: Cudicini, Vertonghen, Van der Vaart, Naughton, Jenas, Townsend, Kane.

Two big surprises for me here with both Van der Vaart and Vertonghen relegated to bench duty. When I read his quotes about breaking into the team I honestly thought they were just the polite posturing of a player ready to kick Gallas or Kaboul to the curb. Not so it would seen. It's still almost certainly a case of when, rather than if, he starts but with an irresistible run of four games on the docket it's a real shame we won't have a clearer picture soon. At this point I can't offer any further insight until Villas-Boas gives us a soundbite but if you're happy with the rest of your squad and invested in Vertonghen it might be worth making the move to Assou-Ekotto or Walker to be sure to capitalise on the upcoming games.

As for Van der Vaart, I'm at a loss as to what to make of his prospects at Spurs. I'm assuming he (along with Vertonghen) were deemed not to be fit enough given their international work earlier last week but with Sigurdsson arriving, where exactly Van der Vaart plays is somewhat unclear. Without Modric and the Dutchman the team looked a bit more solid in the middle, but have swung too far and now lack enough creativity to break down the better sides. With Adebayor finally signing along with other new arrivals pegged to replace Modric we can assume that this Spurs team will change significantly in the next couple of weeks so I'm therefore going to hold off on drawing too many conclusions until then.

West Brom
Foster, Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Morrison, Yacob, Mulumbu, Odemwingie, Long, Gera.
Subs: Myhill, El Ghanassy, Brunt, Jara Reyes, Lukaku, Dawson, Fortune

I struggled with this lineup in the pre-season but in the end it worked out as fairly predictable. Long term I don't imagine Long will stick around ahead of Rosenberg and Lukaku but that whole situation should probably be avoided for now (Odemwingie too, who spent long stretches of the game pushed out wide). I'm a little surprised Brunt finds himself out of the first team but in the 4-2-3-1 system Morrison and Gera give them a nice combination and it'll be a battle for Brunt to get his place back. Despite the three goals I'm not sure there is anyone to target here thanks to potential rotation and the fact that this is a team who tend to share the wealth around rather than having any single points of focus.

At the back the team came out as expected and should be useful, if not exciting for 5.0m. I wouldn't pay a premium to get this unit ahead of players from Stoke or Sunderland, and in a like for like battle I'd so with Swansea, but if the fixtures fall nicely Olsson and co make a decent use of your 4th or 5th defender spot.

West Ham
Jaaskelainen, Demel, Reid, Collins, McCartney, Noble, Diame, Nolan, Vaz Te, Cole, Taylor
Subs: Henderson, Tomkins, Maynard, Maiga, O'Brien, Diarra, O'Neil.

As if watching Bolton lose at Burnley in the Championship wasn't bad enough, we also had to endure watching our 2008 squad, led by our 2006 manager get their first win of the year. I'm planning on some upcoming research into conversion rates of shots on goal but without getting into too much detail, let's just look at Kevin Nolan's conversion rate over the past three season (in the Championship / Premier League): 182 shots, 85 on target, 41 goals. That means 23% of his shots hit the back of the net. Over the same period van Persie's number is 16%, Rooney's is 15% and Ronaldo's was 12% in his last three seasons at Old Trafford. Nolan is obviously not in that group's class but the point remains that he is simply one of the most clinical midfielders of recent times and brings an excellent balance of upside and reliability for just 6.0m. Elsewhere I want to see what Maiga brings before I invest in Cole while the rest of the midfield looks uninspiring to be honest.

Wigan
Al Habsi, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Ramis, Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Figueroa, Maloney, Di Santo, Moses
Subs: Pollitt, Kone, Jones, Crusat, Watson, Gomez, Boselli.

Wigan went with a 5-4-1 here (which often played as a 5-2-2-1 with Moses and Maloney pushing quite far up field); a system that hasn't been used much in the Premier League in recent years. It's hard to judge it's success when the game was effectively over after 7 minutes but we can note that in the whole game I didn't see a great deal to disuade me from the pre-season statement that there really isn't much to get excited about in this team. I like Moses as a player and he did take up a fairly advanced position and get a couple of shots this week, but at 7.0m there is a significant amount of his upside already included in his price tag and thus I'm struggling to justify picking him over the likes of Nolan, Michu or Walters, among others.