To the die-hard Fantasy manager, the FA Cup is nothing but an inconvenience.
It is simply an unwanted chance for your players to get injured, to suddenly rediscover some flickering form or to play themselves out of contention for the next league game. What use were last weekend’s goals from Robin van Persie, Michu and Luis Suarez to anyone but Uruguayan Beach Volleyball Team selectors anyway?
Fear not though, for the Premier League returns this weekend, and it does so with a bang for the European champions (yes, believe it or not they still are).
Branislav Ivanovic (£7.1m) may have exhibited a worrying fondness for providing assists for the opposition during the midweek Capital One Cup defeat to Swansea, but if we’re going to stay strong and keep our disdain for the cup competitions alive then we are going to have to ignore that and instead look forward to him taking his place in a Chelsea defence which is about to embark on a Double Gameweek. Or will he?
The gradual return to fitness for John Terry (£6.5m) and the constant relocation of David Luiz (£6.6m) – sometimes inadvertently – means that the only member of Chelsea’s back four surely certain to line up against both Stoke and Southampton is Ashley Cole (£6.5m), who looks to be a fine investment for Fantasy bosses who may have activated their January wildcard ahead of this weekend, and who scored the winner and kept a clean sheet which Stoke visited Stamford Bridge in September.
Further forward, the signing of Demba Ba (£8.6m) has put the once secure place for Fernando Torres (£9.8m) under threat, whilst Rafael Benitez will surely avoid angering Fantasy bosses for a second Gameweek running and restore Juan Mata (£9.9m) to his Premier League line-up after resting him for the shock loss at home to QPR.
Harry Redknapp’s side entertain the manager’s former club Tottenham at Loftus Road in Saturday’s early match, with Gareth Bale (£9.8m) primed to score big on a weekend when many of his highly priced rivals are facing tougher fixtures. A wildcard move for the Welshman could have benefits well beyond this Gameweek.
Before the FA Cup so rudely interrupted us the name on everyone’s lips was that of Theo Walcott (£9.0m) but he and Arsenal face a tough test at home to Manchester City this weekend, with City likely to be missing the hamstrung Sergio Aguero (£11.0m) and Carlos Tevez (£8.9m) looking to start.
Suarez (£10.4m) won’t have many friends at Old Trafford and is unlikely to find many points either, with Robin van Persie (£14.0m) certain to lead the line for Manchester United against Liverpool. Those who back the Reds defence – which could include the cheap Andre Wisdom (£4.3m) after Jose Enrique (£5.9m) was ruled out for six weeks – to keep out the Dutchman aren’t short of options to replace him, with one of those options coming at Sunderland.
The Mackems have a relatively friendly set of four fixtures coming up, and so Fantasy bosses who had lost faith in Steven Fletcher (£7.0m) could be tempted to turn back to the Scotsman ahead of his side’s home match against West Ham, whilst the departure of Ba is sure to see Papiss Cisse (£8.8m) given a central striking role for Newcastle’s visit to Norwich if he can overcome a knock.
Another battling injury is Southampton’s Gaston Ramirez (£5.6m), but the Uruguyan is certainly worth keeping an eye on ahead of the Saints’ Double Gameweek trips to Aston Villa and Chelsea, whilst teenage full-back Luke Shaw (£4.0m) could find himself becoming an inexpensive addition to plenty of teams once that wildcard kicks in.
Whilst his price hasn’t yet risen, Marouane Fellaini’s (£7.4m) has been falling ever since his three-match ban, but with the Belgian back and ready to play a part in what look to be a winnable next four games for Everton, starting with this weekend against Swansea, then his addition could be crucial.
After our Gameweek 8 focus on some of the men who ply their trade at the back, the case for the defence has been reopened ahead of a weekend which is likely to see defenders prove as important as ever.
Scrappy Gameweeks 13 and 14 saw clean sheets and defensive bonus points become vital, and if you can get your hands on a player who will provide both as well as offering an attacking threat then it’s wise to hold onto him. Fortunately there is one currently stationed on Liverpool’s left wing.
Just how long Brendan Rodgers continues with his efforts to transform Jose Enrique (£5.9m) into the new Gareth Bale remains to be seen, but the Liverpool manager’s selection of the Spaniard ahead of converted left-back Stewart Downing in his side’s last two games shows that this is an experiment which is set to last.
Ever since taking up the left midfield role in the second half of Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea in Gameweek 11, Enrique has carried a greater goal threat than any other Reds player bar Luis Suarez. He almost scored in that Chelsea game, provided a goal and an assist in the win over Wigan, had an effort controversially disallowed at Swansea and came close numerous times in Wednesday’s loss at Tottenham.
With Southampton visiting Anfield on Saturday the home crowd will be expecting their underachieving team to both create plenty of chances and keep it tight at the back, two elements of their game that could see Enrique pick up plenty of points. He could even be a left-field left-sided captaincy choice for the brave and the bold amongst you.
Whilst the former Newcastle man is a familiar face to Fantasy players thanks to his five-and-a-half years in the English game, there is also a relative newcomer who could also be worth considering this weekend.
Manchester City’s Matija Nastasic (£5.5m) will need no introduction to Joleon Lescott after the young Serbian took the England defender’s place in the City team, and after starting City’s last six league games the 19-year-old looks here to stay.
The champions have kept five clean sheets in those six matches, and whilst Nastasic’s team-mate Pablo Zabaleta (£5.8m) is another name to consider as an alternative to the expensive Vincent Kompany (£7.2m), the Serb’s price only looks like rising throughout the campaign as City’s title challenge seemingly grows stronger. City’s defenders do come with a warning of a fixture list which sees them face Everton and Manchester United in their next two matches, but Nastasic might just be worth the risk.
Elsewhere as we continue our look at the men at the back, perhaps the weekend’s best chance of a stalemate – Gold-dust when we conduct these cases for the defence – comes at Loftus Road where QPR face Aston Villa in a contest which will see Ryan Nelsen (£4.0m) marshal the home defence and Villa’s Matthew Lowton (£4.5m), Ciaran Clark and Eric Lichaj (both £4.4m) all feature for the visitors.
Manchester United left out Rio Ferdinand (£5.9m) for the midweek win over West Ham at Old Trafford, with full-backs Patrice Evra (£6.8m) and Rafael (£6.5m) perhaps the only two certain starters for their Saturday evening trip to Reading, whilst Chelsea seem to have no problem keeping clean sheets under Rafael Benitez, with Ashley Cole (£6.5) certain to be a key part of the attempt to keep a third in a row as they go to West Ham.
If you need a cheaper option though then it might pay to head to North London, where Per Mertesacker (£5.3m) has started Arsenal’s last eight matches and popped up with a goal in the Gameweek 12 win over Tottenham.
The Gunners have only kept two clean sheets in those eight matches, but they’ll expect to be on the front foot as Swansea visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, whilst the return from suspension of Fabricio Coloccini (£5.0m) should shore up Newcastle’s back-line for Monday night’s visit of Wigan.
Being told that you sometimes play like Stoke City is apparently an insult these days, but it could be Stoke players who prove the most effective in Fantasy Premier League over the next few weeks.
A relatively kind fixture list up until just before Christmas should alert Fantasy bosses to Tony Pulis’s men, who go to Norwich City this weekend in search of a first away victory of the season.
That record along with just the nine points taken from nine Premier League matches so far might not give the impression that the boys from the Britannia have been anything to write home about in this campaign, but in goalkeeper Asmir Begovic (£4.8m) and forward Peter Crouch (£6.8m) they have two of the standout value for money selections in the game this season. Defenders Ryan Shawcross (£5.0m) and Robert Huth (£5.5m) and midfielders Jonathan Walters (£6.4m) and Michael Kightly (£5.5m) also provide interesting options, but it is to Crouch that Stoke will turn to on Saturday at Carrow Road against a team who have conceded more goals than everyone but Southampton so far.
Crouch will be coming up against one of the six clubs in this season’s Premier League that he has represented before, and he looks a good bet to bite the hand that used to feed him and find the net for the first time since scoring twice at home to Swansea on Gameweek 6. Finding form could be crucial to both Pulis’s team and yours ahead of this kind run of games.
Elsewhere over a Premier League weekend which would do well to be as dramatic as the last one and the midweek League Cup ties, Manchester United could go top of the table for a few hours at least as they take on Arsenal at Old Trafford early on Saturday afternoon.
These heavyweight clashes are usually best avoided by Fantasy bosses due to their often tight and competitive nature, but Robin van Persie (£13.4m) simply can’t be ignored here as he comes up against his former employers for the first time.
Unlike Crouch he’ll only face old friends twice this season, and with the Dutchman having found the net in his last two league matches and seven times overall to jointly lead the Premier League goalscoring charts alongside Demba Ba (£8.4m, but who is a doubt for Newcastle’s trip to Anfield on Sunday), then his form is easily apparent and matches the class that he undoubtedly has.
Every league match that Van Persie has started for United has produced either a goal or an assist for the Dutchman, and with it being almost impossible to envisage that run coming to an end on Saturday, if you’ve got the cash to splash then it could well be a wise move to rely on Robin.
Tottenham players are sure to prove popular given their home match against struggling Wigan, and whilst Jan Vertonghen (£6.4m), Gareth Bale (£9.6m) and Jermain Defoe (£8.0m) are sure to be attracting plenty of attention from Fantasy bosses, it might be worth considering that Spurs face trips to Manchester City and Arsenal in their next two weeks, and so it could be better to wait to bring their boys on board.
With the basement battle between QPR and Reading sure to be a committed affair on Sunday, perhaps there is potential for points on Monday night when West Brom take on Southampton at The Hawthorns.
With the Baggies having won four of their five home matches – only losing to champions Manchester City – and considering that the Saints have lost all four of their away fixtures, then success looks likely for Steve Clarke’s men in the final game of the weekend.
Key to that success is likely to be James Morrison (£6.2m), whose two goals and three assists this season have been key to the performances of Clarke’s side, and who is likely to be heavily involved against a team who have made shipping goals an art form since their elevation to the Premier League.
West Brom don’t play like Stoke, but they could be just as effective for you this week.
As introductions to English football go, it was a pretty spectacular one.
Sergio Aguero (£11.1m) entered Premier League life in the 59th minute of Manchester City’s first game of the 2011/12 season against Swansea City at the Etihad Stadium last August, and 31 minutes later he’d scored two goals.
It was the perfect beginning to a campaign in which Aguero would – in this writer’s opinion anyway – establish himself as the most complete forward playing in England right now, with his final kick of the season bringing the kind of joy to Manchester City fans that they hadn’t experienced in 44 years.
This time around things haven’t gone so smoothly, with the knee injury suffered just 13 minutes into City’s opening game of this campaign against Southampton stalling his progress and seeing him cast to the sidelines for over a month.
Now, having played a part in each of City’s last four games and registering two goals and an assist whilst doing so, Aguero will face up to Swansea again as a man determined to repeat former glories.
Picking City forwards is not for the faint-hearted, and nor is trusting them going by the Champions League loss in Amsterdam on Wednesday, which ended with Roberto Mancini fielding all four of his frontmen at once in a bid to get back into the game.
European disappointment will only make the Italian more determined to succeed on the domestic front just like last season of course, and there can be little doubt that a fit and firing Aguero looks to be a menacing addition to his teamsheet ahead of the weekend. He’d look good on yours too.
Other City options ahead of a game they’ll be expecting to win include midweek goalscorer Samir Nasri (£8.2m and worth serious consideration given David Silva’s injury), super-sub Edin Dzeko (£7.5m) and of course Carlos Tevez (£9.4m), but the latter hasn’t scored in his last five games after finding the net in his first three, and if you’ve got the spare cash then it could be time to switch to his Argentinean mate Aguero in a bid for more firepower.
Elsewhere the Sunday clashes at Goodison Park and Stamford Bridge will attract the most attention, but it is the two other fixtures on that day which should be catching the eyes of Fantasy bosses.
Tottenham go to a Southampton side who have shown a worrying inability to construct any form of functioning defence far too often this season, and with the revolving door policy in front of the Saints net set to continue the visitors will fancy some goals.
Jermain Defoe (£7.8m) is sure to prove a popular choice as his goals continue to keep Emmanuel Adebayor (£9.0m and falling) out of the Spurs side, but it is to a man who often provides him with service that we look to next.
Aaron Lennon (7.0m) only makes it into 4.3% of Fantasy Premier League teams, but the quicksilver winger will fancy his chances up against the creaking Southampton backline, and he could just make hay as Spurs chalk up goals and points on the south coast.
At the opposite end of the country, Newcastle take on a West Brom outfit who had the wind knocked out of their sails by Manchester City last weekend.
The Magpies, on the other hand, were solid before somewhat unfortunately letting their lead slip in the derby match at Sunderland last week, and this fixture might just be another home match in which Hatem Ben Arfa (£7.9m) will shine.
As we’ve discussed on these pages before, Ben Arfa is a man to back when Newcastle play at St James’s Park, and he’ll fancy improving on his record of two goals and one assist when the Baggies come calling.
Cloud nine on Gameweek nine awaits for him, and possibly you too.