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Gameweek 18 preview: Santi presents Wigan with a problem


Santi is coming to Wigan, and perhaps he should be coming into your team too.

We all know that this is a special time of year, a time to look forward to and dread in equal measure.

That’s right, the Fantasy Cup starts on Saturday, and including Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla (£9.7m) in your Fantasy team could see you gain the edge over your opponent and secure a spot in the next round quicker than reindeers move on Christmas Eve.

Of course it’s easy to react to a player’s stellar performance in a previous game – such as Cazorla’s hat-trick at Reading – and immediately put him in to your team in the hope that he will repeat such a world-beating display, but there is a genuine reason behind putting your money on Arsenal’s Spanish star succeeding at Wigan in Saturday’s early kick-off.

It’s called the Marouane Fellaini problem.

Everton’s Belgian ace was fortunate to only receive a three game ban for his headbutt on Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross last weekend, but nonetheless he has still presented the many Fantasy bosses who own him with a dilemma. Those who have the luxury of some extra money stashed away – and we all need that at this time of year – will probably be thinking that they could go one of five ways.

But Gareth Bale (£9.5m) still isn’t back from injury, Eden Hazard (£9.5m) has gone off the boil somewhat and David Silva (£9.4m) hasn’t found the net regularly enough. There is of course Juan Mata (£9.5m), but Chelsea face an Aston Villa side who have just brilliantly beaten Liverpool, whilst the ex-Valencia man played the vast majority of Wednesday’s Capital One Cup match against Leeds in midweek.

Bringing in Cazorla should of course come with the warning that Arsenal’s Boxing Day game against West Ham has been called off due to Tube strikes, but the club are reportedly looking to play that match in early January, raising the prospect of a double Gameweek in the near future for their Spanish star.  Santi’s gifts should be well received.

Elsewhere this weekend the match between Newcastle and QPR brings together one team who have been on a steady decline in recent weeks and another one who have just experienced their campaign’s only high point.

Harry Redknapp’s Rangers will head for St James’s Park following the Adel Taarabt (£5.6m) inspired 2-1 win over Fulham last weekend, but Newcastle know that they simply have to win this match following their recent struggles, and they showed enough promise in last weekend’s loss to Manchester City to show that they will give their visitors problems.

Demba Ba (£8.2m) scored his 11th league goal of the season in that match, and he could be turned to again as Alan Pardew’s side look to puncture any QPR optimism immediately.

On Sunday Robin van Persie (£13.8m) and Wayne Rooney (£12.0m) will again team up as Manchester United face a tricky trip to Swansea, which they should be going in to only three points clear at the top of the table given that Manchester City face a home match with Reading on Saturday. Sergio Agüero (£11.0m) and Yaya Touré (£7.9m) look to be the players who’ll impress there, although Javi Garcia (£5.0m) is an intriguing cheap choice following his goal last weekend.

The Fellaini-less Everton go to West Ham where Nikica Jelavić (£8.2m) will be looked to for goals, whilst Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has hinted that he could be ready to rest Raheem Sterling (£5.7m) for the home match against Fulham, meaning that even more onus could be put on Luis Suarez (£10.3m) – although the Uruguayan hasn’t scored in his last four games.

The popular Stoke duo of Asmir Begovic (£5.6m) and Shawcross (£5.8m) will face a tough task as they go to Tottenham, whilst Southampton’s Rickie Lambert (£6.1m) and Jason Puncheon (£4.8m) will be looked to to impress against struggling Sunderland.

West Brom’s fine form may have stuttered somewhat, but they can pick it up against Norwich at The Hawthorns, where James Morrison(£6.3m) can be counted on to provide a threat to the visitors.



West Bromwich Albion: Some forward thinking


Have you heard the one about the Irishman, the Belgian and the Nigerian? Premier League defences have and they’re growing increasingly sick of it.

It’s no joke that West Bromwich Albion are performing so well in this campaign though, and with early season optimism now giving way to mid-season reality there appears to be a real belief that Shane Long, Romelu Lukaku, Peter Odemwingie and an increasingly impressive supporting cast can fire the Baggies to new heights.

Just how high those highs can get depends on what happens over the next few months of course, but with pre-season hopes of successfully fighting relegation now morphing into desires of a top half finish (even Europe?) then The Hawthorns is fast becoming a good place to be.

Roberto di Matteo will be back there on Saturday 21 months after losing his job as Baggies boss, and whilst his sacking seemed more than a little harsh at the time it is yet further evidence that this is a club who are not afraid to make brave and bold decisions both on and off the pitch.

Behind the scenes, sporting and technical director Dan Ashworth undertakes a role the like of which isn’t all too common in the Premier League, and would become less so at the end of the current season were he not involved in appointing his successor before his heads off to take up a similar role with England.

A former player, Ashworth is a savvy operator who has gone about improving West Brom’s fortunes since being appointed to the role in late 2007. When things looked in danger of unravelling under Di Matteo, Ashworth stepped in and appointed Roy Hodgson to steer the side to mid-table. Eyebrows might have been raised when he chose Steve Clarke as Hodgson’s replacement following his departure for England, but so far so very, very good.

And why shouldn’t it be? Clarke was an experienced player at the top level and has learned his coaching trade under the likes of Jose Mourinho and Kenny Dalglish. That Ashworth and West Brom had the bravery to give him his step up to become a No. 1 is a decision that has so far been richly rewarded.

The likes of Ben Foster, Gareth McAuley, James Morrison, Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu have all impressed as the Baggies have picked up six wins in their opening 11 games to sit fifth in the table above fancied teams such as Tottenham and Arsenal, but it is those three attackers mentioned earlier who appear to epitomise everything about this forward thinking club.

Long, Lukaku and Odemwingie have each scored three goals in the league this season, and although when combined that only just puts the three of them ahead of the division’s top scorers Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie – who each have eight apiece – they have been invaluable contributors to a team who appear to fear no-one.

There will of course be tough challenges ahead – not least Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United before the turn of the year – but there is nothing to suggest that West Brom should go into any of those games with an inferiority complex. Everton, a club who West Brom are currently on the same points as and beat at The Hawthorns in early September, are often lauded for the workaholic way that they tackle every game, so why not the Baggies too?

As well as hard work, Clarke’s rotation of his three forwards has been key to their success, and there wasn’t a hint of dissent when Odemwingie was dropped to the bench for last weekend’s visit to Wigan just a few days after he’d scored twice against Southampton.

The options will be limited against Chelsea at the weekend due to Lukaku being unable to face his parent club, but Long, Odemwingie and their team-mates will be working as hard as ever to deliver against the European champions.

Clarke will demand nothing less, and’s that’s no joke.


Gameweek 10 preview: Stoking the Fantasy fires


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.


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