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Everton’s Leighton Baines: Replacement Therapy?

Gameweek 30 preview: The case for the defence – Volume III

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For the third time this season we’re ignoring those Fantasy Premier League attention-seekers and instead looking at those who often miss out on the headlines.

Yes, never mind your midfielders and forwards, the case for the defence has been opened again and this time ahead of a Gameweek which offers ample chance for a few clean sheets.

The best of those opportunities probably comes at Old Trafford, where Manchester United welcome a managerless Reading side in a contest that the hosts will not just expect to win – but expect to win well.

Brazilian defender Rafael da Silva (£6.2m) has excelled in the United defence this season, and with 16.9% ownership he finds himself as the most selected player from the champions-elect after Robin van Persie.

Sir Alex Ferguson surprised many by leaving Rafael out of the 4-0 win over Norwich two weeks ago – his first non-appearance of the year in the league – but the right-back was back in the team for the FA Cup tie against Chelsea last weekend, and he’s almost certain to start here in a match in which United are of course likely to be on the front foot.

Following earlier struggles for clean sheets United have now kept four in successive league matches, and with Rafael contributing three goals and five assists this season – including that stunning strike at QPR recently – then the Brazilian could be a key player in their run-in towards an almost certain league title.

Elsewhere, Tottenham will be bidding to rediscover their excellent form which they displayed prior to last weekend’s thrilling 3-2 defeat at Liverpool.

They have a good chance to find it at home to a Fulham side who have won just two away games this season, and with defender Michael Dawson (£4.6m) having now recovered from previous injuries to start and crucially finish the last 10 league games at the heart of the Spurs defence, the centre-back could be a valuable and cheap addition to your squad as Andre Villas-Boas’ side close in on a Champions League place.

Another Sunday fixture sees Chelsea host West Ham at Stamford Bridge, and although the make-up of Rafael Benitez’s defence does have a habit of changing regularly, David Luiz (£6.5m) has started the last three league games – registering his first assist of the season in the 1-0 win over West Brom last time out, a match in which he also picked up a bonus point.

Manchester City go to Everton in the opening match of the weekend, and with defender Pablo Zabaleta (£6.2m) a firm Fantasy favourite after starting the last 16 league matches there is sure to be plenty of interest in him. Leighton Baines (£7.6m) will of course provide a threat going in the other direction.

For cheaper options, the Sunderland v Norwich match offers the possibility of a stalemate with visiting defender Javier Garrido (£4.7m) bidding to follow up from last weekend’s clean sheet against Southampton with another blank against his opposition’s name. Teammate Michael Turner (£4.2m) also picked up two bonus points in that 0-0 draw.

This weekend Southampton face the tough prospect of facing a Liverpool side who have won their last three in the league, and whilst it was Daniel Agger (£6.4m) who scored the winner when the Reds beat the Saints 1-0 at Anfield in December it is the form of teammate Jose Enrique (£6.0m) which can’t be ignored here.

The left-back registered an impressive sixth assist of the season which he provided the first goal for Luis Suarez in the Tottenham win, and with two goals to his name as well he is certainly one to watch ahead of a match which Brendan Rodgers will expect his Reds to win.

If they can win it with a clean sheet then that is sure to please many.

*We’ve focused on defenders again for this Gameweek, but if you have any selection issues, dilemmas or problems then feel free to tweet us at @FantasyYirma. Goalkeepers, midfielders and forwards are allowed!

@Mark_Jones86

Gameweek 25 preview: Gareth Bale to sting The Hawthorns?

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The closure of the January transfer window may excite manic Sky Sports News presenters, the Twitter rumour-mongers and Harry Redknapp, but Fantasy bosses are often better off just sticking to what they know.

At this point of the season – pretty much exactly two-thirds of the way through – you’ll know who you can rely on in your team, who you’ll be keeping an eye on bringing in and who you desperately need to get rid of. New arrivals into the division shouldn’t alter that.

Of course there are those new players who can arrive into the Premier League and immediately take it by storm – Papiss Cisse last season anyone? – but the bedding in period often needed by foreign imports makes adding any deadline day signing to your team a risk. At least this weekend anyway.

No, it would be better to go with the tried and tested ahead of an intriguing set of games, and there aren’t many players in the division this season who have proved their worth more than Tottenham’s Gareth Bale (£9.8m).

The Welshman’s fine solo goal at Carrow Road on Wednesday night was a 10th Premier League strike of the season, and with eight of those 10 coming in matches away from White Hart Lane – in which he can make more use of the space afforded to him – then the winger will be the man to watch when Spurs visit West Brom on Sunday afternoon.

The Baggies have only won two of their last 11 in the league, and so whilst you don’t want Bale running at you at the best of times it is likely to be especially tough for Steve Clarke’s men to cope with the confidence of the winger here. Bale could score big.

Elsewhere, the headline match of the weekend is probably the last one, as Manchester City welcome Liverpool in a contest which the hosts will need to win after dropping points at QPR last time out.

Sergio Aguero (£10.9m) returned to the team there and should definitely be considered here, but even though Liverpool are facing a tough game the eagle-eyed Fantasy bosses will have noted that they have a Double Gameweek coming up next time around which brings home matches against West Brom and Swansea. Luis Suarez (£10.5m) is only going to see his price go up. More on him next week…

Reading’s Adam Le Fondre (£4.7m) might be a slightly less talked about forward than Suarez, but he proved more than his worth with the two late goals which earned a point against Chelsea in midweek, and at home to Sunderland he’ll be backed by many to find the net again. If you need a cheap forward to supplement your big boys then there are few better options at the moment.

Defensively, the scope for clean sheets doesn’t look all too great this weekend, but although QPR’s match at home to fellow strugglers Norwich will be full of new Rangers players introducing themselves to one another, it might just see the home side keep it tight at the back.

After the 3-0 loss at home to Liverpool before the turn of the year, Redknapp’s boys have kept back-to-back clean sheets at Loftus Road against opposition of the calibre of Tottenham and Manchester City, as well as shutting out Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

The Canaries should offer little to be worried about then, and after playing 90 minutes in each of QPR’s last four games the on-loan Manchester United defender Fabio da Silva (£4.2m) could just be worth considering if you need to add a cheap defender to make room elsewhere.

At the other end of the scale Leighton Baines (£7.5m) is the game’s most expensive defender and he’ll be looking to follow-up his brace against West Brom when Everton entertain Aston Villa, but the Blues have only kept two clean sheets at home all season and so Christian Benteke (£6.5m) shouldn’t be discounted for the visitors.

Finally and not too far away at Wigan, the hosts will hope that the increasingly effective Franco di Santo (£5.3m) impresses as they host Southampton on Saturday.

That’s if no-one else has signed him by then of course…

@Mark_Jones86

GW11 NOTHING BUT BONUS POINTS!!! #FPL

Gameweek 11
10 Nov 15:00 Arsenal Arsenal 3 – 3 Fulham Fulham
Bonus
Giroud (2)
Bonus
Kacaniklic (2)
Berbatov (3)
10 Nov 15:00 Everton Everton 2 – 1 Sunderland Sunderland
10 Nov 15:00 Reading Reading 0 – 0 Norwich Norwich
Bonus
Morrison
McCleary (2)
Bonus
Garrido (3)
10 Nov 15:00 Southampton Southampton 1 – 1 Swansea Swansea
Bonus
Schneiderlin (2)
Bonus
Monk (2)
Dyer (3)
10 Nov 15:00 Stoke City Stoke City 1 – 0 QPR QPR
Bonus
Shawcross (3)
Adam (2)
Bonus
Ferdinand
10 Nov 15:00 Wigan Wigan 1 – 2 West Brom West Brom
10 Nov 17:30 Aston Villa Aston Villa 2 – 3 Man Utd Man Utd
Bonus
Weimann (2)
Bonus
Carrick
Hernandez (3)
11 Nov 13:30 Man City Man City 2 – 1 Tottenham Tottenham
Bonus
Silva (2)
Aguero (3)
Bonus
Caulker
11 Nov 15:00 Newcastle Newcastle 0 – 1 West Ham West Ham
11 Nov 16:00 Chelsea Chelsea 1 – 1 Liverpool Liverpool
Bonus
Terry (2)
Bonus
Jose Enrique
Suarez (3)

Gameweek 11 preview: Rebel without a clause

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Theo Walcott still hasn’t signed a new Arsenal contract.

He hasn’t signed it at the time of writing, he’s not likely to have signed it by the time you’re reading this, and he probably still won’t have signed it when you come back to these pages ahead of Gameweek 12.

If Walcott (£8.7m) wasn’t so bland as to make a legion of football fans yearn for the post-match interviews of Michael Owen then his dispute with Arsenal could almost be portrayed as a dramatic stand-off, with the nippy winger-but-wants-to-be-thought-of-as-a-forward and Arsene Wenger drawing pistols at dawn and seeing which one backs down first.

In reality it’s just a stare-off, which will only end one day when one of the parties gets bored and decides that their time will be spent better elsewhere, be it Walcott wandering off to pastures new or Wenger realising that one of the most dynamic players in the Premier League really is worth hanging on to after all.

What it has created is a situation in which Walcott is determined to perform well to simultaneously try and prove that he’s worth keeping hold of and to impress potential future employers at the same time.

Recent goals in the Capital One Cup and the Champions League have staked Walcott’s claim for a starting berth in Wenger’s league team, and with Gervinho injured and Jack Wilshere suspended for Saturday’s home game against Fulham, the Frenchman could do worse than to hand a starting place to a player who will be desperate to impress.

Of course it would be a gamble to transfer Walcott into your team given the uncertainty over his position at Arsenal, but ahead of a Gameweek which could go one of several different ways given the fixtures it might just be a gamble worth taking, especially when you consider his differential potential (he’s owned by 1.3% of teams), the possibility that he could be played upfront and the idea that he’ll be playing for another team in January. Liverpool have been linked, and he’d start every week there.

For now he’s still at Arsenal though, where Olivier Giroud (£8.4m) and Santi Cazorla (£9.4m) will be other players worth considering if you think that the Gunners can beat Fulham at home on Saturday. Bacary Sagna (£5.4m) is a defender worth keeping an eye on now that he’s returned to the team and dislodged previous Fantasy favourite Carl Jenkinson (£5.0m).

Elsewhere, this intriguing Gameweek offers up very few strong defensive options given the close nature on paper of many of the matches, but one of the strongest surely comes at Goodison Park where Everton take on a Sunderland side who have scored just once in their last five in league and cup – and that goal came from Newcastle’s Demba Ba.

Leighton Baines (£7.6m) could be a wise move as Everton bid to end a run of four straight draws, with Nikica Jelavic (£8.5m) and last weekend’s top points scorer Marouane Fellaini (£7.2m) sure to be popular picks.

Manchester City haven’t convinced recently and their match with Tottenham on Sunday looks to be one which will include goals, whilst Chelsea will be backed to beat Liverpool especially given that Juan Mata (£9.4m) will return after missing the Swansea game and Oscar (£7.8m) will look to repeat the goal he scored in the Champions League in midweek.

Cheap striking options over the weekend can be found in Reading’s Jason Roberts (£4.5m) and Arouna Kone (£6.5m) of Wigan but for our final forward we look towards Manchester United, and not towards the player you think.

Whilst Robin van Persie (£13.5m) now features in over a third of teams, Wayne Rooney (£11.8m) can only be found in 8%, and as United click ominously into gear you have to assume that that number will only go up.

He may have missed a penalty against Arsenal last weekend but Rooney made up for that with an assist, and as @shots_on_target suggested last weekend he could be the way to go ahead of a welcoming set of fixtures for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, starting with Aston Villa on Saturday.

@Mark_Jones86

Gameweek 8 preview: The case for the defence

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As Fantasy managers we’re all guilty of paying too much attention to the goalscorers and the Fancy Dans – or rather the Fancy Edens, Santis and Shinjis – but what about the case for the defence?

After a Gameweek 7 which saw goals for Leighton Baines (£7.5m), Aleksandar Kolarov (£5.7m), Branislav Ivanovic (£7.2m), Steven Caulker (£4.7m), Jonny Evans (£5.8m), Patrice Evra (£6.8m) and two from Jose Fonte (£4.0m) – not to mention the large amount of clean sheet and bonus points handed out to defenders – perhaps it’s about time to appreciate the men at the back as much as those further forward.

A solid back line can make or break Fantasy seasons in the same way that a Polish roof can determine whether a game goes ahead or not, and we start our celebration of the often underappreciated with the man at the top.

Baines is the most expensive defender in Fantasy Premier League, yet there aren’t many better ways of spending imaginary money outside a game of Monopoly.

With two goals and two assists so far this season, Baines might be behind Chelsea’s three-goal Ivanovic in terms of points at the moment, but the Everton man’s penalty taking prowess suggests that it won’t be long before he bypasses the Serb at the top of the defenders’ table.

He scored a penalty in Everton’s last match away at Wigan, but it is Baines’ frequent forward runs and regular chance creation which make him worth the admittedly expensive punt. Money doesn’t so much talk as shout in the case of Baines, but with the Blues no doubt confident of taking something from their trip to Loftus Road to face QPR on Sunday, he could be a man to bank on again and in the weeks and months to come.

Whilst Baines’s price indicates that most would have predicted him to be a defensive star throughout the campaign, there are cheaper options who have also muscled their way towards the top.

At the start of the season the odds of Arsenal’s Carl Jenkinson (£5.1m) being a hit amongst Fantasy bosses would have been as high as Felix Baumgartner was at one point on Sunday evening, but a series of consistent displays have seen the Gunners full-back find himself in more than a fifth of teams.

Having played every minute of all seven of Arsenal’s league games this season – and seen his Fantasy price rise by almost £0.1m per game as a result – Jenkinson appears to have matured as a player from the Bambi roller-skating on ice tribute act he often resembled during his debut Arsenal campaign, and with a potential England call-up on the horizon he’ll be in a mood to impress when Arsenal go to Norwich on Saturday evening. A clean sheet looks on that horizon too.

Manchester United and Liverpool will also be confident of keeping their own sheets spotless as they host Stoke and Reading respectively, and whilst Rafael (£5.9m) and Glen Johnson (£6.4m) are perhaps the best long-term defensive options from both sides, Liverpool’s Andre Wisdom (£4.5m) presents an interesting choice after starting the Reds’ last two league games. The 19-year-old has slotted into the team at right-back, and picked up three bonus points in Liverpool’s last match against Stoke.

It is to a man who has long left Liverpool behind that we turn to for our third main defensive choice though, as John Arne Riise (£5.5m) looks to help build on Fulham’s reasonably optimistic start to the season.

The Norwegian – who has over 100 caps for his country – has yet to score for the west Londoners, but he has contributed three assists so far this season, and will be hoping to add to that total when Aston Villa head to Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon. Paul Lambert’s side haven’t exactly been prolific this season, and so the potential for clean sheet points cannot be ruled out.

They might not be as glamorous as the ones you get from your big name attackers but they all count the same in the end.

The Fancy Leightons, Carls and Johns deserve their moment in the spotlight.

@Mark_Jones86

Everton: Whatever you do, don’t look down

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There’s a curious phenomenon which involves not thinking about something, because if you do then you automatically lose.

I won’t go any further into it for fear that you’ll all join me amongst the ranks of the defeated, but the frankly quite annoying craze does raise the question of just how far you could go if you managed to keep the negatives and their consequences out of sight and out of mind.

Death, taxes and the continued popularity of Justin Bieber can’t be avoided whatever you do of course, but sometimes it is better just to not think about where your actions are taking you because of the added pressure that they create. Success breeds success, but it also breeds expectation.

Everton’s fine start to the season has got some of their supporters thinking about a Champions League place already, just weeks after those same fans were facing the prospect of potentially losing manager David Moyes to Tottenham – one of at least half of the clubs in the Premier League who are better financially equipped for a top four place than the Blues.

That’s not to say that there are at least 10 better teams than Everton in the league at the moment, because clearly there are a lot less.

Second at the start of October is a superb and deserved position for Moyes’ side to be in, with the club’s success a testament to the fine signings made by the manager in the last two transfer windows and his ability to keep hold of his key players.

Outsiders may have seen the summer sale of Jack Rodwell to Manchester City as a severe weakening of Everton’s playing resources, but offer any Goodison Park regular the choice of selling him, Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines or Nikica Jelavic and they’d have driven Rodwell down the East Lancs Road to Manchester themselves.

That one of those players probably needed to be sold is due to the still curiously unreported financial situation at a club which, despite the progress on the pitch, is standing still off it under the ownership of Bill Kenwright.

The theatre impresario made a cameo appearance on Coronation Street earlier this year, and the majority of Everton supporters have long since come to view his insistence that there isn’t a suitable party out there to buy the club and invest in it as a tired old act.

It is for this reason and not for anything that they are doing on the pitch that Everton should just try to keep things ticking over at the moment. Getting up to the higher reaches of the table has been one thing, but staying there will be another once the might of the usual suspects kicks in.

Of course this would be the perfect time for investment to arrive at a club with a talented playing squad, passionate fans and a committed manager determined to succeed for both, but those supporters have long since grown tired of Kenwright’s caution and aren’t expecting radical changes any time soon. In the meantime they can just enjoy the fine football their team are playing.

And they could well go on playing it.

Visits to Wigan and QPR in their next two matches either side of the international break are unlikely to faze this Everton side, and neither will the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park at the end of the month – although the Blues do seem to have a knack of coming up short against Liverpool when many consider them favourites.

That is a negative thought though, and such things should be banned from entering Everton heads. Right now they are one of the big boys of the Premier League and they should go on thinking like that.

‘Taking each game as it comes’ is one of the oldest and most useless phrases in the football handbook, but as long as those games are approached positively then there’s no reason why good runs can’t be extended to be become good seasons.

Just try not to think about what’ll happen to Moyes, the players and the club if it doesn’t though.

@Mark_Jones86

Gameweek 6 preview: Hair today, goals tomorrow?

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The trouble with pesky competitions like the Capital One Cup – which still sounds like an employee of the month award – is that they can easily get in the way of your Fantasy Premier League team’s progress.

They can affect the mood of teams in the real thing too, and as such Everton’s week suddenly doesn’t look as rosy as it did when Marouane Fellaini (£7.2m) headed in the third of their three goals in the convincing win at Swansea last Saturday.

The cup loss to Leeds in midweek saw the chances of David Moyes making this the season that he picks up a first trophy at Everton effectively reduced by 50%, and the question now has to be whether or not that’ll affect the Blues’ fine league form which has taken them to third in the table after five games.

All eyes will be on Goodison Park on Saturday then, as Everton seek to bounce back at the first time of asking by welcoming Southampton.

As fixtures go it is a pretty decent one to make your recovery from midweek misery, and if you can see them getting over the Elland Road loss quickly then expect the Blues to be flying come Saturday afternoon. With fixtures against Wigan and QPR to come in the immediate future too, it could be a good time to put your faith in Moyes’s boys to earn you points, with Fellaini the man most likely.

That said, Nikica Jelavic (£8.4m) is also primed to return here after missing the Swansea game and only appearing as a substitute against Leeds, whilst those who can afford Leighton Baines (£7.2m) will be getting a severely underrated defender who has already contributed a goal, two assists and two clean sheets this season. He could well be set to add to that tally at the weekend.

Across Stanley Park at Liverpool, things could just be about to change for the better.

Last weekend’s unfortunate loss to Manchester United brought an end to a tricky run of fixtures for Brendan Rodgers’ side, and although the midweek Capital One Cup win at West Bromwich Albion was achieved with a smattering of youngsters, it might just have restored somewhat of a feelgood factor amongst those at the club.

Norwich await in the Premier League at Carrow Road on Saturday, and with the Canaries having only found the net twice in their five league games this season – plus with winnable home games against Stoke and Reading on the horizon – it might just be the time to put your faith in Rodgers’ rearguard.

Injury and rotation issues mean that the only two defenders certain to start for Liverpool at the weekend are Glen Johnson (£6.4m) and Martin Skrtel (£6.0m), and with the pair offering the potential for assist and goal points respectively then either could be good additions. It is further forward where Liverpool could make their mark this weekend though, with Raheem Sterling (£4.6m) still an astute cheap choice and Luis Suarez (£9.4m) ready to fire back at a ground where he scored a hat-trick last season. Those now debating whether or not to stick with Carlos Tevez (£9.9m) could decide to switch to the Uruguayan.

Tevez and his Manchester City team-mates go to Fulham on Saturday, and with City far from certain to get a result there and clashes between Arsenal and Chelsea and Manchester United and Tottenham proving somewhat unpredictable, it might pay to look elsewhere for some points.

With apologies to Steven Fletcher (£7.2m) his goalscoring run has become impossible to ignore, and whilst climbing on board the Fletcher bandwagon has to come with the warning that Sunderland face City away next, this weekend’s fixture at home to Wigan could be the perfect one to see the Scot continue his scoring run.

@Mark_Jones86

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