It may have snuck up on you somewhat, but Steven Gerrard (£9.7m) is currently the fourth top points scorer in Fantasy Premier League.
Only Robin van Persie (£14.1m), Juan Mata (£10.1m) and his Liverpool team-mate Luis Suarez (£10.7m) have picked up more points than the Reds captain, who has benefitted from a new fitness regime brought in by Brendan Rodgers as he’s played every single minute of Liverpool’s 25 league games this season.
The likes of Gareth Bale (£9.8m), Theo Walcott (£9.6m) and Michu (£8.4m) have all been passed by Gerrard in recent weeks, as the frequent niggling injuries which have dogged his last few campaigns and seen his team struggle along without him have become a thing of the past.
Seven goals and 12 assists tell their own story of a player who is arguably in his best form for five years, and the England captain could be a man to trust ahead of Liverpool’s double Gameweek.
Points look on offer for the men from Anfield in home matches against a West Brom outfit who have lost five of their last six in the league and then a Swansea team which will be playing just a week before their appearance in the Capital One Cup final. It must be noted that Liverpool travel to Zenit St Petersburg for a Europa League tie in between those matches, but Rodgers is likely to chop and change things for that one. It’ll be the league that he’ll be focusing on.
Gerrard – having picked up bonus points in six of his last nine matches – won’t be in a hurry to let go of that 100% league record, and off the back of his trademark goal against Manchester City last weekend he’ll be vital in his team’s hunt for points, and maybe yours too.
Despite the Englishman’s form, Suarez is still likely to be captaincy choice of the majority – and six goals in his last six games tells you just why – whilst the impact of Daniel Sturridge (£7.7m) at Anfield also makes him worth considering despite a niggling injury.
However with Liverpool now boasting the Premier League’s best home defensive record having conceded just 10 goals, a move for Glen Johnson (£6.4m) could prove wise given the right-back’s qualities going forward. The Reds are likely to be on the front foot in both of their matches, and Johnson could prove to be a key part of that.
Elsewhere the first of Swansea’s pair of matches is at home to bottom of the table QPR, and so there will be support for Michu and the increasingly popular Ben Davies (£4.6m).
Chelsea will be backed to beat Wigan at Stamford Bridge in a match which could see Fernando Torres (£9.4m) fire given the facial injury suffered by Demba Ba (£8.2m) – well, it could ― whilst Eden Hazard (£9.3m) will return from his ban. Wayne Rooney’s (£11.9m) renaissance might continue at home to former club Everton at Old Trafford, where Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea (£5.5m) will be looking to follow up what was only a fourth clean sheet of the season at Fulham last time out with another shutout.
Sergio Aguero’s (£10.9m) stunning goal against Liverpool last weekend might finally convince many that he is the Manchester City forward to bank on ahead of his side’s trip to Southampton, whilst Emmanuel Adebayor (£9.0m) is set for a return to the Tottenham squad for the home clash with Newcastle.
Whilst the Togolese was away at the African Nations Cup, Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke (£6.7m) picked up support from Fantasy bosses as the key man in his struggling team, and with the Belgian hitting five goals in his last five games to become one of the 26 players have reached over 100 points by Gameweek 26 he is sure to keep that support onside.
Villa face West Ham at Villa Park on Saturday, and with the visitors losing eight of their 12 away games this season, Benteke can improve on his tally even more.
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Norwich City must hate it that Luis Suarez (£10.4m) is never out of the headlines. It only brings back bad memories.
Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward may have found himself back in the news yet again, but he is unlikely to let that distract him from his goal this weekend, which is namely to improve upon the six goals he’s scored against Norwich the last two times he’s faced them.
Back-to-back hat-tricks at Carrow Road at the back end of last season and the beginning of this one make Suarez a player to watch when the Reds meet the Canaries at Anfield on Saturday afternoon, and with Liverpool coming into the match off the back of scoring 12 goals in their last five home games then they are sure to be confident.
Daniel Sturridge (£7.3m) is certain to make a first Premier League start for the Reds as he bids to follow up on last weekend’s goal in the defeat at Old Trafford, but it is Suarez’s form in this fixture that simply can’t be ignored, and the Uruguayan looks to be a man to follow following six goals in his last six Anfield appearances.
Elsewhere it is Arsenal who are attracting all of the attention ahead of their Double Gameweek, and rightly so.
Jack Wilshere (£6.4m) impressed in the FA Cup in midweek and could be a decent squad addition for those who have the cash, but the attention simply has to be drawn to Theo Walcott (£9.1m) once again.
One of the big hits of the Christmas period, Walcott should start in his preferred striking role as Arsenal go to Chelsea and then host West Ham in back-to-back matches which look to be vital for their hopes of a top four place.
The away game at Chelsea is of course the more difficult of the two, but Rafael Benitez’s team have struggled at home recently, and Walcott will back himself to impress against a defence who don’t look the quickest. They could become even slower should John Terry (£6.5m) return to the team at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Other Arsenal players to keep an eye on ahead of the Double Gameweek include Kieran Gibbs (£5.6m), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (£7.2m) and Lukas Podolski (£8.2m), whilst the Gunners’ capability to concede a goal or two should also draw the eye to West Ham’s players this week, particularly given that the first leg of their double comes at home to bottom club Queens Park Rangers.
Kevin Nolan (£6.5m) features in 12.8% of teams already and that number only looks like going up ahead of those two tests, whilst the return from injury of Mohamed Diame (£4.7m) is also a boost to Sam Allardyce and his squad.
Elsewhere, the Manchester City defence looks likely to keep a clean sheet at home to a powderpuff Fulham attack, and with Vincent Kompany (£7.1m) now available after his red card at Arsenal was overturned he’s likely to take his place at the back alongside the likes of Matija Nastasic (£5.6m) and Gael Clichy (£5.6m).
Tottenham’s clash with Manchester United on Sunday looks to be one in which attacking players will shine in, and with Wayne Rooney (£11.8m) now back to fitness he’ll offer an interesting alternative for managers who can’t quite afford Robin van Persie (£14.1m).
Twenty-four hours earlier, Michu (£8.3m) will go in search of a first Premier League goal since before Christmas – a drought by his standards – as Swansea host Stoke in a clash of styles, whilst Southampton’s recent improvement will be tested by Everton when the two sides meet at St Mary’s on Monday night. Saints defender Luke Shaw (£4.0m) is proving to be a valuable wildcard addition to several teams.
Romelu Lukaku (£6.5m) could be one too, and on Saturday night the West Brom forward lines up against an Aston Villa outfit who have shipped goals recently.
Like Norwich, Villa might want to avoid the headlines on Sunday morning.
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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.
As symbolism goes the image was a pretty stark one.
On a chilly Sunday afternoon when there were many more serious issues than football to ponder at Anfield it seems wrong to pay so much attention to the mere matters that were going on at pitch level, but just seconds into the second half there was a moment that spoke volumes for just where Liverpool are heading under Brendan Rodgers.
The 18-year-old Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáez de la Torre – or ‘Suso’ to his mates and now the millions worldwide who watched his Premier League debut on Sunday – picked the ball up on the left corner of the penalty area and was suddenly face-to-face with the man he’d entered the pitch with seconds earlier.
Whilst Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had turned to Paul Scholes, 37, at half-time as his side sought to gain control of midfield now that Liverpool were down to 10 men, Rodgers had opted for Suso to replace the injured Fabio Borini.
Undeterred by the sense of occasion, the fact that this was his first act as a Premier League footballer nor that his side had seen a man sent off, Suso faced up to Scholes on the corner of the box, showed him the ball and then quick as a flash burst past a man more than twice his age. At that moment the great Scholes could probably feel his old bones creaking.
That Suso’s cross was only half-cleared and eventually – via the good work of Glen Johnson – resulted in Steven Gerrard firing Liverpool into a deserved lead only crystallised the moment more. These young Liverpool players, regardless of who they are facing and how many players they are facing them with, are fearless.
At 18 Suso wasn’t even the youngest Reds player on the pitch at the time, with that honour going to the 17-year-old Raheem Sterling. Jonjo Shelvey, 20, had somewhat harshly been sent off by then, whilst the injury suffered by the 22-year-old Martin Kelly would leave Liverpool with just nine men by full-time. Borini, 21, and Joe Allen, 22, were playing in their third Anfield league game since big summer moves to Merseyside, a switch made by 22-year-old second half substitute Jordan Henderson last year. The 19-year-old Andre Wisdom scored in the Europa League last week and could now be set for more appearances given that Kelly is out for the foreseeable future with an ACL injury. Many more young players at set to feature in the Capital One Cup at West Brom on Wednesday night.
The omnipresence of Gerrard and a late cameo from Jamie Carragher reminded everyone that this isn’t a total revolution just yet, but it is hard to think of a club operating at the levels Liverpool are that is currently putting so much faith in youth. As admirable as it is, the worry has to be that it is too much too soon.
The club’s failings in the transfer market have a lot to do with it of course, but Rodgers is on record extolling the virtues of his young charges.
As he and Ferguson have said in the past, young players will rarely let you down when called upon, but at a time when the club are coming to terms with a new style of play as well as new personnel with which to play it, the potential for errors has crept in. At this level such mistakes can and will be capitalised on, as United showed in coming back to win on Sunday.
The next three Premier League fixtures – away at Norwich and then at home to Stoke and Reading – have already been identified as crucial to Liverpool following their tough start, and the youngsters in the team are likely to have to grow up quickly if success is to be achieved in all of them.
There is no doubt that a great excitement builds when the likes of Suso and Sterling get the ball, but it is up to Gerrard and Luis Suarez to show seniority and help guide them. Allen, the excellent Johnson and the still acclimatising Nuri Sahin will prove important in this regard too.
Is it too much too young for some of these Liverpool players? That remains to be seen, but one thing that they are certainly not lacking in is confidence. If Suso can do that to Scholes, then anything is possible.
The kids aren’t United, they’re Liverpool, and this could just be the start of something special if it is given time.
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Injuries, terrible form and appointments with Argentinean golf courses were all reasons why these five didn’t shine in Yirma in 2011/12, but could things be different this time around?
Fernando Torres, Chelsea, Forward – Fantasy Price Tag £10.0m
Just the FA Cup, Champions League, European Championships and Euro Golden Boot award made last term an unforgettable season to forget for Torres, who still comes across as one of the bigger enigmas in the division.
Bit part roles in all of those successes will have created a hunger though, and a desire to prove that the £50m Chelsea invested in him a year-and-a-half ago could still prove to be money well spent. There is a sense that if it’s ever going to happen, it’ll have to happen now.
Last season he scored exactly a quarter of the goals and picked up over 100 less Fantasy points than he managed in his electric debut season at Liverpool in 2007/08, and whilst he is unlikely to hit those heights again he might at least find himself approaching them.
The departure of Didier Drogba and the decision to loan Romelu Lukaku to West Brom has seen Roberto di Matteo place a huge vote of confidence in Torres, and with Chelsea recruiting creative players from all over the world to help him out this summer he won’t exactly be short of goalscoring chances.
He’s likely to take more than a few of them too.
Stewart Downing, Liverpool, Midfielder – Fantasy Price Tag £6.5m
By now everyone knows the stats, so much so that it doesn’t even matter that they weren’t true.
As endless tweets, Facebook jokes and message board posts will tell you, Downing’s first season as Liverpool’s £20m winger produced zero goals and zero assists – even though the Fantasy stats point out that he set up two goals in a match at QPR, whilst he managed a couple of strikes during the Reds’ run to the finals of both domestic cup competitions.
Regardless of that, his performances were still nowhere near what Liverpool supporters demanded, and the England man will know that he’ll have to step up his displays if his future at the club is to last much longer. Fortunately for him, he might just have the chance to.
With Brendan Rodgers ready to switch Liverpool’s approach to a 4-3-3 formation, Downing would appear set to occupy the wide right position in the front trio alongside Luis Suárez and Fabio Borini, at least until the Reds dip back into the transfer market – although the emergence of youngster Raheem Sterling (£4.5m) is worth keeping an eye on.
It was from a similar position that Downing bagged 163 Fantasy points in his final season at Aston Villa, more than double he got at Liverpool last season and including seven goals and nine assists for those who like to keep a track of such things.
He might not manage the same tally again, but an improvement looks almost certain.
He could scarcely have got any worse.
Carlos Tevez, Manchester City, Forward – Fantasy Price Tag £9.0m
He’s back – for now – and he looks ready to make up for lost time.
Manchester City fans may have forgotten all about Tevez’s indiscretions last season the moment he started banging the goals in, and Fantasy bosses might be ready to do just the same.
The forward’s fine goal in the Community Shield on Sunday could have been taken from the impressive back catalogue he built up in scoring first 210 and then 185 Fantasy points in each of his first two seasons at City, and now seemingly back on board and back in Roberto Mancini’s plans, it might not be the last such wonderful strike.
The prospect of building a partnership with Sergio Agüero should have City fans drooling and opposition defenders dreading, and if Tevez quickly settles down and – more importantly – is kept happy, then his £9.0m Fantasy price tag could suddenly start looking incredibly cheap.
Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United, Defender – Fantasy Price Tag £7.0m
Would Manchester United have won the league last season if Vidic had been around all campaign?
It’s impossible to predict of course, but the presence of a player who scored well over 100 points in four out of his five other seasons in Fantasy Premier League, and 94 in the other one, certainly would have aided a United side who chopped and changed things at the back after the Serb picked up the knee injury in November which ruled him out of the rest of the campaign.
Now fit, the club captain will slot straight back into Sir Alex Ferguson’s side as if he has never been away, and his club are likely to benefit from both his defensive organisational abilities and his goalscoring threat in the opposition penalty area.
A real leader, Vidic’s return isn’t just a welcome one for United fans but also for Fantasy bosses who were frequently left scratching their heads at just which players would line-up for Ferguson’s side last season.
When fit Vidic walks in to United’s team, and could well walk into yours too.
Lucas, Liverpool, Midfielder – Fantasy Price Tag £5.0m
Like Vidic at United, Lucas’s absence from over half of Liverpool’s season can’t be underestimated, but was certainly vital.
The Brazilian isn’t the kind of player who’ll win man of the match awards every week or even get you a lot of Fantasy points, but it was clear to see how Liverpool struggled as soon as he picked up the problem in November which ruled him out of the rest of the campaign, with youthful, often raw players pressed into service in his absence.
Now back and taking his place in the centre of a Liverpool team who are likely to dominate possession in the vast majority of their games, Lucas will be looking to get back to the form which has made him one of the top defensive midfielders in world football, and he could well be regarded as an excellent cheap option for your team at just £5.0m.
Consistency is key for the Brazilian, and if you’re prepared to play a squad game then his valuable input and steady accumulation of points could be just what you need.