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60 minute matches and Gareth Bale for £6m ??

Fantasy Football GW34 preview: Has Michu’s magic returned?

The sun is shining and Michu (£8.0m) is scoring goals. It suddenly feels like August again doesn’t it?

Swansea’s Spaniard made one of the most spectacular entrances into Fantasy Premier League that we can remember, scoring four goals in his first three games and finishing the year 2012 on 13 strikes. All whilst handily listed as a midfielder.

The goals saw his Fantasy price rocket up from an initial £6.5m, with his ownership percentage increasing each week as a result. However since a goal against Manchester United just before Christmas, Michu has scored just four in 12 games since then. As a player who doesn’t contribute many assists (just two in that time and three all season), the Spaniard started to lose support.

The early season additions to many teams still sees his ownership percentage at a huge 44.1%, above the likes of Luis Suarez (39.8%), Robin van Persie (37.8%) and indeed everyone else, and after a recent return to goalscoring form there will be even more managers who are willing to take him on board in the closing weeks of the season.

Strikes against Tottenham and Norwich in the past two weeks have taken Michu’s tally to 17 goals this campaign, and after Swansea missed out on playing last weekend he has a double gameweek on the horizon in a bid to find even more.

This weekend though he faces a home game against a Southampton side who have failed to win away at a team ranked above them in the table all season, and so Michael Laudrup’s side will be confident of delivering a victory which will keep them in the top half of the table.

Michu is almost certain to be key to those hopes.

Elsewhere on a Saturday which is likely to go a long way towards determining who will be relegated this season, Norwich host a struggling Reading outfit who still look set to go down despite goalkeeper Alex McCarthy (£3.9m) earning them a point from a goalless draw with Liverpool last weekend.

Like Michu, Robert Snodgrass (£6.3m) scored in the last game at Carrow Road – Norwich’s 2-2 draw with Swansea – and the Scottish midfielder is likely to be a key element to the Canaries’ attempts to break down the Royals on Saturday, when Snodgrass will be looking to improve on his record of five goals and six assists this season.

FA Cup finalists Wigan are another side battling the drop, and although they could find it tough this weekend as they return to London to face West Ham, they do so offer intriguing cheap forward options in Arouna Kone (£6.6m) and Callum McManaman (£4.5m).

QPR simply have to beat struggling Stoke if any hope of them staying up is to remain, and so Loic Remy (£5.9m) is certain to be one to watch, whilst Sunderland’s Adam Johnson (£6.7m) is sure to be key to his side’s hopes of a second successive win as they host a strong Everton outfit.

Sunday’s matches bring together four of the top seven in a couple of big-hitting clashes, and whilst Tottenham will be hoping for the return to fitness of Gareth Bale (£10.5m) ahead of their match against Manchester City, it is a return to form that Suarez (£11.1m) will be after as Liverpool host Chelsea. After hitting 11 goals in 10 matches, the Uruguayan now hasn’t managed any in his last four.

Monday night will see Manchester United expect a victory from their home clash with Aston Villa, and whilst Van Persie (£13.6m) managed to find the net for the first time in 12 and a half hours of football for United against Stoke last weekend, it could be Wayne Rooney (£12.1m) who steals the show this time.

Stationed in a deeper role against Stoke, Rooney will be determined to return to a position further forward here, and he could just make struggling Villa pay.

@Mark_Jones86

Norwich: Standing on the shoulders of giants

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Norwich City have beaten Arsenal and Manchester United this season and are currently on the same amount of points as Liverpool. They haven’t so much snuck up on the Premier League’s big boys as gatecrashed their party entirely.

It wasn’t always like this of course. There was genuine concern in Norfolk at the end of September and beginning of October when Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres and Eden Hazard cut Chris Hughton’s side apart as Liverpool and Chelsea beat them 5-2 and 4-1 respectively.

They were results which left the Canaries second to bottom of the Premier League with three points from seven matches, still winless and still licking their wounds from a 5-0 loss at Fulham on the opening day. A long, uncomfortable campaign beckoned for Hughton in his first season in the Carrow Road hotseat.

Yet the transformation since then has been nothing short of remarkable.

It started with the home win over Arsenal in mid-October, finally a first three points of the campaign and what looked a pretty decent platform to build upon. It’s proved to be the most solid.

The victory over the Gunners was the start of an eight-match unbeaten league run – nine if you count the Capital One Cup win over Tottenham – which has seen the Canaries concede only four goals. As QPR and Reading – their partners in the relegation zone in those uncomfortable early weeks – have failed to escape the bottom three, Norwich have soared up the table with the talk in Norfolk now concerning just whether Hughton can deliver a top half finish.

The most memorable of those eight unbeaten games surely came against Manchester United last month, when Anthony Pilkington’s winner underlined the quality within a squad which has largely been drawn from players in the lower leagues.

Pilkington, Bradley Johnson, Robert Snodgrass, Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt have all served their apprenticeships away from the limelight – literally in the case of Holt who had spells at Workington, Halifax, Barrow and Singaporean club Sengkang Marine during his early years as a footballer, years in which he subsidised his income by working in a factory.

It’s been a long road to the top for him and for Norwich, who often impressed under Paul Lambert last season of course as their back-to-back promotions were topped off with a campaign which never saw them in serious relegation trouble.

Yet when Lambert went to Aston Villa there were concerns that Hughton would struggle with what is still largely the Scot’s team, with those concerns playing out on the pitch in the opening months of the season.

Things still aren’t perfect of course. The win over Sunderland on Sunday was only the second time all season after that Liverpool loss that the Canaries had scored two goals in a league game, whilst they are still to record a win away from home – something that they’ll be looking to put right at Swansea on Saturday.

It is their fine home form which is driving things forward at the moment though, with that Sunderland win opening up a seven point gap between them and the relegation zone. More importantly, there are only seven points between them and third-placed Chelsea.

Such heights might have to remain in the ‘dizzying’ category for some time of course, but there is no sense that Norwich are trying to run before they can walk as their impressive campaign continues.

Just where it will take them remains to be seen, but you get the sense that the club’s fans are more than happy to just enjoy the ride at the moment. Relegation fears shouldn’t be completely dismissed just yet, but they can surely be forgotten about over the busy Christmas period.

Their last two fixtures of a 2012 which has shown that they are not afraid of the big boys are at home to Chelsea and Manchester City.

The pair have been warned.

@Mark_Jones86

Diamonds in the rough

We’ve already had a look at some of the big name additions to Fantasy Premier League this season, but what about the less heralded ones? Their arrivals haven’t been met with the same fanfare as others, but they’re still worth considering as you try and find some value names to fit alongside the big money stars.

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Michu, Midfielder, Swansea – Fantasy Price Tag £6.5m

A quick scan of the top 10 goalscorers’ list in La Liga last season would return the names of all the usual suspects, but below Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the others lies the little-known Miguel Perez Cuesta – or ‘Michu’ to his mates.

In his one and only season with Rayo Vallecano, the 6ft 1ins midfielder returned 15 goals to end the campaign as the Spanish top flight’s joint-ninth top scorer, a hardly insignificant feat at a struggling club. Which brings us to Swansea.

There are so many unanswered questions about just what Michael Laudrup will bring to the Swans following the departure of Brendan Rodgers, but the general consensus appears to be that they’ll struggle to hit the heights that they were capable of last season. This is where Michu – hardly a novice at 26 – could come in.

If he’s half as effective as Gylfi Sigurdsson was in the attacking midfield position then the £2m spent by Swansea to bring him to Wales will be money well invested, and whilst you’ll have to shell out three times as much of your Fantasy money to add him to your side, he might just be a gamble that quickly pays off.

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Matt Lowton, Defender, Aston Villa – Fantasy Price Tag £4.5m

Paul Lambert needs to quickly make an impact on an Aston Villa side which could struggle to shake off the negativity of the Alex McLeish ‘era’ (if you can call that an era), and in Lowton he may have found a player who’ll help him do just that.

The 23-year-old right-back arrives from Sheffield United having impressed all who came across him in League One last season, when he even managed to chip in with six goals.

He’ll face a battle with Alan Hutton for a starting berth at Villa Park, but there is nothing to suggest that that is a battle he won’t quickly win, and if he hits his stride early then Villa supporters are sure to take to a player who was loved at Bramall Lane.

The leap from the third tier to the Premier League was one successfully made by Lambert and his Norwich side in the space of two years, and now that the Scot has seen something in Lowton then he too could successfully make that jump – albeit in a much shorter time.

You get the feeling that rather than be intimidated by that scrutiny though, Lowton could thrive under it.

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Robert Snodgrass, Midfielder, Norwich – Fantasy Price Tag £6.0m

Leeds United boss Neil Warnock tried to move heaven and earth to keep Snodgrass at Elland Road, and it’s not hard to see why.

The former Livingston wideman has been the heart and soul of the Whites for the past four years, but after failing to achieve promotion with the Yorkshire side he’s finally decided that the top flight is place to be at the age of 24.

Forty-three goals over his time at Leeds shows that he knows where the net is, and the Scot will be looked to by Chris Hughton as one of his main men as the former Newcastle and Birmingham boss seeks to get comfortable behind his desk at Carrow Road.

Snodgrass has crucial leadership abilities that he picked up during his time with Leeds, and so with the Premier League unlikely to intimidate him, he could quickly become an integral part of both the Norwich side and of yours.

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Steven Naismith, Forward, Everton – Fantasy Price Tag £6.5m

Whilst Naismith will be making trips to Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in the coming season, the newco Rangers that he left behind will be going to Montrose, Berwick and Elgin, and so whilst there was sure to be emotional issues behind his decision to leave Ibrox you can’t argue with the sporting reasons.

The forward had his injury problems last season, but as a hard-working, strong-willed Scot he’s sure to fit in very well with David Moyes’s plans, especially now that the Blues have lost Tim Cahill.

Naismith’s former Rangers team-mate Nikica Jelavić (£8.5m and a popular choice) will of course be Everton’s key man in the coming campaign, but with Naismith, Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini buzzing around him then goals look assured.

The step up from Scottish Premier League to Fantasy Premier League isn’t always as smooth as Jelavić made it look last season, but Naismith has the tools to make a good impact at Goodison Park, and offer an interesting alternative to several Fantasy managers.

Mladen Petric, Forward, Fulham – Fantasy Price Tag £6.0m

With Clint Dempsey looking likely to head for the departure gate marked ‘Anfield,’ the key question facing Fulham is just where will the goals come from now?

The signing of Hugo Rodallega is a welcome rather than inspiring one, but the 31-year-old Petric adds experience and good pedigree.

The Croatian won’t be troubling the top end of the goalscorer’s list in the coming campaign, but if he can maintain his fitness and get a regular run in the side then there’s no reason why the former Hamburg man can’t hit double figures, a reasonable target for the third forward in your Fantasy squad.

Having already played under Martin Jol in Germany, Petric crucially knows that he’ll be heading into his first campaign in England with the trust of his manager. Maybe you should trust him too?

*M

@Mark_Jones

To join the free Fantasy Yirma mini league on the official premier league game follow this link. Remember Free to Play … £50 to the winner!! What’s to lose?? http://fantasy.premierleague.com/my-leagues/15005/join/?autojoin-code=44397-15005

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