Happy Holidays to all. Let’s preview the big Boxing Day weekend from a fantasy footie perspective. But first, one last note on last weekend’s snowed out fixtures:
As we have said for almost 2 years, the emergency captain rule is a joke of a rule – no one in their right mind would captain Tim Cahill at Manchester City – in fact he was most players’ sixth or seventh option (on form / value) for the captain armband but of course – with the snow – those managers with Cahill picked up a whopping 26 points this past week – netting a remarkable 13 x 2. Let’s hope the Fantasy Premier League does something about this next season as some of us (clears throat) take this game a bit more seriously than others… What a shame. But now – let’s look forward not backwards!
I. Chelsea @ Arsenal: Carlo Ancelotti says that Didier Drogba is still the man to fear, despite the Ivorian’s loss of form over the last two months. Since he came down with malaria, Drogba has been a fantasy bust, but Chelsea have won their last five meetings against Arsenal with Drogba scoring six times.
Lukasz Fabianski, Cesc Fabregas, and Robin van Persie should all start against Chelsea – something we haven’t seen much of this season – all three first choice players fit and ready to go in a pivotal game. Will that make a difference?
Frank Lampard and Michael Essien will look to be the difference makers for Chelsea on the road. No clean sheets in this one – but still play Ashley Cole if you own him as he’ll do his best to bomb forward against his old club.
Drogba and Anelka, of course are your likeliest scorers. I don’t think Chelsea has the disciplined 5-man midfield approach to suck Arsenal’s passing game out like Manchester United did in a 1-0 win at Old Trafford just weeks ago, but I do think Chelsea has the physical presence to score at Arsenal. A score draw is a likely scenario, but I’ll go for a shock road win by the out of form Blues.
Prediction: 1 – 2 Chelsea
II. Sunderland @ Manchester United: There are some tricky ‘fantasy friendly’ matches by a few road teams – as Liverpool should beat Blackpool through Torres and the returning Gerrard and Tottenham could upset their former Europa League rivals Aston Villa at Villa Park, but let’s go with a home banker – Manchester United.
It’s Christmas time, which means it’s form time for Sir Alex’s men. Up and down the park, you should have some United exposure in your fantasy lineup. Vidic is your expensive defensive option and Captain. Rafael da Silva is the cheapest way into the defense – though Neville, O’Shea, and Brown – three Champions League winners – will do their best to steal starts from the young Brazilian right back here and there. In midfield, it’s all Nani all the time. Up front, of course, it’s Rooney- still on penalties despite the miss against Arsenal, and Dimitar Berbatov – who leads the league in scoring.
Sunderland have excellent speed through Gyan and Bent (Welbeck is unavailable as he’s on loan from United to Sunderland) and they also have some strength with Henderson but Cattermole is suspended. Zenden or Malbranque will fill in but they can’t cope with the likes of Anderson, Park, and Nani. United will win the midfield battle, and ultimately, the game. Sunderland’s only chance to take points comes in the form of their amazing goalkeeper Gordon – who has looked great after returning from injury.
Prediction: 2 – 0 Manchester United
III. Studs & Duds: Baines and Cahill – who stuck a dagger into many fantasy managers’ hearts last weekend at Manchester City, continue as studs as Everton have a home game against Birmingham. Studs. Rafael van der Vaart scored twice the last time Tottenham played Aston Villa – in October – so the Dutch master is a stud. On free kicks and penalties for a Spurs side that is confident home or away. Bale, Modric or Defoe are the other options – better in ‘real life’ than they are in fantasy footie though…
West Ham have only 2 wins this season – the same amount as their London rivals Fulham do – who have been draw specialists this year. The teams square off in a relegation six-pointer at Craven Cottage with the losing manager surely fearing for their jobs. I expect a goal or two and an open game from each side, as both clubs will need / want to win this. 0-0 doesn’t really help anyone here. Dempsey, then, and Scott Parker, are your studs. Pantsil has been an under the radar bonus magnet as of late – and he’s very cheap (4.5M), if you want to bank on a Mark Hughes clean sheet. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Ghanaian.
I like Blackburn home to Stoke – play Gamst and his buddies as studs. Bolton home to West Brom seems like a good match for Davies / Elmander but I think West Brom will have some firepower on the counter-attack as long as studs Brunt and Odemwingie are fit. If they are, expect goals for both sides. Attacking studs.
Duds this week are the usually reliable Sunderland and Birmingham defenders – both on the road, both should concede. I also don’t put much faith in Newcastle keeping a cheap clean sheet at home to Tevez and company, but then again – that game is up in the air as Newcastle have put in some amazing performances at home this year. Play Andy Carroll in case he breaches Joe Hart’s net. Stud / dud fence for both Hart and Carroll then.
I like Liverpool players to score at Blackpool if that game is on – Torres is a stud then. The game could be in doubt due to freezing conditions and the lack of undersoil heating at Blackpool. 50-50 at the moment which is bad news for Torres owners (including myself) who were expecting an easy game last week (home to Fulham!) and this weekend (at Blackpool) for 2 or 3 Torres goals and 180 minutes played but may end up with zero minutes played. Big time bummer.
IV. Gameweek 19 Best Eleven:
D: Vidic – Baines – Pantsil
M: Dempsey – Cahill – Gamst – Nani – Fabregas
F: Torres – Rooney
Subs: Hennessey – Drogba – G. Cahill – Ferreira