Good news for those fantasy managers stocked with Chelsea and Southampton players – it’s your lucky week. A double gameweek has fallen on our wintry schedule as Chelsea and Southampton face off on January 16th at Stamford Bridge. But the new fixture in our gameweek comes perhaps with more questions than answers, as John Terry and Petr Cech edge closer to fitness, Demba Ba joins Fernando Torres up front, and Rafa Benitez is bound to rotate his squad with league and cup fixtures coming in such close succession. Let’s jump in and sort it all out for you.
I. Liverpool @ Manchester United: The two biggest and most successful clubs in English football, face each other for the 241st time at Old Trafford on Sunday. This one really comes down to Robin van Persie vs Luis Suarez – the league’s two best forwards.
From a fantasy perspective, you can’t look past the aforementioned RVP & Suarez – the two highest point-scorers in the Fantasy Premier League, and the two highest goal-scorers as well, with 16 and 15 goals respectively.
Daniel Sturridge could be handed his Liverpool league debut, though I expect Brendan Rodgers to keep the new signing from Chelsea on his bench in this one and stick with the in-form Suarez up front. Steven Gerrard has returned to fantasy relevance over the past few months, and if Liverpool have any hope of a result – they’ll need Gerrard and Suarez to combine for something special.
I think RVP will be too much, even if Wayne Rooney is not fully recovered from injury.
Prediction: 2-1 Manchester United win.
II. Chelsea Double Gameweek [at Stoke, vs Southampton]: Chelsea (and Southampton) have been handed a double gameweek out of the blue, which may have caught some fantasy managers by surprise but those with Chelsea coverage such as Mata or Ba/Torres in their teams already will be licking their lips at the point-scoring prospects despite the poor 2-0 defeat yesterday at home against Swansea in the league cup.
Branislav Ivanovic was to blame for both Chelsea goals yesterday but he has been Chelsea’s best defender this season and his physical presence will be needed at Stoke this weekend, so it’s doubtful he’ll be dropped.
Let’s look at Chelsea’s best fantasy assets for the double gameweek. At the back, Ivanovic is the most expensive but most reliable defender, though there is a strong case to be made for one of Luiz (6.7m) or Azpilicueta (5.7m) gracing your fantasy starting XI this gameweek:
- Luiz has operated in a central defensive midfield role over the past month, and though his performances have been inconsistent to the naked eye (speculative long range efforts landing in the stands, misplaced passes, and the usual mistimed tackles), Benitez has persisted with him and he improved against Swansea. He is still learning the position, but he is certainly operating “out of position,” – great for fantasy managers, and has taken his fare share of free kicks as well in recent weeks. At 6.7m, he’s not cheap, but with Mikel at the African Cup of Nations, he looks set to continue his starting role in front of the back four. Caution: Ramires and Lampard could start together in front of the back four, with Ramires taking a defensive role, and Luiz rested, but it is clear that Benitez relies on Luiz more than Lampard and Ramires, so he seems safe for now. That’s the good news. The bad news? Other than one spectacular free kick goal in a 8-0 win against Aston Villa, he has not scored or assisted this season. He has also returned just one bonus point. He has by no means shown “value” at 6.7m, but buying into him means predicting that he will score a free kick in the coming weeks and/or keep a few clean sheets.
- Azpilicueta is one for those managers on a budget. The Spanish right back has played 90 minutes in 10 of Chelsea’s last 11 league games, and with John Terry still sidelined looks a promising bet to continue in that role, at least during the double gameweek. One of Gary Cahill or Azpilicueta will presumably drop out of the starting XI when Terry returns – as Ivanovic will perhaps shift to RB so Azpilicueta comes with significant long term risk. As a short term play, however, with Terry still slowly regaining match fitness, he could be nailed on against both Stoke and Southampton.
- Ashley Cole is perhaps the least likely Chelsea player to be rotated, and he is cheaper than both Ivanovic and Luiz. For conservative managers, he could be the best bet. Cole is 0.8m more than Azpilicueta but does provide a bit more security in the short term and long term, and has proven to get forward from the left hand side and deliver the odd assist in the past. He’s another option.
The best value, one-week double gameweek play on offer for Chelsea could be goalkeeper Ross Turnbull at 4.3m. Petr Cech is out with a groin problem, though he may return in time for the second (easier) game of the double gameweek, making Turnbull a bit more of a risk. If Cech is ruled out for both games before this weekend by Benitez, Turnbull will benefit.
In the midfield and up front, rotation also looms but MATA and HAZARD are the obvious selections based on previous returns for the latter and his current superb form for the former (Mata). Lampard, Oscar and Ramires present cheaper routes into Chelsea’s attack but all could suffer from rotation.
Up front is the biggest quandary of all, however. New signing Demba Ba could rotate with Fernando Torres, start alongside the Spaniard, or perhaps grab both league starts. He will most probably start against Stoke after finding himself on the bench against Swansea in the league cup, but does that mean he won’t get to face Southampton at Stamford Bridge a few days later? Decisions, decisions.
All in all, the likes of Luiz, Cole, Azpilicueta and Mata look like the prime candidates for investment. Ba, due to his price, is also an option, and Turnbull, of course is a cheap option if Cech remains out injured.
Prediction: 1-2 away win at Stoke, 3-1 home win vs. Southampton
III. Studs & Duds: Of course, in addition to Chelsea’s aforementioned double gameweek studs, Southampton players also have two matches this gameweek – but both are on the road. The game against Aston Villa should see some goals, while they won’t be expected to get much from the match at Chelsea. That said, both Shaw and Clyne are 4.0m rated defenders and Puncheon and Ramirez are cheap midfield options. Lambert is the cheap star up front. You could do way worse than fielding a Southampton player or two this week but I wouldn’t expect too much.
Tottenham are at QPR – who may still be on a high after their 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, but you still have to expect the likes of Adebayor, Defoe, Bale, Lennon and Dempsey to stay strong fantasy prospects – studs.
Dimitar Berbatov is a cheap stud at home to Wigan while Christian Benteke is a stud for Aston Villa for those who believe Southampton will concede without the injured Jose Fonte in their back four.
Michu, Fellaini, Suarez, and Baines have scored big this season – and continue as long term studs.
Stoke defenders are usually reliable at home but they’re duds this week, including Begovic, as I see a Chelsea response and goal with Ba or Mata.
IV. Gameweek 22 Best Eleven:
D: Luiz – Shaw – Baines
M: Mata – Puncheon – Michu – Bale – Fellaini
F: Lambert – Ba
Subs: Howard – Defoe – Rafael – Hangeland