A busy week at work combined with prep for The Blog Cup results means there's no time for an intro this week, so I'll get straight in to it with my predictions for the Week 9 fixtures ...
LIVERPOOL v Norwich
NEWCASTLE v Wigan
CHELSEA @ QPR
SPURS @ Blackburn
Liverpool haven't always been convincing this season but they should've taken 3 points against Manchester United at Anfield last weekend, and with Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard plus the Anfield crowd behind them, they should have too much quality for Norwich. Newcastle stood up to their first real test as they more than matched Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday and if they can rise to a similar level against struggling Wigan then it will be another win for the Toon Army.
Queens Park Rangers started off Jekyll 'n' Hyde with heavy defeats followed by impressive wins, but it's been going wrong again in recent weeks and if they can't beat Blackburn Rovers at home then I can't see them stopping Chelsea, who are in full flow as they enjoy their "title underdogs" tag. A point for Tottenham at St James' Park was nothing to be sniffed at, but it has to be 3 points at rock-bottom Blackburn this weekend and they should take them comfortably.
ARSENAL v Stoke
ASTON VILLA v West Brom
WOLVES v Swansea
You may be surprised to see Arsenal down here in the "should win" but they're sure to be subjected to an aerial bombardment in a physical encounter against Stoke City, which really isn't their cup-of tea. I think their quick football should just about be enough to take the win, but it'll be close. Villa have been pretty good at home season, undefeated and often showing an attacking mentality that is rare in Alex McCleish teams, while West Brom struggle away from the Hawthorns, so I predict a narrow home win. Wolves have slumped alarmingly since opening the season with 2 wins and a draw, losing 5 in a row, but they haven't actually been that bad, so I reckon this is the weekend their luck changes, which is bad news for Swansea.
I'm really looking forward to the Manchester derby but it's very hard to predict what will happen, so I wouldn't go crazy bringing in players from either side unless you have a big discount or a big hunch. I'm punting on a score draw with plenty of bookings. Bolton snapped out of their funk at Wigan but I see the game against Sunderland as a draw, although both defences are pretty shambolic, so there could be goals. Fulham v Everton has 1-1 written all over it in permanent marker pen.
So Liverpool, Newcastle, Chelsea & Spurs are my favourites to take 3 points this week, followed by Arsenal, Villa & Wolves. With that in mind, we move on to my Week 9 player recommendations ...
Same deal as the past few weeks; if you're holding David De Gea at discount then he should be a season keeper as he continues to rack up points even when conceding due to his exceptional shot-stopping ability combined with how rarely Manchester United lose games. If you don't have him then Tim Krul @6 and at home to Wigan is the best alternative.
A few new names on the defensive list this week, which always makes a nice change. Martin Kelly should continue to get the nod over Glen Johnson at right-back due to the fact he can also get forward but actually defend too, Andre Santos will replace Kieran Gibbs (who went off injured against Sunderland and will be out for 2 weeks) at left back and Jose Bosingwa is the choice if you want a Chelsea defender at QPR, with the Portugese full-back having started every game and generally impressed so far this season bombing down the right flank.
Alan Hutton is the most affordable Aston Villa defender and has been playing pretty well since moving from Spurs, so he could be a decent option at home to West Brom, while Fulham's Jon Arne Riise has also had a good start since he returned to England and costs less than 8. Carl Jenkinson will continue at right-back for Arsenal due to another injury (Sagna) and is a fraction under 6 and Danny Simpson is a good option if you want a Newcastle representative in your defence for the Wigan game.
We finish the defenders section with our two favourite low priced, low scoring defenders from the season so far, Messrs Boyata and Brown. The pair face off against each other at the Reebok and I'm currently quite enjoying fielding both in my team as they continue to average their price and allow bigger spending on premium attacking players. A back-three of Brown, Boyata + a slightly classier, more expensive defender certainly seems to be the popular choice this season.
Van Der Vaart
If Spurs play to their peak this weekend then I can see quite a few goals against Blackburn, and the man at the heart of everything the team does is Rafael Van Der Vaart. He's pricey now, but on set pieces and penalties, he rarely disappoints. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are next on the list - two men past their peak but like VDV, they will still have the responsibility of set pieces, penalties and have winnable games. These three men are my premium midfield choices for Week 9 if you have the money to spare.
Further down the price scale is Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye, who disappointed with just 0.5 points against Spurs but who will have far more freedom to play against Wigan. We await news on Ramires' injury but if he's back then priced around 9ish he's a fantastic option if you can't afford Lampard. I mentioned there could be goals in Bolton v Sunderland and you'd expect the home side to have a bit more of the play, so Chris Eagles or Martin Petrov are two players I'm considering to give my team a slightly different look. David Silva has a tough match-up but has that spark to light up any game and Manchester United haven't always looked solid, so if you're holding him at discount it may be worth hanging on.
Barry Bannan was dropped as Villa tried to shore up their midfield at City last weekend, but he's been excellent whenever I've seen him play so I'd expect him to come back in for an easier home games against West Brom, and unbelievably he still costs less than 5. If you fancy a Wolves midfielder against Swansea then Jamie O'Hara is my pick, while Aaron Ramsey is expected back after his injury and is the only Arsenal midfielder I feel represents value for money against Stoke. Finally, Ben Arfa is "ready to start" according to Alan Pardew, so if we get confirmation closer to the weekend then he has to be tempting at a cost of just 3.
The majority of people who scored poorly last weekend had decided Robin Van Persie was not worth his cost, and that turned out to be a big mistake in a generally low scoring week. He's even more expensive now but would you put it past him to knock in another couple of goals against Stoke? I wouldn't, so I'm thinking it's worth it. Luis Suarez continues to thrive as the spearhead of Liverpool's attack and is well worth a look against Norwich, and Daniel Sturridge should keep his place at QPR (
despite the return of Fernando Torres. Apologies, Torres has a game of his ban still to serve in the league) after scoring the vital opening goal against Everton.
Emmanuel Adebayor had a quiet Week 8 in terms of points but still won a penalty and looked a handful, so I'm looking forward to seeing him against Blackburn and would be shocked if he didn't grab at least one goal, making his current price below 10 an absolute bargain. Demba Ba is expensive after grabbing another goal against Spurs, but he could easily score a couple at home to Wigan so could be worth the investment, while another player having a fine season with a decent fixture is Gabby Agbonlahor, again coming in at a bargain @ 10ish.
Wayne Rooney is very expensive and seeing it's a Manchester derby you'd have to be very confident if you spent that cash, but wouldn't it be typical of the man if he put his troubles behind him and put in a match-winning performance? I don't have the guts to spend 21, but you might! Many of you will still hold Sergio Aguero at discount and he's perfectly capable of a goal against United, so even if you don't he's probably worth his current price of 11ish. Finally, if you're in the mood to do something different, or you're picking your team whilst drunk, why not take a punt of David Ngog at home to Sunderland. He's actually looked pretty decent and is just 7.67.
That does it for the players. Remember that between now and the Saturday deadline we still have Champions League and Europa League matches involving English clubs, so there is always the possibility of injuries. Please check back on Friday for a full update and the latest team and injury news.
This is what I current have on my Team Page (2.73 left in the bank):
De Gea, Brown, Boyata, Santos, Bannan, Silva, Gerrard, Lampard, Adebayor, Sturridge, Suarez
I'm still considering bringing Van Persie back in (at 25 after accidently dropping him last weekend) for one of my front 3 (though I'm unsure who to drop), but to free up the funds for that move I'd need to downgrade Lampard, possibly to Ramires if he's recovered from that knock, or Eagles/Petrov. Alternatively, I could look to bring in Van Der Vaart in midfield, but I'm not sure how that would work yet. De Gea, Brown, Boyata, Santos, Bannan (if set to come back in) & Gerrard are all likely to stay barring injuries.
The Blog Cup 2nd Round Result prep is nearly completed and will be calculated when I get a chance either tonight or tomorrow. I'm now thinking the cut-off could be as low as 45-50 as a huge proportion of people had very poor Week 8s. Keep checking back to see if you made it!
How's your team shaping up for Week 9?
Cheers, Nik (AM)