CHIGWELL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29: Emmanuel Adebayor sees the funny side as Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe of Tottenham play fight during a Tottenham Hotspur training session ahead of their Europa League Group A match against PAOK Salonika at Spur Lodge on November 29, 2011 in Chigwell, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
It's FA Cup weekend so there's no deadline to worry about for another few days but I'm not around tomorrow so I'm posting this up nice and early. There's a good chance of injuries today / tomorrow which could affect some of my recommendations below so we'll look to clarify all the team news on Monday.
As for the Premier League - well, if you wanted to show someone why you love English football you would simply show them the 2nd half of Man City v Tottenham. 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 2-2, Lescott's forearm smash, Balotelli's stamp, Defoe's miss, King's foul, penalty, 3-2 in the 95th minute, full-time. Pure drama - you could not make it up.
I've just about recovered but have replayed those final 4 minutes over and over again in my head, thinking of how different things could've been had Bale played the ball with a bit less pace, or had Defoe not checked his run, but that's what happened and 3 minutes later Spurs were out of the title race. They need to pick themselves up quickly because they were pretty poor at Watford last night and I believe they have the stand-out fixture of Week 23.
9-1 two years ago, 0-1 to Wigan last season ... what will it be this year? Well I think given the position and form of both sides it has to be a comfortable home win with the majority of the Spurs attacking players worth a look. The home side have a decent clean sheet chance too.
Stoke have won 4 games on the road this season but scored just 8 goals in the process while Man Utd have scored 33 at Old Trafford, so while I don't think it'll be a walk-over it should be a home win. Bolton shocked Liverpool last weekend but are very inconsistent while Arsenal have quality going forward and will be shored up at the back with Vermaelen returning from injury so I'm predicting an away win.
Everton are having another tough season and it's not going to get any easier in Week 23 as Man City come to visit - another away win for me. Fulham continue to be awful away from home but it's a different story at Craven Cottage and I'm expecting another 3 points for Martin Jol's men against West Brom. A game I'm really looking forward to is Sunderland v Norwich - both sides are full of confidence and playing some really nice attacking football so I predict goals and a narrow Sunderland win, with home advantage making the difference.
I have a feeling both Liverpool and Chelsea are going to find it difficult this weekend but for different reasons. Wolves are scrapping for their lives, can make life very difficult for any side (see Spurs 2 weeks ago) and with Liverpool getting a kicking at Bolton last week I believe this could be a score draw. Swansea meanwhile play some the best football in the league and can match Chelsea in front of their own fans, so its another draw for me, as is Aston Villa v QPR with the Mark Hughes effect lifting his new side to a point I wouldn't have tipped them for a few weeks ago. I also think Newcastle will need to settle for a draw at Blackburn as they countdown the return of Tiote, Ba and Cisse.
So Tottenham, Man United, Arsenal, Man City, Fulham & Sunderland are the teams interesting me and their players dominate the Week 23 player recommendations:
I'm currently holding Tim Krul at 3.85 but if I was paying full price I'd be choosing between the 3 men above. Spurs seem to have the best chance of a clean sheet and Brad Friedel has dropped in price after conceding 3 goals at Man City, so if you have the funds spare he's my top keeper pick. I like Villa's Shay Given at home to QPR for 7.50 as I think it could be a low scoring match and Given will always makes saves. I'm also recommending Wojciech Szczesny as they should be more solid with Vermaelen back, they face Bolton and Szczesny is priced at just 5.00.
As mentioned earlier, Thomas Vermaelen returned for the Man United game so if you're looking to spend 10ish on a defender then I reckon he's your man at Bolton, while Chris Smalling is my pick of the Manchester United defenders if you want to cover the possible clean sheet against Stoke. Wes Brown continues to return great points with or without clean sheets and is likely to continue that form at home to Norwich and depending on who is set to start against Wigan, Michael Dawson or Ledley King will be the most affordable Spurs defender.
Stephen Kelly looks set to continue at right-back for Fulham and he's still well priced for their home games against West Brom and I also like Ciaran Clark at home to QPR as he continues to contribute both defensively and in attacking areas whether played at full back or central midfield. Wolves' Kevin Foley is cheap and good value despite a tricky fixture against Liverpool and Daniel Ayala is back in the list as a cheap filler guarenteed to start. QPR's new signing Taye Taiwo will be added to my defensive recommendations if his work permit is rubber-stamped in time.
Van Der Vaart
A lot of midfield options are tempting this week so the list is long. Gareth Bale is the top pick at home to Wigan, closely followed by Antonio Valencia who has been a revelation in the past month and will be called on even more to provide the midfield spark in the absence of Nani for the Stoke match. Clint Dempsey is very expensive after his hattrick against Newcastle but if you kept him at his barndoor price of 15ish you should certainly keep him against West Brom, while Stephane Sessegnon was outstanding against Swansea and is my pick of the Sunderland midfielders.
David Silva has been quiet recently but continues to return points at a steady pace so if you're holding at discount I would continue to do so for Everton and Rafael van der Vaart is a Bale alternative, priced 5.00 units less than the Welsh winger. Deadball specialist Gylfi Sigurdsson has started superbly for Swansea with an average of 10.25 after two games so he's an option and Steven Gerrard just about makes the list despite playing a deeper role, due to penalty duty and set pieces around the area.
If you want a Sunderland presence in your midfield but can't afford Sessegnon then young James McClean is your man, priced below 9.00 and in terrific form since Martin O'Neil gave him a chance. Another youngster who's done enough for another chance is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who should again start ahead of the woeful Andrei Arshavin and costs just 3.81, and then we come to two players who had great times in Week 22 and have seen their prices jump. Michael Kightly and Hatem Ben Arfa both cost around 3.00 last week so if you barndoored them at those prices it's worth keeping one of them so you can spend elsewhere, but I wouldn't pay full price for either of them.
Oh how I wish I could afford Robin van Persie at Bolton, but I would have cause too much destruction to my team to fit him in. His current price means you need 2 goals for him to return his value but he's certainly capable. Wayne Rooney missed the FA Cup tie against Liverpool but Alex Ferguson say he could return against Stoke and if that is confirmed before the deadline he becomes a great premium striker option if you can't stretch to RvP. Next in the list is Emmanuel Adebayor, who hasn't had his shooting boots on recently but is certainly due a goal and leads the Spurs attack against Wigan and Sergio Aguero complete a familiar top 4 as he faces Everton.
Craig Bellamy was given a rest in the FA Cup so you have to assume he starts against Wolves and in his current form he's worth considering, as is Robbie Keane priced around 10.00 at home to QPR after his two superb goals on his Villa debut. Danny Welbeck appears to have overtaken Javier Hernandez as Rooney's partner so he's an option if you want a Man United striker against Stoke but can't afford Wazza and Connor Wickham is looking likely to replace Nicklas Bendtner for Sunderland, so he's the bargain striking option of the week at just 5.07.
That's it for the players! As I stated in my intro we still have loads of FA Cup ties which may lead to injuries / yellow / red cards so please ensure you check back here on Monday for the important team, injury and suspension news which should help clarify any doubts you may be having. Remember that the deadline is 12:00GMT on Tuesday 31st January.
As for my own team, it currently looks like this:
Krul, Kelly, Brown, Smalling, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sessegnon, Silva, Dempsey, Valencia, Adebayor, Aguero
I rarely go 3-5-2 but I love a lot of the midfield options available this week. Things are looking ok but I haven't dismissed bringing in another Spurs attacker and possibly Taiwo in defence . I'm nervous about keeping Krul so I may look to change him, but I'm not sure who to at this point in time.
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Let me know how your team is shaping up for Week 23. How did Week 22 go?