AM's Week 8 Fantasy Player Picks

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Who should you be looking to add to your fantasy line-up ahead of the Week 8 deadline?

I like international football. Obviously I love the summer tournaments, I enjoy supporting England throughout their qualifying campaigns and I even see use in international friendlies considering how rarely the manager gets his squad together.

However, I detest the fact that the main international breaks mean no Premier League football for the best part of two weeks. The lack of live club football on a Saturday and Sunday and the lack of fantasy interest in any of the international games, really leaves a hole in my weekend and I'm sure it's the same for the majority of our readers.

But never fear - it's already Wednesday which means we have just 3 days to wait before we're treated to a full Premier League schedule this weekend, including a cracking early game on Saturday, the Tynewear derby on Sunday AND the added bonus of 2nd Round of The Blog Cup falling in Week 8.

First thing to say is that despite the two highlights of the weekend being Tottenham v Chelsea and Sunderland v Newcastle, I'll actually be avoiding both games from a fantasy perspective. All 3 results (home win, draw or away win) are possible in both match-ups so that makes the decision on which teams / players to back much more tricky and we have a number of attractive fixtures for some of the in-form teams that must take priority.

ARSENAL @ Norwich City
MANCHESTER UNITED v Stoke City
FULHAM v Aston Villa
LIVERPOOL v Reading

These are the four games that really interest me this week, with Arsenal my stand-out by some way. I'm a fan of Chris Hughton but Norwich have been a defensive horror-show thus far and the Gunners fast flowing, intricate football should easily cut through what little resistance they find at Carrow Road. I'm predicting something in the region of a 4 goal deficit in Arsenal's favour and will be loading up on their players accordingly.

Stoke travel to Old Trafford and can be fantasy-point-killers but I firmly believe that Manchester United's performance at Newcastle in Week 7 will be the turning point in their patchy start to the season and expect a comfortable home win. I can't see past a Fulham win at the fortress that is Craven Cottage with struggling Aston Villa coming to town, especially with the expected return of Dimitar Berbatov from his hip problem.

The final fixture I'll be focusing on is Liverpool at home to Reading. The Reds are without a home win this season but they have been very unlucky in certain matches - and Reading tend to leak goals - so it's another home win for me.

There are a few other fixtures worth mentioning ...

EVERTON @ Queens Park Rangers
WEST HAM UNITED v Southampton
SWANSEA CITY v Wigan

Everton were held to a surprising draw at Wigan in Week 7 but QPR are all over the place at the moment, so I think the Toffees will have enough to pick up 3 points at Loftus Road. I'm tipping West Ham to win a close match against Southampton with the help of their home support and I'm predicting goals at both ends for Swansea against Wigan, with another 2-2 draw not out of the question. You can add West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City to the list of games I'm avoiding for fantasy purposes - I can't call which way that one's going to go.

With all of that in mind, these are the players I'm recommending for consideration ahead of the Week 8 deadline. These picks are based on the Yahoo fantasy game, but should also be of use to anyone playing the Official FPL game.

KEEPERS
Schwarzer - If you have the money then Mark Schwarzer is my pick of the keeper options. He's playing well, Fulham are great at home and Aston Villa as just aren't very good at the moment.
Reina - He rewarded fantasy managers with a clean sheet in Week 7 and (on paper at least) Reading are an easier proposition than Stoke. I'm likely to stick with Pepe Reina for a 2nd week in a row and hope the Liverpool defence holds firm again.
Mannone - He seems to have secured the Number 1 jersey for now and his team have the pick of the fixtures; the only thing stopping him from being higher up this list is my preference for keepers playing at home.

DEFENDERS
Baines - Leighton Baines put up another big score at Wigan thanks to his late penalty and his set piece responsibilities combined with his consistency makes him a fine option, even in away fixtures at a high price.
Rafael - The better twin is finally showing why Alex Ferguson persisted with him for so long. Still suspect in defence but a real threat going forward, he's expensive but still my pick of the Manchester United defenders (by some way).
Gibbs / Santos - If Kieran Gibbs is fit then his performances this season make him an obvious choice if you have the funds. If he's out then Andre Santos should replace him, but if there's a "late fitness test" and you want a certain Arsenal starter, go with Carl Jenkinson.
Riether - As you can tell by my Schwarzer recommendation, I'm confident of a Fulham clean sheet and Sascha Riether brings the added potential of attacking points, raiding up the right flank.
Jenkinson - See Gibbs / Santos above.
Agger - Every week I feel like Daniel Agger is going to score and I'm always wrong, but he is a threat from corners and has a bullet shot on him, so could this be the week? Even if he doesn't grab a goal there's a clean sheet opportunity against Reading.
Demel - Quietly impressive since his arrival in the Premier League, he's my pick of the West Ham defenders for the visit of Southampton.

MIDFIELDERS
Cazorla - He must be in your Week 8 team. He's Santi Cazorla.
Michu - It's funny being a Michu owner. He's barely returning double figures, even with a goal, due to stupid fouls and yellow cards, but he's still performing better than the majority of other cheap (6 to 9ish) midfielders. At home to Wigan is worth another punt.
Duff - Revitalised under Martin Jol, Damien Duff has been at his menacing best and he's proving a constant goal threat when he cuts inside. I'm looking at him for the Villa match.
Pienaar - It's amazing how a player who looked so out of sorts at Spurs can fit back in at Everton so seamlessly. Steven Pienaar has been the man making Everton tick and he can score well again at QPR.
Kagawa - He played a full 90 minutes for Japan against Brazil yesterday, but the friendly was in Poland so Shinji Kagawa should be back and fresh for the weekend (he has an extra day's rest compared to Tom Cleverly).
Nolan - Kevin Nolan has been scoring goals already and this is only going to increase with Andy Carroll's return, as the two men resume the partnership that was so fruitful at Newcastle. Beware Southampton.
Sahin - Playing a more advanced role then I'd initially expected, Nuri Sahin is starting to impress and given Liverpool's striker shortage will offer a much needed goal threat from midfield. He's well priced for Week 8.
Oxlade-Chamberlain - With Theo Walcott injured I'd expect Arsene Wenger to give The Ox a start at Norwich and he's a bargain if the team news suggests the same.
Lallana - With Gaston Ramirez out for the next couple of weeks, the set pieces should all fall back with Southampton's Adam Lallana. I don't see any points for the away team but the skipper could still pick up some handy phantom fantasy points.
Sidwell - Having his best season for sometime and a well priced alternative if you want a Fulham midfielder but can't afford Duff.

STRIKERS
Suarez - Love him or hate him, on his day he's a genius and after drawing a blank and diving around against Stoke I expect a bounce-back from Luis Suarez against leaky Reading.
Giroud - Arsenal fans still seem split on Olivier Giroud but I saw enough against West Ham to suggest he'll fit in nicely over time. Definitely a better option than Gervinho in my opinion and I expect a goal at Norwich.
Berbatov - As mentioned earlier in this post, Jol expects Berbatov to return for the Villa match and if he does he has to be strongly considered based the opening few performances of his Fulham career.
Rooney - Are either Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie going to be productive enough to justify spending 23+ on? Well Wayne is cheaper, managed 21 points without a goal at Newcastle and should keep penalty duty, so if you want a United striker he's my preference over RvP.
Jelavic - Nikica Jelavic is on fire and I'd expect his goalscoring run to continue at QPR this weekend.
Podolski - I prefer Giroud but Podolski is still a fantastic option for the trip to Norwich.
Mirallas - I'm still holding Kevin Mirallas for @ 6.81 but even at his current price he's worth a look. He's settled in remarkably quickly at Everton and is striking up a great understanding with Pienaar and Jelavic.
Carroll - Big Andy Carroll is fit and ready to help fire West Ham to Premier League security and beyond. Southampton are not strong at the back and Carroll will enjoy bullying their defence as he did to great effect against Fulham before his injury.

I'm going to have to leave it there for now but please check back here on Friday for all the team and injury news, which is likely to be more hectic than normal after the international fixtures (with "jetlag" an added worry for fantasy managers).

My Yahoo team currently ...

Reina, Vertonghen, Rafael, Gibbs, Sterling, Michu, Duff, Cazorla, Miralles, Giroud, Suarez

I'm fairly happy with the overall balance but my lack of a Man Utd attacker concerns me and there's the obvious doubts over Gibbs. I also can't decide what to do with my forward line - Miralles will stay @6ish and I'll definitely take an Arsenal striker but I'm torn between Berbatov, Rooney and Suarez and that decision will affect whether I go with Duff or require Stirling as a filler. However, Reina, Vertonghen, Rafael, Michu and Cazorla will all stay provided they're fit and healthy.

That's it from me until Friday. Remember Week 8 is the 2nd Round of The Blog Cup, with the Top 1200 teams based on weekly scores from the remaining 1401 teams going through to 3rd round and 200 teams going out.

Are you still in it? How's your team shaping up?

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