The season is really starting to settle in, isn't it. We're getting to the point where it is much harder to say that something that we've seen all season is an anomaly. Something we've seen once or twice can still surely be called a fluke but at this point, teams are starting to show what they really are. Arsenal are better but still not quite ready to challenge the big boys. Manchester City seem to have slipped a peg or two from their dominating defensive ways of last season. Manchester United are still an imbalanced team with incredible depth in places and inadequacies elsewhere. Everton appear to be this season's Newcastle while Newcastle appear to be this season's Aston Villa (a team projected to be well above average that seems likely to fall short of those expectations).
We're also starting to get a pretty good sense of the players where we have to admit that it appears that Jussi Jaaskelainen is the real thing this season despite how miserable his form was over the second half of last season at Bolton. Santi Cazorla is a cut above from a fantasy point of view (at least a Yahoo fantasy point of view - PL.com managers likely have a different opinion). Shinji Kagawa and Eden Hazard appear destined to be better players in reality than their fantasy numbers will show. Adam Lallana is the answer to "which newly promoted creative/set piece-taking midfielder will make the jump from strong Championship contribution to Fantasy EPL success?" and his teammate Ricky Lambert is the answer to the companion question at forward.
Here's a team-by-team look at the useful insights that seem to be firming up about teams and players now that we've passed Week 6:
Arsenal - Could it be that Thomas Vermaelen is Arsenal's 3rd best central defender and Abou Diaby has been the key to Arsenal's strong start to the season? Those were certainly popular narratives coming out of this past weekend's loss to league leaders Chelsea. Mertesacker/Koscielny certainly looked stronger against City than Vermaelen/Koscielny did against Chelsea and Arsenal were decidedly less effective after Diaby exited. Will Wenger bench the Belgian defender in the Year of the Belgian? How will Arsenal compensate for Diaby being out for 3 weeks? Tough questions that put the value of non-Cazorla Gunners in question for fantasy purposes.
Aston Villa - Their goal-scorer isn't starting. Their top fantasy performer last weekend (Holman) got more than half of his points for the season in that match. No one is averaging over 7 fantasy points a match and of the 6 players averaging over 5/match, only 3 have started as many as half of Villa's matches. Not a pretty picture. Hard to get sucked in even with a good match-up at this point. In fact, you have to wonder what would constitute a good match-up.
Chelsea - The issue isn't the quality of their play on the field but the consistency of their players in scoring fantasy points. Eden Hazard and Juan Mata seem destined to be exceptional players whose values aren't entirely captured by fantasy games (especially while they're listed as forwards). Oscar doesn't seem quite ready. We're all still scared to death of Fernando Torres. The defense has been better but is still expensive. Just a hard team to figure from a fantasy point of view.
Everton - The points just keep on coming from all around the squad. Even better, they don't see another "Big" team until the 28th of November (when they see Arsenal, City, and Spurs consecutively). There was a little doubt among fantasy managers after the League Cup defeat and then going down a goal against Southampton but I think they recovered nicely enough to keep the worrywarts at bay.
Fulham - Shhhh, Bryan Ruiz continues to be a really strong fantasy performer whose price has just hit double digits. If only he were a midfielder. Granted he's played two fewer matches but his points/match total is 8th among forwards and just a shade under Robin van Persie's production for almost 17 less.
Liverpool - I have to admit that I remain skeptical of Luis Suarez as a premium forward at a premium price. Last season he teased us four times with scores over 20 (and one over 30) but only one of those four times did he follow that up with a double digit performance. In fact, he only had one other instance of a performance over 15 fantasy points all season. Priced over 23, that doesn't give you a good feeling about a repeat performance. He is who he is, a talented guy who doesn't score nearly as often as he should. I'd be more enthusiastic about monitoring the young kids who are getting a chance - Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Suso - none have quite turned the corner yet but all are looking interesting.
Manchester City - The distressing thing here isn't that the forwards are being rotated so much as the fact that the phantom points just aren't here like they were last season. The two goal-scorers this week - Sergio Aguero and Eden Dzeko - only ended up with 12 points each and no one else made it into double digits. So much for the heady days of last season when we were looking for ways to get more and more City players in our line-ups regardless of whether they were scoring goals or getting assists. We seem to have reached "trend" with City producing fewer phantom points.
Manchester United - If you're a supporter looking for hope, you can take it from the fact that we've seen this movie before and as long as the Red Devils are slogging out sloppy wins and staying near the top, they'll hit a patch of excellence that will keep them near or put them over the top by the end of the season. From a fantasy standpoint, things are a bit of a mess with Nani having his first relevant fantasy match of the season and Kagawa popping back up to continue his up-and-down play. With Rooney and RvP netting less than 10 points each in their first
start extended action together, fantasy managers have to be worried that the points will be distributed unevenly among really expensive players while all are healthy. That makes for a very expensive and frustrating guessing game for managers.
Newcastle - Demba Ba and the Seven Dwarfs (or is that 10 Dwarfs?), regardless, Mr. Ba was again the only real bright spot last weekend. Tiote and Ferguson were the only other NUFC players above two points which is about as ugly as it gets when your team scores two goals. The depressing news for fantasy managers is that Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa have been useless and up-and-down respectively after giving us reasons to expect more from them.
Norwich City - With Robert Snodgrass tapering off the last couple of weekends (10.5 total over the last two weekends after 3 straight double digit outputs) we have to wonder if the word is out on him with defenses expending more focus to stop him. It could just be the sort of random dip that any player on a bad team will experience from time-to-time but it could also be a signal that the three weeks of bounty was the anomaly. I can't say I know the answer on this one yet. Sadly, there's really no one else worth writing about on this team.
Queens Park Rangers - Adel Taarabt is tied for 5th most fantasy points among Rs players. This would be interesting except for the fact that he's only played 120 minutes over 6 matches. Not good times for fantasy managers outside of the occasional bargain points from Ryan Nelsen.
Reading - Jobi McAnuff hasn't been the contributor we all hoped he'd be but he's been the only ray of light on an otherwise miserable Reading team so far. I still wouldn't use a spot on Jobi in anything other than the most inviting of circumstances - a two-match week, playing at home to Norwich, or playing in any venue against my co-ed recreational team - but that's about it for this bunch that looks like they'll go straight back down and do so in a rather uninteresting way.
Southampton - Gaston Ramirez had a nice week with a goal, 2 SOTs and 2 SCs but Adam Lallana is the man consistently generating points. Hard to argue with the potential of Ramirez (especially for those who got in cheap over the last couple of weeks) but Lallana has proven the better value so far.
Stoke - Peter Crouch being a reasonable point-contributor isn't a huge surprise, he's generally good for a hot streak or two a season. What is shocking is that Geoff Cameron as emerged as a very solid option at the back almost exclusively on the basis of tackles made and passes intercepted. There aren't many stud fantasy players that have gotten that way through phantom defensive points.
Sunderland - Go back to last week's (or really the last few weeks worth of) comments on Steven Fletcher and copy and paste them here. There's no one else on the Sunderland roster who is consistently producing anything worth commenting on. Martin O'Neill, we expect more from you.
Swansea City - What happened? I'm not jumping off the Michu bandwagon ahead of home vs. Reading but if they continue to stink offensively, that'll be my first BD move of next weekend. The attack that looked so fluid over the first couple of weeks has been a mess ever since. Could Neil Taylor have been that important to the attack? Was two matches of video on Laudrup's approach enough to allow everyone else to find a weakness? Was their margin of success just that slim over their initial matches? Hard to say just what's going on here.
Tottenham - They look a little better with Steven Caulker in central defense and Jan Vertonghen out wide, don't they? The combination of high prices from last season and inconsistent fantasy effectiveness still makes the attackers difficult to justify but if the United result was the continuation of the second half at QPR then AVB may have unlocked the secret that eluded him the first 4+ matches of his tenure.
West Brom - The fact that Steve Clarke has only started is most effective forward once gives us a sense of the frustration here. To make matters worse, James Morrison, the club's most consistent fantasy point producer, has seen his price climb to the point where he's not really a great value play.
West Ham - The problem here is the up-and-down nature of the performances. Even Jussi who has been very good has two significant ventures into the red to go along with his four double digit (and two 20+) point efforts. Among the field players, the contributions have been even more inconsistent meaning that even when West Ham are doing well it's hard to pick out where the fantasy points will come from.
Wigan - As they did at the end of last season, they'll probably have the occasional run of sustained competence but there just isn't enough talent/budget here to expect anything specific other than mediocrity on a consistent basis. I'd love to get excited about Ryo Miyaichi or Kone 2012 but yet again there wasn't a significant fantasy producer this week (no one over 6.5 points despite modest opposition in the form of Sunderland).