Monday Morning (Fantasy) Manager: Reviewing EPL Match Week 8

Mike Hewitt

Our comprehensive team-by-team wrap up of what we learned watching Match Week 8 from the Premier League.

Many of you who follow the blog (or have any background in investments) know the importance of a portfolio approach. Sure you can put all your eggs in one basket, but you'd better be DAMN sure that it is going to come up big. When the matter is one's sports weekend, to ensure that you have something to make you happy come Monday having a portfolio of opportunity is the best way to go.

This weekend, my personal sports portfolio included four fantasy NFL teams (with four different groups of people), two fantasy EPL teams (one Yahoo and one PL.com), two fantasy MLS teams in their penultimate week, plus supporting my teams in MLS (DC United), EPL (Arsenal), and the NFL (the Eagles).

With all of those options, it is rare that I have an entirely fruitless weekend. And yes, I'm completely advocating you spending more time on more fantasy (and reality) sports here. If you call that irresponsible of me, so be it, it makes me happy.

It was a poor weekend for Arsenal supporters based on the ugly showing against Norwich. I had a mediocre performance in Yahoo Fantasy EPL (just 57.5 points with my entire front line of Kevin Mirallas, Nikica Jelavic, and Dimitar Berbatov along with Vito Mannone and Carl Jenkinson disappointing and Damien Duff not even getting a match), wasn't the huge loss that it could have been.

Fortunately, there was also plenty of upside. I won 4 out of 4 Fantasy NFL match-ups which is always nice. My PL.com team was better than average, and continues to perform exceptionally well despite my never having seriously concentrated on that format. My two MLS fantasy teams (one at ESPN SoccerNet and one at MLSsoccer.com) both did well, keeping me high up in the standings. DC United clinched a playoff spot and moved up to second in the Eastern Conference after coming from behind to win their second to last regular season match-up of the season in stoppage time. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for my sanity, I considered the Eagles weekend a win because they were on a bye and as a result were prevented from driving me crazy with another last minute collapse.

With that as prologue, on to the team-by-team reviews of what we learned from this weekend's Premier League action with a focus on the fantasy implications for the short, medium and/or long term as appropriate:

Arsenal - What a stinker that was. Not much to say about it other than that. Hard to know if it can be brushed aside as an imbalance between the number of Arsenal players having played internationals and the number of Norwich players having done same. The conventional wisdom is that Arsenal struggle against "brute force" types of teams like Stoke, and Sam Allardyce's Bolton before them. Norwich comes from a similar mode - well organized, and able to take their chances when they come. With another similar opponent (QPR) next you have to beware of another possible trap game that looks attractive on the fixture list. The silver lining was that at least Santi Cazorla still brought the phantom points.

Aston Villa - Another week and another lackluster fantasy performance from Villa. The lone bright spot was Matt Lowton who has been sporadically good despite unimpressive team performances. With a single SOT and a raft of minor phantom points he went for 13.5 points. The problem is that his price has risen and other than his two big matches, his performances have been tepid (lots of 4 or less numbers along with a 19.5 and 13.5).

Chelsea - What we're learning is that the three guys behind Fernando Torres are pretty good. Juan Mata has been rocking the fantasy stats for the last three weekends and seems like he's the sharp end of the stick right now. Eden Hazard has been the straw that stirs the drink but doesn't get as many assists in the Yahoo format as he does in the PL.com format (which LOVES giving him assists). Oscar is playing well but other than the occasional SOT he's been more likely to be the proverbial "Man behind the man behind the man" (who can name the movie reference first?). The fantasy points will come for Oscar right now Mata has the conch. The downside with Chelsea is that their defenders are only getting you points if you pick the ones scoring goals, rather than all of them getting clean sheets. But with Manchester United and their questionable midfield coming up, I'm bullish on the Chelsea attack despite the quality of the opponent.

Everton - So apparently that Fellaini character is pretty important to Everton's success. He may not have made fantasy managers as happy as they'd like with all of the yellow cards but in the real world, Everton looked like a shadow of their early season selves in the absence of the big Belgian. With the potential of being without both Pienaar and Fellaini for the Liverpool Derby what was looking like a big Everton advantage could have shifted to being advantage to the eminently mediocre red side.

Fulham - You can't get too upset at them because they did what we thought they were going to do which is win at home over a poor opponent. What we didn't count on was one of their most productive players so far this season, and a popular fantasy pick, Damien Duff being ill. The defenders and Schwarzer were excellent and kudos to Jeremy for his prescient Chris Baird pick in his Three Names feature on Thursday.

Liverpool - Well, we'll give Jeremy a 50% score on his Three Names feature. Baird was awesome, Matty Taylor didn't play (calf injury) and Steven Gerrard was adequate with 9 points. That was a solid return, but not worth the money when, for example, you could have purchased another Fulham defender for the same price and done better. The real news from Liverpool was the joy (and 19 points) that Raheem Sterling brought to the managers who purchased him for around 3. My guess is that he'll be a long term keeper for those who have him cheap. It isn't Gareth Bale under 3 but it's as good as you're likely to get this season. Andre Wisdom's 7 points were a bit disappointing given the clean sheet but he was still worth his price.

Manchester City - Well, they won so I guess that's something but it's difficult enough to pick the starting line-up only to have a reserve - Edin Dzeko - comes in and get all the points. They seem incapable of keeping a clean sheet which, combined with their prices and rotation, make the defenders almost worthless. Even the rock of their defense Vincent Kompany is stumbling along averaging under 2 fantasy points per match! With an attractive match-up coming up with Swansea it's going to be hard to figure out what to do. I'm already worried thinking how I'm going to mess this up and we still have a mid-week match with Ajax to throw us off further.

Manchester United - So RvP was solid but not really value compared to his price tag. Rooney, even with an own goal, was spectacular but my guess is that few people had him because his production has been mediocre up to this point (his 27.5 points is more than 40% of his new season total). Welbeck was the best value of the bunch but it seems likely that even fewer people had him because who would want to count on him starting at forward with Rooney and RvP ahead of him on the depth chart? Elsewhere, Valencia was good and a solid value but everyone else was pretty "meh". Like their neighbors, United are going to continue to be difficult to pick in a way that Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, and Spurs haven't been so far this season.

Newcastle United - More "blah" here. Yohan Cabaye has started looking more like he did when he was at his best last season. The problem is that since his price rose from "new entry" level in the early going last season, Cabaye hasn't consistently been a strong value. For every weekend like this past weekend (where he still barely outscored his price), there are 4s and 5s that will make you pull your hair out for having paid 10+ for the privilege.

Norwich - The sure sign of a bad fantasy team is when they pull off a huge win and STILL don't have many stand-out fantasy performers. Amazing that there can be so much fantasy mediocrity on a team that wins over a "big" team.Ruddy did very well but only he and Bassong really provided strong value. Grant Holt is still over-priced from last season and Russell Martin's price has been consistently going up on the back of a string of inexplicably good performances.

Queens Park Rangers - Another team that just isn't creating much in the way of phantom points which is unusual for a Mark Hughes team. Sparkie's teams are usually good for one or two wingers just cranking out SCs, CWs, SOTs and Assists. Junior Hoilett must have learned something watching Honduras put 8 goals past his Canadian team in World Cup qualifying over the break (yes, I typed that correctly EIGHT TO ONE) because he finally broke out with 19 of his 31 fantasy points to date this season. Jose Bosingwa had one of those matches he loves to tease us with before stringing 4 straight sub-5 point performances. The rest of the group was pretty much useless with popular picks Esteban Granero and Adel Taarabt being particularly disappointing with 3.5 points apiece.

Reading - Jobi McAnuff was adequate but he's really the only one on a semi-regular basis. Just depressing, let's move on.

Southampton - Adam Lallana continues to be a stud and the prohibitive favorite for the Charlie Adam Award for best fantasy player on a crappy team. Seriously though, can someone please explain how Ricky Lambert doesn't start that match? It may or may not have mattered but it's hard to imagine the logic there.

Stoke City - Well, they got two goals at Old Trafford which is impressive. What is even more impressive (and not in a good way) is that they were able to achieve that feat while exactly ZERO of their players made it into double digit fantasy points. We like Michael Kightly but if he's going to score a goal and still only score 8.5 fantasy points, he's going to be hard to justify a line-up spot for.

Sunderland - I'm probably starting to sound like a bit of a broken record but they don't score a lot of fantasy points and to compound that issue, the meager point total seem to come from different spots each weekend so you have to go out on a pretty big limb for only modest potential reward. The winner of this week's lottery was Seb Larsson but the prize was only 9 points. Talk about "meh".

Swansea City - That's a bit more like it with four Swans back in the double digits. Michu, Hernandez, De Guzman and Vorm did well despite no clean sheet and only two goals. You'd have liked to see one or two more at least close to double digits but it's at least a sign of life. The down side? Here comes Manchester City.

Tottenham - I'm not going to judge them too much on this one. They were playing the best team in the league so far without their two most important attacking players in Gareth Bale (paternity duty) and Moussa Dembele (injury). It was too bad that Gylfi Sigurdsson was just a shade off, he at least looked recognizable as the player we all fell in love with last season.

West Brom - They're really not bad at all. They collapsed at the end against a more talented team but for a foot or two one way or the other from Romelu Lukaku it could have ended differently which isn't something that you'd have thought from the Baggies in seasons past. Not a lot to love from a fantasy point of view but that's about what we expected given the opposition. Don't sleep on them against a mediocre Newcastle team this coming weekend.

West Ham United - Hey everyone, they're in 6th. They haven't beaten anyone good but they're definitely there as a strong contender for "best of the rest" status a step below Everton. This is what Big Sam does. I wonder if the guys from Venky's realize what they missed out on yet? It isn't always pretty but he's proven that it works. Oh, and Kevin Nolan continues chugging along adding consistency to his profile this season.

Wigan Athletic - Boyce's goal was SICK (Google it if you haven't seen it) but if that's what it takes for them to score it's going to be a LONG season.

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