Who should you be looking to add to your fantasy line-up ahead of the Week 9 deadline?
The majority of my spare time was taken up calculating The Blog Cup results this week so I'm going to get straight in to the fixtures. From a purely football point of view we have some cracking match-ups to look forward to but I feel we're quite limited in our fantasy options this week with the vast majority of the games looking very tight.
The most attractive game is 1st vs 2nd, Chelsea vs Manchester United. On current form you'd think the home side have a slight edge, but I certainly wouldn't want to be loading up on Chelsea players as Alex Ferguson has built his reputation by digging out results in games like this. My bet would be a score draw, but all results are possible so unless you're holding Ivanovic, Mata or Rooney at big discounts I wouldn't invest too heavily.
It's the same for Everton v Liverpool, the spiciest of all the derbies. Two weeks ago I would've called this a home win with a fair amount of confidence but David Moyes will be without Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini and for me this levels the playing field significantly. Add to that the risk of yellow and red cards aplenty and it's another game you'd do well to avoid unless you have Jelavic and / or Sterling at good prices.
Away from the big games, there are a couple of pretty uninspiring fixtures which I don't have much interest in, namely Stoke vs Sunderland and Aston Villa v Norwich, while Newcastle v West Brom should be entertaining but is another one which is very difficult to call either way, with a slight preference to the Geordies in front of their own crowd.
So those are the five games I feel are best avoiding for fantasy purpose,s but there are a few games that appear to stand-out (at least on paper):
Arsenal v QPR
Manchester City v Swansea
Tottenham Hotspur @ Southampton
Not many of us saw Norwich taking 3 points off the Gunners last Saturday and it was the cause of a fair few low scoring weeks for fantasy managers. To add to that, Arsenal weren't very impressive last night either (with Andre Santos particularly woeful), but struggling QPR aren't in the same ballpark as Schalke and I still see a comfortable home win here. Manchester City meanwhile have had another shocking Champions League campaign and look on the verge of going out with just 1 point from the first 3 games, but Swansea are an even bigger mess defensively and I'd be shocked if City didn't win this one by a couple of goals with the attacking players they have to choose from - the only issue is predicting who makes the starting XI. Finally, Tottenham travel to a Southampton team leaking goals and with Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembele set to return I predict an away win, which will keep Spurs in the hunt for the 4th Champions League spot.
I also quite like the look of ...
Fulham @ Reading
West Ham @ Wigan
Fulham have a renowned reputation for being atrocious away from Craven Cottage but Mr. Dimitar Berbatov has already made a difference to their performances on the road with a man-of-the-match display at Wigan and his touch / ability to hold the ball up to relieve pressure will help them again at Reading. They have the attacking quality to cause the home side problems and I think they'll nick the 3 points. Elsewhere, West Ham have been quietly impressive as they've climbed up to 6th in the table and I can see them continuing their good run at Wigan. I wouldn't say it's a banker away win, but there should be a couple of goals in there for the Hammers.
Let's move on to the players ...
Guzan - Yes, I'm sticking my neck on the line and stating the Brad Guzan is the best keeper pick this weekend. I can honestly see Villa v Norwich ending 0-0 and with Guzan available below 4.00 in the Yahoo game he opens up funds to spend elsewhere
Mannone - He's not very good, but he's affordable and with Arsenal hot favourites to beat QPR it will be difficult for him to return anything but positive points. To be honest he's the only real alternative if you don't fancy risking Guzan.
Kolarov - Gael Clichy has started the last two games so that should mean set piece specialist Aleksandar Kolarov gets the nod at home to Swansea, and if he does he's a fantastic option. There is always that nagging doubt that you could be spending 13+ on a benched player so only the brave managers will take the risk but it's a risk that could pay off in a big way.
Vertonghen - Jan Vertonghen is already a firm favourite at White Hart Lane with his last ditch tackles, surging runs from defence and it looks like the fantasy points are going to be rolling in on a regular basis. He should be in your team.
Jenkinson - Remains the most inexpensive way to get in on the Arsenal defence if you fancy a clean sheet at home to QPR and is capable of the occasional successful cross / corner won.
Cameron - The Stoke man continues to perform very productively in the Yahoo format and Stoke v Sunderland is another game which could easily end 0-0.
Nelsen - There won't be a clean sheet here, but I expect QPR to face lots of attacks so "King of the Phantom points" Ryan Nelsen could be a solid investment as he makes interceptions and throws himself in the way of shots.
Perch - James Perch continues to do a fine job covering for Danny Simpson at right back and is nice affordable option against West Brom who aren't as dangerous on the road as they are at home. Danny Simpson is available.
Vlaar - Aston Villa's captain Ron Vlaar has been unlcuky not score on a couple of occasions this season and has a chance of clean sheet at home to Norwich.
Bale - A huge loss to Spurs v Chelsea, he's owes AVB a big performance and is missing the Europa League game tonight to be ready to return to his old club Southampton; he's my pick of the week.
Cazorla - Santi Cazorla continues to put up points and is the only genuine "season keeper" we really have so far. Should run the show vs QPR and I'd expect double figures at a bare minimum.
Nasri - Certainly not my favourit person, but Samir Nasri scored last night and will reprise the same role behind the strikers against Swansea with David Silva unlikely to return from injury in time.
Nolan - I swear the average distance he scores from is 1.5 yards out but he just has that knack of being in the right place at the right time. Kevin Nolan already has 4 goals to his name this season and you wouldn't bet against him adding to that at Wigan.
Yaya Toure - A cheaper alternative if you want a Manchester City midfielder in your line-up but can't stretch your budget to Nasri.
Lallana - Adam Lallana will probably end up on the losing side this weekend, but he was on the end of a 4-1 drubbing at Upton Park last weekend and still put up 14 points. Central to all Southampton's attacking play I can see him ending the season with an average score of 10 points per game.
Lennon - Playing so far up the pitch he can almost be classed as right sided forward, getting in to good positions, creating goals and should get chances to score one this weekend.
Ben Arfa - Red returns have seen his price drop to a season low 7.27, yet I can't but feel Hatem Ben Arfa is due a big performance after a few quiet weeks.
Sterling - Raheem Sterling has the potential to be the 2nd season keeper if you grabbed him for 3 or below. One shot on target returns his value and as we saw last weekend, he's capable of far far more than that.
City Strikers - Who starts? Well Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli weren't impressive last weekend, but neither were Sergio Aguero nor Edin Dzeko as they both played 90 minutes last night. However, I see goals for City against Swansea so it's worth exploring the options. My guess is the star man Aguero will start this game with possibly Tevez alongside him and Dzeko reprising his role as impact sub if needed, but unless we get detailed information from Roberto Mancini it's very difficult to push yourself in to taking the risk of a benched player. Check back here on Friday for all the latest on the situation.
Defoe - Deservedly keeping Emmanuel Adebayor out of the team with 5 goals in 8 matchesand an improved all round game, Jermain Defoe should get plenty of chances to add to his tally at Southampton.
Mata - The best player in the Premier League so far this season has a very tough fixture but if you grabbed Juan Mata at his pre-update price after the Tottenham game then there's a big temptation to keep him with United's defence looking fragile and Swansea coming up in Week 10.
Berbatov - Didn't put the points on the board against Aston Villa but was still Fulham's best player and I can't see Reading being able to deal with him this weekend.
Giroud - Rested last night and Arsenal definitely missed Olivier Giroud as a focal point for their attack as Gervinho constantly lost the ball in good areas. He should return to lead the line against QPR and he's very well priced.
Jelavic - Finally had a game without a goal at QPR last weekend but that has helped bring his price back down to the low-teens and Liverpool are hardly known for their defensive stability nowadays.
Carroll - Big Andy Carroll is doing everything but score at the moment and for that reason his price is continuing to fall, but as I mentioned earlier there should be goals available as West Ham travel to Wigan and he'll get on the end of a chance eventually.
I'm going to have to leave it there for now but please check back here at NMA on Friday for all the team and injury news as there's bound to be plenty of fall-out from the midweek Champions League and Europa League matches.
This is what I currently have saved on my Yahoo team page...
Mannone, Vertonghen, Cameron, Kolarov, Sterling, Michu, Nolan, Cazorla, Giroud, Dzeko, Defoe
There's work to be done as I'm not happy with it at the moment. The two big risks are Kolarov and Dzeko with neither players certain to start, so I imagine both players will be leaving my team. I'm keen to bring in a Tottenham or Manchester City midfielder in place of either Nolan or Michu and if I sell Kolarov that could well be Gareth Bale. I may also look at Tevez for Dzeko, with Guzan in for Mannone freeing up some funds. I'm willing to give Giroud another chance after he was rested last night, while Vertonghen, Sterling, Cazorla and Defoe are likely to stay.
How's your team shaping up?