We are safely past the big nasty hurricane here in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Living well to the west of the city, things ended up being OK for us. The winds were pretty amazing and our next door neighbors had a pretty big tree come down in their yard. Fortunately, the tree fell away from their house (and ours) and just ended up being an aggravation for anyone trying to drive by their house as there was a big tree across the street.
Outside of the wind, perhaps the most impressive thing has been the people willing to venture outside to respond to emergencies like down trees, down power lines, fires, flooding, etc. Within about 15 minutes of the tree going down across a minor road, there were multiple emergency vehicles and men with chainsaws and other tree-removal equipment on the scene in driving winds and rain to clear the way. And this was a relatively minor incident. Throughout the night there were reports of people from New York to North Carolina performing bravely to help rescue those put in danger by Hurricane Sandy. As we look back on another weekend in the Premier League and look forward to another one where announcers will be calling players heroes for scoring a goal, creating a chance, or making a tackle watching these first-responders in action under real daunting circumstances reminds us all again what heroism is. And to think, they don't get paid upwards of £200,000/week to do it.
With those thoughts in mind, we turn our attention back to the fact that this is a blog about soccer and the sorts of entertainment that keeps us distracted from weighty issues like natural disasters. Here's my team-by-team take on what we saw over the weekend and what you can take away from the weekend:
Arsenal - The questionable nature of their win was a bit overshadowed by the drama of Sunday's higher profile matches but call on the Arteta goal was just as dubious as the calls on Chicharito and Suarez. As we have discussed with other teams, we may have a major bit of work to do to separate our recent image of this club (lots of attack, vulnerable at the back) with the reality of this season's edition. The goals aren't coming but they aren't going in either with the Gunners sporting a league-best 6 goals against. Should fantasy managers be thinking the Tony Adams Gooners instead of the Thierry Henry Invincibles when considering Arsenal players? If you want to know what I mean, the only non-Arteta Gooners over 10 points this weekend were the defenders and Mannone. This weekend against Manchester United will be an interesting test of that theory.
Aston Villa - Cause for celebration in the streets of Birmingham - we had two Villa attackers - Benteke and Holman - in double digits. The celebration will be muted by the fact that there wasn't another Villain over Ron Vlaar's 5.5 points. Benteke was a solid bet and a great call from the always reliable www.nevercaptainnickybutt.com Funny Feeling Friday. The problem is that picking the random other Villa player who might score big in a given week is too difficult to bother. And really, if you can't get more than two players in double digits against Norwich, should you really have any players in anyone's fantasy line-up.
Chelsea - As we surmised in The Week Ahead, there were definitely goals in the big clash at the top over the weekend. Juan Mata continues to stake his claim as the best player in the Premier League and is delivering fantasy points consistently (vs. last year when he did just enough to entice owners to pick him and then did nothing for the next two matches). Oscar had a nice match as he continues his ascension from OK enabler to worthy starter. One "breakout" match and he'll cease to be affordable so even if you don't have him in your line-up, you might want to make that happen at the next opportunity if there's even a chance his price will increase. The next increase is going to be the big one. Just a reminder to Ivanovic owners, his suspension will only last for the mid-week League Cup match that he would have sat out anyway so while you may be frustrated that he saw red, there's no need to ditch him on a discount for fear of taking a zero.
Everton - What a crazy match that was. After a miserable start, Everton rebounded and were very good until they lost Kevin Mirallas at halftime. Without either Mirallas or Pienaar (suspended), there just weren't enough attackers to pierce Liverpool's 5 defender second half formation. My take-away is that a full-strength Everton can score on anyone but the depth isn't there for them to be that team if they're missing a key component or two. On a Mirallas-related note, how is it that no one spent any time focusing on the brutal tackle by Suarez that ended up ending Mirallas' day? It is obviously hard to judge intent but at the very least, it looked questionable to me. Obviously there were a lot of talking points from this match but this one seems to have been overlooked. What a different match if Suarez had seen yellow for that play.
Fulham - It is hard to fathom how a team like Fulham can be so strong at home and so miserable on the road. That they got a draw against relegation-bound Reading can be accepted but the fact that they conspired to let in 3 goals can't be excused. Emerging blog (or at least this blogger) favorite Bryan Ruiz led the way. Chris Baird defied expectations and scored for a second weekend in a row. Dimitar Berbatov put in one of those one shot, one goal performances that was very close to being miserable for his owners but in the end left them feeling at least OK even if they were hoping for more if they were being honest. The lesson (OK, reminder) is never pick Fulham on the road - they just don't seem to have it in them.
Liverpool - You can take this one in so many different ways depending on what you want to see. Luis Suarez was either at his best (you could argue he created three goals for Liverpool between the OG, the one that counted and the one that didn't) or his worst (he probably should have been red carded). So it was with Liverpool overall who can be complimented for the way they came out and then the way they adjusted at halftime. They could also be scolded for having to adjust at halftime after putting out a line-up that left them open on the wings. If Suarez hadn't taken Mirallas out of the match it's hard to imagine Everton wouldn't have scored at least one more. In the end, I don't know that we really know much more about this Liverpool team after this match than we did before it. The only thing to keep in mind is that the "kids" probably aren't ready for the big stages so don't pick them when one presents itself.
Manchester City - When is it that "they won, but it was ugly" stops being OK? They're within a point of the top spot but with goal differential potentially looming as important as Chelsea, City and United fight it out, you get the feeling they're going to need a few "pretty" wins somewhere along the line. From a fantasy standpoint, Matija Nastasic could be the interesting find of the week. If he has indeed moved in front of Joleon Lescott on the depth chart then he would be very interesting coming in at a price of 6.39. With Micah Richards going out for 4 months with an injury and Pablo Zabaleta and Maicon also struggling with injuries, the right back situation deserves some watching as well. PhysioRoom.com has Zab back next weekend but if not, I'm not sure I have any idea who would play RB. Finally, how disappointing have Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri been for fantasy managers this season? Aguero's production (7+/match) hasn't come close to living up to his price and Nasri's 5/match is even more disappointing. Has this group lost their fire after just one season at the top?
Manchester United - The scenario that we all feared has continued to play out at Old Trafford. There is undeniable talent at United in RvP, Rooney, Nani, Young, Valencia, Welbeck, Chicharito, Kagawa, et al. The problem is that each week you're playing a game of Russian Roulette - and an expensive one at that. Robin van Persie has been producing at about 75% of his exceptional total of last season (12+/match this season vs. 16+/match last season). The difference, of course, is that his price hasn't dropped 25% to reflect the change in production. Outside of van Persie, the Russian Roulette game is where the supporting points will come from. With so much talent and potential rotation, it's hard to pull the trigger. You feel good if you invest in Young/Rooney/Valencia/Nani/etc and they get the start but then none of them produces (as happened this past weekend despite 3 United goals) and Chicharito comes off the bench like Dzeko to steal the points. Throw in that United's defense isn't exactly airtight and it is a frustrating fantasy group this season which is likely to continue until some injuries make it a bit more clear who will start and maybe allow them to get into a rhythm that fantasy managers can trust.
Newcastle - Lost in the fact that it a) overlapped with higher profile matches and b) wasn't on TV here in the US was another lackluster fantasy performance from everyone at Newcastle not named Demba Ba. Sure, Papiss Cisse finally got off the mark and scored but it was as much accidental as it was a signal of brighter things to come from the struggling forward. Heck, even I scored (while playing central defense) in my game on Friday. At a certain point, if you're on the field for enough minutes you're bound to find the back of the net. The disappointments here are Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye who we all like to get excited about when NUFC have even an OK match-up. Why do we get so over-excited? Because those two have clear talent and they're fun to watch at their best. The problem is that their best isn't on display enough. I don't know why that is but it would be wise for fantasy managers to remember that what they'd LIKE to be true and what is true isn't necessarily the same thing (I apply the same logic to Kagawa so far this season and the rest of Jack Wilshere's season).
Norwich - I believe Wes Hoolihan and Michael Turner's double digit performances are the dictionary definition of outliers. That is all.
Queens Park Rangers - Julio Cesar really saved the Rs bacon, didn't he? Despite losing 1-0 he went for 13 points which is pretty impressive. Almost Vorm-like. Maybe he's coming back around to being the guy who was among the best in the world for a while. Maybe Arsenal just get a lot of shots right into the keeper's gut. Still, worth a look this coming weekend with an easier match (Reading) on the docket.
Reading - I think we're all agreed that Reading's goalscorers, like Norwich's point-getters, are by-and-large outliers. The interesting case is that of one Jobi McAnuff. His assist totals are rising quickly but here's the interesting thing about his overall game for Yahoo fantasy purposes. His creation has been very efficient. He's created 7 chances and 4 have turned into assists (hat tip Football365.com). That's great for his efficiency rating but it means that he's not a volume producer likely to fill up the fantasy scoresheet with SCs, SOTs, and CWs. If you're wondering why Lallana and not McAnuff has been this season's bad creative midfielder of choice, there's your reason.
Southampton - Speaking of Lallana, he finally had another lousy weekend. You had to figure there was one coming. You can only be productive while being outplayed so often. I fully expect Lallana to be back among the points this weekend. The distressing thing is that Rickie Lambert seems to have completely lost his early-season mojo with Jay Rodriguez having picked up at least some of the slack.
Stoke - Who didn't see that ugly nil-nil draw coming? @Norwich presents yet another reasonable opportunity for defending points.
Sunderland - See above but replace @Norwich with "home to Aston Villa" - I saw somewhere that Sunderland have only 12 SOTs ALL SEASON. Can you imagine how dire they'd be if Steven Fletcher weren't as efficient as he's been? Oh yeah, you can imagine it because he hasn't managed to continue his flawless pace for the last few weeks and the results have been close to un-watchable. Isn't Martin O'Neill supposed to be one of the best managers outside of the "big however-many"?
Swansea - What should we take away from this one? Their performance was very encouraging until with one kick of the ball from Carlos Tevez's boot they lost the clean sheet and their stud goalkeeper for what PhysioRoom has listed as about 2 months. In my mind, this makes the Swans defenders unworthy of a spot in your line-up. What it does for the value of their attackers remains to be seen. It is worth noting that despite their rough patch, they are ahead of last season's pace in the league. I think we all got a bit carried away by the first couple of weeks of the season. A mid-table team seems about right assuming there aren't too many other long-term injuries to key players.
Tottenham - It wasn't as dominant as fantasy managers would have hoped and Jermain Defoe was inches away from putting all of the points for the week where fantasy managers expected they would have been. With another easy-seeming fixture coming up this week, there is reason to expect that any Spurs that you had in your line-up are worth keeping. Finally, I think AVB has cured us all of our interest in trying to figure out who the goalkeeper will be match-to-match no matter how attractive the match-up.
West Brom - It would be really fantastic if Steve Clarke would make the right call and just insert Romelu Lukaku into the starting line-up permanently. Obviously it would have been best if he'd done this from week 1 but it has become clear that the Chelsea man is their best forward. With an attractive match-up this weekend, I'm on board with the big Belgian, the question is whether his manager in real life shares my optimism.
West Ham - We'd almost forgotten why we hated Big Sam's Bolton teams but this was it. Just as soon as they convinced you they were good, they'd inexplicably suck against an inferior opponent. In this case it was Wigan. Three thus-far unremarkable defenders McCartney, Collins and Tompkins had good fantasy weekends while the attackers and Jussi were pretty much worthless. Now watch them put up a great fantasy weekend against Manchester City at Upton Park this coming weekend. It's just what Big Sam does and it's annoying as hell.
Wigan - Wigan, on the other hand, are easy to dismiss because even with an unexpected home victory that included two goals, they managed only one player in double digit fantasy points and there's no reason picking James McArthur all season waiting for another 15+ point outburst. Just another outlier. Kone 2012 continues his one off, one on pattern meaning a lot of people probably picked him up on the BD after his 9.5 point effort. If history repeats itself, he'll make you miserable by laying an egg against Spurs this coming weekend.