Woohoo! The international break is over, fantasy football is back, we have a full programme of Premier League fixtures and it's also the 1st Round of The 2011/12 YFF Blog Cup. That's a big weekend in anyone's book!
I've had not time to write a proper intro to this post as I've been busy getting things in place for the start of the competition (organising 1400 teams across 14 blog leagues is a chore) and I had to speed through my analysis, but hopefully you'll let me off.
Let's get things going with a look at the Week 4 Fixtures where we have another single week for all teams:
MANCHESTER CITY v Wigan
ARSENAL v Swansea
The Manchester City game needs no explanation given their start to the season, they could easily hammer Wigan, and I see Arsenal bouncing back in a big way against Swansea City, who are yet to score a league goal.
MANCHESTER UTD @ Bolton
CHELSEA @ Sunderland
LIVERPOOL v @ Stoke
FULHAM v Blackburn
Man United, Chelsea & Liverpool take up 3 of the top 4 league positions at the moment and I expect them all to have too much quality for their opponents this weekend, despite the fact they're all playing away from home. Blackburn have been the worst team I've watched so far this season and Fulham's home advantage should be enough to see them collect an important 3 points.
QPR v Newcastle
Wolves v Spurs
Everton v Aston Villa
Norwich v West Brom
I wouldn't say any of these games look dull - there's a decent chance of goals in all of them (QPR v Newcastle in particular could be very open) - but I can't pick a winner, so they'll all go down as draws on my accumulator this week. I am a bit worried about Spurs at in-form Wolves but reckon they'll have just enough to get a point. If not it's 0 points from 3 games, which is serious trouble.
On to the players (* denotes injury doubt)...
If you have money to burn then Joe Hart is obviously the pick of the keepers; I'd be very surprised if he doesn't return win & clean sheet points at home to Wigan.
If you're on a budget like most of us then I think it's quite simple - you stick with De Gea for the long haul (hopefully at a discount). If you don't fancy that idea then Szczesny is the only real alternative given his price and home game against Swansea, despite Vermaelen's absence I think he has a good chance of a clean sheet against goal-shy Swansea.
Micah Richards would be expected to come back in to replace Zabaleta (who replaced him to combat Bale in Week 3) at right-back but he has to be seen as a doubt given he missed both England internationals through injury. Richards think he'll be ready to return according to reports today, but whichever man is set to play is a fantastic option; we'll have more news on Friday.
Arsenal's new defensive signings Mertesacker and Santos have been added to the game at the reasonable price of 6.11 and you can really toss a coin to decide who to go with. With Santos you have the advantage that he's an attacking full-back, but Mertz will be a massive danger (pun intended) at set pieces, so it's personal preference.
Mr Riise has made a remarkable recovery from the leg injury suffered 2 weeks ago, appearing for Norway last night, so I expect him to return at left-back in place of Matty Briggs for Fulham's winnable game at home to Blackburn. Smalling will continue at right-back and is still fantastic value for a United defender, priced around the same as Riise @ 6ish.
Jose Bosingwa appears back to his best but probably won't be picked up by too many people for Chelsea's game at Sunderland, so he could be a great gamble if you have the money. Traore completed his switch from Arsenal to QPR last week and provides another attacking defensive option below 6, while Wes Brown remains the best budget choice at just 3.49 despite his difficult match-up.
David Silva is currently my favourite player to watch in the Premier League. He's very much like Modric in style but far more of a threat in the final third and I'm planning to keep him in my team for the long-haul. Walcott is a top pick this weekend provided he recovers from the hamstring problem that kept him out against Wales and Ashley Young is the pick of the premium midfielders, currently in the form of his life for club and country.
There's some confusion around Samir Nasri at the moment, with reports in France claiming he broke a bone in his hand while playing for France in midweek. City have yet to confirm this, but he'd be a major doubt if this is the case. Arteta could be a good choice on his Arsenal debut, but I'll probably only be looking at him if Walcott is out as they are priced similarly - we'll know more about both situations on Friday.
Clint Dempsey has already opened his account for the season and he'll be Fulham's danger-man once again against Blackburn, and I'm tipping Stewart Downing to have a strong week for Liverpool, especially if Charlie Adam fails to recover from his hip-injury as he'll take over a lot of set pieces. I'm also likely to hang on to Newcastle's set piece taker Cabaye, who has impressed so far and faces QPR.
There's fantastic variety towards the lower end of the midfielder price range; Kasami has looked bright for Fulham, Wright Phillips will be making his QPR debut having moved from Man City and is an absolute steal at just 4.39, Everton's new man Royston Drenthe is below 6, while Yossi Benayoun costs under 4 and has a chance of starting against Swansea... fill your boots!
With Nasri & Fabregas gone, Robin Van Persie is 100% the main man at Arsenal; he's the captain, he needs to lift the team, and - fresh from 4 goals for Holland during the break - I'm feeling a really big week from him against Swansea, so he's my number one pick this week, making him worth his current price imho.
You'll want a Man City striker against Wigan and the preference is Dzeko given his form, but I wouldn't be paying full price if you (like I did) missed him on the barndoor. Aguero is available at 8ish and I expect we'll see the best of him when City play at home, but a word of warning - given his attacking options (Tevez/Balotelli) there's a chance Mancini rotates things with the Champions League next week. We'll need to keep a very close eye on team news this Friday.
Rooney is now very expensive but he's also back to his absolute best and there's no reason to believe that won't continue at Bolton, while Luis Suarez did everything but score in Week 3 and he'll be involved in everything good Liverpool do at Stoke, available at a decent price still.
If you're looking for cheaper options upfront then you have 3 pretty decent players to pick from; Mata should start for Chelsea at Sunderland after scoring on his debut from the bench, Fulham's new signing Ruiz is set to make his debut against Blackburn and Adebayor will also start for Spurs at Wolves. They all cost 7ish or less.
That's it for the players! My current team looks like this:
De Gea, Brown, Richards, Riise, Cabaye, Silva, Walcott, Nasri, Mata, Aguero, Van Persie
Obviously there are still doubts over Richards, Walcott & Nasri so Mertesacker, Santos, Smalling, SWP, Arteta & Young are on my radar as possible replacements. I expect the rest of my team to stay as it is barring any further injuries.
I'll leave it there but I'll be back on Friday with all the team news. Please let me know how your team is shaping up for Week 4! Have you got any hunches? Are you ready for The Blog Cup?