Somewhere over the course of the weekend, I think it was Saturday evening at some point, the UK came to northern Virginia. A weekend that started out sunny, warm, and relatively cloudless turned gray, chilly and damp. On the pitch, it was a week where the classic rock band that is the Premier League agreed that it would dispense with the "songs from the new album" and play nothing but the classics. Manchester United won with a clean sheet. Chelsea, Spurs, and City were equally impressive. Arsenal went one better and not only won but did so while displaying fragility at the back. Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez dove like it was the Olympics. A Stoke player stomped an opponent's chest. Finally, does it get any more "classic" than Fulham playing an underwhelming match against inferior talent on the road or Stoke forcing a more talented team into a physical nil-nil draw? If you were to introduce someone who had never watched the Premier League to the league and it's teams, this would have been the textbook weekend for the lesson.
From a fantasy standpoint, it was easy to see a lot of the pitfalls coming as well. Managers got over-excited with Liverpool's destruction of Norwich forgetting perhaps that, well, they're Norwich. Maybe they're longing for the days of yore when Liverpool was actually good. Maybe it was a triumph of optimism over objectivity. Elsewhere, we seem to have been overly attracted to Swansea's first two matches while missing the evidence since then that their defense is so bad that it not only concedes goals to bad teams but it is sufficiently bad that it undermines their attack on a regular basis as well.
What else did we learn over the course of ten more Premier League matches? Let's go team-by-team and find out:
Arsenal - With Shawn Spencer look-alike Olivier Giroud finding the mark for the first time in the league and generally playing well while pushing Gervinho out wide and marginalizing the Ivorian we are left with some dilemmas. Who will start week-to-week? Even if Gervinho starts regularly, how often will he start centrally where he has been very effective as opposed to out wide? Throw in the fact that Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby, and Bacary Sagna should all be back after the International Break and this team presents a lot of questions beyond the spectacular Santi Cazorla.
Aston Villa - Ciaran Clark and Ron Vlaar were the only decent fantasy contributors in yet another listless Villa performance both on the pitch and the fantasy scoreboard. The dismal depths of Villa's season can best be illustrated by the fact that 4 of their top 6 fantasy scorers on a points/match basis are defenders - and not particularly productive ones in the grander scheme of the league.
Chelsea - As fantasy managers, we'd certainly all like to see the defense churn out clean sheets more regularly. We'd also like midfielders Eden Hazard and Juan Mata to be listed as midfielders rather than forwards. Outside of those complaints, it's hard to argue with Chelsea's big names who have produced consistently almost all season. It will be very interesting to see how they fare over the next two matches @TOT and vs. MAN.
Everton - They're still flying relatively high even after a somewhat disappointing one point at Wigan but for a team that usually stinks for the first two or three months of the season being in the 4th spot in mid-October is heady territory. The lesson of the last two weekends is that if you're investing in Everton - and you should be cause their schedule is pretty light for the next six weeks - then it should be their attacking players as their defense is showing some holes. In the midfield, Steven Pienaar is emerging over early season favorite Marouane Fellaini although Fellaini will still score his share of goals between the YCs.
Fulham - Repeat after me - buy them at home, sell them on the road - no matter who they're playing. They should be better after the break when they're at home and their forwards - Dimitar Berbatov and Mladen Petric - should be healthy again. Bryan Ruiz is another member of the "should be listed as a midfielder" club.
Liverpool - Another "repeat after me" - Suarez is who he is - a talented player who isn't accurate enough with his shooting for you to own him regularly and not pull out your hair. Raheem Sterling is another one that fantasy managers are having trouble with. He looks like he has some real promise but at this point he's a better real player than a fantasy player. This weekend did produce an unintentional bit of brilliant commentating here in the US when the play-by-play announcer threw out "Suarez looking for Wisdom" (as the forward attempted a pass to the young defender) without a hint of irony.
Manchester City - How frustrating is it that five of City's seven highest fantasy scorers for the weekend - Alexander Kolarov, James Milner, Micah Richards, Pablo Zabaleta, and Joleon Lescott - aren't guaranteed starters or even likely starters most weeks. Some managers were fortunate enough and smart enough to be paying attention in the brief window on Saturday after the starting line-ups were announced but before the Yahoo deadline and made the jump to Kolarov but Roberto Mancini isn't making life easy on us.
Manchester United - Not sure what's going on with the points for Manchester United players in Yahoo - and there should be some solid points there - but the thing we were all worried about - Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie splitting points thereby making both difficult to justify came to pass as United's secondary players scored the goals.
Newcastle United - Looks like the same issue for Newcastle players (only Cisse and Ferguson have any points registered) as the Manchester United players. Presumably there was an error processing the Opta data feed for this match. Hard to imagine there was a lot of fantasy goodness for the Magpies though.
Norwich City - Grant Holt has re-introduced himself to fantasy managers over the last two weekends but it isn't enough to overcome his relatively high price and the fact that he plays for a rotten team. Inexplicably, despite being down and needing an offensive spark, Robert Snodgrass was left on the bench healthy despite having been Norwich's best attacking player over the first month or so of the season.
Queens Park Rangers - The attack seems to be picking up slightly and old DC United favorite Ryan Nelsen is an inexplicable fantasy monster despite having exactly one "Foul Won" under his attacking stats. He's getting it done - like fellow former MLS player Geoff Cameron - with phantom defending points. Adel Taarabt also seems to be back but is too expensive for me at this point. Esteban Granero is a better bet at this point if you're investing in an attacking player among the Rs.
Reading - Jobi McAnuff finally had the sort of match that we were hoping for out of him as the season started although Yahoo (1) and PL.com (2) differ on the number of assists he got. The problem is that he still wasn't very effective from a fantasy standpoint. The bright spot was Alex McCarthy who managed to score 11 points despite conceding two goals and only getting a draw. Pogrebnyak was who we thought he was - when he scores, he's worthwhile but at best he's a very poor man's Steven Fletcher - touching it infrequently but converting a high percentage of those touches.
Southampton - Gaston Ramirez owners (myself included) were frustrated by his late scratch but shouldn't have been surprised by Adam Lallana being the stud. Well, unless you were the one person out there who guessed that Jose Fonte would more than double his fantasy output for the first six matches of the season with two goals in match 7.
Stoke City - What should have been a strong weekend for Stoke defenders was muted by a lot of Yellow Cards - hardly a surprise that they were gooning it up against a passing team but worth remembering before you buy.
Sunderland - Steven Fletcher continues to be the only guy worth writing about for Sunderland. Funny thing is, he did better this weekend by NOT scoring a goal (but getting strong phantom points - 3 SOTs + 1 Blocked Shot). Imagine if he ever brought both of those things together or played on a good team - he'd be a fantasy monster.
Swansea City - Swansea were back among the phantom points with Wayne Routledge, Luke Moore, Ki Sung-Yueng, and the not-so-sick Ashley Williams joining Michu in scoring useful points. Of that group, Ki seems like the one to watch as he was taking set pieces. Michu's propensity for yellow cards seems to be overtaking his goals.
Tottenham Hotspur - Like Manchester City, Spurs managed some strong fantasy outings from players that aren't necessarily no-doubt starters. Steven Caulker is in the process of earning a permanent place after a strong season at Swansea and some solid performances since his insertion in the Spurs line-up. Hugo Lloris - at least as a discounted option - was essentially ruined for fantasy managers by a huge first match combined with rotten timing (he has Chelsea next). Fantasy managers are fortunate that Aaron Lennon has Chelsea next because it will prevent managers from being too taken in by one of his few productive outings of the season.
West Bromwich Albion - The James Morrison train just keeps on rolling along. The only downside is that his price continues to rise to the point where you probably don't want to be buying at this point unless they're playing a mid-table or worse team (unlike the next match against Manchester City). Funny how different the fantasy results are between two surprisingly good teams - Everton and the Baggies. Everton is churning out points for fun while WBA only has two or three players per week doing the business with Morrison being the only one that's doing it fairly consistently at this point. Gera would be a great buy if he played every week but as it is, he doesn't so he isn't.
West Ham United - Not a lot to love from a fantasy point-of-view but that Mohamed Diame looked really good, didn't he? Seems unlikely he'll be long for Upton Park. If I were Arsenal or Everton or even Chelsea, I'd be very interested in Diame in January as a final piece of the puzzle for when steel is required rather than finesse and passing in the holding midfielder role.
Wigan Athletic - Kone 2012 and Di Santo were relevant but even when they do well, Wigan have produced precious little from a fantasy point-of-view. Both players are interesting options after the international break since they're facing Swansea's Swiss Cheese defense.