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The Week Ahead, Part 2 - Player Picks

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Is the new Russian forward really stealing this guy's thunder? Not so fast my friends. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Is the new Russian forward really stealing this guy's thunder? Not so fast my friends. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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So, here I am on the train from Washington, DC (where shockingly it was about 70 degrees when I parked my car at 9 AM) to Boston (where it is likely to snow). I'm heading there for what has affectionately become known as Dork-a-palooza (it is formally known as the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference). The conference covers all sports but there appears to be a sub-group of soccer analysts congregating that I'm very excited to get to know. In addition, it sounds like we'll have the opportunity to see some luminaries from Manchester United (David Gill), Chelsea (Scott McLachlan, Head of International Scouts), and Everton (Steve Brown, Senior First Team Analyst). There will also be a dedicated panel on analytics in fantasy sports.

My guess is that the fantasy sports panel will focus mostly on the major US sports but my hope is that there will be insights that can be applied to what we're doing here at Never Manage Alone. I'll be sure to report back on at some point next week on the interesting tidbits that I picked up at the conference. For anyone who has questions that you'd like me to try to track down answers to please feel free to put them in the comments section and I'll do my best. If any of our good readers will be at the conference then definitely find me as I'm always happy to talk some footy (send me a message on Twitter @nealjthurman if you are at the conference and so inclined). OK, enough of the extreme geekery and on to our normal form of geekery, Premier League fantasy player analysis:

Forwards
  • Pavel Pogrebnyak - The Fulham man has been in great form since he arrived at the club and the presence of Wolves at Craven Cottage should do nothing to curtail his value.
  • Sergio Aguero - Despite Mo's claims that he can predict what Mancini is going to do, it is hard to figure much related to the City strikeforce other than that Aguero has been starting very regularly. I'd be recommending Balotelli here over Kun if I were certain that he were going to start but you'll have to pardon me if I'm skeptical about saying he will with any level of certainty. If you, like Mo, are certain that Mario is going to start then by all means pick him (or both).
  • Yakubu - His price has dropped to an acceptable 12.49 for what could be a decent match-up at home for Rovers with Aston Villa.
  • Papiss Cisse - With a distinct lack of inexpensive options at forward this week Cisse - who doesn't have a great match-up but is playing at home - makes it onto the list. My expectations would be modest but if you need someone at around 10 he's a solid bet.
  • Gabby Agbonlahor - It appears that the Villa forward is coming back to health just in time to pick up the slack for the injured Darren Bent. At a bargain basement 7.19 he represents some great potential value.
  • Manchester United Forwards - Hard to know what to do here until we find out if Rooney's illness was REALLY real or if it was due mostly to him/SAF not wanting him to play against Holland when he could be resting up for the stretch run in the Premier League. We'll have to sort this one out tomorrow when we see the injury reports but with Spurs struggling with injuries the United forward situation is worth paying attention to.

Midfielders

  • Clint Dempsey - The doubters are out in full force wondering if Deuce can continue his strong fantasy form now that Pogrebnyak has seemingly push him back in the formation a bit. For those making that assessment, I'll point you to the fact that Dempsey's WORST recent outing from a fantasy standpoint (Week 24) came before Pogrebnyak was in the line-up). A more likely explanation is that they played 2 away matches out of the last 3 (not a Fulham strength under any circumstances and one of the two was @MAC) and the home win against Stoke where he didn't perform particularly well could be interpreted in just about any way you'd like to interpret it. I'm not saying he WILL have a great weekend but if you're looking at premium midfielders, he's still the best bet.
  • Yaya Toure - Priced at 7.05 at home against a bad opponent and about as sure a thing as there is in the City line-up (at least this side of Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany). The Ivorian should be a solid source of midfield value if you're buying at retail.
  • Manchester United Midfielders - Like the ManYoo forward situation, this will depend a lot on health. There have been rumors that Antonio Valencia might be back and ready to go. If so, this makes life difficult in choosing between Nani, Valencia, and Ashley Young as one will almost definitely sit. [Maybe more than one if Giggs carries on in this kind of form. -J] My bet would be Young and Nani to start but I'd be much happier recommending one or both of those guys if Valencia was certain to be left out.
  • Aaron Lennon/Niko Kranjcar - Another injury question here as Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale are questionable and out respectively meaning Spurs win depth may be tapped. Granted the opposition is formidable but the prices for the Spurs men isn't bad. If both look likely to start, I'd go with Lennon.
  • Everton Enablers - The problem here is that there are a lot of options. The upside is that QPR gives up goals at home and there are lots of potential enablers in the EVE midfield including Royston Drenthe (my pick), Seamus Coleman, and Darron Gibson. It would be nice to have some line-up certainty though and we'll look for that tomorrow.

Defenders

  • Stephen Kelly - Yes, I know he made the "International Injury List" but he hasn't made a real injury list which leads me to believe he'll be just fine for the match against Wolves. His price isn't bad either.
  • Kompany/Kolarov - As we saw last weekend Kolarov can be quite the stud when he's starting and at his best. The problem is that starting thing. For those who like certainty in their high priced defenders, Kompany is (as he was last weekend) the safe play. If you're the risk taking type then Kolarov has the greater upside.
  • Taiwo/Onuoha - QPR defenders seem to find ways to pick up points. No idea how Onuoha managed double digits without QPR scoring and without a CS to his credit but he did. [Two blocked shots and a last ditch tackle were 6 of his points, but to his credit he won a corner, successfully crossed the ball and only committed one foul. Nice game all around. -Jeremy] Neither of these two guys is very expensive so they're still worth thinking about even as their prices creep up slightly. I wish I had a great low-priced enabler for you at the back but they just don't seem to be available right now. Hopefully a new one will present himself soon.

Goalkeepers

If you didn't get in on Schwarzer on the BD last weekend (or if you were particularly fortunate, like Jeremy, before that) then the price of the two best bets this weekend in Joe Hart and Mark Schwarzer are probably prohibitive. If you have the money then by all means you should make it happen. For those not so fortunate I see three options:

  • Paul Robinson - He makes me incredibly nervous but he's cheap so he'd presumably be enabling some other good things for you and he's at home against a team who has been poor and whose best forward is out.
  • Szczesny - Traveling to Liverpool isn't a great assignment but Liverpool do not find scoring easy so at a price of 6.40 there's some solid hope of a value play. Not GREAT hope mind you, but solid.
  • Michael Vorm - His price is a little higher than I'd like to see for a Swansea away match but it is goal-shy Wigan which makes the potential risk worth looking at.