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The Week Ahead - Get Better Fabrice Edition

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Do you know who this guy is? He could be a strong play as an enabler at the back for you this weekend.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Do you know who this guy is? He could be a strong play as an enabler at the back for you this weekend. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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It has been an incredible week in the Premier League with the Fabrice Muamba story being, far and away, the lead story. All we do along those lines is add our continued best wishes to the player and his loved ones for a speedy recovery. The news seems to be encouraging from what I've been able to read and we hope that progress continues.

Back on the pitch, I think we got some strong insight today into what we can expect from the two "cake walks" that we described in last week's TWA column. Manchester United appear to be in the mood to crush all non-elite competition while the malaise at White Hart Lane looks like it will continue despite what appears to be an easier schedule (other than this weekend's tough-to-figure match-up with Chelsea). The draw with Stoke, especially when viewed in combination with Arsenal picking up 3 great points at Everton, represent the continuation of a troubling trend that has been on-going ever since Harry Redknapp was widely acclaimed as the logical next England manager by the press and popular vote.

A few other observations before we get to the main analysis:

  • Gervinho? - Hard to know what to make of it but Gervinho has been a (presumably) healthy substitute for all of Arsenal's Premier League matches since he returned from the African Cup of Nations. You'd think this would mean that Theo Walcott and the Ox were starting every match but today it was Aaron Ramsey playing off to the left of Robin van Persie. You can't argue with the recent results but it is none-the-less surprising.
  • Finally a Scholes Replacement - And it was the name it should have been all along, Wayne Rooney. With Chicharito, Welbeck, and Berbatov available as forwards and Rooney already inclined to drop a bit on the deeper side for a forward as well as having exceptional passing/creating ability this was always a solution waiting to be formalized. It seems Alex Ferguson has finally given in and the results have been strong for the most part (pay no attention to that Europa Cup stuff).
  • He's Baaaaack - Carlos Tevez returned to Manchester City's line-up today and even managed to assist on Nasri's winner. What it means to me is that things with City's forward line will get even more confusing.
  • Junior No More - On the strength of Junior Hoilett's recent strong play, Blackburn Rovers have climbed to the point where they are starting to look at least moderately safe. How would have guessed such a thing were possible after all of the drama earlier in the season. Now, we can all start wondering what will happen when Hoilett leaves and it is left to Venky's to spend (or not) on one or more replacements.
Here's the schedule for the upcoming week. Hard to know what to make of Bolton (and therefore Blackburn) on the back of team tragedy but you feel that Bolton NEED this match to have a chance of climbing out of the relegation zone after Rovers and Queens Park Rangers both won today.

Elsewhere, the favorable match-ups clearly go to:
  • Manchester United - Playing at home, in great form, and playing a team that is rotten on the road.
  • Arsenal - Aston Villa haven't been good, are injured, and are playing the hottest team in the league at their home stadium.
  • Norwich - Wolves have been bad enough to fall to last place although Norwich have been fading a bit.
  • Liverpool - It looks like an obvious one BUT they choked on what looked like a great match-up today.
  • Sunderland - See Liverpool above but on Sunday instead of today and losing to Rovers instead of Rangers. Just gives you pause, doesn't imply that they're a bad bet.
DATE HOME AWAY
Sat, Mar 24 Bolton v Blackburn
Sat, Mar 24 Chelsea v Tottenham
Sat, Mar 24 Liverpool v Wigan
Sat, Mar 24 Norwich v Wolves
Sat, Mar 24 Swansea v Everton
Sat, Mar 24 Sunderland v QPR
Sat, Mar 24 Stoke v Man City
Sat, Mar 24 Arsenal v Aston Villa
Sun, Mar 25 West Brom v Newcastle
Mon, Mar 26 Man Utd v Fulham

And with that, we're on to the player picks part of the program:

Forwards

  • Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez - Rather than create a bunch of entries I'm going to say that I'm as "all in" on Manchester United as I can be until they play Manchester City. They are expensive after the big win over the weekend but I'd do my best to get one if not two of the above.
  • Carlos Tevez - His price is still low and he managed 4.5 points in a 30 minute cameo appearance. Hard to know how many minutes to expect against Stoke but if the Friday reports indicate he may play then it might be worth the risk at 7.11.
  • Danny Graham - I generally like both Swansea and Graham when the Swans are playing at home and they are even if the opposition is better than average in Everton.
  • Frazier Campbell - It didn't work out very well against Rovers this past weekend but it is still impossible to ignore a forward starting at home against QPR for a price of 3.35.
Midfielders
  • Stuart Downing - Who would have guessed that Downing would come through for me when I predicted he'd do well in last weekend's TWA. I'm doubling down against my better judgement and saying he'll do it again against Wigan.
  • Ryo Miyaichi - He's been playing well since he was inserted in Bolton's starting line-up and a relatively easy match (as easy as any match is for Bolton) should inspire you to buy in even with his price having risen into double digits.
  • Tomas Rosicky - His price is still very low despite his better play over the last month or so. I'm not expecting him to have a huge match but you aren't going to get to all of those Manchester United players by buying high ticket items elsewhere in your line-up.
  • Wayne Routledge - Not huge upside but he's been producing pretty well while he's been starting and Nathan Dyer is still out for this weekend as a result of his suspension.
  • Ashley Young - With Antonio Valencia having gotten the call over the weekend and United not playing in any other competitions you'd have to expect that BFAY will be getting a start this coming weekend.
  • Anthony Pilkington - The one thing he has over Ashley Young (well, other than being much cheaper) is that he's definitely going to start unless he gets hurt between now and then.
Defenders
  • Keiron Gibbs - Can you believe he's healthy? Can you believe an Arsenal defender seems like a good idea? Solid value even after a clean sheet today.
  • Sebastian Coates - Assuming Martin Kelly continues to be out after going off today then Coates who came in for Kelly could be a reasonable option over the weekend even after a good substitute appearance points-wise.
  • Rio Ferdinand - Hopefully you either had Johnny Evans last weekend or got he or Rafael on the Barn Door last weekend but if not, Rio may be the inexpensive way to get in on a good United match-up.
  • Tim Ream - More attractive at his sub-4 price of a couple weekends ago but he's been a solid enabler as opposed to the Woy-induced disappointment that was Tamas last weekend.
  • Zak Whitbread - It's an All-American center back enabler player picks column this week with Whitbread enjoying the home match against Wolves and a very low price (4.84).
Goalkeepers
  • Pepe Reina - Not a good mid-week match but his reduced price and the match-up at Anfield makes him a nice bargain.
  • Paul Robinson - I've been higher on Bolton players over Rovers players thus far but that has more to do with the prices of Rovers attacking players as opposed to my opinion of who will necessarily win. Robbo is one of the few reasonably priced Rovers players and they are playing Bolton.
  • Paddy Kenny - If you need an enabler then it isn't TOO likely that Sunderland will go crazy in the goalscoring department regardless of the outcome.
  • DDG - If you can afford anyone (or have him on the BD).