It was another crazy weekend in the Premier League with Manchester United and Arsenal turning back the clock and running wild on the league while the new elite - Chelsea and Manchester City - struggled against teams that they should beat. The attempts of the PetroDollar teams to create a more Barcelona-like style with smaller, more technical players like Eden Hazard, David Silva, Juan Mata, and Samir Nasri got me wondering if those teams may, like the Arsenal teams at the height of the Wenger Era, be particularly susceptible big physical "traditional" English teams like those typically trotted out by Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes. I didn't see the City/Stoke match but it was clear that QPR went out with the intent of bullying Chelsea and, between their efforts and the willingness of the officials to let it happen pretty much unchecked, they were successful with this tactic.
Back in the days of Henry, Vieira, Bergkamp, Pires, and Ljungberg at Arsenal it was Rovers (managed by Mark Hughes) and Bolton who gave Arsenal the most trouble in their passing game. More recently Stoke has inherited that mantle. For whatever reason, perhaps that Chelsea and City don't have French managers or because the changes have been positive and yielded big trophies over the past 12 months, there hasn't been as much focus on the changes in style at these two clubs. There certainly hasn't been much focus on any potential downside of those changes. Both teams should be more entertaining and have results to show which is great for all involved. As fantasy managers though, we should remember that there are limitations to any style and try to keep in mind that big burly teams that play a physical style combined with permissive officiating can blunt a fluid passing style. It has happened three times this season and it is worth remembering going forward as well.
What else did we learn over the weekend in the Premier League? Let's run it down team-by-team and see:
Arsenal - That was the pop that we were all waiting for. The big question is whether last year's misfiring player (Gervinho) will get an extended run or if Wenger will continue to try to get this year's slow starter - Olivier Giroud - on track. Regardless, Podolski and Cazorla are establishing themselves as strong producers and the defense - Szczesny's error aside - has continued to be surprisingly strong.
Aston Villa - I have to say that I'm surprised to see Villa and Paul Lambert get off the proverbial schneid before fellow 2011-12 managerial success story Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool seems to have more talent than Villa but then again, Swansea had more talent than Norwich last season too and Lambert found a way so maybe it should be a surprise. Regardless, even with a match against Southampton coming up, I'm still not ready to jump on the Villa bandwagon. If I did, Cairan Clark would be my most likely target as a still-reasonably-priced defender who seems to do something interesting most matches - you just have to hope you don't pick him the week interesting = red card.
Chelsea - So, they're not going to win all of their matches. I saw an article on Football365 asking if Chelsea were really any better than last season without really indicating what part of "last season" they were talking about. Chelsea went from terrible to excellent in an unprecedented way last season. Hard to say they're better than Champions of Europe but easy to say they're better than the group that got worked by Arsenal and finished 6th in the league. In any event, they certainly missed Juan Mata and the result points out how dependent they are likely to be on Mata/Hazard staying healthy and playing together. Everything going forward will come from them. As for the defense, it is definitely more consistent - they would have lost the QPR match on a fluky goal last season.
Everton - Robbed by the officials of a win against Newcastle. Oddly, Baines actually netted less than his average despite scoring a goal. Don't stress over the low-scoring Fellaini, he should have had a double digit match but he had a perfectly good goal taken away. Finally, this Mirallas kid looks good despite a modest output in his starting debut. Good signs all around for Everton. They look for all the world like this season's Newcastle (the outsider who will challenge the big boys before ultimately falling short).
Fulham - Quick quiz (and no fair looking on Yahoo for the answer): who is Fulham's second leading fantasy scorer so far this season? Debutante brace man Miralem Petric? Nope. Shiny new defender Sascha Reither? Nope again. The shocking answer is perpetual back-up and Nik's least favorite player in the league Steve Sidwell who has gotten his chance with Moussa Dembele gone to Spurs (oh, the irony of Dembele leaving for Nik's team and opening a spot for his least favorite player). Anyway, Sidwell is getting more expensive but is still worth more than a passing thought when Fulham are at home. Oh, and Berbs did well too, didn't he?
Liverpool - So, here's what Brendan Rodgers is learning - what is OK (or even exceptional) at Swansea doesn't come close to cutting it at Liverpool. The Reds have started playing Rodgers' possession game but are suffering from the same issue that the Swans did last season - they aren't able to translate it into goals despite more famous and expensive forward players. In it's current state, Liverpool's play may be more attractive than Stoke's but it is equally defensive in nature (substituting passing for being goonish as the method of defending). Not a lot to love from a fantasy standpoint unless they start keeping clean sheets. Even less so this coming weekend against United - sounds like 5 matches without a win to me.
Manchester City - Pretty much the same analysis as Chelsea above. The interesting questions here are about City's new additions - Javi Garcia and Maicon. Garcia not only scored on his debut but he had at least one more strong chance on a header. Hard to make that stick as a useful fantasy option week after week given all of the inexpensive attacking midfielders out there but at least worthy of a spot start while he's inexpensive. Maicon came in with a solid 7.5 in the absence of a clean sheet which isn't bad at all. Whether it is for the upcoming weekend against Arsenal or on the BD for the week thereafter, he's probably a long term buy unless he ends up giving up some league matches to Micah Richards once he's healthy again.
Manchester United - There was a lot of rage associated with Manchester United this weekend. My assumption is that Alex Buttner will be all the rage after his strong debut showing for United. It is worth pointing out that his touch was terrible (hat tip Football365) but he got some positive results which is more than Evra can say in 2012. The rest of the rage I'm talking about was likely directed at Sir Alex Ferguson for teasing fantasy owners on the status of Robin van Persie who had a wasted weekend. The big question is how SAF will handle weeks like this when RvP will certainly play in Champions League in mid-week. You assume he'll also feature against Liverpool at the weekend given the nature of the rivalry but unlike Arsenal who didn't have other options last season, SAF has options and fantasy owners will have to think twice before making the big investment in RvP.
Newcastle - Other than Demba Ba, they really haven't clicked yet this season. Such is the fine line that Everton has been riding for years under David Moyes. With a relatively small squad that pivots on a few key players and a lot of solidity behind that, things can go awry quickly if one of those key players isn't in top form. At Everton, Tim Cahill was the fading force that wasn't replaced quickly enough. At Newcastle, it isn't quite as clear where the gaps are but it likely is a slight regression from a number of sources on top of missing Cheik Tiote. The overall message is that you need to quickly forget who Newcastle were last season and be very wary until they have proven that they've righted the ship.
Norwich - In the wake of Berbatov's 28 point weekend, I was tempted to ditch Robert Snodgrass and pick up the Bulgarian. Here's the thing that stopped me - Snodgrass managed 19.5 points in a hideously dull nil-nil draw. What do you think you're going to get from Berbatov when Fulham get shut out? (hint, you know the answer from pulling your hair out buying him the weeks he didn't get a hattrick for Manchester United). There isn't a lot to love at Norwich but Snodgrass definitely qualifies in the Yahoo format. In the PL.com format he's interesting because he's a cheap midfielder instead of a forward although the phantom points don't count for much.
QPR - Having a real goalkeeper makes a bit of a difference doesn't it? It hasn't helped the attack any but they were able to play a Mark Hughes type of match and get a point from a far more talented team. You have to think that the Rs form will improve markedly when the competition becomes a bit more beatable - hard to say if @TOT counts in that regard or not this coming weekend.
Reading - Let this be a lesson to the FA, the product isn't helped AT ALL by allowing one of the two teams in a match to go 25 days between matches. Reading were just rotten and the fact that Spurs didn't score 7 or 8 is a tribute to the fact that they still haven't really clicked in AVB's system yet.
Southampton - They've been a little like Blackpool from a few years ago. The neutrals really seem to enjoy them and really want them to do well. They have put up some excellent fights against some very good (Manchester-based) teams. The only difference is that the results aren't even up to Blackpool's relegation standard. The Saints have been really bad twice including the match against Arsenal and just good enough to lose in an entertaining way the other two times out. We'll see how they do as the schedule gets easier - fortunately, they do manage to put up some fantasy points in the Yahoo format even as they're losing.
Stoke - Typical Stoke - they got a decent result but they didn't generate many fantasy points. There would have been even fewer if the officials had seen Peter Crouch's hand ball before his goal.
Sunderland - Steven Fletcher continues to be a very interesting case - in the real world he's incredibly efficient which is great. In our fantasy world, he's less interesting because he touches the ball very little when it isn't going in the net. 1 SOT, 1 Goal, and 2 Fouls Won - that was the entirety of his contribution this past weekend. What happens when a keeper gets to his shot? Not intending to rain on parades, just saying. Pretty mediocre elsewhere.
Swansea - The first really rotten match of the season for Michael Laudrup's men. Is the shine off? My guess is that they'll be OK but will likely struggle again without half of their first choice defense. The upcoming match with Everton will be fascinating but hard to imagine that there won't be goals both ways so I'd avoid Vorm and Rangel until further notice.
Tottenham - So, were they better or was Reading just really rotten? Hard to say honestly. The one thing we know for sure is that AVB has been dead on with his Jermain Defoe decision. Gareth Bale finally had a worthwhile match even if his points were due to a complete miskick. Outside of those two there really wasn't much fantasy goodness to be had from Spurs which has become something of a trend so far this season.
West Brom - Traveling to Fulham turned into the Baggies first poor outing of the season. Peter Odemwingie was sent off to boot. The upside? Prices went down and there's a Romelu Lukaku-sized opening at forward heading into WBA's match with Reading and he's back down to 4.73 - here's hoping that Steve Clarke makes a formal announcement that the Belgian will get the start. It is also worth noting that Gareth McAuley is actually the highest scoring Gareth (over Bale and Barry) in the Premier League so far this season - who'd have thunk it? He's expensive but might be worth it against Reading this weekend if you have some money to spend.
West Ham - I have to admit, I didn't think Jussi or any of the rest of the Hammers defense had a chance to be worthwhile fantasy purchases a second week in a row but wow, was I wrong. I don't think it will continue with Sunderland coming to Upton Park but as you have seen, I'm not exactly in fine form judging these guys. Even more frustrating is the job-sharing between Matt Taylor and Matt Jarvis - maybe we can combine them into one fantasy player who is worth buying week-in and week-out.
Wigan - Just a reminder after some solid performances that Wigan are definitely a bottom-half team that only has two players - Franco di Santo and Shawn Maloney - that are averaging more than 5 fantasy points/match. We have to wonder if/when Ryo will get his shot to replicate some of his on-loan form from last season.