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A Trip Around the League or: Life in Sky Blue

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It’s been a bonanza for The Citizens, but is there a surprise ending to this story?

Manchester City v Arsenal - Premier League
There’s been so much to celebrate for Manchester City this season
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

I usually like international breaks about as much as I’d fancy a visit to the dentist in 1872. This third break of the young(ish) season is one I don’t mind too much. It offers us an opportunity to sit back, relax and take stock of where we’ve been and where we’d like to go before the mad rush of the festive period threatens to spin us out of control.

As late autumn gives way to early Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it is with this pensive and reflective mood that I invite you, Dear Reader, to find a comfortable nook by your favorite window, wrap yourself in a cozy blanket, and grab a steaming mug of fresh-brewed coffee. Get all Danish-hygge under the warm, soft glow of an Edison bulb and join me on this surveying armchair adventure of our beloved EPL.

Let us go then, you and I, on a trip around the league!

Elite Squad

Manchester City

As the great Scotsman Highlander Connor MacLeod affirmed in a heavy French accent, “In the end there can be only one!”

An in the end, Manchester City will be the one. There is simply no coping with this team’s explosive mix of skillful passing, pace, width, efficient striking and depth. Kevin De Bruyne is rapidly cementing his status as the third best player in the world behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Sergio Aguero is an EPL goalscorer nonpareil, and Fernandinho has taken his game to world-class levels.

And then there’s new Brazilian international goalkeeper Ederson, who has solidified what had been a terrible weakness on this team. It is unclear if Ederson is actually a talented professional futbol goalkeeper or if strikers are afraid to score on him for fear of physical reprisal from this heavily-tattooed lookalike of a villain from a Fast and Furious film.

Wannabe Elite Squads

Manchester United

After an inspiring start to the season, one that saw the Red Devils play expansive, attacking and positive futbol, Jose Mourinho has remembered that he’s Jose Mourinho and that he has a bus to park.

With Mourinho’s bus now parked, early season fantasy studs like Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have turned into pumpkins. Rotten, wormy, smelly and toxic pumpkins. The hope is that perhaps Paul Pogba, whenever he returns from his mysterious injury, will bring with him the bus keys and trade in that cursed vehicle for that purring Ferrari we saw in the first few weeks of the campaign.

Tottenham Hotspur

Or shall we refer to them as “England’s national team” from now on?

It’s been a fairly standard season for them so far, but sometimes disappointing on the fantasy returns given Mauricio Pochettino’s sudden knack for erratic squad rotation.

Spurs will challenge for second place, but the glorious days of “Christian Eriksen, Fantasy Superstar” may now give way to “Christian Eriksen, Fantasy Really Nice Player (who still costs like a superstar).”

Chelsea

Speaking of Danish star Eriksen, something is rotten in the house of Denmark (I mean Chelsea).

David Luiz is said to be banished from first team action, Alvaro Morata is said to be slightly unsettled with life in cold and dreary London, and Eden Hazard, supremely talented though he may be, always carries a whiff of “If this game’s first five minutes don’t look like they’ll go exactly how I want them to go, I’m just going to see how many times I can be dispossessed of the futbol and lose interest in the match”.

I don’t think the rot in Chelsea is terminal. Cesar Azpilicueta is now toeing the line between “star” and “superstar” and N’Golo Kante is arguably a top 5-7 player in the world. But Chelsea is competing for second place. There is no catching Manchester City now.

Very Good But Very Flawed Wannabe Elite Squads

Liverpool

If we were casting EPL squads as Batman arch-enemies, Liverpool would surely be “Two-Face Harvey Dent”. One half (attacking) is smooth, competent, trustworthy, even heroic. The other half (defending) is hideous, repulsive, untrustworthy, even despicable.

Further, trying to predict a Liverpool result is akin to flipping Two-Face’s coin. In theory you have 50/50 odds of getting in right, but it feels like you’ll be 100% on the wrong side of the decision.

One thing’s for sure, Mohamed Salah is the breakout fantasy stud of the season. He has eclipsed fantasy royalty such as Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane.

Arsenal

If James Joyce were alive today, he’d probably supplement his novelist income as a journalist. For some reason I think he’d enjoy writing opinion pieces on the EPL, and he’d certainly enjoy covering the Arsenal beat.

By the end of this season, he would have published his greatest-ever novel; a canonical piece studied, deconstructed and analyzed by renowned scholars the world over. The title of this grand achievement? “A portrait of the Manager Arsene Wenger as an Old Man: Arsenal’s 2017-18 Campaign in Review”.

It’s been one heckuva erratic campaign for the Gunners and its manager. Spend a fortune on French international striker Alexandre Lacazette, but bench him for the two biggest fixtures of the season so far. Also, whatever is going on with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez?

Were I an Arsenal fan I’d surely demand an explanation.

The No-Man’s Land Squads

Burnley

One massive caveat with this team: If they lose Sean Dyche, they may yet fall into the relegation snake pit.

If Dyche stays, this team will be defensively solid, efficient in midfield and just ruthless enough up front to steal a lot of 1-0 results. Fantasy-wise, I’d invest in the defenseI and I’m all-in on the divinity of their Young Pope goalkeeper. Robbie Brady, however, has been the disappointment of the season for me.

Brighton

This team has taught me one massive lesson: Invest in whomever they start at striker in daily fantasy. Whether it’s Glen Murray or Tomer Hemed, they’ve been unbelievable value on any fantasy format.

Centerback Shane Duffy is the Togga lifehack of the year. He earns a staggering amount of “aerial duels won”, which account for one point each on the Togga format. I love Shane Duffy! The key question moving forward is whether to invest in Pascal Gross or Anthony Knockaert. After an early season headstart, Gross has ceded some serious ground to Knockaert over the past 2-3 weeks.

Watford

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Marco Silva is supremely talented at managing professional futbol players. There is, however, a bit of a fragility to this team that keeps me from investing in any of their players (except Richarlison!).

Jose Holebas is very good at fantasy scoring but he’s also very prone to yellow cards. In fact, every time I play Holebas (or Cholevas or whatever his bloody name is in your format of the moment), I am reminded of one of those giant Acme cartoon magnets Wile E. Coyote would employ to try to trap the Road Runner. Except this giant magnet attracts only yellow cards.

Huddersfield

David Wagner is such an incredible tactician I want to employ him to devise strategies for all the important issues in life: fix the tax code, fix healthcare, alleviate poverty, eradicate disease, make US domestic air travel feel less like a Green Mile walk to the electric chair.

Despite early season defender rockstars like “Zanka” and Christopher Schindler losing much of their value as the season has progressed, goalkeeper Jonas Lossl has been a very good fantasy value play (and pretty, pretty, pretty good in real life too!). Going forward, I would love to see Steve Mounie back healthy and starting. I talked about Shane Duffy’s incredible “aerial duels won” skills and Wile E. Coyote’s giant Acme magnet. Mounie has that magnet surgically attached to his forehead for the sole purpose of collecting many, many “aerial duels won” Togga points!

The “Wait, they’re in the Premier League?” Squad

Newcastle

As many of you dear readers will know, I’m a massive Newcastle supporter. It is a big problem when even I forget that we’re playing in the EPL this season. Outside of Rob Elliot in goal, there’s been nothing of interest from a fantasy perspective (and not too much from a real life standpoint). It’s as boring a squad as you’ll find this year; boring even in its safety from relegation.

The “One or More of These Teams Will Emerge and be Very Good” Squads

Leicester City; Southampton; Stoke City; Everton

I’m grouping these because they’re all variations of the same thing. Any one of these squads should safely be in the Burnley position just behind Arsenal, but instead they’re mucking about just above the relegation zone.

All four of these squads feature a collection of expensive domestic and international players and a range of good fantasy assets. All have disappointed in some capacity, and some have already experienced managerial changes.

If you’re looking for a place to invest in discounted fantasy talent, look no further than this group. If Sean Dyche takes over Everton as has been rumored, run (don’t walk) to Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane.

The “We’ll Sell Our Souls for 40 Points” Squads

West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth

These two squads should definitely be safely ensconced in the “No-Man’s Land” category currently occupied by teams such as Huddersfield and Brighton. But alas, here we are and they’re edging far too close to the abyss of relegation.

Tony Pulis’ seat has got to be getting warmer as the Midlands weather turns cooler. Why won’t he play Belgian international creative midfielder Nacer Chadli? As for Bournemouth, the fixtures turn far kinder over the coming number of weeks, so I believe their lot will improve. It’s not a bad time to invest in defenders such as Nathan Ake (Togga) or Charlie Daniels (Togga and Official).

Abysmal Squads

West Ham United; Swansea City; Crystal Palace

All three are EPL “brand names” that had been touted in previous seasons as examples of well-run teams. One or two of these teams could be relegated. West Ham’s recent sacking of Bilic and subsequent appointment of “Captain Failure” David Moyes carries a heavy stink of fate resignation. On paper, West Ham should be far better than they’ve been. But something is just not working, and I really don’t think Moyes is the man to inspire positive results.

Swansea lack talent and should be relegated. Other than Lukasz Fabianski, there isn’t a consistent fantasy option, which means there isn’t a consistent real-world talent that can transcend the general mediocrity of this squad.

Crystal Palace, on the other hand, do feature a few more fantasy assets, particularly on the Togga format (Yohan Cabaye, Wilfried Zaha, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andros Townsend). If I were a betting man, I’d wager on Crystal Palace to make a great escape from the relegation zone.

How are you spending your third and final international break? Are you planning major changes to your squads? Is this the right time to use your Official wildcard or make a blockbuster trade on Togga? Let us know in the comments below!