I’ve finally gotten around to starting season 2 of the TV show Westworld. In the opener, Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood) asks Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), “What is real?” After a moment’s thought, Bernard replies, “That which is irreplaceable.”
Well, folks, all of a sudden it has gotten very real in fantasy Premier League. Two seemingly irreplaceable stars owned by hoards of managers, Tottenham striker Harry Kane and Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, both suffered injury during game-week 22. Early this week, they were confirmed out for two weeks (TAA) or months (Kane)… or so it would seem, at least with respect to the former. Just recently today, news at Anfield pulled an about-face, and now the Liverpool star is magically back in contention to play this weekend.
If you had TAA and already dropped him, worried about suffering a price drop for waiting, you are now certainly not enjoying this latest Westworld-esque twist of fate... particularly if you burned multiple transfers because you also dropped Kane and/or Son.
SPURS’ HARSH REALITY
For Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs, Kane’s injury is an absolutely brutal gut punch, adding to the planned absence of winger Son Heung-min who has traveled as scheduled to the Asian Cup competition. Son should miss somewhere on the order of three league matches. Poch is now missing two key elements of his four-man offense. Lucas Moura is the obvious first choice replacement were he able to pass fit — but Moura has missed the past two games with injury himself — while either Erik Lamela or (gulp) Fernando Llorente could be next in line.
Things are not exactly pitch perfect elsewhere either, as box-to-box midfielder Moussa Sissoko suffered an injury in the first half of the Manchester United game and is ruled out for the weekend; defensive midfielder Eric Dier remains on the shelf; and central midfielder Mousa Dembele cannot come in for Sissoko since he just signed with China’s Guangzhou R&F. Who will be Sissoko’s replacement? Ideally, Lamela. But what if Moura is unable to pass fit, and Poch has Llorente replace Kane and Lamela fill in for Son? Then you’re probably looking at Oliver Skipp coming in for Sissoko, and Harry Winks continuing in Dier’s stead. Pass the aspirin!
Liverpool has dealt with its share of injuries this season, particularly in the back where central defender Dejan Lovren missed a big chunk of the early part of the season, and fellow center back Joe Gomez has been out with his own problem for quite a while now. Lovren has returned to the shelf recently, leaving both center backs unavailable this weekend. The timing could not be worse, with right wing back TAA suffering his knock that caused so much panic the same weekend that his understudy, Nathaniel Clyne, played his first game on loan with Bournemouth. Under the terms of the agreement, Clyne cannot be recalled.
In the win over Brighton, midfielder Fabinho filled in for Lovren in central defense. With Lovren still out, Jurgen Klopp will likely have to turn to Fabinho again, although he could tap Joel Matip instead. As for TAA’s spot if he does need replacing, Klopp could go with jack-of-all-trades midfielder James Milner. Or he could turn to either of two players who are actual defenders, just not on the right side: Alberto Moreno (usually a left back) or Matip (generally a central defender), both of whom have plenty of rust to shake off. Of course, with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum facing a game time fitness test this weekend and Adam Lallana having very recently returned to training (meaning he is more likely be a sub than a starter), Klopp would love to have Fabinho and Milner in their more usual positions. What a mess! (To read the latest updates straight from the source, head to the official Liverpool site.)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS OUT OR IN DOUBT
- Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson missed out against Everton and the official team site reports him as a doubt for the visit of West Ham. The Cherries failed to click with Joshua King and Junior Stanislas leading the offense, so Wilson’s return would not only be a boon to his own owners, but would surely be welcome news for Ryan Fraser backers as well. Fraser keeps setting up his teammates brilliantly, but it’s not much help if they lack the quality to finish!
- West Ham forward Marko Arnautovic has been in and out of the line-up with injury all season, so stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Arno reportedly will not be in the team for the trip to Bournemouth. This time, though, it seems to be more from China-bound transfer rumors than fitness. Given the Arnautovic-related statistical splits, fantasy managers who hold Felipe Anderson should be happy. According to the official West Ham site, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has returned to training, but it is unclear whether he is ready to start. Stop me if you’ve heard this second one before, Andy Carroll would certainly love to crack the XI for the first time in seemingly forever, but Manuel Pellegrini may instead give the ineffective Lucas Perez yet another chance to unimpress.
- Burnley midfielder Johan Berg Gudmundsson missed the win over Fulham, and is again doubtful for the Watford trip. Fellow midfield playmaker Robbie Brady serves the final game of his suspension.
- The Manchester City offense holds its usual share of uncertainty. Can fantasy favorite Kevin De Bruyne ever (and more pressingly, now) become a regular or semi-regular starter, or does he remain merely a bench option? Gabriel Jesus scored a brace up front by himself last weekend with Sergio Aguero coming in as a sub following injury recovery. Will that arrangement continue? Should Kun displace Jesus? Or does Pep Guardiola start the duo together? Enquiring minds want to know!
- Much is in flux for Southampton. Danny Ings has passed fit, plus striker Charlie Austin, midfielder Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg and defender Jan Valery all are available following suspension. Defender Ryan Bertrand has missed the past 10 games through injury. He is nearing a return but apparently not just yet. Fellow wing-back Cedric Soares played 33 minutes last week from the bench, so Ralph Hasenhuttl could opt to give him a start now if so desired. So there may be quite a shake-up in the XI. However, the Saints have been in fine form, winning three in five, so sticking with what is working — at least mostly — would alternately seem to make a lot of sense. Only Mr. Hasenhuttl knows...
- Wolverhampton defender Willy Boly begins his three game suspension for the straight red card he received against Manchester City. According to the official Wolves’ site, either Leander Dendoncker or Roman Saiss will likely fill in against Leicester. Of course, since Wolves v. Leicester is the one early game, we’ll know for certain who Nuno Espirito Santo goes with before the Fantrax deadline, but unfortunately not in time for Official FPL.
Last weekend we saw quick debuts from Nathaniel Clyne with Bournemouth, Samir Nasri at West Ham, and Jason Puncheon for Huddersfield. Now 19th place Fulham will be tempted to press midfielder Ryan Babel into play at home against Spurs on his Premier League return from Besiktas. The same holds true for 17th place Cardiff, which will hope for a kick-start after bringing forward Oumar Niasse over on loan from Everton and now travels to St. James’ Park. Niasse has played a grand total of 58 minutes this season, so he will certainly be fresh, but it remains to be seen whether he is ready to play starter’s minutes.
While not exactly a transfer, Huddersfield does have a new interim manager following David Wagner’s exit. Rumors are rampant regarding a permanent replacement, but for now it will be interesting to see if temporary skipper Mark Hudson makes any personnel or formation changes. He faces the daunting task of keeping mighty Manchester City in check, so his set-up may not matter in the end.
What are we looking forward to this weekend? Here’s the slate:
- Wolverhampton v. Leicester (early game)
- Bournemouth v. West Ham
- Liverpool v. Crystal Palace
- Manchester United v. Brighton
- Newcastle v. Cardiff
- Southampton v. Everton
- Watford v. Burnley
- Arsenal v. Chelsea (late game)
- Huddersfield v. Manchester City (early game)
- Fulham v. Tottenham (late game)
What decisions are you agonizing over as we approach the deadline? Be sure to share any late-breaking news in the comments along with any other thoughts you have!