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A Trip Around the League or: Reds v Sky Blue

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It’s a FIFA international week, and this can mean only one thing! It’s time for your favorite downtime column!

Salah, B.Silva & Aguero - Manchester City v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

I invite you, dear reader, to look away from that horrific ankle ligament injury your star player is about to suffer at the spikes of a very rugged, very mean and nearly toothless central defender from a very rugged and very mean country called “Molvania” and join me for a light-hearted survey of our beloved EPL.

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

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Elite Squads

Liverpool (76 pts/ 31 games played) and Manchester City (74/30)

Aside from the 2019 version of Mo Salah, both of these teams are jam-packed with performers of the highest calibre.

Virgil van Dijk, whom I first discovered as fantasy dynamite when he joined Southampton and Togga was still a thing, is now easily my favorite player in EPL. That ponytail! That ability to win aerial duels! That composure! He looks every bit the Champions League winner to me. But maybe not quite the Premier League champion because…

Pep is a genius. Just the other day, after coming from behind to beat Swansea in some tournament that disrupts the flow of our EPL/FPL campaigns, he made an absolutely brilliant point about not celebrating a good outcome (a win) when the process and decision making was bad (VAR chaos, wrong tactical approach, etc). It’s this kind of insight that separates the elite from the merely good. Pep’s elite. There’s nothing to gain from celebrating luck, which is feeble and fickle. Better to focus on optimizing decision making and probability assessments!

Also, Sergio Aguero is both “Kun” and King.

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Not-Quite-Elite Squads

Tottenham (61/30), Arsenal (60/30), Manchester United (58/30), and Chelsea (57/30)

It’s so tempting to flush Chelsea down this list, but alas, any team featuring Eden “The Duke of” Hazard, must not be discounted or dismissed. But gosh they’ve been bad of late!

Of this bunch, Tottenham is the best team with the best manager, but they also look tired and disjointed (in league play) recently. I have the sneaking suspicion that Arsenal, led by Spider-Man/Black Panther superhero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, poacher nonpareil Alexandre Lacazette, and the forever promise of Henrikh Mkhitaryan will outlast the rest of this bunch. However, like the elites, all need special fantasy attention because all are still embroiled in Europe next month.

Quick question: which of these two illustrious magicians is best at performing the disappearing trick on any given weekend: Hey Mkhi or Paul Pogba?

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Best of the Rest Squads

Wolves (44/30), Watford FC (43/30), West Ham (42/31), Leicester (41/31) and Everton (40/31)

First things first: Gerard Deulofeu, right? He’s on a tear!

When Portugal won the last Euro without an injured Cristiano Ronaldo, I partook on an Einstein-esque thought experiment: What would happen if a Cristiano-less Portugal national team were to compete in the Premier League. How would it fare? Now I know, courtesy of Wolverhampton! 44 points in 30 games and firmly cemented as a ‘Best of the Rest’ team!

Maybe.

On account that the best player on any of these teams is the oft-injured Hammer play-maker Manuel Lanzini. Had he been healthy all year, I think West Ham would be closer to Chelsea than to Wolves. The midfielder from Argentina is a stud, one of the few difference makers in all of EPL. Now if he could only stay healthy!

Speaking of studs, I’ve seen the future! I’ve had a vision of five or six players who will join Gareth Southgate’s next World Cup team! A Ben Chilwell here, a Harry Maguire there, with a sprinkle of James Maddison, a spoonful of Demarai Gray, and a dash of Hamzah Choudhoury.

Everton is the Chelsea of this group. It’s very tempting to flush them down the drain to the next tier, but they have some real talent in the Icelandic Sigurdsson, the inconsistent Richarlison, and the nervy Jordan “Argh Joe Hart Argh 2.0?” Pickford, along with their voluminous collection of Barcelona rejects.

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No-Man’s-Land Squads

Bournemouth (38/31), Newcastle (35/31), Crystal Palace (33/30), and Brighton (33/29)

Callum Wilson or Joshua King for your fantasy team? That is the question! I’m leaning King on this one because I did a lot of homework before the season started, and I settled on King. So I’m trusting my early-season homework on this one.

Of all of these meh teams, I like Palace the best for fantasy returns. Michy “Batsman” Batshuayi will really help Andros Townsend and Wilfred Zaha, and I expect some solid returns to continue for Patrick Van Aanholt, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and keeper Vicente “how is he not on Spain’s national team instead of keeper Kepa?” Guaita.

For my eternally beloved Newcastle, I’m all in on MLS transplant Miguel Almiron. I don’t know if he’ll be a prolific goal-scorer in the Premier League, but he will definitely be an assist rainmaker.

As for Brighton, I don’t have much to add other than “nice job Albion!” …OK, you should expect a bit more analysis from me so let’s see… (thinking)… they’ve played only 29 games so they have at least one more game in hand than any other team! That may not move them up the table, but it could pay a fantasy dividend in multiple DGWs next month.

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Relegation Fodder Squads

Southampton (30/30), Burnley (30/31), Cardiff (28/30), Fulham (17/31), and Huddersfield (14/31)

Let’s start at the end: It’s straight red-card send-off time for Fulham and Huddersfield. None of this two-yellows-equals-red crap. Straight red. Awful. Please go. Steve Mounie, you broke my fantasy heart.

I fear Cardiff City will join them, but at least they haven’t embarrassed themselves. Keeper Neil Etheridge is the real deal in both FPL and EPL. Had it not been for the Emiliano Sala tragedy, who knows? But life is not fair; Cardiff faces the drop.

Southampton should escape, just barely, and only because they’ve FINALLY unleashed the wizard that is James Ward-Prowse. I wrote a rather glowing review/profile last season for NMA, and I’m stoked to see he’s finally living up to the promise and playing for England to boot! Well done you impossibly posh-named JWP!

Burnley offers another interesting thought experiment: How high could they be had they not wasted 60% of their season playing the horrible, terrible, no good, very bad Argh, Joe Hart, Argh? The man single-handedly brought down one of the great cohesive defensive units in all of sport, transforming them from 300 Spartans to a bunch of nervous awkward teens before a big prom date. The second that Tom Heaton put Hart out of our misery, the wheel of fortune turned in Burnley’s favor, and suddenly Clark Kents became Supermen again. But is it too little, too late? I think not, but the damage done is as close to catastrophically terminal as could possible be. We’ll see.

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Thank you for reading and I hope you continue to derive great pleasure, knowledge and inspiration from NMA!

Whom do you think will join Fulham and Huddersfield in the Championship? Whom do you think wins the League? Is Salah a season-and-a-half wonder? Whom are you betting on as an out-and-out value differential for the rest of the season? Please let us know in the comments below!

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