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A Trip Around the League

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With the international break upon us, let’s take a look at who’s up and who’s down!

Teemu Pukki - Norwich City - Premier League
No Pukki No Party!
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Ah, the joys of the beloved international break.

Time for your most cherished FPL asset to travel to a rugged, remote, and mountainous land to play against a hulking center back who may or may not owe money to his local mob and may or may not choose to employ a sharp elbow or three, and will most definitely be instructed to “sweep the leg” on every single play.

As I like to say on every international break, cuddle up with your favorite medical dictionary (you’ll need it to identify whether the left tibia of your FPL stud whose leg was swept playing on pot-holed AstroTurf can be manually reset or whether he’ll need major surgery), and join me as we take stock of every team in ye olde EPL.

Yup. It’s your favorite downtime column. So let us go then you and I on A Trip Around the League!

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ELITE SQUADS

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane - Liverpool FC - Premier League
Batman and Robin, or Batman v Joker?
Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Liverpool

Continue encouraging all your opponents to dump Liverpool assets. There’s simply too much infighting (see: Salah v Mane: Dawn of Crisis), too many injuries (Alisson), too much defensive frailty (a terrible 25% clean sheet return so far)… dump Liverpool. Sell ‘em off!

And you, dear reader, prey on their stupidity and load up on Liverpool! This team is AWESOME.

Manchester City

Simply said, there’s been less rotation than I’d anticipated (so far — the Champions League hasn’t weighed heavily yet). I was very nervous about Raheem Sterling getting very inconsistent playing time, not unlike Leroy Sane last year following a magical 2017-18 campaign.

But as they tell me in Wall Street, past performance is not an indicator of future gains. If you were in on Sterling from the beginning, good on ya! I’ve at least mitigated the disaster by betting on KDB to be the undervalued stud of the year. He has been that, and more!

I’d be remiss to not tip my cap to Sergio Aguero. El Kun was nothing short of brilliant in August, and we could be looking at another 20+ goal campaign even with Gabriel Jesus (inexplicably) stealing some of his playing time.

And oh, yeah, this team is AWESOME.

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GOOD-BUT-NOT ELITE SQUADS

Leicester

Searching for Ayoze Perez… and searching… and still searching. Will we search all year?

The Foxes have a very good squad led by Jamie Vardy and featuring very credible FPL picks like James Maddison, Ben Chillwell, Ricardo Pereira and the incomparable Youri Tielemans.

Speaking of Monsieur Tielemans… many of my friends remember the day some five years ago when I told them about a certain ponytailed master of defensive duels who played for Celtic. I told them this ponytailed god would be among the best players in the world one day. His name was Virgil van Dijk. Had he been a stock, it would have been like buying Amazon at U$35 and selling it for U$2,000. I have an eerily similar feeling about Monsieur Tielemans. I just do. Real Madrid is in his future.

Crystal Palace

Christian Benteke - Crystal Palace - Carabao Cup Second Round
Behold! Christian Benteke never scores!
Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Yes! I love randomness, and I love that The Eagles are fourth in the table despite having no depth and a stunning inability to score goals courtesy of star striker and poacher Christian Benteke. Speaking of randomness, I do love the fact that despite scoring all of approximately 0.75 goals in the last three years combined, Benteke continues to get regular call-ups to the (nearly) great Belgian national team.

I don’t believe Palace will be anywhere near the top for too much longer, but it’s fun to say something positive about this defensively sound little team that could.

Keep on soaring Eagles! (but we do know that the laws of gravity dictate that what goes up must come down… bummer!)

Arsenal

Despite a tactically inept manager, I do like Arsenal this year. There is good depth and pace in attack, and Dani Ceballos looks to have 10 assists in him. I’m also very curious to see how the fullbacks fare once Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney come back from injuries. I can definitely see owning at least one attacker and one fullback from the Gunners in my FPL team.

Everton

Everton is the proverbial box of chocolates: you just don’t know what you’re gonna get.

So far we’ve tasted clean-sheet-happy and goal-shy, and we’ve tasted clean-sheet-unhappy and goal-happy samples. At some point we’ll start getting more consistent and palatable versions, and I do think there will be some fantasy gold in them hills. If you own Lucas Digne, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison, keep on owning. I’m still not reaching for Moises Kean or Alex Iwobi, however. I’m playing it conservative, you see.

West Ham

Hoo boy, are there some interesting attacking assets here! Regular readers will know of my great love for Manuel Lanzini. But there’s competition for my FPL affection in the form of striker Sebastian Haller. He’s the tip of the spear in a very potent and creative attacking mid/winger formation, meaning he gets service from the aforementioned Lanzini, and also from the very capable Felipe Anderson, the dynamic Andriy Yarmolenko and, eventually (maybe?) Pablo Fornals. Haller is good in the air and has had a stellar conversion rate on whatever goal scoring opportunities he’s provided. I can see 15 goals this season, and only because I’m forcing myself to be very conservative and level-headed (over a few beers, I’d tell you that I think it’s closer to 20).

Simply said, I’m all-in on Haller.

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FORMERLY ELITE SQUADS

Manchester United

Are we sure that, as this season plays out, they’ll be better than Leicester and/or Everton? I’m really not so sure. I’ve never been sold on Marcus Rashford as an elite talent, and other than Paul Pogba, would anyone on this team sniff the bench of a Real Madrid or a Juventus? As an FPL play, I am all in on Anthony Martial because he has played mostly out of position. I can see 10-12 goals in him. But other than We Are Martial and maybe Aaron Wan Bissaka, I’m steering clear of this team. You who are all-in on Daniel James may make me salt my beer with tears later this season.

Tottenham

Christian Eriksen - Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Bravo! It has been one heckuva Shakespeare Tragedy in the House of Denmark
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Something’s rotten in the House of Denmark. Unless the Danish Prince, Christian Eriksen decides “To Be” (rather than “Not to Be”) we’ll have a Shakesperian tragedy in our hands.

Thing is, there is so much talent here, starting with proven international stars like Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris, and a range of fascinating players like Heung-min Son, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso.

Under normal circumstances I’d bet on a quality manager like Pochettino to find a winning formula, but it seems like whatever existential crisis is afflicting Eriksen may have infected his manager. Maybe now that the European transfer window has shut, the distractions will abate so regular service can be restored.

Tottenham: To be or not to be? That is most definitely the question.

Chelsea

I feel the same about Chelsea as I do about Manchester United. If I were super lazy, I’d simply copy/paste my Man U text and change the names from “Marcus Rashford” to “Tammy Abraham”, “Paul Pogba” to “N’Golo Kante”, “Aaron Wan Bissaka” to “Emerson” and “Daniel James” to “Mason Mount”.

Yup, I am in fact super lazy.

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NO-MAN’S LAND SQUADS

Sheffield United

Savin’ on Lundstram is a real thing. He is uber cheap, plays the full 90, and he does so out of position as a defender playing attacking mid. What’s not to love? Well, I don’t love the fact that he’s neither starting material on an ambitious FPL team, nor is he easy to bench when he scores 6+. I own him, but so far he has been more heartbreak than joy.

I think they’ll be relegated because there simply isn’t enough EPL quality talent, but I will continue to monitor the likes of Callum Robinson and, especially, (future England #1) Dean Henderson.

Burnley

Joe Hart - Burnley FC - Premier League
On the bench, the only place where Argh, Joe Hart, Argh! belongs... Sorry, I couldn’t resist!
Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

They’re looking so much better than at pretty much any point last term. Now that Argh, Joe Hart, Argh has been banished to the bench to don a training bib instead of action gloves, prospects are looking up, way up. Nick “The Young” Pope is the real deal at keeper, and the defense looks super settled in front of him. There’s also some intriguing attacking talent in the form of Dwight McNeil and Ashley Barnes. I see a solid mid-table side, and I see owning Pope for the duration of my FPL season.

Southampton

The Saints have been, um, meh? If and when Che Adams settles down, he could be an intriguing FPL play, and there will be the odd stellar defensive performance that will have lesser FPL managers chasing points. But, for the first time in a few years, I’m not buying any Southampton FPL players. Meh. Simply meh.

Newcastle

…Speaking of meh: M.E.H. The most exciting thing that could happen here is that a new owner finally buy the club. But I suppose that’s better than being rooted to the foot of the table as some preseason pundits predicted.

Regular readers may recall that I am, like, a huge Newcastle supporter. I have this great tendency to view everything they touch as gold. And if I try to be more objective, I really can’t find much to recommend. Fabian Schaar is a good FPL bet outside of games against high-voltage attacks. Otherwise, I am keeping very quiet on Newcastle for fear of alerting the relegation monster. I’m just hoping we end up a forgotten squad stuck somewhere in mid-table purgatory.

Bournemouth

Or as I like to call them, “Two Face Harvey Dent”. The attacking side, led by the cultured likes of Callum Wilson, Josh King, Ryan Fraser and Harry Wilson (not to be confused with Callum, whom I’ve owned early this season and constantly thought had scored the goals credited to “Wilson” only to be let down more than once), is the polished and well-groomed Gotham District Attorney half.

The defense, on the other hand, is the monstrous and evil half. Other than Nathan Ake there is zero talent here. And not one of their approximately 1,001 goalkeepers is any good at professional futbol goalkeeping. This all adds up to, quite possibly, the most average squad in the entire EPL.

Brighton

Um, Lewis Dunk or Mat Ryan as budget enablers?

Wolves

The side is off to a super slow start, having been bitten by the same Europa League bug that last afflicted Burnley. But don’t despair, Wolves (aka Portugal National Team) have way too much talent to suffer for too much longer. I’m still in on the likes of Diogo Jota, Joao Moutinho, Raul Jimenez and Willy Boly (when he’s not being red-carded or serving the suspension therefor).

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RELEGATION CANDIDATE SQUADS

Aston Villa

Tyrone Mings - Aston Villa - Premier League
Yup, that’s England defender Mings. Tyrone Mings.
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

In some ways they’re very similar to Southampton and Newcastle: defensively solid, but far from bulletproof and somewhat challenged going forward. Unlike the former pair however, Villa are not proven veterans of the EPL grind. And that’s where I think they might be vulnerable to the drop.

In the meantime, I continue to own Tom Heaton in a rotation with The Young Pope of Burnley. And joining those two in Gareth Southgate’s latest England defense is, ah…Tyrone Mings? The same Mings who couldn’t crack a horrid Bournemouth defense? Yup. Congratulations Tyrone Mings!

Norwich

No Pukki No Party!

I’m sooooo riding the Pukki Party Wave. And if you are trying to get in on it late, beware because the great white shark of Regression to the Mean is most definitely lurking beneath the surfboard. We already saw its fin in GW4.

For those of you owning multiple Norwich attacking assets like, say Pukki + Cantwell or Buendia, consider cashing in the gains sooner rather than later. I don’t believe it’s a viable strategy moving forward to rely on more than one Canary.

And oh, yeah, forgot to mention: No way they survive the drop!

Watford

Every year, a seemingly established EPL mid-table team is relegated. Could Watford be that surprise team? The early signs are not good... like, at all. The defense, relying so heavily on West Brom’s (relegated) pair of Ben Foster and Craig Dawson is not mid-table quality. The attack has been uber disappointing with Troy Deeney out injured for the foreseeable future and Gerard Deulofeu facing one of the ugliest starts to the EPL season of any quality player in recent memory.

The Hornets have yet to win a game and are currently bottom, but I still think there could be some regression to the mean, which would be positive for Watford… after all, they can’t continue to be as bad as they’ve been. Can they?

Not too surprisingly, the Hornets have already sacked Javi Gracia, reappointing Quique Sanchez Flores as their manager. Perhaps a “new-manager bump” will start the turn-around.

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If you’ve made it this far, congratulations and welcome back from your Trip Around the League!

Please share your comments and thoughts below, and be sure to let us know whether the Pukki Party can continue or whether Watford should fear the drop! Good luck with avoiding injuries during the international break!

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