There just aren't many sure things in the Premier League this season. In a season when Yahoo adjusted the rules to make it easier to afford more high quality players, the Premier League conspires to make even that fact hard to capitalize on. Sure, there is the sustained excellence of SAS but there seem to be more high variance players this season than ever before. The point totals may not be significantly different over the course of 38 matches but there seem to be a proliferation of players who explode one week but are barely on the radar the next. It isn't a surprise that a part-time player like Andre Schurrle has up and down production, that's the nature of being a part-timer on a talented team. What is more surprising is that someone like Wayne Rooney has been as up and down with his production as he has been. If you haven't looked at his season, it is worth a look - of his 27 matches played he has twelve matches under eight points, only four between 8 and 16 points, and eleven over 16 points. Check out Adam Lallana's numbers - they're pretty similar with lots of huge matches and lots of matches where you were bummed you picked him. Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard and Leighton Baines are other members of the high variance club. A far cry from the years when you could count on a solid core of players who just churned out 8 to 12 points per match with only a few clunkers and a few huge weekends.
I have a few theories as to why this is happening. The elimination of Corners Won as a statistic in the Yahoo game has probably diminished the value players who create opportunities and take shots at volume. The Corner Won was a bonus on Shots on Target that the keeper could only deflect out. The Corner Won point was a saving grace when an attempted cross was guided away from a teammate for what could have been at minimum a Successful Cross and at best an assist. There is an undeniable tendency for more teams to have bigger squads with Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs added to Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United over the last couple of seasons. Players who could be consistent producers like Coutinho, Sterling, Navas, Nasri, and Eriksen have been rotated frequently enough that while their number of matches may look significant more than you'd expect have been substitute appearances. Finally, this season has been an anomoly in that it hasn't produced a consistent fantasy superstar from the lower half of the table. Where past seasons have given us Jimmy Bullard, Charlie Adam, Clint Dempsey, Laurent Robert, the artists formerly known as Stuart Downing and Ashley Young and the like churning out great fantasy weeks on bad teams this season has given us very little to love any lower in the table than Southampton. Only three defenders - Joel Ward, Curtis Davies, and Steven Caulker - have broken through as strong fantasy producers on bad teams. Maybe we just have to adjust our expectations as to what an under-the-radar fantasy option looks like.
I'm not sure if I necessarily have a specific point with this opening but as the season starts to wind down, I think I'm trying to get a handle on what we've learned from our first season under the adjusted rules other than "Always Captain Luis Suarez".
And now to the Team News and what it means for your fantasy team this week:
Man City v Southampton - The early kickoff on Saturday has had some of the drama removed on City's side with the news that Sergio Aguero, who was thought to have a chance to return, being declared unavailable. Matija Nastasic is the only other (barely) fantasy-relevant player involved in the team news here and he won't participate either. Like Chelsea last week, the big question here is whether Manchester City gets caught up in a "trap" match with the big match between the Arsenal match last weekend and the upcoming clash with Liverpool next in the Premier League. Unlike Chelsea last weekend, my guess is that Southampton present enough of a challenge that City will be focused and get the win.
Aston Villa v Fulham - What to do, what to do. Christian Benteke was a spectacular option at forward for this fixture. He's rounding back into form. His price isn't outrageous compared other options. And Fulham stink on ice. The news of his Achilles injury will set back fantasy managers almost as much as it will Aston Villa this spring and Belgium in the summer. The question is whether you want to role the dice with one of Villa's other forwards for a match-up against bottom-feeding Fulham. With Gabby Agbonlahor also a possible absentee with an illness it's hard to get excited about Villa's forward options based both on talent (they just aren't that good) and certainty (there are a few mediocre options for Lambert to choose from). I'd avoid the situation if possible or go in for someone like Weimann who isn't a Benteke replacement per se but may be more of a focal point with the big Belgian out.
Cardiff City v Crystal Palace - The only mildly interesting news here is that Marouane Chamakh is a possibility to return. Given the (lack of) quality of the opposition, he'd be worth considering if we KNEW he were going to start but we don't. Also worth considering is how badly he faltered after injury in his first season at Arsenal. He was showing similar promise early on that year, got injured, and then looked lost for pretty much the rest of his Arsenal tenure. Here's hoping he rebounds better/faster this time around but that bit of evidence is another reason not to get overly optimistic on this one.
Hull City v Swansea - George Boyd resumes his place as a late-match attacking substitute after completing his three match ban while Allan McGregor will continue to be absent as a result of the kidney injury he suffered against West Ham United. After Swansea's outbreak last weekend though you'd struggle to get too excited about Steve Harper's value in McGregor's place. Swansea are fully healthy after a miserable run of injuries this season. It remains to be seen if they continue to look like the Cup-winning side from last season or the relegation-threatened bunch from this year.
Norwich v West Brom - Chris Brunt is the only fantasy-relevant player who is definitely out of this match. There are also questions about other players who are returning from injury and exactly what role they might play after resuming training - Victor Anichebe, Claudio Yacob, Billy Jones (all WBA), Michael Turner, and Joseph Yobo (both Norwich) may have a chance but are definitely not sure things as they regain match fitness. None of that group are particularly attractive anyway but we're here to help interpret the news so it's at least worth mentioning.
Newcastle v Man Utd - What a mess for Newcastle - Moussa Sissoko, Loic Remy, Mathieu Debuchy, and Tim Krul - that's a formidible injury list. Given that Manchester United are playing better it doesn't bode well for the home team. I'd not be too excited for any of the replacements (or anyone else on Newcastle for that matter) even if Manchester United still aren't really Manchester United this season. On the Red Devils side there are questions about the roles of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Alex Buttner, Rafael, and Ryan Giggs. If you're investing in the United defense then Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones are the two guys to bet on given the flux elsewhere. Patrice Evra is available again but it remains to be seen what David Moyes wants to do at left back knowing that Patrice Evra is likely off in the summer and Alex Buttner played well against Bayern in mid-week. [UPDATE] Wayne Rooney has been added to the Manchester United injury report which likely puts Danny Welbeck front and center or should be shifting your attention elsewhere (Adebayor?) for your forward needs. You can go here for the details.
Chelsea v Stoke - Ramires and Samuel Eto'o are both out but that's about all the news that's fit to print (or type since who prints anything anymore?) from this one. Fernando Torres is likely to get a start but there's always a risk that Mourinho will mirror the forward-less line-up he started with in Paris or that Demba Ba will get a rare start, or that Torres will start and stink the place up. Really, would you be surprised by any of those outcomes? I'd stick to the basics on Chelsea this week - seems like a solid chance of a clean sheet with the attack coming through Eden Hazard and/or Oscar. No need to outthink yourself.
West Ham v Liverpool - Not much of note from an injury point of view here in what will be a potential trap match for Liverpool who will be feeling good after their massive victory over Spurs while looking forward to their upcoming clash with tital rivals Manchester City. Early in the season, this was exactly the type of match Liverpool dropped points in, a legitimate championship contender wins this one comfortably so we'll see what Liverpool are this weekend.
Everton v Arsenal - Phil Jagielka has been "close to returning" for just about forever now, hasn't he? I feel like every week I don't pick John Stones (who has been reasonably useful at a low price for the last month) because Jags is on the verge of returning and then he never does. This week Everton are kind enough to dispense with the uncertainty and just tell us that Jagielka is out for the match making it one critical central defender on each side of the pitch (Laurent Koscielny being the other) that will miss out. Ross Barkley should be available (but not 100%) while Aaron Ramsey is available but almost certainly will be on the bench as he comes back from approximately three months out injured. Keiran Gibbs, himself no stranger to injury, has also been added to the usual suspects for Arsenal (Ozil, Walcott, Wilshere, Diaby). This is too close a match to want to dive in on replacement players when first choice options are available in other matches.
Tottenham v Sunderland - Adebayor is available again and almost certain to start since Roberto Soldado is out injured. Will the Adebayor magic under Tim Sherwood continue? Hard to bet against him. Kyle Walker, Jan Vertonghen and Etienne Capoue are all out injured. Steven Fletcher is the only significant injury news on the Sunderland side as he continues to be absent due to a severe ankle injury. This looks like a perfect match for Spurs to bounce back from the embarrassment at Anfield.
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