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Late Fitness Check - Week 9

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Steve Rothgeb offers you his weekly guide of players to consider at each position who are not the obvious …

It's really hard to get an ingrained impression out of your head regardless of the evidence that may be presented to indicate that this impression is no longer valid.  This theme comes up a lot in life, especially as you get older and you encounter people from your past who have changed significantly.  I remember going to a high school reunion a number of years ago and encountering a guy who had been one of our biggest class clowns.  He and I weren't exceptionally close friends but we'd run in some of the same social circles in high school so I'd spent a reasonable amount of time with him.  He was a smart guy but much preferred to expend his creativity and intellect making jokes and interrupting classes than applying himself to his school work.  Fortunately for him, he was smart enough that he managed to do fairly well in school despite not being terribly focused.  

When I ran into him at our reunion (I don't remember which one but it was a number bigger than 10 for sure), he was very serious.  I knew he'd gone to college and then medical school and was now a physician but my picture of him was still as the class clown.  So much so that my first thought was that he was doing a "bit" where he was acting all serious to try to put one over on us when he eventually started being a cut up later in the evening.  I kept waiting and waiting for the jokester to reveal himself.  Turns out, he had just matured and changed over the years since I'd seen him and whether it be his profession (who really wants a doctor who cracks too many jokes?) or something else the guy I knew was just a memory.  The issue was one of me applying an outdated view of the world to the present day.

Why do I bring this up? Manchester United are not an elite fantasy team.  Michu is no longer the fantasy dynamo of the first half of last season and we don't all have him at the entry level price - his production thus far this year has been OK but not special.  The same applies to the Michel Vorm of two years ago who piled up saves even on the days he didn't get the win and the clean sheet (there are 16 goalkeepers in the Premier League with more saves than Vorm thus far this season despite him having played all eight matches).  Tim Howard is similarly unproductive as a goalkeeping option despite Everton being an above average team and Howard having been a solid fantasy bet before - this season he isn't getting many saves and Everton aren't keeping clean sheets even when they win.  

Finally, the superstar of the last two seasons - Robin van Persie - isn't just struggling for goals, he's struggling to even get the shots on target and other phantom points that made him so valuable on the days he didn't score goals. Outside of his four goals he has zero assists, 9 SOTs, 3 successful crosses, and one few fouls won than fouls committed over seven matches.  Four goals in seven matches is nothing at all to sneeze at even for a great scorer like RvP but for fantasy managers the concern should be that the peripheral statisics aren't there.  If he does score, his production still isn't exceptional (he hasn't been over 20 since opening day) and when he doesn't score, he isn't doing the other things necessary to make fantasy managers happy.  

On the flip side of the perception coin (things you went into the season thinking were mediocre-at-best but have turned out to be very good), Southampton - especially the back four and the keeper - are producing points like crazy and they've done it against good teams.  Allan McGregor, Asmir Begovic and Jussi Jaaskelainen have taken over from Vorm as mid-table or worse keepers who are valuable fantasy players based on saves as much as wins and clean sheets.  Sidwell, Amalfitano, and Brady have wrestled the "under the radar" midfielders who produce points on mediocre teams from beginning-of-last-season-Michu.  Loic Remy and Sone Aluko have taken the title for being productive forwards on mid-table teams.  

I say all of this because there are still people who are smart fantasy players out there who are still clinging to the impressions that they came into the season with.  No one expects fantasy managers to know when abrupt changes in individual or team performance will radically change a player's fantasy fortunes and value.  What the best fantasy players do is react quickly and realize when a "brand name" is performing differently than expected for better or worse and acts accordingly.  If the peripheral stats are there and the goals and assists aren't coming, that's probably not a reason to panic.  If the peripheral points are drying up too, that's probably an indication that there's something deeper going on.

With the unusually long, pre-amble to Late Fitness Check out of the way, here are the two key links I use to gather information.  The compilation of Team News from ESPNFC.com and the overall Premier League Injury Report from PhysioRoom.com.  And here's the breakdown by match of the most important news for fantasy purposes: 

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Aston Villa v Everton - The battle of big Belgian forwards is on as Christian Benteke should return to the starting line-up to face Romelu Lukaku and Everton.  Both clubs give up goals so both forwards are very much solid options with Lukaku preferred but more expensive. 

Crystal Palace v Arsenal - I suspect that Mathieu Flamini will return to the starting line-up but Jack Wilshere will be on the bench to give his ankle a little extra time to recover from the injury suffered against Dortmund on Tuesday.  I suspect this because of Wilshere's recent injury history, the opposition leaving little reason to push it, and Arsenal having more midfielders than starting spots.  If you have Wilshere on the cheap and want to keep him in your line-up, I'd make sure you have a solid option on the bench in the event he doesn't play and someone at hand to keep you from pulling your hair out if he comes in late and yields no points and blocks your bench player from counting in your favor. 

Liverpool v West Brom - Nothing particularly interesting to report with the news that Philippe Coutinho is back in training but not yet ready to feature.  The rest of the news is below the radar for fantasy managers. 

Man Utd v Stoke - Robin van Persie should be back and available to start (although the phrasing in the Team News isn't 100% definitive).  As Steve here at Rotoworld pointed out, David Moyes would be insane to mess with supporters by implying RvP was going to play and then holding him back.  That said, this conversation is also what led to the introduction.  I believe that van Persie is still every bit the forward he has been but Manchester United's attack under Moyes isn't giving him the opportunity to perform to the standards we expect and his price demands.  Not much else of note from this match with news on Welbeck (who would be unlikely to start even if he were fully healthy) and Cleverley (who shouldn't be on your fantasy team under any circumstances). 

Check out The Week 9 Danger Zone | First XI: Week 9 | AM's Schedule Analysis | AM's Player Picks

Norwich v Cardiff City - Minor forward news with Ricky van Wolfswinkle at least a possibility to participate and Craig Bellamy being available again.  Unless you've spent a ton of money at the back I can't think of any reason why you'd care about either of those two players for fantasy purposes. 

Southampton v Fulham - Two semi-important items from this one.  With Steven Davis a doubt, Gaston Ramires may get a start which could be an interesting wrinkle for the Saints attack (which, frankly, could use a little more flair).  On the other side, and maybe more importantly for Southampton's attacking prospects, Brede Hangeland is likely to miss out depriving Fulham of their best central defender as well as a solid target in the box on set pieces.  This news just increases my interest in rounding out my team with Southampton players for Week 9. 

Sunderland v Newcastle - Not much of interest here for fantasy purposes although Newcastle supporters will be happy to hear that both Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor are at least possibilities to feature.  That's not enough certainty to make a line-up change even against Sunderland but it is good news as the season progresses and the competition becomes worthy of the top flight again. Loic Remy, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa are all worthy of consideration for this week given the opposition. 

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Swansea v West Ham - Nothing to see here other than the potential return of Ashley Williams.  If his return were more certain I'd be optimistic that it would improve Michel Vorm's chances for a clean sheet but as I mentioned above, Vorm hasn't been getting saves which was the core of his value when he was fantasy gold two seasons ago.  Ben Davies appears to be out until mid-to-late-November so Neil Taylor is an interesting bargain play (or bench option that will actually play and save you money) for the next three or four weeks. 

Chelsea v Man City - Ashley Cole is back while Vincent Kompany is still out.  On such things can a big match like this ride.  City are both away and very much vulnerable when Kompany isn't the rock at the center of their defense.  If you want to put down a bet or take a player from what appears to be a fairly even match-up, I'd choose from the Chelsea side rather than City. 

Tottenham v Hull City - Spurs are playing at home and will benefit from Hull having to leave out Jake Livermore because he is the property of Spurs.  They will also get a break because Allan McGregor is out and Steve Harper will be rusty (and just not as good).  Hull do seem to score though so deciding on whether you think Spurs will get the clean sheet will be a tough call.  With Southampton, Swansea, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool all looking stronger for a clean sheet, I might limit my reliance on Spurs back line and dive in on an attacker like Townsend or Sigurdsson thinking we're looking at a 2-1 or 3-1 home win here rather than Spurs more typical 1-0 scoreline this season.  

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