Apologies for the lateness of the post. I have been traveling cross-country all day and I expected to have wi-fi on the long leg of my journey only to find that it wasn't operational until very late in the flight. Hopefully, you still have time to read and adjust.
With all of the focus on Chelsea and Aston Villa with a dash of Spurs thrown in based on their seemingly easy match-up with Crystal Palace this is going to be a fairly short column this week. We’ll focus on Chelsea, Villa, Spurs and a few other major stories but that’s about it. If you’d like to go through all of the injury reports in detail, we refer you to this excellent compilation from the nice people at ESPNFC.com.
The big news at Chelsea is the defense where the Team News indicates that Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz are likely out for the Sunday match with Hull City. This increases the likelihood that Branislav Ivanovic, apparently recovered from the bite to his arm last season, starts both matches and, between the chance for two clean sheets and his propensity for the occasional goal, becomes the must-have defender of the week.
In midfield, Victor Moses is unlikely to feature after a long flight back from a mid-week friendly in South Africa. Given that Moses wasn’t likely to start, this doesn’t help us unravel all of Jose Mourinho’s selection questions in midfield. It stands to reason that Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will start but there are still major questions about who will start between them from among Romelu Lukaku, Demba Ba, and Fernando Torres. Likewise, the identity of the starting three in midfield is up in the air as well with Frank Lampard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Ramires, Michael Essien, Jon Obi Mikel, and maybe David Luiz (if he’s fit this weekend and Mourinho sees him as a holding midfielder generally) all contending for three starting spots.
If I were playing it safe with Chelsea this weekend, I’d go with as many of Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, Eden Hazard, and Juan Mata as you can afford. If you’re feeling particularly gutsy then Frank Lampard and Romelu Lukaku could enter the picture as well but my gut tells me that both get one start and one substitute appearance over the two matches. Not bad but not the clear advantage that you’d like to see over the one-gamers.
Aston Villa are pretty much fully fit for their extremely challenging two-match road trip to North and West London. With no significant injuries the question is how many, if any, Villa players you will want to include in your team given the difficulty of their match-ups. The obvious answer, if you’re not sold on any of Chelsea’s center forwards, is Christian Benteke. I’d say he’d the type of player that gives Arsenal fits but he’s the type of player who gives everyone fits so getting two matches of him vs. one of, say, Roberto Soldado as your third forward makes sense – especially in the Yahoo format where SOTs count for significant points even if he doesn’t get one past the keeper.
Beyond Benteke, I’m dubious of adding additional Villains to my team. The defense has fortified over the summer but the schedule-maker did them no favors starting them off with Arsenal and Chelsea and I can’t see them shutting down either opponent as they try to find cohesion with their additions.
Spurs have some strong momentum heading into their season opener. Their summer moves appear to have everyone excited about the possibilities of a real run at the top should Gareth Bale stay. Even if he does eventually leave, that bad news won’t have come by this weekend even though an injury (real or otherwise) will keep him out of the opener.
Other absentees are Jan Vertonghen and Lewis Holtby. I’m keeping Holtby on my bench – the combination of his low price and potential expanded role should Bale leave make him very attractive as a bench player. Vertonghen’s absence means that Spurs are likely to start a back four of Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul, Michael Dawson, and Benoit Assou-Ekoto.
- Wayne Rooney’s status wasn’t confirmed by David Moyes today but you have to think he’ll at least be on the bench given the injuries to Javier Hernandez, Ashley Young, and Nani.
- The flip side of United’s injury woes in the attack is that Wilfried Zaha – he of the entry level player price and strong pre-season – may well get a start against Swansea.
- Mikel Arteta is out for an extended spell with a thigh issue leaving a real gap in Arsenal’s midfield. It seems likely that Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla will start behind Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott but none of them are a solid replacement for Arteta. The truth is that Arsenal will be vulnerable in transition until they either buy another holding midfielder or Arteta returns from injury.
- Sergio Aguero appears to be back from his injury concerns which makes City’s forward line a bit of a mess, selection-wise. With Negredo, Jovatic, Dzeko and Aguero to choose from and the Pelligrini’s preferred formation given his new talent still in question it might be best to wait until Week 2 to invest here.
- It seems unlikely you were going to pick Loic Remy on the road against City in the Magpies’ season opener but if you’re a huge Geordie and were contemplating it, don’t. The former QPR man is out with a calf issue.
Enjoy the matches on the NBC family of networks and web sites or wherever you may be watching them around the world. We will be stopping by the chat at our old home as well as checking in on Twitter as the action unfolds.