Late Fitness Check - Week 21

Neal Thurman
Neal Thurman wraps up Week 22 with a look at Wayne Rooney as a symbol of where Manchester United have been and may be heading

Overreaction Monday - Week 22

Neal Thurman wraps up Week 22 with a look at Wayne Rooney as a symbol of where Manchester United have been and may be heading

The festive season is over but the hangover is still very much with us.  In this article, Michael Cox points out that it appears that approximately 25% of the players in the Premier League are listed on the Injury Report that includes players that are both definitely out or at significant risk of missing out.  That's a lot of players and that doesn't include the ones that are in dire need of a rest or are suffering from diminished results as a result of fatigue.  Every season this phase of the season is difficult for fantasy managers because points come from unexpected places as players who haven't been mainstays are fresh play against those who have been logging big minutes.  You need look no further than Wilfried Bony's performances over the last couple of weeks as an example.  He hadn't looked great early on against Premier League competition when both he and the competition were fresh.  Now, with the Swansea forward fresh and getting used to the Premier League at the same time as defenders are tiring he looks much better.  Gary Hooper is a solid fit for this category as well.  

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This isn't to say that you should be going out and buying players who have underperformed over the first half of the season because all of them will do better.  What it does mean is that you should lower your expectations slightly on the players who have been playing every week and not beat yourself up on the occasional week when the points come from unexpected sources.  Last week was one of those weeks so don't overreact and assume that very good players are all of a sudden useless.

Here is a rundown of the injury and suspension news with the implications for your fantasy team:

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Fulham v Sunderland - Fulham will have Clint Dempsey (listed as a forward at 9.58) available to boost the attack as well as the possibility of Brede Hangeland and Maarten Stekelenberg returning from injury.  Dempsey is a solid fantasy option who has typically done well when able to play regularly behind a lead forward.  Sunderland also gets good news as Steven Fletcher will be available to start and should boost the Black Cats' scoring options.  Given the defensive weaknesses on both sides, both Dempsey and Fletcher (9.1) are solid options if you need a player at a discount. 

Hull City v Chelsea - Apparently the entire Hull City team (OK, nine unnamed players) are at risk do to an illness that they may or may not recover from in time for the match with Chelsea.  How ready those players are to compete (whether they are playing at less than 100% or make way for reserves) will be critical to Hull's ability to maintain their strong record at home.  Chelsea, for their part, are close to full strength with only Lampard and Ivanovic absent.  This should mean that Ashley Cole will keep his spot on the left with Azpilicueta on the right.  

Manchester United v Swansea City - The huge news here continues to be the absence of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.  We saw what United were (or weren't) able to do against Swansea in the League Cup.  Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj are the two Red Devils players likely to be of value to fantasy managers but I'd rate them as middling options while Wilfried Bony has shown that he's more than able to overcome United's defense.  Other absentees worth noting from this one are Phil Jones, Marouane Fellaini, Rio Ferdinand, Nani, Ashley Young and Fabio from Manchester United and Jonathan De Guzman, Nathan Dyer, Roland Lamah, Dwight Tiendalli, Pablo Hernandez, Gary Monk, Michel Vorm, and Michu for Swansea. If you were wondering where that 25% number came from, these two teams are certainly contributing more than their share. 

Southampton v West Bromwich - Southampton are getting healthier as the face the Baggies.  Artur Boruc may return to the line-up and joins Ricky Lambert and Gaston Ramirez as questions.  Pablo Osvaldo (suspended) and Victor Wanyama (injury) are both definitely out.  For West Brom the key absences that will be a boost to the Saints chances of scoring a few goals at home are Billy Jones, Goren Popov and Youssuuf Mulumbu.  With West Brom already leaky these absences increase my interest in Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez. 

Everton v Norwich City - Everton aren't at full strength with Ross Barkley and Leighton Baines questionable with injuries and Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin even less likely to feature.  While potential replacements like Oviedo and Alcaraz are reasonable options, my take is that the potential absences put Everton's defense and specifically Tim Howard's value at significant risk.  I like Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas to generate points at the attacking end for the Toffees and if you want either Seamus Coleman or to take a flier on Oviedo then those might be reasonable bets but overall, I don't the Everton defense. 

Tottenham Hotspur v Crystal Palace - Some recovery from the injury bug for Spurs with Andros Townsend, Lewis Holtby, and Gylfi Sigurdsson available (but likely to be on the bench) but Jan Vertonghen, Sandro, Paulinho, Younes Kaboul, and Erik Lamela are out.  Fortunately Spurs are significantly deep that this shouldn't be a major issue with their chances to get a home win against a struggling team.  No incredibly meaningful injuries for Palace but that doesn't change my interest in Christen Eriksen and potentially Adebayor, Walker or Lloris (as an alternative to Tim Howard). 

Cardiff City v West Ham United - I like Cardiff City for a clean sheet at home against Big Sam's struggling men and there's nothing in the injury report that disuades me from that line of thought.  Andy Carroll does have a chance of featuring but he'd be kicking off a LOT of rust for him to be an interesting option.  The Hammers will have an honest-to-goodness center back playing which is a nice change until you consider how poorly Roger Johnson did the last time he made a switch to a relegation-threatened Premier League team.  Peter Whittingham is also a very interesting option given the frequency with which the Hammers have been shipping goals in recent weeks. 

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Newcastle v Manchester City - Playing Manchester City is not the time to be missing defensive starters and the Magpies will be missing Mathieu Debuchy, Davide Santon, and Fabricio Coloccini...ouch.  Newcastle can be at least a little happy that Sergio Agueo is still out but the Argentine's absence hasn't slowed down the City scoring barage.  There are no other significant absences for City and I wouldn't bet on a clean sheet but I wouldn't shy away from City attackers. 

Stoke City v Liverpool - The big news here is that Daniel Sturridge is available again.  If he does start (and there's no guarantee that he won't be eased back into the line-up with a substitute appearance) there may be some rust here so I wouldn't go overboard even with the potential of Jack Butland being in net for struggling Stoke City.  Elsewhere, Liverpool's most fluid center back Daniel Agger is out for a month which will hurt the Reds' transition from defending to attacking.  This will certainly be a transitional period for Liverpool in the eyes of fantasy managers - with Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge rejoining an attack that has seen Jordan Henderson improve significantly and Philippe Coutinho continue to round into form.  It is likely that all will start along with Luis Suarez but where the points come from will remain to be seen.  

Aston Villa v Arsenal - Arsenal haven't been scoring as freely as they were earlier in the season but the returns of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud who will hopefully be at least a little rested should help.  It may also help that Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker may miss out in the center of the Villa defense.  Arsenal will be missing Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner while Thomas Vermaelen, Keiran Gibbs, and Aaron Ramsey are all doubtful.  In this situation, Nacho Monreal becomes a very solid defensive option for under 10 and if you're willing to assume that Wenger will want some speed in Walcott's absence then Serge Gnabry might be a risk worth taking if you need an inexpensive midfielder.  If you have the budget, I'd be focusing on guys like Christen Eriksen and Adam Lallana who are more proven and more likely to start (at home against poor opposition) but if they are too expensive then Gnabry is worth considering in that group with Januzaj and Whittingham.

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