Late Fitness Check
The weekend we’ve all been waiting for. After the frenzy of deadline day we had the anticlimax of waiting two weeks to see our favorite teams in all their newly adjusted glory (unless you’re a Newcastle supporter in which case you’ve just been extra bitter for the past two weeks). Now all of those deadline day headlines can be revisited. Will Marouane Fellaini’s big hair and bruising game be enough to wake United from their early-season doldrums? Is Mesut Ozil the difference between a fight for fourth and an upward challenge for Arsenal? What does Samuel Eto’o have left in the tank? Can quantity substitute for quality at places like Sunderland and Crystal Palace? Can Stephane Sessegnon inspire West Brom to actually score a goal? Finally, with so many new arrivals having participated in qualifying for their countries over the past two weeks, which ones will be ready to contribute this weekend and which ones will have to wait one more week to show their stuff?
It should be a fascinating weekend with teams coming into the weekend with the squads that their final squads for at least the first half of the season. We will start to get a handle on who managers prefer in their starting line-ups and how they intend to align those players for maximum advantage. This is also the time of year when we start to have enough information on some of the earlier new arrivals to get a sense of who they are going to be as fantasy players. Of particular interest to me will be the two Spanish forwards who were signed before the season started by Spurs and Manchester City:
- Roberto Soldado – his two penalty goals in the first two weeks has masked the fact that he’s not been very productive from open play. As a fantasy player he seems to be in the Darren Bent or Steven Fletcher mode of being very dependent on scoring a goal to be of any value as opposed to the Wayne Rooney or Juan Mata mode where points could come from many sources even if no goal is scored.
- Alvaro Negredo – unlike Soldado, Negredo looks like he could get points regardless of whether he scores but the next week or two should give us a better idea of his place in the squad. Will he supplant Dzeko as the starter opposite Sergio Aguero or will he continue to be the super sub?
With those thoughts in mind headed into the weekend, here are the injury and suspension updates for this week and their impact on your fantasy line-up:
Manchester United v Crystal Palace – Wayne Rooney is definitely out for this match despite the fact that he has returned to training. Danny Welbeck should continue to start with Robin van Persie and the match-up with Palace at Old Trafford makes Welbeck a strong option. The defense is a little less clear with Rafael and Phil Jones in the dreaded “Late Fitness Check” category. It probably makes sense to stick with sure things like Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra if you want in on the United defense against Palace. Additionally, since this is the early match, you should have a chance to see who is starting before you finalize your line-up. Given the uncertainty between injuries and how United will align themselves with Fellaini now present, I’d highly recommend you do so if at all possible.
Aston Villa v Newcastle United – Other than a couple Late Fitness Tests to one OK (Antonio Luna) and one marginal-at-best (Jonas Gutierriez) fantasy player, there’s not much to report here. Christian Benteke, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye are the players really worthy of your consideration and there are likely better and cheaper options (Lamela, Ozil, etc.) than the Newcastle duo on the road.
Fulham v West Bromwich Albion – Darren Bent, Aaron Hughes, and Maarten Stekelenburg are all likely out one more week for the Cottagers while Keiron Richardson is fit again and will likely replace John Arne Riise in the starting line-up. With mis-firing West Brom visiting Richardson would be an interesting play if he were listed as a defender but he isn’t so you should look elsewhere in Fulham’s defense for potential clean sheet points. For the Baggies, Ben Foster is a long term absentee while James Morrison is questionable for this week. Given West Brom’s issues finding the back of the net so far this season, there are much better options worrying about Morrison’s status or Foster’s replacement.
Hull City v Cardiff City – Allen McGregor is out meaning Steve Harper will start in net for Hull City in a very winnable match – he is at least worth consideration as Hull have looked solid for a newly promoted team so far. Boosting the case for Hull winning the match are the potential absences of Marshall, Caulker, and Cornelius for the Bluebirds. None of the three have been entirely ruled out but if either Marshall or Caulker are absent then Cardiff will be significantly weakened at the back. This could make Hull attackers more attractive across the board.
Stoke City v Manchester City – Stoke City has a couple injuries to players who should be nowhere near your fantasy team nor should their absences significantly influence City’s effectiveness. The storyline for this match is the continued injuries to the City defense. Gael Clichy, Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis are all out. Kolarov will be the popular pick here given his performance for City last time out. [Update] David Silva is also out for the Citizens which may give a rare start to Samir Nasri.
Sunderland v Arsenal – Sunderland and Arsenal are among the league leaders in injured players in the early stages of the season. Arsenal will definitely be missing Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Tomas Rosicky although of that group only Podolski is a clear first teamer as it currently stands. Arsenal are likely to line up with their preferred defensive group behind Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil, Walcott and Giroud. The only question there is whether Walcott can shake off a minor injury to feature with the expectation being that he will. [Update] Per PhysioRoom.com, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker have come down with illnesses. The big defender has not traveled to Sunderland while Ozil has traveled but his starting status is uncertain. With Vermaelen probably not ready to start yet, it seems likely that Bakary Sagna will deputize for Mertesacker with Carl Jenkinson coming in at right back against the Black Cats.
Sunderland are missing John O’Shea and Wes Brown for sure with Craig Gardner and Giaccherini both in question. Giaccherini will be interesting to fantasy managers as long as his price is under double digits but the risk of him missing out and the surplus of inexpensive midfielders more likely to start means that this isn’t the weekend to have him in.
Tottenham Hotspur v Norwich City – Spurs’ only confirmed absence is Etienne Capoue with likely reserves Gylfi Sigurdsson and Aaron Lennon potentially in doubt but possessing almost zero fantasy value after Spurs completed their Bale-fueled summer buying binge. Given the trip to White Hart Lane, there is no Norwich injury information that should be relevant to your fantasy decision-making.
Everton v Chelsea – The hosts will likely be missing Darron Gibson again as his knee injury continues to linger. This means that Gareth Barry will likely get a debut start in a holding role for Roberto Martinez’s men. Barry hasn’t been particularly fantasy-relevant in a number of years and a deep-lying central role at Everton doesn’t seem likely to change that even with more points now awarded for passes intercepted and tackles made. Everton’s other two injury question marks – Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy – are both likely to be available with Coleman a definite starter assuming he is fully recovered and McCarthy likely given the money spent to bring him over. Given the opposition, neither is an attractive fantasy starter however. Romelu Lukaku will have to wait a week to make his debut since he can't play against the club that owns his rights.
Chelsea’s massive squad of big-name players appears to be fully fit with Samuel Eto’o and Eden Hazard overcoming minor knocks to be available for the trip up to Goodison Park. With the squad fully fit and Juan Mata presumably closer to full match fitness questions will abound about who Jose Mourinho will start. The announcement of Chelsea’s starting eleven for the match at Everton will be among the more fascinating storylines of the season as some very good and very expensive players won’t even make the bench. Buyer beware here for sure.
Southampton v West Ham United – Southampton are at full strength while West Ham are missing some big names from their attack in the form of Andy Carroll, Stuart Downing and Joe Cole. I’m not even remotely interested in any of Big Sam’s attacking replacements here but the absences plus the Saints playing at home do get me more interested in Artur Buroc and Southampton’s defenders.
Swansea City v Liverpool – The big news here is the uncertainty around the health of Daniel Sturridge combined with the fact that this match doesn’t happen until Monday. With Sturridge’s status entirely up in the air things could go either way between now and Monday. If you’re going to start Sturridge based on his hot start to the season and having him at a discount (and I wouldn’t blame you if you did) then make sure you have a strong player in your first bench position rather than the usual cheap player who isn’t likely to do anything. [Update] The description of Sturridge's condition is that he is "likely" to play. Up to you as to whether you're confident enough in "likely" to select him.
Elsewhere in this match it appears that Jonjo Shelvey will be healthy enough to compete for a spot in the Swansea midfield against his former team while Aly Sissokho and Glenn Johnson are both definitely out for Liverpool. Kolo Toure may be fit in time to be available but despite his strong start to the season you have to suspect that he’ll be third choice behind Agger and Sakho even if he is ready to go.