Finally we're back. The US government is back in business after a brief stupidity-enforced vacation. England overcame some lackidasical efforts early in the qualifying process and pulled a World Cup spot out of their hats simultaneously averting a national crisis and delaying the "England really aren't very good especially if Rooney pulls his usual big tournament disappearing act due to injury/fatigue" conversation for nine months. Mexico were the recipient of a rare kind gesture from the US National Team who scored twice in what was for them meaningless stoppage time to allow El Tri to sneak into a playoff with New Zealand. Hard to figure out what's going on with Mexico who have the talent to cruise through CONCACAF qualifying but managed to consistently underperform throughout the cycle. Of course we had our usual international break headlines about the disastrous state of World Cup preparations in Brazil as well as future sites Russia and Qatar. These headlines will continue right up until those countries all manage to pull off flawless tournaments because, that's what always happens. On the good news side, Robin van Persie became the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Dutch national team - an amazing accomplishment given the huge names that country has produced. Most importantly for our purposes, there weren't any major injuries unless you consider Darron Gibson or James Collins to be "major" (if you do and you don't go by Mrs. Gibson or Mrs. Collins then we have to have a long conversation about the definition of the word "major").
If you'd like the entire consolidated rundown of team news, here is my favorite presentation put together by the nice people at ESPNFC.com or SoccerNet or whatever they're calling themselves these days. If you prefer a more complete picture, then the excellent PhysioRoom.com is the place to go.
Let's dive straight into your Week 8 Premier League matches and what the clubs have had to say about the state of the squad and what it means for you:
Chelsea v Cardiff City - With Chelsea enjoying what should be a very winnable home match, there are some line-up notes that will be important for fantasy managers. Ryan Bertrand is set to deputize for Ashley Cole for the low, low price of 5.86 as of this writing. He probably won't generate huge attacking points but if you need a temporary and inexpensive solution that could easily get 10 points for the week then this is a great option. Elsewhere, Fernando Torres re-inserts himself into the conversation at forward alongside a disappointing-so-far Samuel Eto'o reducing the expected value of both players. Andre Schurrle is also out making Mata and Hazard likely starts along with Oscar behind the forward with Willian having an outside chance after his wonder-strike last time out.
Everton v Hull City - The most interesting news here is the potential return of Robbie Brady a little earlier than expected. There is no guarantee that he will be ready to start but a substitute appearance seems likely at a minimum with a full return in Week 9. Brady is probably no better than a bench player this week given the quality of opposition and his injury uncertainty but it is definitely worth tracking his progress for Week 9. The only other newsworthy item here is Ahmed Elmohamady's long return from international duty that may or may not keep him out this week - he has been a surprisingly productive fantasy player who sees his value reduced this week due to his potential to be rotated in deference to his travel schedule. Oh, and yes, Darron Gibson is out but you really weren't considering him for fantasy were you?
Manchester United v Southampton – Not a great deal to report here with a few fringe-at-best fantasy options like Artur Boruc, Rio Ferdinand and Tom Cleverley being assessed after minor injuries. Boruc has been having an excellent season but with the opposition being what it is, he’s probably not the option you’re looking for this week. There is no answer provided about the continued starting status of Adnan Januzaj
Newcastle v Liverpool – With Liverpool’s attack looking very much buzzsaw like in cutting through opposing defenses, it will not make Newcastle supporters feel good to know that Fabricio Coloccini and, most likely, Steven Taylor won’t be there to get between Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez and the net. If you were thinking of dropping either Liverpool defender for a road test against an improving Newcastle team, the site of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Mike Williamson in the starting line-up should change your mind very quickly. The only saving grace for the Magpies is that Philippe Coutinho isn’t quite ready to return. On the “ready to return” front for Liverpool are Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho which will make for some interesting selection decisions for Brendan Rodgers. Does Jose Enrique retain his spot? Which central defenders will start when Liverpool line up with only two center backs? Until these questions are answered definitively, I’d hold off on choosing anyone other than Mignolet from Liverpool’s defensive group.
Stoke City v West Bromwich – Hard to imagine that anyone is too excited about this one from a fantasy point of view (or any other really). There are a few knocks here and there but other than Geoff Cameron who is a doubt everyone you might consider for your fantasy line-up is healthy, they just don’t produce many fantasy points regardless of their health.
Swansea City v Sunderland – How did Ashley Williams NOT end up at Arsenal? He certainly fits the profile as his recovery from an ankle ligament injury continues to drag on. It feels like he’s been back and forth between “being close to a return” and “definitely out” since the beginning of the season which is a long time even by Arsenal standards. The real notable injury here is Ben Davies who has been a fantasy revelation so far this season but who is, sadly, doubtful with a hamstring injury. Even worse, the fact that he is doubtful rather than all the way out means that Neil Taylor isn’t a sure thing to start at 6.18 in a spot that has been producing a lot of points against a Sunderland team that is really, really bad.
West Ham United v Manchester City – Vincent Kompany’s continued absence is the major news here. The Belgian is probably close but won’t be risked because, well, why would you against West Ham? The Hammers continue to miss the one player who might be able to make City pay for Kompany’s absence, Andy Carroll. The real concern for fantasy managers here has nothing to do with Kompany or Carroll, the concern is whether City will find their away form and make selecting anyone from the side worth the money away from the Etihad.
Arsenal v Norwich City – Arsenal’s injury list is actually getting a bit smaller. This week’s returnees are Santi Cazorla and Bacary Sagna. It is also worth noting that Mesut Ozil, who hasn’t missed any time but did limp off in mid-week for Germany, is fit to feature. Is anyone else giddy to see what Ozil and Cazorla might do together?
Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs supporters will not be excited at the news that Christian Benteke may be fit enough to return on Sunday at Villa Park. He is probably not worth selecting this week because a) Spurs defense has been very good and b) he’s not a sure thing to start but he immediately becomes a player to watch this weekend in anticipation of a potential Week 9 start. For Spurs, Aaron Lennon has recovered from his injury although I’m not sure why one’s foot has to be healthy to sit on the bench. Danny Rose remains sidelined meaning that Kyle Naughton continues to have fantasy value although with his price rising and Spurs traveling, the value equation there is certainly not what it was in Week 7.
Crystal Palace v Fulham – I hope you have something else to do with your time on Monday because this is certainly not the most appetizing match to have played in a premium time slot. There isn’t a lot of news here that will make a difference to your fantasy team. Adel Taarabt is fit but his playing time has been sporadic and there are lots of other, far more attractive, options for your squad at his still-elevated price.