Welcome back to The Week Ahead. With a more regimented publishing schedule, Nik's AM Player Picks column has been our regular predictions column since we've moved over to Rotoworld.com but he is on vacation in Greece (lucky man) this week so I'll be subbing in this week. That probably means that the column will be a little longer than you're used to but hopefully it will be just as useful.
Diving in to how I'm thinking about the schedule, I find this to be a very interesting week. Usually, my main concern with mid-week European matches is determining who played away and what that might mean for some of the bigger name clubs that might under-perform or rotate their players. This week's Champions League match-ups have produced some much more compelling storylines than that.
Both Manchester United and Manchester City broke our of early-season doldrums with some style on Tuesday but I see a significant difference between the two wins. While both teams won comfortably, United did so against superior opposition whereas City did what you would expect a big English side to do against the champions of the Czech league. The other reason to be more interested in United's showing is that it hinged on the new central midfield duo of Marouane Fellaini and Shinji Kagawa who both got their first starts of the season. United were dominant in possession against a strong side and could have won by more if they'd not missed some very makable chances. Heading into the Manchester Derby this Sunday, I like United's form better than I like that of City. If you're going to invest in players on one side or the other, I'd favor the red side for my fantasy team.
Wednesday's action brought a shock loss to Chelsea and a solid win for Arsenal. I wouldn't over-react to the former but the concern over rotation will definitely be front of mind for fantasy managers worried that Mourinho may punish some of the players who put in a lackluster performance against Basel. Arsenal's win was the only mid-week result that really didn't change my outlook at all. It continued to confirm the notion that Aaron Ramsey isn't just having a nice run of form but has found a new level in his evolution as a player. It also confirmed that Arsenal continue to take bad penalties that devalue Szczesny and the entire defense and that Theo Walcott is a good player capable of scoring on any night but that he won't score as often as you'd like given the number of opportunities that he sees.
It is only halftime of the Spurs match but with Spurs up 2-0 at home and Swansea having already cruised past Valencia in Spain, there doesn't appear to be anything particularly interesting to take from these matches. If you're looking for something from Spurs then maybe Erik Lamela's first assist is a sign that his modest weekend performance was an anomoly.
Looking ahead to the weekend, the match-ups that I'm focused on are Chelsea vs. Fulham (derby status be damned, Chelsea should be angry if you can figure out which ones will play), Spurs @ Cardiff City, Swansea @ Crystal Palace, and Newcastle vs. Hull City with a sprinkling of Arsenal vs. Stoke despite recent memories of the Gooners' struggles with the Potters.
Without further ado:
- Samuel Eto'o - I'm a little worried about rotation but I'm more inclined to think he'll get his break-through after being so close against Everton. He isn't the guy we remember from Barcelona or Inter Milan but he should be a very productive forward at his current price.
- Loic Remy - The QPR refugee has a newly promoted opponent at home and while I was frustrated by him as much as anything else last season, I'm willing to forgive and try again for the right match-up - especially with Ben Arfa and Cabaye both in the line-up.
- Olivier Giroud and Daniel Sturridge - Neither match-up is a sure thing but it's hard to ignore guys who have scored in each of the first four matches. Probably best to choose your favorite of the two.
- Wayne Rooney - The match-up isn't ideal here either but he seems to have figured out how to work with van Persie and has been exceptional since his return to the line-up.
- Romelu Lukaku - I'm always a sucker for an attacking player making a debut for a new team and when West Ham is the opposition, that makes it even more attractive. So much to choose from at forward, I'm not even including now-in-my-doghouse Roberto Soldado or Wilfried Bony despite favorable match-ups. Until the two hitmen start generating some phantom points, they're not worth the spots they'd take up.
- Christian Eriksen - In the same way that Mesut Ozil seems like a needed linking piece for Arsenal who will get a bunch of assists, Eriksen seems to have that same potential for Spurs. Given the match-up and the still-low price, I'm buying in.
- Hatem Ben Arfa - He's been in great form and has a good match-up, maybe too much to expect three goals in three matches but he should at least get some solid phantom points if no goals or assists come.
- Aaron Ramsey - With Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott in everyone's squad but with Ramsey being the most productive Arsenal midfielder thus far this season, you have to wonder if three Gooners in your midfield is too much.
- Andros Townsend - I'm going out on a bit of a limb here because there's always the risk of rotation with so many attacking players in Spurs' midfield but Townsend shoots at volume and eventually one is going to go in.
- Michu - Time to jump back on the bandwagon against Palace.
- Oscar/Frank Lampard - I really want to recommend Oscar but I'm worried about rotation even after he provided Chelsea's bright spot in midweek. I mention Lampard because he keeps producing and Mourinho seems to be relying on his old guard.
- Mathieu Debuchy - Debuchy is among the most productive defenders thus far this season and with a strong match-up and a reasonable price, he's a good bet.
- Jan Vertonghen - If you're splashing the cash at the back, Vertonghen is a good bet for a breakout match against modest competition even on the road. That he was rested for at least some of the midweek is a bonus.
- Mamadou Sakho - If you want to spend more, Jose Enrique has more potential for attacking points but if you're on anything of a budget then I'd go with Liverpool's new center back.
- Branislav Ivanovic - Always my favorite among the Chelsea defenders because of his versatility. He seems the least likely to be rotated out.
- Ben Davies - He's the least expensive of Swansea's defenders and he's by far the most productive so far from a fantasy point of view. He's not cheap but he's been consistently good.
- Petr Cech - The one sure fire thing in Chelsea's line-up if you have the money.
- Simon Mignolet - If you can't afford Cech or are worried about Chelsea's last seven days, Mignolet is your next best bet by a hair over Vorm and Krul.
- Tim Krul - He's the bargain option for sure although it feels like he'll have you extremely nervous for the entire match.
Check back tomorrow for all of the injury and suspension news and it's impact on your fantasy team.