The headline game this week if of course the clash of the titans at Old Trafford on Saturday evening and it is there that we start the preview for next week's games:
Man Utd v Arsenal
Arsene Wenger has been criticised for many things in his Arsenal career, one of which has been his side's inability to win the big games. However, a look at the stats though show that Arsenal have taken more points from United than any other team since Ferguson too over at Old Trafford. Before last week's 5-0 lashing of Wigan one might have fancied Wenger's men for this one too but with United get men back from fitness, its looking increasingly tough for the wiley French man. Vidic returned on Saturday to help United to their second clean sheet of the season, though first choice partner Ferdinand is still a couple of weeks away. Evra will continue at right back and has been a great choice so far this year, currently 5th among all defenders. His chalkboard from week 3 (right) looks more like that of a winger than a left back and this kind of forward play will surely see him get in the assists and goals categories soon. The United midfield has been rotated regularly this season and is therefore too unreliable to rely on for fantasy production. I expectd big things of Carrick this year, but he too was dropped last week after missing a penalty against Burnley which Ferguson claimed cost his side the game. Rooney, with three goals to his name, is second in the league in scoring and has proven me wrong as a legitimate top 5 striker who can repay his lofty price tag. Look our for a feature later in the week on just how high I rate him among his peers.
This game comes at an unfortunate time for Arsenal who are in sublime form and looking more like the invincibles of 03-04 than last year's underwhelming side. I think this Arsenal team is much better in reality than in fantasy terms with Arshavin, Denilson and Eduardo being better players than they are fantasy producers. For evidence of this, look at Denilson incredible passing performance against Portsmouth this week (left). The Arsenal defense has been average this year, without keeping a clean sheet though goals from Vermaelen and Gallas have overshadowed this underachievement. They are not a good play again here and if you have them I would advise selling them as next weeks trip to City promises few returns again. Up front, the Arsenal forwards have managed just one goal so far, despite the Gunners notching 10 goals in 2 games. Van Persie has 3 assists though and his 8 shots last week against Portsmouth show his desire to score and not just provide. At 10m he is still decent value and despite the tough fixture you should keep him in your team this week. The same can be said for Fabregas who is enjoying a good start to the season though be sure to check his injury status to make sure he can shake off the hamstring injury that will cause him to miss the Celtic game.
Chelsea v Burnley
Not much strategy needed here: play all your Blues, rest those Clarets. Burnley have made a good start to their maiden Premier League campaign, including of course the incredible defeat of United, and two clean sheets in their last two games. However, they struggled on their travels to Stoke and Ancelotti's ruthless unit are in good form right now. Chelsea managed 16 shots away to Fulham (who had the 6th best home defense last year) which does not bode well for Owen Coyle's side. Lampard, Anelka and Drogba are obviosuly key plays this week, and mid level players like Essien also look to be good value. The Chelsea defense is also the safest play for the week with Cole, Terry, Carvlho and Bosingwa looking to be a fairly settled back four right now.
Burnley's defenders have been excellent sleeper picks this year but its time to move them back to the bench as a couple of goals or more could be shipped in this one. They may be legitimate options in the future, but at least for this week, the Cinderella story team should not be invited to the ball.
Blackburn v West Ham
Blackburn have dissapointed me so far this season, especially the defense who I rated as a sleeper pick. To be fair, City at home and Sunderland are far from easy games and not many sides will pick up clean sheets in either of these fixtures when the season is done. New arrival Kalinic had 4 shots against Sunderland in 77 minutes of action and Allardyce is backing the Croatian to succeed. At 6.4m he is worth a look if you cannot stretch to Bent/Jones/Cole range. I like Pedersen (6.5) to start to shine in this side and this was affirmed by his goal in midweek against Gillingham. Pedersen puts an incredible number of balls into the box and with Kalinic joining McCarthy, Roberts and Di Santo, he should have some decent targets to put the ball in the net. With Nelsen back on the sidelines, and Warnock seemingly on his way to Villa, the Rovers defense looks a bit thin and should not be considered an every week starter team right now.
West Ham have been pretty good this year so far and were a touch unlucky to lose to Spurs at the weekend after threatening their goal with 19 shots in the game. The stars have been Noble and Cole, while blog favourite Jimenez has also contributed well (though check his injury status as he picked up a minor knock on Sunday). I like this trio in the long run and each are decent buys right now due to West Ham's good looking fixture list.
Bolton v Liverpool
This is a huge game for Liverpool as any more dropped points this early really could mean the end of their title challenge. Big games need big players and so Gerrard and Torres are great plays this week with Gerrard my tip to score in this one after his mistake on Monday against Villa in giving away a penalty. With no goals so far, Bolton's attack is expectedly weak and so Liverpool's defense looks like a good play also. Skrtel made a somewhat surprise return to the team on Monday and so the back four looks pretty stable with Johnson, Carragher and Insua all ready to join Skrtel as good pickups for this week (Liverpool have great fixtures until week 8).
Bolton have no real fantasy options right now and should be avoided until they prove they actually know where the goals are. The attack is so anaemic that even Megson has noticed that Elmander needs to start scoring soon.
Stoke v Sunderland
Two good sides here, who are underrated in different ways and are good sources of cheap-solid fantasy production. The Potters have kept two clean sheets in three games so far though do not get carried away just yet as they were against Burnley and Birmingham. This game will therefore be a good test for Pulis's side and a clean sheet here would suggest that Stoke defenders (particularly Shawcross, who is a goal threat) will be every week starters. With Beattie cured by sugar, the attacking prowess of Stoke looks a bit better though aside from Beattie there is little else to excite a fantasy player for now.
I really like what Steve Bruce is doing in Sunderland and I do not think it is totally unreasonable for Sunderland to challenge the likes of Villa and Everton for 6th place. He has one of the best, and most balanced, midfields in the league which contains craft (Malbranque), pace (Richardson), power (Cana) and steel (Cattermole) with all four having fantasy potential. The pairing of Bent and Jones is also indicative of a top 6-8 side with both players contributing 2 goals already this term. I like all six of these players this week though they won't have it all their own way the Brittania. Much like the Stoke defense, this is a good game to see just how far the Sunderland front line have come and if they can score a couple here then the 'buy' tag should be applied to Jones, Bent, Malbranue and Richardson.
Tottenham v Birmingham
Spurs have started the season very well under Harry Redknapp and look set to continue this fine form in this one. Birmingham's defense has done very well so far this year conceding just one goal in 3 games but a trip to in form Spurs might prove a different story and Defoe and Modric look like good plays this week. Spurs defense have been solid but have yet to notch a clean sheet, conceding one goal in each game so far. I like them this week to get over that hump and Assou Ekotto (5.1) and Bassong (5.1) look like good pick ups this week as Spurs begin a run of 7 games that includes 3 green light games (Bir, Bur, Sto) and only one red light (@Che). I am starting to get a bit worried about one one my main targets for the season, as Modric (7.6)has no goals, one assist and no bonus points so far. With United and Chelsea on the horizon (both red light games for attackers) I would consider moving Modric if he doesnt deliver again this week. Lennon (7.6) is the main man in midfield with a goal and two assists to date and looking at his chalkboard shows that he spends alot of time in the oppostion half and plays a significant amount of passes into the danger zone which should allow his production to continue in the coming weeks. Defoe is making a claim to be considered as an elite striker, though due to the two tough fixtures on the horizon I would avoid paying 8.8m for him and try and nab him after a few people move him after gameweek 6.
Wolves v Hull City
Like the other promoted sides, Wolves have defended well, conceding just 2 goals in 3 games so far this season. Hull have played a bit better of late notching back to back wins over Bolton and Southend and the introduction of Altidore (who scored midweek) has given them spark up front they were sorely lacking. Wolves defenders are still a good play this week though as this game isnt likely to see more than a goal or two at most. Milijas is their most creative player though his lack of bonus points suggest he either isn't doing enough or at least isn't in the pundits thoughts for bonuses yet and so his value is limited until he (and his strikers) can start scoring. Altidore's success midweek (okay Southend aren't quite Ac Milan but a goal is a goal) confirms to me that he is the best value striker for under 6m and has the potential to experience an exponential rise in value with a current holding of just 0.9%.
Portsmouth v Man City
With one goal scored and six conceded, Portsmouth no zero players worthy of fantasy consideration at this point. City's defense is a great play this week though with Arsenal and United in the next two I wouldn't be buying at this point. The forwards are less of a risk, with Wright Phillips (8.1) being the cheapest of the regulars and with the most runs and dribbles among all players he looks like a decent buy at this point. With Robinho's slow start and Tevez looking likely to be rotated, Adebayor (10) remains the only striker worthy of consideration and the fact he is owned by just 5% of players makes him a good differentiator as well as someone whose price will likely rise if can continue his goalscoring.
Everton v Wigan
With the departure of Lescott to City, Everton's defense is overpriced right now and unless Moyes can bring in some replacements quickly, I would stay away for the forseeable future. Going forward the Toffees are desperately missing Mikel Arteta though Yakubu scored in the reserves midweek and will give them some much needed fire power up front. Despite the favourable fixture I would stay away from Moyes' side for now. For Wigan, Koumas (5.1) has been excellent this year and is the cheapest focal point of a team available in the game. Rodallega (6.6) has also looked useful though Wigan did not travel well last year and until they can prove otherwise do not expect too many goals from Martinez's side. Their defense is a good rotation play for those wishing to drop Arsenal and United players and I particularly like Scharner due to ability to play further forward and proven prowess at set pieces.
Aston Villa v Fulham
Villa have taken a massive step back from last year and have not simply not replaced Barry or Laursen satisfactorily. Ashley Young (8.3) is still a decent pick but comparable players can probably had for less money (eg Malbranque). Fulham's lack of goals on the road over the past year suggest that the Villa defense is a decent pick and with Birmingham and Pompey coming up Shorey (4.9) and Beye (5) might be decent pickups.
Murphy (6.4) hasn't hit the heights he did last year but has been rewarded with a new contract this week and was rightly named as one of the most underrated players of the last few years by the Guardian. The assists, goals and bonus points should come and with only one red light game (Ars) in the next few weeks he could be a good pickup before everyone else catches on.