We were treated to a great weekend of action with 36 goals and big wins for City, United and Liverpool. A huge performance by Yossi Benayoun dominated the fantasy headlines, though Adebayor was also in the limelight for good and bad reasons. As predicted, clean sheets were hard to come by with only 3 on offer all weekend. For me, the weekend confirmed something I have been thinking since the season started, and threw up a new group of players that could play into a new strategy:
Premium Strikers are for real
In previous years the consensus strategy has been to spend big on midfield and plug in mid range or budget strikers, with the likes of Carlton Cole, James Beattie, Kevin Davies etc being popular choices. This year is shaping up very differently. The six most expensive strikers available are all in the top eight at their position, with four in the top five (Defoe being the odd man out). Rooney and Defoe have five goals, Drogba, Adebayor and Bent have four and Torres has three. Only four other players have scored more than once this season and only two of these can be had for less than 8m (Kenwyne Jones and Hugo Rodallega).
Contrast this with the midfield where, although Lampard and Gerrard lead the league, twelve of the next fourteen midfielders can be had for less than 8.2m. I am not advising moving away from Lampard and Gerrard but I do think the best strategy is now to have one of this pair with two premium strikers and then fill in the midfield with mid priced players (discussed below). Defenders are simply not reliable enough at the moment and good value can be had by playing the schedule and loading up with cheap-mid range talent when an easy team comes to town. Consider that United's best defender (Evra) is t14th, Arsenal's best (Gallas) is 30th and Liverpool's best after the impressive (and expensive Johnson) is t14th among defenders this year. Chelsea have been more impressive but with Carvalho and Bosingwa both being rotated this year, and Zhirkov due back at some point to threaten Cole's position even they aren't guaranteed to give value for money.
The arrival of the mid range midfield
Last year I loved plenty of 7m range midfielders, of whom you could afford a couple to lineup alongside studs like Lampard and Gerrard. Until now all these apart from Lennon have had their question marks this season. This week three mid range midfielders either confirmed the legitimacy of their early season success or emerged as new options:
Shaun Wright Phillips (8.1m 6.7%)
I have been sleeping a bit on City this year, but their 4-2 victory over Arsenal proves that they are a fantasy force and it would be wise to get in on their goals if you can. This is easier said than done due to the likely rotation of Tevez, Bellamy, Petrov, Santa Cruz and Robinho though three names - Adebayor, Ireland and Shaun Wright Phillips - stand out as legitimate fantasy stars. I did not think Wright Phillips would play every week for Hughes' side but to date he's played every minute for the Citizens, adding a goal and three assists in the process. I generally prefer players who are involved in the action all the time for their teams (ie Ireland) but Wright Phillips' production is unarguable. City's upcoming fixtures are good but not great but this is offset by the almost certain profit you will make on SWP whose value could rise by 0.1 or 0.2 this week. Three proven wingers stand out in the league - Lennon (7.9), Young (8.3) and SWP (8.1) - and I would not like to pick between them for the season. Young has the best fixtures, Lennon is in the best form while SWP is in the best team. I'd recommend picking all three if it weren't for the two players below . . .
Yossi Benayoun (7.4m 2%)
I rate Benayoun as Liverpool's third best player and I never understand why Benitez insists on playing Riera and Babel ahead of him. His hattrick yesterday might change this and the Israeli playmaker might be given an extended run in the first team. If that is the case then Benayoun is a must buy and his price will rocket this week after his 24 point performance. A look at Benayoun's chalkbaord shows how heavily involved he was down the right flank:
For 7.4m his value cannot be beaten and I even like him if he plays in just two thirds of Liverpool's games for this value. My advice now is to jump on the bandwagon now and reap the immediate rewards (price rise this week) and if he drops back to the bench in a few weeks then Modric should be back from injury and will be a ready made replacement. If he gets an extended run in the first team then Benayoun will be this season's Ireland, so why not get on the bandwagon early? His 7 seven shots cannot be ignored and so I expect Benayoun to reach double figures for the season so long as he can start 25+ games.
Thomas Rosicky (6.9m 0.9%)
The talented Czech playmaker has been cursed by injuries since arriving at the Emirates, to the point where he is largely a forgotten man in the Premier League. However, his performance in just 39 minutes on Saturday should change this and the fact he was given a run out so soon after returning from injury shows how highly he is rated by Wenger. Rosicky contributed a goal and an assist at City, passed the ball well and looked sharp coming off the bench. Normally I would recommend waiting a couple of weeks until he establishes himself in the first team but with Arshavin out with injury I think Rosicky might come straight into the side (replacing Diaby or Bendtner) and his price will almost certainly rise to 7m this week.
Okay so you might be wondering who exactly I am going to get in defense having recommended you keep Lampard/Gerrard, add a load of 7.5m midfielders and then grab the likes of Drogba and Adebayor. Well, three players stand out here and I think the drop off from the big boys to these players will be alot smaller than the drop off from the aforementioned premium strikers to the mid-range players available:
James Collins (4.5m 1.1%)
Collins slotted straight into the Villa side today and looked very composed grabbing a clean sheet and 2 bonus points in the process. He is at least half a million cheaper than his teammates and he is playing for a side that has notched back to back clean sheets and will have a double gameweek in the future due to their bye in week 2. Dunne (5m) will probably get more attention and may well keep his place in the team when Davies returns, but until then Collins is great value and will free up cash to spend elsewhere.
Michael Turner (4.5m 9%)
Turner is priced like a Hull defender but is playing for a Sunderland team that is pretty good at the back and have been unlucky to only have kept one clean sheet this season. Turner also brings an added threat from set pieces which although I don't recommend paying extra for, if you can get it for 4.5m then take it while you can. Although widely held, I think Turner's value will rise and for whatever reason he is a bit of a bonus magnet, which will continue going forward in this Sunderland team.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto (5.1m 5.3%)
Due to Spurs' favourable upcoming fixtures I was all set to grab Bassong (5.2) who I rate very highly. However, Assou-Ekotto stood out on Saturday against United with his attacking play, and his chalkboard shows that he played seven balls into the danger zone. He has yet to notch an assist this year though did manage a screamer in week one, which is the reason why so many owners currently have him. In the long run I would not be surprised to see Assou Ekotto have Patrice Evra-like numbers as Spurs get their defense fit and the clean sheets start to come. Spurs face the unenviable task of going to Chelsea this week but then get Bur, @Bol, @Por, Sto, @Ars, Sun and Wig, with only the derby at Emirates looking threatening for Redknapp's team.
As a side note, Cudicini played very well against United and with Gomes due back from injury soon, it will be worth checking if the Italian can keep his place, as that schedule plus this defense would make Cudicini great value at 4.5m.
Needless to say I am considering using my wildcard to get some of the aforementioned players with my main concern as to who are the best premium strikers to anchor my revised team. I will post a new entry on this later in the week. How are your teams fairing? Has anyone used their wildcard yet and are they considering it? Why not tweet me or post your thoughts below.