- While I cautioned earlier about using minutes played as a sure fire barometer for future success, during these opening weeks when team selections are unsettled from prior season, it is essential to go with the sure things and try and avoid trying to discover the next big thing too early. That is why - as some of you have correctly pointed out - I somewhat deviated from my normal strategy of cheaper defenders and brought in Vidic and Terry for opening weekend (this was also due to saving some cash swapping Van Persie to Berbatov quite late on after it became apparent that Van Persie would not start this week). My big mistake of the week was sticking with N'Zogbia despite the warnings that he was upset and might not feature in Martinez's side. I was lucky this time as Chaz Adam came off the bench with 6 points but this was a careless risk and I must now burn a transfer this week to remove N'Zogbia and lose 0.1m in the process. Many managers got burned with either big name arrivals failing to excite (Silva, Hernandez, K.Jones, J.Cole, Boselli) or players failing to make the first team (Adebayor, Lescott, N'Zogbia, Ivanovic).
- Playing the fixtures is still one of the safest strategies. It might not work every time (Wolves conceding to Stoke was a blow to my clean sheet rankings) but those who jumped on the solid defensive fixtures of United, Villa, Chelsea, Bolton, Spurs and Blackburn were rewarded with clean sheets this week and the only game that really went against the defensive trends was the 2-2 Sunderland-Birmingham game which looked more like a 0-0 before kick off.
One of the hardest parts at the start of the season is knowing what trends are for real and what are aberrations. Didier Drogba probably won't continue his form and end the season on 114 goals but his dominant play is, as will all know, for real and he is a legitimate stud going forward. But what about someone like Marc Albrighton who shone for Villa and can be had for a measly 4.6m (his value has already gone up). Here's my take on the headline makers from week one in no particular order:
Steve Gerrard / Frank Lampard: I am concerned for this pair's ability to generate top level returns given the positions they took in their team's gameweek one games. Looking at the chalkboards below, we can see that both players took up rather deep positions and despite Lampard completing almost all his passes against weak opposition, most of them were not in dangerous positions.
Gerrard v Lampard chalkboard: too deep to dominate?
I voiced my approval for the premium strikers before the season and I am even further on board this strategy after watching the games this week. In the 4-5-1 formation there is room for the Mezhut Ozil / Kaka type 'trequartista' who could dominate the fantasy scoring charts but neither Lampard nor Gerrard are being deployed in this way, possibly due to the inclusion of natural forwards in the wide right position (Anelka and Kuyt) who often push the formation into somewhat of a lopsided 4-4-2.
There aren't any other players who fit this mold either but if you make Lampard/Gerrard just a very good central midfielder then give me James Milner and 4m any day. I am not willing to give up on this pair yet but I stick by my pursuit of premium strikers for the time being.
Gareth Bale: I wasn't particularly high on Bale before the season and I felt that most people were overvaluing him due to the clean sheet points he earned last year while classified as a defender. However, he looked very dangerous against a good City side, and seems locked into the first team lineup.
I am still concerned with how wasteful his passing is sometimes (see below) but the pundits didn't seem to be bothered when handing out the bonus points and so long as you can handle some inconsistency in his points, I think Bale should represent good value for the foreseeable future.
Bale chalkboard: wasteful in possession
Marc Albrighton: The Villa youngster looked very good in his debut and the fantasy managers have already reacted to the 4.5m player pushing his price up to 4.6m. However, the return of Gabby Agbonlahor will limit Albrighton's playing time and I think whoever the manager is at Villa will be keen to not put too much pressure on the teenager. I am currently filing him as one for the future and I think you'll spend more time frustrated by him giving you 12 minutes and 1 point than counting the points you won by being the first on the kid's bandwagon.
Paul Scholes / Darren Fletcher: This pair played tremendously well for United against Newcastle and I was particularly intrigued by Fletcher's forward runs and attacking influence. Scholes has developed into a Pirlo-like deep lying playmaker which allows Fletcher the room to run forward more, knowing that he has a few bodies protecting him. I'm not ready to buy either of these players yet but they have turned a somewhat fantasy-sparse United team into an intriguing squad of players, along with:
Nani: I am a proud Valencia owner and I have stated that I think he has a shot at being a top 5 midfielder this year. However, for me, Nani was the more dangerous player on Monday and his pass to Evra for Fletcher's goal was pure class. I cannot believe I have now championed both Nani and Walcott in the past few weeks but I think they have the chance to take the next steps to being mature wingers this season. I'm not buying yet but if Nani keeps this up he could develop into a very useful squad player.
Dimitar Berbatov / Javier Hernandez: I hate to ride the United bandwagon too much but I think there are goals in this team and one of these two players are going to get a chunk of them. I absolutely love Berbatov when he's "on"and during his best spell at Spurs I would have put him in the top 3 or 4 strikers in England. He actually had a good fantasy season last year (5.59 PPG and 0.607 PPMS - Rooney's was just 0.620) and he has started the season on fire in the Community Shield and in gameweek 1. He looked very hungry and seemed to be enjoying his football and the chalkboard below shows how involved he was, with touches all over the pitch.
Berbatov chalkboard: involved in the action all over the field
My concern is the presence of another player who has impressed - Javier Hernandez or "Chicarito". He plays like a goalscorer and looked fresh when he came on against Newcastle. While Rooney is getting back to fitness there are minutes for both these players but once fit, Rooney will take 90 minutes every week and the fantasy value of Berbatov and Hernandez may be limited. United have a pretty awesome set of fixtures through week 11 with only @Ful @Eve, Liv and Tot looking even vaguely threatening and so I think I will stick with Berbatov for now, but if Ferguson starts getting too happy with his rotation it's time to move on as 8.5m is simply too much money to have on the bench. Monitor this situation closely.
David Stockdale: Stockdale did okay in Schwarzer's absence and Fulham look like they are still a decent defensive side under Mark Hughes. If Schwarzer finally completes his drawn out move to Arsenal or somewhere else then Stockdale becomes a 4m starting keeper which are hard to come by and he would become a very useful asset for all teams, either in a rotation strategy or as the best 4m keeper around (no I'm not on board the Gilks / Mignolet or Carson trains just yet).
Phil Jones / Paul Robinson: Blackburn managed an opening day clean sheet against a decent Everton side, though ranked as the 9th best clean sheet bet for the week, it was hardly a huge surprise. I rated Blackburn's defense coming into the season and mentioned both Paul Robinson and Phil Jones before the season, however, Blackburn enjoyed very little possession against Everton - Yaya Toure completed more passes for City than the entire Rovers team - and against better teams that formula will not lead to clean sheets.
This week's trip to Birmingham is a good test for Allardyce's unit and if they get through it okay I think we can safely put Rovers into the decent mid-level defensive unit options. However, if they struggle to hold the ball again and look vulnerable it might be time to cut loose now given that they face Arsenal and City in GW3 and GW4. A quick note on Jones that may have been missed: he is lining up in midfield and was given man of the match by the pundits this week. That is a valuable combination and if Blackburn can show more defensive strength I think he is one of the best 4.5m options around.
Benoit Assou Ekotto: I held BAE for long chunks of last season and I was fairly satisfied with his performances for a while (3.20 PPG and 0.68 PPMS) though he never really excelled as I hoped. I feared for his place in the starting lineup this year as I wondered if either Bale or one of Spurs' several CBs would take the LB spot leaving BAE out in the fantasy wilderness. In fact he looked very good in GW1 and his left field partnership with Bale looked extremely promising. He was handed 2 bonus points which puts him in the pundit's eyes early on and opens the way for more rewards in the future. Spurs' defensive fixtures are good but not great so I wouldn't jump all over BAE per se, but if, like me, you are a Dawson owner, you might consider a switch if you have a spare transfer to allow for a bit of differentiation in your side (Dawson 25% owned, BAE 5%).
Marlon Harewood: Don't even think about it. There is a reason Harewood had no team until about a week before the season. Wigan are horrible and my Sunday league team may have scored 3 or 4 past them on Saturday.
James Milner: I wasn't expecting a big performance from the want-away midfielder but Milner played well by all accounts (I haven't seen the game) and grabbed the 3 bonus points. For all City's spending they don't really have any pundit favorites so Milner should be able to continue his bonus grabbing at Eastlands. I think Milner becomes a viable 9m option at City and should not only feature in most games, but also be protected by some very good players in Barry, Yaya Toure and De Jong. Assuming one of these makes way for Milner, you get a 4-2-3-1 shape with Milner playing alongside Silva and Tevez behind Balotelli with few defensive responsibilities. You can make a case that there is more talent there than that which surrounds either Lampard or Gerrard and thus Milner looks very interesting at 9m. He would currently by my 5th pick in midfielder regardless of price (Lampard, Gerrard, Cesc and Malouda still look very good) but when you take into account his lower price tag he might be ahead of anyone. I'm waiting a week or two for him to bed in, but then he will be very near the top of my transfer list, right around the time City play Bla, @Wig, New and @Bll in a 5 week spell.
Emmanuel Adebayor: Sell. I was on Ade before the season but he is far too expensive to ever be rested or rotated. Anelka, Bent and Defoe are much safer options who should finish the season with more points.
Mario Balotelli: I am excited by the arrival of Super Mario who dazzled me a couple of times in cameo appearances in the Champions League. As with most new arrivals I am staying away for now but as noted for Milner above, City have a good run of fixtures from GW4 on so if he can get into the team and prove his worth somewhere in that run he might be a nice option for anyone who is sick of Defoe/Anelka/Bent/Berbatov by that point. You have to think that Mancini plans to play Balotelli (that is of course if he had any say in who the board signed) so he should get plenty of chances to shine and his talent is undeniable. One to watch but hold off for now.
Wayne Rooney: Rooney looked a bit laboured against Newcastle and was clearly lacking both sharpness and confidence. I have little doubt that both of these will return but in the next 2 or 3 weeks the returns could be limited to the odd goal. His bonus points will be hurt by an inability to pursue his trademark closing down and passionate play and United have other strong options on the bench (Hernandez, Owen, Macheda) to pull Rooney off if he is struggling. For the immediate future I think Torres, Van Persie, Defoe and of course Drogba are all better options.
That round up turned into a bit of a random ramble so apologies if I lost any of you halfway through. I will be back very shortly with the GW2 preview include the usual clean sheet and captain rankings.