Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Greater Manchester Part I (the red half)

For the first time in decades, Manchester, not London, is the focal point of the Premier League race and, more importantly for this site, the key source of joy (and possibly frustration) for fantasy managers. True, Manchester United have at times dominated the Premier League to a degree that would make the Harlem Globetrotters blush, but their sides have often failed to provide too much fantasy depth with one or two stars racking up massive totals, while being supplemented by a group of overpriced and oft-rotated journeymen and defensive players. For every Beckham, Ronaldo or Rooney we seem to have had three Keanes, Fletchers or Scholes', all excellent players in the own right, but not too helpful in fantasy circles.

Their cross-town rivals in sky blue have been much worse, stockpiling average assets and going through players and managers at the same rate Mario Balotelli acquires parking tickets. The tide obviously started to turn with the arrival of the investors from Abu Dhabi in 2008 but the team seemed to be waiting for something, temporarily satisfied to rely on a couple of elite players and a group of very good Premier League players to carry them up the table. And then came this summer . . .

The arrival of Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri coupled with a return to form and fitness of Edin Dzeko suddenly gives City an embarrassment of riches, especially in light on Mancini's willingness to allow his team play more expansively. The Champions too look as promising as ever from a fantasy perspective with perennial favorite Rooney looking like he finally deserves to be treated as world class, alongside new arrival Ashley Young, last season's top fantasy scorer Nani and a now fully fit Javier Hernandez. Throw in a handful of young stars getting substantial minutes (at least before they were injured) and the situation is looking increasingly crowded.

Lottery numbers
With the way the Manchester clubs have been playing, along with the apparent decline of so many Arsenal and Chelsea players so far this season, it is looking increasingly likely that the majority of fantasy managers will want to own 5 or 6 Manchester players for the short-medium term. Arsenal's only proven option at the moment is the pricey Van Persie while Chelsea's stars look, as Torres might say, slow and old, leaving the impressive Mata as the only standout option there. Let's look through the two rosters, and with a hesitancy to compare apples to oranges, try and rank or at least group, the available options available.

Man United
Goalkeepers / Defenders
If Lindegaard were to get this starting job he would immediately become the most valuable 'keeper in the league, but for now at least, that doesn't seem likely to happen making De Gea just another high priced option, whose production can usually be exceeded by the much discussed (by me, at least) rotation strategy

The back line is a trickier proposition. When everyone is fit, three spots are locked down with Evra, Ferdinand and Vidic maintaining their grip on starting jobs from past seasons. While the centre pairing have struggled to keep fit, Vidic is set to return by the end of the month and so I would advise against chasing anyone based on the next couple of weeks as you could well be left with a comparatively pricey sub by months end. The key then, is that fabled right back spot. Since G-Nev moved on, no one has really filled that role, and while many (including this humble blogger) felt it was time for Rafael to make the role his own this year, it is Chris Smalling and Phil Jones who have seen the most action so far. A quick review of the position to date:
  1. Community Shield vs Man City- Smalling starts at right back, Jones and Rafael on the bench
  2. GW1 at West Brom - Smalling starts at right back, Jones on the bench
  3. GW2 vs Tottenham - Jones and Smalling both start with Smalling on the right
  4. GW3 vs Arsenal - Jones and Smalling both start with Smalling on the right
  5. GW4 at Bolton - Jones starts at right back with Smalling on the bench
  6. Champions League at Benfica - Smalling and Fabio start, Jones on the bench
  7. GW5 vs Chelsea - Jones and Smalling both start with Smalling on the right
Until last week I would have suggested that this group is too tight to separate with perhaps a slight edge going to Smalling, having started most games, including the season opener when everyone was available. However, with Jones' excellent display against Bolton, followed by him being rested against Benfica (along with other first team stars like Young, Nani and Hernandez) it looks like the versatile man from Blackburn might be the pick here. Much like John O'Shea in previous years, he may never get 12 games in a row in a settled back line but the ability play three position should ensure he starts most games, and if anything, would be rested against the better teams, where fantasy points are hard to come by anyway.

I think people have been sleeping on Evans a bit as he isn't an exciting name, but Ferguson clearly trusts him (though I'm not sure I do). At 4.5m he is good value but presuming Vidic comes back soon, his value will be too sporadic to consider owning him. In short (ha!) then, I like Jones a lot from this group and consider him one of the best available options from the elite teams, perhaps second only to Jose Enrique, if you are willing to put Liverpool in that bracket (and I'm not sure I am).

For the first time in memory, United have four midfielders who all justify at least consideration, if not ownership. Starting with the less heralded options you have Cleverly and Anderson who have each racked up substantial minutes and a couple of decent fantasy starts. Looking at the underlying stats they are essentially the same player with the same number of shots (3), assists (1) and percentage of passes in the opposition half (48%) though Anderson of course has that lone goal to his name. Anderson also enjoys an advantage in 'key passes' which has a fairly strong correlation to assists. Neither player is particularly expensive but a quick scan of players with similar underlying stats shows that the likes of  Dyer, Jarvis, Barton, Walters, Wright-Phillips and Taarabt all have shown more potential with many having lower price tags and a stronger guarantee of minutes. Neither of the pair will likely sniff a penalty or free kick anytime soon while even corners are hard to come by with Ashley Young around. I can see the appeal of this duo, but for me, better options exist on other teams and I'd only look at them if the run of fixtures was extremely good and we had assurances that the likes of Fletcher, Giggs and Carrick won't vulture too many minutes.

The debate between the elite pair of Nani and Young started before the season with a flurry of readers responding to my tweet questioning why so few managers had bought Nani. Most felt that Young would outscore Nani by some distance with many going so far as to suggest Nani wouldn't even play on Valencia's return from injury. After Young's GW3 display this appeared to be the correct assessment and I almost ditched Nani myself, but after 5 weeks, things aren't so obvious. A quick review of the stats to date:

  • Young: 2 goals, 10 shots, 6 shots on target, 5 assists, 8 key passes, 33 crosses (6 successful)
  • Nani: 2 goals, 11 shots, 4 shots on target, 3 assists, 11 key passes, 26 crosses (7 successful)
You could remove a couple of Young's assists because he simply put his foot on the ball for a Rooney free kick, though I'm going with the notion that they all count and there's no reason Young won't benefit from that little arrangement in the future. I don't think there's much to pick between the two in terms of production and I'd probably hold firm with my pre season prediction that Nani will score more goals, Young will have more assists and they will end up fairly close to one another (I thought and so will stick with the idea that Nani shades total points). Young is owned by more managers and costs more while I agree that of the two Nani is probably a slightly higher risk to be rotated given his lack of defensive want in chasing back. Until we see how Ferguson plans to use Valencia (possibly against better teams, away from home or in Europe) I would hold whichever one of these players you already own, but if I was signing one today I'd go with Nani based on his lower price tag and more consistent returns. 

The biggest name will probably get the least attention here as Rooney is simply a must own. Not since Ronaldo humbly graced the Premier League have we seen a player in this kind of form, and United's fixtures haven't even been particularly favourable. He's sneaking into must-captain status and until we see signs of fatigue from the impact of a heavy workload, consider your team budget to be 88m and plug Rooney in for the long haul. 

Hernandez is a trickier proposition. No matter how good a player is, it's hard to spend ~22m on a couple of forwards from the same team as you leave your team exposed to low scores when they face a tough fixture.  Also working against Hernandez is the presence of another Manchester man enjoying a historic start to the season in Sergio Aguero, as it would be all but impossible to own the three of them. 

I really do think Hernandez is an excellent player, but I tend to lean towards the stats when it comes to fantasy, and so far he doesn't hold up against his peers:
  • Dzeko: 6 goals, 15 shots (11 on target), 1 assist, 12 key passes in 350 minutes
  • Suarez: 2 goals, 11 shots (5 on target), 0 assists, 9 key passes in 331 minutes
  • Adebayor: 3 goals, 7 shots (5 on target), 0 assists, 6 key passes in 180 minutes
  • Hernandez: 2 goals, 6 shots (4 on target), 0 assists, 3 key passes in 231 minutes
Obviously these stats are historical and not necessarily an indication of future success, and Hernandez did outperform the league average in terms of converting chances last season, but with Rooney in such good form and solid play from the wings, his chances do appear to have been limited a bit. In a vacuum or in a draft league, Hernandez remains extremely valuable but where roster spots and cash is limited, it is really hard to consider owning him while Rooney/Aguero are still breathing and other cheaper options continue to perform.

Man Utd Rankings
As I said in the intro, it's hard to compare apples to oranges here, but taking into account cost, points ceiling, consistency, rotation risk, availability of alternatives etc, I would rank Man Utd players as below:
  1. Wayne Rooney
  2. Nani
  3. Ashley Young
  4. Phil Jones
  5. Javier Hernandez
  6. Patrice Evra
  7. Jonny Evans (short term only)
  8. Anderson
Part II looking at Man City and rankings of all Manchester players will be posted tomorrow, but I thought I may as well get this part up now rather than post 5,000 words in one go.


Does it really need a name? said...

Thnx buddy great article...waiting for part II

Steven said...

I love Smalling until Vidic is back. Then I agree with your assessment of Phil Jones. Although I may go with another team altogether based on matchups and form. Soon enough though!

Ryry said...

Hey Chris loving the blog at the moment! I was just wondering what your thoughts were about dropping rooney just for this weekend? I know it is a massive risk considering pretty much everyone has him but with arsenal, Man city, Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle all playing at home this weekend, i feel there could be points elsewhere to be had. Currently i have Rooney, Van persie and Adebayor upfront but considering brining in Dzeko and Suarez for adebayor and rooney. Just wondered what your thoughts were!

Ben said...

Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading these latest two articles over breakfast this morning, great work Chris.

amtosh said...

Thanks Chris... looking forward to the Citeh article.

PUl615 said...

Great article!!!

I also have a question about Sturridge who I own and who got injured last night.
My team: Mignolet,Vorm
Simpson, Gabbidon,Woodgate, Bosingwa, Kompany
Walcott,Silva,Petrov, Dyer, Taarabt
And I have 1,7mil in the bank, 1 transfer done.

My options: 1)I can survive this GW so I could keep and hope he plays the next one(But he looks like he wont play too many minutes any game, and was set to be rotated after starting the midweek game and anelka being rested)
2) sub in Adebayor for 4pt hit, but that would leave me very top heavvy. The funds I have I was planning to use on upgrading Taarabt and or Walcott to Mata/VDV.
3)Taarabt,Sturridge out-Best, Mata in for 8pt hit.

Also considering Adbonglahor and other cheap options. Please help!!!
Thanks in advance for any ideas.

Moe Vawda said...

Need advice on who to choose from swp,barton and taarabt?

Raddz said...

Great article!
I was wondering if it would be a good idea to cash in on young and switch him for nani as it looks like nani is doing better right now or should I just wait and see?

Zerospeak said...

Anyone have thoughts on Cabaye vs Barton? Both valued at 6m. I've been impressed with Cabaye so far and he's much less likely to pick up bookings. Haven't seen much of Barton at QPR though.

TD Ocho said...

Does anyone actually read these articles and then use the advice to actually think about their team? Or do you just see that there's a new article where you can basically ask Chris to manage your team for you?

So many of the questions I see this year are about things already touched on in the article or a previous one. Think for yourself a little!

Gummi said...

Also tempering my like for Hernandez is that Ferguson was impressed with Welbeck's early season form which could mean rotation minutes for the pair of them. And this is not even factoring in the need to play Berbatov at least once in a while.

I would be surprised if Fabio doesn't sneek in some right-back minutes in the league very soon, which mean I'm extra hesitant to bring in United defenders. But if you have them already, I think they are worth playing.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on front-loading (so to speak) your team and having only budget options in the back. For example, picking Rooney, Aguero, Silva, Nasri, and Young and complimenting them with cheap options such as Dyer in the middle and a bunch of cheap defenders (Gabbidon, Ward, De Laet, etc.).