Thursday, October 30, 2014

Adopt a Team: Liverpool and Newcastle lineups

I'm a little bit pressed for time this week so I'm going to keep this post briefer than before so we have time to get into the stats before the weekend.

Liverpool

Despite losing Suarez who was obviously a big driver behind this team's success last season, it's hard to argue that this squad isn't deeper than it was last year, with quality backups at virtually every position. Despite having seven playable options, the back line has been very settled with Moreno, Lovren, Skrtel and Manquillo each starting virtually every game and never appearing as a substitute. Moreno and Lovren were high profile captures during the off season so it was reaonable to pencil that pair in. Skrtel re-solididied his place in this side last season after a year or so of sporadic play but with Sakho available I still felt there was some risk there. That really hasn't materialised and with Sakho now sidelined, the big Slovakian looks pretty locked in right now. If I'm mildly surprised that Sakho hasn't vultured more minutes in the middle I am close to amazed that Manquillo has been able to make that right back spot his own. Johnson, Toure, Flanagan and even Jose Enrique could well have been fancied over the young Spaniard who had played just six league games for Atletico over the past two seasons and - at least I thought - came to Liverpool on loan as an extended trial to showcase his talent for a potential future transfer. Whatever the thought process, he's made the spot his own so far this season and thus becomes the obvious cheap link in this team. Given his age, there might be some concern that rotation will come in the future, perhaps suggesting Lovren could be worth the 0.4m premium but that's something we'll get to tomorrow when we look at this group's attacking potential.

In midfield, we have a similar situation with job security held by a number of players despite some impressive depth waiting in the wings. Markovic, Lucas, Can, Allen and, lately, Coutinho have found themselves on the outside looking in with Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling and Lallana almost ever present when available. The final spot has rotated between those other players along with Sturridge who was deployed alongside Balotelli when they were both available. Though it's hard to see Coutinho being totally pushed out of this side, he obviously can't be relied upon right now, so that just leaves those four big names plus Balotelli up front to choose from. Sturridge's return is going to cloud that issue somewhat as in the three games he played with Balotelli, a pure defensive option (Allen or Lucas) was deployed, presumably to account for the lack of defensive help from that duo and to an extent Sterling. The job security is useful here as no one really comes cheaply, unless you want to get cute with one of the more defensively minded players. Again, we'll look at whether any of those options are worth looking at in the stats review.

With Liverpool travelling away from Anfield, we might expect them to stick with either Allen or Can (or both) in the middle to monitor Sissoko, Cabella and company, which would mean Coutinho missing out again unless he can displace one of those regulars (or Balotelli is sidelined after his continuing struggle for form).

Newcastle

Though competing in a different part of the league table, the story behind Newcastle's squad this year is somewhat similar to this week's opponents: improved depth but less top tier talent. Newcastle's struggles since Cabaye and Remy left have been well documented, with Pardew once again noting his team's struggles to overcome those losses this week. The replacements certainly have promise with Cabella, Riviere and Ayoze all offering flashes of what excited the Newcastle scouts, while Cisse was something akin to a new signing when he was briefly healthy, playing excellently in a handful of games become succumbing to a knee injury. The results haven't been great but there's more than enough talent here to warrant a closer look.

At the back this has been a very settled team with just six players getting a start and only five of them being in serious contention for starter minutes (Haidara looks like a firm backup for Dummett at left back). Williamson's injury opened the door for Steven Taylor to make a return to the team though we still don't have a definitive answer as to who will hold onto their place when everyone is healthy. Dummett, at 4.0m, looks like the obvious play for this defense but Davide Santon is apparently getting close to full health and will surely have every chance to re-take his starting spot in the coming weeks. We'll touch on the attacking threats in the next post but Coloccini's combination of job security and price tag looks like a strong place to start.

Much like Liverpool, given the depth here it is surprising that Pardew has opted for a fairly settled lineup with Colback, Gouffran and Sissoko being ever present with the other two spots filled by a couple of rotated pairs in Cabella/Obertan and Anita/Tiote. Based on the classic YouTube scouting and sporadic reviews from France, Cabella was the player most people were excited about and he's done okay - good enough to deserve better than his recent benching but not enough to warrant serious fantasy consideration. We'll see what a deeper dive into the stats provides tomorrow but outside of Cabella - who's playing time is in question - I'm not sure there's enough upside here to justify a place in your team.

Having been burned before, managers will be understandably wary of buying into Papiss Cisse's rejuvenation but based on an admittedly small sample, serious attention needs to be paid to him when he returns from a knee injury. Again, we'll dive into detailed stats tomorrow but just know that Cisse's numbers in just a handful of games were excellent and far eclipsed anything managed by teammate Riviere, who was given the chance to lead the line but seems to have fallen out of favour of late. At 6.7m and with underwhelming stats, if Riviere wins this starting job then it might be time to move on. If however the 5.9m Cisse can snag the job, he could become one of the most interesting budget front men to look at over the coming weeks.

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