To the relief of many, the international break is finally over and Premier League football is back.
Breaks are as frustrating for Premier League bosses as they are for Fantasy bosses with no chance of points and a high risk of losing players to injury.
Gameweek Eight left plenty of room for thought as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s woes in Istanbul were quickly forgotten, Arsenal were brought back down to earth by Aston Villa and Southampton’s unlikely title tilt moved on with a comfortable 2-0 win on Friday night.
Ollie Watkins was lethal for Aston Villa as they defeated Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium
Tomas Soucek (middle) earned a spot in Fantasy Team of the Week after impressing vs Fulham
The blockbuster game of the week was Manchester City v Liverpool and while they starting in thrilling fashion, it faded, finishing 1-1.
Now international breaks are done until 2021 all the focus is back on the league campaign and it remains as open as ever.
Manchester United desperately need a home win, Chelsea’s climb up the table continues in the north east and Tottenham need to prove Fantasy managers wrong and show they are built for the big occasions under Jose Mourinho.
As always, in this column I’ll be breaking down what we learned from the latest round of games, how best to utilise the free transfer for our squads and the differentials that can make the biggest difference week-to-week.
Liverpool are now completely threadbare defensively.
No Virgil van Dijk, no Joe Gomez, no Trent Alexander-Arnold. There are doubts around Andrew Robertson, Fabinho and youngster Rhys Williams.
And so if, like me, you still hold any Liverpool assets – I had Alexander-Arnold – now is the time to dump.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is too expensive to have on the bench as he is out for a month injured
Jurgen Klopp’s hands are tied until January when it comes to bringing some new faces in
If Liverpool are to be successful in the coming months it is unlikely to be for their watertight defence and on the eve of facing Leicester City – and with Mohamed Salah out after testing positive twice for Covid-19, things could be rocky for the champions entering winter.
Liverpool’s defenders are high value and simply haven’t provided the value they did in 2019-20.
There is no Liverpool player in the top 12 scoring defenders on Fantasy Football so far and that is in stark contrast to a year ago.
Robertson (31) is the best of the lot but a patched up defence is too unreliable to pin everything on the Scot at a price tag of £7.1m.
I suggest looking at Tyrone Mings at Aston Villa, who have the best upcoming fixtures, or look to Chelsea as they look much improved since a shake-up at the back.
Kurt Zouma is the highest scoring defender in FPL so far with 48 points, six points clear of Mings who has 42.
Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma is the best performing defender this season in Fantasy Football metrics
There was disappointment for owners of Chelsea defenders that Lampard’s side were breached in a 4-1 win over Sheffield United but in a season which is favouring attackers more than ever, Chelsea seem as close to a stable bet right now.
Elsewhere, Tottenham and Leicester once again showed they could well have the grit to linger around in a title race after grinding out 1-0 wins.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have huge ownership but they now face a horror run of games which will be a key indicator at where this group are under Mourinho, a year on from when he took the reins.
And, before I forget, how farcical was that Patrick Bamford offside at Crystal Palace? Those missed points were a sucker-punch as Leeds were sent packing in a 4-1 win.
Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – £7.5m
No side can boast a more favourable run of games on paper right now than Dean Smith and Aston Villa.
In the next seven league games they face Brighton, West Ham, Newcastle, Wolves, Burnley, West Brom and Crystal Palace.
Avoiding each and every one of the ‘Big Six’ makes Villa players attractive and none more so than talisman Jack Grealish.
He returns from the international break free from injury and with his reputation enhanced having shone for England, particularly in defeat to Belgium.
Aston Villa’s favourable fixtures mean Jack Grealish represents great value for seven games
His form at Villa Park has caught the eye ahead of a meeting with Brighton on Saturday
Back at Villa Park this weekend, Grealish’s home form will come as music to the ears of Fantasy bosses.
Grealish has double-figure hauls in two of his last three games at home, recording 24 points against Liverpool and 15 points against Southampton.
He is averaging 10.8 points per home match for Villa this season which makes him a major asset when consistency is difficult to attain in such an unpredictable league.
Things get markedly tougher from Gameweek 16 but not only is Grealish good value against Brighton, he represents a sound investment for many weeks to come ensuring less surgery is required down the line on your line-up.
In this instance, follow the crowd. It’s a smart business move.
Saturday November 21
Newcastle v Chelsea
Aston Villa v Brighton
Tottenham v Manchester City
Manchester United v West Brom
Sunday November 22
Fulham v Everton
Sheffield United v West Ham
Leeds v Arsenal
Liverpool v Leicester
Monday November 23
Burnley v Crystal Palace
Wolves v Southampton
Jarrod Bowen (West Ham) – £6.3m [Selected by 2.3%]
Now, on paper, this seems a bold move that represents anything but sensible management.
Blanked in his last four games, Bowen does not exactly meet the threshold for a man in form.
But, hang on, he has shown enough so far to suggest easier fixtures will show a totally different player.
A kind run of games on the horizon includes a trip to rock bottom Sheffield United on Sunday.
Chris Wilder’s have been dismal in defence this season and remain the only team in the league yet to keep a clean sheet.
They have allowed 26 shots on target and nine big chances in home matches. Both of those totals are among the bottom three sides.
Schedule is a big reason why Bowen remains an attractive option and games don’t come kinder right now than a trip to face the Blades.
Che Adams (Southampton) – £5.9m [Selected by 4.5%]
Another week and another mention for Adams as a differential pick.
Southampton are no joke and neither is the former Birmingham City attacker.
Owned by just 4.4 per cent of managers ahead of a trip to Wolves, Adams is a clever way to free up funds in attack.
Blanking in Southampton’s opening two matches didn’t help his FPL reputation but he looks a different beast now.
Che Adams is stepping up inn Danny Ings’s absence and represents great value as an attacker
In the last six Gameweeks, Adams has failed to score or get an assist just once.
He has three goals and three assists in that run, earning returns against Burnley, Chelsea, Everton, Aston Villa and Newcastle.
Wolves are tricky as an assignment but just one clean sheet in their last three suggests a Southampton side without star striker Danny Ings will get chances.
James Rodriguez (Everton) – £7.9m [Selected by 29.1%]
Not exactly a hidden gem but after flying out of the blocks, talk around the Colombian seems to have been tempered somewhat.
Fulham, Leeds and Burnley in the next three represent a kind way for the Toffees to get back on track after a disappointing run of recent results – culminating in defeat to United just before the international break.
Rodriguez has been a joy to watch and already has 43 points to his name – something that should serve as a warning to Fulham, Leeds and Burnley.
Crystal Palace winger Eberechi Eze has been full of praise for Rodriguez this week as he crowned the South American star as the toughest player he has come up against in the Premier League.
‘He was picking off passes, and I was just thinking, I didn’t even know what was going to happen there,’ Eze told the Premier League’s YouTube channel. ‘Looking back at it, you’re like, ‘I don’t know how he even saw that. What made you do that?’
‘He looked like a crazy player.’
James Rodriguez is ready to make his mark as Everton take on a struggling Fulham side
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – £10.6m
The standout selection in a week that has Mohamed Salah struck down by Covid-19 and both Kane and Son up against Manchester City.
Timo Werner will retain the armband for some FPL bosses while Grealish offers a bigger risk, but potentially bigger reward, against Brighton.
Nonetheless, Fernandes should be the go-to captain in Gameweek 9 given he boasts both the form and the fixture against a West Brom side that has struggled since returning to the top flight.
The concern – and it is a fair one – is that United are yet to win a game at home in the league this season but, ultimately, that has to end eventually and Saturday night feels like a real opportunity for the Portuguese midfielder to shine once more.
Bruno Fernandes is hitting form at just the right time with other Fantasy stars out with injury
The Portuguese midfielder ran the show against Everton and is a popular player for this week
His performance at Everton was masterful, scoring twice and laying a third on a plate for summer signing Edinson Cavani. For a midfielder, 17 points is a big points return.
It is no surprise that Fernandes is the most-purchased player on Fantasy this week, transferred in by more than 461,000 managers.
United, as ever, remain a mixed bag but West Brom remain fragile and Fernandes’ 15 shots in his last four rounds ranks joint-top with Salah among midfielders on Fantasy.
Yes, there are worries about United at home. But this feels a no brainer.
There are some very glamorous strikers on the market but midfielders have and always will generate the best returns and so it is no surprise to see another 4-5-1 formation here.
This side combined for 129 points with Fernandes’ 17 points making him the Player of the Week.
In goal is West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianski, who earned a points haul having saved Ademola Lookman’s atrocious Panenka penalty.
Matt Doherty, currently sidelined after a positive coronavirus test, is the big name in the four-man defence which, surprisingly, includes Matt Targett following his starring role in Villa’s 3-0 win away at Arsenal.
Hakim Ziyech’s growing influence on Chelsea is really catching the eye and he makes the Team of the Week for a successive round. He is the only player to retain his spot.
Notable mentions for Stuart Armstrong and Ollie Watkins who are proving valuable Fantasy assets in Southampton and Villa’s strong starts to the campaign.
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