Tottenham’s on-song Welshman continues to bedazzle top-flight defences. City’s backline proves miserly once more as we approach the festive season, while worries snowball over Rafa Benitez’s tactics as Chelsea’s attacking midfield assets take a tumble…
Last night’s display against Liverpool had it all from Gareth Bale. A goal, an assist, a yellow card and one of the most bizarre own goals you’re likely to see, courtesy of Aaron Lennon’s panicked goal line clearance rebounding off the Welshman’s face straight into Hugo Lloris’ net. While the own goal garnered the attention, Bale’s 10 point haul saw him climb to the top of the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) standings for midfielders, with 83 points accrued.
With goals in each of his last three, the Welshman has now taken his tally to six in 14 matches, only four less than his tally for the previous campaign. While many of the popular midfield big-hitters are starting to stumble or struggle for a semblance of consistency, Bale goes from strength to strength and is looking impossible to ignore right now. He also seems to be handed the majority of free-kicks, furthering his increasingly appealing potential – a fact that Andre Villas-Boas spoke of post-match:
“Players learn through what they see. With Ronaldo we saw that you can almost hit under the ball and it gains an effect where it drops and changes direction. He (Bale) has the power to do that. He keeps on practising this technique and we are pleased to have it. He is more free, getting more of the ball, the team is creating conditions for him to appear more. He is enjoying himself on the pitch. His physical freshness, his motivation towards playing, what he does offensively and defensively. He takes over the whole of the left wing. He helps the full-back so much. It’s never-ending. His pace, it’s electric.”
With Spurs keen to involve Bale as much as possible in the final third, the upcoming fixture list only serves to cement his place in our Fantasy thinking. Trips to Fulham and Everton will hold little fear for would-be investors, given both sides’ recent poor defensive form, while Bale’s following six fixtures (SWA, STO, avl, sun, RDG, qpr) have the potential for points aplenty. Already, the bandwagon is rolling after last night’s display and with rest or rotation highly unlikely to blight his season, Fantasy managers are now pondering who to sacrifice in order to secure Bale’s place in their side for this weekend’s trip to the Cottage.
Another game, another clean sheet for the champions as City ultimately saw off a valiant Wigan 2-0 at the DW. Having conceded in seven of their opening right fixtures, Roberto Mancini’s side looked anything but secure at the back in the early part of the season but the defensive solidity that produced a total of 35 clean sheets over the previous two campaigns is apparent once again.
Mancini’s men have now conceded just a single goal in their last six matches – a run that has coincided with a regular role in the heart of defence for Matija Nastasic alongside Vincent Kompany. Joleon Lescott now seems to be firmly behind the summer signing in the pecking order for starts, with City assistant boss David Platt recently admitting Nastasic’s “exceptional” form has made it an easy decision to omit the former Everton man from the City starting XI. With full-back rotation still kicking in – Mancini played Pablo Zabaleta on the left of defence last night, for instance – Nastasic appears secure at the back right now and with a FPL price tag of just 5.5, looks exceptional value.
Champions League football is now off the agenda and depending on results in next week’s final round of group matches, City may also find themselves out of the Europa League, too. Bearing in mind they are already out of the Capital One Cup, Mancini looks set to focus fully on his side’s attempts to regain the title, with his flourishing backline providing the basis to grind out results when necessary. Once again last night, Mancini’s rest and rotation policy up top proved hugely frustrating – it may well be that Fantasy investment at the back could be the way forward when assessing City, though whether Nastasic can rival Vincent Kompany for security of starts is still perhaps debatable.
The Talking Point
Rafa Benitez’s arrival at the Bridge has hardly proven popular with Chelsea supporters and just two matches into his tenure, he’s quickly turning Fantasy managers against him, too. While the Blues early-season form had started to diminish under Roberto Di Matteo, they were at least still managing to find the net – something they have yet to achieve after 180 minutes under their new manager.
The goalless Gameweek 13 home clash against City can perhaps be excused given the champions’ outstanding defensive form but last night’s derby with Fulham offered Benitez the chance to get three points under his belt. Visitors Fulham had, after all, conceded in all of their previous seven away games and have shipped 16 goals on their travels – the second worst away defence in the league. A victory in the derby over Martin Jol’s side would have appeased the home support to some extent but Benitez instead decided to drop Juan Mata, arguably their most consistent player over the past couple of months, as the Blues ground out another goalless stalemate.
With trips to West Ham and Sunderland in addition to a blank Gameweek 17 on their agenda, many have already decided enough is enough and have shipped out Mata and Eden Hazard in significant numbers this week. While Benitez’s installation may now see our targets turn to the Chelsea backline instead, the stats are a real worry for owners of the midfield duo – the London outfit have just three shots on target in two games since Di Matteo’s departure. With a change in tactics supplemented by his penchant for rotation, the former Liverpool boss has instantly raised real fears over the Fantasy potential of two big-hitters amongst our midfield options – with the likes of Arsenal and Spurs set for kind upcoming schedules, the exodus could pick up in pace, as Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale provide us with in-form premium alternatives in flourishing form.