For some, there are many better things to do with a Tuesday night than watch Sunderland v Reading, but that’s never stopped us before – and braving a few Fantasy bucks can distil a dram of excitement from even the most brackish encounter. Indeed for those Fantasy managers who, like me, are accustomed to finding their excitement in a glum waltz of foreboding, despair and regret, this double Gameweek could be a veritable humdinger.
The optimism that attended Martin O’Neill’s arrival at the Stadium of Light has wilted over the course of Sunderland’s graceless slump towards a relegation dogfight, and with only one win on the books since September, hope is beginning to displace expectation on weary Wearside. With just 14 goals from their 15 games, Fantasy managers might be forgiven for casting a suspicious glance at O’Neill’s attacking assets, but with the spoils confined to a narrow clique, Sunderland’s poverty of plan-Bs does serve to enrich the ease of our deliberations. In defence the mood music is more upbeat and investors might justly repose a degree of confidence in the affordable options abounding in a Black Cats’ back line sitting mid-table in terms of clean sheets accrued.
With a couplet of home clashes against Chelsea and Reading on the cards, a constellation of capital letters lights up a season ticker torn betwixt red and blue, and with storm clouds ahead on the fixture list, investors will be looking primarily to Tuesday’s game to eke out a subsistence from their Sunderland selections.
The Likely Lads
Nailed on between the sticks and perched precariously atop the stoppers’ Watchlist, Simon Mignolet offers guaranteed game time and an average of over three saves per appearance to compliment Sunderland’s four clean sheets. Priced at 5.1 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) and 4.4 in the Sky Sports game, the Belgian is the costliest FPL route into the back line, but an 18 point-advantage over his nearest defensive competitor highlights his appeal.
With three long-range strikes in the 2010/11 season, foraging full-back Phil Bardsley enjoys a marginal, and probably ill-deserved, pre-eminence over his defensive contemporaries in the collective memory of the Fantasy Football community. Missing the start of the season through injury, Bardsley is back with a bang and peppering opposing keepers at the rate of a shot every three games. Despite this tour-de-force of attacking intent, 99.9% of FPL managers think 4.8 is a bit steep – a price of 5.8 in the Sky game is likely to deter many.
Coming in at 4.6 in FPL and 4.8 in the Sky game, Carlos Cuellar is the most well-trodden route into the Sunderland defence – and with good reason. Garnering a whopping 145 FPL points in his last full season with Villa (by way of context the free-scoring Thomas Vermaelen is yet to break the 140 point barrier in any season) he’s the cheapest guaranteed starter, has a goal to his credit, and has already recorded as many shots as the rest of the Sunderland defence combined. In terms of bang for your defensive buck – look no further.
Severely restricted for game time over his final two seasons at Manchester City, Adam Johnson still achieved the minor miracle of bringing home triple digits in both campaigns. Hotly tipped following his summer move to Sunderland, Johnson seems to have fallen victim to the general attacking malaise on Wearside. Showing signs of life in recent weeks with a goal and three assists in his last five, his returns remain a pallid reflection of his explosive exploits at the Etihad. Priced at a middle-of-the-road 6.8 in FPL, the rediscovery of his wonted vim and vigour would make a mockery of that valuation – a cost of 5.8 in the Sky looks even more enticing.
Another casualty of Sunderland’s lacklustre start is the industrious Stephane Sessegnon. Kicking off the FPL season at 8.0 in light of his 161 point haul last time out, the Benin international has a paltry two goals and one assist to show for his exertions thus far. With all of his returns coming in the last four weeks we can delineate an upward trajectory in form, just not as easily as his downward trajectory in price. Currently tipping the FPL and Sky scales at 7.5 and 7.7 respectively, Sessegnon offered plenty goal threat in recent weeks from his support role behind Steven Fletcher –a proven performer and a genuine out-of-position pick, he is sure to attract interest.
Currently priced at 7.2 in FPL and 7.7 in the Sky game, Steven Fletcher has been an oasis of productivity in Sunderland’s goalscoring desert since his summer move from Wolves. With six goals, two assists and 16 bonus points he is sitting pretty as the Black Cats’ leading point scorer on 69 FPL points. Whilst the goals have dried up somewhat since his opening burst of five in four, he remains the pivotal figure in a misfiring attack, and the most likely goalscorer from the Sunderland ranks on any given day. Subbed off with an ankle injury in Sunday’s defeat at the hands of Norwich, potential investors will need to monitor the updates from the Stadium of Light over the coming days before taking the plunge.
Deployed for much of the campaign as a makeshift fullback, and only returning to his customary central midfield berth in Gameweek 13, it may be surprising to discover that Craig Gardner is level with Stephane Sessegnon in terms of shots for the season. Scoring twice already since his return to the central fray, Gardner has also offered plenty threat thanks to his lion’s share of set-pieces duties. Playing the full 90 minutes on Sunday, question marks over his game time since his repositioning appear to be easing, and tipping the scales at an uber-cheeky 4.9 in FPL and 5.2 in the Sky game, he offers speculators a viable cut price punt for the forthcoming double.