United are dug out of another hole by their attack, while City are left in a rut by their failing strikers. Elsewhere, Dimitar Berbatov delivered on his Christmas promise as Chelsea continue to show improved form with Juan Mata and the back four again combining to good effect. Here’s the Stock Check on Boxing Day’s action so far…
On the Up
As we mentioned in our earlier Watchlist article, Berbatov is rather fond of the Christmas period. Having scored 14 goals in 11 appearances between December 26-31, he duly added another strike to that tally with the opener against the Saints. The goal saw him reveal a t-shirt in celebration that read “keep calm and pass me the ball” and it will be Berbatov’s Fantasy owners who will be a lot calmer now he’s struck his first goal in eight matches. With fixtures falling nicely for the Bulgarian and Bryan Ruiz back in the picture, the immediate future looks good although Fulham are still struggling for fluidity and form.
Having missed out on the Villa goal glut, Mata struck a seventh goal of the season, his third strike in four league matches, to justify his return to the Scout Picks. With Eden Hazard rested to the bench, Mata offered another reminder that he’s the key attacking talent in Rafa Benitez’s squad.
Retained in the central midfield role while Benitez rotated the troops around him, it’s starting to look as though Luiz is a genuine “out of position” prospect. With attacking intent and direct free-kicks in his locker, we could see reasonable investment in the Brazilian with the January wildcards. Meanwhile, the Chelsea back four earned their fourth clean sheet in their last six league matches to underline just why Luiz could be a canny acquisition.
Robin Van Persie
With Rooney in the stands, the Dutchman delivered yet again, serving up goal and assist returns as United battled for the three points. It could have been so much more but, for those who backed the likes of Michu for fear of United rotation, Van Persie again showed little mercy to underline his incredible consistency.
A minor doubt going into the City clash, Johnson recovered from a dead leg to notch against his former club – his third goal of the season. The winger has now scored or assisted in four of his last six league matches for the Black Cats. While Sessegnon has also shown improved form of late, Johnson’s 6.7 price tag in the FPL perhaps makes him a more accessible target for those looking to invest in Sunderland’s improved run of form .
The Sunderland Defence
That recent upturn has been built on a defensive foundation that has Sunderland claim three clean sheets in the last four Gameweeks. The likes of Simon Mignolet and Carlos Cuellar have continued to offer strong returns, then, even after the double fixture in Gameweek 16.
Rotation in the United frontline looked likely, with Rooney perhaps always the favourite to make way. News that he and Ashley Young picked up injuries in training on Christmas day is a bigger concern, however, given that Rooney’s owners will be banking on an immediate recall and start against West Brom at Old Trafford on Saturday. We await official confirmation from the club, although early reports quote Sir Alex Ferguson stating that he expects Rooney to face “two to three weeks” on the sidelines after suffering ligament damage.
The United Defence
While both Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans struck their fourth goals of the season, they are being forced to contribute attacking returns to make up for a woeful defensive record. United’s back four has now conceded ten goals in the last five league games: it’s just one clean sheet in twelve now for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and he won’t be happy, despite three points today.
The City Attack
Roberto Mancini’s side struggled to break down a determined Reading at the weekend and today they fell short against an equally resolute Sunderland effort. While owners of Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez will be grateful for their two consecutive starts, there is surely growing concern after two more blanks. It’s no goal in the last four starts for Tevez, one goal in the last seven league outings for Aguero.
It’s just one assist in the last ten league starts for Baines as the Everton back four continue to concede goals and struggle for clean sheets. David Moyes’ side last kept a shut-out back in Gameweek 5, having conceded a single goal in every one of their last seven league matches.
Dropped for the trip to City on Saturday, the left-back found himself benched again for the visit of Swansea with Ian Harte now seemingly above him in the pecking order. Harte, at just 3.8 in the FPL, now becomes a decent budget option in his own right with set-piece potential on offer.
The Reading Attack
Like Southampton, it had looked as though Reading’s main concerns were at the back and yet, after today’s 0-0 draw, Brian McDermott’s side have scored in just one of the last five league outings – the two goals in the 5-2 defeat to Arsenal. Backing Reading’s opponents for a shut-out looks to be a more viable tactic than ever.
It’s early days but the news of the Spaniard hobbling off at Reading with ten minutes to go is a cause for concern ahead of Swansea’s trip to Fulham. Michu saw plenty of armband attention going into today’s game but featched a rare blank – it’s only the second time in six league matches that Michu has failed to score.
While the news that the Moroccan was left out of his national squad for the African Cup of Nations will have boosted his stock, his failure to deliver against West Brom offered a reminder at the level of inconsistency you have to suffer with this player. A genius at times, Taarabt needs to improve on a record of returns in just two of his last seven if he is to help save QPR and earn further Fantasy suitors.
The Belgian returned 11 points in the drubbing of Villa on Sunday, only to be the latest to fall foul of Rafa’s rotation policy at Carrow Road today. With Mata underlining his superiority with a seventh goal of the season, Hazard dips again.