City fire blanks to leave Mancini baffled. A crocked Michu causes concern. Wayne Rooney’s injury clears the way for Javier Hernandez to star. Gareth Bale’s rampant form continues, while Martin Jol’s mood fails to be lifted by Fulham’s draw and Dimitar Berbatov’s message. Here’s a helping of Scout Notes from the Boxing Day action…
Mancini Laments City’s “Soft” Attack
Man City’s struggle to score goals was again singled out as the reason behind the shock 1-0 defeat the Stadium of Light. Roberto Mancini carried out a frustrated attack on his players’ inability to take their chances after watching his side produce attempt after attempt without registering…
“We deserved to win this game. We had a lot of chances, we played well, but we didn’t score. This is our problem, we don’t score, we don’t score enough goals to win the game. Last year, we scored one, two, three goals every game. Now when we have chances, we are too soft and this is not good. We are too soft in attack, too soft when we have chances, too soft when we shoot. Sometimes we don’t shoot, we want to have one touch more. This is not good.”
City’s trials in front of goal are quite remarkable when you compare their tally to last season. So far this term they have scored just 34 goals in 19 league matches; at the same stage last season they had notched 53 goals, converting 14.7% of their shots into goals. This season’s conversion rate has been 9.9%.
The away form has been particularly stifled, with just 12 goals scored from their nine games on the road. In contrast, neighbours United have 22 goals on their travels.
For Fantasy managers, the frustration with both Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez continues. Aguero has just one goal in his last seven league appearances – that’s a single goal in 562 minutes of Premier League football – Robin Van Persie, Jermain Defoe and Wayne Rooney have all scored five goals in this same spell.
Tevez has fared little better – one goal in his last six league appearances, with two assists in the defeat to United appeasing his faithful owners. The Argentine is still owned by over 39% of Fantasy Premier League managers but was second only to the injured Wayne Rooney for transfers out overnight.
Regardless of the clear issues up front and, despite previously stressing that he would be required to rotate his strikers for the busy Christmas programme, Mancini has stuck by his Argentine pairing. However, once again, he indicated that changes would be afoot…
“It depends on us because the season is long and we can recover, no problem, but we need to change something in our team because we cannot continue like this.”
We’ve given up trying to predict Mancini’s teamsheet, as it’s clear he cannot be taken on his word. We can only wait on his starting XI for the trip to Norwich to asses the fallout from the recent failings in front of goal.
Rooney Blow Brings Hernandez In From the Cold
We’ve already focused on the injury to Wayne Rooney, revealed post-match by Sir Alex Ferguson, a blow which robbed United of Rooney’s menace in the 4-3 victory over Newcastle. With Danny Welbeck missing out through illness and Javier Hernandez fetching goal and assist returns, the Mexican now looks well placed to face West Brom this weekend. Hernandez is available for 6.9 in the Fantasy Premier League and has scored 10 goals this term, from just five league starts. Robin Van Persie’s security of starts also looks stronger for the Baggies clash and, having fetched a goal and assist in the Magpies win, the Dutchman will again emerge as the leading candidate for the armband.
Michu Crocked As The Goal Glut Is Halted
Having scored six goals in his last five league matches and with an inviting trip to Reading beckoning, the omens looked good for Michu. Fantasy managers spooked by Sir Alex Ferguson’s rotation policy up front handed the Swansea man the captaincy in hope that he could put the Royals to the sword. Michaal Laudrup’s side drew a blank, however, with Michu missing several opportunities to add to his goal tally. He also limped from the field with ten minutes remaining, after suffering an ankle injury. Laudrup brought us this post-match, on Michu’s condition…
“His ankle is twice as big now. We don’t know how bad it is. The doctors and the physios say it shouldn’t be the ligaments, which is the most important thing. The next question is ‘will he play on Saturday?’ I don’t know. We will have to wait 24 hours. Hopefully it is not too bad. It is not a muscle injury but still we have to be careful. He has to be 100 per cent. He is one of the top scorers in the league, definitely our top scorer. He has played nearly every match this season. Even if he is the most important player, we have to deal with it (if he is out). If you rely so much on one or two players it is not good for any team.”
Swansea face a trip to Fulham on Saturday and, whilst Michu is clearly a doubt for that game, Laudrup sounds hopeful on his chances of turning out. The Spaniard is still one booking away from a ban and, with the injury compounding matters, it’s possible that Laudrup will choose to take Michu out of the firing line to protect him for the home clash with Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.
The Bale Force Blows Villa Away
Gareth Bale became the second midfielder to deliver a hat-trick in the last three Gameweeks, following on from Santi Cazorla’s treble at Reading with a devastating trio of goals in Tottenham’s 4-0 win. Not surprisingly, it was Bale that drew the plaudits, with his manager, Andre Villas-Boas heaping praise on his star asset…
“He is up there with the best. He is showing tremendous skills and talent, I think he is improving every day – he is such a young player – and he is helping the team…His finishing is very accurate. He has been prolific in front of goal this season and I think he is enjoying getting into those positions. His left foot is wonderful and the power and direction he applies on the ball is wonderful too.”
Bale had returned goals in three consecutive matches from Gameweeks 12-14, only to be derailed by a hamstring injury suffered in the 3-0 win at Fulham. That kept Bale sidelined until last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Stoke. While the Potters managed to keep Bale at bay, he has now picked up his form once again and looked almost unplayable against an admittedly obliging Villa defence. Owned by just over 16% of the Fantasy Premier League manager base, we’re sure to see huge investment going in his direction over the next few Gameweeks, with over 40,000 bringing in the Welshman overnight.
While he has mustered just two goals and an assist in front of his own fans, Bale’s away form is quite extraordinary with seven goals and three assists to his name. With trips to Sunderland and QPR sandwiching a home clash with Reading, the short-term promises yet more returns for the rampant winger.
Mata the Constant Amongst Rafa’s Rotation
While Rafa Benitez chose to rotate Eden Hazard to the bench, bringing Oscar back into his starting lineup at Norwich, it was Juan Mata who again took centre stage, expertly firing Chelsea’s goal which was then defended manfully by an improved defensive unit.
Once again, Benitez stressed the need for his rotation policy post-match…
“It’s not easy to keep the same players. I like to change players and move them around because we have to manage the squad who are really tired. I think it’s really important to change players and today we had one or two new additions and that was good for the team… We can’t play so many game with the same players so we have to manage and everyone is important.”
While Mata has been subject to this rotation, he has started the last four league outings and has rewarded his manager’s faith as a result. The Spaniard has struck three goals in those four starts, taking him to seven for the season. From Benitez’s post-match eulogies, Mata appears to be edging towards the status of an untouchable…
“He [Mata] is playing really well.Even without the ball he is working hard but when we are in possession he is making the difference, I always say the same; if the team are playing well these players can make the difference.I think the Premier League has a lot of good players and Mata is one of the best for sure – he can be even better. Mata is a player who is dangerous – inside the box and outside the box, we are really pleased with him…He has clever movement. He can play high, he can play deeper, he can go into the right spaces. He always makes it difficult for the defenders or the midfielders.”
Luiz Relishing Advanced Role
While Mata occupied the Norwich defence with his trickery, Benitez again deployed David Luiz in the defensive midfield role, recalling Mikel alongside him and relegating Frank Lampard to the bench. With John Terry expected to return to boost Benitez’s options in defence, Luiz would seem likely to get the opportunity for continued run-outs in this role and, with an attacking intent and direct free-kicks in his repertoire, the Brazilian could yet emerge as a sound “out of position” investment for 2013.
Luiz is priced at 6.6 in the Fantasy Premier League game and enjoyed over 5000 transfers in overnight, more than any other Chelsea defender. With four clean sheets in the last six, it’s clear that the Blues defence is now one of the more secure and consistent around, adding further credence to the acquisition of Luiz.
Jol Frustrated By Fulham Form
While Dimitar Berbatov struck his first goal in eight matches to calm the nerves of his Fantasy owners and justify the recent faith, his manager Martin Jol was far from impressed by the Fulham performance in the 1-1 draw with Southampton. The Cottagers boss first reserved comment for Berabtov’s t-shirt, displayed on scoring the opening goal against the Saints. The slogan read “keep calm and pass me the ball” and, by revealing it, Berbatov earned himself a booking and his manager’s wrath…
“That was stupid and I need to have a word with him. He probably thought ‘I will never get booked’ because he never gets booked, so he probably thought he’d get away with it. But later, he had a situation, so I will have to have a word with him. He wanted to make a statement. He’s telling us every day, especially the youngsters, to play with confidence, keep the ball, don’t be afraid to play. That is what he wants. Today, again, I think he was right. You need confidence and self belief to play your football and I won’t say it was terrible, but it was not good enough to earn a win…Most weeks, you are not surprised to see him [Berbatov] more or less disappointed with himself, and of course [disappointed] if we don’t play in the style he wants us to play. But I’m happy with him.”
From that, it appears that the relationship between Berbatov and his team-mates and manager is still not quite what it should be, with Jol again singling out Berbatov’s mood as a factor. Jol then went on to criticise his team’s performance, stressing the need to get Berbatov an improved level of service…
“We didn’t link up in midfield and it was almost a typical, rainy old fashioned long ball game, and that is not what we want – especially not the players up front. My defenders had to play straight balls up to Berbatov most of the time, and that is not what he wants or what we want.”
Yesterday’s draw did at least see the return of Bryan Ruiz as a second half substitute and the Costa Rican will now, presumably, be in line for a start against Swansea at the weekend. His presence is likely to improve the link play with the midfield and allow Berbatov to roam up front as the central striker. It remains to be seen if this can improve Jol’s mood.
Potters Defence Hit By Bans
While so many players look to be successfully navigating the perils fo the suspension tightrope, Stoke pairing Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron were unable to steer past the December 31 curfew, picking up their fifth bookings in last night’s 3-1 victory over Liverpool. Both Shawcross and Cameron will now miss the potentially profitable home clash with Southampton at the weekend, with Matt Upson and Ryan Shotton likely to fill the void – both were kept on the bench against Liverpool.
Jones Keeps Crouch Waiting
While Stoke’s defence has been heralded, the form of Kenwyne Jones up front is another major plus for Tony Pulis. Jones came out of last night’s encounter with goal and assist returns and is keeping Peter Crouch camped on the Stoke bench. Pulis had this to say, post-match, on his blossoming striker…
“Kenwyne has done smashing again…Crouchy is chomping at the bit to get back in the side, but if Kenwyne keeps playing the way he is playing at the moment, it is extremely difficult to leave him out. If he plays to his maximum all the time, he is as much of a handful as any striker in the Premier League. He’s got everything in his locker, so it’s just getting him to do that. Tonight, he certainly did that to great effect and I thought he was fantastic.”
With Stoke facing up to Southampton at the Britannia next, Jones, at just 5.0 in the FPL, looks a very decent short-term budget option for those looking to free up funds for heavy-hitter acquisition.
Rodgers Optimistic on Suarez Knock
Liverpool will be licking their wounds following the defeat to Stoke, with Luis Suarez, in particular, causing some concern. He was seen struggling with an ankle injury late on and Brendan Rodgers was quick to address the knock in his post-match analysis…
“He’s been playing with a swollen ankle for the last few weeks…We’ll wait until the morning to see how he is but he is a warrior and he should be fine for the weekend
From that, it seems possible that Suarez will emerge as a doubt for Liverpool’s trip to Loftus Road at the weekend, with his Fantasy owners now eagerly waiting on updates from the Liverpool camp.