Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez bag a brace apiece as United overpower Wigan. Sergio Aguero is pivotal for City before limping off with a hamstring problem, Dimitar Berbatov notches in Fulham’s win at West Brom, Christian Benteke returns to form for Villa, while Theo Walcott is amongst the points again as Arsenal stutter at Southampton:
Van Persie Rolls on Relentlessly
Back in the first XI after a brief sub appearance last time out, Robin Van Persie continued to storm away from the pack at the top of the Fantasy standing with his biggest points haul of the season. Two goals and an assist helped see off Wigan as United ended the festive period with three wins and a draw from four games – a quarter of fixtures which harvested four goals, three assists and four bonus points for the Dutchman. It seems to make no difference whether he’s partnered by either Wayne Rooney or Javier Hernandez up top for the Red Devils; the points simply keep coming. Van Persie has now produced attacking returns in each of his last eight and has scored or assisted in 16 of his 18 starts since moving to Old Trafford last summer – a total of 16 goals and nine assists means for many, the captaincy option has simply become a mere formality this season.
Hernandez mirrored Van Persie’s returns to add to a goal and assist from his previous start, in Gameweek 19 at home to Newcastle. Clearly, he remains behind Wayne Rooney in the pecking order and will surely drop out when the former Everton man recovers from a knee injury but the Mexican’s contribution has been key for Sir Alex Ferguson – he has netted eight times and provided four assists in just 605 minutes, compared to Rooney’s seven goals and seven assists in 1081 minutes.
United’s Defensive Resolve
While the men up front hogged the headlines, yesterday’s 4-0 win was the first time this season United have registered back-to-back clean sheets. Having seen off West Brom at Old Trafford at the weekend, Ferguson made two changes to his backline, with Rafael and Rio Ferdinand in for Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidic – Evans has now started the last four and with three goals chalked up already, the 5.8 priced defender may be one to consider for those flourishing winter wildcards. Certainly, an upturn in resilience at the back looks crucial – although they have scored 54 times (13 more than City), United have conceded 28 goals, only five less than last season – as a result, their goal difference is only four better than City’s right now.
City Find their Stride
The champions added to their 4-3 win at Norwich by seeing off Stoke with ease at the Etihad. Sergio Aguero mirrored his Carrow Road 11 points return with a goal and assist in the 3-0 win – the first time he has produced back-to-back attacking returns since Gameweek 12. Indeed, prior to the Norwich match, Aguero had just one double figure return this term – a sign of his flourishing form and with 10 starts in his last 11, he seems to be immune to rest and rotation, with the club’s exit from Europe now looking likely to secure his status in the City XI. Post-match, however, David Platt ruled Aguero out of the weekend FA Cup game with Watford and admitted there are worries over his availability for the Gameweek 22 clash with Arsenal on January 12 after the Argentine was subbed off with a hamstring problem late on:
“Sergio won’t play at the weekend and is probably doubtful for the trip to Arsenal but we’ll know more in 48 hours. It’s too early to make an accurate assessment but it’s a blow for us because he’s been playing so well. There are different degrees of hamstring injuries which is why we need to assess the extent of what has happened until Thursday.”
The news could boost Edin Dzeko’s stock further. The Bosnian has scored in consecutive matches since being given the opportunity to start at Norwich and it will be interesting to see if he is kept out of City’s FA Cup tie at the weekend in order to preserve him for the Arsenal clash in Gameweek 22. Should he be absent from the starting XI in the Cup, the 7.3 striker will appear to be cementing his start.
David Silva chipped in with another assist yesterday to continue his recent consistent spell. The Spaniard has now produced attacking points in four of the last five and although he has just one goal to his name, Silva has provided nine assists – only Eden Hazard (11) and Carlos Tevez (10) have managed more. At the back, Pablo Zabaleta staked a case for our consideration. Having now started 10 of the last 11, the Argentine has benefitted from injuries to right-back rivals Maicon and Micah Richards and with Matija Nastasic perhaps unexpectedly dropping out at centre-half, Zabaleta looks the most assured mid-price route into Mancini’s defence. A goal and maximum bonus points, in addition to a clean sheet, returned 15 points for his Fantasy owners. Joleon Lescott was drafted in to face Stoke, with Roberto Mancini perhaps recognising his aerial ability and Premier League know-how as an effective counter measure against the Potters. It remains to be seen if, having earned a clean sheet, Lescott can retain his start for Gameweek 22’s trip to the Emirates.
Berbatov Upturn Continues
The Bulgarian is another who has proved to be a strong value over the festive period. Berbatov’s opener against West Brom took his tally to 23 points over the four festive Gameweeks, with attacking returns in each of his last three. There’s no doubt his resurgence has coincided with Bryan Ruiz’s comeback from injury – Berbatov had previously gone seven games without a goal or assist but back in his preferred advance role, with the Costa Rican pulling the string behind him, he is back on Fantasy radars as the winter wildcard kicks in. Ruiz also produced the goods again, with a goal and a couple of bonus points as the Cottagers secured a crucial win – he has now produced two goals and eight assists over just 12 appearances. Coming in at 5.4 and with an average of 4.8 points per game, Ruiz looks a viable alternative for those seeking a cut-price third forward.
Lukaku Notches Again
Handed his third start in the last four, the giant Belgian grabbed West Brom’s consolation in the home defeat by Fulham. Lukaku has featured in the first XI seven times so far and has scored on five of those occasions – forward rival Shane Long has scored in just five of his 15 starts, by comparison. Looking at the pair’s respective game times, Lukaku’s displays are certainly worthy of more game time – he has seven goals over 857 minutes, compared to Long’s five strikes in 1217 minutes – having started three of the last four, he may well be edging ahead of the Republic of Ireland international in the pecking order. The one caveat to Lukaku’s potential is the possibility that he could be recalled from his loan spell by Chelsea. Post-match, Steve Clarke was again keen to avoid discussion on this…
“We haven’t had any dialogue with Chelsea about Romelu. There is a period in January where they can recall him. Like I said before, we can’t affect it, so I prefer not to talk about it. I’ve said all along that the squad I started the season with, I wanted to keep for the whole season. Rom is a part of that squad and, if we can keep him here, that would be great.”
Benteke Boosts Villa
It seems to be all or nothing when it comes to Benteke. A goal and assist at Swansea earned him a second double figure haul in the last five Gameweeks, with no more than blanks in between. Paul Lambert’s side arrived on the back of three hammerings and had scored in just one of their previous five but the Belgian proved their talisman at the Liberty – he has now scored or assisted 10 of the midlanders’ 15 goals since making his debut in Gameweek 4. With Southampton, West Brom and Newcastle up next, he clearly has the potential for points and although his lack of consistency is a real issue, a price of 6.7 may appeal for those shopping for a mid-price, guaranteed starter.
Villa’s Casualties Mount
Paul Lambert’s ability to revive Villa’s fortunes are being limited by a string of injuries, a trend which continued in yesterday’s clash. Ashley Westwood is the latest casualty – he suffered an ankle problem in a tangle with Michu, with Paul Lambert sounding pessimistic on his early prognosis…
“It looks it at the minute. It’s his ankle. He’s hobbling about. It will be a blow if he’s out because we have too many at the moment. We have some lads at the training ground too. Hopefully we can get one or two of them back very soon.”
McDermott Explains Shorey Absence
Since being dropped to the bench at Man City in Gameweek 18, Nicky Shorey has been out of the matchday squad and his Fantasy owners have been selling on the left-back, resigned to the fact that Ian Harte was now above him in the pecking order. However, following the 3-1 defeat at Spurs, the Reading boss revealed that Shorey has in fact been absent through illness…
“Nick had a little virus. I put Ian Harte in for the game against Manchester City and he’s had a virus since then, he hasn’t been involved because of that. I think he had a little check-up at hospital so hopefully he’s coming through that.”
We’ve no guarantee that Shorey will earn a recall once fit but this does shed some light on the situation and offer some reassurance that Shorey isn’t yet frozen out in the Royals’ camp.
Hernandez Maintains Consistency
Michu’s recovery from an ankle injury raised hopes of a points haul against Villa but while the Spaniard ultimately disappointed, his compatriot Pablo Hernandez registered an assist in the 2-2 draw. The former Valencia man has now produced back-to-back assists since returning from a hamstring injury against Fulham last weekend and has offered a steady stream of points, when fit and available. Factoring in a five-game absence between Gameweeks 15-19, Hernandez has now scored or assisted in six of his last nine match for the Swans and, since netting in Gameweek 8 against Wigan, hasn’t gone more than a single appearance without producing attacking points. With 44.8% ownership, Michu is obviously the main Swansea midfielder of choice and while Hernandez is far less explosive, he continues to tick over nicely and comes in at just 5.9, with an ownership under 1%.
O’Brien Stakes a Double Gameweek Claim
The full-back vindicated our decision to hand him a place in the Scout Picks squad by returning a 15-point haul at home to Norwich as the Hammers won for the first time in five. O’Brien was subbed off with a knock prior to his side conceding, affording him clean sheet points in addition to a goal and maximum bonus – providing he shakes off the problem, he’ll be firmly on Fantasy radars for those eyeing up a West Ham defender for their upcoming double Gameweek. The 4.4 priced defender has now started each of the last 11 for Sam Allardyce’s side and with two goals, two assists and eight bonus points accrued, has averaged 4.6 points per game so far – Winston Reid is the next best Hammers defender, with 3.5 points per game by comparison.
Walcott Outshines Cazorla Again
The Gunners midfielders have both been earmarked by many ahead of the upcoming double Gameweek and while Cazorla drew a blank at St Mary’s, Walcott’s somewhat fortuitous assist maintained his record of picking up attacking points in all four games since moving to the lone forward role. Indeed, since nailing down a starting berth in Gameweek 11, Walcott has proven to be significantly more consistent than Cazorla in the subsequent eight games they have started together. Walcott has scored or assisted in seven of those featured fixtures and has bettered Cazorla’s FPL score on five occasions – Cazorla has proven superior twice, with one Gameweek drawn. Their respective scores in those matches have Walcott way out in front, with 77 points to Cazorla’s 52 highlighting their form heading into the double fixture in Gameweek 23.
Saints Shut Up Shop
Southampton again demonstrated new defensive resolve with the point against Arsenal, as Nigel Adkins tinkered with his side to counter the threat from the visitors. Jack Cork was deployed at right-back, with Steven Davis drafted into the midfield and the Southampton boss also went with the experience of Artur Boruc in goal. Post-match, Adkins explained his decision here, whilst praising the performance of Cork at full-back…
“Artur has had a shaky little start to the game, but he’s gathered his composure and that’s what you know you’re going to get when you’ve got an experienced goalkeeper. He’s been very impressive in training, his attitude has been outstanding so I’ve given him the opportunity today. Everyone knows how much I like Kelvin I think he’s top drawer, but I look at Jack Cork as well who got man of the match and what a great job he did in there. Jack Cork and Luke Shaw at full back I thought were outstanding. Jose and Maya in the heart of defence have kept Theo Walcott very, very quiet there, but when we’ve got the ball, we’ve moved it about well and created opportunities.”
Southampton have shown an improvement defensively over the past two months, whilst perhaps sacrificing some of their attacking verve. Adkins clearly feels he has now got the balance right, however…
“It’s only two defeats in ten that we’ve had, we’ve played Arsenal and I thought we were very good again today. Tactically I thought we were spot on, we had a good defensive shape about ourselves in what we were doing. Arsenal have been spanking teams for fun of late, scoring goals and they’ve got massive threats which we’ve nullified.”