It’s de ja vu time as we brace ourselves for Chelsea’s second double Gameweek of the season. This time around the London side travel to Stoke before hosting Southampton three days later. Back during the Blues’ double Gameweek 1, decisions over which player to back ended up being season defining – those who backed Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic were handed mega points hauls, while owners of Juan Mata and Fernando Torres and others have arguably been playing catch-up ever since. This time around, though, there are some crucial differences that will shape Fantasy managers’ decisions, not least of which is a change of manager who – to put it mildly – is rather partial to a spot of rotation now and again.
When Rafa Benitez took over the Stamford Bridge reins in Gameweek 13, the future looked bleak for Chelsea’s Fantasy prospects. Two goalless draws were followed by a humiliating 3-1 thrashing away to West Ham but since then they have gradually gelled and discovered an attacking swagger that has made them among the most potent sides in the Premier League in recent weeks. Following their Upton Park defeat, Chelsea have found the net 14 times in the league, including eight against Aston Villa at home in Gameweek 18. Goals have also come on the road, with Chelsea easing three past Sunderland in Gameweek 16 and two against Everton in Gameweek 20. This recent attacking track record suggests the side are more than capable of notching at Stoke and have enough ammunition to inflict a potential avalanche of goals against Southampton at home.
Defensively, the prospects also look favourable. Apart from West Ham no side has managed to score more than one goal against a Benitez-helmed Chelsea in the Premier League. His reign so far also includes four Premier League clean sheets out of eight.
Although Chelsea have the firepower to score against Stoke, the Potters are set to present a stern test for the visitors’ main offensive protagonists. Tony Pulis’ side have conceded just seven goals at the Britannia, the best defensive home record in the Premier League, while five clean sheets in front of their own fans is second only to Liverpool. Southampton did manage to score three against Stoke at home in Gameweek 20, but with key defenders such as Ryan Shawcross absent this was arguably an aberration rather than an indication of faltering defensive form. In attack, however, Stoke have scored just 14 goals at home – the form book would indicate that a low scoring game is in prospect at the Britannia, then.
Against Southampton at home, Chelsea are set to fare better and guessing which players will make the starting XI for this game could be key to racking up a huge haul of points. On their travels, Southampton have shipped 24 goals and failed to register a clean sheet – with 22 goals scored so far at the Bridge, Chelsea will be going into this tie full of confidence.
The Likely Lads
He let many down in Gameweek 1 when he managed just five points across both games, but Juan Mata has been rejuvenated since then and has scored three times, racked up two assists and accrued seven bonus points in eight appearances under Benitez. Chelsea’s highest scoring midfielder in the FPL game, 40 of Mata’s 112 points have come in the last six Gameweeks. With this form he is the stand out pick among Chelsea’s attacking ranks and the best bet for the captain’s armband. As with all Chelsea players, though, the fickle hand of rotation hangs over him, ready to slap him out of the first XI at a moment’s notice. Since Benitez took charge he has left out his countryman twice from the starting line up in the Premier League – both times, this cost him dearly. Against Fulham in Gameweek 14 Mata was brought on for the last 14 minutes, which proved too short a time to avert a 0-0 draw. Most recently against QPR, Mata, who is priced at 9.9m in the FPL game and 8.9m in the Sky Sports game, was only brought on in the 74th minute; leaving him little time to halt a 1-0 defeat. Dare Benitez leave out the jewel in Chelsea’s crown again so soon after the QPR defeat?
Eden Hazard, who is priced at 9.5m in the FPL game and 7.7m in the Sky Sports game, is another that was left out of that QPR defeat and has also been dropped from the starting line up twice under Benitez. He is also often one of the first midfielders to be subbed off by Benitez, with the Belgian only completing 90 minutes twice since the former Liverpool and Inter Milan manager took charge. Nevertheless, he is the second highest scoring Chelsea midfielder in the FPL game with 108 points and offers a goal and assist threat that is impossible to ignore. This season he has racked up four goals and 11 assists as well as accruing 8 bonus points –under Benitez, the Belgian has scored once and has two assists in the Premier League.
He may be set to leave Chelsea this summer but Frank Lampard, priced at 8.4m in both the FPL and Sky Sports games, has been rolling back the years in recent weeks to show the West London club what they will be missing. After recovering from an injury in Gameweek 16 he has scored three times, including a brace away to Everton in Gameweek 20 – with penalties and set pieces in his locker, the veteran could be a shrewd investment during the double Gameweek. Rotation is once again his biggest enemy, though. Since Gameweek 16 he has started three league matches and managed the full 90 minutes just once. Among our main midfield targets, Lampard was the only one not to make the starting XI during Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final clash with Swansea last night; he did come on later in the game, which could indicate he is at least set to start against Stoke.
Playing with a front three, the central striker role is crucial to Chelsea’s formation and Fantasy managers’ selection. The big question though is which of Fernando Torres and new recruit Demba Ba will play in that role during the double Gameweek. Benitez has hinted that the pair can play together, but the likely scenario is that just one will be used up front. This was certainly the case during the midweek Carling One Cup clash, where the former Newcastle man replaced Torres, who is priced at 9.8m in the FPL game and 9.5m in the Sky Sports game. The smart money, given Benitez’s passion of rotation, is that Ba will start one of the games, probably against Stoke, and Torres tasked with putting Southampton to the sword. If Benitez breaks with form and opts for his best team and attacking outlet then Ba, who is priced at 8.6m in the FPL game and has a 9m price tag in the Sky Sports game, has the clear edge. He has already scored a brace on his Chelsea debut, against Southampton in the FA Cup, and is the side’s top FPL points scorer with 115, although all these were achieved with Newcastle. With 13 goals and three assists this season, if he plays he is likely to score. Torres has been much maligned since joining Chelsea and has never lived up to his £50m price tag but has, nevertheless, managed seven goals, five assists and eight FPL bonus points this season. So far he has four double digit Gameweeks under his belt.
In defence, David Luiz, priced at 6.7m by FPL and 6.8m in the Sky Sports game, is among the safest picks, with the versatility of being able to play defensive midfield and centre back roles. Jon Obi Mikel’s departure to the African Cup of Nations will give his owners confidence that Luiz can retain a midfield berth in the starting XI over both games. Ashley Cole was another to be rested against QPR, which lessens the threat of rotation, but with a price tag of 6.7m in the FPL game (7.3m in the Sky Sports game) and only one double digit FPL score so far, Luiz, who also has set piece duties in his repertoire, arguably offers a better option than the left-back. Right back Cesar Azpilicueta does have the benefit of costing just 5.7m in the FPL game and 5.5m in the Sky Sports game, but with just two assists, two bonus points and no goals, his owners are likely to be reliant on clean sheets. Gary Cahill is reasonably priced at 6.2m in the FPL game and offers attacking threat with two goals and assists under his belt, but if Chelsea’s injured captain John Terry returns his place will surely come under threat.
While Branislav Ivanovic should be the pick of Chelsea’s defenders, sitting on 93 points and able to play centre back and right back, his woeful display midweek against Swansea places a question mark over his place in the starting XI. His two blunders led to both goals and having started every Premier League game under Benitez, the manager may feel he is due a rest and Fantasy managers may think his 7.1m price tag in the FPL game and cost of 7.2m in the Sky Sports game is too high. In goal the 4.3m FPL priced Ross Turnbull, who costs 3.9m in the Sky game, is the cheapest option, but his decision making also played a part in both Swansea goals midweek and brings his security of starts in the absence of the injured Petr Cech into doubt, as Hilario waits in the wings.
Oscar has not set the Premier League alight yet and so far failed to replicate his outstanding Champions League form but, priced at £7.8m in FPL and with five assists so far, he could be worth a gamble if he can improve on his recent gametime. Certainly, Victor Moses’ departure to the African Cup of Nations could boost his chances. Similarly, Ramires could also do well over the two games. With John Obi Mikel set to represent Nigeria along with Moses, competition for midfield places lessens and could improve on the Brazilian’s game time. Even as a substitute Ramires, who is priced at 6.2m by FPL, can do damage, scoring twice against Aston Villa in Gameweek 18 after coming on in the 60th minute.