The Pre-Match Preamble – Gameweek 22

Filed under: The Preamble - Posted by: Mark

In Rafa we trust. These are words that choke in the throat, that almost cramp the fingers as they are typed. As Fantasy managers, it’s a sentence that seems unnatural and illogical and yet, on the edge of another Gameweek deadline, there are thousands praying at the altar of Rafa, clinging to the hope that his teamsheet twiddling will fall kindly.

Today’s three o’clock trip to the Britannia is not a fixture that would normally find us backing Chelsea’s playmakers, or even a new centre-forward bristling with confidence. The midweek meeting with Southampton has lured our attention with promise of follow-up returns, bolstering whatever can be grappled from Tony Pulis pugilists today.

The problem, of course, is that anticipating those lucky enough to feast on two bites of the Gameweek cherry is nigh-on impossible. Having seen Demba Ba score twice against Southampton in the FA Cup and witnessed an impressive ten minute cameo in the midweek Capital One Cup slump to Swansea, we can be reasonably happy that he has a good chance of seeing action across both matches. The situation with Juan Mata is perhaps less certain.

Controversially rested for the clash with QPR last time out, that was the first time in five Gameweeks that Mata had failed to return a goal or assist for Rafa’s side. The decision to rest such an influential player, along with Eden Hazard, was surely at the root of the shock defeat and we can perhaps take some comfort from this; hoping that Rafa will perhaps be wary of taking chances over the approaching double-header.

Chelsea’s schedule is punishing. Four matches in the space of eleven days provides Rafa all he needs to justify rotation. With Arsenal following just four days after the home clash with Southampton, will Benitez really be able to resist preserving Mata and Hazard for the Gunners visit?

In normal circumstances it perhaps seems unlikely. The absence of Mikel and Victor Moses do, at least, narrow his options in midfield areas. Ramires may have to be utilised in the defensive midfield position in one of the next four, keeping him from being an option as part of the three attacking midfielders behind the lone striker. Without Moses, Benitez is forced turn to Ramires and Marko Marin, then. Realistically, it seems that his ability to rotate all of Hazard, Mata and Oscar in this spell is restricted – without a change of formation or the risk of disappointing the Stamford Bridge throngs further.

That’s the other key factor. Can Benitez really gamble on fielding a weakened side for the second league home match running, having seen a starting XI without Mata struggle to break down a stubborn QPR?

With Wednesday’s setback to Swansea following the derby defeat to Harry Redknapp’s side, it would mean that Rafa would be risking three consecutive home reversals. That would surely tighten the vice-like pressure around the Spaniard: he may want to rest his playmaker against Southampton but, against a side who have shown defensive solidity and plenty of fight of late – see the 1-1 with Arsenal and the 3-3 away at Stoke – it would be a gamble taken at a time when Benitez has diminishing support amongst the Stamford Bridge faithful.

As always, then, we can find logic and comforting arguments to support our choices. As we’ve seen in the past, however, the Premier League’s real decision makers play by their own rules; they take risks just as we do and, in Rafa’s case, we’re dealing with perhaps one of the most renowned tinkerers in modern football. A manager who has shown in the past he’s willing to gamble with the favour of his supporters in order to maintain his theories with player rest and fatigue.

The morning’s papers can’t be expected to have more insight than us but, perhaps, offer a guide to selection we can follow for today’s visit to Stoke.

The Telegraph hands a first league start to Demba Ba, with Mata safely tucked in behind the Senegalese striker, backed by Hazard and Ramires either side. Frank Lampard is restored and David Luiz is, once again, used to reinforce the engine room. That’s a lineup I’m in agreement with and one also backed by the Independent and the Times.

We see something slightly different in this morning’s Sun, with Ramires alongside Lampard, Oscar included and no place for David Luiz. I’d say that was most unlikely given the opposition. The Guardian also go for something similar, this time with Lampard omitted. Again, I’d beg to differ here – Lampard’s experience will surely be called upon for the toughest of battles, plus his record at the Britannia has been decent in the past.

Elsewhere this morning, we’ve some concern over two notable left-backs that have question marks over their starts, although Everton’s Leighton Baines is present in every one of our predicted lineups this morning.

Reading’s Ian Harte, as we mentioned in last night’s Scout Picks, is a bigger risk. With Nicky Shorey now recovered from his virus and having played 90 minutes for the reserves in the week, he will threaten Harte’s start against West Brom. Shorey’s former club, it could be that Brian McDermott recalls Shorey. Glancing through this morning’s papers, the Times, the Independent, The Mail and the Telegraph are all backing Harte in their lineups, with only the Guardian and the Sun opting for a Shorey recall. Make of that what you will.

Such issues seem trifling next to the likely problems served up by Benitez. Although it seems likely that we’ll be appeased by today’s team-sheet at Stoke, we will be left guessing and fretting as to how many strings the Chelsea puppeteer will cut for the visit of Southampton. There’s no question that the Gameweek can turn on his decisions over the next few days – those backing Chelsea’s assets to the full can only hope that Benitez shelves his urges.

About The Author

“Mark created the beast. He's now looking to tame it.”


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    • 3 years, 28 days ago
    • 3 years, 28 days ago
  1. Hnads up if you are going without City cover (h) to Fulham.

    • 3 years, 28 days ago
    1. No way!

      • 3 years, 28 days ago
    2. I probably won't be. Only had Silva and i sold him for Mata last night

      • 3 years, 28 days ago
    3. I dont need city cover

      • 3 years, 28 days ago
  2. Guy 2nd to me in my league has basically the same team as me. This week will come down to my Bale + Suarez vs his Michu + RVP. Both captained mata, which is what i was hoping for.

    • 3 years, 28 days ago
  3. Cech that out!!!! Didn't see that coming!!

    • 3 years, 28 days ago
    • 3 years, 28 days ago

Scout Picks

Gameweek 25

  • Forster
  • Janmaat
  • Williams
  • Alderweireld
  • Wijnaldum
  • André Ayew
  • Dele Alli
  • Roberto Firmino
  • Sánchez
  • Aguero
  • Kane
  • Moreno
  • Arnautovic
  • Giroud

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The Watchlist


Last updated: 26 Jan, 2016 10:34pm
Player Club Factors
Up Hennessey CPL C, Vs, £
Down Butland STO C, Vs
Up Schmeichel LEI A
Up Forster SOT A
Up Courtois CHE B, Vs
Up Fabianski SWA A
No Change Boruc BOU B
No Change De Gea MUN B
No Change Cech ARS B, VsX
Up Foster WBA C, VsX


Last updated: 3 Feb, 2016 9:04am
Player Club Factors
Up Ivanovic CHE A, Vs
Up van Dijk SOT A
Down Baines EVE B, Vs
Up Dann CPL C, Vs
Up Cresswell WHM B, Vs
Up Williams SWA A
No Change Dawson WBA C
Down Alderweireld TOT B
No Change Daniels BOU A, £
No Change Fuchs LEI A
No Change Van Aanholt SUN A, VsX
Down Bellerín ARS C, VsX
Down Smalling MUN C
Down Moreno LIV C, Vs
Down Johnson STO B
Down Kolarov MCI B, Rest, Inj


Last updated: 3 Feb, 2016 11:14pm
Player Club Factors
No Change Payet WHM B, Vs
Up Roberto Firmino LIV A, Vs, OoP
Up Dele Alli TOT A, Inj
Up Barkley EVE C, Vs
Up André Ayew SWA A, OoP
Up Eriksen TOT A
Down Ozil ARS C, VsX
No Change Mahrez LEI C, VsX
Up Sánchez ARS C, VsX, Inj
Up Antonio WHM A, Vs, Rest, £
No Change Willian CHE B, Vs, Inj
No Change Wijnaldum NEW B
Down Arnautovic STO C, Vs, Inj
Up Silva MCI C
No Change Johnson SUN B, VsX


Last updated: 3 Feb, 2016 11:14pm
Player Club Factors
No Change Aguero MCI A
No Change Kane TOT B
Up Vardy LEI C
Up Diego Costa CHE A, Vs, Inj
No Change Ighalo WAT C, VsX
Up Rooney MUN A
Down Lukaku EVE C, Vs
No Change Giroud ARS B, VsX, Rest
Up Afobe BOU A, £
Down Austin SOT B, Inj

Selection Factors

A, B, C Current Form
Vs Favourable Fixtures
VsX Unfavourable Fixtures
Rest Rotation Risk
Inj Injured/Returning from Injury
OoP Out of Position
£ Potential Bargain
Sus Suspended/Near Suspension
Player Team YC
Colback NEW 9
Byram WHM 9
Lucas LIV 8
Jones SUN 8
Yacob WBA 8
Westwood AVL 7
Diego Costa CHE 7
Huth LEI 7
Can LIV 7
Mangala MCI 7
Shelvey NEW 7
Pieters STO 7
Dele Alli TOT 7
Dier TOT 7
Noble WHM 7

“All players will blank a few times during the season. When almost all do it in the same Gameweek, it is tough to take, but that's just the dark side of probability.”

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