December’s packed schedule presents a new challenge to those taking on the Sun Dream Team monthly game. With some clubs pressed into nine fixtures in 31 days, injuries and rotation are set to test our lineups in a relentless month of matches.
Once again, the Sun are offering up a pot of £10,000 in monthly prizes, with a cool £5,000 on offer to the top scoring Dream Team manager to emerge from the grueling festive programme.
With the monthly game kicking off at midday on Sunday, we examine the strategies presented by the fixture list, before assessing the likely targets for those compiling a team set up to take on Dream Team December game.
Having seen the Premier League programme interrupted by international breaks, December takes us to the other extreme. There are no less than six full sets of fixtures in the month, a schedule that will exacerbate any rest and rotation concerns.
In addition, there are eight teams who begin their December schedule on Sunday and therefore face an additional league fixture. With the Capital One Cup fifth round and the final matchday in both the Champions League and Europa League, there are some clubs facing no less than nine matches in the month.
Here’s a breakdown of how the fixtures are distributed across the various Premier League clubs:
9 Matches (7 PL, 1 C1C, 1CL/EL) – Tottenham, Chelsea, Man City, Man United
7 Matches – (6 PL, 1 C1C) – Stoke, Sunderland, West Ham
7 Matches – (7 PL) – Southampton, West Brom, Liverpool
7 Matches (6PL, I Cl/EL) – Arsenal, Swansea
6 Matches – (6PL) – Aston Villa, Fulham, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham, Hull City, Newcastle, Norwich.
As we can see from the above, once again those teams kept busy in Europe have the advantage when it comes to their sheer number of fixtures. Four clubs offer nine opportunities to score points with a full set of seven Premier League encounters, a Capital One Cup tie and a European tie all before 2013 bows out.
While we should undoubtedly prioritise these teams with our monthly Dream Team selection, we also have to consider just how punishing that schedule will be and how teams will adjust.
Rotation will surely rear its head with all Premier League bosses assessing how they can shuffle their options. We can expect to see heavy rotation amongst those teams with nine fixtures and perhaps the best we can hope for is to successfully target players who feature in seven of their matches.
The Players Picks
While it’s Manchester City blazing the goal trail and presenting the biggest challenge to Arsenal right now, the fixture list suggests we should suddenly take notice of United.
David Moyes’ outfit not only have the nine scheduled matches, they boast an array of league fixtures that suggest they may well be firmly back in the title race come January. While Sunday’s visit to Spurs will present a stern test, Old Trafford encounters with Everton, Newcastle and West Ham follow on, with away trips to Villa, Hull and Norwich also looking profitable.
As Robin van Persie struggles to shake off knocks and niggles, Wayne Rooney (£7.0m) has taken it upon himself to carry United’s attack and with 8 goals from 17 Dream Team appearances, along with five Star Man awards, he stakes a strong claim for a spot in our December forward lines. Meanwhile, at the back, David De Gea (£5.5m) in goal and Patrice Evra (£6.0m) present the most secure route to earning United’s December clean sheets – Jonny Evans (£5.0m) and Phil Jones (£4.0m) offer cheaper but riskier alternatives. The United midfield remains a minefield, devoid of any obvious and secure Dream Team talent.
Sergio Aguero (£7.0m) dominates our thinking when it comes to the blue side of Manchester. He’s soared to the top of the Dream Team striker rankings with a run of ruthless goal scoring form that shows little sign of abating. Sixteen strikes from 16 Dream Team appearances is a record that ensures the Argentine is an essential monthly game purchase, even with some testing away trips on the horizon for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
Yaya Toure (£6.0m) and David Silva (£5.5m) offer the potential behind the prolific Aguero. With Silva currently struggling with a calf complaint, Toure clearly has the edge and, having climbed to second in the midfield rankings behind Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, it’s difficult to look beyond the Ivorian for secure City midfield cover. Elsewhere, the back line remains difficult to predict, while Joe Hart’s (£6.0m) security of starts remains in question. With Pellegrini continuing to put emphasis on attack to plaster over the cracks at the back, the Citizens’ defence is best avoided.
Chelsea’s nine December fixtures are a mixed bag, bringing them home league fixtures with Crystal Palace, Swansea and Liverpool, along with visits to Sunderland, Stoke and Arsenal. Their monthly programme begins with the Stamford Bridge clash against Southampton on Sunday, while a Carling Cup trip to Sunderland and a home Champions League clash with Steaua Bucharest could provide further profits for their Dream Team assets.
Midfielders Eden Hazard (£6.5m) and Oscar (£4.5m) continue to carry the fight to opponents as Jose Mourinho shuffles his lone striker. Oscar presents the better value and is the preferred option if you’re scratching around to save money but I still feel that Hazard has the edge over the Brazilian. He has claimed two Star Man awards this term and looks a more secure starter over the hectic festive spell.
There is promise in the Chelsea defence, not least in the form of Petr Cech (£5.5m) who will surely be present in at least eight of the Blues’ nine December fixtures. John Terry (£5.0m) has also presented strong value to this point – delivering 72 points to rank fourth for defenders overall.
That leaves us looking at Spurs as the final team with nine December fixtures. Unfortunately, this is a team that appears to be permanently stuck in a state of transition, as Andre Villas-Boas fails to settle on a first choice XI. That limits the Dream Team appeal on offer, although both Hugo Lloris (£4.0m) and Jan Vertonghen (£5.5m) in the Spurs rearguard look assured of their starts, even with rotation over the Christmas period.
Aside from that pair, there’s little on offer at the Lane unless you’re willing to take a risk on the rotating midfield. The attack seems stifled by the continued quest for a preferred system and lineup, with Roberto Soldado (£4.5m) surely ranking amongst the season’s biggest disappointments so far.
Across North London, while league leaders Arsenal have just seven fixtures in the month, they have to be major sources for our December lineups. Aaron Ramsey’s (£2.5m) output has dipped of late, while Mesut Ozil (£5.5m) has also faltered, having sparkled on his arrival at the Emirates. Even so, Theo Walcott (£5.5m) is now back to tempt us into a gamble in midfield and, with 21 Dream Team goals to his name last term, he puts up a rather convincing argument.
While Olivier Giroud (£4.0m) will struggle to find a place in our lineup, even with a three-man attack, the Arsenal back four remains firmly in our thinking. Bacary Sagna (£3.5m) has delivered exceptional value, while Per Mertesacker (£5.0m) goes on threatening attacking points to supplement clean sheet returns. Both warrant interest, with keeper Wojciech Szczesny (£4.0m) also worth a sniff.
Luis Suarez (£7.5m) is the other striker cut out for our squads and it’s difficult to imagine any winning December lineup without the Uruguayan. Like Aguero, his form has been irresistible in recent weeks and, while Daniel Sturridge (£5.0m) has struggled with injuries and fatigue, Suarez has emerged as the weapon of choice in Liverpool’s “SAS” pairing.
Philippe Coutinho (£4.0m) offers a would-be punt for our midfields. The Brazilian notched his first goal of the campaign at Goodison but is surely set to profit further now he’s fit and ensconced in a Liverpool side averaging two goals a game this term. Meanwhile, at the back, Glen Johnson (£5.0m) is another player who has returned to fitness and he could yet chip with some attacking points to supplement clean sheet returns over the coming month. For a real gamble, Jon Flanagan, priced at just £2.5 million, could possibly retain his starting role having impressed in the Merseyside derby – with Jose Enrique absent until the New Year, Flanagan could offer cover of Brendan Rodgers’ back four for a premium price.
As usual, it’s difficult to consider assets outside of these “big six” teams, with both form and fixtures on their side. Swansea have the benefit of an extra fixture on their December menu but, with injuries and rotation biting, look bereft of potential with Chico (£2.5m) in their defence perhaps the only credible candidate on offer. Southampton and West Brom also have seven fixtures in the month, although the Saints have an evil league schedule that’s unlikely to see them maintain their early season form. The Baggies, meanwhile, are an erratic source of Fantasy talent with Stephane Sessegnon (£3.5m) perhaps the only potential target for those eyeing up a midfield differential.
You can enter teams for The Sun Dream Team monthly prize via the Premium-In-Play package which gets you two teams for just £5.
To score maximum points from December’s fixtures, enter your teams by 12pm Sunday December 1.
The Sun Dream Team Scout League
A reminder that we also have our own Fantasy Football Scout League with a £1,000 top prize on offer to the winner.
Simply use the following PIN and password to enter your teams into the running:
League Name: Fantasy Football Scout