Our last glance at the Gameweek gone by assesses the return to form of Villa’s talisman, the Fantasy potential on offer at the Britannia and the weekly armband frustration brought on by a certain Merseyside pairing:
Clearly, there is something about the turn of a New Year that seems to bring out the best in Christian Benteke. Last season, the big Belgian managed just five goals in his first few months at Aston Villa before embarking on a run of 14 goals in his final 18 appearances from January onwards and, as the current campaign picks up pace, he’s at it again.
With four goals in the first four Gameweeks, Benteke was quick to recapture the form of late 2012/13 before a hip injury forced him off against Norwich in mid-September. Returning to the first-team one month later, the Villa centre-forward looked devoid of confidence and, deserted by his predatory instincts in the box, was subject to significant sales after a run of 11 league appearances without another goal.
A weekend rematch with the Canaries had an altogether different outcome as Benteke battered Chris Hughton’s backline into submission with a display of power and pace that the Norwich boss admitted was simply too much for his side to cope with. After blanking in the New Year’s Day clash with Sunderland, Benteke has now served up five goals and two assists in eight league games and looks back to his barnstorming best, serving up the type of performance that made him a “must-have” for many when the season kicked off.
Priced at a reasonable 8.8 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL), Benteke could offer owners of the likes of Olivier Giroud and Emmanuel Adebayor a solution as the fixtures turn nasty for Arsenal and Spurs over the short-term. Granted, a blank Gameweek 29 and home clash with Chelsea will curtail our immediate interest but, following that, Lambert’s side still have to face Stoke, Fulham, Palace, Swansea and Hull in their remaining eight Gameweeks and also have a double to be factored in. If his current form continues, a bandwagon could soon be back up and running as Benteke looks to deliver over the run-in once again and fire the Midlands outfit to safety.
With a single defeat in the last five and some very favourable fixtures to follow, Stoke are starting to turn heads as Fantasy managers assess their options over the next few Gameweeks. A 1-0 win over Arsenal helped the Potters claim yet another big scalp at the Britannia last weekend – having defeated Chelsea and United and drawn with City and Everton in front of their own fans, Mark Hughes has ensured his new side remain formidable at home, with just two losses on their own patch thus far.
A trip to Norwich this weekend, at a time when 10 teams are without a fixture, could prove profitable but it’s the fixtures beyond that Carrow Road encounter which make Hughes’ side legitimate mid-price options. West Ham, Villa and Hull follow directly after, whilst Newcastle, Cardiff, Fulham and West Brom have all still to square up to the Staffordshire outfit – it’s little wonder our season ticker rates their run as the most favourable from this point onwards.
The FA’s decision to charge Charlie Adam with violent conduct yesterday may alter some managers’ plans – Stoke will appeal, but a potential three-match ban would be a real blow for Hughes, given the Scot had scored three times in the seven Gameweeks prior to the Gunners showdown. Jon Walters’ converted spot-kick last weekend means he has now scored or assisted against Liverpool, United and Arsenal in the last eight and may be worth a punt – if Adam is out, he’ll be next on penalties.
At the back, a first clean sheet in 12 attempts also bodes well for Hughes’ side ahead of their upcoming schedule. Whilst Erik Pieters, at 4.8, is the cheapest of the Potters regular back-four, Ryan Shawcross (5.4) looks the best bet – he has now earned eight bonus points over the club’s last three clean sheets and, with Robert Huth still battling back from a knee injury, the Stoke skipper holds the greatest appeal as Hughes looks to take advantage of the remaining matches and steer his side to mid-table safety in his first season at the helm.
The Talking Point
After playing second fiddle to Daniel Sturridge for the previous few Gameweeks, Luis Suarez returned to form with a bang last Saturday as Liverpool dismantled Southampton at St Mary’s. The Uruguayan’s 15-point haul, combined with his team-mate’s couple of points against the Saints, proved hugely significant in many a mini-league and again highlighted just how tricky the duo are making the armband decision.
Over the last few weeks, even the tactic of having both in our three-man frontlines has not been enough. Only twice in their last seven starts since Sturridge’s return have the pair posted similar weekly scores – as we mentioned in yesterday’s This Much We Know, if you got the Suarez/Sturridge captaincy call correct in the last five Gameweeks, you’d have racked up 122 points. If you were wrong each time, you’d have been left with 36 points.
Fine lines, yet the logic behind selecting either is valid. Both players have blanked just four times this season (Suarez has scored/assisted in 19 of 23 appearances and Sturridge in 16 of 20) though it’s perhaps telling that only twice this season have they produced 10+ hauls in the same match.
With Sergio Aguero back in action for City and poised for three doubles from Gameweek 31 onwards, many Fantasy managers will be looking to those three to grab the goals, though the fear that the Argentine’s game time could be rationed as his manager looks to ensure he remains injury-free for the run-in may affect our armband decisions.
Certainly, City’s busy schedule is likely to persuade many to take a captaincy punt on Aguero or Yaya Toure over the Liverpool pair in the Gameweeks where Manuel Pellegrini’s side have an extra fixture. Even Sunderland’s Adam Johnson could be a legitimate contender, given that the Black Cats also have 12 fixtures to play over the final nine Gameweeks.
Beyond those options, could we look to those sides who have one steady source of points? Eden Hazard, for example, has already served up five sets of double figures at home and his final three fixtures at the Bridge see Stoke, Sunderland and Norwich pay visit. The above-mentioned Benteke also has a trio of favourable home fixtures (FUL, SOU, HUL) to help maintain his upturn in form.
There’s also a certain Dutchman to consider. For all United’s toils, Robin van Persie has still managed to score in eight of his last 10 league matches – granted, his double Gameweek 31 (whm, MCI) is not as enticing as Liverpool’s (car, SUN) but the champions’ final four home fixtures (AVL, HUL, NOR, SUN) suggest he could rival the Merseyside duo over the run-in and potentially make our captaincy call a little less fraught with frustration.