We look back on Gameweek 29 for the final time to focus on Cardiff’s talismanic skipper and Man United’s improving league form. The imminent double Gameweek 31 is also in our thoughts as Fantasy managers start to plan for squad restructuring in order to take advantage of the outstanding schedules:
Acquired in the summer from Tottenham by Cardiff City, Steven Caulker burst onto our Fantasy radars last weekend with an inspirational performance against fellow strugglers Fulham. Caulker’s haul of two goals and three bonus points capped a much-improved display from the Bluebirds, earning them a second win under new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Whilst the Welsh club have struggled to keep out their opponents, with just six clean sheets to date, Caulker’s weekend haul took his total to 101 points – this makes him one of only 11 defenders to pass the three-figure milestone this season. Indeed, he is the only defender from a bottom-10 side who has managed to breach the 90-point mark, thanks mainly to an eye for goal that has seen him find the net on four occasions, level with Martin Skrtel and only one behind top goal-scoring defender Seamus Coleman.
Immediate investment in the Cardiff defence seems unlikely, though, with a trip to Everton next weekend, followed by a single home fixture against top goal scorers Liverpool in Gameweek 31. The Bluebirds’ survival will be defined by the six games to follow this, however, with four of these fixtures against teams that are also battling to beat the drop. Stoke and Crystal Palace will pay visit to the Cardiff City Stadium, while trips to West Brom and Sunderland could also be tight encounters. Caulker, then, (priced at 5.2 in Fantasy Premier League) could offer the required combination of defensive grit and attacking potential to keep Solskjaer’s and our own Fantasy teams competitive to the final week of the season.
Many column inches have been written about Premier League champions Manchester United this season – the majority of them hugely critical of David Moyes and a number of players considered Fantasy gold in previous seasons. There are subtle signs, though, that the tide may be turning for the Red Devils ahead of the upcoming double Gameweek and beyond.
Saturday’s 3-0 win at West Brom helped United to their third consecutive clean sheet as Moyes’ side starts to show a little more resilience at the back. Whilst Patrice Evra offers the reliability of starts and attacking potential, it is perhaps the budget-friendlier duo of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, with ownership of only 1.7% and 1.3% respectively, that could attract our transfer cash as we plan for the run-in – Moyes’ suggestion that he will utilise the pair more often for the remainder of the season bodes well for their game time.
Comfortable wins against Crystal Palace and West Brom and a goal in each match for Wayne Rooney demonstrated that the striker is emerging from the barren spell that saw him return only seven points in the eight Gameweeks preceding the Selhurst Park trip. Acquired by over 144,000 Fantasy managers for last weekend, Rooney was the most transferred-in player and returned a goal, assist and maximum bonus for his investors. Many will hold for the upcoming showdown with Liverpool, and the Gameweek 31 double with West Ham and Manchester City also looks likely to attract additional suitors.
Looking beyond the double, though, United have a very favourable run of home games to boost the prospects of Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata. Villa, Hull, Norwich and Sunderland all pay visit to Old Trafford, helping to offset tricky road trips to Everton and Southampton. The currently postponed encounter against Steve Bruce’s side, initially scheduled for Gameweek 34, has yet to be re-arranged and could, potentially, hand Moyes’ side another double. Whilst their bid to retain the title has fallen flat, Fantasy managers may have reason for optimism when eyeing up United’s assets as Moyes looks to finish the season on a high.
THE TALKING POINT
As preparation, planning and community comment for Gameweek 31 reaches fever pitch, our focus inevitably turns to maximising points potential from the 15 matches on offer that week. Fantasy managers are spoilt for choice, with five of the top seven sides facing a double, and it is likely that those who were particularly prudent with their trades in the Gameweek gone by are well placed to take advantage.
There are a number of factors at play here when assessing the remaining fixture schedules. Whilst the allure of the double understandably draws us in, due consideration should also be given to fixtures following Gameweek 31. Many have been considering moving on popular Chelsea assets such as Eden Hazard or John Terry in favour of teams with games in hand, but a quick glance at our season ticker reveals the Premier League leaders have arguably the best fixtures of all teams from Gameweek 32 onwards. Jose Mourinho’s little horses square up to Crystal Palace, Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff over that period, with only a game against Liverpool looking problematic as they attempt to close in on the title.
As mentioned above, United have a strong schedule to follow on from double Gameweek 31, but with Liverpool and City in the next two Gameweeks, many are parting company with their main assets. Mata is the most transferred-out midfielder this week thus far, with in excess of 20,000 already moving the Spaniard on, whilst Rooney and van Persie rank second and third in the forward exodus behind Emanuel Adebayor. The Tottenham man’s departure from over 50,000 squads may also be premature, with their final six games of the season seeing them entertain Sunderland, Fulham and Aston Villa whilst travelling to West Brom, Stoke and West Ham.
Emphasis on teams with fixture backlogs also dominates our thinking when assessing transfer targets for Gameweek 31. The FA Cup exits suffered by Manchester City and Sunderland at the weekend, and the conclusion to City’s Champions League fate tomorrow, will help to clarify the scheduling of further double Gameweeks in the near future. Both sides play 12 times in the final nine Gameweeks, whilst Everton also have a spare match (at home to Palace) yet to be scheduled, in addition to their upcoming double.
Finding a balanced approach between the quantity of remaining games and the quality of fixtures facing top-performing teams is key, then. Whilst the immediate potential offered by the double is likely to reap reward, it’s equally vital to have one eye on the run-in to ensure our short-term trades aren’t to the detriment of mini-league success.