Our closing assessment of last weekend’s fixtures focuses on Manchester United’s record signing as he finally begins to settle in the central role. Palace’s form ahead of this week’s pair of fixtures and the knock-on effect of double Gameweek 34 on the transfer market are also analysed, as many start to part company with some popular Fantasy figures:
A quiet introduction to life at Old Trafford coincided with a period of poor form for United, but Juan Mata has now begun to show signs of the formidable player he was at Chelsea in the previous two seasons. While David Moyes’ men have suffered injuries to first-choice forward pairing Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Mata has hit form at just the right time, returning a staggering 31 points in the last two fixtures with three goals, two assists and five bonus points illustrating his capability for explosive Fantasy returns when operating in the central ‘number 10’ position.
Moyes will be delighted with Mata’s recent contribution, but must now surely be looking to re-organise his attacking set-up to accommodate the Spaniard in his favoured role when Rooney and Van Persie return to the team. With Mata ineligible for the Red Devils’ Champions League campaign, he is certain to be selected for their remaining league encounters.
Due to the FA Cup Semi-Finals this coming weekend, United face a blank fixture followed by a trip to in-form Everton, so Fantasy managers looking to acquire Mata based on his form might be advised to wait until after the Goodison Park clash, when a very attractive trio of home games boosts his transfer appeal. Norwich visit Old Trafford in Gameweek 36 and this is followed by a home double against Sunderland and Hull in Gameweek 37 – given his displays over the last couple of matches, Mata has re-emerged as a real candidate to be a late-season differential as he currently has just 8% ownership in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game, for those looking to break the ‘heavy hitter’ template midfields.
At the turn of the year, few would have given Crystal Palace a chance of staying in the Premier League but the appointment of Tony Pulis has clearly proven to be a masterstroke. The former Stoke boss has lived up to his reputation by galvanising the South Londoners’ defence and making Selhurst Park a fortress since taking over, with the icing on the cake being victory over Chelsea in Gameweek 32.
Palace took another stride towards survival last weekend with a convincing 3-0 away victory over relegation rivals Cardiff City, moving them seven points clear of the bottom three, with a game in hand on most other sides near the bottom. Fantasy managers would have likely steered clear of Palace’s attacking assets to this point, with the Eagles netting just 23 times this season – the lowest scorers in the Premier League.
As we approach a double Gameweek 34 that sees Palace entertain Aston Villa before travelling to Everton, Pulis’ charges are finding their form just at the right time. Jason Puncheon’s two goals and subsequent 16-point haul at Cardiff, coupled with a price of just 4.9 in FPL, makes him an excellent option for those looking to bring in a budget midfielder for the double. With very little worth considering in Palace’s forward line and Glenn Murray consigned to the bench, Puncheon could also have penalty duties in his favour. Indeed, many of the 113,000 Fantasy managers who brought in Cardiff’s Jordan Mutch last week may want to consider a straight swap for Puncheon due to the clear gulf in form between the two sides. Elsewhere in midfield, Joe Ledley also performed well last weekend with a goal, assist and two bonus points, and, fielded in “the hole”, offers an alternative budget option at only 4.7.
Pulis’ budget backline is also thriving, having conceded just a single strike in the last four Gameweeks. A share of corner kicks ensures 4.4-priced Joel Ward is the favoured option, and if you feel Julian Speroni’s 4.7 price-tag is too steep, Adrian Mariappa and Scott Dann, at 3.9 and 4.0 respectively, look strong value. Beyond the double, home games with title contenders Liverpool and Manchester City suggest sterner tests which will surely see our Palace defenders benched, however short trips to West Ham and Fulham in the run-in could yet offer further returns as Pulis looks to grind out the results which will help clinch the Eagles’ survival.
THE TALKING POINT
One look at the current transfer trends highlights the impact of the upcoming double Gameweeks on our plans. Players without a pair of fixtures are currently being sacrificed by significant numbers of Fantasy managers, with some major heavy-hitters shown the door as the template now starts to lessen for the run-in.
Liverpool’s title credentials face a tough test over the next three weeks, playing host to rivals Manchester City and Chelsea. Fantasy teams featuring two or three of the Reds’ main men will be very common, though many are starting to reassess their tactics now in light of that schedule – whilst few will part with Luis Suarez’ explosive potential, the other half of the “SAS” forward line, Daniel Sturridge, has now been sold by over 30,000 Fantasy managers since the weekend.
The 34%-owned Sturridge’s form has dipped slightly, with just two goals in his last six and, with Sergio Aguero expected to make his return at Anfield this weekend and both Edin Dzeko and Romelu Lukaku showing fine form ahead of their respective doubles, Sturridge owners are cashing in as our three-man frontlines are re-assembled.
In midfield, Jose Mourinho’s decision to omit Eden Hazard from the Chelsea XI last weekend has also influenced the transfer market over the last few days. The Belgian has not scored a goal from open play now since Gameweek 25 – each of his previous three strikes have come courtesy of the spot – but a 32-minute run-out in Saturday’s win over Stoke has his owners worried. With City poised for two doubles in the final five Gameweeks and Yaya Toure, David Silva and Samir Nasri all offering in-form alternatives for the 10.9-priced Blues’ talisman, Hazard – owned by over 38% of managers – has also been shown the door as managers play the fixtures.
Aaron Ramsey’s return to fitness and Christian Eriksen’s flourishing form are also factors in the shake-up. Both are under 7.0 and, with favourable schedules still remaining for Arsenal and Spurs, offer viable alternatives for those needing to free up budget to facilitate the Aguero (now down to 7% ownership) trade, should he be confirmed fit.
With the aforementioned Mata also throwing his hat into the ring for United’s final three Gameweeks, our options are suddenly increasing. As Eriksen and Emmanuel Adebayor (both under 5% ownership) underlined in last night’s destruction of Sunderland, there are still overlooked alternatives out there who could make a real impact in our mini-leagues for those willing to tear up the template for the run-in.