Welcome to the first installment of the “Monday Morning Midfielder”. Yes, I’m aware it’s Tuesday.
Seeing that we had a Monday night football match (Monday afternoon for us Yanks) between Burnley and Chelsea, and will also have one next week as Liverpool will head to the Emirates to face the reigning champions, Manchester City, I thought it best to make the first two editions of this column a Tuesday edition.
Now that we’ve got that whole Monday/Tuesday thing worked out, allow me to explain what I intend to accomplish with this column, and that’s simply to highlight what transpired in the previous gameweek of Premier League action, with an emphasis on the fantasy goings-on and what we could potentially expect from our disposable heroes going forward.
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Also, being an Everton fan, this may, or may not, but definitely will turn into a forum for me to share my joy or vent my frustrations (guess what I’ll be doing this week?).
Obviously with just one week in the books there’s little to analyze and really sink our teeth into, but there’s undoubtedly a lot I’m sure most of us will overreact to. Which, if I can speak for all of us armchair athletes, we’re awesome at doing.
It was an odd opening week, as several high profile players (and important one’s to fantasy rosters) either didn’t play at all, or were limited to only a handful of minutes as they’re fitness levels supposedly weren’t quite up to snuff after coming off of this summer’s World Cup. This made the selection of a starting XI for many fantasy managers an exercise in futility, as no one – even with every player available – ever knows exactly what lineup a manager is going to trot out onto the pitch.
1. How Did The Big Summer Transfers Fare?
This is something that will no doubt be monitored for years to come, but it’s especially true in a player’s first year with the club as everyone wants the “shiny new toys” to bring instant impact to their clubs. Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Alexis Sánchez, Luke Shaw, and to a certain extent, Romelu Lukaku, entered the season as the main big-money signings. And, with the exception of Shaw who was held out with a hamstring injury, each made an impact – for good or bad – on their clubs and fantasy rosters.
I’ll dive into Lukaku’s impact more in depth here shortly, but if you own any shares of the big Belgian, or you watched the Everton match, then you know he was essentially non existent.
Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa both had solid debuts for Chelsea, with Fabregas providing two assists and Costa finding the back of the net in the 17th minute. Fabregas looked particularly good, picking up right where he left off on his last go-around in the Premier League, completing 87% of his passes and creating three chances. Playing in the advanced “number 10” role, he was able to do pretty much whatever he wanted against the newly-promoted Burnley, and this performance will likely just be a preview of what’s to come for the ex-Barcelona star. I’m not entirely sure he’ll be a prolific goal scoring threat, but the passing lanes and ability to provide assists will be there all year given his talent on the ball and the players surrounding him.
Sánchez’s debut lacked the flair that most were expecting, but he was able to notch an assist off of a free kick. Getting on the score sheet is solid debut for the Chilean, and the fact that he was taking a free kick should give fantasy owners confidence going forward that he’ll be a constant presence in the Gunner attack.
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2. Raheem Sterling Looks Good…Real Good
Having not seen Liverpool play much in the preseason, I was curious how they would line up and how that attack that was so potent last season would look in the post-Luis Suárez era. And while they did play with somewhat of a more subdued, controlling-type style, there was one player who attacked with such vigor that it really was the difference in a surprisingly close contest with a gutted Southampton side.
Young Raheem Sterling looked well, just that – sterling. His pace is a huge problem for any player on the pitch to deal with, and he demonstrated that by splitting the two centre backs racing for a ball played in by Jordan Henderson (which was an absolute peach, by the way), which he then calmly slotted past keeper. The finish itself says speaks volumes as well, as it demonstrates maturity on the part of Sterling who, in the past, may not have been so cool under fire.
He’s a transcendent talent, and I have a feeling we’re just witnessing the beginning. I recently predicted that he should have no trouble bagging double digit goals and assists this year. Pretty sure that’s one prediction I’ll be getting right.
3. A Bad Weekend for Everton
Since we’re discussing Liverpool, I might as well dive into my thoughts on how the blue side of Merseyside fared. I could provide a detailed breakdown of how I felt the club performed, but instead I’ll just give you the cliff notes version.
First off, on Friday the club and fantasy owners alike got some unsavory news as the young stallion, Ross Barkley, is going to be sidelined for possibly up to eight weeks due to a knee injury suffered in training. Well, isn’t that just splendid.
The fun continued into the match with Leicester, and they ended up with one of those draws that feels like a loss. You know what I’m talking about.
The club looked fairly sharp in the first half, with Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar providing most of the spark out on the left wing, and the club scored what should’ve been enough to put the “Foxes” away had it not been for some bumbling defensive work.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for fantasy purposes was the play of Lukaku who was dropping entirely too far deep in order to get a touch on the ball (perhaps a product of a missing Barkley?). Simply put, he needs to remain in his advanced position in order to get the most out of his abilities. One has to wonder if eventually Martinez will shake things up and perhaps deploy him more out on the right wing – much similar to when they demolished Arsenal late last season – in an effort to get him working in space, and can then cut inside and use his rocket of a left foot to lay siege on the goal.
4. Manchester City: Quietly Dominant
Although they, too, like Liverpool, perhaps didn’t play up to their full attacking capabilities, the “Noisy Neighbors” quietly dismantled a plucky Newcastle side.
The play of Yaya Touré never ceases to amaze me. To me, it’s like watching the Premier League’s version of Andrea Pirlo. Yes, Touré is more athletic and a far more prolific scorer, and yes, Pirlo is more accurate and has better vision to pick out a pass, but when I watch them both play I see very similar styles; both are tremendous passers and are willing to drop as far back as needed to receive the ball, pick out a teammate, and keep the play moving; both are very good without the ball, and almost as soon as they received the ball, they’ve dished it back out and are already moving to find open space. That type of play of goes unnoticed to a casual fan, but it’s simply a joy to watch.
Another area that’s so impressive to me, is the clubs incredible depth (which they better have with those deep pockets). It’s a true testament to how much talent they have, when you can roll out someone who scored 17 league goals last season with 15 minutes left in the match. That’s just not fair.
5. Let’s Hear It for the Pitch Invader!
You’ve probably seen it over and over already, but in the odd chance you haven’t, check out this guy racing in to take a free kick for Tottenham.
Raise your hand if the pitch invader came closer to scoring than anyone on your fantasy teams (*raises hand*).