We have hit the part of the season – after two months of league matches plus a few potentially grueling international breaks – where attrition starts to become a factor and managing your Draft roster becomes a serious challenge. Heading into Week 9 we see some premium players missing due to injury. There are likely to be others who may end up missing time due to long trips for international commitments. The relatively small squad sizes in the Premier League’s game format means that managers may well be forced into hard choices between dropping strong contributors or facing some guaranteed zeros.
As ever, I’m here to help navigate some of the trickier issues.
Liverpool’s Walking Wounded
Mo Salah and Sadio Mane. Look, you’re not dropping Mo Salah even if he’s slumping. The injury report that sent chills through the Fantasy PL community over the break looks like it is no more than a strain. He looks probable for Week 9. What his potential absence, and that of Sadio Mane who also looks at least reasonably likely to return for Week 9 despite a broken thumb, underscores is the value of a handcuff who has proven as productive as Xherdan Shaqiri even in limited action. Adam Lallana is also making his way back from injury but he looks close to a return as well and would be the logical next man up should both Salah and Mane be unavailable (or were Shaqiri to succumb to one of his frequent muscle strains).
Liverpool score. A lot. Having some of the peripheral players in their squad as reserves or fringe starters in your fantasy squad is a solid idea. With both James Milner and Naby Keita nursing muscle injuries that look likely to keep them out of Week 9 action, we arrive at the difference between stars like Salah and Mane and solid-but-replaceable guys like Milner and Keita.
With the waiver wire running before we see Jurgen Klopp’s Friday press conference, my inclination would be to drop Milner or Keita in favor of an excellent one-week option certain to start. If you’re rock solid elsewhere on your roster with players you know are going to start then you can afford the risk of keeping Milner or Keita through the potential injury absence. If you have some risk in your squad this weekend, and most managers will coming off of an international break, then this is the time to make a move.
Solid options for replacing Milner or Keita in midfield that are likely to be available in your league are Ilkay Gundogan (vs BUR), David Brooks (vs SOU), Georginio Wijnaldum (@HUD), and Jorginho (vs MAN).
Sokratis, Nacho Monreal, and Petr Cech
As soon as Arsenal string together a couple of clean sheets, the certainty around who will be featuring at the back for the Gunners has become clear as mud. Petr Cech started the ball rolling as he went out injured after, perhaps, his best string of starts for the club. Sokratis, already having missed a little time, went down with an ankle sprain on international duty this week. Finally, Sead Kolasinac has made his way back from his pre-season injury and could threaten Nacho Monreal’s near-guaranteed spot at left back.
So, what to do with these situations? I don’t consider Arsenal’s improved results strong enough that you’d want to roster both Cech and Bernd Leno. I think they are absolutely a better, more confident team than they were in Wenger’s final few seasons but they have been beneficiaries of a fairly soft early season schedule after the opening two weeks. Even in their success, they seem more likely to win matches 3-2 than they do 1-0 which means that Arsenal defenders and goalkeepers have only limited value unless they’re contributing in other ways like defenders getting goals or assists or goalkeepers making a tremendous number of saves (or saving penalties). Neither of those things has been particularly true for the Gunners thus far this campaign.
My advice is to stick with the current starters for now. If Sokratis is a critical starter for your draft team you’re either in a really deep league or you have bigger problems than the 50/50 chance that he recovers in time for Week 9. Still, if you need a certain starter then it probably makes sense to look elsewhere for a starter like Shane Duffy, Steve Cook, Nathan Ake, or Sean Morrison.
The one caveat to my lack of excitement over the Arsenal defense is the potential return of Kolasinac. Perhaps I’m the only one left who remembers what a fantasy (and real life) stud in his first few months. Granted, that performance came with the Gunners playing with three center backs and the wide defenders in much more attack-oriented roles. When Wenger went away from that system, Kolasinac was relegated to the bench. We don’t know how Unai Emery will approach the situation because he hasn’t had both Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal healthy at the same time for the manager to tip us off as to his preferences. I am likely to take a wait-and-see approach on Kolasinac but if I were confident in my first four defenders then I might be inspired to take a flier on Kolasinac having bigger upside than just about anyone else I might use as the 5th defender in my squad.
Kevin De Bruyne’s Return
We may still be a week away from Kevin De Bruyne returning to Manchester City’s starting line-up but he has resumed training with the first team as of October 1st. That means he’s had the entire international break to build up his fitness and regain his touch. My point is that he’ll be back starting sooner rather than later. The big question that this leaves is “who makes way?”.
This isn’t a waiver wire question so much as a potential trade question. If you look at where De Bruyne spent the latter part of last season playing for Pep Guardiola, in a deeper-lying passing role, then you have to think that Bernardo Silva is the man most at risk of seeing his minutes reduced.
This is, in no way, a knock on Bernardo Silva. He has been excellent. He’s not going to take a ton of time from Kevin De Bruyne if that’s where Pep sees De Bruyne’s greatest value for his side. The nightmare scenario is that De Bruyne becomes something of a super-utility player who takes minutes from Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, and Leroy Sane. De Bruyne has proven able to play in all of those roles.
If this is the case, both Silva’s are still fairly valuable even at 75% of full-time minutes. The concern comes with the wide attackers. Sterling can give some minutes and still be valuable. Mahrez and Sane, well, they can’t. If De Bruyne’s return takes even a few minutes from Sane and Mahrez then you might not even be able to trade them.
I can’t even pretend to know how this is going to work out but all I can say is that I’m pretty happy that I’m not invested in Manchester City attackers in my draft leagues because the calculus is going to get just that much tougher with De Bruyne’s return.
Jan Vertonghen is out until December and Danny Rose is being evaluated after picking up a groin injury. Rose could be back but has been on the short end of the rotation all season. Both of these situations are emblematic of the relative replaceability of all but the most productive defenders.
Jan Vertonghen should definitely be dropped for a player who will play. He is an excellent defender when healthy but missing approximately two months is a big deal. I could see the argument that it would be worth carrying a defender like Marcos Alonso through an injury of that length, such is his production at both ends that he will probably return more points than the next best alternative even if those alternatives had two months’ worth of extra matches. Jan Vertonghen is not Marcos Alonso. I will refer you back to the list of short-term replacements in the Arsenal section.
Danny Rose is a slightly different case. His injury is not likely to keep him out too long, if at all. The concern is the rotation between he and Ben Davies. Rose has been great over the past three match weeks but Mauricio Pochettino has shown that he’s more than willing to sit Rose for weeks at a time. To my way of thinking, Rose and Davies are hard to roster unless you have both. I’d suggest trying your hardest this week to trade for Davies given how disappointing he’s been so far this season.
Dele Alli has a grand total of six fantasy point since Week 2 of the season. With the England international likely returning from injury this coming weekend, or the weekend after at the latest, it is time to make some decisions. Is he suffering from a World Cup hangover? Is he lost without Christen Eriksen to create chances for him?
Given the evaluation that Eriksen will have to get rest from time-to-time for the rest of the season as part of his recovery from his current injury do you have to devalue Alli for the rest of the season even once he’s healthy. This is going to be a big call. Can you sell a fellow manager on a big Alli rebound coming back from injury and get some real value in a trade? Can you handle the potential of trading away someone who has proven himself among the most prolific fantasy midfielders in seasons past?
Overshadowing the debate specific to Alli is the relative lack of quality fantasy point producers in midfield this season. The shift of Marko Arnautovic and Wilfried Zaha as well as the emergence of productive forwards elsewhere have created a relative surplus at that position while there is mostly a lot of mediocrity in midfield. Dangling a potentially exceptional midfielder could yield you something very useful if you market it well.
Waiver Wire Thoughts
Here are a few unexpected (and likely available) names who killed it in Week 8 and you may be considering adding on waivers:
- Anthony Martial – With Marcus Rashford sputtering (England goal aside) and Jesse Lingard out injured Martial may get a few matches on the trot to see if he can maintain his form. I’d be in on him for sure in the unlikely event that he is available.
- Ross Barkley – Barkley is getting a run for Chelsea and even translated that to a recall to the England squad over the international break. Given the lack of available midfielders, I’d be on him on waivers for sure even if he may not be a long-term starter for the Blues.
- David Brooks – A young player finding his footing after coming up from the Championship and playing in an attack that has been prolific. Definitely a long-term option as a starter in your midfield.
- Dejan Lovern – Hard to see Lovern supplanting Joe Gomez, such has been Gomez’s rise, but if you have room for a Gomez (or VVD) handcuff then I’d be inclined to pick up Lovern.
- Bernard – Marco Silva seems to have realized that his best center forward solution is actually playing a wide attacker, Richarlison, through the middle. This has opened up a wide spot for Bernard and he is worth a waiver claim against the possibility (probability) that this is a permanent change at Goodison Park.
If I didn’t cover a player or trend you’re interested in knowing about, you can always find me on Twitter @nealjthurman and ask or put the question to the entire Rotoworld Premier League team @Rotoworld_PL.