Remember last week when I encouraged everyone to keep grinding away and good things will happen? Fortunately for my writing purposes, the value of that advice was quickly repaid. I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel as most of my team - Lukaku, Diouf, Hazard, Mahrez, Doucoure, Lacelles, Stones, Azpilicueta, and Ryan - all put up five or more points. Only Coutinho and Kolasinac were held in the standard 1-2 realm that you could get off the waiver wire from a random replacement. Here's the thing about that group. Yes, the core from my draft of Lukaku, Hazard, Coutinho, Mahrez, Azpilicueta, Kolasinac, and Mane (injured) are still in my squad. That said, scouring the waiver wire for guys like Stones, Doucoure, Ryan, and Lacelles is what keeps fantasy managers winning. I suspect most of those particular players are on a squad at this point in your league but there was a time, over the past few weeks in my league at least, where all were still available. I'll leave the "Bargain Hunter" column to Andrew but the point remains, there's value out there to be had.
Now, I just need a couple of the teams around me in the standings to start playing like Liverpool and I'll be in good shape heading into the festive period and the January transfer window.
Kudos to Watford...and Chelsea
Chelsea came away with a 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge this weekend but the scoreline flattered the Blues. It is both a testament to Chelsea's talent that they could get the win and a similar testament to how well Watford are playing that it seems like a pretty massive accomplishment that Antonio Conte's men actually pulled it off. Once you get past a pretty obvious talent gap (or at least reputation gap) between the eleven that Watford rolls out regularly and the eleven that teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool roll out there it's hard to see much of a performance gap on the pitch. The Hornets have played four "big" clubs thus far over ten matches (Liverpool, City, Arsenal, and @Chelsea) and have a win, a draw, a close loss and a big loss. This isn't to say that the Hornets are likely to challenge for a spot in the top six but they've certainly looked "in the mix" with lofty opposition enough times this season for us to recognize that this isn't a fluke. Consider them this season's leading contender for "best of the rest".
The Premier League media has a funny relationship with history when considering the current season. This seems to be particularly true of Arsenal. Perhaps it is because there isn't any realistic reason to be considering writing about a failed title bid as no one ever really considered them in the title race. Perhaps it is because there isn't any Alexis drama to write about for this week. Perhaps things have been too quiet on the "Wenger Out" or likely replacement timeline front (although if we could get Marco Silva's office ready now it would be nice). Whatever it is, there were a raft of stories in the wake of the loss at Vicarage Road about Arsenal's poor season and the extent to which Arsenal are reverting. Basically a recitation of all of the familiar accusations that have, often rightly, been leveled at the Gunners over the past ten or eleven years since they stopped becoming a meaningful part of the title picture in the Premier League.
The thing is, since the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool on August 27th, the loss at Watford has been the one poor result on the Gunners' record. They dropped two points at Stamford Bridge in mid-September but given the horror show that place has been for them in recent years, that should be viewed as more of a positive than a negative. They've not been perfect by any means but they're dispatching their Europa League group with the ease you'd expect and doing it with very little impact on the first team. They're largely beating the teams they should be beating in the Premier League.
I get that no one other than those of us infatuated with Marco Silva saw Watford coming as a stout opponent in the Premier League this season but at what point do we all agree that playing against them isn't going to be a walk in the park and dropping points to them, especially when there's a whiff of home cooking in the awarding of a crucial penalty, isn't the tragedy it would have been last season?
It is well known that I am an Arsenal supporter so you're welcome to write this off as me being overly sensitive but I've been critical of my team when they've deserved it but this time it felt like a lazy "same old Arsenal" reaction as opposed to being viewed as a minor blip in the middle of a strong run which, by the way, came without the club's best attacking player being available for long stretches. That the Gunners are even on points with Chelsea and ahead of Liverpool at this point in the season should be viewed as good news, not bad. They're not as talented as City, United, Spurs or Chelsea so being even with one of those four and within shouting distance of two more of that group is pretty solid work so far.
The Man in Newcastle
Pardon the scifi pun but there is going to be a huge celebrity coming to the industrial north as Mike Ashley agrees that it is time to sell. Say what you will about Ashley but he has set up his successor for a massive honeymoon period by a) having his club in the top half as he announces his intention to sell and b) being reviled for his approach to spending ensuring that just about anyone looks great by comparison. Given what we've seen this season, no one should be too excited about a 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace but Rafa has the Magpies playing strong defense and grinding out results Burnley-style. If the club is sold in time for the January window and they can add even an above average goal threat to lead the line then it isn't crazy to think that a finish in the 12th - 8th range is on the cards.
I was traveling by air on Saturday morning on a plane with DirecTV and a wifi system that wasn't working. I mention this because that coincided with the return of uncertainty surrounding Pep Guardola's starting line-up. Manchester City have been just crushing opponents and, while Aguero was out, running out a pretty steady diet of Jesus flanked by Sterling and Sane with De Bruyne and Silva creating. That was just gold for fantasy managers but with the return of Kun and the insertion of Bernardo Silva for a start, things degenerated quickly. Gabriel Jesus was rotated out and played 14 minutes meaning that in leagues that feature a substitute he both robbed you of your likely first round pick while simultaneously ensuring that if you had a great sub waiting on the bench, you got nothing from that player either. At least Sterling stayed out of the action entirely but still deprived managers of a bunch of points they were expecting. One week of rotation isn't a big deal, that's going to happen to just about every big player. The problem as City stay healthy is that you just don't know who is going to be rotated and when which makes fantasy management more difficult than you'd like.
- Alexis Sanchez - finally back and with the sort of all-action performance that made him a first round choice in most leagues. Sigh of relief from managers everywhere.
- Mesut Ozil - Everton must be bad if Ozil is scoring headers against them.
- Aaron Ramsey - OK, maybe there's something to Arsenal having three first choice attackers back from injury/whatever and playing a struggling club to get a boost of confidence for all three.
- Junior Stanislas - Guys like Glenn Murray and Michy Batshuayi who had great weekends aren't likely to sustain it but we've seen one-to-two month runs from Stanislas before that make his goal and an assist performance worth noting. Here's hoping he can stay healthy.
- Mahrez/Hazard/Alli - All stars who have been struggling and got on track this weekend.
- Abdoulaye Doucoure - Eventually, we have to agree that his performances are a real thing and not just a Capoue-like run of early-season luck, right?
- Sofiane Boufal - What a run, now, can he stay in the line-up?
- Troy Deeney - He didn't do much but he started which is progress for him this season
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - Liverpool are down a few midfielders and James Milner is getting a start centrally and he's not. Not only that he's not starting in Sadio Mane's spot either with Coutinho moving out wider. Looks like the Ox traded being a useful reserve in one place for being a useful reserve in another.
- Willian - Pedro came back in and scored a screamer. Willian picked up an assist as well but with Hazard and Morata back we're left wondering if the Brazilian is back to being a very good substitute.
- Gabriel Jesus - A frustrating weekend for Jesus owners who had been riding high on recent performances.
- Gylfi Sigurdsson - There's a light at the end of the tunnel though with new management arriving at Goodison Park.
- James Milner - Just when you thought him getting listed as a defender and playing in midfield was the greatest thing ever for his value, Liverpool concede four goals.
- Phil Jones - The prognosis doesn't seem too terrible with Jones having a chance to play next weekend but for a player who has had an Arsenal-like relationship with minor injuries, it isn't an encouraging sign when he limps off.
- Jay Rodriguez - Remember early-August when we were all so excited about the Jay-Rod rejuvination tour? Um, me neither.
- Anthony Martial - Got a start and looked bad including a petulant yellow card and no shots on target against a newly promoted side. Hauled off after 45 minutes.
- Xherdan Shaqiri - Back to having to be concerned about minor injuries as he missed out on the 2-1 loss to Bournemouth.