It's never fun heading into an international break. The notion of two weeks without the Premier League, without fantasy outcomes, and, in this case, without the Eagles havaing an NFL game over the same week (they're on a bye after destroying the rest of the NFL for 9 weeks), is almost too much to contemplate. On the plus side, the confluence of things I pay way too much attention to on the average autumn weekend all taking a break at the same time is probably good for my relationships with my family. Perhaps the best approach is to crank out a column chocked full of brilliant insight (or at least as close as I can come to approximating that) and then shut down the sports-related part of my brain for the better part of two weeks in hopes of coming back with renewed energy like a veteran USMNT player unexpectedly getting to take the next two weeks off (sorry, too soon?).
Fortunately, there's a lot to sink our teeth into heading into the international break between some marquee match-ups that happened on Sunday and some managerial changes that have happened and others that are about to happen. Here's a brief rundown of the impact of all of the above:
Manchester City 3 Arsenal 1
There are actually positives to take away on both sides here. The obvious positive goes to Manchester City who were comfortably the better, more talented side in a match-up of a title contender and a once-massive club that is still talented but definitely at a crossroads. Last season, City found ways to make a meal of matches like this. This season, they've found their stride under Pep and look pretty comfortable playing the part of the prohibitive favorite. The only two concerns related to City are that the defense still looked vulnerable and that fantasy managers are going to be incredibly frustrated by the rotations and the general uncertainty of where the points are going to come from in any given match week. The former problem is one that will likely continue to be addressed in the January transfer market and the latter is the sort of problem that we writers manufacture when there's no real problem to focus on. If the reaction of fantasy managers is on your list then you know you're doing a lot right.
As far Arsenal, this was far from a dismal result. Both because the score was pretty reasonable given the way City have been scoring and because of the way the match unfolder to arrive at that score. Now, I'm sure you read that previous sentence and assumed that I was going to start railing against the penalty call that gave City their second goal. That is not the case. Even my Red-with-white-sleeves colored glasses don't distort reality to the extent that I'm going to argue against the penalty call. It wasn't a 100% clear cut penalty but no amount of squinting and bias would allow me to call it a clearly wrong call either. It falls into that gray area where it could have gone either way with Monreal's general awkardness probably putting it in the 75%+ likely to be called category.
What should be encouraging for Arsenal supporters is that they went to the home of what has clearly been the best team in the league and neither got blown out nor did they fold after giving up one goal that they objected to (the penalty) and another that was legitimately a poor call (Gabriel Jesus's third for which David Silva was offside). I will grant you that finding positives like these represents a lower bar than many have for Arsenal but if the realistic goal this season is to fight for a top four spot then that's how we should be measuring their performances. Arsenal aren't as good as City but they at least looked like they were in the same league which is more than fellow "not-quite-good-enough-for-a-title-run" club Liverpool could claim against the same opponent.
Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0
Unlike the above result, it's harder to find positives on both sides of the ledger in this one. Chelsea came in under more pressure but they left as having cllearly won not only the three points but the underlying struggle for possession and good chances as well. There have certtainly been plenty of 1-0 Premier League outcomes where the better side lost due to a funky deflection or an amazing save that tilted the outcome against the tide of what happened for ninety minutes. This wasn't one of those cases. Chelsea were the better side on this day. Perhaps it just underscored how incredibly important N'Golo Kante is to the Blues fortunes. We gave Antonio Conte a lot of credit last season but somehow, after spending the entire summer after Leicester City's title win talking about the greatness of Kante and season following when the Foxes were nearly relegated reaffirming that opinion and nodding to ourselves as the Blues ascended. Somehow, we gave a lot of the credit to Antonio Conte and, while I'm sure he's due a fair share, haven't the last few weeks of Kante's absence (and Conte criticism) shown that maybe last season's success had more to do with N'Golo Kante than Antonio Conte? I'm not trying to put Conte down as a poor manager but he certainly looked a lot smarter with Kante on the pitch than he has in his injury-enforced absence.
A word also for Cesar Azpilicueta who is, for me, the fantasy MVP of the season through eleven matches. Chelsea aren't putting up clean sheets at the absurd rate they did last season but the Spain international has added an attacking element to his fantasy resume that has more than made up for the slow down in fantasy points. Perhaps this has an air of confirmation bias (look it up if you don't know) to it since I predicted that Azpilicueta should be the first defender taken in fantsay drafts over the summer so you can write this comment off if you'd like. In fairness, I was wrong, to at least some extent as to WHY Azpilicueta should have been your choice (I thought Chelsea would keep up the clean sheets and he would be the one picked most consistently to be part of the clean sheet goodness). The frightening part is that there's still fantasy upside here if Chelsea go on another run of Kante-inspired clean sheets.
Finally, Manchester United have really suffered since Paul Pogba went out. For those who want to criticize the one-time most expensive player in the world, please stop. His contributions may not all show up on the stat sheet but Manchester United are clearly a less potent force with him absent. His box-to-box presence frees up Henrikh Mkhitaryan to be an attack-only player. It allows Nemanja Matic at least some additional freedom. He is, essentialy, the fulcrum around which the rest of that attack is balanced. The fact that no return date has been suggested means that United are in danger of falling from the title race given the pace City are setting. It's far too early to say that the title race is over but for those waiting for Manchester United to return to the prolific attacking side they were over the first two months of the season, Paul Pogba's recovery tracker is probably what you want to be looking for.
With Claude Puel already installed at Leiceter City ad showing some signs of moving the club forward from the post-honeymoon Craig Shakespeare era and Slaven Bilic and Ronald Koeman already out the door with replacements still (technically) forthcoming there's a lot of potential upheaval when it comes to fantasy fortunes. Last week we discussed potential changing fortunes and this week, with managerial changes in mind, here are some thoughts on who could see their fantasy value increase and decrease as a result.
West Ham Revival?
I discussed the importance of a shared vision from the executive suite through the technical staff and onto the pitch as a key to success in any sporting enterprise. It isn't the only key to success but nothing will undermine things quite like a lack of alignment between the various corners of management. We saw a wide variety of managers who had had success elsewhere, including David Moyes, flounder at Sunderland as the Black Cats failed to lock on to a strategy and execute against it regardless of who was in the managerial seat. We have seen the same with guys like Sam Allardyce who had it all his way at Bolton but failed at both West Ham and Sunderland under the yoke of poorly run front offices. Well, here comes David Moyes again and the worry here when it comes to the hopes for a West Ham revival under a manager who has had success at a club of similar means in Everton is that the thing that undid Moyes at the Stadium of Light (and at Manchester United if we're being honest) is the same thing that crushed Slaven Bilic and others at West Ham. Club management is a mess and there's not much the manager can do to right that ship.
Yes, I realize that I'm speculating to some extent since I'm not privvy to what goes on inside the walls at club headquarters but we seem to get enough insight via Twitter and elsewhere to know that things aren't exactly funcitonal for the Hammers. There might be enough of a bump for West Ham players to have some additional value over the first couple of months of the Moyes era but for anyone expecting a Moyes-at-Everton-like run of top half results, I think you'll be disappointed.
On the other hand, Moyes' former club seems to be fairly soundly run and should provide an interesting platform for Moyes 2.0, Sean Dyche to be successful should he, as has been frequently speculated, take over the top job at Goodison Park. Dyche would immediately come into a club with a number of ingredients that could make him successful. He has a center back familar with his approach in Michael Keane. He has a goalkeeper who is at least the equal of Tom Heaton in Jordan Pickford. There's some strong holding midfield talent in Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin to help Pickford and Keane through the spine of the team. Yes, replacing Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka will be a priority but Dyche seems to be fantastic at finding players for a reasonable fee in the Championship who can execute his game plan at a high level. Yes, the Toffees need a forward who can operate on his own as Dyche's men hang back and defend but Dyche has found that sort of player on the relative cheap as well since coming up.
If you're looking for somewhere to speculate in the market, then before Dyche is announced as the next manager at Everton is probably a good time to try to pick up Everton defenders who have been dropped due to their rotten results to date.
So, if Sean Dyche is potentially integral to a boost in the fortunes and value of Everton defenders then the concern for those invested in Burnley's thus-far extremely effective defense is that Dyche's departure could spell disaster. Dyche seems extremely adept at taking a solid, but not spectacular, group of players and turning them into fantasy gold when it comes to keeping clean sheets. Minus Dyche, it is reasonable to expect that performances will suffer. Perhaps Burnley, like Southampton and Swansea in recent history, have created a club-wide approach that can withstand the loss of a seemingly-critical manager without suffering but that remains to be seen. If I were heavily invested in Burnley for fantasy purposes I'd be starting to search for potential replacements as the Dyche-to-Everton drumbeat coutinues to get louder.
- Xherdan Shaqiri - The Swiss international continues to live up to the expectations we'd had for him when he arrived. Injury concerns are still very reasonable but we're far enough into the season to declare that this is a different year for Shaqiri, and a far better one.
- Anthony Knockaert - He's starting to come to life for Brighton after a miserable start to the season. If he's available and you need a midfielder he's worth a look, especially as a streaming option.
- Sadio Mane - Back a touch early from injury and looking like exactly what Liverpool were missing. If he, Coutinho, Firmino, and Salah ever get on the pitch together again fantasy managers are going to be very happy.
- Riyad Mahrez - The change of manager seems to have done the Algeria international a world of good.
- Heung Min Son - Another one who started horribly and is coming around although exactly how much he'll start remains to be seen.
- Matt Ritchie - Newcastle didn't score but Ritchie is doing everything you could ask of a wide attacker and but for a couple of inches he would have had a goal in off the post. Definitely a better season than his previous Premier League attempt with Bournemouth.
- Dominic Calvert-Lewin - It would be great if whomever the new Everton manager turns out to be would put him in the line-up and just leave him there.
- Davide Zappacosta - Another start and a clean sheet, Victor Moses might want to get back quickly before his spot is taken on a permanent basis.
- Glenn Murray - It has all the hallmarks of a purple patch that will disappear as quickly as it started but Murray is on four goals in his past three matches which is great for someone who probably wasn't owned much before that streak started.
- Demarai Gray - He seems to be the new starter under Claude Puel and he's doing the underlying things that will lead to goals and assists.
- Alexandre Lacazette - Yes, he scored but it was another big match for Arsenal and another occasion where he didn't start.
- Watford (other than Richarlison) - The Marco Silva honeymoon seems to be slowing down. After racing to a 2-0 lead the Hornets looked like they were back in business but the second half collapse has values for the defense and Gomes in serious question.
- Jese Rodriguez - That goal against Arsenal feels like a LONG time ago
- Matt Phillips/Chris Brunt/Nacer Chadli - Maybe Tony Pulis will start playing attacking players again sometime soon but until he does these guys will frustrate fantasy managers who know they could be doing more.
- Christopher Schindler - Shown a red card on a day when his side picked up a clean sheet. It should have been a solid-to-excellent fantasy day for him but it was anything but.
- Marc Albrighton - See the Demarai Gray note above and reverse it all for Albrighton.
- Callum Wilson - The Cherries got their win but did you see that miss from Wilson? It was a chance to re-start his career and his flubbed his lines.
- Willian/Pedro - Only three minutes in a huge match for Willian and none for the man he usually shares a rotation with. Perhaps things will return to normal for at least one when the opponent is less daunting than Manchester United but frustration for fantasy managers holding out hope for Willian of two seasons ago or Pedro of last season.
- Junior Stanislas - Remember last week when his value was rising? Another injury and we're right back where we started.
Enjoy the international break and we'll be back here waiting for you recharged and ready to go when the matches resume in two weeks.