Greetings fellow managers! Yours truly has been traversing around the southeast United States this week, and I am coming to the undesired conclusion that there is no escaping the clutches of the polar vortex. That doesn't mean, however, that I cannot unfurl the half dozen blankets draped around me for a few minutes to write about the landscape of Gameweek 23. Last week, I admittedly took one on the chin in the early Saturday game, as my "standard" option Dejan Lovren headed home a goal before my first cup of coffee and Ki Sung-Yueng did not reprise the connection with Adam Johnson that I had expected. Things began to improve over the weekend though, as I nailed the Keeper call (Ruddy over Howard) and the Forward call (Bony over Lukaku). But had I only chosen Samuel Eto'o, I could probably retire a legend in the business. The best and brightest of the budget and low ownership prospects are dwindling at this stage of the season and with the league table split in two like Thanksgiving dinner, with the adults at one table and the children at the other, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pay attention to the children in fantasy.
Right. Let's take a look at this week's standard and Free Kick representatives. Remember the goal of this column is to find that player or two to fill out your squad when the money gets tight, or you want to find a player with high potential and low ownership to try and close the gap on the rivals above you.
Tim Krul - (Newcastle) The Magpies defense has been just as effective on the road this season as they have been at St. James' Park, in fact their last three clean sheets have come on the road. Therefore, a trip to Carrow Road to take on a rather weak Norwich City attack could spark investment from managers looking at keeper options under 10m. However, the heart of the Newcastle defense, Fabricio Coloccini, continues to remain sidelined and Alan Pardew's side have conceded now in five straight. Despite probably being considered underdogs, the Canaries have accumulated three wins and a draw in the previous four meetings between the two sides. They need the points more and I think they pop up with a least one goal here.
The Free Kick
Julian Speroni - (Crystal Palace) With Hull City coming to Selhurst Park, Palace will be looking at the matchup as a major opportunity for three points and Tony Pulis would like nothing more than to keep the scoresheet clean. Hull provide the perfect recipe, currently on a three game streak where they have failed to score. Palace kept Stoke City out last week, and the Tigers attack has even less to offer than the Potters, registering the least amount of shots on target from any club this season, a stat that looks even more unappealing in their home/road splits. For those finding Joel Ward a bit too pricey these days, Speroni can provide a more inexpensive means of coverage in this tantalizing fixture.
Ashley Cole (Chelsea) Until this season, you would be hard pressed to come up with the name of a player who doesn't tend goal that has been penciled in to the XI as much as Chelsea's left back. After being unceremoniously dropped by Jose Mourinho this season, Cole has had the recent chance for a run in the team and the results have been impressive: four starts, four clean sheets, and two assists. This display would seem to have given Mourinho food for thought as to Cole's involvement for the rest of the season, in a World Cup year where Cole has aspirations of returning as England's top left back. Reality hit hard last week however. Branislov Ivanovic made a quicker-than-expected return to the squad and was promptly inserted back in as a starter, which saw Cesar Azpilicueta shift over to the left side and relegating Cole back to the bench. For those who want to question Mourinho on his decisions....well, better you than me. Avoid Cole.
The Free Kick
Rafael (Manchester United) In a world of unpredictability, there is only one certainty - I cannot get it right when it comes to Manchester United this year. Yes they are not very good, but in weeks where I have proposed ignoring them, they have burned me. Here we have what is on paper supposed to be a cupcake fixture, home to Cardiff City. As much as they have disappointed, as much as forgotten the concept of winning the league this season is for them, I cannot see any other result than a shutdown of Cardiff here as Ole Gunnar Solskjær reminisces about the better times at Old Trafford. Rafael likes to get forward and when Wayne Rooney isn't around to dictate the attack, the Brazilian will be called upon to get more involved. If United play bad here, supporters will ask for David Moyes' head on a pike, Game of Thrones style. Use Rafael as a sneaky low ownership play when most managers won't even be thinking about the Red Devils in a game they HAVE to have.
David Silva (Manchester City) There is no debate as to the class of David Silva in the Premier League, but at the moment while City continue to rack up goal after goal, Silva's involvement has not been on par with his teammates' successes. Since week 10, Silva has amassed just one double digit fantasy haul for his efforts, including an ugly -4 score that brings his average down during that stretch to less than six points per game. He has already been ruled out of City's F.A. Cup match this weekend, raising some doubt as to his availability for the midweek match with Tottenham. It has been Yaya Toure who has dominated the center of midfield for City this season, and until we see different, it should be thought to remain that way. A trip to White Hart Lane against an in-form Spurs outfit is another reason to feel no need for the playmaking Spaniard.
The Free Kick
Frank Lampard (Chelsea) The light may be beginning to fade on the superb career of Lampard, but when fit he is still a fantasy force, mainly because of his dead ball work. It is never a comforting feeling to back most of Mourinho's men because there is always a chance of a mega star riding the bench any given week, but the fact that Lamps has scored five goals in his last five appearances against the Hammers is one that he himself is probably fully aware of. West Ham are still dealing with a patchwork defense which leads me to the assumption that not only are Chelsea likely to score a few times, but a penalty chance is looking in the cards as well. At 14m, the usually overpriced Lampard is about as cheap as you will ever find him to be and his ownership is about as low as it has ever been.
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) Expectations last week for Giroud were high and investment was heavy, but the Frenchman could not deliver in the best fixture a striker could ask for this season - a home game against Fulham. Still, managers appear ready to back him again as the Gunners travel to face Southampton this time around. There are several candidates at the forward position to consider this week, as most managers will be looking for Suarez plus two more. Giroud, for me, does not crack the top eight of that list for me. The consistency that was there with him during the first part of the season simply isn't there anymore, registering just two goals in the last 10 league games. Luckily for Arsenal, they can work around a dip in form at the position with the wealth of talent in their midfield, which is about to be bolstered by the return of Aaron Ramsey.
The Free Kick
Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) In a Free Kick first, Wilfried Bony makes the list in consecutive weeks. The Ivorian looks as much a threat on the ball as anyone right now, and would be dominating Premier League discussions if he only had the service. What Giroud could not accomplish last week is just what I back Bony to do this week - score against traveling Fulham. Swansea have been in as poor a form as any club and must be looking at this fixture as vital in their efforts to move away from the relegation zone. Along with the nice matchup, you have an affordable price and low ownership, which is what makes him the quintessential example of the perfect Free Kick. There is every possibility Bony could have a prolonged run in your squad as well. Should he do well this week, you can have him on the cheap as the Swans schedule presents plenty of nice fixtures (FUL, whm, CAR, stk).