You will have to forgive the absence of this column last week. The Free Kick tends to be preempted in weeks when we have midweek matches to cover, and with last Wednesday being the final chapter of an epic double gameweek, yours truly was just too stunned by the results to maintain any composure necessary to communicate with any effectiveness. You see, my gameweek was such a successful one, I felt like a high roller in Vegas who just hit the jackpot and celebrated by rolling around in piles of cash.
Except this wasn't cash. But it was the next best thing: 317 glorious fantasy points. Over 200 of which came on the opening Saturday as the stars in fantasy all decided to shine bright. It got to the point that greed began to set in. Could I get 400 points? 450? Not quite, but what was an action-packed week was enriched all the more by several spot-on calls for your Free Kick XI. Tim Krul didn't dazzle, but he more than doubled David de Gea's total. I said to avoid Alvaro Negredo, so those who went Dzeko instead were better off. And I advised against Raheem Sterling, as he failed to start either games of Liverpool's double.
After falling back to reality this week in which I scored my customary 100 points, I realized I had to make a tough decision, which could really make or break a successful season. I had been blessed with cheap useable bench options throughout the season, protecting me from any blanks. But in order to assemble the strongest XI possible, I had to let guys like Nemanja Matic and Phil Bardsley go. My four bench players cost a combined 4 million, the bare minimum. My approach at this stage of the game though is to go flat out. We have six weeks, left to go and I plan on in investing in nothing but nailed on players. And I have to tell you, with a couple of Free Kick budget alternatives included, my XI this week, if it were a monster movie, would make Cloverfield look like an Ed Wood movie.
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. Let' take a look...
Joe Hart - (Manchester City) Listen, if you have the cash, by all means invest in Hart if you wish. He will likely finish in the top half of scoring keepers this weekend, but it is his price and opponent that has me looking elsewhere. Make no mistake about it, Southampton are legit and loaded with young talent that don't seem to be unnerved when facing the bigger clubs. A goal for them at the Etihad should not come as a shock. The other reason to pass is - if you have your heart set on a City clean sheet, just buy Vincent Kompany instead at half the price, and use him in your defense instead of paying for the most expensive keeper in the game.
The Free Kick
John Ruddy - (Norwich City) Probably the biggest kept secret in the league right now is how good Norwich City's defensive record at home has been in recent months. In their previous six matches at Carrow Road, the Canaries have shipped just a single goal. Now they host a less than formidable West Brom side, who while put up three goals last week, did so at home to Cardiff City. Ruddy is a Free Kick poster boy as his price comes cheap - 6.56m, and his ownership is at less than one percent. If the lower tiered keepers scare you off with their propensity to put up some nasty negative scores, I urge you to at least look at a Canary for your defensive line, because their home form should not be ignored.
David Luiz (Chelsea) Even though he can be capable of huge fantasy hauls because of his versatility and commonly playing out of position, David Luiz is a mirage. He looks like an oasis of points in the distance, but more often than not, the vision disappears. David Luiz took up a central defensive midfield position for today's Champions League loss to PSG, but don't let that trick you into thinking Jose Mourinho would prefer him for the weekend. The boss clearly favors Nemanja Matic, and with the January signing ineligible for European action, it occasions such as this that Luiz can relied upon to start - but not in fantasy Premier League. It looks like only injury will help him crack the back four either, as Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and the now very affordable John Terry are all seemingly nailed on for the run in.
The Free Kick
Younes Kaboul (Tottenham) If you watched Spurs last week, you have every reason to scoff at the Kaboul selection. There's no sugar coating it - Spurs have had a generally disappointing season, and the Tim Sherwood honeymoon has worn off quicker than a temporary tattoo at the State Fair, but they are not THAT bad. Sometimes it is a performance like Kaboul's that turn out to be fantasy gold because of the massive price drop. Phil Bardsley was such an example earlier in the season. There are several mid-table opponents that may sway my judgment, but Sunderland look like they have returned to the ineptitude that marred the first half of their season, and if Gus Poyet is going to continue to bench his best attacking player, I will take my chances on Spurs getting their act together, even if Jan Vertonghen isn't fit.
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal) I am staying away from Arsenal all together this week as a trip to Goodison Park is never a tantalizing one, especially when you consider the Gunners have hit their toughest stretch of the season. Like Joe Hart, this isn't a case of predicting a terrible result, just a less-than-acceptable one when you consider the value on your investment. Cazorla is a top 5 priced midfielder, and when you break down recent form along with points per game, the value simply isn't there in the tougher fixtures. Brighter days ahead for the Gunners though, as investment should return for their final five games (WHM, ful, NEW, WBA, nor). Perhaps a cheaper Aaron Ramsey will be available at that point.
The Free Kick
Michu (Swansea City) He is still WAY under priced folks. Michu has started the last two matches, and while he hasn't completed them, he continues to play more and more minutes and popped up with an assist last week. Swansea in general are playing their best attacking football of the season to date. Wilfried Bony is looking a threat to score every match, Nathan Dyer is using his pace on the wing, Jonjo Shelvey and Jonathan de Guzman are showing some creativity and goal scoring touch...it is only a matte of time that Michu joins the party. Hull City are a decent defensive side at home, but I believe in the Swans attack more right now.
Romelu Lukaku (Everton) You would think three goals against Fulham and Lukaku would have played some part in it, but alas he didn't. He didn't look terrible against the Cottagers but it seemed easiest for wingers like Gerard Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas to penetrate from the wing. There is much on the line in this match for both sides as Everton have real shot at catching the Gunners. Therefore, I see this game being played rather tight and a 0-0 affair the likeliest result. I would rather invest in Leighton Baines, where you at least get a crack at attacking returns if not a potential clean sheet.
The Free Kick
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) Oh, Benteke. Don't bring me down. Don't taze me bro! Bentekkers didn't produce in fantasy terms last week but still looked menacing in his shift, and now you are telling me Fulham are coming to town? My personal front three are Suarez Sturridge and Rooney, with the first two having been there untouched for months. It takes a lot to knock Rooney off my #3 spot because I can afford to carry him this week, but if I decide to upgrade elsewhere, this is where I free up 6 million. A forward for 10 million of Benteke's quality in a home game against Fulham is an absolute bargain, regardless if he produces this weekend or not.
UPDATE: Benteke unfortunately suffered a major Achilles' injury and has been ruled out for the remainder of the season while in training this week. As a backup forward option, take a look this week atTottenham's Emmanuel Adebayor. Roberto Soldado has been ruled out of this weekend's clash making Adebayor the only high end striker available to Tim Sherwood. So expcet 90 minutes in a home game against a struggling Sunderland for a player who isn't far removed from being a "must-have". A bagain at only 13m this week.