HULL CITY ARE THE NEW LEICESTER CITY!!!
At the core of writing a column called Overreaction Monday is listening to a pundit on TV uttering those words, even with tongue slightly in cheek, and getting upset. Why does it make me upset? Hull City winning twice to start the season under trying circumstances is a great accomplishment but let’s not cheapen what Leicester City did last season by comparing it to 180 minute of football. Please remember LEICESTER CITY WON THE FREAKIN TITLE. Like Hull City they were tipped by many for relegation and they defied those expectations for 3,420 minutes of Premier League season. Hull City is a nice story. Leicester City was a sports story for the ages.
That said, while we shouldn’t overreact to it, we should take note that the three newly promoted sides are now sitting at P6, W4, D1, L1 with the one L coming by a single goal. Hull City have beaten the defending champions and then gone on the road and beaten a solid Premier League club in Swansea. Boro were extremely competitive with Stoke City in their 1-1 draw in Week 1 and would have won that but for a wonderful Xherdan Shaqiri set piece goal. Burnley have an equally impressive scalp to Hull City’s Leicester City win after beating Liverpool 2-0 at Turf Moor this weekend to go with their loss to the Swans in Week 1. One or more are likely to fade into the relegation battle but so far they’ve started the season off looking like they aren’t going to be push-overs.
Now that we have two full weekends of action in the books, I’m going to do some fantasy Reaction/Overreaction to help managers figure out how to navigate the early-season waters:
Overreaction: Zlatan is going to score 30 goals! No, he isn’t. The concerns about his age and how he’ll hold up over a full season in a more physical league than Ligue Un are still reasonable. You don’t worry about the 34-year-old player after two matches, you worry about him starting in about November when the schedule becomes a grind. By then he’ll have been kicked repeatedly by the Ryan Shawcross’ of the world for the better part of three months and we’ll find out if he’s still up to being “the man” in an extremely physical league. The other minor concern for fantasy managers in leagues that employ peripheral stats, basically all of them other than PL.com, is that Zlatan doesn’t do a great deal other than score goals. That’s great when he’s scoring but on the weeks when he doesn’t, it looks like he isn’t going to be a great selection.
Reaction: Curtis Davies is going to be a stud. No, he isn’t going to hang with Zlatan and Sergio Aguero at the top of the overall scoring charts in formats like Togga all season as he is now. Let’s remember though that he was excellent in fantasy formats featuring peripheral defending stats in the past as well so this shouldn’t come as a huge shock.
Overreaction: Etienne Capoue is the “must-have” midfielder on waivers this week! Capoue has been off to a great start with two goals in two weeks. He’s even playing a little further up the pitch for Walter Mazzarri compared to what he was doing last season. The concern is that he’s not known as a goal-scorer and if those two goals were merely shots on target then Capoue would be hovering with the Jack Corks and Wayne Routledges of the world as adequate midfielders but definitely not world-beaters.
Reaction: Adam Lallana and Theo Walcott look like potential draft league steals. Both were devalued over the summer due to the threats to playing time that the transfer rumor mill suggested. Arsenal were linked with Riyad Mahrez while Liverpool brought in two new midfielders in Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum. Despite those threats, Walcott and Lallana have both produced solid peripheral numbers in addition to scoring against each other in Week 1. Maybe we’ll find that their numbers from Week 1 were inflated by the 4-3 goalfest but they both still look pretty solid after being shut out in Week 2.
Overreaction: Alvaro Negredo is the truth! So, he’s scored a goal and gotten two assists over two matches and is among the best scoring forwards in all fantasy formats. The catch? He scored with his only shot on target over 180+ minutes of action. Basically, it feels like every touch he’s had so far has led to either a goal or an assist. That just isn’t sustainable. Either he needs to get more involved to be an effective fantasy option or he’s going to be found out when he goes three or four matches in a row without a goal or an assist.
Reaction: Here’s a list of other guys who seem like their current, surprising form has legs (because it isn’t down to goals/assists/clean sheets): George Friend, Ahmed Elmohamady, Tom Heaton, Ben Foster, Kyle Walker, Kyle Naughton, Eric Bailly, and Leroy Fer.
Overreaction: Here are some others to watch out for because they’re flying particularly high due to goals/assists/clean sheets: James Collins (one goal/one clean sheet), Cristhian Stuani (two goals), Kevin Mirallas (more because I’m worried about his playing time, if he starts he’ll be valuable until he gets hurt), Nolito (two goals), Diego Costa (meh despite two goals), and Michy Batshuayi (goal and an assist in two substitute appearances – don’t bit unless/until he starts).
Oh, and Paul Pogba is going to be just AWESOME in leagues that reward peripheral actions. He’s does a little bit of everything. He will still be good in the Premier League official game but not nearly the dominant force that he’ll be in Togga and the Fantrax advanced scoring system.
The Top Six
With so much upheaval among the big clubs, it’s hard to separate a presumptive title contender or even a presumptive top four. All six clubs who could legitimately be called title contenders without a lot of people snickering have lots of talent and at least a few flaws. We’ll kick off the season lumping them into one group and see how things shake out from there.
Manchester United: The opposition hasn’t been exceptional yet but they’ve looked excellent over their first two matches. Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, and David De Gea are exactly what you’d look for when constructing the spine of a team. If Jose Mourinho successfully lures Jose Fonte from St. Mary’s, it may not matter who plays next to Pogba at the base of midfield. All of this an Mkhitaryan still hasn’t started yet. The Manchester Derby in two weeks’ time is going to be endlessly interesting. If you’re looking for peak Jose Mourinho though, the fact that he’s found a way to dominate two matches where he started Marouane Fellaini in a key role is it. Could there be any more obvious way to thumb his nose at David Moyes (who brought Fellaini to Old Trafford) and Louis Van Gaal (who insisted against the evidence that Fellaini could be an important part of the solution)? It is at the same time nice and horrible to have that Jose back.
Manchester City: Anytime you can go on the road and beat a top half team 4-1 you have something to be proud of regardless of your aspirations for the season. The final score line was, perhaps, a bit generous to City as the Potters appeared to give up late as they were allowing Nolito to score a rare substitute brace. Maybe the point should be that City have enough talent to make what we assume will be a solid side cry uncle at home.
Chelsea: I didn’t have a chance to write about Antonio Conte’s side last Monday because they played their opener after I hit “publish”. They have been on display twice since then and while they have kept pace with the Manchester clubs with two victories, they certainly don’t seem to be operating at the same level. At some point, someone is going to start sending Diego Costa off for being Diego Costa. He scored both winners and, in doing so, demonstrated his talent. Unfortunately, he probably should have been sent off before either happened. The good news is that Eden Hazard looks reborn and new signing Michy Batshuayi looks magic in partnership with Costa as soon as he comes in off the bench. The defense is still surprisingly suspect for a Conte side, especially one with Matic AND Kante holding, but a change to that will probably require reinforcements.
Tottenham: Spurs still don’t look quite back up to their best from last season. Whether that is because a high percentage of the starting group played over the summer or because Mauricio Pochettino’s teams have tended to start slowly in the Premier League isn’t clear. What is clear is that Vincent Janssen looks like a strong addition. Whether paired with Harry Kane or as a potential deputy, that helps sure up what was the biggest gap in the squad from last season. There is still some concern transitioning from defense to attack without Mousa Dembele but Victor Wanyama at least helped paper over that particular crack with a headed winner. Wanyama and Dier are more like-for-like than Wanyama and Dembele. I’ll keep mentioning it until Spurs do something about it but real depth in the Dembele role, especially given Dembele’s questionable health record, is going to become the new “Spurs are screwed if…” now that Kane seemingly has his deputy.
Liverpool: What happened to that flowing attack from Week 1? That Liverpool are still questionable in defense isn’t a shock given that Jurgen Klopp is choosing not to start a holding midfielder and doubled down by starting a midfielder at left back as well. The shock is that despite superior talent, playing seven players that have primarily been attackers at some point in their careers, and an overwhelming advantage in possession Liverpool only managed five shots on target with none finding the back of the net.
When asked about further transfer business, Klopp clearly diverted the conversation to the notion that improvement could and would come from the training ground. Whether that’s to mask potential transfer ambitions or just because he was frustrated, it seems unlikely that this Liverpool squad has it in them to compete for a title. There just isn’t enough quality in the four acknowledged defensive positions to allow for Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson to be the holding midfielders. Even if the defense were better, and included a competent left back, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that a team with no defense-first holding midfielder is fundamentally flawed. An Arsenal side that couldn’t break down a Kante-less Leicester City a week later looked positively dangerous against the Reds. Can you imagine how United or City are going to look?
Arsenal: Well, the defense got itself in order with the return of Laurent Koscielny. There is still the massive worry that they are one Koscielny hamstring or calf tweak away from being the defense that was overrun by Liverpool. Presumably, Wenger will apply a crowbar to his wallet and pay up for Mustafi or Giminez or Evans or someone else to ensure that we don’t have to see Holding and Chambers playing together again this season outside of a League Cup match.
Now, on to the next problem which is that Alexis Sanchez just isn’t a center forward regardless of how much Arsene Wenger wants it to be so. Alexis thrives running at people and playing facing the goal but within the framework of the Arsenal attack, those are things best achieved from a wide attacking position. Olivier Giroud, and any potential deputy/replacement starter, must create a focal point for players like Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott to play off of and around. Having Sanchez in the middle of the Arsenal attack also blunts the value of guys like Monreal and Bellerin crossing the ball. Sanchez is a physical player for sure but he isn’t a great header of the ball nor does he naturally think to position himself for that sort of work. Playing Sanchez as a center forward against Leicester City only served to weaken two positions – it weakened the center forward position by putting a player ill-suited to the task there and it weakened the left-sided attacking spot by starting Oxlade-Chamberlain over Sanchez. Just poor management all-around.
The other thing that all of this points out is that Arsenal are at three in terms of positions where they are truly screwed if someone gets hurt – center back, center forward and right back. That’s an unacceptable number of squad gaps for a club with the sort of spending power that Arsenal has.
Beyond the clubs that can realistically expect to challenge for the Champions League this season, Leicester City, Everton, and West Ham look like the most likely to insert themselves into the narrative that is the Premier League season in a significant way.
Leicester City: Curious that Claudio Ranieri would start a speedster in Ahmed Musa for a match against an opponent in Hull City that were clearly always going to bunker in and try to weather the storm (thereby negating the impact of speed). It got even more curious when Ranieri decided to go the other direction and start the slower, more technical Okazaki against a team in Arsenal that was going to do their best to dominate possession (thereby opening up counterattacking oppositions that would benefit from the presence of more speed). I’m sure there’s more to it than that but it didn’t make much sense to me.
The result, while not great in the context of Leicester City being defending champions and playing at home, is actually an improvement on how the Foxes did against Leicester City last season when they lost twice. We’re still looking for that first indication that the Foxes can summon their fearsome break again this season but let’s give it a little time before we panic about the start of the season.
West Ham: The Hammers are going to be a tough club to judge. They tried their best to hang in against Chelsea without Dimitri Payet for much of the match and while losing new signing Andre Ayew in the first half. Throw that on top of having lost Aaron Cresswell in pre-season and Andy Carroll between weeks 1 and 2 and you’ve got a full-blown injury crisis right out of the gates. Arsene Wenger would be proud (or at least nod his head knowingly). Michail Antonio saved them blushes in their opener at the London (formerly Olympic) Stadium but it looks like a team that is going to rely on Payet in a massive way until either the injuries work themselves out or some additional reinforcements arrive.
Everton: A first win for Ronald Koeman despite the fact that Romelu Lukaku, Yannick Bolasie and Ashley Williams are being brought along slowly. All three featured for the Toffees as substitutes but things should only get better as Lukaku returns to his spot leading the line and Bolasie and Williams work into the starting line-up. We haven’t really learned a ton about the Toffees yet because a draw with Spurs at Goodison Park and a win over West Brom wouldn’t have been an unusual start to the season under Roberto Martinez either. What we do know is that the new owners are aggressive in the transfer market, Lukaku looks set to stay for at least another season, and there is still room in the current squad for improvement. Could be a fun season if everything breaks right for the Toffees.
The Relegation Battle
With the transfer window not yet closed it’s foolish to say too much with any certainty about the relegation battle since the margins usually end up being so fine come the end of the season. That said, it wouldn’t be a column without at least some thoughts on who is likely facing the drop.
Bournemouth: The schedule-makers didn’t do the Cherries any favors by scheduling them against Manchester United to open the season and then threw them a date at the London Stadium as the Hammers opened their new venue. Still, having watched every minute of both matches, I haven’t seen much that leads me to believe that the Cherries have improved. From my point of view the issue lies with the midfield. Between Jordan Ibe, Harry Arter, Andrew Surman, and Ryan Fraser there never appeared to be anyone capable of breaking down a good-but-not-great West Ham defense. That left the occasional long ball to Callum Wilson and a long-range attempt from Joshua King as the likely routes to a goal. Neither Wilson nor King are good enough for those to be plans A and B. Lewis Cook, the highly-touted summer signing didn’t look much more dynamic last weekend before picking up an ankle injury. Unless there’s some big money laid out over the next week or so, it looks like it could be a dismal attacking season for the Cherries.
Sunderland: How often will the Black Cats go back to the well of purchasing the cast-offs from big clubs before they decide that there’s a reason that they’re cast-offs? Adnan Januzaj may turn into a solid acquisition if granted the playing time to develop the talent we’ve heard all about. The concern is that the Black Cats, mostly due to the turnover in managers, have never been allowed to settle. Younes Kaboul (former Spurs castoff) has now given way to Paddy McNair (United castoff) and Papy Djilobodji (Chelsea castoff) with January arrival Lamine Kone looking like he might be the next interchangeable part out the door. A revolving door in the Manager’s chair isn’t a death sentence as clubs like Swansea and Southampton have proven. What is required though, is a front office team that has a strategy and continues to find managers who can operate without the expense and disruption of turning over the squad at each new turn. Until the Black Cats figure that out, they’ll deserve their spot in the relegation zone.
Hull City: Two wins in two weeks and six points on the journey to 40 before the end of August. Until the squad gets deeper they still deserve their place here in the presumed relegation ranks. If they can bolster the squad even by a few solid players between now and the end of the month while they wait for Michael Dawson and Harry Maguire to return from injury then maybe there’s some hope. If ownership continues to hold their purses Wenger-tight to their chests and refuse to buy ahead of a wished-for sale then things are likely to go the way they did at Villa Park where ownership took a similar stance. Here’s hoping the optimism of the first two weeks isn’t washed away by the time we move from September to October.
Burnley: A huge win against a big opponent. If Sam Vokes and Andre Gray but there is still danger lurking. Sam Vokes and Andre Gray conjured great magic against Liverpool but the Clarets scored their two goals on their only two shots on target. That’s just not sustainable. Like Watford last season, it isn’t impossible but it’s hard to see Vokes and Gray reaching the same heights as Ighalo and Deeney even if Sam Dyche’s defense seems as up to the task as Quique Sanchez Flores’ was. A significant attacking midfielder would at least provide hope between now and the transfer deadline.
West Brom: With new ownership in place, Albion seem intent on starting to add new players to the mix so maybe there is hope that they’ll make a move toward mid-table. They have already brought in some depth this week with the arrival of Brendon Galloway from Liverpool and the rumor has them on the trail of Jay Rodriguez of Southampton. If they can bolster their depth and maybe add a wide attacking option or two – although their mooted move for Jeffrey Schlupp seems to be going nowhere – then they should slide out of this spot into mid-table comfort relatively quickly.
Middlesbrough: A draw and a win in their first two matches and Boro seem to be the definition of solid. There doesn’t appear to be a real breakout talent as we’ve seen from previous newly promoted clubs that stayed up but the ability to bring an experienced Premier League goalkeeper like Brad Guzan off the bench when a Champions League winner like Victor Valdes is injured is the sort of depth that will make Boro the envy of their bottom half rivals. Jordan Rhodes, once considered the best forward playing in England outside of the Premier League, is rumored to be heading back down to the Championship because Boro don’t need him to stretch to make the leap up in competition. There may be no Gray or Ighalo or Deeney but there appears to be more than enough “good enough” in this squad to survive for a second season in the big time.
Fantasy Player of the Year of the Week: While Zlatan and Aguero scored braces, I’m going to give this one to Michail Antonio who saved my Perfect XI weekend with a fantastic performance after it was confirmed that Dimitri Payet was indeed not going to feature. I chose Antonio to replace him and he delivered with a strong performance that would have been good without the goal but a goal, clean sheet and all-action performance finished the weekend off strong.
Player of the Year of the Week: We’ll make this one a tie between Sergio Aguero and Zlatan for their respective braces. Going to be fun watching the two of them battle each other for the golden boot all season. Unless Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku get their respective acts together and start scoring, the race may be over before it even starts.
Newcomer of the Year of the Week: We’ve already tipped our hat in this section to Zlatan and Nolito’s brace seemed to be more of the right-place-right-time variety so this nod is going to Paul Pogba who looked every bit the superstar addition for Manchester United. The gasping at his ability to play 90 minutes of football seems a bit overdone – he’s 23-years-old and a supreme athlete – but his combination of skill and ability while seemingly exerting no effort whatsoever was what was impressive. He’s going to be fun to watch.
Young Player of the Year of the Week: At 22-years-old, Eric Bailly isn’t THAT young but his adaptation to the Premier League makes the Eliquim Mangala signing across town look that much worse by contrast. Bailly looks like he’s the real deal and he showed it in helping to blunt a Southampton attack that boasts some solid talent in Tadic, Redmond, and Long.
Manager of the Year of the Week: At the risk of offending Mike Phelan after his second win in two weeks, we’re giving this one to Sean Dyche. Beating the Liverpool attacking juggernaut while only managing 20% possession is remarkable. Yes, the possession stats are horribly flawed but Liverpool touched the ball 1032 times to Burnley’s 380 according to the Premier League’s web site. Dyche’s defense was well-enough organized to allow only five shots on target from the more talented Reds and outscored the opposition 2-0. If that isn’t Manager of the Year of the Week stuff then I don’t know what is.
Under the Radar Fantasy Stud of the Year of the Week: I mentioned Curtis Davies in the intro so we’ll move on to Kyle Naughton who had his second consecutive strong outing in formats that reward peripheral stats. He’s never likely to be exceptional when it comes to goals or assists but if he can add 10 or so clean sheets to strong peripheral performances like he’s had over the first two matches then he’s going to be a Top 15 defender over the course of the season.
And Everything Else
My Second Team: Everton picked up their first win and it looks like they’ll be keeping Lukaku to go with Gueye, Williams and Bolasie and Joe Hart is still a real possibility which puts the Toffees into the driver’s seat for being my second team. Crystal Palace kept pace by confirming Christian Benteke although it feels like they still need one more piece at the base of midfield to be advance past mid-table. Finally, Middlesbrough are edging into my consciousness as well after using the transfer market and their newfound spending power smartly – we all love a two-way outside back coming up from the lower divisions and George Friend might just tip the balance toward Boro.
This Week in Fantasy Leagues:
The IEFSA League: It’s been an ugly start to the IEFSA Experts League with Yannick Bolasie in transfer limbo, Wahbi Khazri not starting, and Dimitri Payet having only a single substitute appearance to his credit. Khazri may have lost his spot to Januzaj with the arrival of David Moyes which means that I really haven’t been able to afford the absences of Payet and Bolasie. I’m still optimistic once Payet and Bolasie are back but it’s been a humbling first two weeks.
Togga Experts League: The Togga Experts League started in a similarly rough way with Glen Johnson, Seamus Coleman, and Yannick Bolasie out and Hugo Lloris injured early in his Week 1 match and Christian Benteke not yet transferred. Week 2 was a huge uptick with Adrian and the newly acquired James Collins both getting clean sheets along with solid peripheral stats. I got a goal from Patrick Van Aanholt and a clean sheet from Christian Fuchs and that was enough to win my match-up before we even got to the midfield and attack. As a bonus, I got Christian Benteke’s transfer solidified, a strong outing from Harry Kane and another start from Theo Walcott. Midfield remains something of a wasteland with Bolasie a sub and Cabaye, Ibe and Phillips struggling to contribute. Robert Snodgrass was OK but still not what you want from a second or third best midfielder on your roster.
The Good Points Tally: The running total of who picked up unexpected points: Hull City 6; Burnley 3; Liverpool 3; Middlesbrough 3; Watford 1;
The Bad Points Tally: The running total of who dropped points they should have had: Liverpool 3; Swansea 3; Sunderland 3; Arsenal 3; Southampton 2;
What We Learned: The two Manchester teams are going to roll mediocre opposition. United have improved both their talent and their management over the summer and City have mostly improved management and it looks enough to return “expected result” to our vocabulary after a season when that phrase lost all meaning. Chelsea are still an acquisition or two in defense away from being able to say the same. The attack looks pretty well set but if Conte is going to start two holding midfielders and the defense is still going to look shaky at times against the likes of Watford then the talent at the back has to improve. The newly promoted sides aren’t going to go quietly back from whence they came which is going to make things interesting for the entire bottom half. That, in turn, is going to make the transfer deadline wild. With so much money on the line you can bet that decision-makers around the Premier League are going to dig deep into their wallets to make sure it isn’t their team that goes down. Oh, and Liverpool look like they’re going to be one wild rollercoaster of an experience this season.
What’s Next? We’re back to Saturday and Sunday only for Week 3 and it’s an exciting fixture between Spurs and Liverpool at White Hart Lane to kick it off early on Saturday. It’s early for this sort of thing but both clubs really could use an emphatic statement given the early pace that United, City and Chelsea are setting. Chelsea and Manchester United should make relatively easy work of newly promoted sites (Burnley and Hull City respectively) while Arsenal and Leicester City look to improve on their one-point-from-two-matches starts to the season at Watford and home to Swansea respectively. We should get our first look at Christian Benteke in Eagles colors against Bournemouth at Selhurst Park. As they did last weekend, West Ham close out the Premier League schedule with a trip to the Etihad to face off with Manchester City.
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