Context is important. As I was perusing Premier League Twitter yesterday and this morning and reading all about the coronation of Bruno Fernandes, it struck me that this is something that we forget far too often when racing to Tweet or write something come Monday Morning.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t come here to bury Fernandes or Manchester United. The Red Devils have risen to fifth after their win over the weekend and Fernandes has looked very much the part of an expensive acquisition since arriving at Old Trafford. Still, this is a Watford side that hasn’t been good in a month since the Nigel Pearson honeymoon apparently ended.
Yes, there’s a lazy narrative of a Fernandes-inspired Manchester United getting better since the Hornets beat the Red Devils 2-0 at Vicarage Road in late December in what was Nigel Pearson’s first win with the Hornets. Since the mid-January draw with Spurs, though, the Hornets haven’t been good. I mean, they’ve been lost-to-Aston-Villa level bad. Everton came back and won against the current version of the Hornets with only ten men on the field when they scored their winner.
Again, the point isn’t to belittle Fernandes or Manchester United but before we race to dub Fernandes a return to the days of Manchester United having real superstars, lets seem him do it against strong competition because Watford isn’t that. Yes, he played well against Wolves but lacked end product and added an assist in the win at Stamford Bridge (where Chelsea haven’t exactly been tearing it up either). The steady build from playing well to an assist to a goal and an assist looks good when charted out.
Why aren’t the same headlines being written about Fernandes’ fellow Portuguese rising star Diogo Jota after five goals in four days between his Europa League hat trick and his brace against Norwich City? It’s pretty easy to surmise:
- Any story about Manchester United is going to draw more clicks
- Fernandes is attached to a much bigger price tag
- Fernandes is newer to the Premier League so, unless we watch the Portuguese league, we don’t have any first-hand evidence that he’s isn’t the next coming of [fill in big star name]. Jota has had spells of excellence before but he’s also had slumps so we can be pretty sure he isn’t going to keep scoring at the silly pace of the last few days.
- There seems to be a desperation for Manchester United to be cast as reviving (which is probably related to #1 above)
So, what we have is two young Portuguese players on pretty good but not great Premier League teams who have been exceptional over a small sample size against questionable competition (for those wondering, Espanyol are currently bottom of the La Liga table so equating them with Watford and Norwich City is probably about right even though they’re in the Europa League knockout stages). The headlines are full of how amazing Fernandes is and how he might be the spark that starts to bring Manchester United. The headlines are relatively quiet on Jota even though he is younger and Wolves are a mere two points behind United in the table. From a fantasy point of view, Fernandes is the most added player for the match week while Jota was added at a third the rate in the Premier League salary cap game. Wolves (@Spurs, Brighton, @West Ham, Bournemouth, @Aston Villa) have an easier upcoming schedule than do United (@Everton, Manchester City, @Spurs, Sheffield United, and @Brighton). Oh, and Jota (6.1) is significantly cheaper than Fernandes (8.2) for salary cap purposes.
One of the themes that I find myself going back to over and over again in this column is trying your hardest to separate yourself from preconceived notions of “brand name” and, instead, substituting in actual evidence. In this case Manchester United and Bruno Fernandes (by virtue of his transfer fee) represent over-valued brand names and Wolves and Diogo Jota represent the actual facts pointing to superior upcoming production.
Just something to think about as you prioritize your transactions for the week (and think about waiver claims in Jota’s case).
The Title Race
Zzzzzzzz. Liverpool haven’t played yet but there doesn’t seem to be anything interesting likely to happen.
The Big Surprise
Chelsea have been struggling mightily over the past couple of months both with their play and their results. Spurs have been struggling as well but the results have largely been positive. The extent to which Chelsea not only beat Spurs but looked like the clearly superior side for the majority of the match was the most surprising thing to me over the weekend (you know, assuming West Ham don’t beat Liverpool later today). Much of the post-match narrative has been around the value that Olivier Giroud brought to the side. He is certainly a better player and a better compliment to a talented midfield than Michy Batshuayi. He might even be a better fit than Tammy Abraham even if Abraham is objectively the better individual player at this point.
Two of Chelsea’s next three matches (at Bournemouth and at Aston Villa with Everton sandwiched in-between) are favorable. It will be interesting to see if Giroud is given a run to help secure the Blues’ spot in the Champions League places or if Abraham, who should be healthy by next weekend, is restored to the line-up.
Oh, and my footie crush on Reece James continues to flourish. He looked excellent in the win.
The Weekly Arsenal
My excitement over Arsenal’s win over Everton is not me fooling myself into thinking they played particularly well. My excitement has everything to do with the fact that they didn’t play an exceptional match against a side that has been red hot and they found a way to win anyway. The late-era Wenger sides and Unai Emery’s Arsenal sides would have contrived to lose or draw that match in the most gut wrenching of ways. Maybe I’m fooling myself that it is down to anything more than the angle of Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s head on that late header that went just wide. Still, three points are three points and even more so against a team ahead of them in the table.
With a week off while City and Villa play in the League Cup final the Gunners have an enviable upcoming stretch with West Ham, @Brighton, @Southampton, and Norwich City before it gets tough again with @Wolves, Leicester City, @Spurs and Liverpool along with the reschedule of the City match. If the Gunners can make hay during March and survive April then they finish up against Aston Villa and Watford. Based on what I’ve seen, a Champions League spot isn’t out of the realm of possibility, especially if they don’t have to be playing a perfect match to win against a good side.
Since I ended the last section with gushing words about an up and coming wing back, I’ll keep the tradition going with some love for Bukayo Saka. He made some poor passes and some poor decisions over the course of the match but he has been exceptional. Perhaps, like Bellerin before him, Arsenal have uncovered another surprise at outside back due to circumstances. It’ll be even more exciting when he’s listed as a defender for fantasy purposes next season.
My Other Favorites
The Foxes continue to struggle. Losing to Manchester City is nothing to be ashamed of but they haven’t looked sharp for a couple of months. Wilfried Ndidi’s absence continues to be the missing piece and there doesn’t seem to be any word on when he might return. The Foxes are likely still in good shape for a Champions League spot but with each successive mediocre performance the nerves have to be getting at least slightly more on edge.
In contrast to the Foxes, Wolves must be feeling much better for seemingly coming out the other side with their time in the doldrums. Having consecutive matches (Europa League and Premier League) against the bottom sides in their respective leagues always helps. Level of competition aside, you can only win the match you’re playing and Wolves are fortunate to have a relatively easy stretch upcoming and seem to be getting Spurs at the ideal time to get a result. Raúl Jiménez has been excellent all season but it’s reasonable to look for Jota, Doherty, and Moutinho to join the attacker as fantasy-relevant for the next month.
Fantasy Ups and Downs
What a perfect transition from the last section to this one. Wolves and Arsenal have favorable upcoming schedules on the backs of improved play. Leicester City have a stretch of seemingly-easy matches to rebuild their form. It is a less-exciting picture for Everton who get Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool over their next three and United who get Everton, Manchester City, and Spurs.
Stock Down – Ben Foster looked like his stock might rebound after Nigel Pearson took over but his fortunes have suffered along with his team’s over the past month.
Stock Up – Alex McCarthy has had a rough go over the past month but the clean sheet against Aston Villa is a nice launch point to the next three matches when the Saints get @West Ham, Newcastle, and @Norwich City. If you’re looking for a goalkeeper that’s a nice stretch to bet on.
Stock Down – Lucas Digne missed out against Arsenal with a minor muscle strain. The former Barcelona man’s stock doesn’t go down due to injury so much as the upcoming schedule where he will likely only earn his keep if he picks up some assists.
Stock Up – Patrick Van Aanholt scored, contributed to a clean sheet, and got all three bonus points in his third match back from injury. Look for a continued rise back to prominence over the next three weeks with @Brighton, Watford, and @Bournemouth up next for the Eagles.
Stock Down – Matteo Guendouzi has never been a big fantasy contributor but the revival of Dani Ceballos’ career and the reported bust-up with Mikel Arteta seems to have the young Frenchman’s prospects for playing time at a new low.
Stock Up – I could be cheeky and throw Bruno Fernandes into this space after arguing against him as a priority but I’m going to pump up Dwight McNeil who I highlighted in my PL.com waiver wire column last week ahead of his breakout performance against Bournemouth. With struggling Newcastle coming up next he’s in a great position to keep the good times rolling.
Stock Down – It looked like Alexandre Lacazette was primed for a bounce up in value after scoring against Newcastle and then contributing the winner against Olympiacos in mid-week. Instead, the France international was an unused substitute while fellow forwards Eddie Nketiah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored all three of Arsenal’s goals.
Stock Up – Matej Vydra gets a mention here for the second week in a row after reminding us that he’s alive at all in Week 26 he made it two in two in Week 27. With Ashley Barnes not certain to be back for next weekend against Newcastle, it could well be three in three before Barnes returns.
The European Places
The European spots below the league title are still a mess. Leicester City and Spurs were both unimpressive. Chelsea was better but certainly can’t be considered out of the woods. Sheffield United was adequate. Manchester United did what you’re supposed to do against a bad team which is more than they were doing for much of the first half of the season. Arsenal won again even if it was an incomplete performance. Everton lost in an equally incomplete performance. Wolves bounced back. The Foxes are almost certainly into the Champions League but the rest? Your guess is probably as good as mine but here goes:
It’s starting to look like Watford (based on form, not current number of points) and Norwich City are pretty well guaranteed to go down. The third relegation spot is going to be a dogfight between Aston Villa, Brighton, West Ham, Newcastle, and Bournemouth. I feel like the Cherries have one more burst of two or three results in a row in them and it will ultimately save them from the drop. Newcastle, I suspect, did just enough in the first half of the season to stagger over the line to safety. West Ham has enough pure talent that I’m loath to bet on them going down. That leaves it between Brighton and Aston Villa. The Seagulls have a three point lead over the Villains and that seems like enough to leave Dean Smith’s side in the relegation places for now.
Waiver Wire Priorities
Goalkeeper – See above, I’m picking up Alex McCarthy if he’s available and I need someone immediately. If I can wait a week and Bernd Leno is available due to Arsenal not playing next week then I’m happy to pick him up a week early.
Defender – Marcos Alonso looked reborn for the Blues against Spurs. That could be because Spurs are struggling at outside back these days but with Bournemouth next up it is reasonable to expect that the Spaniard will both get another start and do something with it.
Midfielder – Dwight McNeil at Newcastle is far and away my preferred waiver wire claim among midfielders. Most of the other likely-to-be-available midfielders who did well this past weekend feel too much like anomalies.
Forward – Matej Vydra is a great story and he’s not a terrible idea as a pick-up and Eddie Nketiah is a nice option too if you can wait a week for your production but Diogo Jota is the clear choice here among all likely-available options regardless of position. If you’re still looking to adequately replace Harry Kane or Marcus Rashford then another second half of the season hot streak from Jota is likely the best bet you’re going to get the rest of the season.
The reminder here is that Manchester City, Arsenal, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United are off for Match Week 28 due to the League Cup final being contested between City and Villa. The remaining eight matches have Everton vs Manchester United and Spurs vs Wolves on Sunday as the best match-ups while there are a lot of seemingly lopsided affairs with superior sides traveling to see inferior hosts which is always a dicey proposition. Matches that meet those criteria include Leicester City traveling to Carrow Road, Burnley going to Newcastle, and Chelsea heading south to face the Cherries.
As always, enjoy the matches and good luck with your waiver claims.