And we're back. But we never went away.
After a polar vortex of matches over the holidays, the week off from Premier League action felt... well, certainly anti-climatic. But we still had FA Cup matches over the weekend, and League Cup matches midweek. There was still news and action and transfers and rumours. It just all felt a little... background.
But now we're back and it's time to take your first crack at a line-up for this weekend's Premier League matches. Here's mine:
1. Dimitar Berbatov - Back on New Years Day after a month out and he scored. Again. That makes four consecutive matches in which he's played in which he's scored (3) or assisted a goal (1). We appear to getting the motivated Berbatov, which probably coincides with the opening of the January transfer window. But who cares what his motivation are, we're fantasy managers not Fulham fans. Sunderland are playing Manchester United midweek, so surely a trip to Fulham is a trap game for them, as the emotion and travel takes their toll. So unless he transfers to Arsenal, or any of the number of other clubs to which he's been linked, he'll be in my line-up for Sunderland's visit to Craven Cottage.
2. Luis Suárez - Number seven on your team sheet, number one in your hearts... and captain poll.
3. Jay Rodriguez - Behind Eden Hazard (always a rotation risk, and at Hull which isn't easy) and Papiss Cisse (which is a statistical anomaly), Dimitar Berbatov is the in-form striker in the League (see above). Behind him is Nicolas Anelka off his brace against West Ham, and then Jay Rodriguez. I'm going with JRod as he was guaranteed a start before Ricky Lambert got hurt and Dani Osvaldo got himself suspended. He's also got a nice match-up with West Brom coming to St Mary's. I think matches against Everton and Chelsea have suppressed his form and hi price, and he looks a good bet to return to his scoring form of a month ago.
4. Serge Gnabry - A bit of a flyer here, but with Theo Walcott out for six-months and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just back in training, Gnabry seems poised for a run in the Arsenal team. He played on the right-side of the attack against Spurs in the FA Cup with Walcott shifted inside. At Aston Villa, Wenger's only other option would be to play Jack Wilshere there, and that doesn't seem likely. I think my first choice out of the Arsenal midfield would be Santi Cazorla, but for the price, Gnabry is assured a least a bench spot in my side, and likely a starting role.
5. Steven Gerrard - If I do go for Gnabry over Cazorla, then I have the money to bring Gerrard back into my team. Before he was injured, he was returning a steady stream of points from set-pieces and assists. Now that's he's made his comeback - as a substitute against Hull and as a starter against Oldham in the FA Cup - that should resume against Stoke City at the weekend. Jordan Henderson could be another bet from Liverpool's midfield, if Gerrard's return allows him to play in the attacking role he played in so well last month.
6. Aaron Lennon
7. Christian Eriksen - After Emmanuel Adebayor, these two have been the main beneficiaries of the Tim Sherwood era at Spurs. Both have scored goals in the last few weeks, and Eriksen has monopolised the set-pieces (not penalties, however) since he returned from injury. A home match against Crystal Palace should see them continue their recent form, and I don't mind doubling up on one team in this case.
8. Joel Ward - The Spurs choices above, however, do not diminish my expectations for Joel Ward. In fact, if he matches up against Eriksen (or more likely Danny Rose when Eriksen drifts centrally) Ward will earn his fair share of fantasy points from his usually spotless defensive work. And if he can get forward and isolated on Rose in attack, there may be more joy.
9. Vincent Kompany - I'm always a bit reticent to back Manchester City on the road, but Kompany should still return value. A clean sheet wouldn't surprise me if indeed Yohan Cabaye misses out with injury, but Kompany could also get his head to a corner or free-kick in Fabricio Coloccini's absence.
10 Nacho Monreal - This pick depends on Kieran Gibbs' health come game time, but if he's still out, Monreal is a great pick. An more attacking choice than Gibbs, he'll give Leandro Bacuna fits all match.
11. Joe Hart - See Kompany, Vincent above. This is a occasion where I have the player at a discount and would like to keep him long term. Manchester City isn't always a sure thing on the road, but more often than not, they'll win the match (at least not lose) and those points are valuable when they keep a goalkeeper from returning negative points. Of course a clean sheet could be in the off, and of course we'll be hoping for that too.