Before we get down to business this week, I need to touch on a non-Premier League topic...
Catastrophe. Disaster. Flop. All of these words can be used to describe the USMNT failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The beautiful disaster of a qualification campaign came to an end with a 2-1 defeat by Trinidad & Tobago, coupled with victories by Panama over Costa Rica and Honduras over Mexico. However, it’s unwise to think the USMNT is not going to the World Cup simply because of their inability to get result when it was needed most.
The form displayed across the fourth round of qualification and the Hex was not deserving of securing a place in the World Cup—winless away from home soil, just four goals scored and nine conceded. But now is not the time to blame Jürgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, or lift a finger at the quality of CONCACAF. Above all else, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. The prior success achieved has fostered complacency and while missing out on Russia is a failure, it’s also a chance to rebuild a long outdated structural model.
That being said, new USSF leadership will make the same mistakes unless the change ushers in a new philosophy. The need for promotion and relegation or other popular opinions dwarfs the need for prioritizing the creation of an American football identity. Unique styles of play, tactical approaches or even a formational curriculum, working to create ones of these is the key to success for years to come. Players, coaches and leaders all have expiration dates, but a sustainable model fueled by a distinctive attribute does not.
….With that out of the way, here’s what you need to know to maximize my advice for Togga draft leagues. This column is reserved for weekly free agent and waiver-wire adds, and features only players owned in less than 50 percent of leagues. Players who make each column will be classified as a streaming option, (one-week add), long-term add (worth holding for a specific duration of matches) or a must-add (should be owned in all leagues).
Joe Hart, West Ham (26 percent): If you need a goalkeeper this week, Hart isn’t a bad option. His score last week (25.75) was inflated by an unlikely assist, which he picked up when he played a long ball that got past Ben Mee and sent Michail Antonio in to finish on a one-v-one. The reason for tipping Hart is based on both his body of work over the last five matches and a home fixture against Brighton. He’s kept clean sheets in his last two games at the London Stadium and three in total since GW4, all against opponents with stronger frontlines. For a solid return though, Hart will need to record his fourth clean sheet of the season as the Seagulls have forced the second-fewest saves to opposing goalkeepers. This makes him a calculated risk, bearing in mind Chris Hughton’s side have just one away goal to show from four matches.
Davide Zappacosta, Chelsea (19 percent): With Victor Moses ruled out for at least a month by a hamstring injury, Zappacosta should take over the starting right wing-back job. The Italy international full-back replaced Moses during the 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace and while there wasn’t much to show from his 50 minutes, he is a like-for-like alternative in fantasy. The 25-year-old is known for his attacking acumen. Zappacosta was one of the most dangerous attacking defenders in Serie A last season as he ranked; second in assists (5), third in accurate crosses (48) and fifth in key passes (41). He actually outperformed Moses, who also made 29 appearances in 2016-17, in each category. Zappacosta may need some time to adapt in England but did impress on his Chelsea debut in the Champions League, scoring a rocket from distance in the 2-0 win over Qarabag. He’s a player whose value is elevated in Antonio Conte’s system as a starter in 10-team leagues or deeper.
Per Mertesacker, Arsenal (6 percent): With Shkodran Mustafi out, Mertesacker was selected ahead of Rob Holding and had a man of the match performance in GW8. The German centre-back scored a header from a Granit Xhaka corner while adding 13 aerials won and 12 clearances during the 2-1 loss to Watford at Vicarage Road. Given the circumstance of Arsenal being without Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny, who should return this weekend, Mertesacker’s effort was even more commendable considering it was his first appearance of the season. He’s a short-term add for the duration of Mustafi’s absence, and should be viewed as a starter in 12-team leagues for Saturday’s match against Everton.
Chris Smalling, Manchester United (28 percent): Eric Bailly missed Manchester United’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool after suffering an injury while playing for the Ivory Coast over the international break. As a result, Smalling started at centre-back alongside Phil Jones. Though the Englishmen failed to produce a double-digit fantasy score, United’s defense record is too good to ignore. Smalling should be called upon this weekend against Huddersfield Town with Jones now also in doubt, making him a top streaming consideration. The Terriers are winless in their last six matches and have scored just one goal during that span.
Yohan Cabaye, Crystal Palace (41 percent): Crystal Palace got on track with a shockingly dominate victory over Chelsea at the weekend and Cabaye was at the heart of the success. The Frenchman earned a fantasy assist when his goal-bound strike deflected off Cesar Azpilicueta, plus led the Eagles in both touches (82) and interceptions (6). Over the his last five starts, Cabaye has created 12 chances and made 16 interceptions—more than any other Palace player. With the club on the up, the 31-year-old is worth a look for this weekend’s trip to Newcastle. He’s averaging 8.75 points per match and a candidate for more assists thanks to the return of Wilfried Zaha.
Mario Lemina, Southampton (41 percent): If you own James Ward-Prowse and have been wondering why he hasn’t been starting for Southampton, it’s because Lemina has thoroughly impressed as Oriol Romeu’s partner in defensive midfielder. Since GW5, the summer signing from Juventus is averaging 68.25 passes per match with a completion rate of 90.3%. For context, Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic is averaging 69 passes per game with a competition rate of 87.3%. Equally consistent fantasy scores have also matched Lemina’s passing efficiency. The 24-year-old averaged 10.67 points per match across his last three, which was the same amount as Fernandinho and more than Granit Xhaka (9.33). His production grounded by defensive stats, specifically tackles won and interceptions, making Lemina someone to added in deeper leagues. He’s a borderline fifth midfielder against West Brom this weekend.
Nacer Chadli, West Brom (20 percent): Chadli scored a fantastic free kick during the 1-1 draw with Leicester City on Monday. It was the Belgian’s first goal in his appearances of the season after recovering from a muscle problem. A start isn’t a guarantee given the quick turn before facing Southampton on Saturday, but Chadli would have elevated value as a set-piece taker. Food for thought: West Brom have scored more goals on set-pieces (47) than any other Premier League club since Tony Pulis was appointed in 2015. He’s a long-shot streaming option for managers desperate in midfield.
Manolo Gabbiadini, Southampton (44 percent): Gabbiadini’s second season with Southampton has been disappointing. Yet after starting three successive matches from the bench with just two fantasy points, Gabbiadini returned to the starting XI and scored a brace in the 2-2 draw against Newcastle. The 25-year-old grabbed his double by finding the net with both of his shots on target, latching onto a pass from Nathan Redmond to completed a 10-pass move for his first and latter smashed home from the penalty spot. Now that Gabbiadini’s drought is over, managers in need of a forward should give him a serious look. Across his three appearances of more than 70 minutes this season, he’s scored three goals and averaged 12.83 fantasy points. Though he had managed just one goal in 15 appearances prior to GW8, Gabbiadini has a history of scoring in bunches. Last season, he scored six goals in his first four appearances for Southampton. In 2015-16 for Napoli, he was limited to just seven starts by injury but scored seven goals across those matches. In 2014-15 for Napoli, he scored in three successive matches four different times. Nevertheless, he’s the best goalscorer the Saints have to offer.
Nikola Vlasic, Everton (3 percent): Unlikely fellow summer signing Sandro Ramirez, Vlasic seized his shot to prove he can be contributor in Ronald Koeman’s first-team. The Croatian was handed his second straight league start and put on an impressing display during the 1-1 draw against Brighton. Koeman’s decision paid dividends as Vlasic, playing on the right wing, recorded a match best in both successful take-one (5) and key passes (4). Vlasic is a sizable gamble against Arsenal but, if you can afford to roster him this week, could have starting value in 12-team leagues for the GW10 trip to an out-of-sorts Leicester City. The Foxes have allowed the second most points to opposing forwards this season.
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