It is with a heavy heart that I quickly summarize the events which took place after my advice in last week's Free Kick. It hurt enough to come to the realization as a Spurs fan that my boys are all but dead in the water when it comes to chasing a Champion's League spot after coming away empty-handed at Carrow Road, but when Olivier Giroud scored not once but twice in the opening half hour for Arsenal, any semblance of an enjoyable weekend of footy was thwarted. I warned myself in my own column that Giroud would probably burn me again, and he did. My reasoning was valid, and I still stand behind it, and I could have even dealt with him scoring once in stride, but to bag a brace....ouch. To be honest though, what hurt the most was the recommendation of David Marshall, who I started myself and watched the -10 point nightmare unfold. News had surfaced that Cardiff CDM Gary Medel was ruled out and I did not properly consider just how crucial he is to keeping Cardiff at least a respectable defensive club. Without him, and with a cavalcade of errors and lack of hustle shown by the Bluebirds defense, Marshall was not as appealing as he seemed coming off of his heroic 19 point effort.
Those two unfortunate calls aside, it was a pretty good week for The Free Kick: I had the confidence that Pellegrini would stick with Martin Demichelis, and he did, providing investors with an inexpensive clean sheet. I advised against David Luiz who was coming off a game with an assist and he did not start. I said pass on midfield giant Adam Lallana this week, saying to go for Raheem Sterling instead, and Sterling popped up with a gorgeous assist for the opening Liverpool goal.
Right. Let's take a look at this week's standard and Free Kick representatives. 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. ****REMEMBER - Manchester City, Manchester United, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion are all not playing this weekend.
Tim Krul - (Newcastle United) Coming off of a clean sheet, playing Hull City and costing under 10m should be enough criteria to at least consider Krul this week, but I am not buying it. Even with the clean sheet performance included, Krul has been averaging 2 points a week in the game over the past 10 matches - a sample size large enough to want to see it again before believing it. Hull City had only scored three goals in an eight game stretch but busted through last weekend with a three goal effort, and they put three past Krul in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
The Free Kick
Michel Vorm - (Swansea City) Vorm is my budget keeper pick for the week, in a close call with Aston Villa's Brad Guzan. Swansea are coming off of a loss at Anfield where they shipped four goals so that helped Vorm's price drop considerably, but do not let any keeper's performance at Anfield be a barometer for their potential. Vorm has been a fantasy darling before this injury plagued season, and is still capable of greatness. A home match with Crystal Palace is enough to make me feel good about the clean sheet potential for half the price of other "safer" keepers.
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) In a time when even the best defensive clubs do not seem to register clean sheets the way they used to, Arsenal have been pretty dependable this season. A road trip to Stoke City, while not extremely favorable, is still a fixture to consider for defensive prospects when you look at the landscape this week, but I still think you are better off avoiding Koscielny at least. He is carrying a knock, so there is a chance he may not start, and when you carry a price tag of over 17m, there cannot be uncertainty there. Also, Stoke have been a decent scoring side these days, as Charlie Adam is having his best stretch as a Potter and Peter Crouch seems to pop up with goals fairly regularly. The main point here though is, Arsenal are about to hit a murderous schedule, so now may be the time to cut bait on Gunners who you've held on to because of the money. After this week, they have a blank week 29, then away to Spurs, away to Chelsea, home to Man City, and away to Everton. YIKES.
The Free Kick
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) Vertonghen is going to cost a bit more than the average defender I promote here but after a long injury spell and a string of decent but not epic fantasy returns, he is priced at a value given his potential and the matchup. Spurs may have the best fixture of any club this week, hosting a Cardiff City squad that looked in shambles last week. Vertonghen could absolutely explode here with a clean sheet and attacking points. He is already averaging a healthy 8.5 points per game this season, without a goal or an assist to his credit. The Bluebirds look the best bet to break that scoreless streak.
Kevin Nolan (West Ham United) No doubt, Nolan is on fire right now, but I think his time in the sun this season is about to run out, at least this weekend. Like Adam Johnson a few weeks back, Nolan has been a blessing if you jumped on the train early, but after a stretch of 5 goals in 4 games, I think he falls back to Earth this week as the Hammers travel to Goodison Park. Nolan has always been a home player, and even with the two goals at Villa Park a part of his recent form, that fixture remains the only one on the season in which he has tallied away from home. I will give him credit, he seems to take the club on his back and can create goals from nothing. But the price tag has caught up with the potential.
The Free Kick
Paulinho (Tottenham) I feel tasked to include two Spurs in the Free Kick this week, but as I said about Vertonghen, the schedule is such where Spurs are the only top side at home to such a bottom feeding side, so now is the time to take advantage. Until Christian Eriksen can reclaim his spot in the starting XI, Paulinho has got to be considered as the midfielder to own from the bunch. Think of him as a poor man's Yaya Toure. Groomed to be more of a defensive minded mid, he cannot help but get involved in the attack. He loves to camp out in just the right place on set pieces and has a toughness that allows him to create space to deliver shots from distance. At a fair price, he should at least contribute points in tackling and intercepting passes.
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) It pains me to include Benteke here. He simply cannot put it together this season though I believe a lethal goal scorer is still hiding somewhere in that massive frame of his. Still, even with a nice fixture on paper, home to Norwich City, it is time to ignore the Belgian until further notice, as he works on about 400 minutes of pitch time without a goal. If nothing else, I will be happier to be wrong about this one than I was about Giroud last week because I truly would like nothing more than to see Benteke grab a hat trick here. Jinx initiated. Bookmark for later.
The Free Kick
Rickie Lambert (Southampton) About the only thing as predictable as Liverpool's penchant for goals is their knack for conceding them. This week, I say throw all your forward eggs into one basket of a match and include Lambert as your third striker to accompany Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge as these two clubs square off. He has had a couple of quiet games in a row, but he is not one to endure long goal droughts and this may be the perfect time to get a haul from him while your rivals pay up otherwise. Emmanuel Adebayor and Romelu Lukaku have better fixtures but I did not like how Ade looked against Norwich and Lukaku is returning from an injury so there is some doubt about how effective he will be, especially considering he was not in great form when the injury hit him.
Finally, a reminder that Week 28 is Round 3 of the 2014 Rotoworld PL Cup, where we'll reduce the remaining 452 teams down to 350 ahead of the fourth round in Week 31. Good luck to all remaining fantasy managers!