Fernando Torres & Robbie Keane could have been the deadliest double act since Starsky & Hutch, had Rafa Benitez not thought otherwise. As it happens they had to settle last week for separate feats, separate plaudits, and separate points hauls.
Torres could realistically have expected to be the week’s king in the Fantasy League with a splendid hat-trick against Phil Brown’s tame Tigers, but his eschewed strike-partner grabbed the honour, four goals against Burnley meant plenty of spilt claret for Owen Coyle, as the Fantasy Premier League season took another set of twists and turns.
The Men In Form
Indeed, Torres was not even the second highest points scorer. Darren Bent’s hot-streak at Sunderland continued as he inspired the Black Cats to a 5-2 win over Wolves. Bent won, and converted, the opening goal from the penalty spot before picking up three second half assists to record a massive 18 points haul. His strike partner Kenwyne Jones was equally deadly, two goals for the Trinidad & Tobago hitman keeps him very much on the coat-tails of his team-mate.
Liverpool’s win over Hull may have been a cakewalk, it may have sounded the death knell for Phil Brown, and it may also have given Tigers debutant Liam Cooper nightmares. But it also threw up a few points in midfield for the Reds. Ryan Babel only played 29 minutes at Anfield but notched two goals, and twelve points. Albert Riera played the full 90 and managed ten. It would have been slightly different of course had the Spaniard’s late effort not looped up off Babel and put the embarrassing gloss on the victory.
Wigan may not have been in the best of form as they welcomed Chelsea to the DW Stadium, but in Titus Bramble they have one of the most improved players in the league. His errors may never totally go away, but in terms of performances, he is building a solid reputation. His opening goal, and subsequent domination of Chelsea’s much-vaunted attack, got him 10 points, and make him a useful bet for bargain-basement.
The Men to Avoid
I was tempted to say this at the start of the season, but was worried for my own reputation. Michael Owen may have scored twice off the bench in his opening six appearances for Manchester United, but his old injury concerns were never far away. A groin strain sustained in midweek will now keep him out for three weeks, and it is fair to say that Owen takes a little longer than most to get back to full form. Especially if he is trying to achieve that as a substitute.
Time was, David James was the staple diet of all good Fantasy League sides. Not any more. Pompey may have been unlucky to lose a seventh straight league game at home to Everton, but James was to blame. His cowardly attempt to thwart Louis Saha with a turned-back failed, his clean sheet went up in smoke, and Jamo is the lowest scoring regular goalkeeper in the game. Pompey may improve, but James should be ignored.
Vito Mannone (Arsenal) – Don’t believe the hype, they say. But looking beyond hype, Mannone has had a great start to his Gunners career. A man of the match performance at Fulham last week gave him 8 points, and with neither Manuel Almunia nor Lukasz Fabianski fit, Mannone may have a chance to nail down a regular place in Arsène Wenger’s side. At £4.5m, the young Italian could be the bargain of the month.
John O’Shea (Manchester United) – It is not often that a big four player costs less than £6m, but John O’Shea is seen as a utility man, and so his value is representative. A goal at Stoke last week earned him a place in the Dream Team, and O’Shea has played 90 minutes in six of United’s seven league games this season. £5.4m well spent if you ask me.
Hugo Rodallega (Wigan) – Colombians in the Premier League are a rare occurrence. Tino Asprilla, Juan Pablo Angel, and now Hugo Rodallega. None set the world alight despite obvious talent, but Rodallega is promising to become the focal point of an attractive Wigan side. His goal last week may have been a penalty, but it is doubtful that John Terry and co will have a tougher time all season. Three goals and counting now for the big man, and £6.4m is not a bank-breaking fee.
• Bolton v Tottenham
• Burnley v Birmingham
• Hull v Wigan
• Wolves v Portsmouth
• Man Utd v Sunderland
• Arsenal v Blackburn
• Everton v Stoke
• West Ham v Fulham
• Chelsea v Liverpool
• Aston Villa v Man City
One fixture stands out of course, Chelsea v Liverpool could be a season-definer for both sides. Elsewhere Arsenal should give Blackburn a roughing up at the Emirates, whilst Sunderland’s porous defence travels to Old Trafford. Manchester City’s trip to Villa on Monday night looks a decent game on paper, whilst there is a chance for Pompey to get their season up and running at Wolves.
I wondered whether the lack of a Torres might have hindered me last week – how wrong I was. Darren Bent, Robin Van Persie & Didier Drogba kept my strikeforce firing, Steven Gerrard’s fluke goal meant my captain contributed 14 points, whilst my other two midfielders – Cesc Fàbregas & Charles N’Zogbia – picked up assists. At the back Michael Turner netted for Sunderland and Emiliano Insúa grabbed an assist to complement debutant Sylvain Distin’s clean sheet.
One small mistake, Tom Huddlestone remained rooted to my subs bench and promptly picked an assist, some bonus points, and 8 in total. Can’t win them all though.
For this week, there is just one change. Micah Richards’ omission for Man City on Monday may well have been down to fitness, but his form is not great. Out he goes, in comes Arsenal’s Alex Song. The thinking? Well Song is a defender on the game, but a midfielder in reality. Arsenal are at home to Blackburn, and Denílson is injured. He will play, he will score points. Simple.
Tough at the top isn’t it? Jon Egger Hallsson retains top spot despite a problematic week. His lead is down to six points now after a rasper of a week from Paul Worthington and his Chilli Peppers. 98 points for them, thanks largely to captain Torres, and a ludicrously solid all round performance. He swipes second place as a result.
Elsewhere, there were some average weeks at the top of the table, allowing Torres to fire plenty of sides up the ladder. Liosa Casserley and her lads were the standout performers, 102 points in the week launched her into thirteenth spot, alongside you know who!