1. Leeds in Norwich: Leeds United haven’t been relevant to fantasy football for a long time. Indeed, since their relegation in 2003, United haven’t even been relevant to real football. Leeds used to be really good, but now they’re managed by Neil Warnock, who divides his time between Elland Road and Gringotts Wizarding Bank. I often watch Premier League games in the company of a Leeds fan. And during Saturday’s Tottenham-Norwich match, my viewing-partner became very excited. With Bradley Johnson (4.9), Jonny Howson (5.0) and Robert Snodgrass (5.9) (three former Leeds players) all in Hughton’s starting lineup, he could suddenly watch Leeds play top-flight football – sort of. Snodgrass’ impressive volley made things even more thrilling, and had Johnson’s late pile driver beaten Brad Friedel (5.5)… But Johnson didn’t score, which is one of a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t sign him. However, Howson, a brilliant set-piece taker, and Snodgrass, whom I could see netting ten this season, are both gambles worth taking.
2. His feet stick out the bed: Peter Crouch (6.5) once played in a Champions League final, which is as damning an indictment of the Champions League as any complaint about unfair distribution of prize money or boring group-stage games. Make no mistake, Crouchie is a good lad – and I cheered wildly when he scored that header against Trinidad and Tobago in 2006 – but, to quote a commenter on a piece I wrote earlier this year, “If anyone ever mentions the phrase ‘good touch for a big man’ in connection with an also-ran like Peter Crouch, write Ibrahimovich’s name on a wooden plank and nail it to their forehead.” Not everyone who plays football has to be as good as Zlatan, though. Which is why I’m happy to say that Crouch is doing just fine at Stoke. In a city where fans love big men, whether or not they happen to have good feet, he’s found a comfortable place: the only player challenging for his spot in the team is Cameron Jerome (5.4), arguably the worst footballer ever. And with Liverpool reject and celebrity corner-taker Charlie Adam (6.8) recently signed to whack balls into the box, Crouch’s fantasy star could be on the rise.
3. Moussa Dembele: Dembele (6.0), part of Belgium’s so-called “Golden Generation,” has always been a good player. His dribbling is impressive, and he adds real drive to the midfield. But, before Saturday, he always bothered me. Dembele seemed like the kind of player who, having dribbled through three opposition midfielders, outmuscled a center back and nut-megged his own teammate, arrogantly decides to stop and wave to the crowd or blow kisses to the cute girl in row F, until one of the few defenders not choking in his dust nicks the ball, which is rolling out of bounds, anyway. Dembele didn’t fail to score goals at Fulham because he was incapable of executing the final shot; he didn’t score because he just didn’t feel like it. At least, that was the way I saw it. But, last weekend, Dembele stopped messing around. He controlled, he jinked, he shot, and he scored. If he can keep that up, then, well, sign him. I’m still not 100 percent convinced, though.
4. Silva-lining?: Here’s a thought: Maybe David Silva (9.9) is kind of — wait for it — overrated. Yeah, I just said that. Maybe the fact that he’s Spanish and silky and doesn’t mind when bored journalists pun with his name doesn’t compensate for that other fact – you know, that he’s not as good as Andres Iniesta. Last year, Silva was one of the Fantasy Premier League’s most valuable players. But, three weeks into this campaign, he has yet to record so much as an assist, and he missed a penalty in City’s opening fixture. Mancini, who is becoming dangerously obsessed with this whole “three at the back is super-trendy” thing, dropped Silva for City’s match at Liverpool. Samir Nasri (8.6) is playing well, and he’s cheaper than Silva. Over at Stamford Bridge, Eden Hazard’s (10.0) performances have been Messianic — by which I mean Messi-like – but you probably can’t afford Hazard and Silva. I know which one I’d choose.
5. Robin, Chicha and Welbz: Top scorer in the Premier League, professional Panenka-misser, and Manchester United legend. Robin van Persie’s (13.3) hat trick against Southampton will live long in the memory, and, by the way, who needs Wayne Rooney? Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (7.8) put in an exciting shift when he entered the game with ten minutes to go, though signing third-string forwards is never an effective fantasy strategy. The big loser up front was Danny Welbeck (8.4), who seems to have mastered the art of invisibility.
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