Prior to gameweek 22, just over 184,000 managers decided to activate their January Wildcard. Whether it was the right decision or not remains to be seen, but I imagine a popular figure to bring into those post-wildcard teams was a certain Mr Sergio Aguero. After all, historically he provides points almost immediately after his many and frequent returns from injury. To delay normally means getting caught out by swift price rises, as well as missing out on all of those juicy points. But did he make the return everyone predicted after his 24 minute cameo the week before? Er…no. Let’s look back on who was hot in gameweek 22 though by taking a look through the dream team.
The Pulis effect at West Brom seems to have taken no time whatsoever to kick in, and the Baggies have closed the door at the back. In typical Pulis style, it is unlikely they will ever be truly prolific upfront, but that isn’t where the value is to be found in fantasy terms. Ben Foster makes the team of the week courtesy of his contribution towards the clean sheet he kept in the 0-0 draw at Goodison Park. The match will be remembered for “penalty-gate” with the Toffees’ Kevin Mirallas taking the ball from Leighton Baines and then promptly missing. Foster and his fantasy managers were laughing their way to 7 points.
Also featuring in the same game as Foster is the first of three defenders in the dream team this week. Everton’s Phil Jagielka picked up maximum bonus points. I was quite surprised to note that just over every one in ten team includes Jagielka. His 9 points were his first return of any significance since he scored the same total back in gameweek 10. Between then and now it has been appearance points only, and in a lot of weeks just a single digit return. Odd.
Speaking of odd, I was also kind of surprised to see how often Arsenal defender Nacho “Cheese” Monreal had featured in the league this season. He has certainly slipped under my radar, but he has completed 90 minutes in 13/22 game weeks, and has had cameos in all but 6 weeks. At £4.8m, his 10 points earned this week due to a clean sheet and an assist made it 16 in 2 weeks. I guess none of those facts are as odd as the fact these points came at the Etihad as Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-0. Whisper it, but I think City look to be on the verge of a slump at the moment. This loss came just before what looked to be an easy FA Cup fixture at home to Middlesbrough… and now they face an away game at Stamford Bridge. Wouldn’t surprise me if they made it a full house of losses.
At £7.2m, Chelsea man Branislav Ivanovic is the most expensive defender in the game. There’s a good reason for that; he is fantasy gold. Another 10 point haul this week adding an assist to his clean sheet during the 5-0 rout of Swansea made it 112 points for the season. He is cemented into the team of the season, and this was his fourth appearance in the team of the week. A total matched only by Leighton Baines.
If the Pulis effect is alive and kicking at the Hawthorns, then it is being matched by Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace. Mind you, after suffering Neil Warnock for half a season, pretty much anyone could have gone in and lifted the spirits down at Selhurst Park. One of those rejuvenated under the new gaffer seems to be Jason Puncheon. After a run from gameweek 7-20 that has been pretty dire in terms of fantasy returns, he has now scored two in the last two games and joins Ivanovic in being represented in the team of the week for the last two weeks. His 12 points in the 3-2 away win at Burnley made it 21 points in his last two outings.
A few managers thought the bubble had burst on Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla. Apparently not. He’s still providing decent returns, and stole the show in the away win at Manchester City. 14 points courtesy of a goal, an assist and a clean sheet made it 92 points for the season for the £8.2m man. Still owned by less than 5% of managers means he’s still in the differential category if you want a wildcard option that isn’t Alexis Sanchez.
In a somewhat unique turn of events, proving that form is everything, there is a THIRD player joining Ivanovic and Puncheon in the team of the week for the second week in succession. Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior – or Junior as his dad probably calls him – is in red hot form right now. Double digit points returns for the last two weeks and playing with confidence I personally haven’t witnessed since his arrival in English football two seasons ago. His brace at Swansea made it 6 goals, and he’ll surely break double figures between now and when Chelsea lift the Premier League trophy at the Bridge following the final whistle in the Sunderland game on 24 May.
If all the names in the dream team so far are regular old favourites, then it’s time to introduce you to the new kid on the block. Southampton midfielder Eljero Elia was making only his second appearance in the Premier League in the away game up at Newcastle. His two goal man of the match appearance has made many managers yet to wildcard sit up and take note, and the fact he is available as a £5.5m midfielder is very appealing. Especially as for the majority of the match he appeared to be playing more advanced than Pelle. Nearly 60,000 managers have taken a punt on him since gameweek 22, and with time still to go before gameweek 23, that could rise to nearer 100,000.
I have had to resign myself to the fact that it doesn’t seem like West Ham’s bubble is going to burst. If anything they appear to be getting stronger and stronger. If they come through the next 7 games of tricky fixtures relatively unscathed then they will be on track to possible European football next season. The Hammers are represented in the team of the week not by Stewart Downing but by Enner Valencia. Somewhat unusually for a forward, he makes the line-up without scoring a single goal. Instead, his 11 points were earned by virtue of two assists and maximum bonus points. He hasn’t scored since gameweek 10, but in his defence this was only the second time he has completed 90 minutes in all that time.
Matching Oscar with a brace down at the Liberty, it’s old favourite Diego Costa. Scoring his 16th and 17th goal of his debut season, he seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. 4 goals in three games and with Man City up next, it is unlikely he will match or better this 16 point return in gameweek 23; but can you afford to risk not having him? Hopefully his dodgy hamstrings are now a dim and distant memory, and the only doubt now is whether you choose him, Aguero or both in your post-wildcard team. I think the vast majority will go with the latter.
Matching Costa’s 16 points this week, after finally getting a chance from new manager Pardew, is Crystal Palace striker Dwight Gayle. For a team struggling for goals it was nonsense that Neil Warnock used him so infrequently and only once for a full 90 minutes. It has been instant reward for Pardew as Gayle scored twice against Burnley to add to the goal he scored the previous week which proved to be the winner against Spurs. If he keeps cropping up with these match winners, he will lift Palace to safety and could be that 3rd forward in your team that comes in the budget bracket to allow you to field Aguero and Costa. £5.0m and owned by under 1%. Get him while he’s hot.
So, where do you go from here? Well, if you haven’t yet activated your January Wildcard, this is the time to do it. The two week league break for the FA Cup 4th Round may give you time to build some squad value and see who is bought in the transfer window. I wouldn’t rely on there being many price rises though. January is notoriously slow in terms of fantasy transfer activity. Beware of emerging on gameweek 23 with a template team. You know the one; Sanchez, Hazard, Fabregas, Downing, Sigurdsson, Costa, Aguero, Kane/Austin. Now may be the time to sling in a couple of differentials with low ownership and good form. Elia and Gayle from this week’s dream team could fit that bill. Oscar and Cazorla could also be considered. Defoe is back in the Premier League and contributed an assist in his first match back. Sunderland are about to enter a run of 4 favourable fixtures. Some food for thought…