Fantasy Football: Rooney, Lloris and more – your weekend picks
Paul McNamara takes a look at the must-haves ahead of the Premier League weekend
Hugo Lloris (£5m): Tottenham travel to the King Power Stadium on Saturday, to take on a Leicester side boasting two wins from two and a Goals For column displaying the number six. If ever there’s a fixture, then, with the potential to demonstrate the folly of reading too much into early season form, it is this one. Spurs have made an uncertain start, but will travel to the East Midlands fastidiously drilled by Mauricio Pochettino. It always helps, of course, when you’re trying to tighten things up, to have one of the world’s best ‘keepers between your sticks. Frenchman Lloris falls into that category.
Chris Smalling (£6.1m): The England international finally seems comfortable in his own skin at Manchester United. Indeed, Smalling’s overdue flowering is likely to see any new centre-half brought into Old Trafford partner the former Fulham man in United’s defence, rather than displace him from Louis van Gaal’s side. The Red Devils have recorded two Premier League clean-sheets, thus far, and will surely fancy their chances of continuing in similarly miserly fashion, with Newcastle their visitors on Saturday lunchtime. What’s more, with the Magpies’ set-piece defending often wont to resemble something that would have a manager of a Newcastle and District Amateur Football League side tearing his hair out, should his charges fall into similar disarray, Smalling has a more than decent chance of finding joy in his opponents’ penalty box, this weekend.
Scott Dann (£5m): Touted by his manager this week as a budding England player, Dann has been a fulcrum of Alan Pardew’s fast evolving Crystal Palace team. His club’s player-of-the-year last term – and given the stiff competition for that honour from the Eagles’ wealth of electrifying attackers, that is not an award to be sniffed at – Dann is the epitome of a reliable Premier League performer. Up against an Aston Villa team that is currently finding its route to goal laced with obstacles, Dann and his Palace team-mates must be a good bet to secure a shut-out against Saturday’s opponents. As a bonus, and in common with Smalling, the former Birmingham centre-half has a healthy knack for popping up to prosperous effect in opposition penalty areas.
Marko Arnautovic (£6m): Amidst all the acclaim for the manner in which Mark Hughes has re-shaped Stoke City into a rounded football unit, easier on the eye than Tony Pulis’s Potters ever were, Arnautovic has gone somewhat under-appreciated. There has been plenty of fanfare, understandably, surrounding the raft of former Barcelona players pitching up at the Brit but, on his day, Stoke’s Austrian playmaker is as scintillating as any of his club’s former men of the Nou Camp. Granted, his days are still too rare, but Arnautovic was front-and-centre as Hughes’ team carried the fight to Tottenham, when they clawed back a two-goal deficit at White Hart Lane last week. The 26 year-old will travel to Norwich in pristine nick tomorrow, then, and with Stoke’s Premier League nous likely to pay-off against the Canaries, their former Inter Milan man will have the opportunity to make hay at Carrow Road.
Matt Ritchie (£5.9m): A slightly chancy pick, this, given that Ritchie’s Bournemouth side are yet to pick up a Premier League point or, indeed, find the net, as they experience their first taste of top-flight life. The Cherries have already found to their cost that part of their deal in the Premier League will be to suffer at the hands of officials; particularly when they’re playing in some of the division’s more intimidating arenas. Away from the decisions that contributed to Bournemouth’s loss at Liverpool on Monday, though, Ritchie looked the most likely source of a way back into the game for Eddie Howe’s men. The new-boys are enjoying plenty of possession in their games, and certainly won’t be daunted by this weekend’s trip to Upton Park. If east London proves to be the location for the Cherries’ first ever Premier League goal(s), expect Ritchie to be involved in either their creation or execution.
Wayne Rooney (£10.5m): Stick with me on this one. The same player was this column’s pick to captain your fantasy football team last week, and he promptly turned in one of his more abject displays as Manchester United won at Aston Villa. That is what you get with Rooney, though. There can scarcely have been a world class footballer who, when he is off his game, looks so horribly out of sorts. This is nothing new in the England captain’s case. Even in his prodigious breakthrough years with Everton, the then teenager would occasionally succumb to the vagaries of form – in fact, during his final year at Goodison Park Rooney endured more bad afternoons than good ones. But, he always hits back – and he is world class. Rooney reflected on his outing in the Midlands last week by saying: ‘I’ve had one bad game and everyone’s all over it’. And he’s right. A glimpse at social media following United’s game at Villa Park offered an insight into the heights of exultation that certain sections of the football public reach when Rooney has an off-day. At home to Newcastle, with a point to prove in his team’s main striking role, and his attacking allies all shifting into form, the scene is set for Rooney to get off the mark for the season – and then some.
Bafetimbi Gomis (£7.1m): Bafetimbi Gomis took Wilfried Bony’s departure from Swansea City mid-way through last term as the cue to show his club’s supporters why he arrived in English football with a glowing reputation, after five splendid years in France with Lyon. The French international has shown no inclination to let-up during a personally glorious opening to this campaign. Fresh from winning and converting the penalty that earned the Swans a first-day point at Stamford Bridge, Gomis was on-target again last week in his side’s comfortable victory over Newcastle. With Sunderland and their ropey rearguard next on the Welsh team’s agenda, and Gomis’s fellow forwards Andre Ayew and Jefferson Montero in rampant mood, the striker will be eyeing his trip to the North East with some relish.