Fantasy Football: Rooney, Skrtel and more – your weekend picks
Paul McNamara takes a look at the must-haves ahead of the Premier League weekend
Asmir Begovic (£5m) With memories still fresh of Chelsea’s players and manager parading the Premier League trophy in front of their adoring hordes on the Kings Road, the Blues have somehow morphed into this season’s first crisis club. Sunday afternoon’s trip to a Manchester City team, apparently re-focused and buoyed by their emphatic win at West Brom on Monday night, is just what Jose Mourinho would have ordered in such circumstances. Chelsea’s boss hasn’t lost on either of his league trips to The Etihad since beginning his second spell in charge at Stamford Bridge, relishing the opportunity to squeeze the life out of Manuel Pellegrini’s glut of attacking performers. Expect more of the same at the weekend, with the accomplished Asmir Begovic, handed a starting opportunity far quicker than he would have expected following Thibaut Courtois’s red card last week, playing his part in a masterful rearguard action.
Martin Skrtel (£5.5m) Liverpool’s defensive line during Brendan Rodgers’ time at the club has been very much a feast or famine affair. There was a period early in the new-year when the Reds achieved six successive shut-outs on the road. On other occasions last season, however, Rodgers’ team looked sure to concede every time their opponents crossed the half-way line. Starting this campaign with a 1-0 win at Stoke City, scene of their incredible collapse on the final day of 2014/2015, would indicate that the Reds are currently in clean sheet mode. Bournemouth are the visitors to Anfield on Monday night, and after their failure to breach Aston Villa’s defences last week, it is difficult to envisage the Cherries troubling the scorers on their trip to Merseyside. Just bear in mind that the uncompromising Slovak will be taking his wares to Arsenal next week. It was at The Emirates where Liverpool’s away day resilience broke last term, as the Gunners inflicted a 4-1 beating on their visitors.
Jose Fonte (£5.5m) The cornerstone of a miserly Southampton defence last term – only Chelsea conceded fewer goals that the Saints’ 33 in 2014/2015 – Fonte has been at the centre of speculation this week linking him with a move away from St Mary’s. Don’t expect the totemic Portuguese to be distracted from the task in-hand, though. A proud club man, who has been a major part of Southampton’s rise from League One back up into the top-flight, Fonte will have taken extremely personally the two goals shipped by his team at Newcastle last week. Up against a labouring Everton team in Saturday’s first Premier League fixture, it would be no surprise if Southampton’s back-four come away unscathed from their meeting with Roberto Martinez’s side. With games to follow against Watford, Norwich and West Brom, Fonte and his colleagues could feeling rather impregnable by the time Manchester United are in town on 20th September.
Jonjo Shelvey (£5.5m) When he’s bad, he’s very, very bad. On his game, though, Shelvey is a different proposition, altogether. The former Liverpool man’s eye for a pass is second to no one; likewise, his stunning ball striking ability. Garry Monk was singing his midfielder’s virtues after Swansea’s 2-2 draw at Chelsea on the season’s opening day, the Swans’ boss hailing the 23 year-old’s ‘talent’ and ‘technical ability’. What’s more, the on-fire Shelvey will be supplying the bullets against a reliably vulnerable Newcastle United on Saturday. Next week, Shelvey’s team are away at Sunderland. Faced with a team that was, frankly, calamitous in its defensive effort when surrendering meekly at Leicester last week, the man who Monk is tipping as an England international could cause havoc.
Cheikhou Kouyate (£5.5m) A bit of an unsung hero of West Ham’s storming of The Emirates last Sunday, Kouyate’s contribution to the Hammers’ victory at Arsenal was every bit as worthwhile as that of his midfield colleagues, Reece Oxford and Mark Noble. With his muscular frame, considerable height and relentless running ability, Kouayte is every inch the powerhouse midfielder so prized by modern day managers. The Senegal international can score – witness his headed strike on the opening day – and create, as well as possessing the defensive attributes required to thrive in his positon. The 25 year-old will fancy his chances of making a major impact with Leicester City at Upton Park on Saturday – and of sustaining that momentum, when Bournemouth pitch up in the East End the following weekend.
Jason Puncheon (£5m) There aren’t many teams in England that counter-attack with the verve, pace and downright quality of Crystal Palace. With a home fixture looming for Alan Pardew’s team this weekend, you might not think that trait would be particularly pertinent, right now. The visitors to Selhurst Park, however, are Arsenal; the same Arsenal that hogged the ball against West Ham last week, in the course of a 2-0 defeat. Alan Pardew is unlikely to send his men out on the front-foot against the FA Cup holders, then. It will be a case for Palace of defensive discipline, allied to directly attacking the Gunners’ soft-centre as soon as opportunity presents. The fleet-footed Puncheon, with his bravery on the ball, and coolness in the final third will be integral to the Eagles’ attempts to extend Arsenal’s frustrations into the campaign’s third week.
Troy Deeney (£5.5m) The likes of Grant Holt, Rickie Lambert and Charlie Austin have shown the way for strikers stepping up from the Championship to the Premier League. There is no reason to think that Deeney won’t be able to make that leap in similarly proficient style to those men, who flourished for Norwich, Southampton and QPR, respectively. The former Walsall man has put some off-field strife firmly behind him, scoring at a rate of roughly once in every two games for the past three season s in the second tier. Deeney didn’t get off the mark in his side’s draw at Everton last week, but a West Brom team coming to Vicarage Road off the back of a sobering night against Manchester City could be ripe for the picking.
Wayne Rooney (£10.5m) More of an obvious one this, but Rooney, desperate to nail down the lone striking role at Manchester United, will be hungry to get off the mark for the season at Aston Villa tonight. The England skipper will be crossing his fingers that the creative forces behind him will click sooner rather than later. If Memphis, Juan Mata, Ashley Young et al shift into gear at Villa Park, then Rooney could find himself with plenty of chances against a home defence that is still getting to know each other, following Tim Sherwood’s summer overhaul. If he hits the goal trail in this Friday night football encounter, then Rooney will be licking his lips in anticipation of Newcastle United’s visit to Old Trafford next Saturday lunchtime.