AS YET ANOTHER EXCRUCIATING INTERNATIONAL BREAK – THE LAST OF THE CALENDAR YEAR – FINALLY COMES TO AN END, IT’S TIME TO TAKE A LOOK AT THE TOP 3 PROSPECTS FOR THE ARMBAND IN OUR FANTASY PREMIER LEAGUE SIDES.
1. ROMELU LUKAKU (VS NEW H)
You might have heard Lukaku is out of form. He’s gone 4 Premier League games without scoring – so you’d not be entirely mistaken. But let’s stop to consider how Lukaku works. You might have heard of the phrase flat track bully – that’s exactly what Lukaku epitomizes. Last season, he scored 4 goals in 11 encounters against the top 6 sides. His numbers against the bottom 13 sides were 21 goals in 26 games. This season, he’s only further helped this reputation of being a flat track bully. 3 games against top 6 opposition have yielded no goals – the other 8 games have bore 7 goals and 2 assists.
United’s last 4 games – the 4 games Lukaku has gone scoreless in – included 3 games against the top 6 sides. So, this season, if we only consider games against the bottom 14 sides, the Belgian forward has scored or assisted in all but one game. Doesn’t seem that much out of form now, does he? Having scored 3 goals in the international break for Belgium, he has quelled questions about his form against the weaker sides. Newcastle – a promoted side – is especially the kind of side he thrives on. Last season, 6 games against the 3 promoted sides yielded 4 goals and 3 assists for him. His team, Man Utd, have shown a similar trend. The side who were beating sides 4-0 for fun earlier in the season, were only able to muster a goal in those 3 games.
Earlier in the season, both Lukaku and Utd had proved their worth against the weaker sides. Although Newcastle have proved solid so far, a with their injury situation, holding tight against Utd might be a step too far. Captain and defensive talisman Jamaal Lascelles has been ruled out, and he joins Paul Dummett, a long term absentee, on the injury list. To make matters worse, midfield maestro Mikel Merino has still not recovered from a back injury. In their current situation, they’ll provide the ideal foil for both Lukaku and his team to get back to their best. Lukaku has always had a soft spot for the Toons too. In 8 games against Newcastle, he has scored 5 and assisted 4.
Lukaku and United’s fortunes have gone hand in hand, as far as the home/away split is concerned too. Utd have scored 15 goals in 5 home games; 8 in 6 away. The forward has 4 goals, 2 assists in the 5 home games, as compared to 3 and 1 in the 6 away games. A home game, against the kind of side they thrive against. Despite an ownership that has dwindled, at 47.9%, he is still by far the most owned player in the game. Too obvious a choice?
2. HARRY KANE (VS ARS A)
This season, Kane has equal parts frustrated and equal parts dazzled owners. He is the top scorer in the league; yet he has only scored in 4 games. But it seems like we’re finally beginning to crack the Kane puzzle. Kane, and Spurs in general, have tended to struggle against teams which park the bus. That would explain why he’s blanked in plum home fixtures, but scored braces against the likes of Liverpool, Everton and West Ham. On Saturday, he’ll be up against a side that are known for anything but parking the bus. In what will be a highly charged North London derby, Arsenal, at home, desperate for points, will know that they cannot park the bus.
Kane’s record against the Gunners is a reason enough in itself to warrant him as a captaincy choice. Remarkably, the England international has scored every single time he’s taken them on – with 6 goals in 6 appearances. It’s not just Arsenal he loves, it’s London derbies in general. With 21 goals in 30 London derbies, his goals per game ratio of 0.70 is only second to Thierry Henry’s 0.73, in Premier League history (amongst players with 10 appearances in the league). It comes just as well that Arsenal have struggled defensively against the bigger sides this season. Although they shut Chelsea out, they conceded 4 and 3 goals against Liverpool and Man City respectively. And their doubts list reads almost the same as their defensive roster.
If you don’t own Lukaku, Kane might just be the safest option. Just like the opening few Gameweeks of the season.
3. RICHARLISON (VS WHU H) – DIFFERENTIAL PUNT
If you’re a maverick who adopts the fly or die philosophy, and can’t get yourself to captain the obvious picks – Richarlison might just prove to be the punt for you. Having proved himself as one of the bargains of the season so far, his stats have belied belief. With 39 shots so far, he has taken the second most shots in the league – only Kane has more. This shows that he’s been getting in extremely dangerous positions, and his form backs that up too. Richarlison has now amassed 3 goals and 3 assists in the last 6 games, with only one blank. Almost everything Watford do seems to go through him.
The opponents could not be much better either. West Ham’s defense has been nothing short of a circus show so far, having conceded the most goals (23). The Hammers are in complete turmoil as a club too, in the relegation zone, having just sacked Slaven Bilic. A match-up against Marco Silva’s impressive Watford, on their patch, will definitely be a tough integration to life in east London for new boss David Moyes.
In a week that has some obvious candidates, a risky punt for sure, but high risk, high reward.
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