Fantasy Focus

It never rains it pours

September 28, 2012
By Dale Johnson
(Archive)

Last season, Manchester was the place to look for clean sheets. Between them City and United produced 37 clean sheets, 20 of those to Roberto Mancini's men as Joe Hart won the Golden Glove.

Joe Hart: No clean sheets
GettyImagesJoe Hart: No clean sheets

Hart in fact kept the most clean sheets in the Premier League for the second consecutive season, after keeping out the opposition 19 times in 2010-11. But fantasy managers' faith in last season's top two is being tested by a start dogged by poor form at Eastlands and a ravaging of injuries at Old Trafford.

This week's news that Nemanja Vidic will be out of action for two months will come as a sizeable blow. He was left out of the team which won 2-1 at Liverpool on Saturday with the initial suggestion that he was merely rested soon switched to a long-term injury which will have fantasy managers leaping to the transfer market.

Vidic had started every one of United's Premier League games before last weekend, and only Michael Carrick has made more starts than the club captain in all competitions.

That said, United's defence is displaying all the porosity of a sponge and Vidic is ranked 64th among defenders and at a high price of £7.5 million. He has already been sold by 1% of managers since the news of his injury broke, with Rafael is one of the most bought defenders in the game.

Only Everton's Leighton Baines - more on that later - has proved more popular, signed by 1.8% of managers to 1.7% who have moved for Rafael. The Brazilian right-back's two goals in the early weeks of the season, having not scored a single goal in the previous two Premier League campaigns, has catapulted him up to second in the defensive scoring chart, behind only Branislav Ivanovic. But as those stats prove he is not known as a regular scorer.

United have kept one clean sheet, at home to Wigan Athletic, and a threadbare defence. Not only are they without Vidic, but Phil Jones and Chris Smalling remain absentees. You could interpret that as a positive as far as rotation is concerned, as it means Jonathan Evans and Rio Ferdinand are going to have to start most games while Sir Alex Ferguson has no other options available to him.

However, United have a difficult run of fixtures ahead which would test their defence even if it was at full strength. After Tottenham visit Old Trafford this weekend, the Red Devils then go to Newcastle. A home game against Stoke City looks more inviting in Gameweek Eight, but after that comes the trip to Chelsea before they entertain Arsenal: four of the next five gameweeks produce testing matches.

At £6.5 million, Evans may look like a gamble worth taking but he has only scored one goal for United, in a 5-0 win at Wolves last season, with his other career goal coming in the Championship against Hull when he was on loan at Sunderland in March 2007. You cannot rely on United defenders to keep clean sheets with those fixtures, matches which last season largely proved to be high-scoring affairs. In fact, United kept two clean sheets in those five games last term, but conceded eight goals in the other three.

United's fixtures improve on November 10 when they are due to go to Aston Villa, perhaps they will have more options available by this time and Jones and Smalling provide greater attacking options. Alexander Buttner may be the cheapest United defender and, as with Rafael, there has been the typical horseboltage since he picked up 16 points on his only United appearance against Wigan but he is purely a rotation option and will not play enough games to be a worthwhile investment.

With so few options and a horrendous run of fixtures now is not the time to back United players.

Over at City it's a different problem, where Roberto Mancini seems uncertain as to what his best side is and has been shifting between a three-man and four-man defence. With no clean sheet and seven goals conceded in the Premier League this season - only the bottom seven have let in more - there has been little to cheer for fantasy managers who put so much faith in City's defenders. And in all competitions they have let in 16 goals in just eight games, again without managing to stop the opposition from scoring.

Joleon Lescott is the leading City defender, 21st in the scoring table, but he is under threat if Mancini decides to use three at the back. And without his goal against Arsenal he would be ranked down in 58th.

But you cannot expect City to continue on this ruinous road of reckless defending. And compared to their rivals, City have a fixture list which gives them the chance to redeem themselves at the back. That said, the trips to Fulham, West Brom and West Ham are not straightforward, with the first two matches against teams who have started the campaign very well while West Ham have conceded just on goal at Upton Park. Home games against Sunderland and Swansea City may prove more profitable.

If Man City's games don't entice you into a purchase, then take a look at the games on Everton's radar. In the next eight gameweeks they will face Southampton, Liverpool, Sunderland and Norwich City at Goodison Park and face trips to Wigan, Queens Park Rangers, Fulham and Reading. There's not many fixtures where you can see the Toffees coming seriously unstuck.

Marouane Fellaini goal
EmpicsMarouane Fellaini's header against Swansea was his third goal of the season

Tim Howard is only ranked seventh among goalkeepers, though there are only eight points between himself and the leader, Petr Cech. Howard is the most popular keeper in the game, in almost a quarter of teams and rising, and while bringing him in may not gain you points on your rivals that is going to be the case for many of the Toffees' top players.

Baines and Phil Jagielka, ranked fourth and 14th in defenders, continue to be popular with Baines the most targetted in the transfer market this week meaning only Ivanovic is owned by more managers. Baines is priced at £7.6 million, and is now in 20.5% of teams. But while Phil Neville may not get amongst the attacking points too often, he is a defender playing in midfield who has started all five games this season and is priced at just £5.1 million.

Whiles Baines is most popular defender, Marouane Fellaini is the hot property in midfield up 2.7% in ownership this week - almost double the 1.4% rise of Fulham's Damien Duff. Fellaini's return to a more attacking role has led to his upsurge in popularity, though he is already on three yellow cards for the season and two from a one-game suspension.

With three goals, one assist and two clean sheets, Fellaini is ranked fourth in midfielders and it's hard to see him not being a crucial player for Everton during this run of fixtures. His ownership value may be high, but it is fair to assume not having the Belgian in your team in the upcoming weeks will be a mistake.

If you're looking to gain an advantage if Fellaini fails to fire then Steven Pienaar could be the option. But Fellaini is a bargain £5.7 million to Pienaar's £7.1 million [due to his original Spurs price tag prior to moving back to Everton], so despite being ranked as the 11th best midfielder he is less attractive in the market.

Nikica Jelavic was sought after earlier in the season and the injury he sustained against Newcastle has seen his ownership level drop 0.6%, but he still remains the best long-term option in the Everton forward line.

Going mobile

ESPN FC's new Premier Fantasy mobile site has just gone live, meaning you can follow your points live during a matchday and make transfers easily without fiddling around with the actual website on your device. Simply go to, or perhaps even bookmark, this link - http://es.pn/premier_mw_UK - and you will be able to waste away all your transfers at your leisure.

• Remember you can discuss the game on the Premier Fantasy Forum and follow me on Twitter: @dalejohnsonESPN. Also, you can email fantasy@soccernet.com