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Thursday, January 20, 2011
The bargain basement

Dale Johnson

It's all change at the top of the Premier League fantasy value for money league as Phillip Bardsley has propelled himself from obscurity to the summit. The Sunderland defender has not previously appeared in the squad of bargain players but, after being in December's Squad of the Month and netting only his second-ever Premier League goal in the 1-0 win at Aston Villa, he has moved up to eighth in total points for defenders. Costing just 4 million and with 65 points scored, he's at 16.25 points per million. You would not bet on Bardsley grabbing another goal this season, considering his historical scoring record, but Sunderland remain strong defensively, with Bardsley having ten clean sheets so far. Sunderland are one of the biggest movers this month, with another Black Cat joining Jordan Henderson, which means they have three out of the 11 team members. The second player to make the squad is Ahmed Al Muhammadi, who slots in at third in value for defenders. Al Muhammadi and Bardsley have climbed above Nedum Onuoha, who was for a long time the top Sunderland defender, with Onuoha having missed two gameweeks - and two clean sheets - through injury. Al Muhammadi has nine clean sheets this season, with one assist. His value rating is 14.76 points per million at a cost of just 4.2 million. Henderson holds onto his place in the team since the last update, and priced at 4.7 million is still one of the cheapest midfielders in the game - even though he has added just the one assist recently. But can Sunderland, who sit sixth in the Premier League, still be considered a wise fantasy investment taking into account the impact the sale of Darren Bent may have? It doesn't look too promising for the Wearsiders, considering their home form is their strong point - only the top four have conceded fewer goals at home - and their next matches at the Stadium of Light feature visits from Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and, perhaps not so worryingly, Liverpool. Trips to Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City also lay ahead. Once the Man City game is out of the way on March 20, there may well be points in the offing, with all but one of their final seven fixtures being against teams currently sitting in the bottom half of the table. Bardsley's ascent to the top of the bargain chart means Joe Hart, the Manchester City goalkeeper, has lost his position for the first time this season. His price continues to rise, and will go up another 0.2 million in Thursday price fluctuations, to be priced at 5.6 million. That's a rise of 60% since the start of the season, and Hart's place in the value team is now under serious threat due to his rising cost. Only Edwin van der Sar, Pepe Reina and Petr Cech are now more costly that Hart, and Birmingham goalkeeper Ben Foster could move above the England number one by the time the next update comes around. Hart is now the only player from the top five teams in the Premier League to make the squad. Another new face is Everton's Seamus Coleman, who like Gareth Bale is a defender who has been transformed into a winger - and as such is still receiving clean sheet points to provide a double bonus. Tipped at the start of the season as a fantasy bargain and still priced at 4.1 million, he may only just be in the top ten points scorers for defenders, but he has not started every game this term. Robert Huth keeps his place once again, but only just ahead of Fulham's Brede Hangeland, who is just 0.6 points per million off the final place in the squad. Both Birmingham defenders, Liam Ridgewell and Scott Dann, have dropped out. Henderson has moved to the top of midfielders, with former number one Morten Gamst Pedersen falling into sixth and out of the squad after dropping out of fantasy form since the sacking of Sam Allardyce. There was always the risk that Pedersen would be a red herring, as he has not performed consistently for several seasons. Simon Davies (14.49 points per million) of Fulham is included, thanks to a goal and two assists in gameweek 22. That was only his second goal of the season, but there are signs that Fulham's form is finally starting to improve, so perhaps Davies is becoming a viable signing. Four of Fulham's next six matches are on home turf, against Stoke City, Tottenham, Newcastle United and Chelsea. Not the easiest run of fixtures all in all, but still there could be points there for Davies. Aston Villa's Marc Albrighton also makes a first appearance at 13.91 points per million, a player who has risen only 0.1 million since the start of the campaign. And another debutant is Kevin Nolan of Newcastle, whose strike in the 1-1 draw at Sunderland just managed to knock Pedersen out of the squad by a margin of just 0.3 points per million. Stoke City's Matthew Etherington drops from third place to fourth place, while there's another Birmingham casualty as Craig Gardner goes out. Arsenal's Samir Nasri may have been the Premier League's Player of the Month for December but that has not been reflected in fantasy points as he too drops out - and falls way down to be only the 12th best value midfielder. As with Hart, there's no change at the top of the strikers' chart as Johan Elmander stays in first place. But he has not scored in the last four gameweeks, with just one goal in the last nine gameweeks. That certainly suggests that his purple patch in front of goal now may well be over and it's time to sell despite his value rating of 11.45 points per million. He still has a slight lead of 0.18 points per million on Blackpool striker DJ Campbell. He netted five goals in five games recently to see him rise to the 12th highest scoring striker and depose the injured Andrew Carroll in the value squad. And with Blackpool having more games still to play this season than any other team, he provides a small amount of added value, if you can place your faith in Ian Holloway's men to keep up their form.

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