The Wormburner: Recognizable New Recruits
The season is long, and injuries add up. In fact, they never let up. The season hits peak-hectic after the Ides of December, so in the place of the broken and the old step forward the healthy and the new. A little like shark teeth, a little like shelf-stock inventory—a little like life, really.
Oftentimes what’s old is new again, and the new are sometimes healed-up favorites, so you get to see a few familiar faces.
Jan Vertonghen, in and out (mostly-out) of the side under late Pochettino, has suddenly come alive again under the sorcerous gaze of Jose Mourinho. Be there devilry afoot? Maybe it’s just a logical managerial decision to reinstate one of the Spurs defensive rocks of the past several years but in a fullback position. Clean sheets haven’t yet become an every-week occurrence, but Vertonghen’s attacking returns have justified his inclusion for both real and fantasy managers. An ironclad starting status for the Belgian hasn’t been proven beyond doubt, but game-winning goals and assists will have not gone unnoticed. With one of each in the last two match weeks (plus one clean sheet) and the associated bonus points, the formerly discarded Jan has rewarded early investment and could prove a successful pickup in leagues where he still roams free.
Jose Mourinho is himself a recognizable face, and ever the model employee/ex-employee, he boasts an interesting record with regard to the weekend fixture at home against Chelsea. Against teams Mourinho formerly managed, at home, he has won 12 and drawn one, in all competitions. Undefeated and nearly always victorious. Most recently Mourinho’s Manchester United twice defeated Chelsea at Old Trafford. Of course, Mourinho’s Porto and Chelsea teams went nine years undefeated at home from 2002 to 2011, so this is not jaw-drop shock information. More a reminder. Spurs assets could be in ascendancy even in a tricky fixture. We shall see.
Within the player ranks at Chelsea, Antonio Rudiger is back in match-day lineups after a long injury layoff and he presumably walks right back into permanent residence at the heart of central defense. Chelsea hasn’t kept as many clean sheets as one might have expected, but Rudiger’s absence could have played a large part in that. The schedule ahead looks promising and Rudiger should be a season keeper if fit. Managers may need to adjust their thinking with regard to “Chelsea = clean sheets” but time will tell.
Diogo Jota scored twice against Brighton, followed by a hat trick against Besiktas in Europa. Up next against Norwich, he may have the opportunity to further burnish his goal tally. Jack Grealish and other Aston Villa assets may also yield great troves of points in the next few weeks, with favorable fixtures. With hindsight, it turns out Dejan Lovren was more than a one-week pickup but also that he too would get injured before Joel Matip managed to return. Joe Gomez, the future is now? Neal Maupay has scored three in three. Wilfried Zaha is finally getting on he scoreboard again, just when it seemed he had totally checked out for the season. Crystal Palace enjoys a good run, as does a pacy Wilfried.
Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell started scoring and assisting again. Is it…? *rubs eyes* Are we right back at the beginning of season again? Is Norwich the little team that could, powered by the plucky diminutive Finn with an awesome name? While full-scale time travel to the headiest days of the Pukki Party may continue to prove impossible, the blast from the past will have felt quite nice for those who made transfers early in the season and then never again. Pukki has now scored three in four, and has nine league goals for the season. According to reports, Pukki may have broken a toe against Leicester, so that could derail the fun, although he reported played through the pain barrier in that match and could do so again.
Divock Origi has long been the iconic wildly over-performing statistically improbable freak entity, but now there’s a new man defying expectations. Kelechi Iheanacho is the new old face in from the cold at Leicester (by way of the cold at Manchester City, then the long stretch of chill at Leicester). Origi scores like clockwork when he plays, but he never plays. Is the story different with Iheanacho? He seems more folded into the lineup, but there is only one top dog in the Foxes front line.
With rotation and the guessing of which two times a day a stopped clock is right, timing is everything. Over the holiday fixture crunch, everyone will be rotated, which makes the perennial rotation risks interestingly more viable. Guessing the Liverpool midfield selection is almost as hard as nailing when Origi plays, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and Xherdan Shaqiri all champing at the bit to get onto the field and off the endless job-share loop.
Andy Carroll is a genuine possibility at the moment, and this is not a joke. Reel in the years, bank on a hometown favorite to come good again. Carroll is partially a figure of man-bun folklore and partially a real human player, but he has always posed an aerial threat when fit and healthy. With two starts in three, and two assists, the big man could make Newcastle United very happy again. That said, his injury record is well-known and he is not a set-and-forget type of option, though the gods of injury prevention may smile on him for a brief while with benevolence and nostalgia.
You may want to keep an eye on any player drops at Liverpool or, to a lesser extent, West Ham. Managers overzealously addressing the blank GW18 fixture for Liverpool-West Ham may perhaps throw out a little bit of baby with the bath water and you can scoop the child back into safety’s arms (and a warm dry towel). Maybe you can bench for a week and hope the investment pays off. There’s a whole half of the season yet to come. And it’s kind of the more exciting half.
Everything’s about to get extra fast and extra furious. Good luck, and we reconvene back here soon. Until then, many eyes will be on Mourinho and whether the apprentice can shove a broken unbeaten record in the face of the master. (It should be noted there is no proof Jose has ever required any former Derby County managers to call him this.)
Will the former employer stat still be relevant when Manchester United storm Tottenham Hotspur stadium in the future? Will any manager get to simply state, “Lads, it’s Tottenham,” with impunity in earshot of a Mourinho military industrial complex ever again? It all remains to be seen.
Watch this space, fantasy sports fans.
The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). It did not get its annual copy of the Premier League script. Please give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience if you manage to track one down.