Champions League Group Stage matches started on Tuesday and EPL fantasy managers had their first chance to see squad rotations for Manchester City and Arsenal for the first time this season. Both English sides were playing their opening match away from home and each had a number of long-term injuries that ruled players out of contention well in advance of Tuesday’s kick-off.
Roberto Mancini and Manchester City have drawn Real Madrid in the Group Stage and clearly took this match-up into consideration in gameweek 4 of the Barclays Premier League. Carlos Tevez with withdrawn after 62′ in that match, and City went on to draw 1-1 away at Stoke City. Tevez had a profound impact on the BPL match, creating City’s only goal, and his withdrawal could have cost them two points. Tevez was in Mancini’s starting XI against Real and played the full 90′ for the visitors as they lost 3-2 following a frenetic final 15′. EPL fantasy managers did earn a modest return from Tevez, but perhaps future BPL fixtures preceding the Champions League midweek will necessitate handing the captains armband to another member of your EPL fantasy side.
Mancini’s starting XI to face Madrid was yet another incarnation of the 4-2-3-1 with Gareth Barry partnering Javi Garvia in the defensive midfield positions. The tactics shifted twice, first with the introduction of Aleksandar Kolarov for the injured Samir Nasri after 36′ and again with the introduction of Eden Dzeko for David Silva after 63′. Kun Aguero was the only unused attacking player as neither James Milner nor Scott Sinclair were included in the team.
This doesn’t tell us much about Mancini’s rotation policy except that he has not settled on a back-four yet. This match saw Vincent Kompany joined at the back by Clichy, Maicon and Matija Nastasic. Micah Richards remains sidelined with his ankle injury and pre-match reports had Pablo Zabaleta missing out with a knock of his own. Zabaleta did make an appearance, coming on for Maicon on 74′, just minutes before Real opened the floodgates and netted three in the final 14′. Clichy-Lescott-Kompany-Maicon started on Saturday vs. Stoke City. Before the international break it was Zabaleta-Kompany-Lescott-Kolarov with Kolo Toure making a bow on 75′ for Zabaleta in the match against QPR. The only other relevant bit of information is that City have not kept a cleansheet across six competitive fixtures in all competitions, allowing 11 goals in the process.
Arsenal’s game had a similarly high level of drama on the pitch at Montpellier gave the Gunners as much as they could handle and still escape with three points. Lukas Podolski and Gervinho found the net in the Champions League opener, picking up where they left off against Southampton on Saturday. The Gunners appear to be settled in the midfield with Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta the first choice pairing in the centre of the pitch. Gervinho’s excellent recent performances have him ahead of Theo Walcott in the pecking order, despite Walcott scoring a late goal of his own in the last BPL fixture. The real story is the continued presence of three new faces. Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were in Arsene’s starting XI Tuesday, after Giroud was left on the bench to start against Southampton but came on for the final 17′.
The drama for Arsenal pre-game involved the absence of Wojciech Szczesny. The ‘keeper suffered an ankle injury in the match against Southampton but elected to remain in the game over the weekend. Arsenal will face Manchester City and Chelsea in their next two Barclays Premier League fixtures and the match-ups diminish the prospect of investing in Vito Mannone in the short-term. The £4.5m-rated GK has posted two clean sheets in the league, in his only two performances, but the 1.2% of Fantasy Premier League managers who remain invested in the ‘keeper must be holding him in the hopes that his prices rises in the coming weeks because the odds of Mannone posting a cleansheet in either of the next two games are slim. EPL fantasy implications aren’t high, but a flier on Mannon may yield a few extra pounds
If you’re asking — many many of you are asking — Santi Cazorla is a solid investment at the price. He is second in the Premier League with 18 chances created through four fixtures. Podolski has created eight, and Arteta six, while no other Gunner has created more than five. We firmly believe that Podolski has the skill from open play and set pieces to threaten 20 goals this season. But it is Cazorla who has inherited the mantle of playmaker vacated by the departure of Robin van Persie. Van Persie was both the leading goal-scorer and created the most chances for the Gunners in the 2011-12 season — a feat very infrequently seen and almost unheard on in the modern Premier League. In fact, van Persie’s ’11-12 season would typically have been spread over two players. This season there are two players, each with top skill, who can build on the EPL fantasy results posted by tRVP last season.
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