Every Friday this season I will be offering my humble opinion – although, I should add that I top the Football Whispers Fantasy Football table at the time of writing – on the players you need to draft into your starting XI for the weekend’s fixtures.
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Game Week 7
One week it is all going to click into place, I promise! Game Week 6 saw a return to form for Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United with a goal for the advised Marcus Rashford (ka-ching!); Chelsea dismantled at the Emirates by a highly impressive Arsenal; and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City continue with their steamrolling of the Premier League.
Defender Of The Week: Daley Blind (Manchester United)
Next fixture: Manchester United v Stoke City – 2/10/2016 (12pm)
The first 45 minutes of the Red Devils’ home fixture against Leicester City was arguably the most impressive half of football post-Fergie. United played with the same pace and creativity that has been missing from the Theatre of Dreams for the past four or five years. First-half goals from Chris Smalling, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford killed off the champions before they had a chance to get a foothold in the game.
Last week's display will, undoubtedly, give Mourinho’s men the confidence boost needed to kick start their season, and who better to face this weekend than Mark Hughes’ struggling Stoke City. The Potters find themselves in the midst of a nightmarish start to the 2016/17 season. With Hughes’ men having only scored four and, uncharacteristically, conceded 15 in the opening six fixtures (only West Ham have conceded more), the Red Devils will surely fancy their chances at strolling away from Old Trafford on Sunday with all three points.
Daley Blind is quickly turning into one of the most underrated defenders in the Premier League. Not renowned for his pace, the graceful Dutchman is happy to give opposing strikers space and back his exceptional instinct and anticipation to nullify attacking threats. An added string to Blind’s bow is his dead ball prowess.
Last week saw him directly involved in three of United’s four goals: all from his corner deliveries. By being part of a defensive unit which is improving week-by-week, and being backed up by David De Gea, Blind is always going to have half a chance of keeping a clean sheet. When combined with his ability to assist offensively and a favourable match-up against Stoke City this weekend, the Dutchman is surely a must start.
Midfielder Of The Week – Sofiane Feghouli (West Ham United)
Next fixture: West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion – 1/10/2016 (3pm)
Following their move to the London Stadium, I don't think what has ensued for the Hammers could have been much worse. Since exited to minnows Astra Giurgiu in the qualification stages of the Europa league, Slaven Bilic’s side have thrown away a two-goal lead to Watford (4-2) and been humbled 3-0 by Southampton at their new home.
That latest disaster at the hands of Claude Puel’s Saints’ last Sunday saw the Irons out-attacked, out-defended, out-battled and, quite frankly, outclassed by their visitors. With a serious cloud forming over his job, Bilic welcomes recently-promoted Middlesbrough to the Olympic Stadium desperate for three points.
Having headed into half-time a goal down at home last week, Bilic decided Manuel Lanzini was struggling to make an impact on the game (much like he has all season), and replaced him with this week's midfielder of the week, Sofiane Feghouli.
Following an impressive 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Algerian arrived in East London in the summer of 2016 on a free transfer from Valencia in the hope of partnering fellow attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet. Despite nursing an early season injury, the wide midfielder is slowly being introduced into the West Ham system with 45-minute cameos against West Bromwich Albion and Southampton.
With West Ham crying out for creativity and attacking spark, I would be amazed to see Billic not turn to the tricky Algerian this week in a must-win encounter. Particularly, with fellow attacking outlets: Lanzini, Simone Zaza, Jonathan Calleri and Havard Nordtveit yet to offer anything in the way of quality between them (combined total: 0 goals and 0 assists). It would appear that Feghouli has a favourable match-up this week against Boro, who have failed to keep a clean sheet in their past three games.
Striker Of The Week: Jermain Defoe (Sunderland)
Next fixture: West Ham United v Middlesbrough – 1/10/2016 (3pm)
Last weekend probably saw the lowest point of David Moyes’ managerial career. Having found himself in a self-diagnosed relegation battle with Sunderland since the summer window, the Black Cats managed to find a way to claw defeat from the jaws of victory. Having thrown away a 2-0 lead at home to Crystal Palace, pressure and tension is rapidly building on Wearside.
Death, taxes and Jermain Defoe scoring Premier League goals are three things, seemingly, certain in this world. The 33-year-old veteran is showing absolutely no signs of his age catching up on him having amassed 23 goals in 56 appearances for the Black Cats. Just imagine where they would be without him? Actually, don't! I think it's pretty evident they would be preparing for a Championship tie against a footballing heavyweight like Burton Albion or Rotherham United.
With many people calling for his return to the national team – let’s not go there, this week! – Defoe has a favourable match-up this week as Sunderland welcome Tony Pulis’ West Brom to the Stadium Of Light. Last week, I highlighted the Baggies’ inability to win on the road, something only exemplified with a last minute equaliser to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat at the Bet365 Stadium.
Defoe’s incredible goal scoring record has always relied on two things: a burst of pace and a natural ability to calmly finish into the back of the net. With a back four more than likely consistent of a physical combination of: Gareth McAuley, Jonas Olsson, Jonny Evans and Craig Dawson, the former Tottenham man should have ample opportunity to get in behind and showcase his finishing ability. This is a particularly favourable match-up given both Pulis and West Brom's tendency to set up very rigidly on the road with a ‘do not lose’ mentality, something which may favour the Black Cats this week.