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Nov 4, 2011

Stick or twist?

Steven Gerrard's latest injury lay-off will come as blow for many fantasy managers who were banking on the Liverpool captain being back to his best form.

After four Premier League appearances this season, only two of which have come from the bench, Gerrard is back on the sidelines with an infected ankle.

Although the club have indicated he will be back within two weeks, meaning he could return after the international break when the Reds go to Chelsea, if his last injury is anything to go by such a speedy recovery cannot be relied upon.

One of the more consistent fantasy performers of the last ten years, Gerrard was a player to avoid last season even before injury ended his campaign in March.

But despite his popularity, Gerrard has never been on the same fantasy level as, say, Frank Lampard. Only once has Gerrard scored in excess of 11 goals in a campaign, in 2008-09, while Lampard has achieved it four times (including 22 in 2009-10).

Gerrard's return to action, and his goal against Manchester United, led to a surge in popularity to be in 9.6% of teams. But after unexpectedly not featuring against West Bromwich Albion we now know he will at least miss the home game against Swansea City this weekend.

What you choose to do with Gerrard may depend largely on how many transfers you have left until the turn of the year when there is the opportunity to rebuild. Anything in advance of five transfers and replacing Gerrard is the only sensible option. It might be that he will return for the Chelsea game, but that would not be an optimum fixture anyway so replacing him - be it for the short term or the long term - is advisable.

As Gerrard is only valued at £7.2 million, down £0.6 million from his starting value, the options are reduced somewhat. All but one of the top five midfielders in the game - bar Clint Dempsey at £7.6 million - are priced way in excess of Gerrard: David Silva (£8.8m), Frank Lampard (£8.4m), Rafael van der Vaart (£9.5m) and Nani (£8.8m).

The reason Van der Vaart is the most expensive player, despite scoring fewer points than Silva, is his consistent scoring of at least one goal in every match since the game against Wigan in late-September - which means he has shown a value rise every week. Silva, though regularly contributing assists, has scored just the once since gameweek two.

Dempsey is a tempting option at just £7.6 million for his 61 points (just seven fewer than Silva), but he is already in 29.4% of teams - around double the ownership of both Van der Vaart (14.1%) and Lampard (15.8%).

Dempsey's Fulham team-mate Danny Murphy (£5.2m) and Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson (£5.4m) offer the best hope of an impact on your rivals though Larsson is just one booking away from a suspension. Fulham have games against Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool in three of their next four but the Black Cats, after this weekend's trip to Manchester United, have four games, three at home, against Fulham, Wigan, Wolves (away) and Blackburn.

Ashley Young's plummeting value - he's now at £7.5 million after one assist and no goals since gameweek three - makes him attractive but his form and fitness do not. Gareth Bale's value has dropped £0.2 million to £7.1 million since the start of the season but he will certainly rise at the next gamelock making the Spurs man a bargain right now, but perhaps not next week.

Larsson may have question marks over his disciplinary status and visit Old Trafford this week, but he did score at Arsenal earlier in the season and United have a suspect defence. Sunderland's fixture list makes him the main man to consider.

Baines back on the radar

Last season's defender of the season, Leighton Baines, could be about to finally come into form - if Everton's upcoming fixture list is anything to go by.

In 2010-11, Baines was far and away above any other defensive player due to his contributions from set-pieces: both goals and assists. But this term he finds himself on 33 points, which ranks him in 24th place among defenders. His value of £7.2 million is just £0.2 million down from the start of the season, as Everton have had no horror weeks defensively.

The only issue with bringing Baines in is that he has largely held his ownership, and is still in 22.8% of teams making him the most popular defender in the game (followed closely by Jose Bosingwa, John Terry and Gary Cahill). This can be explained by a failure for any team to prove a key investment for clean sheets, which is backed up by Terry being the top scoring defender having kept a solitary clean sheet. Most managers may have opted to stick by Baines as no other defender is offering long-term points which you can be confident of.

Everton's upcoming run of fixtures shows games against Wolves, Stoke and Norwich and trips to Newcastle, Bolton and Arsenal - so just the trip to Emirates would be a game where you would definitely look to bench Baines. But is it worth bringing him into your team with such a high ownership level? Would there be tangible benefit?

Disciplinary tightrope

It's important to keep a close eye on those players close to a one-match suspension, as is the case with Sebastian Larsson. Any player who picks up five yellow cards before, and including, the round of games on December 31 will be banned for the next match (Premier League or Carling Cup). At present the following players are banned for the weekend's round of Premier League games or are one booking from a ban.

Aston Villa: Gabriel Agbonlahor
Bolton Wanderers: Ricardo Gardner (banned)
Blackburn Rovers: Jason Lowe
Chelsea: Frank Lampard, John Terry. Didier Drogba (banned)
Everton: Marouane Fellaini (banned)
Fulham: Brede Hangeland, Steven Sidwell
Man City: Gareth Barry. Vincent Kompany (banned)
Stoke City: Glenn Whelan
Sunderland: Seb Larsson
Wigan: Gary Caldwell (banned)

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