Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fantasy Football: Gameweek 31

Last gameweek saw Manchester United go three points clear at the top of the Premier League after they won and City drew. Arsenal continued their fantastic form to cement themselves in the top 3, and it seems that it will be between Chelsea and Spurs to decide who gets the final Champions League place. With 8 games to go, we’re at the business end of the season where every match feels like a cup final with millions at stake at both ends of the table. The marathon descends into a sprint, and teams must ensure the hard yards run aren't compromised by silly mistakes.

On to Gameweek 31 now

Gameweek 31 fixtures:

Aston Villa v Chelsea
Everton v West Brom
Fulham v Norwich
Manchester City v Sunderland
QPR v Arsenal
Newcastle v Liverpool
Blackburn v Manchester United
Tottenham v Swansea
Wigan v Stoke
Wolves v Bolton

Player picks:

The Premium Players

After a couple of indifferent results (albeit forgivable, considering they came against City and Spurs), Chelsea seem back on track after squad rotation bore fruition in a very tough away game against Benfica midweek. Villa have injury problems, and could be vulnerable to a fresh Chelsea side who’ve lost just once since the visit to Naples.

A lot of Chelsea’s old guard received rests midweek, and could be raring to go. The break is probably what Didier Drogba needed. It has been a long while since Daniel Sturridge scored, this could be his day.

Liverpool’s trip to Newcastle could see their season go from bad (pay no attention to that Carling Cup stuff) to worse. The Reds come into this one on the back of two defeats in eminently winnable games, and you sense the Geordies smell blood. Demba Ba is on his longest barren run, but Liverpool’s defence seem to be keen on ending barren runs of late. Papiss Cisse is a man in form, and should trouble Liverpool. Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard are the form men for the Reds, who Liverpool will hope can keep them in the top 7.

Tottenham hosting Swansea would have been a plum tie a few months ago but the form of both sides has drastically changed from October, and this now seems like a very evenly matched tie. Gareth Bale is getting back into nick, and Louis Saha is fresh from netting midweek. Swansea have form men of their own though in Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Sinclair.

City hosting Sunderland is probably the plum tie of the gameweek given the Citizens’ home record. A stroll is in order, and you’ll probably be the beneficiary of good points if you pick any of Joe Hart, Micah Richards or David Silva.

Arsenal are the league’s hottest team, and won’t do a Liverpool at Loftus Road. Robin van Persie should be the centre of everything for Arsenal (as usual), while Bobby Zamora will want to make his mark in this London derby. With Djibril Cisse suspended (again), you sense another Arsenal win in the offing.

Manchester United are flying high, but Blackburn haven’t been too bad themselves lately. That, along with the fact that they pulled off a shock result at Old Trafford earlier on which is what stops me short of labelling this a plum tie. But Wayne Rooney will no doubt succeed in proving me wrong, coupled with the excellent Antonio Valencia. David Hoilett hasn’t been too bad himself lately, and could continue his vital role in Rovers’ revivial.

The Ones You Don’t Think About

Everton enjoyed a cup replay win at Sunderland midweek, and will be on a high from progressing to the FA Cup semifinal. Nivica Jelavic is finding form for Everton, and could extend it against West Brom, aided by Steven Pienaar. Peter Odemwingie and Chris Brunt may have other designs though.

Fulham will be desperate to find some form after losses to Swansea and Man United, and could end their barren run against Norwich. They will need good form from Clint Dempsey and Pavel Pogrebnyak to do it. Norwich’s will be without skipper Grant Holt after his sending off ruined his brace last week. Antony Pilkington will be out to spoil the party at Craven Cottage though.

Wigan had a shock win at Anfield last week, and will be eyeing a home game against Stoke as their chance to get out of trouble. Shaun Maloney was a driving force in their Anfield win, and could be so here as well. Mathew Etherington will be key for the Potters in this match.

Wolves hosting Bolton is a relegation 6-pointer that both sides badly need to win. Matt Jarvis is expected to be the source of salvation for desperate Wolves again. Ryo Miyaichi will likely continue his excellent play for the Trotters after an assist last week.

Hunch of the Gameweek:

Reports suggest he might start, and this blogger feels that naughty boy Carlos Tevez deserves to be this edition’s illogical stab-in-the-dark.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

How Indians should prepare for that big Champions League night

Dear Indian Champions League watcher, here are a few tips on how to prepare for that big European game (this is just what I do, feel free to add more ~_^ )

- You will likely have school or college that day. Buy chips and drinks. Lots of them. Hide them in your bag if you fear your parents will find out what you are up to (Comment: Your life rocks if your parents are OK with these late games. Mine are not)

- Once you return home from school/college, drop on your bed and snooze for 2-3 hours. It helps, and you'll probably need it if it's a wintertime game and it's at 1:15.


- Forbid yourself to think of anything other than the big game once you wake up (As Dronacharya said, eyes only on the target!!). If you're more worried about tomorrow's homework or exam, you probably aren't fit to be watching these matches anyway.

- Wait till parents go to sleep. Slowly... shut the door to their room. With ninja-like stealth, put on the TV and lower the volume to the parentally-acceptable-yet-noisy-enough level within 1 second (or if you're a fan of the boring life, mute)

TIP: Put on the TV 2 minutes before the game starts if you don't want to hear 'pundits' on Countdown to Kickoff (i.e the Carlton Palmer cartoon show) say how shit your team is and how they have no hope (the opposite normally happens, but still!). And you may ask why 2 minutes and not straight to kick-off? Well, who's gonna listen to the Champions League anthem, the biggest spine-tingling build-up any match will ever have? Don't miss it for anything.

- Enjoy the game, and the eats and drinks!

A subnote: If your parents are away, shout and scream and swear and turn your house into a mini-stadium. Having friends over really helps create an atmosphere.

That, in short, is how you can make a Champions League night a thoroughly fulsome and enjoyable experience for yourself without getting told off by your strict 'Why can't you study this late?' parents for being a Creature of the Night.

Reader bonus game: If you wanna have fun in case you fancy yourself to be a rival to a water tank, challenge yourself to down a litre of your favourite matchday drink each time a goal is scored... but finish it before the game restarts from kick off!

Enjoy the big game, folks, good luck ~_^

And here, take some shivers down that spine:

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Chelsea, Champions of Europe? Maybe you aren't having a laugh

'Knife-edge' is the term that defines Chelsea's Champions League campaign this season. The team seems to be on a mission to do things the hard way. Good entertainment value, but not for the weak of heart (Then again, I doubt any Chelsea fan has a weak heart after what's happened to us in Europe in the last few years)

After losing to Leverkusen in the penultimate game of the group stage, Chelsea needed to beat Valencia, a strong Valencia, to be sure of progressing to the knockouts. Beat them they did, and how. Not the close game that was expected but a big win, a 3-0 scoreline. Qualification from the group stage was achieved on a knife-edge.

Taking the lead at Naples only to gift Napoli goals and lose 3-1, Chelsea's big names turned on the heat at Stamford Bridge to produce a most extraordinary 4-1 win after extra time.The same faces, that couldn't have looked more forlorn after Ezequiel Lavezzi's sealer in Naples, couldn't have looked more joyful after Ivanovic's emphatic winner. Progression from the Round of 16 was achieved on a knife-edge.

That result came in the midst of a run of wins that put real wind in Chelsea's sails for the first time this year. Roberto di Matteo had helped the team turn the corner and (for now, anyway) saved the season.

A loss and a draw in the league, however, have flattened that momentum a little bit. A goalless draw at home to Spurs wasn't the ideal result Chelsea needed heading into a tough run of fixtures. The result means that Chelsea's place among the Premier League's top 4 (and by association, next season's Champions League) is now highly uncertain. (No doubt we'll manage it in the end. On a knife-edge.)

The path leading to the hallowed trophy, however, is anything but uncertain. Benfica, beyond them Barcelona, and beyond that, most likely Real Madrid. It certainly looks beyond Chelsea, but then again that was what everyone thought about the Napoli tie as well. After weeks of looking lost and bereft of imagination culminated in defeat at Naples, Chelsea's seniors pulled off one of Europe's biggest comebacks at home to progress. A few more such performances from the old guard, and who knows, Chelsea might just do it.

On a knife-edge.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Fantasy Football: Gameweek 30

29 matches in, we have some idea as to what the final table might look like. The Manchester clubs have pulled away from the rest, and their derby in late April looks set to decide the title. Spurs' incredible winless run in the league continues as they've thrown away a 10-point lead to be leapfrogged by Arsenal, and have let Chelsea move to within 5 points of them. A final peculiarity worth pointing out is that this is the first time in my memory that no team in the league's top 3 are in any other competition at this stage of the season.

Moving on...

Gameweek 30 fixtures:

Chelsea v Tottenham
Arsenal v Villa
Bolton v Blackburn
Liverpool v Wigan
Norwich v Wolves
Sunderland v QPR
Swansea v Everton
Stoke v Man City
West Brom v Newcastle
Man United v Fulham

Player picks

The Premium Players

The standout fixture of the gameweek is the London derby at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Spurs. Having drawn closer and closer to a flailing Tottenham over the past month, Chelsea have the players and the form to close the gap by 3 further points.

Juan Mata always performs at home, and this will be no exception. Frank Lampard has quietly moved on to 13 goals and 7 assists for the season (a better return than the last campaign) despite sitting out more games than usual, and you feel he might rise to the occasion. Bale and van der Vaart may have something to say about that though.

The plum fixture is Liverpool welcoming Wigan to Anfield, where the Reds finally registered a win in the Merseyside derby. They choked on an easy fixture midweek but it probably won’t happen this time. Luis Suarez should be in the middle of all things good for the Reds, as should Steven Gerrard. Pepe Reina might register a shutout, which makes Jose Enrique a nice player to have as well.

Manchester United could continue their top-of-the-table form against Fulham who are never great on the road. The new system with Hernandez and Welbeck supported by Rooney seems to be working wonders. Just about any of that trio could take Fulham apart, and Valencia too, of course.

Arsenal are without doubt the league’s hottest team on form facing an average Villa side who have injury problems. Arsenal’s position is largely due to Robin van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen, who will be key again this week.

Manchester City must be buoyed after a big comeback win against Chelsea midweek, and look poised to start a run of form that could push Manchester United all the way. David Silva may return to the points after a long run of doing nothing. Sergio Aguero has just 3 away goals in the league this season, but expect him to add to that this week. The gamblers and fairy-tale believers among you might want to plump for Carlos Tevez.

The Ones You Don’t Think About

There is still a little doubt over whether Bolton’s game will be held in light of recent events (and this blogger would like to wish Muamba well, and hopes his recovery is swift), but I doubt Bolton will be reluctant to get back to business. Ryo Miyaichi will be key for the Trotters. However, Bolton will struggle to contain Hoilett, who has been vital to Blackburn’s recent upturn in form.

Norwich host bottom team Wolves, and you can sense the canaries smell blood. Pilkington, Holt and Whitbread must be rubbing their hands with glee. In fact, I’ll go all the way and back Ruddy too.

Sunderland and QPR registered surprising results midweek (and they were surprising for different reasons). Stephane Sessegnon will return from suspension, and should resume normal service. Djibril Cisse is in good form for QPR and Sunderland may not be able to stop him.

Swansea have been the best promoted side we’ve seen for many a season (certainly since Reading). You feel they’re more than a match for Everton at home, give the good form of Gylfi Sigurdsson that’s driving them. Danny Graham might net as well. I can’t fight off this strange feeling about Steven Pienaar though.

West Brom – Newcastle seems like a match between equals, and will probably end in a draw. Expect Chris Brunt, Peter Odemwingie, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba to have their say though.

Hunch of the Gameweek:

This edition’s illogical stab-in-the-dark is Stuart Downing, who I feel may just start delivering in the league.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Fantasy Football: Gameweek 29

An FA Cup weekend that involves 7 Premier League teams sees just 4 matches actually taking place during the weekend. With a trip to Wembley at stake, the quarterfinalists will no doubt put out their best lads. This throws up the possibilities of injuries/suspensions taking place during the FA Cup that will hamper the midweek matches (and put this post into jeopardy as well).

With that as food for thought, let’s look ahead to Gameweek 29.

Gameweek 29 fixtures:

Wolves v Man United
Fulham v Swansea
Wigan v West Brom
Newcastle v Norwich
Villa v Bolton
Blackburn v Sunderland
Spurs v Stoke
Manchester City v Chelsea
Everton v Arsenal
QPR v Liverpool

Player picks:

The Premium Picks

The stand-out fixture of the gameweek is Chelsea’s trip to the Etihad. In the last couple of weeks, Chelsea have been on the up, with 3 wins in their last 3 games turning their season around, making up 3 points on Spurs and going through to the next rounds of the FA Cup and the Champions League. Manchester City haven’t had the best time of it though, being knocked off top spot and out of the Europa League.

City have won every league game at home this season, but Chelsea have the morale and form to snap that streak just as they broke City’s unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge. Come what may, the Etihad means a performance from Sergio Aguero. Away from home has usually been dreadful for one Chelsea man but Juan Mata has proved himself on the road these last few weeks and could be among the points. Didier Drogba is returning to the beast we know he can be.

Manchester United’s trip to struggling Wolves is a plum fixture. Wayne Rooney is just points for the taking at the moment. Nani could make a comeback to the points after a quiet few weeks.

Another plum tie is Liverpool’s trip to equally struggling QPR. They found goals and won at Anfield for the first time in a long while, and the return of Steven Gerrard could propel them to another win. Luis Suarez has looked threatening without scoring many, this could be the time he gets in on the goals. Bobby Zamora won’t take that lying down though.

Tottenham hosting Stoke would qualify as a plum tie but Spurs have been in woeful form, and Stoke will smell blood. Louis Saha is fresh from being rested last week due to a “gentleman’s agreement”, and could be what Spurs need to get back on track. Gareth Bale’s return to the left wing (assuming Lennon is fit) could mean a return to points. Kenwyne Jones might make the net bulge.

Everton at Goodison have tripped up many a big side this season, but Arsenal are the very definition of form. Anything Leon Osman and Royston Drenthe throw at the Gunners, Robin van Persie *yawn* will throw right back.

The Ones You Don’t Think About

The other game in West London pits two form teams against each other. Swansea may find Pavel Pogrebnyak and Clint Dempsey hard to keep out. Fulham will find it equally hard against Gylfi Sigurdsson and Danny Graham.

Sunderland travel to hapless Blackburn, and in Sessegnon’s suspension-induced absence, Sebastian Larsson could make his mark after a quiet few weeks. Yakubu has been the reason Blackburn aren’t yet dead certain to go down, and he’ll show us why. And Fraizer Campbell is worth a look, given that Bendtner is a doubt.

Norwich’s trip to Newcastle is a fixture made interesting by Newcastle’s dip in form. Hatem ben Arfa will look to build on two good performances by him and Demba Ba will do all he can to help the Geordies win, but not if Antony Pilkington and Grant Holt have anything to do with it.

Charles N’Zogbia is in good form for Aston Villa, and could lead the way for them yet again against Bolton. The Trotters are relying on the form of Klasnic and Miyaichi to stay in the Premier League.

West Brom suffered their first defeat in a month at Old Trafford, but will look to get back on track at bottom team Wigan. Shane Long and Chris Brunt could combine to help register a win at the DW.

Hunch of the Gameweek:

The customary stab in the dark this time is Gabriel Agbonlahor

Friday, 9 March 2012

Fantasy Football: Gameweek 28

After a Gameweek 27 that was 'interesting' to say the least, this FPL guru now looks ahead to Gameweek 28.

Gameweek 28 fixtures:

Chelsea v Stoke
Bolton v QPR
Villa v Fulham
Sunderland v Liverpool
Everton v Tottenham
Wolves v Blackburn
Man Utd v West Brom
Swansea v Man City
Norwich v Wigan
Arsenal v Newcastle
Liverpool v Everton

The Premium Players
One thing that MUST be noted here is that Liverpool and Everton have a double gameweek. Naturally, this means their players take priority as they simply have more chances to get points. The Merseyside derby at Anfield is the second fixture for these times following tricky games at Sunderland and hosting Spurs for Liverpool and Everton respectively.

For the Merseyside Reds, Luis Suarez is expected to perform. If you want a Premium goalkeeper, Pepe Reina is your man this gameweek. Steven Pienaar has experienced something of a renaissance on his return to the Toffees, expect that form to continue.

Tottenham, meanwhile, have Gareth Bale back to fitness. Get in. Expect Emmanuel Adebayor to repeat his performance against Man United, only he might manage to score this time.

United host a high-flying West Brom after another disappointing European home result. They always use the league to bounce back, but West Brom won't lie down. United will probably win with the aid of Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young, but are not value for the clean sheet. The away side will rely on the on-fire Peter Odemwingie (5 goals in 3 games tells its own story)

Chelsea host Stoke in Roberto di Matteo's first league game in charge of the Blues. If Chelsea's performance at Birmingham is anything to go by, the team might continue to turn the corner at home, and if they are to do so, Juan Mata will have to continue inspiring them. Don't bet against Daniel Sturridge breaking his 'missing' streak.

Arsenal are another team on the up, and they host Newcastle who seem to have trouble getting results to go in their favour. I suggest Robin van Persie (Yawn) and Theo Walcott for this one. Don't be too surprised if Demba Ba decides to crash the party.

City's trip to Swansea should be a real treat to the neutral's eye, and one for the FPL player too, provided you pick right. It's safe, for instance, to pick Gylfi Sigurdsson and Danny Graham. Roberto Mancini rested Silva and Aguero last weekend, so take those names (albeit pretty good ones) with a pinch of salt. With Dzeko starting against Sporting, it's safe to assume that the best City pick is Mario Balotelli.

The Ones You Don't Think About
Villa host a road-phobic Fulham. Charles N'Zogbia could carry on from where he left off last week. Meanwhile, pick/keep Pavel Pogrebnyak until you're sure he has stopped scoring (and that seems like a long way away, so tuck in).

Wolves hosting Blackburn is a crucial relegation 6-pointer. Both teams will try going for the points. In the process, Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis and Yakubu could be among the points.

Bolton host QPR in a game where victory is crucial for both sides, another 6-pointer. Djibril Cisse has served his suspension, and could make a dream return to the lineup. Ivan Klasnic will do all he can to be a bad host though.

Norwich play bottom team Wigan at home. Antony Pilkington and Grant Holt must be rubbing their hands with glee. Meanwhile, there may not be much work to do, hand-wise, for John Ruddy, who's my pick to keep a clean sheet this week.

Hunch of the Gameweek

This could be the week that the industrial play of Ryo Miyaichi finally translates into serious points.

This is my personal blog, and is being used for this week's FPL advice column as The Football Asylum is currently facing technical difficulties. The site will be back online in a couple of weeks. Do feel free to browse around this poorly-updated blog till then.