Thursday, 30 August 2012

Fantasy Premier League: Gameweek 3

This blogger had a pretty good gameweek 2 in Fantasy Premier League, be it with his team or with his post. This week sees Chelsea and Reading take a bye, so be sure to bench/sell players from those teams.

Down to business now.

Gameweek 3 fixtures:

Swansea v Sunderland
Tottenham v Norwich
West Brom v Everton
West Ham v Fulham
Wigan v Stoke
Newcastle v Villa
Manchester City v QPR
Liverpool v Arsenal
Southampton v Manchester United

The Big Boys:

The standout ties are those of the Manchester sides. In a throwback to the last season's finale, Manchester City welcome QPR with both sides looking shaky defensively, QPR more so than City. If you feel City were just taken aback by a combination of that pesky back 3 and Liverpool's energy, by all means invest in Zabaleta. More sturdy and reliable picks would be Tevez and Yaya Toure.

Wayne Rooney's injury is no doubt a blow, the footage was horrid and I wish him a speedy recovery with all my heart. On the pitch though, the goods will be delivered (as I've been saying for a while) by Kagawa and Valencia. And maybe, just maybe, it's time to start thinking of Robin van Persie?

Newcastle looked a shadow of themselves at Stamford Bridge, and were swept aside without the Blues even creating a clear chance in the game. No doubt they will bounce back against Villa, who are looking like relegation contenders again. In the thick of things should be ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse.

The box-office fixture of the week is Arsenal's visit to Anfield. It's a clash between sides with two contrasting problems - one can't stop conceding, the other can't score. Agger's return will bolster the Reds' defence (don't pick him though), but I'll put aside my 'No Liverpool law' from earlier and say, pick Suarez. It's unclear whether Sahin will start, so stay away for now. Arsenal's value has clearly been with their defenders so far, but it's unlikely they will escape Anfield unscathed, so Podolski and Cazorla are better ideas.

Tottenham host Norwich, and the North Londoners will look to get their first win of the season. Sigurdsson and van der Vaart are being rotated, so best stay away from the headache and avoid both. If you wish to invest, do so in Gareth Bale.

The Other Guys

Swansea players have been the gifts that kept on giving at both ends of the pitch, but the two-week fresh Sunderland could be the ones to beat Michel Vorm. Two players that will keep delivering though are Michu and Dyer. The key man for Sunderland will be Sessegnon.

West Brom and Everton are two teams that have given a good account of themselves in the opening two weeks. There's no clean sheet in this, but there is much to expect from Fellaini and Jelavic for the Toffees, and Gera and Morrison for the hosts.

West Ham take on Fulham in one of the not-so-fierce London derbies. Both sides will be looking to bounce back from away defeats, and here, again, clean sheets are out of the question. Brian Ruiz got an early assist last week, and should be getting points again here. Mladen Petric should find the net too. Expect Kevin Nolan to pull some strings for the Hammers.

Before the era of Roberto Martinez, Wigan v Stoke would've been a classic relegation 6 pointer - two sides kicking lumps out of each other in a bid to scrap for the 3 points. Wigan are now beyond that though, and classy play from Kone and Maloney should see them get points. Kightly has looked good for the Potters so far, and I expect Peter Crouch will get off the mark for the season.

Hunch of the Gameweek:

This edition's illogical stab-in-the-dark is West Ham's Mark Noble.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Chelsea's Start: Domestic Break Musings

Three games gone, and this being UEFA Super Cup week for Chelsea fans, it is a break from the domestic season and it affords a chance to look back at how the team started the Premier League season. It’s still early days, but it’s fair to say (or at least, one can be confident that it will soon be fair to say) that Chelsea’s spending in the transfer window - particularly the most expensive acquisition - has been vindicated.

After a rather average pre-season showing (including the Community Shield) where the defence had more holes than a shop of sieves, Chelsea started the season in the best possible way – with goals. Pundits like to cite fixtures like Wigan and Stoke away as the acid test for Premier League imports, and it was delightful to watch the import Eden Hazard and Chelsea and make quick work of Wigan on opening day. Game done in 6 minutes, the Blues sat on that lead till the end.

Compared to that, Chelsea had to really sweat the Reading game. It had that most basic element of all derby matches – no matter what the venue or how big the difference between the sides on paper, it was a very difficult game to win. Chelsea weren’t helped by an uncharacteristic gaffe by Petr Cech that gave the Royals the lead, but the home side were eventually at the right end of a 4-2 score after a match that saw 90 minutes of gung ho attacking led, again, by that young Belgian.

Given how the fixture ended a few months ago, it would’ve been fair to expect visitors Newcastle to be Chelsea’s sternest test yet. Newcastle made 9 changes from their Europa League playoff and with Chelsea also having played that tough Reading game midweek, there was no question of one side being fresher than the other. What followed, however, was another masterclass from Hazard and a great performance from Fernando Torres that saw Chelsea comfortably reverse the scoreline from their previous meeting without even creating a real open chance. The match, particularly the first half, was made to look frighteningly easy.

Some thought the fee of 32 million was excessive for an unproven 21 year old, but Eden Hazard’s performances give one the impression that he’s worth all that and more. Skilful, pacy and unselfish, he is giving the Chelsea midfield the verve, speed and guile it has lacked in recent seasons. His early return of 6 assists and one goal in just three games has all his managers (people play fantasy football, yes?) delighted. He’s paying back his money’s worth, and is getting the best out of Fernando Torres. 

About him, it’s delightful to see the Spaniard in form. 3 goals in his last 4 games following a Golden Boot in the EURO, Torres is a clear example that after the rain, the sun shines. And what three goals they were - all of them had him making the most of limited chances, particularly the Newcastle goal a glory that we all thought died in 2009. Chelsea are still somewhat bare in the striker position though. Should (God forbid) something happen to Torres form-wise or fitness-wise, the Blues could be in trouble. Chelsea must spend on a reliable understudy to cover their bases.

He might not get in the opposition box all that much anymore, but Frank Lampard is quite an asset playing withdrawn behind the attacking midfield trio. His role, just like Ballack’s in Ancelotti’s first season, must not be underestimated. Lampard is in his element when picking out passes and starting attacks, and his ability to get the ball to Mata, Hazard, Ramires and Torres will dictate much of Chelsea’s attacking play. Not a bad tackler either, and probably playing the role that suits his age and the team’s system as a whole. An aside: Congratulations to him for having scored in 16 Premier League seasons straight now.

Based on what has happened so far - and many will argue that not enough has occurred for anyone to make any hasty predictions, but hey - here is some divination: Chelsea will win two trophies this season, and one of them will be the Barclays Premier League.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Fantasy Premier League: Gameweek 2

The opening gameweek of the Barclays Premier League (and Fantasy Premier League, of course) was a Godsend that swept away those non-football withdrawal symptoms (gotta hate those). The opening weekend had goals, errors, penalties and general action, and then Chelsea vs Reading had all of that in one match. In terms of FPL posts, this fella is glad he called most them right (if you ignored all of it or picked a Liverpool player, tough on you).

This is the only proper, 10 match gameweek of the month, and this is where things get interesting. On we go!

Gameweek 2 fixtures:

Aston Villa v Everton
Liverpool v Man City
Chelsea v Newcastle
Manchester United v Fulham
Norwich City v QPR
Southampton v Wigan
Sunderland v Reading
Stoke v Arsenal
Swansea v West Ham
Tottenham v West Brom

The Big Boys

There aren't any standout ties that cry out for the big players, be they attackers or defenders. But Manchester United are usually brilliant at home, and Fulham are generally a poor away team. A look at this and the next few fixtures suggests it wouldn't hurt to buy Kagawa or Valencia. Before club loyalty or belief in reputation prompts you into picking Rooney or van Persie (if you have them already, ditch, there are way better players at present costing way less), please wait till either one shows signs of form. Same goes for Vidic and de Gea: Be mindful of the facts that - home and away records aside - United's goal was peppered at Goodison and Fulham are just coming off a match where they scored 5. And on that note, if you're a gambler or just lacking money (or both), take a look at Mladen Petric.

Chelsea impressed all going forward last gameweek, and even though they have a null gameweek to follow, it will be worth your while to pick the 5-assist Eden Hazard for now and bench him next week. There is little value from Lampard besides penalty taking now that Mata takes the set pieces, and Ivanovic's goal rush won't last. Also, it's Newcastle, and they're no numpties. They will hit hard with ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse, who scored the goal that made physicists vomit a few months ago.

Spurs v West Brom presents a dilemma similar to the United-Fulham game - just how far into Spurs should you dig? Unlike what I said for United, the answer here is - pretty deep. There is much to love in Tottenham's next few fixtures, and none more so than their latest signing Emmanuel Adebayor (If you lost your hair when Aguero went off last week, this is a good transplant). Expect Sigurdsson to start firing. Oh, and you might want some of Brad Friedel (for the future more than this one).

The fixture of the week in terms of box office value is Liverpool v Man City, the beginning of Liverpool's horrid run of matches. I stand by what I said last week - No Liverpool Players. As for City, Aguero's injury increases Carlos Tevez's value. Silva hasn't had a particularly great time of it (FPL-wise) in 2012, so I'd say Nasri and Yaya Toure are better picks.

Stoke away is always tough. In the world of pundits, it's the metaphorical acid test for Premier League imports, particularly those playing for teams like Arsenal. Stoke have Crouch, and beanpole strikers work out more often than not against Arsenal, especially when flanked by able wingers like Kightly and Etherington. I expect Arsenal to pass (their way through) the acid test though, and win through Giroud and Cazorla.

The Other Guys

Norwich-QPR is a fixture between two sides at the wrong end of 5-0 drubbings last week, so their defenders are a no. A yes, however, would be Grant Holt for Norwich (if his reputation isn't enough to convince you, he's facing Rob Green). For QPR, the value lies with Park ji Sung and Taarabt.

Villa haven't been convincing, and after his performance against Manchester United, Marouane Fellaini should deliver all that and more against a newly assembled Villa defence.

Southampton put up a spirited fight at the Etihad last week, and this isn't the part of the season where Wigan start trying yet, so points beckon for Ricky Lambert. Jason Puncheon could be a sneaky cheap value pick, likewise for the keeper Davis.

The fixture that comes closest to plum tie classification is Swansea v West Ham. QPR gave them some gifts last week, yes, but Swansea generally appeared to make light work of losing Sigurdsson and Brendan Rodgers. Expect them to unleash fury on West Ham too via Michu (make him captain, no questions). Michel Vorm is a good pick for the week as well.

Sunderland face Reading in a somewhat evenly matched fixture, but the Black Cats should just about edge this one aided by James McClean and Sessegnon. If you have Pogrebnyak from last gameweek, keep him, but with a null gameweek coming up for Reading it's probably not worth getting him in on retail.

Hunch of the Gameweek:

The shudders down the spine are coming from Steven Naismith this week.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Premier League Matchday 1: A Review of the Big Guns

Hugely unbalanced scorelines, unexpected results, controversy, penalties scored, penalties missed - the opening weekend of the 2012-13 Barclays Premier League had everything. Except boredom, of course.

Passing end-of-season judgement after just one match is foolhardy, but there are some signs one can look at to see how the next few games will go. Here's a look back at the big teams' matches, how they performed and what they can expect going forward.

Everton 1-0 Manchester United

Millions waited in bated breath to see Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie play together. They were disappointed for the best part of 70 minutes, a disappointment that was compounded when they saw Fellaini hit the net 12 minutes before the Dutchman came on. van Persie's arrival changed little as the Toffees registered a well-deserved win. Manchester United dominated possession but it was Everton creating most of the chances, de Gea doing well to keep the score down. Fellaini was a monster, his unique combination of physicality and finesse tormented Man United throughout. He deserved to be Man of the Match.

What it means for United: The positives from the game were the performances of Shinji Kagawa and David de Gea. Even making allowance for the makeshift defence, United seemed physically inferior to Everton - a worrying sign, especially if this carries into games against teams like Stoke and Man City. Nani and Evra in particular had a terrible game. There is little doubt United will improve though - they always do. Don't let this result fool you into writing off United as title contenders.

Wigan 0-2 Chelsea

Perhaps not as much interest as that surrounding van Persie, but there was certainly some fuss about Eden Hazard's Premier League debut. And the Belgian did not disappoint - he helped Chelsea cook Wigan in less time than it takes to make two cups of instant noodles - and was Man of the Match on his debut. For the opener, he twisted around his marker to play the ball into a space large enough to fly a plane through, and Ivanovic ran through that space to score the winner. Lampard then converted the penalty that Hazard won with more neat skill, and Chelsea chose not to over-exert themselves, a wise decision given the midweek game.

What it means for Chelsea: The one-touch counterattacking play that led to Ivanovic's goal was a thrill for the eyes, but there were still some worrying signs. The fact that Wigan got six corners before Chelsea got one does not say good things about the balance of play, and there was an element of luck about the clean sheet. Things to ponder about for di Matteo, whose Chelsea side have become famous (notorious?) for their defence-based game. They look good for top three, maybe even title contenders if they're consistent enough and solid at the back.

West Brom 3-0 Liverpool

Much was expected from Liverpool's opening game - Brendan Rodgers seemed to have bought smartly in Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, and the team had just come off a good Europa League tie. It all unravelled at the Hawthorns though. Liverpool had a good chance with Suarez before Gera scored a brilliant goal at the end of the first half. Once Agger was sent off though, it was open season on Liverpool. It was nearly all West Brom from then, Liverpool probably lucky to get away with 3-0. Pepe Reina was Liverpool's best player, and that's saying something.

What it means for Liverpool: Rodgers' defeatist words post-match were alarming (he told fans to expect more such days along the way). Liverpool need him to treat such results with intolerance, not acceptance. Suarez still has trouble finishing, but that was the story last season as well, and Rodgers was brought in to move the club forward. The fixture list is unforgiving from here. Liverpool have to improve leaps and bounds, and fast, otherwise they can bid goodbye to the top 4 even before the race has really begun.

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland

Prior to the game, Robin van Persie had joined long-time rivals Manchester United, and there were rumours (true ones, as it turned out) of Song leaving for Barcelona. Arsenal took to the pitch without their (official) two best players from last season. They didn't look out of sorts though, as they troubled a stout Sunderland defence with typical stylish play. Giroud missed a sitter, and while that is no doubt a disappointment, Arsenal can take heart from the general performance.

What it means for Arsenal: Losing their two best players over the summer (again) is undoubtedly a blow (again), but they seem much better equipped to deal with the shock this time. It certainly showed in the performance which only lacked finishing (again). If Giroud and Podolski get used to finding the net, they will finish in the top three or four (again).

Newcastle 2-1 Tottenham

Andre Villas-Boas' first league game in charge of Spurs ended in a not-altogether undeserved defeat. Spurs had their moments before the opener - Defoe and Bale hitting the woodwork being two of them. It was Newcastle that went ahead though, Demba Ba curling in a fantastic finish. Tottenham kept huffing and puffing and finally equalised through Defoe after Krul spilled the ball back into his path. It was Newcastle and Hatem ben Arfa, tormentor of Spurs' midfield, who had the last laugh though

What it means for Newcastle: A performance that we saw many times last season was repeated - disciplined without the ball and creative with it. That gem Hatem ben Arfa is a gift that keeps on giving, as of course are Pardew's other budget signings. He has assembled a great bunch of imports on a shoestring, and his touchline temper aside, they look a great unit. Another race for top 4 is in the making.

What it means for Tottenham: It is hard to fault a performance in which Newcastle won rather than Tottenham lost. Better finishing could've changed the story, and no doubt that will come, but Spurs will have to find ways to get Sigurdsson into the game on days like this where he will be marked down. There is enough, as with Newcastle, to suggest a race for (or a finish in) the top 4.

Manchester City 3-2 Southampton

It was certainly poetic, this game - a throwback to last season's title winning match. City took the lead only to go behind, and then come back to win the game from there. The flow of play wasn't much different either - City kept coming at Southampton time and again and, following a bad penalty from Silva, finally went ahead through Tevez. They contrived to concede twice though, but salvaged the game and then the three points via substitute Dzeko and Nasri.

What it means for City: The game doesn't say much good about City's defence - Far better is expected of title winners playing a promoted side at home. Going forward though, as always, they look awesome. Aguero's injury looks worrying and he was certainly one of the pillars City leant on last campaign, but with Tevez playing the way he is and the quality City have on the bench, they shouldn't be too badly affected. Another title race (and perhaps title) beckons.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Fantasy Football: Gameweek 1

So it's finally here - the new Premier League (and FPL) season is all set to begin. With each passing year, the drama and competition that precedes the season just keeps increasing, and so it has proved again, none of it without FPL implications of course.

For gameweek one, I'll show you guys some general notes for the season, and tell you who you should be looking at to begin the season with. Here we go!

Gameweek 1:

Arsenal v Sunderland
Everton v Manchester United
Fulham v Norwich City
Manchester City v Southampton
Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur
Queens Park Rangers v Swansea City
Reading v Stoke City
West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
West Ham United v Aston Villa
Wigan Athletic v Chelsea
Chelsea v Reading

Chelsea with the double gameweek and Manchester City with that hugely unbalanced tie are the obvious gold to start the season.

The Big Boys

Manchester United
At the time of writing, news trickled through that Robin van Persie will join Manchester United. An objective look at this move suggests a decrease in FPL value of about 20% from Wayne Rooney's and van Persie's 2011-12 season, though it does suggest a lot more potential assist points for Shinji Kagawa. RvP at 13 seems overpriced (I balked at 12 last season but sucked it up as he scored every week) as he will never have a season as good as his last one, and no longer being the star striker means less of the goal share for him, so unless an oracle told you (or you're an oracle), stay away for now, there's little value for money here.

To begin with: United have a hard gameweek 1, but the fixture list eases out from then. More for the coming gameweeks than this one, you could get real points for money from Kagawa, Vidic and Valencia.

Chelsea's summer splurge on nifty midfielders suggests a shift in paradigm from the more efficient approach of the past, and that SHOULD mean more points from a midfield that didn't really set the world alight on the real or fantasy pitch last season. Value over the years has come from Frank Lampard but his new position should see a marked decrease (I'll be glad if I'm wrong here) in his goals and points. Hazard, Mata and Ramires will be the real midfield fantasy gold this season. Torres is still an enigma - Opening gameweek aside, stay away unless you're sure he's in form.

To begin with: Torres at Chelsea as been a disaster, but his EURO experience and his goal against City last Sunday have 'Make Me Captain!' written all over them. Don't ignore that neon sign, but make sure you have a contingency plan to sell him after gameweek 1 if he doesn't fire. A game against Newcastle followed by a null gameweek doesn't look good for his owners. Ramires is the value midfield pick. Based on pre-season and the Shield, I'd stay away from the defenders and keeper.

Arsenal's spending on Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla signals real intent, and I fully expected them to engage in the title race till at least March if not further. van Persie leaving was most bizarre, but money talks and it has loosened up matters for this team as far as FPL goes. It makes the above mentioned signings must-haves for most of Arsenal's games, and their defence really should hold up better this season so overall, not much lost for the side to be honest.

To begin with: Home to Sunderland yells out for you to try out all their latest signings, doesn't it? With a goal midweek for Spain, Cazorla's cries for attention shouldn't be ignored by you. And with RvP gone, Giroud is the alpha male striker, and should be the beneficiary of the array of midfield talent around him.

Manchester City

City's quiet in the transfer market is most unexpected given what's happened in recent seasons, but it is expected given the club is under pressure to comply with FFP regulations. Their only signing is Jack Rodwell, and it is unlikely he'll be any good, fantasily speaking. More interesting has been City's pre-season experimentation with the 3-5-2 formation, and the rock solid partnership between Aguero and Tevez with the monstrous Yaya Toure behind them that fired on City's late title charge looks like something to bank on this season. City have a couple of plum ties in the initial gameweeks so you probably won't go too far wrong with your picks.

To begin with: Ultra Lite Carlos Tevez is looking fitter and sharper than every before. He got more points than his more expensive teammates once he returned to City's starting lineup last season, and at 9.0, is a good bet. Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure are other players who represent value for money, much cheaper than the more touted Kompany and Silva (not saying you shouldn't go for them) and shouldn't be too many points behind. Never forget Joe Hart.

Ledley King's retirement was a huge disappointment for football, it's never good when a very promising career is plagued and eventually ended by injury. Andre Villas-Boas has shopped smartly in the transfer window though, and as with nearly every side, the new purchases are promising FPL prospects. As with the RvP-Rooney case though, the transfer could have a negative impact on both of Sigurdsson and van der Vaart's FPL performances from last season. Bale should remain largely unaffected.

To begin with: Spurs have arguably the most difficult opening match of any big side, but it eases on a bit from then, and it is from then that Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson might begin to pay dividends. You might want some of Brad Friedel too after Gameweek 1.

Newcastle United
First, hats off to the Geordies, who were without a doubt last season's heart-warming dark horses. Alan Pardew took Newcastle to unexpected heights spending a pittance, a la Arsene Wenger. Much like City, they've not been as active as some expected in the transfer market. The general value play hasn't changed much - assuming fitness, the points will be amassed by Cisse, ben Arfa and Cabaye. Again. The Toon will continue to be a disciplined unit, hard to beat and expect it to show in Tim Krul's points. Again.

To begin with: The opening fixtures are tough, but if you want to pick Newcastle, then go Cisse. ben Arfa isn't fit yet, so expect Cabaye to dominate the midfield points.

As Liverpool Football Club's initial fixtures are simply horrid, it's my humble advice that you simply stay away from their players for now.

The Other Guys

It's still unclear how Swansea will cope without Brendan Rodgers and Sigurdsson, but the noises from Spain about Michu are positive and if he proves to be the new Gylfi, please be all over him. I'd suggest you hold your horses, though there's no blame attached if you jump on the bandwagon straight away. Another one with a reputation here is de Guzman

Reading's double gameweek makes them good cheap fillers to have and nothing more (don't get carried away, remember they are a promoted side). Pavel Pogrebnyak and Ian Harte are the best picks from that side though as with Torres, choose wisely and with a plan - Gameweek 3 holds nothign for this team.

QPR should improve markedly from last season, and for a defender look no further than Fabio who is the ideal attacking full back I talked about earlier.

Fulham (Dempsey, Reither) and Norwich (Pilkington, Holt) haven't changed much from their usual tendencies. UPDATE: Clint Dempsey will not play Fulham's opening game

Tough initial fixture aside, it will take a lot to deter Fellaini, Naismith and Jelavic from putting up some serious points for Everton.

Sunderland's points will come from Sessegnon and Larsson (who might have less to aim at without Bendtner), and after gameweek 1, Campbell. Don't forget Louis Saha (new signing, if you weren't aware) who's made of glass but can be gold when he's fit.

Stoke City are simple to figure out (because they're generally a bad FPL team) - there is little value outside Matthew Etherington. Set piece taker, priced at the standard 6.5, is a Diet Version pick of more illustrious players who should put in a decent shift in your midfield.

As fillers more than anything, West Ham's Nolan and Vaz Te are decent picks.

Hunch of the Gameweek

You know that illogical vibe you get about someone though everything suggests you must stay away from him? For me, that temptation this week comes from Aston Villa's Ron Vlaar.