Kicking off the new year with...

more of the same...

As we approach the end of 2004, its time to hand out some wishes for the New Year...

1) To Everton...continued good health and hard work and a spot in Europe - maybe even a striker who can put the ball in the net (Mr. Beattie, perhaps?)...

2) To Boro...a long run in the UEFA Cup, another run in Europe next year, and enough stature and money to keep Stewart Downing away from the "big teams".

3) To Liverpool...a healthy striker - not sure they have the stuff to break the top 4 but I hate to see them lose out because of injury.

4) To in form Yakubu - he's just fun to watch when he's on his game.

5) To Joe Cole and Scott Parker...some playing time somewhere - they've got to be atrophying despite Cole's goal this past weekend.

6) To Theiry Henry...some help, you get the feeling that he's doing almost all the work.

7) To ManYoo...a spot in the UEFA Cup - you just get the feeling that there's another slump coming in the second half. They just don't frighten you like they used to.

8) To my hero, Dennis more run of form towards the end of the season leading to a graceful retirement.

A quick set or recommendations before heading off to some new years cheer...

Not much out there this week with some tough match-ups for the big teams - I'm going with Henry and Andy Johnson at the top of a 3-5-2.

Downing gets ManYoo and Chelsea which doesn't seem like a recipe for points so I'm going to tempt the karma gods and drop him again. I'm also breaking up the Chelsea triumverate - partly because its bad business to have too many eggs in one basket. This leaves me with Giggs, Scholes, Pires, Lampard & Robben.

Stayin' with what I got - Gallas, Terry and Heinze.

I'm going out on a limb with Alumania since Cech has some tough games this week as does Carroll.

All about the Benjamin

EPL getting stale? Tired of everyone having the same 15 or 20 players every week with no regard to "salary cap"? Well here's your chance to change that.

I'm issuing the $100 challenge. Starting next week (week 21 of the EPL season) I want your best 11 for under $100 in the following new group:

Group ID# 41463
Group Name All About the Benjamin
Group Password sawbuck10

Go ahead and set up a new Yahoo ID and create your team... just make sure that it doesn't accrue any points this week! Any team coming into week 21 with points will be dumped.

Going forward, no wheeling and dealing in players with midweek or Monday games will be allowed. This is on the honor system gentlemen, but it's not like you're going to score big bucks on the "transfer" market as Yahoo is only moving values a buck or two at a time.

So get off your "Chelski" horse with it's $550 cap and let's see what sort of fantasy manager you really are.


Waiting for holidays to start in earnest, its time to contemplate...

The beauty of the quarter final Champions League matches - are Arsenal and Liverpool now the most likely of the English sides to move through to the round of 8? Chelsea is in form and talented but Barca will be tough and given their current form, ManYoo certainly can't be considered favorites to beat Milan although it wouldn't be a shock.

More importantly, though, as we look forward to the Christmas season, how can you get yourself the gift that keeps on giving (by allowing you to talk trash to your friends below you in the standings? and you know who you are...) - the answer, of course, is read on...

Henry, Arsenal - since Arsene had a chat with the man and told him to play up top more, he's been back in form. Can't think of a single reason not to include him.

Smith, ManYoo - Rooney is the high risk/high reward pick here but he's been more risk than reward when I've played him so I'm going with the guy who seems to be in the points every time he gets a game.

Johnson, Palace - Yup, I'm throwing the match-up out the window on this one - he's playing well and ManYoo haven't proven to me that they're THAT good yet.

Lampard, Chelsea - As Phil Knight chuckles to himself constantly in his retirement, "Just Do It"

Robben, Chelsea - No reason to change now.

Gerrard, Liverpool - He's really all that Pool have going for them right now. The only question you have to ask is whether they'll score enough for him to have a great week. He should do enough on his own even if they're shut out to have a good week.

Downing, Boro - I get infatuated with Alonso and his two games for a week and my boy punishes me by having significantly more points in one game than Alonso had in his two. Lesson learned - stop overthinking it and keep this guy in unless he's hurt.

Terry, Chelsea - Who would have guessed he'd become a scoring machine? Can't risk NOT having him in the line-up since he's apparently a threat in the air every week as well as very likely to get a clean sheet to his credit.

Gallas, Chelsea - Chelsea's defense has been putting up some good offensive numbers and it feels like it might be his turn this weekend.

LeSaux, Southampton - He's playing left midfield, albeit for a crappy team, but he gets a lot of offensive points consistently. Being away at Tottenham isn't great, but it isn't tragic either in terms of a possible clean sheet.

Cech, Chelsea - After a week where he gave up two - neither of which he could have done a thing about - its back to a save or two and a clean sheet at the Bridge (vs. Naawich).

Pulling Defeat (ok, draws) from the Jaws of Victory

So, I have mixed feelings about the extended premiership weekend - to quote the 80s philosopher Gordon Gecko, "its like seeing Larry Wilde going over a cliff... in my new Maseratti". Here's what I mean...

1) ManYoo gives up a goal at the death and manages only a draw from a game they dominated - they got no closer to the top of the league and this officially ended their run of good results...but I lost 21 fantasy points with that single (fantastic) shot (3 clean sheets, a Win going to a tie, and a goal allowed).

2) Liverpool (stop me if you've heard this before) gives up a goal at the death and manages only a draw from a game the dominated - they continue to wallow in 7th place...but I lost 5 points with that single (mediocre) goal.

As a fan, I loved watching both events transpire, as a fantasy owner, not so much. Which one is more important? How do you walk the tightrope of supporting your fantasy team when it contains people from teams you dislike? If I knew the answers, this blog would certainly have a wider circulation.

What I can say is that I'm very much looking forward to the simplicity of a week where ManYoo, Arsenal and Chelsea all play teams that they should beat so I can go back to rooting for a loss, a blow-out win, and a high-scoring draw respectively.

How Time Flies...

When you're spending 18 hours a day on proposal writing. Not exactly a ton of time to track the comings and going in the wonderful world of the EPL (aside from "watching" the textcast from the Arsenal trouncing of Rosenborg at midweek). Anyway, take this weeks ramblings with a grain of salt as a result. The big news of course is that Liverpool and Pompey play an extra game. In the case of Pompey, I don't think anyone really cares but Liverpool offer some good choices. Arsenal host Chelsea in a meeting of not only the two top clubs but most of the best fanasy players so far this season - with apologies to Stuart Downing and Thomas Gravessen. Your opinion of the way this match will go will have a HUGE impact on the squad you put together this week. If you think offense will rule, then you should probably leave that squad mostly unchanged (Henry, Pires, Lampard, Robben, Duff and maybe even Drogba who looked excellent in his return). If, as I do, you suspect something more on the order of 2-1. Then its time to decide where to cut back and examine other options...


Henry or Ruud/Rooney - Depends on your answer to the question above about the nature of the Arsenal/Chelsea game. I'm sticking with Henry.

Milan Baros, Liverpool - I'm guessing that he won't be spectacular in either game as he comes back to fitness but even one OK game (couple SOTs) and one game where he scores will be better than most one-game striker outputs unless you have a strong feeling about someone going off this weekend.


Lampard - and on this rock, I build my midfield

Robben - every big game I've seen him play he's risen to the occasion. If you don't share this opinion, substitute Giggs here.

Scholes - see last week's note about riding Scholes until ManYoo start playing decent teams - hello, Fulham - Scholes stays.

Gerrard - was a good choice last week with only one game, with two, its a no-brainer

Alonso, Liverpool - two games worth of corners and free kicks and he's quietly been a very consistent fantasy performer.


Finnan - Not playing on the wing as often as he was earlier in the season but the two-gamer makes him a worthwhile selection.

Silvestre/G. Neville - I like the ManYoo/Fulham match-up and, as much as I hate to admit it, am rolling with the ManYoo revival.

Heinze - Churning out points like clockwork.


Carroll - The high risk, high reward choice is Peter Cech on the theory that Arsenal will take a lot of shots and he'll get a lot of saves and the win. I prefer the more likely chance that Carroll will get 2 saves (+/- 1), the win, and a clean sheet.

Brief notes...

Due to the need to write a big-ass proposal on top of normal work activities, this week's column will be a little bit on the brief side.

General Thoughts:

1) How did Arsenal go from being THAT good to being THIS bad? Frightening for Fantasy Owners everywhere.

2) The king is dead (or dying), long live the king - the Chelsea line-up seems to have stabilized a bit, seems like the new default answer is to include a bunch of their guys.

3) ManYoo seems to be waking up on offense - seems like a good idea to ride Scholes until they start playing good teams again (which isn't this week).


Henry - at $1, its hard to argue.

Ruud - Imagine having Ruud and Henry at a combined cost of $3.77 - strange times.

Andy Johnson, Palace - he seems to be healthy which is a rarity among top strikers these days - still kicking myself for him over JFH last week.


Lampard - no need to comment further.

Robben/Duff - they're both productive and playing regularly, having three Chelsea midfielders/wingers is probably too much so probably worth picking one and living with the fluctuations.

Scholes - try not to hurt yourself jumping on to the bandwagon

Downing - not ready to jump off this bandwagon yet.


Heinze - see Lampard

Pick a Chelsea Defender - only one seems to get involved in the scoring in any given game - Terry had his chance and is unlikely to get more than his customary 6 points this weekend. Time for Carvallho to put in one of those headers he's been skying? he certainly gets to enough of them. Gallas is always a threat out wide as well.

Hibbert - at home to a flagging Bolton squad, he's been good on offense and the defense has been airtight at Goodison.

Cech or Carroll - sort of a crapshoot, ManYoo has the better match-up but Chelsea's defense is just a bit better. I'm bound to get this one wrong when I choose but both should get points for the win and one or two saves - the question is who is more likely to lose the clean sheet?