Big Ups...

No, not to the English teams in the Champion's League. With the exception of Liverpool, they pretty much stunk this week. Please, read that statement again. Who'd have guessed that Liverpool, without any recognizable players no less, would be the saving grace for the Premiership. Chelsea scored a fluke away goal so they aren't in TOO much trouble but they're facing a great Barca team and they seem to have lost their magic with Robben out of the line-up. ManYoo had a couple opportunities but Paul Scholes missed an easy one that I would expect half the roster of any of my club teams to make - otherwise, they just looked home. Not good times for Devils fans. Finally, Arsenal. I'm not sure exactly what to say. At home, their known for their creativity on the offensive end of the pitch. In Europe, they seem to be firming up their reputation for creativity in finding new ways to lose. Minus the blunders, they still didn't look great, but if they had gotten out of there 1-1 or even down only 2-1, they'd be in good shape. Not so much, now.

So what ARE the big ups in the title for? Our boy, Kris who is currently ranked #90 in the overall Yahoo Fantasy Footie standings. Not bad for someone who doesn't know a damn thing about the sport (which you can tell by his choice of teams to support).

Now, on with this week in fantasy...

Short schedule this weekend. Managers will be happy to know that Chelsea don't play so you are relieved of the difficult decision of whether to include Lampard or not for at least one week. Also taking the weekend off will be Liverpool, WBA and Blackburn. Please make note. In addition to reduced schedule are some pretty mediocre matchups. I really can't figure out who to play on ManYoo and Pompey (and especially my man Yakubu) seem to give them fits but you have to figure that they'll win at OT. Theoretically, Ruud is back but forgive me if I take a pass on him for a week until he proves something. Arsenal seem to be running out of players so if you're interested in taking a risk, it might not be a bad call to insert van Persie into your line-up. With Reyes and Bergkamp out (the latter of which is complete crap), van Persie is likely to start at striker and only cost you a midfield slot. That said, I noted to a friend over IM this past week that I'm pretty sure that van Persie is Dutch for "Rooney with no power on his shot". He seems to get into good positions but then squib the ball off his shin. Oh yeah, he seems to have a bit of a temper so let the buyer beware.

Not so many "evergreens" left on the list due to injuries and Chelsea being off...
S - Henry, Johnson
M - Downing
D - Heinze

Here are some thoughts on who to add to that list...
S - Welcome the new guys, time to take a risk on Mido or Pandini? Maybe Defoe?
M - SWP is playing against the pourous Norwich D (worst in the Prem), Pennant is playing great since his move over from Arsenal, now if he could only stay out of jail, Giggs? Pires?
D - Best bets on the list seem to be the ManYoo guys, call it Chelsea light
G - Ditto Carroll unless he's replaced by T-Ho for that terrible blunder vs. Milan on Wednesday night.

Andy Johnson, the Rodney Dangerfield of English Soccer

Who has the most goals of any englishman in top-flight competition? Not Owen, not Rooney, not Defoe, not Lampart, not Gerrard, not anybody but AJ. Yet, Sven Goran Eriksson thinks he might make a fair right winger? Hmmm. Perhaps TO would make a nice blocking back, perhaps LT might make a nice TE, or perhaps Manning might be an ok flanker . . . yeeesh. Perhaps Sven has been looking at how Yahoo classifies players to make such decisions, Ronaldo a Striker yet Duff and Robben midfielders . . .

More importantly, he is a fantasy stud. If only Crystal Palace's kit (apparently what the peeps over here call uniforms) wasn't monkey ass ugly I would considering wearing an AJ shirt.

If AJ gets relegated which teams could benefit from his services? As a striker that is, not a midfielder that is . . .

Hard to tell...

if I'm just getting lazy or if there really aren't any compelling match-ups out there this weekend. First thing to note is that not everyone is playing this weekend due to FA Cup replays and who knows what other vagaries of the schedule-maker. Tottenham, Newcastle, Southampton, Fulham, West Brom & Charlton are all out of the mix for the week. Although since the powers-that-be at Yahoo haven't posted the last round of Transfer Window toys which includes two-goal Mido, one might argue that the above teams have been absent from the fantasy scene all year so how would them not playing change that?

Absentees aside, its a tough weekend. Out of form (for them) Chelsea visit Goodison Park in what promises to be a grinder of a match that kicks off at 7:45 in the AM for those of us on the East Coast. Could easily be a repeat of last week's 0-0 draw w/ Man Citeh. Compounding Chelsea's loss of offense for fantasy managers this week will be the Manchester Derby. United is definitely in good form but Citeh has had their number the last few years and a local derby is usually good for contraversy rather than fantasy points. Come to think of it, we probably need to dedicate an entire column to the fact that Man Citeh has played Chelsea and ManYoo as tough or tougher than anyone over the last two seasons and yet can't seem to beat newly promoted clubs frequently enough to stay much higher than 10th during the course of a season.

So where does this leave us? Nowhere different than last week really. Arsenal guys are probably worth more consideration after their display at Villa Park. Just imagine if the capitalize on even half their opportunities on net. Pires still looks a bit shakey but Freddie is a good bet. If you aren't sure about Andrew Johnson, or you're like me and just need the slightest excuse to include him, Bergkamp is worth a slot as well.

One final note, Eddie Johnson RULES! That header looked very Drogba-like. New prediction, by the time the MLS season ends, he will have priced himself out of Holland. Maybe out of Germany. Best bets...Blackburn (badly in need of a striker if they stay up and Friedel there to advocate), ManCiteh (need an Anelka replacement), Charlton (not sure they even have a striker), Seville (the Everton of the Spanish League), Espanyol & Atletico Madrid (both need to be innovative to find some goals).

Fearless Predictions and Random Thoughts

1. Chelsea will come back to the pack as they face a month without Arjen Robben - clearly the catalyst on their offense. The defense looks strong, OK air-tight, but the anemic offense means that they may draw a couple more games this month either 0-0 or 1-1. If Arsenal and/or ManYoo can put together a run of wins - we'll have a race again.

2. Eddie Johnson will star in the US World Cup qualification and make it very hard for Dallas to keep him for the entire 2005 season. A top half of the table team in Spain or England or one of the big clubs in Germany or Holland will make MLS the proverbial offer it can't refuse. He, and not Freddie Adu, will be the first major US star on the world stage. He will ultimately be the target man off of whom Freddie's promised brilliance will be worked.

3. Steven Gerrard will regret moving to Chelsea if that indeed comes to pass. Real Madrid, who could use a central midfield complement/replacement for Zidane, make much more sense if he's going to move. And how about Becks heading to Liverpool in return - a right wing player of his offensive capabilities would really open things up opportunities for Morientes and give Liverpool Chelsea-like width if Kewell ever gets healthy.

4. Granted it was just one game but based on that game, Arsenal definitely need to keep Edu and find a way to get rid of Gilberto instead if they're bound and determined to subtract a salary from their central midfield equation. Edu has progressed consistently since his arrival and Gilberto has seemed to stagnate.

5. Time for England and the US to stage a series of friendlies (July 4th in non-World Cup/Euro Cup years, perhaps, with an alternative date when those competitions happen). Granted England has a lot more to lose than we do, but in a world where friendlies are often over-looked by the traditional football superpowers, this might generate some interest on both sides of the pond.

Curiouser and curiouser

I have no idea what to make of Arsenal's dismantling of the Villans at Villa Park early this afternoon. It was nice to see the free flowing offense even in the ugly weather and its never a terrible thing to get three goals on the road. On the other hand, it is distressing to see goals left on the pitch - lots of 'em. Henry missed two that are usually no-brainers for him and another that he would probably have scored at the height of his powers. Pires and Edu both hit posts on makable shots. Henry ducked under a sweet cross from Ljungberg. Vieira flubbed a volley early on before the outcome was certain. Against Villa, this sort of performance probably isn't a tragedy but if the Gunners want to retake second from Manchester United and make some noise in the FA Cup and Champions League, they can't afford to squander opportunitiese on net.

Short Week...

But what a week...Arjen Robben's injury throw the fantasy world into chaos. Chelsea wasn't particularly impressive on offense until he came into the line-up and didn't look very imposing vs. Blackburn after he left on Wednesday. For those who have inserted Duff, Drogba, Lampard to a lesser extent, and others into their Fantasy line-up as everyone has fed off of Robben's excellence, this brings a large percentage of their line-up into question. Is Lampard a no-brainer if Chelsea is only going to score one goal a week as they did earlier in the season? Drogba is still in doubt and wasn't nearly as effective without Robben in the early going.

So, without going into gory detail. Here are the recommended changes...

Strikers - Stay away from Drogba for the above reasons. Henry is still a given and Bergkamp is showing signs not being completely divorced from his brilliant prime. Ronaldo is also hot and Birmingham's defense isn't what it was when Robbie Savage was patrolling the center of midfield. For the budget conscious, Dean Ashton seems to be producing on a regular basis and has a nice match-up this weekend.

Midfielders - Hard to go against Lampard, especially after publishing the "evergreen" list on Tuesday. Downing and Shawn Wright-Phillips continue to do great things. In the absence of Robben as the bedrock of your line-up, the choice for those with money to burn is between Giggs and Gerrard. Giggs is certainly hot but Gerrard has a better fantasy history over the last couple years.

Defense - Here's the big question, do you believe that Chelsea's defense will continue to be air-tight if they aren't consistently winning 3-0 and 4-0? Without the almost guaranteed 5 points a game for a clean sheet, John Terry and his merry men become adequate answers on defense but aren't premium options. If, for example, you think they only stand a 50% chance of getting the clean sheet, then its probably time to start reconsidering your defense. Heinze is still an excellent option. Babaryo from Newcastle has been excellent on both offense and defense since his move from the Bridge. Finally, given Darren Fletcher's injury, John O'Shea, coming off a goal that even he didn't believe he scored, is an excellent option since he'll be eligible for the Clean Sheet while playing midfield.

Keeper - Peter Cech anyone?