It feels like forever since I got to write one of these preview columns in the old format, hopefully, the combination of a month of two game weeks and Cup matches hasn't robbed me of my fastball. The big news of the weekend doesn't have immediate fantasy benefit but comes in the form of Arsenal coming back from the dead with the (reported) signings of (French Midfielder) Diaby and (English Striker) Walcott - two young players they were competing with Chelsea for. Finally beating Chelsea to something has to be comforting to the Highbury faithful. Outside of that update, the transfer window hasn't brought much excitement for fantasy managers yet. As of this writing (late Thursday night), the new ManYoo defenders are not available on Yahoo yet.
From the match-up standpoint, there are a couple interesting notes. First, everyone must be licking their lips for Chelsea's trip to the Stadium of Light where Chelsea might score more goals in this one game than the Black Cats have scored there all season (7). On the negative side, recent fantasy high-flyers Liverpool host relatively stingy Tottenham in a match that has all the makings of a knock-down, drag-out fight that could go either way. Similarly, the Manchester Derby finds fantasy high-flyers Manchester United in a match that has to make managers uncertain as to what they might get for their money. I know, I know, enough of the rambling, on to the analysis...
Chelsea - The big question isn't whether they will do well but who will play. Maniche hasn't been posted yet but looks likely to play along with Robben, Duff, Makelele, and Lampard with the injuries to Joe Cole and Michael Essien and ineffectiveness of SWP. Robben and Duff are good bets at a reasonable price. Maniche is a must-buy if he's posted. Lampard is probably a good bet as well if you have the money. Anyone who is likely to play on the backline should be thrown in your line-up as well. Ordinarily I try to stay away from putting my eggs in one basket but if ever there were a time to go against that advice, this is it.
The Former "Big Two" - Derby Day in Manchester finds United in reasonably good form and City having gotten 4 points from their last five matches. What does this mean? It usually means that City will play United surprisingly tough and generate more yellow cards than fantasy points. Expect yellow cards for Wayne Rooney and Joey Barton and goals from unlikely candidates like Darren Fletcher and Darius Vassell (ok, that was a cheap shot). All that said, if Evra is posted and it's clear he's going to start on the left of the defense for United, he's probably worth picking up. (As an aside, what happens to him next year when Gabby Heinze comes back? Do ManYoo really need 11 million worth of left backs? and isn't it likely that the one that doesn't start will begin complaining almost immediately). As an FYI, Paul Scholes is out creating an even larger hole in the center of ManYoo's formation.
Arsenal welcome Boro to Highbury coming off two consecutive nil-nil draws in the Premiership which has those of you who have a quarter of your salary cap invested in Henry almost as bitter as Gunners fans (if you're both, it's been a rough new year). Boro beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Riverside earlier this year but haven't won a match against English competition since the beginning of December. You can never bet against Henry but no one on the Arsenal squad has been a very good fantasy pick recently. With van Persie out and Bergkamp doubtful, Reyes moves into the frame as the best bet for the money. Hleb is also likely to figure and he's extremely cheap (although his fantasy production hasn't been great so far). There are reports that Ashley Cole might play but I'd hold off on him for at least a week. As for Boro, with Sol Campbell out and Kolo Toure in Africa, Yakubu will likely have a few SOTs and is a reasonable bet for a goal.
Against the Relegation Zone - We've already covered Sunderland's pending thrashing by Chelsea which leaves Birmingham's trip to The Valley and Pompey hosting Everton - wow, that's a lot of crappy teams squaring off and blessedly neither match is on TV. From this mess I suggest the following: Darren Bent if you're looking for a relatively inexpensive striker playing against a bad defense; Tim Cahill has been hot and is playing against a sketchy opponent; and, well, that's about it.
Random Notes - Villa have been scoring a lot recently and I have to say, I've enjoyed having Milan Baros and James Milner in my line-up - a home game with mid-table West Ham is a chance to keep the scoring going for another week...On the other hand, Villa still hasn't solved any of their defensive problems so Marlon Harewood is in a good position to score...Fulham welcome a Newcastle squad that's still suffering from a ton of injuries (Owen, Emre, Parker, Ameobi, et al) and both Collins John and Brian McBride are excellent choices - remember kids, the Collins John bandwagon started here...the Liverpool/Spurs match mentioned above is bound to be a rough for fantasy managers - if you have players on either side at a good price (Gerrard, Kewell, Crouch, Reina, Carrick, or Lee) you might want to keep them but this probably isn't the week to pick them up...As for Liverpool's new defenders, both are to be included in the squad but neither are guaranteed to start (and neither are posted as of this writing either)...Mido is headed to the African Cup of Nations after this match so even if you have him at a good price, it might be time to ditch him...Blackburn host Bolton in a match that will feature an in-form Mort Gamst Pedersen...Finally, Wigan and West Brom face off on Sunday with fantasy superstar Henri Camara off to Africa leaving, um, not much to choose from here...
Happy Shopping Kids