The Week Ahead

Welcome back everyone. Every year it happens and every year it seems like an eternity. We get a brief taste of the Prem and then they stick us with an International break just when we think we're starting to get a handle on things. For European players, there is the worry of injuries and for players from Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America there is the added immediate concern over readiness following the draining combination of playing a (presumably) highly contested match followed by one or more really long flights. This may not seem like a big deal, after all these guys ARE paid to be in shape and are among the best athletes in the world. What we too frequently forget is that they are also competing against other highly trained and skilled athletes and being even a little bit off your game due to matches/travel may be enough to give the person you are facing off against a meaningful advantage. Imagine (and this is hypothetical because I'm on a train while writing and can't access the Web to come up with an actual example) being someone like Fabio from ManYoo (a promising player and on most days a reasonable left back) and you were called up to play for Brazil against Argentina and whomever else Brazil played in midweek. While you played two matches and traveled countless miles through a bunch of airports, security lines, and first class lounges. You return a bit jet-lagged and your reward is a date with Aaron Lennon who is on top of his game and played his midweek match at home. This isn't going to tip the scales in favor of a Championship level winger trying to break down the best left back in the world but in cases where the match-up might have been pretty even it might tip it significantly in the direction of the better rested player who didn't travel.

Now, before you get overly worried wondering "hey, what happened to Evra? why won't he be marking Lennon?" Fear not, as far as I know that will be the case. I just used that example to make a point. That said, as you evaluate players like Jozy Altidore (I saw we had a couple of questions about him on the Facebook page), Tim Howard, Kenwyne Jones, Robinho (if he's healthy), Palacios, Valencia, Park Ji-Sung and the like make sure you keep in mind that they are slightly less valuable than they might be a little lackluster this week.

A few additional notes before we get to the analysis...
  1. How about Argentina looking like a huge risk not to qualify for South Africa 2010. If ever there was a rock solid case to be made against bringing in a legendary player with little-to-no managerial experience for any reason, then this has to be it. You could blame Alan Shearer's failure on lack of time for a turn-around or lack of talented players. You could similarly blame Roy Keane's failure at Sunderland on geography and the inability to attract great talent to a less-than-desireable location/less-than-fashionable club without having Man Citeh's money to throw at the problem. Hard to say the same about Argentina - we all know the talent is there and there's lots of it. To take a team led by someone widely considered the World's best player supported by exceptional talent just about everywhere on the field means that there is only one place that the finger can be pointed. Big Fat Diego we're looking at you buddy!
  2. England, WOW! My understanding is that being an England supporter (the die hard kind, not like me who is generally happy for them when they win because I follow all of the players but won't lose a wink of sleep if they lose miserably) is somewhat akin to being a Chicago Cubs fan in American Baseball. There is a prevailing sense of dread no matter the current situation. If things are looking up, then you're waiting for the other shoe to drop (and generally it has been dropping on and breaking Wayne Rooney's foot when that happens). If things are looking down, then you don't expect that they will turn around and produce a nice surprise story in a major tournament. As an outsider and not being prone to that brand of negativity I have to say that things may actually be looking up for England. I certainly wouldn't want to draw them in a group in South Africa under the Capello regime. Maybe I've had too much of the Kool-Aid and maybe too much of it depends on Lennon keeping up his current form for a sustained period of time (something he's never done before) but I'd have to consider them in at least the second tier of Cup contenders (behind Spain and Brazil but firmly in the "it wouldn't surprise me at all if they won" category). When was the last time anyone claiming to be rational thought that?
  3. Finally, for those of you on the East Coast of the United States (and specifically those easily able to get to the Washington, DC area), I want to direct you to a Soccer Film Festival that is coming to the District in mid-October. DC is the second stop for Kicking & Screening which was co-founded by Greg Lalas. Greg is also Managing Editor of, color commentator for the New England Revolution, as well as being a contributor to It isn't as if he needed another job and another way to contribute to the growth of soccer in the US but the first festival (in NYC) was a great success and I encourage those of you who can make it to check out the DC version. You can find all the information you want at
OK, with my usual rambling introduction out of the way, here's my look at the upcoming week in fantasy footie...

There are definitely some interesting clashes this weekend between the traditional powers of the Premier League (Arsenal and ManYoo) and the wanna-be challengers to the top four slots (Citeh and Spurs respectively) and the Champions League births that go with them. While these are certainly the most compelling match-ups for fans to watch, they are most certainly NOT the matches fantasy managers will be focused on. If you have players from those four teams at a significant discount (Rooney, K2, Verm, Lennon, etc.) then by all means keep them but if you're buying specifically for this week, you should be focusing on Liverpool (home vs. Burnley) and Villa (@Brum) with occasional glances at Chelsea (@Stoke), Sunderland (home vs. Hull), and Rovers (home vs. Wolves). Wigan, West Ham, Everton, Fulham, Pompey, and Bolton probably all fit into the "fairly evenly matched" category as well so don't avoid their players but this certainly isn't the week to go "all in" on those guys.

Best Value Striker of the Week - Hard to argue with Tuncay as the best value player period. I'm not sure what glitch in the Yahoo database put him in at a price of 1.00 but he's there and he's likely to play a significant enough role in Stoke's attack to at least be good for a few points a week even if he remains largely a substitute. My guess is that he will have a regular starting role either on a wing or as a striker and even if he's below average for a starting striker he'll have no trouble beating the 1 fantast point/unit of cost benchmark that should put you in a position to finish strong in your group. He'll be good value for the money spent and he'll enable you to substitute a premium guy in for an average guy somewhere else in your line-up. If he's the difference between Nani in your midfield and Ashley Young, you tell me what you think the right thing to do is? My message, get in now before its too late. Not really close for second place here. Doyle could start re-emerging as a relevant fantasy player now that there's some distance between him and his injuries.

Best Premium Striker of the Week - Hard to argue with Nando as your choice here. I saw a question from someone on the Facebook thread about the fact that Torres didn't look very good in his International matches over the past week. If there's one thing that I've learned by following him is that it doesn't necessarily matter how well he was playing 10 minutes previously let along the previous week. Spain could afford him sleepwalking through a game they didn't need at all (they're dominating their group). I'd expect that he and Gerrard will be up to their old tricks against Burnley as they attempt to get Liverpool back on track in the title race (contrary to popular opinion, they aren't out of it quite yet). I'd put Anelka second on this list - ordinarily I'd go Drogba because I think he's the better of the two but I'm assuming that Drogs is coming from qualifying in Africa and might even be relegated to the substitute's bench as Coach Carlo continues to rotate his players. Given the situation, it wouldn't be the worst idea that I pray doesn't happen (says the guy who has Drogs at a significant discount).

Best of the Rest - DBent with a good match-up and a reasonable price; Benni McCarthy who seems due for a breakout (he seems to score about every third match these days) and has the match-up to do it - he's also priced to move; finally, I wouldn't completely object to giving Piquionne another try at Pompey - they're home and Bolton aren't the most intimidating guests ever - don't get me wrong, I'd rather have Tuncay at 1.00 over Piquionne at 6.36 but since we've already covered that, Piq is another option.

Best Value Midfielder of the Week - The match-up isn't great but I'm sticking with Stephen Hunt as my value play in midfield even as his price has crept up. It hasn't mattered who the opponent is, he's delivered points. When Hull score, he's in the middle of it and when they don't he's generally doing his best to generate phantom points for his fantasy owners in the form of fouls suffered, corners won, and successful crosses. He may fade over the course of the season due to his size and the rigors of the Premier League on smaller wingers but for now, consider me in.

Best Premium Midfielder of the Week - Hard to argue with the two guys that fueled England's goal-scoring parade against Croatia - Lamps and Stevie G. Both have reasonably attractive match-ups this weekend and are going to fight it out to be the most productive midfielder in the fantasy league this season. I have to give the slight edge to Gerrard this weekend based on opposition and venue but only in cases where you're paying retail. If you have one or the other at a discount, stick with the one you've got. The third man in this conversation is BFAY who hasn't been spectacular yet this season but is due for a breakout match and I wouldn't be shocked if Birmingham were the ones to oblige him with opportunities a-plenty - if you can't afford Gerrard or Lamps at "retail" then BFAY is a nice alternative for a lot less money.

Best of the Rest - MGP, Ballack, Milner, and Nani are all decent options at reasonable prices that could rival Hunt for best value for the weekend - if you like one of their match-ups better I'd have no quarrel with you going in that direction over Hunt (or using the Tuncay savings to get another one of these guys); KRich and David Dunn are talented, injury/inexplicable gaffe-prone but have decent match-ups and are lower-priced options still. Early blog crush Jordi Gomez continues to be solid for a low-low price. Finally, all those of you who fondly remember Martin Petrov's great debut season in the Prem (and fantasy) will have fond hopes that he may get the call to supplant injured Robinho this weekend. The match-up isn't the greatest but he's the sort of guy who can exploit the tendency of Arsenal's full backs (Sagna in this case) to get forward.

Best Value Defender of the Week - This is a tough call as the sources of so many of the season's great defending bargains have tough match-ups this weekend (Arsenal/Verm, Citeh/Richards & Bridge, Spurs/SeaBass, Stoke/Wilko). Despite that, I'm going to pick a guy who was quietly good in his last stop (as a fantasy player and even more so as a real player). Step up to the plate Mr. Warnock. He should pick up more clean sheets at Villa than he did at Rovers (this week is particularly promising in that regard). He has the capability to go forward and win points that way which has traditionally been possible within Villa's style of play (see Barry, Gareth). Finally, the price isn't outrageous at 8.36. Jamie Carragher is another pretty strong option for all of the same reasons but Liverpool has been giving up goals that they didn't last season so where this paragraph would have been about Carra last season, I'm a little more reluctant to throw him in here now.

Best Premium Defender of the Week - Can there be any doubt that the answer lies in the city of Liverpool? Between Baines and GJohnson you have the two best point producers thus far. The thing that separates them (again, assuming you're buying at retail this week) is that GJohnson has the far more attractive match-up. I'm not sure I can buy into him scoring again but expecting a solid 8 or 9 points at a minimum from this week isn't unrealistic. If you're going to invest in a defender, that's not a bad downside. Honestly though, if I were going to spend, I'd be more likely to go with someone like Ricardo Carvalho at 10.12 than I would be to spend THAT much money on Baines or GJohnson - defenders just don't tend to put up consistently excellent attacking numbers.

Best of the Rest - I don't really intend to move off of the core of relatively inexpensive guys who have been doing good things thus far this season - Verm, Wilko, Givet. Dunne isn't a terrible option. Beye is less expensive even than Warnock and has the same positives. Finally, it's worth watching what information SAF gives on Gary Neville - my concern is that he won't go the 75 minutes necessary for a Clean Sheet (if ManYoo can hold Spurs, that is - not as much of a guarantee as I would have guessed at the start of the season).

Best Value Keeper of the Week - I have to say that I'm definitely supportive of what Hull (and Stoke) did over the summer to improve their respective squads. For their money, I think they did a much better job acquiring talent than, say, Sunderland. That said, with Craig Gordon back and Hull traveling to visit the Black Cats I'd have to back Gordon as the best value at Keeper this week. Robbo is second for me in this category but despite Big Sam's best efforts to "Bolton-ize" Rovers (or just get them back to the Hughes era) Robbo hasn't exactly been a fantasy point machine.

Best Premium Keeper of the Week - Really, this is between Petr, Pepe, and the previously mentioned Big Brad. If Stoke hadn't been such a difficult home opponent last season then Cech would definitely be the man here but they were. Similarly, if I trusted Liverpool's defence as much as I did last year then Reina would be the choice but I don't (especially with Masch coming back from what must have been a demoralizing International break plus the travel) so he isn't. That leaves us with Friedel. Yes, he's on the road but I don't think that much of Birmingham's attack and Villa's defence has been better than I expected given that they didn't adequately (in my mind at least) replace Laursen.

Best of the Rest - Now, I know I called out Gordon as the best value and Friedel as the best Premium guy but I have a hard time not mentioning that Shay Given is still only in the low 9s. Citeh may not win against Arsenal this weekend but one thing that we know about Given's time at Citeh is that he will face a lot of shots and save more than his share meaning that even something like a 2-1 loss isn't the same for him as it would be for, say, Almunia who managed a -10.50 in the 2-1 loss to ManYoo. Given, in the same match would like find a way to salvage 5 or 6 points. Not necessarily the reason to buy him this week but certainly a reason to pick him up at a reasonable price soon and then just stop thinking about the Keeper position for the rest of the season. (That's certainly my strategy now that I have him locked in at 6.10)

That's about it, best of luck with your selections and we'll look forward to seeing you on Friday for Injuries and Suspensions and on Saturday for the Live Chat.

Cheers - Neal


  1. CGordon is injuried if my memory (still) serves me ;)...!!!

  2. TWA- Brought to you by Coke Zero??

    that's awesome that you guys got sponsored. I'm switching to Coke Zero RIGHT NOW

  3. you seem to have forgotten m. taylor's nice matchup away to portsmouth. he is going to score more points this week than any midfielder with the exception of gerrard. he is a better pick than lampard, who is away to a difficult stoke.

  4. M.taylor or A.Young ???

  5. @Fidan, Gordon and Fulop are out so look to Trevor Carson if you want to bet on Sunderland.

    As for you, @Nour, I'd go MTay. He's playing against his former club, and BFAY is in a nasty derby. And BRM don't concede too many goals.

  6. Is Skrtel healthy? Will he play against Burnley?

  7. Given at gotta love the value on a great keeper. If you've missed out on Given at the start of the season get him NOW! He is bound to hover around the 12mil mark for most of the season. As for BFAY or MTay I'd go with Young every time. MTay will whimper out against a nasty barrage of abuse from Pompey's uncouth fans (Yes I'm a Saints fan!)

  8. And I forgot to say, nice column once again, I love the week ahead, and it reads so much better sipping on an ice cold Coke Zero! What train journey were you taking. I took a nice one from 30th Street Philly to Flushing Meadows the other day...Shame Murray didn't win for me!

  9. Anonymous11:48 AM

    Rooney-Nani-Queudrue or Torres Gomez Warnock???

  10. What about Aaron Lennon? I know it's not a good match up but he's been hot. Someone has to score points and with Tottenham at home is he really a bad bet?

  11. Torres...ewww... did you see how horrible he was with Spain... and that travel. Rooney was straight chilling for England, letting everybody else do the work. And let's not forget the whoopfest MU handed to Tottenham last year.