We start out with the crazy happenings between Ireland and France today - if ever there was a case to be made for instituting replay, this was it. Sadly, the case of the Irish is not likely to be sufficient to make it happen. Until a major team (that draws major crowd and sponsorship support) misses out on the World Cup or Champions League because of a poor decision that would have been overturned by a replay we won't see any significant action. If it had been England or Germany that missed out on the same type of play, you can bet that we'd see replay happen quickly. Why the difference? No one is thinking "well, if it happens to Ireland, it can happen to me too" whereas the WOULD be thinking "if it happens to England/Germany/Brazil/Italy/Spain/Argentina then it could most definitely happen to me" Just something to contemplate as the Irish go home completely bummed out and the French prepare for an undeserved World Cup campaign next summer.
OK, on to the insanity that is the injury situation in the Prem and how it impacts everyone's line-up. If you don't think it impacts your roster, then you either don't have a great roster or you haven't been reading all of the injury reports. Half of Arsenal's senior squad is crocked plus Drogs, Lamps, JT, Berbs, and MPet who are also somewhere between questionable and out make up what is sure to be a complex injury puzzle for this coming weekend.
Throw in the fact that there are four mediocre-at-best teams (Rovers, Hull, Fulham, and Everton) that are two-gamers and things are going to be pretty strange out there. So, here we go with this week's analysis...
Of the two-gamers, Fulham is far and away the best choice with a home match against mediocre Blackburn and an away match with below average (but not entirely rotten at home) Birmingham. Everton are the next best team talent-wise but they are on the road for both matches including a visit to Old Trafford. Hull are at home for both matches but before you get too excited a) they're Hull and b) the opposition isn't terrible in the form of WHU and EVE. Finally, Rovers are on the road twice against Fulham and Bolton - not daunting opposition if you're the Big Four but if you're Rovers, it certainly isn't going to be a walk in the park.
Of the one-gamers, Chelsea would normally be the most attractive if any of their good players were going to be healthy and they'll probably still win it's just that you're not going to be sure who will get the points (or the starts) in the absence of the usual stalwarts. Honestly, outside of Chelsea, there's no match that I really love this weekend for the match-up. In weeks past, I would have focused on Stoke because Pompey are visiting but Pompey have been much better the past few weeks and while they may lose this one, it certainly doesn't line up to be the fantasy-point-fest for Stoke that I would have predicted earlier in the year.
OK, so if match-up isn't the thing, what is? How about talent+certain playing time? That's the way I'm heading this weekend...
The consensus is that Drogs will be out for 3 weeks and RvP will be out for 6. If the Friday team reports back up both assumptions then it probably makes sense to drop both players (Drogs because after 3 weeks you'd get him back briefly but then lose him again to the ACN and RvP because 6 weeks is just too long and this is Arsenal's training staff so 6 weeks probably means 10 weeks). What does this leave us? At the top end, it leaves us Nando, Roonaldo, and the Elk with K2 and Bellamy a little further down the list with Gabby and Kuyt thrown in although I'm really not convinced that either are premium price-worthy. Your choices in this grouping all come down to what you believe will happen between Liverpool and Citeh. If you think the match is going to be a grind-it-out affair between two clubs scrapping for every point then you probably want to focus on the Elk. If you think that it is going to be a goal-fest along the lines of the Liverpool/Arsenal match at Anfield last season then Bellamy and Nando are your guys. If I were betting, I'd go with the former scenario and give the Elk the slight nod over Rooney.
Much more importantly, is where you go in the replacement market. EdS, Kalou, and Frazier Campbell are all inexpensive options that will be starting for high-profile strikers who won't be playing this weekend. Throw in Saha as a two-gamer and you have a potentially inexpensive strike-force available. I wish I could recommend forwards from Hull, Fulham, and/or Rovers but the pickings are pretty slim. Of that group of strikers, Jason Roberts and Benni McCarthy are the most talented but neither started either of Rovers last two matches. Roberts seems likely to regain a starting spot but at his current price of nearly 10, he's also an expensive option given his production.
If I were going to go outside of the two-gamers, the low-cost bargains, and the traditional premium guys then I'd probably steer you towards John Carew who had a great match before the International break and despite that fact is still pretty affordable.
A much more interesting group than the forwards this weekend both because of the overall quality that remains uninjured as well as the higher quality of two-gamers at the position. While Lamps is likely out due to injury, Gerrard appears to be back in business (albeit with a less-than-ideal match-up) and Cesc, Jummy, Dempsey, Duffman, Dunn, Gosling, Nasri, and Rosicky are all extremely strong options.
Honestly, if what I've written doesn't scream 3-5-2 to you then I'm not sure there's anything I can write to help you. I'm sure people will do well with 3 forwards this weekend but they certainly won't be going with the odds to get there.
As strong as the midfielders are, the defenders are a much less happy thing. Distin and Paintsil are decent value but not spectacular. You could do worse than taking a risk on Alex as a JT fill-in for a few weeks. If you want to take a risk that Rovers gets a clean sheet then Emerton might be a decent play as he will get clean sheet points while playing in a midfield role (although this hasn't worked out for anyone yet). Givet did well earlier in the season but hasn't produced much - that said, the stats say that two games of someone averaging 5+ points/match for under 6 is a good deal. O'Shea and Wes Brown are also decent one-match options. The same could be said for whichever of Armand Traore or Mikael Silvestre starts for Arsenal although I'm firmly convinced that if Silvestre starts, there will be no CS points to be had so take that advice with a grain of salt.
Schwarzer is the clear winner for the week in my mind - two matches, makes saves, should be in line for two draws at the least and could well get two wins with at least one clean sheet. Honestly, not too much else to like from the two-match guys. T-Ho could do OK but I have a hard time seeing him do better than Schwarzer and the prices aren't that different. Robbo is Robbo and anyone who has had him in the last few years will tell you it isn't worth the lost hair - especially during a week when you can sell your expensive strikers and pay a premium for a keeper. To be honest, I think my second highest recommendation would be to find a way to spend the money for Cech or EvdS (with a slight preference for Cech).
Looking forward to a pretty crazy weekend with things turning out a little oddly due to all of the injuries to prominent players. Should be fun...or at least interesting.
See you Friday for Injuries and Suspensions...
Cheers - Neal