Not only going down but shutting down

HM Revenue and Customs have issued a winding-up petition on Portsmouth football club over unpaid taxes, according to the BBC.

It is understood that the order was presented on December 23 with Pompey set for a court hearing in February.

Bottom of the Premier League, Portsmouth have suffered severe financial problems in the past year, with players receiving wages late twice this season and a transfer embargo ordered after they failed to make payments to other clubs for transfers
This is terrible preparation for their meeting with Arsenal today but it quite literally puts the club's future in jeapordy. If they go down, and only one club bottom at Xmas have survived, they'll be finished. It could even be a worse situation than neighbors Southampton have suffered through. And though they have a run in the top-flight and an FA Cup trophy to show for it, I wonder if their fans think it will be worth it. 'Arry certainly knew when to jump ship, didn't he? 

I'll be interested in Neal's take on this.  The nexus of business and football is his speciality.

In more immediate news, today's match will be the last for their African contingent - Yebda, Belhadj, Kanu, Utaka, Diop, and possibly Dindane. However, they will be missing O'Hara as he picked up his fifth yellow in the West Ham match. 

It all points to severe hiding from the Gunners, even without Fabregas.  I know a lot of us have bet our fantasy week on Arsenal - some more than others - and today could be the big pay off.

Monday Morning Manager

Consider this an open thread for the "midweek" round of fixtures.  Right now Spurs have almost seen off West Ham.   No Bassong today, which is a disappointment.  Also I'm looking at Diamanti for the Barn Door.

Team news is coming out for the other matches.  Reid is MIA for Sunderland while Saha is missing for the Toffees.  Drogs and Kalou get a final run out for Chelsea - with Sturridge on the bench.  Birmingham and Burnley are unchanged.  Tuncay is partnered today by Beattie, not Sidibe.  Etc.

Rotation got you?  Who are you looking at for January matches, or are you waiting for transfers?

Good luck.

Boxing Day Live

For as long as I can get away with it here at my parents house without feeling like I'm ignoring the holidays-with-the-family thing.

Late Fitness Test

Merry Xmas everyone.  No time for pleasantries, so here's my final line-up for the "week":


Vermaelan Bassong Baird

Arshavin Lee Etherington MTaylor

Eduardo Tuncay Klasnic

Good luck to you. I'm sure there will be lots to talk about over the next 12 days!

Injuries and Suspensions - Quick Christmas Day Edition

Not too much surprising to report really...

At Arsenal, fantasy manager plans may be up in the air now as the Arsenal team notes report that Cesc may be back for the Sunday match with Villa (and even if he doesn't make that one it would seem that the next match would be a definite).  This decreases Denilson's value well below his current market price.  All other Arsenal midfield options also move down a bit in value over the course of the 3 matches as Cesc is more likely to come in and push them out of the frame or at least further to the side.  The least likely to be negatively impacted is Nasri whose minutes shouldn't overlap with Cesc's much at all.

At Chelsea, the Elk is out as expected and you can be almost positive that Drogs will find his way to an intentional YC in this match so that his accumulation suspension is served while he is on Ivory Coast duty.

Modric looks to be out again for Spurs making Kranjcar all the more valuable (although still not likely worth his current market price). 

David Dunn is still out for Rovers - probably not the week to play him anyway but worth noting as he has been worth playing when he's been healthy.

Citeh's entire defence (Lescott, Onuoha, Bridge, and maybe Richards) are injured making Given a pretty shaky option (even shakier than he has been the last few weeks which has been pretty shaky).  Zabaleta and Sylvinho are both options if you need an inexpensive starter in defence but I'm not particularly excited about either unless it really gets you something else you need in your line-up.  The other potential benefit is to the value of Stoke (Eth) and Wolves attackers (Milijas) - if you were leaning towards either this might be the news that clinched the decision.  I'm still not completely sold on either guy but I'd be feeling a lot better today than I was yesterday about both.

No full team report from ManYoo yet but it looks like SAF is going to push Fabio and Rafael back into the line-up.  I don't know how he plans to deploy what would be a group consisting of Evra, Vidic, Rafael, and Fabio (assuming Wes Brown - listed as questionable - doesn't make it back) - in my mind, this doesn't change things too much for anyone other than Kuszczak (who, as I mentioned in TWA, will have actual defenders in front of him which is an improvement).

That's about all there is to report here on Christmas Day at about Noon Eastern Time.

Best of Luck to everyone and a Very Merry Christmas.

Cheers - Neal

The Week and Christmas Holiday Extravaganza Ahead

In the spirit of the holidays, I am going to be charitable to everyone reading and keep things relatively brief this time around.  Obviously there are a lot of moving parts to think about with 3 matches for some teams and the possibility of the weather canceling more matches like it did for Bolton as our "never bet on or against Bolton" rule was underscored for everyone who had forgotten or thought that the rule was rendered irrelevant once Big Sam moved on a couple of years ago.  With all that in mind, here we go on a quick roller coster ride starting with the 3 gamers and ending up with the potential one-gamers (Burnley if Bolton/Burnley is postponed due to weather).

One final note for everyone who hasn't been following the conversation about how many matches are included in the Christmas "matchweek" (and if you haven't looked at the table on the "Team Manager" page since it was updated) - we have confirmed with Yahoo that all of the matches from December 26 until January 7 will be included.  Should make for a crazy time as we all pull our hair out after players get injured or suspended or rotated part of the way through the 2 or 3 match stretch.  As you select your team, it is just as important that you go for guys who will be selected as it will be to pick the best match-ups or most talented/hottest players.

Early Doors

This "week" just keeps getting stranger and stranger.  It began, of course, with Wigan/Bolton postponed and since then we've gone through the "Nasri or won't he" drama.  But the news just hasn't stopped.  So we've got updates from Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs, the African Cup of Nations and more.

Nasri facing three-match ban

Football Association chiefs yesterday ordered referee Steve Bennett to review a video of Nasri’s bust-up with Hull City’s Richard Garcia.

Bungling Bennett admitted to the FA he missed Nasri’s stamp on Garcia’s foot which sparked a 20-man brawl during Arsenal’s bad-tempered brawl with Hull at the Emirates on Saturday.

Nasri was booked for his part in the melee which followed, while Arsenal midfielder Alex Song could also be in trouble for grabbing Hull’s Stephen Hunt round the throat.

The FA now have until 6pm today to decide whether to charge Nasri which could land him with a three-match ban for violent conduct.

That would rule Nasri out of the crucial Christmas and New Year games with high-flying rivals Aston Villa on December 27, the visit to Portsmouth three days later and the FA Cup tie at West Ham.
So much for that three-game week coming up. Looks like we'll have to gut to afford Eduardo and/or Diaby after their goals against Hull.

[Updated]... Let's think just a bit more about this. As Neal talked about in Saturday's chat the next gameweek is going to include Stoke/Fulham on January 5 and Arsenal/Bolton on the 6th. Let's just say that Nasri is suspended; Fabregas isn't likely back until the Bolton match right? And by then Song and Eboue will have gone to the African Cup of Nations. So who is left? Are there any Arsenal attackers we can count on to play each of the three games?

Well, there's Arshavin and Eduardo up top. Neither has set the league on fire this season, but hey... they're three gamers! (See how easy it is to talk yourself into it?) Denilson looks assured a spot, and he's the third free kick option behind Cesc and Nasri. The one caveat with Denilson is if he has to take a more defensive position to accommodate Diaby, who is finally convincing everyone that he is a much better attacker than defender - despite being tall and black, and hence "the next Viera".

So Diaby, Eduardo and Arshavin are the front players in Arsenal's 4-3-3. Denilson is one of the middle three, and probably the kick taker. The other two spots? Maybe no one gets three games. From the Hull match, it's Eboue and Song. Walcott and Ramsey are available, but seem to be behind the others, when available.

Okay... well, that helped me.  Two-gamers are hard enough to not pick.  But three gamers??  That's gut Drogba go all in time!!  And Arsenal are certainly the most attractive of the quartet of teams with triple games.    Aston Villa is a very tough match up for them, but @Pompey and home to Bolton... they have to be backed in those matches, don't they?  But Almunia is now expensive, the defence is fragile... and there are only three midfielders and a foward we can look to to get the majority of playing time.

I think.  Maybe.   We'll see.

Final Update
Samir Nasri has escaped further disciplinary action for his part in the 21-man fracas that erupted between Arsenal and Hull City on Saturday, but both clubs are still facing the prospect of a Football Association charge for failing to control their players.
Well, so much for that. Back to the drawing board.

Wigan-Bolton clash postponed

Wigan have postponed Monday night's Premier League clash with near-neighbours Bolton because of the severe weather conditions in the north west.

Heavy snow in the region over the weekend has made roads treacherous in the area, although the playing surface at the DW Stadium was actually deemed playable.

However, safety concerns regarding the public areas surrounding the ground, which are still covered in snow and ice, meant the club had no option but to call off the match.

So those of us - including myself and Neal - who have bet on or against Bolton are stuck with zero points for the week. Remember when we talked about the a player being red carded in the first of a week's two matches as being the most frustrating thing about fantasy? Well I forgot about weather related postponements. ARGH! I'm so mad I could kick a puppy.

How you doin'?

I was doing pretty lousy. But now... Now I'm better.

I had a pretty bad Saturday with 32 points from 5 players. Tevez was my high scorer with 14.5, and Given was propping up the table having lost 4 points. (I wonder if Mancini's appointment will be the boot up the butt - and/or he'll bring catenaccio to Eastlands. Either way I'm curious to see how it turns out; but thinking Given might be a better long-term bet all of a sudden. See? Better.)

Wolves/Burnley is on now and Milijas just scored!! So I'm even better all of a sudden.

How you doin'?

The Barn Door Live - Snowed In Edition

Hello everyone, I'm coming to you live from the basement in snow-bound Mclean, Va.  We had about 8" of snow since midnight last night with the promise of more to come today.  It looks great outside and what better excuse to stick around in an online chat between now and when Arsenal and Hull finish up in about 7 hours.

Here's the line-up I'll be following: Reina, Verm, Heiti, Foley, BFAR, O'Hara, Eagles, Bowyer, Arshavin, Drogs, and Klasnic. Seems that there was a move on the Chat last weekend to dive off of the Birmingham bandwagon.  Did you dive off? If so, why?  Come on in, announce yourself, let us know what your line-up is, and start chatting.  Oh yeah, if you get in early enough to get an automatic posting spot, please let me know when you leave so I can give the spot to someone else.

Cheers - Neal

Injuries and Suspensions

Ramsey behind Denilson again?

Premier League Team News - Barclays Premier League - ESPN Soccernet

Looks like Glen Johnson and Nando will be back for Pool but Riera will not be - Nando is obviously a strong bet playing against Pompey.

DDunn is doubtful/facing a late fitness test which means you should run scared from Rovers players.  The plus side is that Spurs defenders are just that much more attractive with one of Rovers' best attacking threats out of the picture.

On the other hand, Kranjcar's spot is guaranteed as Modric has picked up another knock (an ankle) and will not make it.

The out-of-action/doubtful list for the ManYoo/Fulham match is pretty crazy...AJ, Davies, Kamara, Evans, O'Shea, GNev, Rio, Wes Brown, EvdS, and MAYBE Vidic - that's a lot of star power missing.  Look for de Laet and Kuszczak to be the interesting/high value options.

de Jong is suspended for Citeh so Kompany is likely to take his spot (yawn) and Cana is suspended for the opposing side (again, yawn) although fewer holding options will mean Citeh's attack will have that many more opportunities.  Probably don't want anyone from Sunderland's defence in your side.

At Arsenal, the rumor mill has Denilson (not Ramsey) coming in for Cesc.  The question is, who do we expect to start in Arsenal's 4-3-3/4-5-1/4-6-0 formation? Song, Diaby, Denilson, Nasri, Walcott, and Arsh would be the logical answer but I have to admit that there SHOULD be a place for Ramsey in that line-up given the way Walcott and Nasri have performed since returning from injury.  I'm not saying it WILL happen, I'm just saying it should.  Ramsey is probably too big a risk to put into your team unless he's the best option you have for an inexpensive midfielder.

Kevin Foley is really the only interesting name related to injuries and the Wolves/Burnley match.  With Edwards injured, he is a defender playing in midfield.  How well he'll play in midfield is another question entirely but it isn't outside of the realm of possibility that he'll do well for his price/position.

Cahill is back from suspension for Everton but Rodwell is out injured.  Not much to make here but Everton's defence is likely to remain leaky without Rodwell (and possibly even after he's back).  No reason to jump off of the Birmingham bandwagon based on the quality/health of the opposition. Birmingham score reasonably well on the road (middle of the pack in the league) and have won 3 times while Everton have let in a lot of goals at home (3rd worst in the league) and lost or drawn 6 of their 8 at home. The only reason this match-up looks bad for Birmingham is because of the brand-equity Everton has built over the last 4 or 5 years as one of the best teams outside of the Big Four.  Thus far this season, that is nothing other than a reputation.

Drogba is back for CHE and JCole looks likely to feature as well.

That is about all that is really of interest heading into the weekend.  Still not sure exactly what moves I'll make but certainly some food for thought as the "get Ramsey into the line-up" bandwagon lost significant momentum between Thursday and Friday.

Cheers - Neal

The Week Ahead

OK, I'm going to try something different this time around.  Why? Because as we get farther and farther away from the most recent transfer window and farther into a season, there is less and less of interest to say about the same set of teams and players.  Sure, there are hot streaks and cold streaks and sometimes I get my team selection right and sometimes it is miserable but that only takes me so far in keeping me motivated.  So when I find my motivation is flagging a bit, it's time to try something new with the column and see how it goes.  In the worst case, it will be an interesting one-time thing for everyone who is kind enough to read (OK, the real worst case is that it really sucks but hopefully not).  The best case is that I get something better from it that lives on after this week as part of a new and improved Week Ahead column.  This is how we ended up with the blog in the first place, how it moved from here to the Yahoo site for a few years, and how the Live Chat got started so hopefully we'll continue to find new ways to keep things interesting.

Fixture List

Help me out here. 

I'm looking at Yahoo!'s fixture listings for the next few weeks... Is it my imagination or are there some teams with more upcoming matches than others?  I'm going to break down what I'm seeing, but can someone/anyone help confirm these issues?
  • This week (12/19-21) there is a full slate of matches.  Everyone plays once.
  • Next week (12/26-30) is a double week. There will be a full slate of matches Saturday and Sunday, with the teams' second matches Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.  Now if I'm reading this correctly Manchester United and Wigan DO NOT HAVE TWO MATCHES.  They are the only two teams playing once this matchweek.  [See the corrections in the comments below.]  Additionally, everyone has the second match after just one off day save for Liverpool, Bolton, Portsmouth and Arsenal who each have two days off before their second match.
  • Matchweek 17, following the New Year (1/5-6) will consist of only two midweek matches - Stoke v. Fulham and Arsenal v. Bolton.
  • The rest of January sees all teams in action four times with a double week sandwiched between two vanilla "everyone plays once on Saturday through Monday" weeks the last game of which is Sunderland v. Stoke on February 1.
  • February then "starts" with a double week followed by two regular weeks.
Of course there is the added complications of teams participating and progressing in the FA and League Cups.  The next rounds are arleady scheduled, but weeks further out may be impacted by Cup games.

The League schedule has a hard stop this year because of the World Cup so we're likely to see a lot of fixture pile-up come the spring.

In the mean time, what does this all mean?  For me it means Rooney and Rodallega, while they would be tempting otherwise, are out of the discussion.  If you have Kirkland for ridiculously cheap you're going to lose a game unless you're in for the long haul.  Arsenal players become very attractive in the short-term and we'll try to keep up with who is actually available for selection at any given time.  It also puts Bolton players on the map, which if you've read the blog for any length of time, you know we don't bet on or against Bolton.  Unless we do.

How did you do?

Our long midweek nightmare is finally over. How did you do?

I got goals from Rooney and Kranjcar, and a clean sheet from Bassong. I was also 90 seconds away from a Reina clean sheet before N'Zogbia put a minus nine (6 lost for the clean sheet and three lost for the goal allowe) on me. And yes, I'm VERY bitter about that.

On the barn door, which is still open:

Rooney to Anelka
Kranjcar to Arshavin
Reid to Nasri
Bowyer to Chung-Yong Lee
Jordan to Sylvinho

Phew! Didn't realize there were that many changes until I saw them all in one place. With Cesc coming off injured today, I'll be looking at Ramsey as a cheap middie and I would still love to pick up Milijas. Also, I would like to get off the Chucho bandwagon so I'll be trying to move to Eduardo as well. Too much Arsenal, perhaps. But home to Hull... Maybe I even gut Reina to make it happen.

Stay tuned.

Midweek Team News

No, there isn't anything more frustrating than midweek team news.  You've already made your decisions and this can't help you one little bit.  But I'm posting it because it may start informing your decisions for this upcoming weekend.  With Drogba in an injury scare and other popular fantasy players like Giggs and Traore suffering from hamstring injuries of some severity it's worth a look.
Wednesday Updates:

Didier Drogba injures back during training

Don't you just LOVE double weeks?

The Guardian reports:
Chelsea could be without 18-goal striker Didier Drogba against Portsmouth after the Ivory Coast international hurt his back in a training ground incident earlier today.

Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti revealed that Drogba had to leave their training session after sustaining the injury which now threatens his participation against Avram Grant's struggling side.
Maybe we'll get an early look at how Chelsea plan to line up in January when Drogba, Essien and Kalou (all three injured now!) leave for the African Cup of Nations.  And for more on that, check out the Y!AM's look at the "drop or not to drop" Drogba dilemma.
...will Drogba score enough points the rest of the way (after his return) to cover off 4 weeks of zero, compared to the scores you could get during those 4 weeks PLUS the rest of the way?

Well, quite possibly.

How did you do?

This is becoming a familiar sight again in the English Premier League.

How did you do this weekend? We're only halfway through the week - hence the Monday Morning Manager's reticence to say too much just yet - but there were lots of points to be had this weekend. Did you get them?

I got points from Birmingham City's offense, but couldn't afford the real bonanza from their D. Rooney disappointed but still pulled in some points, while Spurs just disappointed. For all the talk of the teams with two home games, only 1 - Birminham City again - actually won. Crazy!

So far my team is shaping up as such:

Reina -2 (boooooo!)
Vermaelan 7 (from what, I don't know)
Bassong 3.5 (about what you'd expect from a Spurs defender)
Jordan 2 (was hoping for more from this, Burnley's easier fixture)
Eagles 13.5 (woohoo!  a nice surprise from a player who wasn't much more than an enabler at 6 and change)
Reid 15 (another nice return)
Kranjcar 2.5 (next to Reina the disappointment of the week)
Bowyer 24.5 (gold, Jerry)
Drogba 26 (high-scorer for me and if he keeps alternating braces with anonymous performances... well, we'll still miss him in January)
Rooney 8.5 (see Vermaelan)
Benitez 17 (another surprise total from an enabling player - also 6 and change)


The Barn Door Live - December 12, 2009

That's right, we're back!  Argentina has been and gone and as my reward for going on a fantastic vacation, I get to come back to a 2-match week.  Even better, I was gone for the better part of 2 weeks and actually gained ground on Jeremy last weekend (we're actually dead even for the year so far).

Here's my team - Reina (who I'm very nervous about), Verm, Heiti, SeaBass, BFAR, Collison, O'Hara, Eagles, Drogs, Rooney, and Franco

Looking ahead to next weekend Arsenal are home to Hull (Theo? Ramsey?), Chelsea head to WHU (let's see who starts for CHE in midfield this week), and Wolves/Burnley both have a chance to pick up some points as they face off at Wolves...

OK, here we go, it's Wigan at Stoke City on ESPN2 HD live from Neal's temporary (for the next 6 or so months) basement!!!

Late Fitness Test

Premier League Team News - Barclays Premier League - ESPN Soccernet

Hello everybody.  I'm back from my 10 day football pilgrimage to Argentina.  I used the opportunity to soak in the incredible passion for the game that the Argentinians have and hopefully that extra passion and energy will translate into me making better picks for myself.  Looking back on my last 3 or 4 TWA posts, I am not disappointed by my logic or the suggestions I've been making but I've certainly been managing to choose the worst possible of those options for myself when it comes down to time to actually fill out my own squad.  Hopefully, spending a little time watching Boca Juniors among others live will change that luck up.  For those who are interested, here's a quick recap of my trip before getting to today's injury news...

1) The meat is stunningly good - especially the beef and sausage - I can't emphasize enough how well I ate while I was there

2) The non-stop energy at the football stadiums is really incredible - singing/chanting/jumping up and down in the stands started well before the match and was non-stop until halftime at which point everyone sort of milled around and socialized (no music blaring, no scoreboard to look at, no little kids playing matches against each other to kill the time - this was definitely an old school fan experience) - after the half the energy started up again from scratch and went well beyond the final whistle.

3) One other stadium note - we were forced to wait for 20 minutes to exit the stadium while the away supporters were given time to leave unmolested by the home supporters - in situations where there is even a hint of the possibility of violence this seems like a great idea (and the clubs would have more opportunities to sell merchandise/food/whatever to the home supporters while they're waiting to leave)

4) A final stadium note - they didn't sell beer or any other sort of alcohol so either the supporters were doing all of this without the benefit of alcohol or they were sustaining their buzz through 2 hours without adding to the initial consumption - in my old age, I find this impressive regardless of which of the above is generally the case (I'm sure it is a mix of both).

5) The streets of both Buenos Aires and Mendoza (the two cities we visited) were entirely tree-lined which made for an extremely nice environment for walking around and seeing the sites.  I wasn't sure exactly what to expect but the general attractiveness of the cities surpassed any expectations I had.

6) The football, for all the passion and excitement, wasn't spectacular.  It wasn't quite so bad as MLS but it wasn't even up to Germany or Holland let alone the big leagues of Europe.  I don't know what I was expecting given the economy and the size of the country but it wasn't fantastic.

The best final summary is that I highly recommend that you take a trip there if you have a chance.  If you have questions add them in to the live chat tomorrow and I'll be happy to answer.  OK, down to the injuries and suspensions...

Late Fitness Tests that matter...Beattie (one gamer so probably not worth it anyway), Kirkland (which makes him even less attractive as a potential one or no-gamer and two tough matches - both away to Stoke and Wigan), George McCartney

Out...Upson, CCole, Zavon Hines, Deco, Alex, Kalou, Essien, Tim Cahill, Yobo, Jummy, DDunn (likely out for the first of Rovers' two matches), KRich & Phil Bardsley (both suspended one match - probably not a good match to have anyone in Sunderland's defence),  Spurs centrebacks (King and Woody) which makes SeaBass a good value at 5.54, Wes Brown and Fabio (at least one match each as they recover from knocks), Bendtner, Eboue, Sicky.

Back...Noble (with two reasonable match-ups), Davies (two OK match-ups), Bellamy & Ireland (although with Citeh's success without them you wonder if they'll come right back in - I'd consider them risky compared to guys who are fully healthy and more likely to feature in both matches), Heitinga (but as a defender not farther up the field + he's a one-gamer), David James and Younes Kaboul (although their second match of the 2 is against CHE so not so interesting really), Modric (who diminishes both his own value and that of Kranj by his possible inclusion - my guess is that each gets 120 minutes between the two matches and that neither are worth their price), James Collins (who is still questionable given that Cuellar has done well in his absence - I'm sure he'll play some but probably won't be a 90 minute starter which, when combined with the ManYoo match-up makes him a tough buy), Nando, Theo, Song and maybe Diaby. 

A lot of information but my quick summary is that SeaBass is the biggest beneficiary of the injuries and that Theo has the most potential to make a relatively low-cost impact of those who will likely get a start due to injuries.

The Week Ahead

Welcome home, Neal.  What did you miss?  Well, read the posts below of course.  What about the week ahead?   Well, let's see if we can get you up to speed on that too.

First, go and read the Yahoo! Assistant Manager's Week 15 Player Picks. The Y!AM was kind enough to write last week's TWA and he has a really good look at this week's double-game schedule and a nice list of the relevant-for-fantasy players.

Got it?  Okay, now on with the show.

Bridge out for Six

CITY have been hit by an injury blow after a scan revealed Wayne Bridge could be out of action for up to six weeks - ruling him out of the two-legged Carling Cup semi-final against United next month.

Initial diagnosis suggested two to three weeks, but a scan revealed a medial ligament injury which could keep him out for four to six weeks...

"Now we have Wayne injured. But we have Sylvinho who can slot in there with all his experience, we have Javier Garrido still available, and Joleon Lescott has played left-back for Everton.

Stevie Ireland is also expected to be back in the reckoning after missing the win over Chelsea with a knee injury, while Shaun Wright-Phillips has shaken off a calf problem.

Micah Richards, meanwhile, has recovered from a knee injury and has returned to training, having limped out of the victory against Chelsea on Saturday.
Sylvinho (6.07) would be a good value pick, but it's the option to move Lescott to left back and play Kompany, who is cheap at just over 4 but listed as a midfielder, at center back.  Something to check on in Friday's team news.

Rooney "will be fit"

So says Sir Alex:
United take on Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday and Fergie said he expected to have some of his injured players back.

"We expect Nemanja Vidic to be fit for Saturday's game," said Fergie.

"Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov will both be fit, as will Ryan Giggs.

Modric on the Mend

Luka Modric will play in a behind-closed-doors friendly for Tottenham on Tuesday afternoon as he continues his recovery from the broken leg he suffered in August after a challenge from Lee Bowyer.

The Croat was originally ruled out for just eight weeks but complications mean he has only recently returned to light training. If he comes through the friendly unscathed, he could return to the full squad to face Wolves this weekend.

Wilson Palacios is still a doubt for that game after suffering a rib injury in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Everton.
That's a fine "how do you do" for me as I'm looking to Krancjar as a great option for the upcoming week.  It's enough that 'arry could inexplicably drop him at any time - and has - or give Keane a run out in midfield instead of the Kranc.  Now I have the "will he won't he" worry with Modric in the frame as well.

Monday Morning Manager

Out of the shadows

Another "mid-table" performance from the Manager's team this week.

Reina - clean sheet, but no win. Same points as PRobbo, who cost 1/2 as much.

Vermaelan - Nice to have Verm back as Arsenal keep a clean sheet against Stoke. Guess I was wrong to think Stoke's size and aggression would get them at least a goal.

Black Cat Black and Blues

Sunderland players are going to be popular this week as they have nice home matches against Portsmouth and Aston Villa.  But be careful how you pick because according to Yahoo!UK/Eurosport, the Black Cats are struggling with both injuries and suspensions:
Full-backs Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson both picked up fifth bookings of the season in the 1-0 defeat at Fulham and will miss bottom side Portsmouth's visit to the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

With the club currently assessing the ankle injury defender Anton Ferdinand picked up at Craven Cottage, John Mensah struggling with a persistent calf problem, Lee Cattermole still fighting his way back from medial ligament damage and keeper Craig Gordon out for three months with a broken arm, Bruce finds himself with limited options once again.

Bullard out until February

Hull City playmaker Jimmy Bullard will be out until the end of January after injuring his left knee at Aston Villa at the weekend, the Premier League club's manager Phil Brown said on Monday.

Rooney doubt

ManU's innovative "check your neighbor" approach to injury prevention doesn't seem to be working.

United are facing an injury crisis of epic proportions, and not just in defence, with Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov joining an ever-increasing list of players on the treatment table.

There was a further blow to the Reds' rearguard with news that John O'Shea and Jonny Evans will both be out until the New Year.
United hope Wes Brown (hamstring) and Nemanja Vidic (flu) will replenish the Reds' decimated defence. But the injury problems don't stop there. Neither Rooney (hamstring) nor Berbatov (knee) travelled to Germany and both men are doubtful to play against Villa.
"Rafael and Fabio will certainly not [feature against Villa]. We're hoping that we can have Wes Brown fit for Saturday. But it's a strain and it won't be an easy one."

And this was especially interesting, considering the double-fixture week we have and the one coming up over Christmas/New Year:
Ryan Giggs, also missing from the group that travelled to Wolfsburg, will be fit for Saturday. But the news regarding Berbatov and Rooney is less positive.

"We left Ryan behind because we’ve been playing him in one game a week and that has worked for us. He is fit for Saturday, but Berbatov and Rooney are both doubtful."

Late Fitness Test

You've all talked yourselves into the Captain, haven't you? Kirkland is (well, was) dirt cheap and he got the clean sheet last week against Sunderland. Well... if he's a good bet this week, hosting Birmingham, here's my thinking: I'll take the money I was spending on Duff (still a good bet, home to Fulham) and get Scharner. He's listed as a defender so he'll do well if Kirkland does well. And hopefully he can continue to get points from his attacking midfield role. It's funny...

Injuries and Suspensions

So Torres won't be risked, but is this the week we see Aquilani?  Walcott is out again for Arsenal who also have Song suspeneded.  Everton lost Distin and Gosling in midweek further diminishing their options, and already had Heitinga suspended for the visit of Spurs. 

All your team news, including a glut of crocked strikers:

The Week Ahead

A guest TWA this week from our friend (and yours) the Yahoo! Assistant Manager.


Hi guys,

Firstly, thanks to Jeremy & Neal for giving me the opportunity to write The Week Ahead for Week 14. I've followed their blog for 5 years & they were the inspiration for me to start my Yahoo! Assistant Manager Blog this season, so it's a great honour!

I always begin with a look at the fixtures & the immediate stand-out Week 14 fixtures are Arsenal at home to Stoke & Aston Villa at home to Hull.

Stoke are in good form & will undoubtedly cause Arsenal problems from set pieces, but I feel Arsenal's pace & movement will be too much & can see a 4-1 scoreline as the Gunners bounce back from their Chelsea battering. Hull are also playing well since Jimmy Bullard returned, but Villa have the ability to turn it on at home & are another side who will want to please the fans after a disappointing performance vs Spurs. They performed well in the Carling Cup, so it's a home win for me.

Another good looking fixture is Portsmouth at home to Burnley. It may be a surprise that I'd tip the team rock bottom of the league, but anyone who's seen their recent form (and Burnley's away form) will know that Pompey are due a win. Two away teams in good league form, Man Utd at West Ham & Tottenham at Everton cannot be ignored either.

We then come to a bunch of fixtures which could go either way. Fulham v Sunderland, Blackburn v Liverpool, Wolves v Bolton, Wigan v Birmingham. They all sound like they could be 1-1 draws don't they? They might be, but there are still decent options from these teams that'll I'll go in to more detail about below. Any other season I'd have Liverpool in the 'stand-out fixtures' section, but they're so out-of-sorts at the moment that I can't get excited about them. Mind you, Torres would change everything.

Finally, we have Man City v Chelsea. I think Chelsea will win, but I can see it being a heated game as City will be doing everything to try & prove they can challenge the elite, so I’ll be avoiding the majority of players from this fixture apart from a certain striker.

That's my fixture analysis, now on to my player picks... after the jump.

Downing Starts and Scores

When last we saw him.

Home to Hull City this weekend, he suddenly becomes a very interesting pick at 8.64.

Here's his day according to the BBC.
45:00+0:05 Stewart Downing sends in a cross, Richard Hughes manages to make a clearance.

73:41 GOAL - Stewart Downing:
Portsmouth 1 - 3 Aston Villa Stewart Downing finds the back of the net with a headed goal from close range. Portsmouth 1-3 Aston Villa.

78:04 Tal Ben-Haim gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ashley Young. The free kick is swung in right-footed by Stewart Downing, Younes Kaboul manages to make a clearance.

79:53 A cross is delivered by Stewart Downing, save made by Asmir Begovic.

80:31 Stewart Downing produces a left-footed shot from outside the box and misses left.
Nothing too outrageous.  Young and Milner (who also scored) still taking the corners.  Young and Gabby also had shots on target.  I was looking at Carew just under 8.  Now I wonder... Downing for a bit more? Or will Carew benefit from the additional service?

Monday Morning Manager

This is going to come in pieces and I apologize for the delay.  The Arsenal/Chelsea wrap-up alone has taken me more than an hour to write.  I hope the time translates to quality, though I'm afraid it doesn't.

Regardless, our look back at the week that was - and who did and did not make the Manager's fantasy team - and our attempt to use that to inform future choices... after the jump.