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.
As always though, before we get to the real column I'm going to rant on some random topic for a bit. For those of you who aren't big fans of this part of The Week Ahead, I'm sure you've learned to move past this part to the parts where I actually start talking about fantasy rosters. For those of you who enjoy these little rafting trips on Neal's stream of consciousness, here's the topic of the week. The failure to do the little things. Am I talking about players like David Bentley who seem unwilling to do the unglamorous things like play defence or make the smart pass when a high-risk one is available instead? In this case, no. What I'm talking about is the failure of the Premier League to do even the easiest of low-tech things to improve the game.
Last weekend, there was a general uproar over Sorensen's PK save and the fact that he came off his line a couple steps before Yayga managed to get his foot on the ball. Combine that with the ever-present situation where free kick takers moving the ball up 5 yards from the spot of the foul as they are "placing" the ball for the kick and the inevitable inching up of the wall starting the second the referee positions it and turns his back. Are these minor things? Probably most of the time but I'm sure there are times that these little forms of cheating make a difference in favor of the player(s) trying to get an advantage. What is my complaint? The ease of the solution. On my recent trip to Argentina I saw a beautifully simple solution to both of these issues that I'm sure the nice people at the Premier League (and other big leagues) know about but haven't adopted probably because it isn't an exceptionally glamorous or elegant solution.
What is this stroke of genius? The referee has a small can of spray paint (or something else that temporarily marks the field). When a foul is committed, he sprays a small circle on the field where the free kick must be taken - if the kick taker moves the ball outside of this circle it is obvious and the ref can take the action he sees fit (forcing a retake or giving a card). If a wall forms and he is asked to march off the 10 yards, he uses his magic spray can to draw the proverbial line in the sand (err, pitch) which the members of the wall should not cross. Guess what, in a league and a football culture infamous for doing what it can do to put one over on the officials, I didn't see anyone trying to come over the line or moving the ball up in the 5 or 6 matches I either saw live or watched on television. If the Argentine league can figure this out and make Argentine players conform to these basic laws of the game, it seems like everyone should follow suit, well, immediately. There is no issue of "interrupting the flow of the game" like there is with video replay. Really, I can see no downside unless the league is concerned about losing a couple dollars/pounds/euros on buying spray paint but I'm sure they could turn it into a sponsorship opportunity with only a modest amount of creativity.
Can anyone suggest any reasons why this doesn't happen immediately?
For those of you who are fans of Bill Simmons (The Sports Guy on ESPN.com) - you may recognize an element of his indignation at stupid decisions made by sports administrators creeping into my writing. I read about 550 of the 700 pages of his latest book (The Book of Basketball) on my flights to and from Argentina so I'm working with an excess of indignation in my system. Hopefully, I did justice to ranting in that style.
In a side note, I really enjoyed The Book of Basketball - Jeremy and I were talking (OK, IMing) about whether it 700 pages of book written in the style of a web column could keep either of our interest. I don't know if Jeremy has given it a try but I was definitely motivated to keep reading. If you like basketball, basketball history, and/or obscure references to 80s and 90s pop culture then this is the book for you.
OK, on to what you're here for and my attempt at a new format...
Let's call it average at best. No one I picked had two good matches. The only plus side is that everyone did have at least one match where they were worth paying for so it wasn't entirely a disaster. The best of the bunch was sticking with BFAR despite mediocre match-ups he came through with 30 points between his two matches. The biggest disappointment was the WHU duo of Franco and Jack Collison who didn't start the Hammers weekend match but DID manage to pick up a substitute YC while his "good" match yielded less than 10 - all this despite two less-than-intimidating match-ups. Of the people I was considering at those spots, I would have done much better to choose Kranjcar (I was scared off by Modric's return) or Bowyer (I was scared off by him being Lee Bowyer) in Collison's spot and Klasnic (Still having a hard time picking a Bolton striker) or Chucho (scared off by his up and down performances thus far) instead of Franco.
What did I do on the Barn Door?
There isn't much you can do about this at this late date but the reason I'm adding this section in is to give those who don't participate in our weekly Live Chat (in this space during Saturday matchdays for those who haven't given it a try yet and yes, that was a shameless plug) some insight into how I approach the Barn Door. The first note here is that I only got one and a half BDs this week and not two because life intervened yesterday and I didn't get to the game to make changes until after points had been added in.
As always, these picks are not necessarily going to stay in my squad but I at least wanted the option of choosing them at their old price more than I wanted to keep the person I had previously in that slot.
I started with Reina, Verm, Heiti, SeaBass, BFAR, Collison, O'Hara, Eagles, Drogs, Rooney, and Franco and here's how the weekend unfolded...
Guys I picked up... Traore or SeaBass (I don't like Spurs for the CS on the road); Collison to Bowyer (I wanted the option of his low price against a mediocre Everton defence - Brum are quickly becoming Fulham from last season); Rooney to Arshavin (Arsenal home to Hull, 'nuff said); and Franco to Klasnic (I'm still not entirely sold on Klasnic but I wanted the option)
Others I thought about...Chucho (but didn't because I'm not comfortable with that much Brum on my team); Milijas (but didn't because I don't believe in Wolves even at home against Burnley); Tevez (he did have a heck of a match over the weekend and I did have him briefly before switching to Arshavin)
So, what next?
With the attractive match-ups being Arsenal hosting Hull (Arsenal's home performances have been nothing short of spectacular outside of the Chelsea match with 6 matches at just under 4 goals/match) and Chelsea going to West Ham. I'd like to put Liverpool's trip to Pompey on this list as well but with the way Liverpool has played over the last month, can you really do that in good conscience? I can't.
The other major piece of news coming out of yesterday's matches is the injury to Fab4 that will definitely put him out of this coming weekend's match with Hull and could possibly dent Arsenal's title hopes by being out through the crowded Xmas schedule. The upside? Could this be Aaron Ramsey's time to shine? I'll certainly be watching the injury reports for indications as to how Wenger will cope with this injury. If Ramsey is the guy, I'll definitely be in on that.
Here are my big questions going into the weekend...
Who to play in net? I am currently on Reina who has a great match-up on paper but I really don't trust Liverpool at all at this point. Arsenal is going to win but do you trust Almunia to keep a CS any more than you trust Liverpool? I don't. So, what does that leave us? An expensive and recently leaky Petr Cech? I don't think so. A productive Kuszczak who may or may not give way to EvdS and who has a tougher-than-average match-up on the road AND few healthy defenders in front of him? Hard to swallow but the price isn't bad. US keepers Howard or Hahnemann who are cheap and at home against less-than-imposing attacking forces (Brum and Burnley respectively)? Still not excited. Kirkland who is home to Bolton? Well, he isn't any less questionable than the other suspects and he's between 1/2 and 1/3 the price depending on who you're comparing him to. I'm leaning in that direction to free up money but I may chicken out and stick with Reina.
Two defender slots? I have been on Verm and Heiti pretty much all season and I'm likely to stay with those two as they've been very productive for their price. My 3rd defender has been a bit of a revolving door. Right now Heiti and Traore are potentially in play. If I have money to spend from other moves, I'll go Traore to Alexander who is sort of hit or miss depending on whether he gets a PK. I'll also be looking at the ManYoo injury report to see who is going to make it back from injuries - Vidic is a question mark; de Laet and Wes Brown could be inexpensive options - Rafael is no longer on the injury list. I'll most likely go with the most attractive/likely-to-play ManYoo defender.
And the midfield? I'm content to keep the faith with BFAR, O'Hara, and Eagles this weekend. Arshavin is a no-brainer assuming you can afford him (Lampard would be my 2nd choice of a premium midfielder with Gerrard 3rd). If Ramsey is going to start then he goes to the head of my list to replace Bowyer who can't ride this hot streak forever (can he?). If it isn't clear that Ramsey is going to start then I will consider keeping Bowyer along with Dunn (if he is healthy which is a big question mark), Stephen Hunt (what? you think Arsenal is going to be invulnerable at the back?), Bily (although Pienaar being back hurts his value some), and maybe THud/Cohen/Milijas/JGomez if I'm really feeling like taking a risk.
Up top? I'm feeling reasonably good about Drogs/Klasnic for this weekend and I like the options in midfield more than those at striker so it looks likely that I'll be staying with a 3-5-2. If I were looking for an option then the premium choices would be Yayga (best value since Nando/Defoe/Rooney are all very expensive right now), Saha, and Gabby. Doyle is also an interesting option but probably a little expensive for the likely return. Like I said, not a great week for strikers. Hopefully, everyone got their guys before the prices went up last weekend (Chucho is a really nice option at last weeks prices but not so much this week).