Waiting on the Big News...

Did Spurs get the deal for van der Vaart done in time?  Reports from Spain say "yes" but there hasn't been any confirmation.  If he did, there will be all sorts of "fantasy football" implications...(if you didn't get that one, see the picture of his better half). 

If Spurs do get their man, it will make for some interesting selection dilemmas once everyone is healthy at the Lane.  VDV will presumably start and you have to play Bale and Lennon/Bentley and then a holding midfielder (presumably Palacios on most days).  That would leave Modric, Kranjcar, Jenas, THud, and the other of Lennon/Bentley stewing on the bench and playing cup matches that you know they think are beneath them.  Not to mention Jamie O'Hara and Danny Rose who may not even make the bench for said cup matches at this point.

Analysis of the Deadline Moves [Updated]

Here we go, the last day of Silly Season for 2010.  By the end of the day we'll know the complete list of who is staying and who is moving on.  I'll be keeping a running list here of the moves and my impression of their impact on your fantasy choices in the weeks and months to come.  I'll also update this post as new confirmations come in.

Beat the Bloggers - Week 3

Week three is in the books, and heading into the international break here are your weekly winners and overall leaders.
This week's big winner was likely Liverpool fan, "In Roy We Trust", with 131 points.  Clean sheets from Reina and Skrtel, and goals from Nani, Etuhu, Drogba and Carroll powered Roy's blogger-beating side.  Congratulations!

For comparison, your bloggers are at:

Finally, due to popular demand, we've created "Beat the Bloggers" private group #9.
Group ID = 16593
Password = bloggers

First Impressions and Second Thoughts

I was THISclose to having a pretty strong weekend.  But for Kolo Toure's penalty I would have had an extra 15 points (between Hart and Kompany) or so and been in solid position in 2nd or 3rd in my private group with Jeremy, Nik (the Assistant Manager), and assorted other friends and friends-of-friends. For a moment as I watched the textcast unfold on BBC.com (while watching Villa/Everton) I even had thoughts of Hart making the PK save and having a massive weekend but it wasn't to be.  Instead the weekend ended bittersweet at best.  Here's a recap of what I observed about the actual Premier League as well as the fantasy Premier League:

Liverpool agree fee for Raul Meireles

BBC Sport - Football - Liverpool agree fee for Portugal's Raul Meireles

Liverpool have agreed a fee with Porto for midfielder Raul Meireles.

The combative Portugal international is seen as a natural replacement for Javier Mascherano, who is poised to complete a move to Barcelona.

A statement on Liverpool's website said Meireles was on Merseyside to "undergo a medical and discuss personal terms".
I think Meireles is a great player. He's a box-to-box midfielder and can disrupt play as well as start - or finish - it. What's odd, and it's the same problems I had with the Joe Cole signing, is that Liverpool keep strengthening the areas of the team in which they are already deep, or already have quality. I mean, if there's one player already in the Liverpool squad to whom I'd compare Miereles... it would be Steven Gerrard! Certainly he's much more of a player than Mascherano. And besides, they've already bought Poulsen to play in the midfield destroyer, "Makelele" role.

So kudos to Liverpool for the addition, but we'll have to wait and see how they fit Miereles into the side.

The Barn Door Live - Week 3

Well, my late changes on Friday yielded one correct choice (removing Chamakh) and one incorrect one (removing Theo) but in general I'm OK with how things ended up.  Here's how I'm lining up:

Hart, Bale, Kos, Skertl, Evans, FloMal, Scholes, Barton, Drogba, Crouch, Carroll

Chat recap after the jump.

Andy Carroll Fitness Doubt

Newcastle striker Andy Carroll is struggling to be fit for today’s visit to Wolves.

The 20-year-old star, who scored his first Barclays Premier League hat-trick in last weekend’s 6-0 drubbing of Aston Villa, is struggling with an ankle injury.

Carroll picked up the knock in training on Thursday and was unable to take part in the final team session yesterday morning.

Insight Into The Mind Of Wenger?

TEAMtalk | Football | Premier League | Arsenal News - Denilson fit to face Rovers
Arsenal (from): Almunia, Clichy, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Sagna, Arshavin, Fabregas, Song, Walcott, Chamakh, van Persie, Fabianski, Diaby, Vela, Wilshere, Rosicky, Eboue, Gibbs, Djourou.
This from TEAMtalk.  For those who don't know, most Premier League teams list all of the players they are bringing in the squad for a given match by position (i.e., two goal keepers first, then defenders, you get the idea).  Arsenal typically list their starting XI first followed by their reserves.  The fidelity on this method of determining their line-up isn't 100% but it has generally served us well over the years.  For that reason, I give you this link and extract from the article.  If this is to be believed then Arshavin, Theo, RvP, Chamakh, and Cesc will all start in an extremely attacking-oriented line-up.  Is it enough to make your selections based on? I'm not sure but I figured it was worth getting the information to you so you could make your own decision.

Cheers - Neal

Injuries and Suspensions

Premier League team news - Barclays Premier League - ESPN Soccernet

While the link above is still being filled in, you can also check out the BBC's individual match previews for team news if you want to get the news direct from the source.  If you'd prefer some fantasy analysis with your injury news, here you go:

The Week Ahead - Week 3 Edition

There has been a lot of chatter - in the blog comments, on AIM between me and Jeremy, and on last weekend's Live Chat - about the relative merits of Joey Barton (especially when compared to Kevin Nolan).  I thought I'd throw in my two cents before I got on with the usual business of this column.  This decision really comes down to philosophy in picking your fantasy team and the quirks of the Yahoo game versus most other fantasy games.  Since Yahoo includes the notion of "phantom points" (successful crosses, corners won, shots on target, etc.) the most frequent goal scorers aren't necessarily the most useful fantasy players - especially if that's about all they do.  Here's my breakdown of the two players and why I chose the way I did on the Barn Door.


... not for the mustache.  There's no reasonable justification for that.  Rather, I'm having a hard time justifying having Joey Barton in my team. Especially in a week when I've also fielding Scholes in the midfield. So I'm trying to remember Barton of a few years ago, taking kicks and generally being a fantasy stud for Manchester City circa 2005-07.

Also helping is Newcastle's upcoming run of fixtures:
  • @Wolves - not an easy task, but not @Che either
  • Blackpool - you're in on this one, right?
  • @Everton - not an easy task, but Eve may not have sorted out their by now typical early season issues yet
  • Stoke - not an easy game, but not the hardest either especially at home
  • @Manchester City - A player scoring against his old team? Not unheard of.
  • Wigan - you're in on this one, right?
  • @West Ham - see Blackpool and Wigan above (just like West Ham see Blackpool and Wigan above them in the table! Thanks, I'll be here all week.)
  • Sunderland - derby, but at least it's the home leg. And Sunderland remain a lousy road team.
That takes us through to November, and who knows what the Premier League landscape will look like by then. But I'm feeling a litte better about Barton on the Barn Door. How about you?

Beat the Bloggers - Week Two

Week two is in the books, and here are your winners, who top their respective "Beat the Bloggers" groups for the week.

This week's big winner was Taf Tacklers in BtB 6. He got hat-tricks from both Walcott and Carroll as well as goals from Bale, Malouda, Arshavin and ChamWow. Drogba and Foster also contributed. His only misses were Carr and Dorrans who were certainly enabling players. Congratulations, Taf Tacklers.

For comparison, your bloggers were at:
Finally, there are still spots available in "Beat the Bloggers" private group #8.
Group ID = 14421
Password = bloggers

First Impressions and Second Thoughts

First it was just Chelsea piling on the goals (OK, Blackpool did it too) in Week 1 but this week was a goal-fest that included some of the usual suspects (Chelsea and Arsenal) and another promoted team who announced that while they may not be ready for ManYoo at Old Trafford, they are most definitely ready for anyone outside of the league's elite with a 6-0 thumping of Aston Villa.  Here's a quick look at what we learned this weekend:

Manchester City versus Liverpool - Live

For what it's worth, four of these players are on display today.

Neal Thurman: wow, no DSilva vs. Liv
Neal Thurman: Hart, Richards, K. Toure, Kompany, Lescott, De Jong, Barry, Y. Toure, Milner, A. Johnson, Tevez
Neal Thurman: 5 Ms, no Silva, and still no K2 - not going to go well for them today is it?
Neal Thurman: Liverpool on the other hand going all out in attack and have Ngog, Torres, Kuyt, Jovanovic, and Gerrard all starting
Jeremy Spitzberg: wow
Jeremy Spitzberg: citeh at home, right?
Neal Thurman: yup
Jeremy Spitzberg: milner wide right?
Neal Thurman: I know he's Italian and all but isn't this the same Mancini who regularly played Inter to 4-3 matches with all sorts of crazy twists and turns?
Jeremy Spitzberg: he and aj crossing for...
Jeremy Spitzberg: um...
Jeremy Spitzberg: never mind
Jeremy Spitzberg: they'll swap flanks so they can come inside
Jeremy Spitzberg: someone described mancini's inter teams as "let's keep it tight and ibra will do something to win it for us"
Neal Thurman: I remember watching them come back from 3-0 to win 4-3 in the last 20 minutes at least once while he was there (pre-match-fixing scandal) and remember the reverse happening at least once as well
Neal Thurman: maybe he manages differently when he (theoretically) has more talent but when Inter was 3rd best behind Milan and Juve he seemed to let fly a bit more
Jeremy Spitzberg: it's crazy
Jeremy Spitzberg: three holding players to protect 4 center backs
Neal Thurman: and they STILL aren't going to stop anyone
Jeremy Spitzberg: guess toure gets forward, but all i've ever seen him do is play balls over the top
Jeremy Spitzberg: sometimes it works out...
Jeremy Spitzberg: often times not
Jeremy Spitzberg: especially if your fwd players are silva and swp
Jeremy Spitzberg: or aj and milner as the case may be
Neal Thurman: I mean, Spurs went through them like they weren't there in the first half
Jeremy Spitzberg: with tevez dropping deeper and deeper
Neal Thurman: 4-6-0
Jeremy Spitzberg: balotelli saved for Europe?
Jeremy Spitzberg: Jo to Fulham! ;-)
Neal Thurman: lol
Jeremy Spitzberg: will be interesting to see if liv are in 4-4-2
Jeremy Spitzberg: jova and kuyt wide?
Jeremy Spitzberg: without jcole he's changing formations?
Neal Thurman: seems likely
Jeremy Spitzberg: or torres being back the bigger factor?
Neal Thurman: most likely JCole replaces N'gog
Jeremy Spitzberg: but cole plays deeper than ngog
Jeremy Spitzberg: though we'll see
Neal Thurman: perhaps but no real like-for-like alternative available
Neal Thurman: unless you want to move Maxi centrally (blech)
Jeremy Spitzberg: no, but kuyt could move infield
Neal Thurman: true but I like him more as the right side of a 4-3-3 much more than as the 2nd striker in a 4-4-2
Jeremy Spitzberg: leaves LIV with no strikers on the bench
Jeremy Spitzberg: for what it's worth
Jeremy Spitzberg: while not even enough room for all of citeh's
Jeremy Spitzberg: jo to liv!
Neal Thurman: lol
Neal Thurman: heck, he's over 6' tall - Jo to the Citeh starting line-up
Jeremy Spitzberg: lol
Neal Thurman: Balotelli is apparently out with a knee
Jeremy Spitzberg: thank you, neal simmons
Neal Thurman: :-)
Jeremy Spitzberg: alright...
Jeremy Spitzberg: time to fire up espn3
Neal Thurman: nice - any reports are welcome
Jeremy Spitzberg: will do
Jeremy Spitzberg: after these important messages
Neal Thurman: lol

Carlos Vela Juggling

One more note on Arsenal/Blackpool. This was a lovely demonstration of skill from Carlos Vela, ultimately undone by a demonstration of his left-footedness.


Okay, the title may be a bit blasphemous, but I have to give a little love to hat-trick hero Theo Walcott. I picked him for my team and am honestly surprised that he wasn't more of a popular selection. Of course I don't know how many fantasy Premier League teams did pick him up because Yahoo! hasn't updated the game yet. But that's a story for another day... or post.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

It's a bit amazing that after two weekends, we'll already had three players score hat-tricks - Didier Drogba, Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott. Another player, Florent Malouda, has three goals and Drogba even added a hat-trick of assists against Wigan.  With Spurs hosting Wigan, Manchester United hosting West Ham United and Chelsea hosting Stoke City would anyone bet on the trend NOT continuing?

Barn Door Insider

For those of you who couldn't make it to the live chat, there weren't a ton of Barn Door options that presented themselves today but I figured I'd send along some options if you have time to make some moves before Yahoo! posts scores:
  • Jussi - Foster had a better game today but Jussi has a better match-up next weekend (home to Foster and Birmingham).  Really though, either would be a good "get" while you decide what you want to do this week.  You might not want to keep either of them in the end but wouldn't you rather have the choice?
  • Bale - Did I mention, he's a stud?  If you didn't listen last week, you should listen this week.
  • Nzonzi - I guess we'll see how Dunn recovers but if Nzonzi continues to play then you should consider him for the price - even against Arsenal.
  • Malouda - His price is going up but you should get in on the action before it gets to Lampard level.
Honestly though, there weren't too many "finds" this weekend.  The best match-ups go to the big clubs next weekend with ManYoo, Liverpool, and Spurs all having what should be easy home matches.  Chelsea shouldn't be too challenged by Stoke at the Bridge and Arsenal and Citeh have relatively weak opposition on the road (Rovers and Sunderland respectively). 

Why no love for Hat Trick Hero Theo Walcott? Too much uncertainty.  Maybe he starts but more likely he doesn't with RvP and Cesc coming back into the side.  My guess is that Theo starts most of the time at home and Eboue starts most of the time on the road.  I don't know if that's exactly how it will turn out but I can say with certainty that Walcott is not a guaranteed starter.  If you want to pick him up before his price goes up, that's fine but don't be shocked when he's on the bench next week at Ewood Park.

The Barn Door Live - Week 2

Here's my line-up...

Hart, Bale, Vermaelen, O'Shea, FloMal, Albrighton, Adam, Dorrans, Kalinic, Chamakh, and Drogba

On the Barn Door we'll all want to be focused on Man United (home against WHU), Liverpool (home to WBA), and Spurs (home to Wigan) with some consideration to Arsenal who are away to Rovers but will be in the second of a five match stretch where they play teams likely to finish in the bottom half of the table.

Chat recap after the jump.

Injuries and Suspensions

Are you fit? No, are you? No.  I'm sorry.  Give me a hug.  Are you fit?

There doesn't seem to be quite the laundry list of issues for this week.  The most important news is that Drogs and Lamps have been pronounced fit.  Following up quickly behind that is the fact that Spurs have been a bit decimated - especially at the striker position.  Finally, we still don't have much in the way of definitive pronouncements from Arsenal with Cesc, RvP, Song, and Djourou still all up in the air after today's pre-match reports and press conferences.

Definitely Out
  • Defoe, Modric, Keane, Pavyluchenko, Bentley, dos Santos, and O'Hara - that's a lot of attacking power that won't be starting this weekend for Spurs but it does mean that we can probably count on Crouch, Kranjcar, Lennon, and Bale to get starts in front of THud or Palacios which is nice.
  • Koscielny, Djourou, Bendtner, and Nasri (according to BBC.com) - this probably means that Song will be forced back into action at CB with Diaby continuing on as a makeshift holding midfielder.  No real illumination on the more important questions related to the attacking roles between Cesc/Wilshere/Rosicky and RvP/Chamakh/Walcott/Arshavin - I'd tend towards certainty here which SEEMS to favor Arshavin and Chamakh over any of the other choices.
  • Collins and Cuellar - No word on whether Davies will deputize or if he'll be eased back in after a Thursday match - Clark isn't a bad idea but there's certainly no guarantee.  That said, Luke Young will almost definitely continue on the right.
Other News from around the Premier League

The Week Ahead - Week 2

It was quite an opening weekend for fantasy managers.  Everyone's favorite projected trend - load up on players playing against Blackpool, especially when 'pool are on the road - was about as big a flop as something can be.  Chris Kirkland owners are nodding their heads vigorously at this point and joined to a lesser extent by those who bought in on Yayga, Boselli, N'Zogbia, Stam, and Figueroa.  Just not a good week for Wigan and the fantasy managers who bet on them. 

Before we over-react TOO much, let's remember that this was the Premier League debut for both Boselli and Stam so I wouldn't write either of those two off just yet.  We also may want to give some level of credit for the debacle to the unsettled nature of the Charles N'Zogbia situation.  For those of us operating outside of the dressing room, we can never know how much or how little a single unsettled player can disrupt an entire team.  It can be very little (see Milner, James for Villa last weekend) or potentially a lot as in the case of Wigan.  Or it could just be that Wigan miscalculated when they lost Scharner and Bramble in the off-season and their replacements either aren't that good or just haven't adapted yet.  Hard to say.  What we can say is that we probably won't be betting on Wigan again until they show some signs of life.

Poor Advertising Decisions

From Arsenal.com:

Sorry, but that seems to me to be a poor choice of words when, before just the second match of the season, your injury list looks like this:

  • Nicklas Bendtner (groin - out)
  • Samir Nasri (knee - out)
  • Emmanuel Frimpong (knee - out)
  • Aaron Ramsey (leg - out)
  • Laurent Koscielny  (suspended - out)
  • Alex Song (calf - doubtful)
  • Johan Djourou (hamstring - doubtful)
  • Denilson (abdominal - doubtful)
  • Cesc Fabregas (match fitness - doubtful)
  • Robin van Persie (match fitness - doubtful)

Alert: Charlie Adam Price Break

We here at the blog aren't sure how long whatever glitch is going on over at Yahoo! will last but for those of you who didn't get Charlie Adam on the Barn Door last weekend and are interested in doing so, this is the time.  Some quirk of the database has reset his price to under 5.5.  So if you want to take a chance that the team that allowed Gerrard 15 points (despite him playing in a deeper-lying position than usual and without benefit of either a goal or an assist) might give up some points to Adam as well then get to it. I'm not sure that I'm going to keep him but I'm happy to have the opportunity.

The Best Fake Competition Idea Ever

OK, I don't know if it really would be the best fake competition idea ever but I certainly needed something to draw the eyeballs in and that's what I came up with.  The genesis of my proposal came from - what else - an IM session between Jeremy and I yesterday where we were discussing, among other things, the insane amount of talent on the Real Madrid bench in the wake of the Ozil signing from Werder Bremen. That got us thinking about the combined talent on the Real Madrid and Man Citeh benches and here's where my twisted mind went from there:

Why doesn't some enterprising entrepreneur create a shadow one month competition (not unlike the Indian Premier League in Cricket) between the four best second teams in the world?  Real Madrid and Manchester City would clearly be the first two teams on the list with Barcalona a likely third.  I'm not sure who the fourth would be this season with Chelsea and Inter Milan having thinned their ranks somewhat over the Summer but I'm sure we can come up with something (maybe Arsenal's reserves). 

Why do this? For a few reasons:
  • By locating the tournament strategically, it would be great marketing for football in markets they don't traditionally reach during the regular season.  I'd think India, Japan/Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and US/Canada would be great places to rotate.  Alternatively, they could pick a resort destination and create a high end event for fans to enjoy as part-spectator event, part-vacation (I'm thinking Las Vegas would be the obvious spot for this).
  • By bringing together exceptional talent and (presumably) having the financial power to create a meaningful financial incentive for the club that wins (say $10 Million), the matches would mean something.
  • Finally, because the matches would mean something this would give us an opportunity to watch some of the best talents in the world in the competitive situations that they'll be missing out on over the next couple of years as they rot on the benches of their current "super clubs."  Here are some excerpts from those rosters and the players we're likely NOT to see on a regular basis...
    • Real Madrid - Ozil, de Maria, van der Vaart, Benezma, L. Diarra, M. Diarra, Drenthe, Carvalho, Gago, etc.;
    • Man City - K2, SWP, Adam Johnson, Robinho, Given, Bridge, Lescott, Vieira, Weiss, Micheal Johnson, RSC (for now), Jo, Richards, etc.
    • Barcelona - Krkic, Ibrahimovic, Hleb, Keita, Hleb, Abidal, Pedro, and a bunch of kids who are likely to improve;
We could hold all of the matches on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays so as not to compete with league matches across Europe.

The final twist in this twisted idea is that at the end of the tournament, the management team from the winning side must come out to the center of the field to be ritually flogged by contest winners.  Perhaps this would dissuade them from accumulating so much superfluous talent.  At the very least, it would make the supporters of teams like Bremen and Lyon and Everton who used to be able to hold on to one or two exceptional players when they unearthed them feel better that at least their tormentors were suffering some consequences for robbing the footballing worlds of so much talent on a weekly basis.

Just a thought, you may now return to your regularly scheduled day.  Of course you may also contribute your own thoughts on alternative ways to take advantage of all of the talent sitting on the benches of rich teams or to punish those in charge of assembling these too-large squads in creative ways.

Manchester City sign James Milner with Stephen Ireland going the other way to Aston Villa - Manchester City FC

Manchester City sign James Milner with Stephen Ireland going the other way to Aston Villa - Manchester City FC

Manchester City have today completed the signing of James Milner from Aston Villa.

Milner completes his move from the West Midland club in time to be available for a debut in front of the City fans for Monday evening’s eagerly anticipated game against Liverpool. He will not be able to feature in tomorrow evening’s Europa League game with Timisoara...

Going the other way, Stephen Ireland has also completed his transfer from City to Villa. Ireland spent eight years at City, having come through the ranks as a teenager. He made 142 starts in that time, scoring 23 goals. His best season in a City shirt came in 2008/09, when he was named as the Club’s Player of the Year.

Both transfers were completed this afternoon, with Milner taking up the squad number seven following Ireland’s departure. City manager Roberto Mancini was delighted to finally seal the capture of Milner.

Groin Injuries for Defoe and Modric

Tottenhamhotspur.com - News Articles - 'A great defeat' - Harry
Harry reported that Luka Modric and Jermain Defoe were both forced out of the action with groin injuries.

Niko Kranjcar came on for Luka Modric at half-time while JD limped off and was replaced by Robbie Keane after 66 minutes.

"We'll have to see how they are," added Harry, who now prepares for the trip to Stoke in the Premier League on Saturday.
Keane and Krancjar now in your Premier League fantasy reckoning for @Stoke?

Kolarov blow for City

Kolarov blow for City - Manchester Evening News

New Manchester City defender Aleksandar Kolarov is out for at least two weeks after damaging ankle ligaments against Tottenham.

Thankfully, his price dropped after the Spurs' match so it shouldn't be a problem to drop him now and pick him up when he returns.

But whom do you pick up? Ferreira? Faubert? What other defenders are worth getting at the price?

Nasri blow for Gunners

Nasri blow for Gunners - Yahoo! Eurosport
Arsenal were dealt another injury blow this afternoon with the news that France midfielder Samir Nasri would be out of action for around a month with a knee problem...

Arsene Wenger must also now do without the versatile Nasri - who often came inside to cover for captain Cesc Fabregas in central midfield - for probably the next five games, which also include the start of the Champions League campaign in mid-September.

A club statement read: "Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri will today undergo minor surgery on his knee following a meniscal injury sustained during the match against Liverpool on Sunday.

"Nasri, who has been in impressive form, will be out of action for a month."
Well, it's back to the drawing board for me. I was planning on selling Martin Petrov to get Nasri so that I could afford Vermaelen in defence. However, now I may only be able to afford Sagna. I was worried that Sagna would sit out the home match as he did so often at the end of last season, but if Eboue is likely needed in midfield, maybe it's a safe bet.

This injury also makes Cesc's return to the first team even more vital for the Gunners. I couldn't find any information on his status yesterday, but will keep looking as the week progresses and the visit from Blackpool gets closer.

A Nickname is Born

It's only one week into the season and I'm already tired of trying to remember if new Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh is spelled "kh" or "hk". I need a shortcut, so he needs a nickname.

In the spirit of "Who is K2" I am pleased to introduce, ChamWow!

The pitchman even has the same haircut!

First Impressions. Second Thoughts.

Alternate title, "Monday Morning Manager".

So here are a few thoughts from the first weekend of Premier League matches. We'll try to break things down in a couple categories. First, what we learned about the actual league and how things might end up turning out. Second, what we learned about fantasy. Finally, we'll put a specific focus on new arrivals and rising players and what we learned about them.

Beat the Bloggers - Week One

Week one is in the books, and here are your winners, toping their respective "Beat the Bloggers" groups.
Alibaba FC, the week's big winner's team selection is interesting. Not only did that team not have Drogba and his three goals, but it also fielded Kirkland and his -10!  However, goals from Malouda, Berbatov and Ngog, and good performance from Terry, Bale, Rodallega and Adam paced Alibaba FC to the top.

For comparison, your bloggers were at:
Congratulations to all the week one winners!

Also, since Beat the Bloggers #1-7 are full, here is the info on "Beat the Bloggers" private group #8.
Group ID = 14421

Password = bloggers
It's never too late to join.

Manchester United v. Newcastle United - Live

Updated below (after the jump) with second half "call" and post-match wrap up.

Neal Thurman: sigh - Rooney and Valencia in, Fabio out (apparently the Evra resting thing was a red herring)
Neal Thurman: O'Shea was the right choice
Jeremy Spitzberg: boo
Jeremy Spitzberg: well, if i had to pick 2 outta 3...
Jeremy Spitzberg: those would be the two
Neal Thurman: grr
Jeremy Spitzberg: espn3?
Neal Thurman: I'm still between internet providers so I don't have an ESPN3 account to use right now :-(
Jeremy Spitzberg: loading
Jeremy Spitzberg: nice
Jeremy Spitzberg: MAX BRETOS?
Jeremy Spitzberg: oh hell no
Neal Thurman: yeah, he went over to ESPN over the summer
Neal Thurman: just when you thought it was safe...
Jeremy Spitzberg: yuck
Jeremy Spitzberg: carroll is a big dude
Jeremy Spitzberg: not pretty either
Jeremy Spitzberg: fabio not even on the bench
Jeremy Spitzberg: sigh
Neal Thurman: oh well - my only non-starter of the weekend which puts me up on lots of people - now I can comfortably root for a ManYoo loss, Rooney RC, etc
Jeremy Spitzberg: comm shield Owen's swan song?
Neal Thurman: could be - nice of SAF to give him a send-off but would have been nice if he'd told any/everybody

The Barn Door Live - Welcome Back Edition

Welcome back everyone.  The blog is back at full strength after a summer of relaxing a bit.  Join us for our first Live Chat of the season.

My line-up for anyone interested...
Cech, Kolarov, Koscielny, Fabio, MPet, JCole, Gera, FloMal, Drogba, Chamakh, Boselli

Click "Read More" for the chat recap.

Injuries and Suspensions

Premier League team news - Barclays Premier League - ESPN Soccernet

  • Carlos Cuellar and James Collins - the problem is that there isn't any definitive on Davies' health so the Collins replacement could either be Davies or the youngster Ciaran Clark.  Regardless, Luke Young is probably too expensive to choose as a deputy for Cuellar on the right;
  • Thomas Hitzlsperger - he picked up a thigh injury playing for Germany in midweek - I wasn't clear exactly what his role was going to be to start the season anyway so probably not a major change to the WHU starting line-up;
  • Andy Reid - you knew this but just a reminder in case you forgot - Jeremy's soccer crush Jordan Henderson could pick up the points;
  • Liam Lawrence - out with a groin strain for Stoke - not really worth worrying about a replacement;
  • Johan Djourou/Nicholas Bendtner/Aaron Ramsey - the only Arsenal players who are definitely out for the Liverpool match despite Football365 constantly assuming that Arsenal will "break the unofficial record for players being crocked to open the season" - means Koscielny will definitely start because, well, what other options does Wenger have at the back?
Uncertain/Fitness Test
  • Joe Hart/Shay Given - no obvious answer here so I'd stay away from both due to uncertainty and quality opposition;
  • David Silva and Jerome Boateng - more mystery coming from Eastlands as neither new signing is certain to start after international duty - you have been duly warned so you can make your decisions accordingly;
  • Agbonlahor - "battling to overcome a hamstring" doesn't sound like "I want to spend a lot of my budget on this guy"; 
  • Mame Diouf - the loanee from ManYoo played an international in midweek and hasn't had much training time with his new team but Rovers are thin at striker - sounds like a substitute appearance to me;
  • Schwarzer/Etuhu/Konchesky - that's a lot of defending in question for Fulham which could mean that Bolton's attack goes from being "not bad" to "a pretty solid bet" at home;
  • Darren Bent - rated as "50/50" by the manager which pretty much kills the value of both Bent and Welbeck;
  • Ben Foster - facing a late fitness test but you probably don't want him nor any alternative on the road;
  • Kevin Doyle - he sounds closer to "out" than "in" but it isn't definitive, guess my "Reading Reunion" storyline will have to wait a week or two to get started;
  • Abdoulaye Faye - could weaken the Stoke back-line/toughness but at best it balances out the likely absence of Doyle for Wolves - nothing to see here;
  • Graham Dorrans - one of the potentially very interesting newbies looks very likely to make his debut in the league - I'm not picking him against Chelsea but it will be good to see how he adapts before potentially picking him for next week;
  • Frank Lampard - he usually comes through these things and starts but its worth noting that he's listed on the injury report and will face a "late fitness test";
  • Didier Drogba - no real information on Drogba and we know he can play but the question is whether he starts - the uncertainty probably makes Rooney the better value as a Premium Striker;
  • Fernando Torres - my gut tells me he won't be ready but the injury report says "he's in contention" so we shall see;
  • Cesc Fabregas/RvP/Alex Song/Denilson - Which means that Wilshere and Chamakh are also questionable to start since we have NO IDEA what Wenger will do if he has all of his players available;
Back/All Clear
  • Petr Cech - all clear putting him (and his lower price) firmly in competition with EvdS for best keeper option of the week;
  • Alex - Even better news for Cech (and a CHE clean sheet) is the news that Alex will be back to partner Terry which probably pushes Ivanovic over to right back and negates Ferriera's value on as a cheap defender - guess that's sort of a good news/bad news thing for managers;
  • Tim Cahill - looks like he'll make it and start in his typical attacking midfielder/withdrawn striker role for Everton;
  • Javier Mascherano - Looks like Hodgson will consider him despite wanting to sell him which should help the Liverpool defense;

The Week Ahead - Season Kickoff Edition

I have to admit that I'm a little mentally fatigued from writing all of those season previews over the last couple of weeks but I have to say that after looking at all that information about all of those players, I feel as prepared for a season as I ever have been.  Given the level to which I've geeked out in the past, that's really saying something.  With The Fantasist having (ahem) co-opted many of the good ideas from this blog as well as some of the other independent blogs focused on the Yahoo fantasy game (Assistant Manager, Scout, etc) we have to keep ourselves ahead of the game.  With that in mind, I have some new wrinkles that we'll be introducing over the course of the season to help our readers stay ahead of those unenlightened types who don't care enough about their fantasy teams to find and consistently read our blog.

Season Preview: West Brom

Overall Outlook - As Jeremy just called them in our IM stream about the last few teams in our season preview series, they are "the Darren Huckerby of teams" and sadly that isn't a compliment despite Huckerby's status as both an EPL fantasy favorite when he was with Norwich and more recently an MLS fantasy favorite in his first year at San Jose.  That said, the reference is to a player, or in this case team, who just treads water.  The players are largely the same as the last time we saw WBA in the Prem.  They are mostly veterans and there is little reason to think they're suddenly going to step up their level after being cast off from bigger clubs and finding their level at the top of the Championship and the bottom of the Prem.  Guys like Nicky Shorey, Luke Moore, James Morrison, Roman Bednar, and the like just aren't going to take you anywhere and sadly for fantasy managers, they also aren't likely to put up many exciting numbers for you.  Despite their veteran presence, you have to think this group is bound directly back from whence they came.

Season Preview: Wolves

Overall Outlook - One of the teams that I saw live and in person last season and I have to say I went from being a little down on them to really appreciating the effort and commitment that they got from limited talent last season.  There were some numbers (Fletcher, Mouyokolo, van Damme) as well as some proven quality added over the Summer in an attempt to consolidate their place in the Prem.  The quality comes in the form of Stephen Hunt arriving from Hull to reunite with Kevin Doyle and Marcus Hahnemann to see if they can recreate the Reading-in-2006/2007 magic that shocked the Premier League with an 8th place finish.  The big question is whether the talent exists on the current Wolves roster to fill the roles that players like Dave Kitson, Sidwell, etc. filled on that Reading squad to push them towards the top half.  I think that Wolves will indeed consolidate their place and survive.  That said, there is one thing worth mentioning at this point, I'm pretty sure those two exact players - Sidwell and Kitson - are extremely available if Mick wants to get Stevie Coppell's band back together.  In fact, I guess Coppell himself is pretty available at this point as well - perhaps a first team manager in waiting?  Just saying...

Season Preview: Wigan Athletic

Overall Outlook - It's hard to know what to expect from Wigan's roster shuffling thus far.  More importantly, the question is whether that shuffling - specifically the "headed out the door" part is yet complete for the summer.  There have been persistent rumors that either N'Zogbia or Rodallega will be departing for clubs farther up the table.  If either of those players departs, the outlook at Wigan will be dramatically different than it would be with them.  There seems to be a growing base of solid talent but N'Zog and Yayga are the only two who have proven themselves to be potential match-winners.  While neither are so exceptional that they are going to push Wigan firmly into the top half, the lack of a couple proven match winners is going to make it very difficult for them to stay out of a relegation battle.  If both players stay, I predict something in the 13th to 16th place finish area.  If one goes then they'll probably survive but only just barely.  If both go, then we'll be seeing Roberto Martinez back in the Championship next season.

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Season Preview: West Ham United

Overall Outlook - It's been quite some time since I felt like I had any idea what the people assembling the Hammers roster are thinking.  It seems that every year they go out of their way to overstock one or two positions where they really didn't need any more support in the first place.  This year the overstocking seems to be coming at strikers who aren't target players.  With Franco [ed note. Franco was released at the end of last season], Diamanti, and Sears already on the books to vie for time opposite Carlton Cole they have now added Frederic Piquionne and Miralem Sulejmani and are rumored to be after Yakubu as well.  Hard to know why they'd be doing that when there are other positions that are in need of more help perhaps anywhere and everywhere across the back line which is adequate but hardly rock solid.

Season Preview: Tottenham

Overall Outlook - This is a huge season for Spurs and the story seems to have been lost in the rush to cover every random rumor coming out of Eastlands.  With Spurs making their entry into the Champions League and the potential juggernauts in Citeh and the potentially taken-over Liverpool Spurs had better make the most of it now lest they be left behind like so many Evertons, Villas, or Fulhams incapable of legitimately competing for the talent necessary to sustain Top 4 finishes.  Reputation-wise Spurs are definitely on the edge as the reactions of players like Luis Fabiano show.  If they have some success in the Champions League and in the Prem then they might be able to recruit some bigger names.  If not, then the window may close on them quickly and more quickly than optimistic supporters may realize.  As to whether this will happen or not, I can't pretend to say.  The assessment of 'arry has always been that while he's likable and tends to do well on a low budget he's a bit lightweight for competing with the Wengers, Fergusons, and Ancelotis of the world.  This is the year we find out because he certainly has a lot of reasonably promising talent on hand.  Can he bring it all together again and sustain a top 4 place while simultaneously competing in the Champions League?  Perhaps the most interesting long term question of the season.

Season Preview: Sunderland

Overall Outlook - In contrast to Stoke who doesn't spend a lot of money but gets a lot from everything they do spend and every player on the roster, Sunderland seem to be forever spending a lot of money on players who have bigger names than games. For every Darren Bent who does well after a big money move there are two Gordon/ Richardson/ Campbell/ Bardsley/ Ferdinand-type players who have come in with big reputations from bigger clubs and shown why those big clubs were willing to sell.  The squad is currently a little bit light on strikers with the real possibility that they will become lighter-still with Kenwyne Jones set to leave for Stoke with no obvious replacement coming in.

Season Preview: Stoke

Overall Outlook - By all rights, I should dislike Stoke as the logical successors to Big Sam's Bolton and Mark Hughes' Rovers as big, bruising purveyors of a direct and brutal brand of football but for some reason I find myself wishing them well in their push up the table.  Perhaps I like the fact that they have tried something a little different in using Rory Delap's throws as a serious weapon.  Perhaps I like the way they play tough football without it getting as dirty as Bolton and Rovers have been (or at least been perceived).  Perhaps it's because they clearly don't have an alternative way of surviving and yet other teams can't find a way to beat them at the only game they are capable of playing.  For whatever the reason, I find myself quietly and somewhat apologetically wishing Stoke good fortune.  With today's rumor that they will sign Kenwyne Jones - a player I like - that affection will only increase as will the likely fortunes of Stoke who badly need a striker capable of more than the 5 goals that led the team last season.  That Jones fits the rugged profile of the Stoke player is an even bigger bonus.  I have a hard time seeing them getting significantly better but they seem poised to stay firmly rooted in the middle of the table.

Sunderland confirm Kenwyne Jones is holding Stoke talks

Sunderland confirm Kenwyne Jones is holding Stoke talks - Transfers - ESPN Soccernet
Sunderland have confirmed striker Kenwyne Jones is to undergo a medical at Stoke on Wednesday afternoon.

Jones, 25, has been linked with a number of clubs in recent times, but he now looks set to move to the Britannia Stadium after the clubs agreed a fee reported to be in the region of £9 million.
KJ could step right into Stoke's starting XI ahead of Sidibe, Beattie and Kitson. It will still be a question who partners him - either Tuncay or Fuller.

He should feel right at home. Stoke's squad consists on no fewer than six former Black Cats including Sorenson, Higginbotham, Lawrence, Collins, Delap, and Whitehead.

For Sunderland the rumours are that Bruce is selling to buy. Perhaps Roque Santa Cruz from Manchester City or Alan Hutton from Spurs (still attractively priced at 4.81).  Bruce will probably need both, or at least players in both positions.

In the Hole

A classic trequartista?

Formerly, and derisively, known as the Scholes role, "in the hole" refers to a midfielder playing in an advanced position just behind a lone striker. For fantasy purposes these midfielders are real gems because their remit is soley to attack. It's the polar opposite of the "Makelele Role" and any fantasy manager would be well suited to find a midfielder playing in this position. In past years, perhaps the best example of this was Gerrard playing off Fernando Torres so successfully as Liverpool ripped off a string of 4-0 wins against big-time opposition.

This season there seems to be a glut of attacking midfielders which, combined with the popularity of the 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation, offers a wealth of such midfielders for fantasy managers to choose from.   In fact, you could probably find at least one from each of the Premier Leagues teams, many of them very reasonably priced considering the fantasy value of the position they're likely to play.

Season Preview: Newcastle

Overall Outlook - Welcome back from exile to a team that, on talent, we could never figure out how they ended up in the Championship in the first place.  I guess they took dysfunctional to an entirely new level.  Hopefully for their sakes, they're ready to reverse some of the sins of their recent past and come back stronger (and perhaps more realistic) for their exile.  The talent on hand is certainly better than their fellow partners in promotion Blackpool and West Brom and it is also probably better than a few of the sides that finished the season toward the bottom of the Premier League last season but avoided the drop - we're looking at you Rovers, Wolves, and maybe West Ham.  That said, there's nothing that says that the Magpies' talent won't continue to be degraded by dysfunction once the going gets rough.  Still, my prediction is that they finish between 14th and 16th in their bounce back season.

Ben Foster withdraws from England squad with injury

Ben Foster withdraws from England squad with injury - Goal.com

The headline pretty much says it all. Certainly a nervous wait for Birmingham and another tick in the column for picking Jordan Henderson or Frazier Campbell... or Darren Bent, providing you think his own back problem won't keep him from the match.

Season Preview: Manchester United

Overall Outlook - The 800 lb. guerrilla of the Premier League seems to be fading a bit.  Here's the evidence...1) getting not only older but actually old at key positions; 2) few players in their prime; 3) over-reliance on Rooney who is exceptional but could cripple them if he is absent for any amount of time.  If Rooney remains healthy for most of the season (32+ matches or so) then ManYoo will be in great shape and finish no worse than 3rd depending on how Arsenal mature and/or Citeh come together.  If Rooney does face a long stretch on the sidelines though, SAF's men could finally start to feel the effects of the financial problems behind the scenes at Old Trafford.  We can mark United's success thus far under those circumstances down to SAF being an exceptional manager but even the best managers can only paper over so many cracks.  Seriously, if even a better-than-average Premier League manager like Martin O'Neill were working with a midfield of Fletcher, Park, Nani, and Valencia with occasional contributions from Giggs, Scholes, O'Shea, and Carrick you'd predict no better than a mid-table finish regardless of the quality of the defenders and forwards around them.  If you factored in the fact that much of last season was played without a fully fit Rio Ferdinand and no obvious first choice right back or second striker then you really have to say that the combination of Rooney and Ferguson is strong.  Take away one of those two and you're in real trouble.

Monday Morning Managers

Is this Bolton's third-choice left back?  It'll all make sense if you keep reading.

Your two fearless managers expound on Premier League news and build our teams before your very eyes... in classic roundtable style.

Warning: This is the better part of two days worth of conversation and covers a lot of topics without the courtesy of a segue.

Season Preview: Manchester City

Overall Outlook - So here we go, the big wild card.  We'll assume for the sake of this analysis that Milner and Balotelli are in and that Ireland, Robinho, RSC, Jo, Bellamy, and SWP are either out or marginalized to the point of pretty much being out.  The first big myth of last season at Eastlands is that the attack was potent while the back line let them down in their quest to rise up to Champions League contender status in their first year of oil money.  The reality? Citeh just weren't clutch.  Their goals for and goals against numbers were about the same as the rest of the contenders for the final 2 Champions League spots the difference was the 13 draws.  If they can find a way to convert even a few of those to wins, then Arsenal and Spurs should be rightfully frightened as they look to challenge their 3 and 4 spots.  The question one has to ask is where Citeh actually improved in the off-season and if bringing in a bunch of Premier League newbies who, regardless of their eventual quality, may drop some points as they adapt.  I wouldn't bet against them but it's hard to forget Mancini's inability to break through in a meaningful way at Inter until Milan and Juve were eliminated from competition due to the match-fixing scandal.  Is he the guy to bring together a fairly random set of talent and reign in all the huge egos?  I honestly have no idea but the answer to that question will determine where Citeh end up the season.  The good news? There are a lot of new players in Silva, Kolarov, Boateng, Toure, and (maybe) Balotelli who will provide fantasy managers with early season value.

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Sunderland striker Darren Bent doubtful for season opener

Sunderland striker Darren Bent doubtful for season opener
Striker Darren Bent has been ruled out of England's midweek friendly against Hungary and could miss Sunderland's opening game of the season at the weekend against Birmingham...

However, a back problem prevented him from joining in with the rest of the squad and he has now been ruled out of Wednesday's friendly date with Hungary.

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce will be concerned as his star man now appears to face a race against time to be fit for the Black Cats' opening fixture of the season.

Martin O'Neill Resigns as Manager of Aston Villa

Club Statement:
Aston Villa can confirm that Martin O'Neill has resigned as manager of the football club with immediate effect.

Kevin MacDonald, reserve team manager, has assumed the role of caretaker manager and will prepare the team for the opening Barclays Premier League game of the season against West Ham on Saturday at Villa Park.

Not sure how this impacts Villa's fantasy prospects (or the results of such sagas as Milner's transfer) but surely this is not the way to go into the season. More to come on this.

Season Preview: Liverpool

Overall Outlook - I have to admit that I haven't really figured out what I think of Liverpool's chances yet this season.  They certainly have the talent on hand to break back into the Top 4 if everything goes their way but they also have most of the same cast of characters as they did last season when they fell to seventh.  The manager is new but the guy he's replacing has had more success than any manager in recent Anfield history.  There is some new talent but most of it all plays the same position - attacking midfield.  Hard to see how it is all going to come together.  Just a note, I'm assuming for the sake of this article that Masch will find himself at Inter before the start of the season and that one or more of the suggested replacements (Poulsen, et al) will arrive.

Season Preview: Fulham

Overall Outlook - Last season, Fulham were a classic average team.  At home they were good enough to get points from the vast majority of their matches with most of those being wins.  The downside came on the road where only Hull had fewer wins than Fulham's 1 - that's right, 1 road win.  Certainly a great deal of their focus was on their oh-so-close Europa Cup campaign but with little change outside of the manager's seat there isn't much reason to expect a charge up (or down) the standings.  I think Mark Hughes will do a nice job with Fulham when he'll be back in an environment like Rovers where he won't be in over his head with player egos.  Another finish between 10th and 14th seems realistic but they REALLY need another goal scorer (Roque Santa Cruz anyone? Craig Bellamy?)

Mame Biram Diouf joins Blackburn Rovers on loan

BBC Sport - Football - Mame Biram Diouf joins Blackburn Rovers on loan
Manchester United striker Mame Biram Diouf has moved to Blackburn on a season-long loan.

The Senegal international made six appearances for United last season following his arrival from Norwegian club Molde in December last year.

He netted his only United goal in January's 3-0 Premier League win over Burnley at Old Trafford.

The 22-year-old could be thrown straight into the Rovers' squad for the friendly away to Hearts on Saturday.
With Kalinic injured and Roberts out of favour, Diouf could be the starting forward for Rovers and get a lot of playing time early in the season. I don't think he's worth a gamble at home to Everton in week one, but if he does start over Roberts, or if Big Sam goes with two up front (unlikely), he'll be worth a look when... well, actually...

Rovers have a lousy first month, so by the time the schedule eases up - week 5 & 6 are home to Fulham and @Blackpool - Kalinic will likely be back. *Sigh*

In Case You Were Wondering...

Carlo Ancelotti confirms Chelsea team, Didier Drogba benched - England - ESPN Soccernet

Here is Chelsea's starting line-up for the Community Shield on Sunday.  What does this tell us?  Not much really since Drogba, Cech, and Alex will all be in contention by the time the matches really count but if Alex remains out and Ivanovic continues in the middle, Ferreira is excellent value on the right side of the defense for next week.

United extend Evra break

United extend Evra break
United manager Ferguson has handed the 29-year-old an additional week off to allow his body to recover from the strain of a taxing season and the added demands of the World Cup.

"We decided to give Patrice more rest," confirmed Ferguson. "Over the last five years he has played an average of 55 games a year.

"This summer he has had the World Cup as well so we felt he deserved another week's rest.

"He started training yesterday and won't be available until into the season."
Emphasis mine. Does this make Fabio a good bet for week one, at home to Newcastle?

We're Gonna Party Like It's...

...you thought I was going to reference Cesc's statement to the press about staying at Arsenal and being entirely focused on his season at the Emirates didn't you? Well, that's not what I'm getting at with the headline.  For those of you who pay attention to these things, we're 2 people away from breaking 2000 "Likes" on Facebook which is a nice milestone for us.

We hope you all continue to support us as we continue in our attempts to grow the blog and eventually, take over the world of Premier League and Fantasy Football "journalism"

Thanks for your continued support.  More team previews coming later today.

Cheers - Neal

Season Preview: Everton

Overall Outlook - I'll start the preview with the fact that I like Everton.  They have a quality team that tries to play entertaining football.  They manage their team within a budget that is supported by the revenue the club can generate.  They have a few of my favorite players in Tim Howard and Mikel Arteta and gave credibility to Landon Donovan's career which previous had "big fish in a small pond" written all over it.  It pains me to say this but last season was about as good as it is going to get for Everton in the current Premier League climate.  They'll likely finish somewhere between 6th and 9th depending on how Liverpool, Villa, Citeh, and Spurs perform against talent and expectations.  The chances of them taking the next step up the table when even a player like Donovan is out of their financial reach seems pretty slim.  Basically, expect more of the same from Everton unless something dramatic happens.

Season Preview: Chelsea

Overall Outlook - It's been a pretty quiet off-season for the Champions with some fringe players with bigger names than games (JCole, Ballack, Deco, etc.) moving on and some less high-profile names (Ramires and Benayoun) coming in.  The veteran team also got a year older which has to be of some concern but certainly not to the point where you expect any of their big names to have a significant drop.  You just can't expect that many of them will improve and should expect slightly reduced performance and perhaps a few more injuries from players like Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho (if he sticks around), and Ashley Cole. That said, these are the reigning champions and neither of their closest competitors for last season's title - ManYoo and Arsenal - have made a significant step forward so you have to expect Chelsea to be the favorites unless ManCiteh make an unexpected huge step forward.  Seems like old times with a professional, unexciting, Ancelotti-led squad marching inexorably toward the title with a string of 2-1 and 1-0 wins being chased by a high-risk, high-reward, Mancini-led squad providing entertaining football but losing too many points to their inability to keep the ball out of the net while inexplicably losing the occasional 3-0 disaster to an inferior team. 

Season Preview: Blackpool

Overall Outlook - It's no surprise that Blackpool's outlook is bleak. Dire, even. And the club seems okay with that. They were promoted via a "magical" run into and through the play-offs, driven by loanees who have not returned. Credit to them for knowing that they won't survive the year in the Premier League and not spending money they don't have.

But that being said, it's going to be a horrible year as they don't look set to compete at all. Even Burnley had a few years of Cup success against top-flight teams to hang their hat upon. Blackpool don't have the pedigree or the talent. Their two best performers last season were Seamus Coleman and DJ Campbell, neither of whom are returning. Matches are going to get ugly and it's not going to be an advertisement for "the best league in the world".

Funny Headlines...

Football365 was on fire today so I thought I'd share since I wasn't clever enough to come up with the headlines first...

  1. "You'll Never Wok Alone" - in response to the potential Chinese takeover at Anfield;
  2. "Good thing they already wear red" - in response to rumors that the Chinese bid is actually coming from the government; and
  3. "Cesc in the City yet again" - in response to Fab4 being back in London for training and Arsenal's media day
In other news...
  • it looks like Danny Welbeck will be heading to Sunderland on loan.  If he starts regularly, I'd think about including him in my line-up when the match-up is a good one;
  • looks like out-of-favor striker Jason Roberts is likely on his way to West Brom which will increase his value along with that of Kalinic who almost has to start at this point unless there is another striker in Big Sam's pipeline (maybe it also increases the chances that my Chris Samba to be a full time striker pipe dream will come to fruition).
  • Looks like Ramires will sign for Chelsea today which may help them in their title bid but you have to think his upside from a fantasy standpoint is Gilberto Silva (generally good for an average of 5 points/match over his career).  Not much good unless he's listed as a D for some reason.
That's about it.  Hopefully, next week will be more exciting than this from a transfer standpoint.  More previews to come soon.

Season Preview: Bolton Wanderers

Overall Outlook - What a difference a new manager makes.  There was a time when we said "never bet on or against Bolton" because they tended to engage in meat-grinder-like matches that produced more yellow cards and fouls than fantasy points.  Players of much quality didn't want to play there.  Now, with the introduction of Owen Coyle midway through last season players with some skill are starting to flock to the Reebok.  The budget is such that they still can't buy from the top shelf but there are definitely upgrades.  I don't think Bolton are ready to compete with the likes of Villa and Everton let alone Spurs, Citeh and Liverpool but there is every reason to expect a finish in the 9th to 11th range.

Season Preview: Blackburn Rovers

Overall Outlook - Speculation about a potentially deep-pocketed Indian buyer for the club aside, the hope for Rovers fans has to be that they can tread water this season as they search for more stable footing as Jack Walker's estate becomes less and less able to keep up financially with the rest of the league.  In Sam Allardyce they have a manager who is used to punching above his (ahem) weight with a limited budget but in the absence of any established strikers as of this writing you have to wonder if Big Sam and Rovers have what it takes to grind their way to safety while they wait for funds to arrive.  If David Dunn spends more than a few matches in the training room as opposed to on the pitch you have to think that Rovers will be in a relegation battle all season.

Season Preview: Birmingham

There isn't a great deal of transfer speculation ongoing that is likely to have a major impact on Birmingham's season or fantasy fortunes one way or the other.  The squad is likely set for the most part with only an oldster (Camoranesi?), a youngster (Clyne?) and a forward looking to climb a few levels of competition (Dembele) even in the "strongly rumored" stage of the transfer process.

Overall Outlook - It was an odd season for Birmingham but certainly a solid one for a team newly promoted.  That said, major questions linger about the sustainability of the form that saw them comfortably above the relegation fray all season.  First, how much of their prowess at the back was due to the heroics of now-back-at-City Joe Hart? Which defence is the real defence? The one that gave up a combined total of 6 goals over 10 matches in Novermber and December including draws with Citeh, Liverpool, Everton, and Chelsea and compiled 22 points over that stretch? Or the one that gave up 29 goals in 18 matches after the calendar turned to 2010?  The latter isn't a terrible team, but it certainly isn't a team you want to hitch your fantasy hopes to.  Now subtract Hart and sub in Ben Foster who isn't a bad option but certainly wasn't challenging to be England's Number 1 this summer.  Only one major addition so far in Zigic and I have to say I see a drop in fortunes for Brum going into this season. 

Season Preview: Aston Villa

As I did for the Arsenal preview, I'm going to make some assumptions related to ongoing transfer speculation.  I'm going to assume that like Everton did last season with Lescott, Villa will capitulate to the huge offer from Man City on Milner and end up with Ireland and a bunch of cash.  Since I see Ireland plus cash for Milner as being great business for Villa - especially if they put that cash to good use - I don't think this will change the Villa outlook too dramatically if it turns out I'm wrong and they keep Milner.  I'm also assuming that Villa will keep Ashley Young away from the grasp of Spurs, et al.

Overall Outlook - It must be frustrating being a Villa supporter or even in management.  They have done some excellent business on a relatively tight budget over the last few years but seem to be moving backward more than forward.  The first team is as good as nearly any around and for the first time in ages there is actually some quality depth, especially at the back.  The problem is that while Villa are improving the old fashioned way, people with much deeper pockets are moving up the pecking order faster and potentially starting to undo some of that great work.  The insertion of City into the Top Four mix, the emergence of Spurs as a Champions League team with the increased revenue that goes with it, and the potential for Liverpool to be rescued from financial ruin by either Chinese or Syrian investors means that clubs like Everton and Villa are realistically going to have a hard time fighting it out for 7th place.  That said, there is every chance that Liverpool won't complete their sale in time to make a difference until January and that Spurs will wilt on the big stage (see Everton when they made the Champions League) and Citeh will continue to search for the right combination of players and manager to exploit their deep pockets and Villa could challenge for 4th.

Season Preview: Arsenal

I'm sure readers familiar with the blog will assume I'm being biased here in going with Arsenal first given my personal bias toward them but as it turns out, that is also how the alphabet works so rather than trying to figure out a different scheme for ordering the previews, the Gunners are first up.  (NOTE: for the purposes of this preview I am assuming the following... Cesc will be staying and Arsenal will land at least one more CB and a new goalkeeper. I'll update the preview if one or more of these things turns out to be untrue.] 

Overall Outlook - Arsenal were good enough to challenge for the title last season and should be at least slightly improved this season with the addition of Chamakh and Koscielny (and the presumed additional CB and GK).  They should continue to be a high scoring team with the hope that they can tighten up the defence with better health at the fullback spots and improved talent/attitude at the keeper and CB spots.  The most important change this season will be the addition of Chamakh to the attack which SHOULD allow Wenger to insert Chamakh as the target striker in his 4-3-3 flanked by Arshavin and RvP.  Assuming Cesc is pulling the strings and Song is back-stopping midfield there will be plenty of options for Wenger to choose from - Walcott, Nasri, Denilson, Diaby, Rosicky, Wilshere, etc - for the final midfield spot in his preferred XI.

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