The Week Ahead - New Years Edition

Given the lateness of this post within the week you'd expect me to have some sort of excuse like having a crazy travel schedule due to the holidays or something similar.  As it turns out, I just wasn't in a positive frame of mind yesterday.  I usually don't get THAT invested in sporting outcomes to the point where they really make much of an impact beyond a perhaps a few minutes.  Furthermore, I can almost always separate my preferences as a fan from my writing - sure, I'll make it clear to all that I'm an Arsenal supporter but I don't think I let that affiliation impact my fantasy recommendations.  That said, I just couldn't bring myself to write yesterday because I knew I'd be too bitter about the Arsenal/Wigan result to do a decent job of it (insert your own joke here about the quality of the job I do if you want to get one more joke in during 2010).

As I try to come down from that disappointment, here are a few brief observations about the weekend.

I am now taking some solace in the fact that despite my disappointment at Wigan being awarded a totally BS penalty early and Arsenal not getting a penalty awarded for the clear hand ball in the box on Nasri's free kick late in the match that Arsenal wouldn't have gained any ground if the officials were doing their job better all mid-week.  ManYoo were screwed over just as badly on Birmingham's late equalizer so it is impossible to be upset at Arsenal's fate without admitting that ManYoo didn't deserve their fate either.

My second note is related to the media reaction to the Arsenal draw.  The media can't seem to decide what storyline to go with.  The "Wenger dropped points after making a lot of changes" storyline was so obvious that they couldn't drop it despite their second storyline.  That one went something like "Arsenal were screwed by bad calls and deserved to win" and I can't understand how you can write both.  If you write the second storyline then you can't write the first one.  If Arsenal played well enough to win and only fell due to poor officiating then how do you write that it was a mistake to rotate? Not much more to this point but I thought it was interesting.

Finally, it was obviously a great Christmas week for Citeh and Spurs who gained ground on Arsenal and United.  Will we ever figure out this season? You get the feeling that March, April, and May might offer up a four or five way race for the title because no one seems to be able to sustain their form.  It is unclear from match-to-match which of the "big teams" will be the others and no one seems immune from dropping points to vastly inferior opposition.  Throw in the various financial situations of the big clubs come January - Arsenal can spend but are unlikely to, United are likely still cash-poor, Chelsea have the money but it is uncertain as to whether they will spend it, Citeh have money to burn, and Spurs seem to have at least some to spend and maybe more if they finally sell off some spare parts like Keane, Bentley, et al.  Should be a lot of fun.

One final thought before we get to it, cheers to Richard Kingson who has been incredible since inheriting the Blackpool job due to Gilks' injury.  In the Yahoo format, he's now the 10th highest scoring keeper overall despite only having played SIX matches.  Imagine how he'd be doing if Blackpool had a field that held up under poor weather conditions.  Something to think about for the time when Blackpool start replaying all of those matches in the coming months.

Liverpool-Wolves Fancast

Evidently Wolves are quite welcome in Liverpool.

Anyone watch Liverpool-Wolves yesterday? I haven't had the courage to do it yet but I'm morbidly fascinated. This was Liverpool's full-strength side minus Carragher. What happened? Meireles wasted on the right? Gerrard not 100%? Or is this more about Wolves?

Asian Cup Arbitrage

Last year we had the drama surrounding Didier Drogba's participation in the African Cup of Nations. Or African Nations Cup. Whatever it was called. This year, Asia takes it's top teams to Qatar in January 2011, and it will have an impact on the Premier League.

Park Ji-Sung is already with South Korea, and Lee Chung-Yong will join him. Otherwise, it's Australia who will take the biggest batch of players including club stars Mark Schwarzer, Tim Cahill, Brett Emerton, and back-ups Brad Jones, and David Carney.

So what does this mean for fantasy managers? I think it means:

1) Stockdale becomes a viable option in goal for Fulham. Assuming Schwarzer's last game is against Spurs this weekend (I'm not 100% on that, but Cahill's last match is Stoke) then Stockdale at under 6 gets you matches against West Brom, at Wigan, and Stoke, before ending the month at Liverpool. I'm not sure we know who the real Fulham are right now, but those matches are comparable to the likes of Reina and Green who are around the same price.

2) Everton's attack is going to get even more anemic. Yesterday against West Ham, Cahill was Everton's lone forward and most incisive player. Arteta still looks lost and Pienaar has one trick where he runs with the ball into a blind alley. Moyes is going to have to hope that Anichebe, the only striker he seems to want to play, wants to play for Everton.

3) We could see the return of Martin Petrov to the right of the Bolton midfield. With Lee gone, presumably we'll see MPet and MTay on the flanks. I'm not sure either are worth their current pricing, but with a home match against Wigan upcoming it may be worth a look.

4) Sir Alex needs Nani back (as does my fantasy team). With Park gone and Obertan/Bebe not ready for prime time, Manchester United need Nani to provide that little bit of special that they lack elsewhere in the squad. Otherwise, as we saw yesterday, they'll labor against teams like Birmingham.

All this may get overshadowed by the upcoming transfer window.  However, I wanted to put out this food for thought before that happened, and before Neal takes over the blog with his "hot stove" gossip mongering.

Small Victories

Today is going terribly for me, but at least I guessed Everton's line-up correctly.

Which is nice.


It's odd that the fantasy football schedule is so busy at the moment, yet I feel so disconnected from it. Being at home, and not sitting at a computer for nine hours a day means I'm not plugged in to every story, rumour and gossip that comes across the wires. With family commitments and the chance to take a four-hour bike ride up the coast yesterday, I missed the big Boxing Day fixtures as well as any chance to pick up players on the Barn Door.

But because the schedule is so packed, there's every opportunity to get back into the swing of things.  Today is the big Chelsea-Arsenal clash.  I'll be watching the returns (most likely) of Robin van Persie and Frank Lampard as they are highly under-valued in the fantasy game compared to their historical pricing.

Then the next round of matches starts up tomorrow, so don't forget to set your team.  We'll be looking at the team news and trying to bring you any information.  But just remember that with two matches in as many days for teams there is always the risk of rotation.  And unannounced rest and rotation at that.

For what it's worth, my squad at the moment (subject to change) is:


Kolarov Coleman Jara

Van Der Vaart Nani Brunt* Pennant Tchoyi Lampard***

Torres Saha** Welbeck

* Brunt is suspended, and near cost, so he's unlikely to stay in the team long.
**  Read my thoughts below.
*** Over-thinking Arsenal in the comment below.

Tangerines to hold late inspection

Poor pitch conditions... but likely not this bad.

Tangerines to hold late inspection - Yahoo! Eurosport
Blackpool will hold a pitch inspection three hours before their scheduled 3pm kick-off against Liverpool on Boxing Day to see if the match can go ahead.

The Seasiders do not have undersoil heating at Bloomfield Road and despite covering the pitch there is still some doubt over whether the surface will be playable...

'The timing of the pitch inspection has been made in consultation with the Barclays Premier League, match referee Mike Oliver and officials from Liverpool.'
If my math is correct, and it rarely is, this means that the announcement can't happen until after the fantasy game locks down. So you'll have to take your chances on Liverpool and Blackpool players.

The Week Ahead - Christmas Edition

It's been a frustrating week all the way around for fans of the Premier League (unless you pull for Everton or Sunderland).  Between the postponements and the poor quality of the matches that were played last weekend it felt like we had an international weekend on our hands.  It meant we got to read more about the ever-tedious Tevez drama that appears to be much sound and fury signifying nothing.  The global financial crisis has robbed us of the usual insanity related to transfer rumors.  Usually we can count on at least one or two mid-table clubs with excessive money to spend and a wishlist of players who have no interest in playing for them.  In years past we could also generally count on ManYoo and Liverpool along with Chelsea and Spurs to have shopping lists that would keep us knee-deep in interesting rumors on days without matches.  This year, ManYoo and Liverpool seem to have next to no money to spend while Chelsea seem to have scaled way back on the crazy spending and Spurs seem to have one or two modest targets but not too much to write home about.  Heck, there aren't even international matches to keep us vaguely interested while we're waiting.  After all that, we STILL have to wait until Sunday for the matches.  It's been tough but we're close to making it through.  It will be a merry day-after-Christmas once the matches start up again on Boxing Day.

Boxing Day Team News

Our gift to you... all the Boxing Day team news in one convenient blog post package.

After the jump.

Y!FF Rules Update

Festive Fantasy Football chat - Yahoo! Eurosport UK

From the Fantasist's live chat today:

[Comment From M ]
"As far as points for all the postponed matches go, word from Yahoo! HQ is that these will be automatically added to your scores for this gameweek once the matches are finally played. Confirmation of this should follow soon. "
[Comment From Pablo ]
What's happening with the postponed matches? Have the rules changed?
This is what I was led to believe by someone at Yahoo! yesterday, which did seem odd. Still waiting for said confirmation. Can only apologise. It's as frustrating here as it is for you guys.
Appreciate that may not be a totally satisfactory reply, but just repeating what I'm told.

So there you have it... sort of.

Also I found this amusing:

[Comment From Gazza77 ]
Do you think RVP RVD STEVIE G AND Mancienne will play?
Wow, VdV, RvP, Stevie G... there are a lot cool nicknames in the Prem these days!

We feel partly - if not mostly - responsible for the nickname thing. Regardless of how true that is, things like "Who is K2?" have become such a big and fun part of the blog... and now the larger Y!FF universe.

Manchester City - Everton Currently Not in Doubt

Everton can confirm that Monday's game against Manchester City is not currently in doubt.

City officials have informed their Everton counterparts that the pitch is playable.

Ice and snow is an issue outside Eastlands but the club are working on problem areas today and tomorrow with their local authority.

All Sunday Games Called Off

It's Manchester City/Everton or nothing at this point.

And that's looking iffy, if this forecast is accurate.

The Barn Door Live

Injuries and Suspensions

Sorry for the quick post but it's a busy Friday and, as it turns out, there also isn't a lot to report on.  Here are the quick highlights:

  • Gerrard seems likely - Woy isn't committing 100% but the tone of all of the conversations make it seem likely that Gerrard will return.  The problem here is that the uncertainty kills the value of both Gerrard (because he might not play) and Meireles (because we're guessing his value drops if Gerrard does play).  Good thing there are lots of available midfielders in the same price range.
  • VDV possible - Again, nothing definitive but it looks like VDV is in contention.  My guess is that he gets between 20 and 60 minutes.
  • Arsenal mostly healthy - The goalkeeper situation seems a bit up in the air but I'm guessing Szczesny will get the start.  Otherwise, the attacking positions will be in a huge amount of flux with Fab4 and RvP available again.  My guess is Song, Cesc, Nasri, Arsh, Chamakh, RvP but with Theo, Rosicky, Wilshere, etc. all available I'd be very careful about hitching your wagon to Arsenal attackers.
  • Lamps back - We talked about this in TWA - tough few matches to bring him into your squad for but we'll be sitting ready on the BD if it looks like he's back to his best. 
  • Odemwingie out - Tchoyi likely deputizes making him a great value. 
  • Adam is suspended - Just a reminder.
No news yet on Citeh which is of course what everyone wants to know about.  The evils of Monday Night Football.  See you tomorrow for the Live Chat starting with the early kickoff.

Van Der Vaart Back - All The News
Harry Redknapp's side will be boosted after Rafael van der Vaart completed a week of training, with the Dutch star set to feature.
Good news for everyone who's kept VDV in their side at 6-and-change. Now you'll just have to watch the weather reports, with Blackpool's pitch threatening to freeze up again.

The Week Ahead

So many things to think about as we get ready to launch into yet another weekend of Premier League action that features a marquee match with title implications. Here's a brief run-down of the things that will be running through my head this weekend:

What should we make of the Tevez saga? It is being reported on heavily because there is so much drama associated but for me, the bigger question revolves around the implications on the title race.  Citeh are playing well but their attack against teams other than West Ham seems to be just enough WITH Tevez.  If Tevez's heart isn't in it even a little bit, you can see those 1-0 and 2-1 wins becoming draws pretty quick. I say this even more so of Tevez than I would of most strikers because so much of his game is passion and effort as opposed to Henry or CRon-like wild displays of skill.

How will the returning Lamps do? Lest we all forget, Big Frank wasn't doing too much early in the season BEFORE he went under the knife.  He only managed a TOTAL of 21 fantasy points in Chelsea's first two matches of the season.  That doesn't sound bad on the surface but remember that Chelsea scored 12 goals in those two matches and Lamps was on the field for 10 of them.  Not exactly the type of return you'd hope for from a premium player.  Was he already carrying the injury? Who knows.  I guess my point is that we'd all be wise to take a cautious approach with a 32 year old midfielder coming back from a serious injury and facing questions about his role in what is still a fairly new system for him.  The upside is that his price has dropped to under 13 so we don't have to pay quite the premium we're used to to see.  To complicate matters further Chelsea's schedule reads MAN, @ARS, BOL over the next three matches.  In other words, tread carefully.

How "for real" are Bolton?  Every year we get a team that makes it to the New Year punching significantly above their reputation if not their weight.  In different years it happens at different parts of the table.  Whether it is a newly promoted team hanging in the top half or a perpetual mid-table team butting up against a Champions League spot, this is hardly a new script.  The usual suspects are Spurs, Everton, and Villa and with Spurs having made "the leap" last season to replace Liverpool the question becomes is this year's pretender a real one or just the product of a pretty good team that has gone on an exceptional early run? My answer is as follows - Bolton are "for real" to the extent that the league-wide parity continues into the second half.  If you look at their results, they've taken exactly 1 point (the draw with ManYoo) that you wouldn't bet on them to get again in the second half (they have yet to play Chelsea).  Furthermore, they actually dropped some points you'd expect even a mid-table team to pick up (Home to Fulham, Blackpool, and Birmingham should have been 5 or 6 points instead of 3).  It seems likely that all of the teams ahead of Bolton will go on an exceptional run of form in the second half (that's what top teams do).  On the other hand, if Bolton just does what it should in the second half of the season and doesn't lose Elmander or Coyle they seem a pretty reasonable bet to finish in the Top 6 - hard to see them cracking the Top 4 unless Tevez leaves Citeh high and dry and/or Bale/VDV have serious injury troubles in the back half of the season.

With those random thoughts out of the way, on to the Week Ahead starting with our analysis of the schedule and what it holds for fantasy managers:

Somen Tchoyi surprise for the derby

Somen Tchoyi surprise for the derby « Express & Star
Albion boss Roberto Di Matteo could spring a major Black Country derby surprise by fielding Somen Tchoyi as a stand-in striker.

The head coach is considering moving the Cameroon international up front, who today gave a vote of confidence to under-fire forward Marc-Antoine Fortune.

Di Matteo looks set to be without leading scorer Peter Odemwingie for Sunday’s clash with Wolves and Tchoyi, who has played as a central striker for previous clubs, could be switched from his normal wide role.

He said: “It’s something we’ve looked at. The only issue is that I haven’t actually had a chance to try it out in pre-season or anywhere else.”
I don't know that it's that much of a surprise, but it could be interesting news for fantasy managers. We've been on Tchoyi for a few weeks now, and at 8.21, listed as a middie and home to Wolves... VERY TEMPTING.

Update: Just to note that this week, I'd rather Tchoyi were listed as a forward.  With the likes of Brunt, MGP, Nasri, etc already great bets in midfield, I'm actually having a harder time finding forwards that I'm excited about.  Sic semper.

Lampard to Start

Football365 | All The News | Football News | LAMPARD BOOST FOR STRUGGLING BLUES
Frank Lampard looks set to start Chelsea's crunch Barclays Premier League game against Manchester United after coming through a practice match unscathed.

England midfielder Lampard completed what was a 60-minute game at the club's Cobham training ground on Thursday, which involved players from the reserve and youth teams.

The 32-year-old made a surprise comeback after three-and-a-half months on the sidelines in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Tottenham, playing the final 12 minutes at White Hart Lane.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti revealed after the game that Lampard would start against league leaders United this weekend providing he suffered no reaction in Thursday's training match.

The latest twist in the Tevez tale

Tevez angry at City’s broken promises | The Sun |Sport|Football
Joorabchian insisted, however, Tevez would NOT go on strike. He added: "Carlos will continue to play and give 100 percent as he always has."

Defender Micah Richards admits he would be "gutted" if Tevez, who reported for training yesterday following a four-day break in Tenerife, left...

Tevez is due to miss tomorrow's Europa League match against Juventus — and so could Mario Balotelli.

Boss Roberto Mancini has apparently had a change of heart, according to reports in Italy, after initially saying the ex-Inter Milan strike ace would travel.

Balotelli, 20, suffered racist abuse at the hands of some Juve fans last season. He was also targeted by hardcore Italy supporters during a friendly against Romania in Austria.

Carlos Tevez returns to training

Carlos Tevez returns to training, talks set for Friday - ESPN Soccernet
Tevez is one of a number of senior players to be rested [for Thursday's Europa League match against Juventus], although Mancini has already indicated that former Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli will travel, even though he was racially abused by some Juventus fans last season.

City do not have a Premier League match until next Monday when they face Everton at Eastlands.

In related Europa Cup news...

Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina will feature in Liverpool's Europa League tie against Utrecht, Roy Hodgson confirmed on Tuesday...

Liverpool are in dire need of an upturn in form after losing three of their last six Premier League matches, and Torres is a player who could use a confidence boost after failing to score in his last four outings. With skipper Steven Gerrard expected to return against Fulham at the weekend, Hodgson confirmed some of his biggest stars will be handed match-time against Utrecht.

"It is a good chance to give some players a run-out," explained Hodgson. "It's a good chance for Jonjo [Shelvey] to show what he can do again. He's played a lot of European games and done very well. But it's also a chance for Ryan Babel. Fernando Torres will be involved in the game, as will Pepe Reina and our centre-backs.

Barton escapes FA punishment

Football - Yahoo! Eurosport
Joey Barton will not face disciplinary action from the Football Association for apparently making an offensive gesture towards Liverpool's Fernando Torres.
Apparently not. Feel good about fielding Barton at Birmingham.

Well, as good as you can about handling a lit firecraker.

Gerrard 'on track' to return at weekend

Roy Hodgson is hoping Steven Gerrard can train on Tuesday with a view to making his comeback against Fulham at the weekend.
A bit wishy-washy for my tastes. More as the story develops.

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson admits captain Steven Gerrard's anticipated return from a hamstring injury this weekend is "touch and go".

The midfielder has not featured for his club since November 13 at Stoke after sustaining the problem on England duty four days later.

Last week Hodgson pencilled in Saturday's match at home to Fulham for a comeback but now he is not so sure.

"Steven Gerrard is not fit and will be touch and go for Fulham," he said.
Don't sell Meireles just yet.

First Impressions and Second Thoughts - Week 16

I'll be writing some thoughts as I watch the massive MAN/ARS match here on Monday as the introduction to this week's column:
  • I think we all saw the Berbs benching coming from a mile away.
  • Very interesting to see how Szczesny does filling in for Fabianski who is out with a hip injury (but not SO injured that he isn't on the bench).
  • Fab4 also on the bench - interested to see if he gets the Lampard-style cameo from yesterday.
  • In a non-MAN/ARS thought, odd move by Rovers to sack a manager who is currently in 13th and has the team playing reasonably well given the talent/budget on hand.  One wonders if the new owners are planning to spend some money in January and don't trust Big Sam to spend it wisely.  That was one theory I saw on why Houghton was let go as well.  Certainly an interesting angle.  
  • Back to the match, for a home team, ManYoo seem to have a lot of high-energy/low talent players clogging midfield (Carricck, Park, Anderson, and Fletcher).  Neither side able to get much rhythm in midfield in the early going as a result.
  • Arsenal matching ManYoo physically and stating their intention that they may be a less finesse oriented team than in years past.  
  • Lots of nerves as players are trying to force passes that aren't there or send misguided passes into spaces where no teammates are. Through 35 minutes Arsenal have had more pretty good attacking movements while ManYoo have had more direct attacks on Arsenal's net but neither have really had an opportunity that SHOULD have resulted in a goal.  
  • Nice goal for United but it's all down to Nani who makes the goal and Park sneaks it in - could have gone to either side of the post but it went in and that's a huge advantage to United playing at home.
  • And that's halftime...
  • I hate to say it but Anderson looks to be a different (and rather competent) player - still has a bit of work to do to become a match-winner but for the first time in my recent experience (I didn't see the Champions League match) he didn't look like a weak link.
  • ManYoo just SO solid at the back.  The difference between pretty good CBs and just being excellent back there.  
  • Nice to be able to bring Cesc and RvP off the bench.
  • Weak PK and justice served with Rooney missing badly although my fantasy team isn't so happy with that justice.
  • Arsenal just didn't get much in the way of an attack going - maybe they'll handle the challenge better at home or with RvP and Cesc in better shape in the second half of the season but this was well won by ManYoo.
  • My man of the match is a toss-up between Nani on the attacking end and the partnership of Rio and Vidic who were just incredible at the back.  
  • This will make next weekend against Chelsea even more interesting.
So, what about the rest of the league? Here we go with the usual:

Adam Out After Accumulation

Boss slams Adam decision - Yahoo! Eurosport
Blackpool boss Ian Holloway has branded the decision to show Charlie Adam a yellow card in Saturday's 1-0 victory at Stoke as 'absolute nonsense'.

Adam received the booking - his fifth of the campaign - from referee Anthony Taylor in the first half at the Britannia Stadium following an aerial challenge with Dean Whitehead.

It means the Seasiders captain will miss his side's Barclays Premier League clash with Tottenham next weekend, and Holloway felt the match official made the wrong call.
Adjust your line-ups accordingly.

Tevez hands in transfer request
"I can confirm I have handed a transfer request to the chairman of Manchester City Football Club," said the 26-year-old. "Now I need to clear my head and think because this is an important part of my career. My feelings have not changed and it is regrettable that we have reached this situation. But it is something I have felt for some time and have spent many hours thinking this through."
So Tevez hands in a transfer request, which is rejected. But he states that he needs time to think (now?) and it doesn't seem as if he will be available next week when City host Everton. I know we are all feeling a bit burned after Balotelli's -2 yesterday. But what if his early tap-in had rolled into the net instead of across the face? How different would it all have been? It will be very hard - for me at least - to stay away from him at just over 6.

Though Defoe at 10, at Blackpool, may be too tempting as well alongside Torres and Rooney.

And of course, this isn't the first time Tevez have been involved in some unseemly dealings.

The Week Ahead

This has to be considered a huge weekend in the Premier League and starting off any column about the league with anything else - even if that column is more focused on fantasy than reality - just wouldn't seem right.  So many questions to be answered - Can Arsenal consolidate their place at the top? Can ManYoo continue to piece things together when the opposition is tougher? Can Chelsea rebound before they drop too far? Can Spurs take a massive leap forward with a second consecutive win against a "Big Four" opponent? Will Citeh just sit back and chuckle at their rivals as they get as close to free points as the league offers in an away match at Upton Park?  Throw in an inordinate number of key fantasy players - Rooney, Nasri, Nani, Bale, Drogba, Malouda, etc. - that will be involved in those two critical matches and fantasy managers everywhere will be sweating for two reasons - title race implications AND fantasy fortunes.  Should be a fun weekend (and Monday).

    Before we get to the fantasy recommendations, here are a few specific things I'll be looking for early in the big matches:
    • ManYoo: Rooney LOVES playing and scoring against Arsenal - will he be deployed as a lone striker of the type that has been killing Arsenal in the Champions League (speed plus energy)? It's what I'd do after watching Arsenal's frailty and Berbs stink up the place in midweek.
    • Arsenal: How does Wenger come out for this key match? Does he attack with Arsh/Chamakh/Nasri backed up by Song/(RvP or Wilshere)/Rosicky or does he go more conservative with Song/Denilson/Rosicky in an attempt to shield the always-questionable backline? My sense is that Denilson isn't THAT much of a deterrent so why not go for it and continue to play defense by attacking. 
    • Chelsea: What will Chelsea give up in an effort to slow down Bale and avoid Bosingwa/Ferreira suffering Maicon's fate? Will they pull Kalou off in favor of someone who might play a little defense and attack with Drogba/Elk/FloMal? That's what I'd do since adding Kalou to that mix makes them very top heavy in my opinion with no creative player to orchestrate.
    • Spurs: How will they align their attack to counter Chelsea's focus on Bale? Chelsea is going to say "We don't think Defoe/Modric/2nd Striker/Lennon can beat us" - will Spurs overload the right side? Will they get a bit scared and include two players in a holding role because of the (under-performing) big names in Chelsea's attack? If it were me, I'd give Bentley a chance - I think he creates more problems than Lennon and will force Chelsea to balance their defending approach.  It's too easy for ACole to keep Lennon pinned to the sideline by himself where Lennon isn't a reliable crosser of the ball.  Bentley offers better crossing as well as the ability to cut infield and become a creator.  
    So, with those random thoughts out of the way.  Here's what you need to know about the upcoming week in fantasy.

    Kolo Fit

    Manager Roberto Mancini on Carlos Tevez's long-term future at Man City - Manchester City FC
    Manager Mancini confirmed that centre-half Kolo Toure has shrugged off a calf worry: 'Kolo will be available for Saturday. We'll test him tomorrow but he trained today with the team without a problem.'
    So much for your big Lescott plans. But Richards is still a good bet to come in at right back, with Zabaleta moving to the left to cover for Kolarov's absence.

    Baggies duo doubtful for Villa clash

    Dangerous game, football

    Baggies duo doubtful for Villa clash - Yahoo! Eurosport

    Here we go again.

    West Brom's leading scorer Peter Odemwingie and key midfielder Chris Brunt are battling to be fit for Saturday's away derby clash with struggling Aston Villa...

    But the Nigeria international - on target six times this season - has been unable to train this week with a groin problem suffered during the game.

    Brunt, who has been the subject of speculation linking him with a move to Liverpool, has also had a groin injury in recent weeks and has also been unable to play a full part in training.

    Boss Roberto Di Matteo confirmed: "We have some problems. Odemwingie hasn't trained this week yet. He has got a groin problem. If he manages to train [on Friday], we have a chance. We have to wait and see how he is going to be.

    "Chris Brunt had to miss some training sessions so we just have to manage him and Peter and hope they will be available for Saturday."

    It seems like this is going to be the "news" every week for a while. Brunt has had the groin injury since the last international break but has been able to play in the matches. So I'm not worried about him. The Odemwingie injury seems new - as in recent, and different from his last knee injury - and will bear close scrutiny. Somen Tchoyi may be a good bet this weekend if Odemwingie can't make it. Tchoyi may be a good bet regardless, to be honest.

    Gerrard on course to face Fulham - not Newcastle

    Gerrard on course to face Fulham - Yahoo! Eurosport
    Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will not be fit to play in Saturday's match at Newcastle but is on course for a return the following weekend...

    "I don't know where the stories came from that Gerrard would be fit for Newcastle," said manager Roy Hodgson. "We have always been thinking he would be fit to face Fulham the following weekend, it would be much too early to consider him for Newcastle.
    Well now I feel like an idiot for selling Meireles after last weekend's games. But at least I'm used to that feeling this season.

    First Impressions and Second Thoughts - Week 15

    I have a new theory.  That theory is that there is only so much that can be going right in your life from a sports standpoint at any one time.  What do I mean? In most years, I have the following things going on in the fall/winter when it comes to the sports and teams I follow:
    • Arsenal
    • Philadelphia Eagles (gridiron football)
    • Philadelphia Flyers (hockey)
    • Philadelphia Phillies (baseball)
    • Philadelphia 76ers (pro basketball)
    • my fantasy premier league team 
    • upwards of 4 NFL fantasy teams
    • the blog
    As you might imagine, that's a lot to keep track of, give attention to, and hope goes well from both a skill and luck standpoint.  Inevitably, not everything can be going well at once.  In most seasons, this is how it tends to go:
    • Arsenal seem terribly flawed but are hanging around with Chelsea and ManYoo into the new year with little real hope that they can go the distance.
    • The Eagles are extremely similar to Arsenal really, always in the conversation but not QUITE strong enough to go all the way.
    • The Flyers have traditionally been a top 10 team in a 30 team league but rarely are they among the top couple teams.
    • The Phillies have been among the best three or four teams in the sport over the last 3 years with a championship to their credit two years ago. 
    • The 76ers have been rotten for the last 7 or 8 years with no end in sight. 
    • My fantasy premier league team (in the Yahoo game) has been one of the top two or three in our private group year in and year out and I've generally finished somewhere in the triple digits (100 to 999) in the overall standings. 
    • One or two of my fantasy NFL teams have been in strong contention for a championship
    • The blog has been ascending steadily with some years finding us holding steady (more traffic but no major leaps forward) and some finding us experiencing major milestones (being paid to write for the first time, being paid to write in print for the first time, syndicating our column with TheScore in Ireland, etc.) 
    THIS year has been a bit different.  The Eagles and Arsenal both seem like they have a better chance than usual at a title due in large part to the fact that the dominant teams that usually stand in their way seem more flawed than usual this season.  I don't think either team is really that much better than they have been in years past but this might be the year that's good enough. The Phillies are coming off of a deep run in the playoffs.  The Flyers were in the Stanley Cup Finals last season and have opened this season among the best teams in the league.  The 76ers continue to stink but that was pretty well expected.  The blog has continued to grow and progress and expand in scope (and thank you to everyone for your contributions in readership, "Likes," and sharing of articles, etc.). 

    Finally, and this is the major change, my NFL fantasy teams have been REALLY good (knocking furiously on wood).  Of the four leagues I'm in, I am far and away the best team in three of them and in the conversation for a championship in the other. Now, none of this guarantees me a win in any of those leagues because I still have to win playoffs but regardless of those outcomes, this is certainly my best fantasy NFL season ever by a wide margin. 

    So, unfortunately, something had to give and that something has been my Fantasy EPL team.  For about five weeks, it just hasn't been going well.  I've stuck with some players too long (Drogba, Malouda, Adam) and slept too long on others who were emerging (Brunt being the big one).  Finally, I've just been unlucky.  If you read The Week Ahead you'll know that I've at least been considering extremely solid contributors most weeks but sometimes you just don't pick the right ones.  For all of November and now into December I've been on a horrible streak of picking around the points.  Does my theory above hold any water? Probably not but I have to come up with some excuse for such a crappy month so that's what I'm going for.  I'm sure those of you inclined to comment will suggest some other reasons for my bad month.

    OK, enough of my moaning, here's the review of the weekend that was in the Premier League:

    Egypt Speaks, You Listen

    Plenty of good reaction to our post last week from (and with) Mohamed, the current overall #30 (up from 37 last week). So we've asked him for another round of player suggestions which you'll find below.

    Injuries and Suspensions (the BPL v. MAN is officiall CANCELLED edition)

    Premier League team news - ESPN Soccernet

    The News You Need To Know...

    ARS v. FUL - Cesc is out meaning Nasri (who is fit) will be even more central and that Wilshere and possibly Rosicky increase in value.  Squillaci is also back which provides another moderately priced defender as an option although Koscielny is a better bet.  For FUL, AJ is back while Salcido joins Dembele and Zamora as key missing men.  Looks like an ARS win, I'd guess 3-1.

    BRM v. TOT - Hleb is out (what a nothing acquisition he's been) and there's some question about which of Gardner or Bowyer will start.  For Spurs, Dawson returns to the squad and 'arry will presumably need as much as he can get from the defender as Kaboul, VDV, Jenas, King, Woody, O'Hara, etc. are all out.  If I had to guess, I'd say 1-1 draw with Foster saving the point for the Blues at home.

    BLA v. WOL - MGP is back and Mame Diouf is eligible again meaning that there are no real injuries that should impact fantasy choices.  I'd guess a hard-fought 2-1 win for Rovers.

    CHE v. EVE - I've seen/heard a lot of varying opinions on Zhirkov this week but SoccerNet at least says that he will miss out along with Alex and Lamps.  The good news for CHE is that JT and Essien are back.  For slumping EVE, Jags is a doubt, Hibbert is definitely out and the club switches suspended midfielders (Fellaini back and Arteta suspended).  Sounds like a 2-1 Chelsea win to me.

    MAC v. BOL - The only significant injury question for this match is Stuart Holden who seems more than 50% likely to be out for a second week.  As always, the big question is rotation at Citeh with the value of players like Silva, Balotelli, and JBoat hanging in the balance. I'm guessing 1-0 win for Citeh as Bolton hit a rough patch.

    WIG v. STO - Wigan's attack is a bit of a shambles with Yayga suspended, Moses is out, and Boselli and di Santo are in some question.  The only important question mark for Stoke is Pennant who faces the dreaded late fitness test. Hard to see where a Wigan goal would come from so I'm going with a 2-0 Stoke win in this one.

    BPL v. MAN - Rio Ferdinand has apparently tweeted that the match is definitely off.  I don't know if his Twitter account is gospel but that seems like a strong enough reason to stay away from this one. (hat tip FFScout again - he's good at the Twitter thing).

    WBA v. NUFC - Frustration for fantasy managers abounds as nearly all of WBA's worthwhile fantasy players - Brunt, Odem, Morrison, and Scharner will face late fitness tests (oh yeah, Shorey too but who really cares?).  For NUFC, Barton is back but Nolan is still out while Taylor and Sol continue on for the suspended duo of Coloccini & Williamson (worst personal injury law firm ever).  Your guess is as good as mine on the outcome of this one with so many key WBA players in question.  I'd say a 2-2 draw if everyone is healthy for WBA but who knows if that will be the case.

    SUN v. WHU - No new injuries means that the only injury factor here is really Sunderland's missing CB pairing of Bramble and Turner.  Feels like a high-scoring match to me with one team or the other winning 3-2 and I'd guess Sunderland if forced to make a choice (I'm a sucker for the home team).

    LIV v. AST - This will be an interesting one with Gerrard and Carra out for Liverpool and AY (suspended for accumulation) out and Bannan a doubt after a mid-week Carling Cup injury.  I'll guess a 2-1 win for the home side against a depleted Villa squad.

    Good luck with your final picks and hopefully we'll see you for the Live Chat tomorrow.

    Holden worry for Bolton

    Sky Sports | Football | Premier League | News | Holden worry for Bolton

    Bolton Wanderers could again be without midfielder Stuart Holden for Saturday's Premier League game at Manchester City.

    Holden missed last week's 2-2 draw with Blackpool due to a thigh strain and has yet to fully recover from the problem.

    He is still to return to training and Trotters boss Owen Coyle admits the USA international is a major concern for Saturday's trip to the City of Manchester Stadium.

    This could be good news for those of you who grabbed Mark Davies at 2-and-change. I think you can spend your current 7-something better elsewhere this week. But if you want to bet on Bolton at Manchester City - and we never suggest you bet on Bolton, unless we do - go right ahead.

    VDV Injury Report: Might Only Miss 1-2 Premier League Matches!

    Tottenham Hotspur could be without Rafael van der Vaart and Younes Kaboul for their next three matches - Telegraph

    Important info for fantasy managers trying to decide what to do with the crocked van der Vaart (hat tip @FFLScout on Twitter).

    Assuming that diagnosis holds through the team reports on Friday, my inclination is to keep him at 6.  If you have him closer to market value, you may be thinking differently.

    Blackpool vs. ManYoo in Question

    Football365 | All The News | Football News | HOLLOWAY HOPEFUL OVER UNITED CLASH

    Click on the link for the full story but the quick summary is that there is some chance that ManYoo's match with Blackpool will have to be postponed this Sunday.  Talk about a potential fantasy mess.  With lots of people having Berbs at a discount, Nani at a fairly high price, and potentially counting on expensive acquisitions like EvdS, Rafael, or Rooney as well we all have to decide how much of our respective budgets we want to risk on a match that may or may not happen.  Hopefully, there will be news well in advance of the deadline but I wouldn't count on it as I'm sure they'll continue to try to make the field playable until the very last minute that they can. 

    The Week Ahead

    So, I'm going to keep writing about this until it is picked up as a major story.  I've mentioned it a few times already in First Impressions but has anyone noticed the job that Sir Alex is doing at ManYoo this season? Seriously.  Just incredible.  And, yes, I still consider it to be incredible despite the @sskicking that they got from West Ham in the Carling Cup in mid-week.  Why is it incredible?

    ManYoo is at the top of the table after 15 matches despite:
    • Having started the really pretty poor Jonny Evans at center back in 6 of those 15 matches;
    • Having a way sub-par Patrice Evra for nearly all of those matches;
    • Having Valencia for only two matches;
    • Having exactly 1 league goal from Rooney all season (and that was a PK vs. WHU);
    • Having goals in only 5 of the 15 matches from his other big name striker (Berbs);
    • Having two of your best three remaining midfielders about ready to enter retirement homes and generally unable to start on a regular basis (Scholes has started 9 of 15 and Giggs 5, two of which he left before the 60th minute);
    • Having no idea who his starting right back is or should be;
    • Having modestly talented central midfielders in Park, Fletcher, Carrick, and Anderson.
    Somehow, this ragtag bunch of underachievers, kids, solid-but-not-spectacular players, aging/injured stars, Nani, and Vidic hadn't lost a match in any competition until the mid-week match against West Ham where they trotted out a group that was clearly second choice even by the standards of the list above and in most years would look third choice at ManYoo or any of the other top clubs.

    Contrast this with what's going on at Chelsea.  Yes, they're only two points behind ManYoo in the standings but they're there based on the strength of the points accumulated when they were at full health.  Since they were hit by injuries and suspensions to players as critical as those lost by ManYoo, Chelsea have crumbled to the point where they have clearly lost all of the intimidation factor they built up early in the season with their crushing victories and run of not giving up any goals at home. 

    Now, I'd imagine that if asked before November what the average fan thought of Anceloti as a manager they would have looked at his record at Milan and Chelsea thus far and said, pretty darn good manager.  The results speak for themselves - lots of titles.  So if we assume that ol' Carlo hasn't forgotten how to manage in the last month, then we have to assume that even a really good manager at a very well-to-do club is prone to a bad month when hit with injuries and suspensions.  Taking that thought forward, it is all the more impressive that after FOUR months of injuries, suspensions, poor play, and lack of funds to buy replacements for Scholes, Giggs, GNev, and Rio that SAF HADN'T LOST A GAME.  Just amazing.  And this from an Arsenal supporter.  I never have been nor will I ever be a SAF apologist but all credit where it is due - in the hands of even a better-than-average manager this would be a mid-table team after 15 matches.

    OK, enough gushing over Sir Alex and the job he's doing at ManYoo, on to the week ahead.