Match Day Open Thread

Sorry about the lack of a Live Chat today but I missed out on the fact that there was no early match today.  We're in Tampa with my wife's sister and brother-in-law and it is a perfect beach day (sunny and 80 degrees F without a cloud in the sky) so the Live Chat for the afternoon matches isn't going to happen.

My line-up is Gomes, Verm, Bale, Hutton, BFDB, Modric, Arteta, AJ, FloMal, Drogs, and Bendtner

Heading into next week, I'm looking at Arsenal (home to Wolves and I'll be at the match live), Fulham (home to Wigan and I'll be at the match live), Rovers (at Pompey), Stoke (home to Hull), and Everton (home to WHU).  Lots of options on the BD to consider. 

I hope everyone has a great weekend.

Cheers - Neal

Blooper Reel

Divot or no divot, James is a step slow - retreating actually - in coming out for this ball.

Injuries and Suspensions

Just a flesh wound.

Premier League team news - Barclays Premier League - ESPN Soccernet

The team news is still coming in but there's still plenty to report...

There are suggestions that Silvestre will partner Sol Campbell for Arsenal which - if you ask me - diminishes the value of the entire Arsenal back line including Almunia.  I'd feel much better with Song/Campbell with Denilson or Diaby holding than I would with Silvestre's corpse combining with Campbell's ghost with Song in front of them.  On the plus side, Arsenal should have Bendtner available to start which is a great sign for the attack.

Across North London, the team report indicates that Pav may only be ready for the bench - not sure what they're basing that on since he seemed quite effective in his mid-week test.  If you're worried that he won't start because a) he's a risk to be re-injured or b) because Spurs are playing Pompey and should be able to beat them with any line-up they throw out there then you'd probably be better off with Bentley/Eidur or Bentley/Crouch than with spending a ton of money on Pav.  Not sure what I'm going to do on this topic yet.  Probably will make a change late in the day that I'll regret when the matches start.

Oh yeah, SeaBass is also a question mark and Corluka appears to be out.  Not sure there's much to be made of the central defender pool but Kyle Walker might be a great and inexpensive play at right back for the low-low price of 5.93. 

In ManYoo news, looks like the Rooney injury scare was just a media creation than a real risk this week (at least according to SAF's most recent statement).  Looks like Rooney should start and keep ManYoo pushing toward another title. (and no, I'm not trying to jinx them in any way with that statement, really, I'm not).

Dunne...Milner...Heskey...Gabby...all in doubt for villa as they travel to Chelsea.  There was some healthy debate on the Live Chat last weekend over the depth of Villa's squad and whether they had added enough to make a realistic push for 4th.  I'm sorry I don't remember who was taking the optimistic view for Villa but seeing this list I have to re-iterate the point that I (and many others) have been making for the last few years...Villa are too thin at key positions and tend to wear down during the home stretch.  The above injuries - if they cause absences or mediocre play from the above gentlemen - mean that Villa have no spine to their team as their best central defender, best (and only) attacking midfielder, and two of their three best strikers would all be out or functioning well below their potential.  And who exactly are the alternatives? Cuellar moving infield with one of Villa's fullbacks (Beye or Luke Young) deputizing works well but there is N...O...T...H...I...N...G... behind Milner/Heskey/Gabby if they were to be out.  I don't want you to get the idea I'm hating on Villa, I actually like them and hope they do well but I'm trying to be realistic about their squad.  When you compare the reserve options at Villa with those at Spurs/Everton/Citeh - their main competition for the 4th spot and Europa Cup places - then Villa comes up wanting.  Same can be said of Liverpool - the depth just isn't there and there is too much dependence on a few key, very skilled players.

At Hull, Stephen Hunt and Andy Dawson are doubts while Jozy Altidore should be back from injury.

My read on Zamora is that he should be healthy after having severe cramps in mid-week.  Really? Cramps? Couldn't Fulham/Hodgson have come up with some better excuse for him coming out of the match that would have preserved Bobby's manhood a bit?

THo will have a late fitness test for the match against Wolves - a major concern for those of you who have him at a huge discount and want to keep him.  I'd guess he'll make it but at least something to think about.

At Chelsea, Carvalho is added to Ivanovic, ACole, and Bos to give the training room a fantastic starting defence.  Looks like JT, Alex, Yuri, and Paulo will be the starting quartet (Villa fans can ponder that for a minute when they want to discuss squad depth). 

Finally, Citeh who face an N'Zobgia-less Wigan but will have their own concerns over Ireland (a doubt but not ruled out entirely ruining both his own and SWP's value).  K2 is back from suspension so they do have that going for them, which is nice (I guess).

Good luck.  I'm on the road and hope to have a Live Chat going tomorrow but am not sure how late we'll get to go.  Will definitely be there for the early match but am uncertain after that as the in-laws will have their say in the planning process.

Cheers - Neal

The Week Ahead

Carew made fantasy managers so happy last week that they could just... oh, you get the idea.

It isn't too often that you put up something in the neighborhood of 150 points in a week and still consider that week to be a disaster but that's what I'm coming off of. It really came down to two decisions - Friedel over Howard and MGP over Carew.  That's a difference of about 60 points right there.  And that's the worst part about writing this's right there in black and white on last week's TWA.  I knew those guys were both excellent picks, you guys all know that I knew that they were excellent picks, and when it came time to choose my eleven - they didn't make it.  Finally, I had to suffer through the Live Chat where everyone else had done a better job with my advice (and their own insight) than I did with it.  Would I trade that occasional downer for not doing the blog and sucking in anonymity when I have bad weeks? Of course not but it is definitely a downside.

A few other random notes before we get to the meat of the feature here:
  • Well done to Major League Soccer and its Players Union for averting a strike - now about the fact that there isn't a decent MLS Fantasy game to be had - what the hell is up with that?  At the very least, MLS needs to take the "Fantasy" link off their web site;
  • I was very happy to hear that Ful/Wig (which had been schedule for this coming Friday) has been moved to a week from Sunday.  Not so much for the fantasy implications as for the fact that I have tickets for the match and was worried that they'd reschedule for after my trip to London ended (as an FYI, I'll also be at Arsenal/Wolves on Saturday and Palace/PNE on Monday) - if you're going to be at any of them, drop me a note on Facebook and I'll be happy to meet up;
  • Another MLS-related note (I'm sure most of you don't really care but it's my column...) - tonight marks the debut of the Philadelphia Union in MLS.  As I have noted many times in the blog, I grew up in Philadelphia and while I haven't lived there full time in 22 years continue to support my old home teams in every sport where they have a team (Baseball, American Football, Basketball, Hockey, etc).  In the absence of a Philly soccer team, I have been a supporter of DC United in MLS since the inception of the team and league 15 years ago (I have lived in DC for most of my adult life).  Now that there's a team in Philly (whose stadium is mere minutes from my parents' house) who will no doubt attempt to market themselves as a major rival to DC United - I have no idea how my passions will evolve.  Do I stick with DC? Do I adopt Philly? Can I in good conscience support both? Who do I root for when they play each other?  The funny thing is, I'm not sure I can make the decision intellectually.  I think I'm going to have to watch and see how I react to the new team.  The first test will be on Saturday, April 10th when the Union host DC United for their first home match ever.  I'll be there but the question is - who will I find myself supporting?
OK, I'm sure you've all had your fill of MLS.  Back to the Prem and The Week Ahead...

Bendtner Doubt for Birmingham

Other absentees against Birmingham will be Thomas Vermaelen through suspension, and possibly Nicklas Bendtner, who went off injured against West Ham.

Wenger admits that the Dane is not yet back in training, but hopes to have him back in time for the weekend.

He said: "He should be OK. He is not back in training yet because he has an ankle problem, but he will have a late test tomorrow morning and should be available.

"I have not picked the team yet, but I expect him to be available.

I'm not likely to sell him at 5 and change. But something to think about for anyone with him closer to or at current value.

UPDATE:  All that goes double for Drogba.

LATER UPDATE:  All that also goes double for Rooney.  Though of the three, he seems the most likely to miss out this week.  So maybe it goes for half.

Cech return boosts Chelsea

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech is fit to return for Wednesday's Premier League game at bottom club Portsmouth but defender Branislav Ivanovic will be sidelined for a month.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti also said Ashley Cole was back in light training after breaking his left ankle at Everton at the start of February and he expected the England defender to return to the first team before the end of the season...

Third-choice keeper Ross Turnbull, who has played the last three games, will drop to the bench against Portsmouth. Ancelotti also said he expected second-choice Henrique Hilario to be fit again for Saturday's home game against Aston Villa.

Two from Turnbull is still three more than -1 from Friedel (for half the price), but at least with Friedel I get another bite of the cherry. And that's what you pay for with two gamers... hope.

Zola Looks To Carlton Cole And Scott Parker

I just can't help thinking of this:
Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station!
When reading this:
West Ham United manager Gianfranco Zola has called upon his star names Carlton Cole and Scott Parker to help his relegation threatened side to safety when they take on Wolverhampton Wanderers at Upton Park on Tuesday night.

Both English players were left out of West Ham's 2-0 loss to Arsenal at the weekend due to reported fitness reasons, and Zola will be left hoping for a reverse in fortunes for the pair.

"Cole has not been training much recently," Zola said, according to the Guardian.

"We had a game on Saturday and now another one on Tuesday so I couldn't think of playing him 90 minutes and 90 minutes.
It's silly, and probably a bit petty. I knew in picking CCole that the meat of the week was today's game at home to Wolves and that the Arsenal match was gravy. Still, I'm horribly bitter than he didn't start at the weekend and that he lost a point having hit the post with a shot. But today is another chance to set things right.

And yes, I know how it works out in the end for the Empire.

Ivanovic out for a month

Now they're both injured.
Chelsea's miserable week has taken another turn for the worse with Branislav Ivanovic ruled out for a month, leaving them without both first-choice right backs.

After crashing out of the Champions League and drawing with Blackburn, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti could have done without another headache — but Ivanovic has torn a knee ligament. Jose Bosingwa is already out for the season with an injured knee.

Left back Ashley Cole is also sidelined until May after fracturing his left ankle.

A scan yesterday confirmed the Serbia international has torn a medial collateral ligament. After playing in 24 of Chelsea’s 30 league games this season, he will now miss the key clashes against Manchester United and Tottenham, as well as the FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa on April 10.

Yuri Zhirkov replaced Ivanovic at Blackburn on Sunday and Paulo Ferreira could also fill in on the right.
Looking for a Vermaelen replacement?

Zhirkov (listed as a middie) 4.68
Ferreira 6.59

Oh, and as for Le'Scott, he's having a scan this week and will yet again miss playing against Everton.  As Church Lady might say, "How convenient!"

Big Guns

Alternate title, "In Praise of Well Chosen One-Gamers".  From the BBC's live commentary:
Liverpool goal: Old Trafford is stunned into silence as Liverpool take the lead through a Fernando Torres header. Steven Gerrard plays in Dirk Kuyt down the right and the Dutch international delivers a teasing cross that a completely unmarked Torres heads home.
Manchester United goal: Wayne Rooney equalises, tucking home the rebound after Pepe Reina makes a brilliant save to parry the spot kick. Rooney is a touch fortunate that the rebound falls so invitingly to him. The penalty is awarded after Javier Mascherano brings down Antonio Valencia. Mascherano is fortunate to stay on the pitch, yet it looks as though the foul started outside the box and thus should have been a free-kick.
I know the "point per unit spent" rule and I think it has value in setting up your team week to week.  But sometimes you have to pay for quality.

The Barn Door Live - March 20

Friedel, Verm, Bale, Hutton, Arteta, Milner, AJ, Malouda, MGP, Drogs, Bendtner

Barn Door Watch:
Fulham and Wigan DO NOTE have two matches despite what Yahoo has on the schedule.  Fulham's Europa Cup match vs. Wolfsburg has been scheduled for Thursday the 1st so the match with Wigan will not happen on the 2nd. 

Injuries and Suspensions

One of these men will not be starting for Chelsea in goal.

Premier League team news - Barclays Premier League - ESPN Soccernet

The big news sure to throw your squad selection for a loop is the news that Cech AND Hilario(us) have returned to training and are "in contention" to replace Turnbull.  For me, this makes Friedel and Howard the clear choices in net this weekend with the trio of Chelsea stoppers virtually worthless to fantasy managers due to their collective uncertainty.

No other news of note from the Chelsea camp.

What a useless update from Villa Park where it says - MON will "check on the fitness of...Gabby Agbonlahor" - no indication if Gabby is probably, doubtful or anything in-between.  My intuition is to stay away from him due to this uncertainty and focus on Friedel, Downing, Milner, and Carew among the Villa players.

He wasn't really on my radar but the information on Stephen Hunt "may be available" is in the same "useless" category as Gabby. 

Defoe is out for Spurs with a hamstring injury along with King, Jenas, Lennon, and Bentley (plus Woody who has been out forever).  Don't know if this means we'll see RPav and Crouch together or if Spurs will load up on midfielders with one or the other of the big strikers playing in a lone role.

Kenwyne Jones is our third "who the hell knows if he'll play or not based on the team news" entry.  This means that both he and Benjani (his likely replacement) are virtually useless.  Certainly seems unlikely that Benjani will play two so even if you're betting strongly that Kenwyne will miss out tomorrow, there are probably better options.

One of last weekend's heroes (N'Zogbia) is doubtful so probably best to dump him despite the home match with Burnley and the great performance from last weekend.

Cesc is back for Arsenal.  If  I were Wenger, I'd use him only as a late substitute if necessary but Wenger seems to be more willing to risk his best player than I would be so I'm guessing he'll start.  Probably too expensive given only one match and the proliferation of worthwhile 2-match players that you'll want in.  Gallas is still out so Sol Campbell will continue as a pretty decent fantasy bet.

Giggs is back for ManYoo and Vidic should be on red card alert given the opposition but otherwise pretty quiet at ManYoo - Liverpool are likewise pretty static in terms of injuries with Aquilani the only real question mark.

Garrido will likely replace Wayne Bridge for Citeh...K2 is still suspended and MPet is hurt.  Otherwise, expect the normal tinkering from Mancini and the resulting pulling out of your own hair...

Good luck and I'll see you tomorrow for a Live Chat (really, I promise) during the early game for sure and then as far into the afternoon matches as I can go.

Cheers - Neal

Fulham and Liverpool Advance to Quarters

As Neal talks about knock-out tournaments Stateside, we have to offer our congratulations to Fulham and Liverpool for advancing to the Europa League Quarter finals. In particular, Fulham's overturning a 1-3 deficit by beating Juventus 4-1 today at the Cottage is a great achievement.

And what a goal-scoring return for Clint Dempsey! 

The Twitterverse is, um... atwitter!

Clint Just scored an ill goal! who saw that? lol love it

What a goal from clint!! Can't believe fulham have battled back here.. great finish from fellow TEXAN!! yeehawww

The Week Ahead - March Madness Edition

It used to be that the Men's NCAA College Basketball Tournament here in the US was my favorite sporting event of the year.  And for so many reasons...imagine all the drama of the FA Cup packed into 3 consecutive weekends in March.  Throw in the fact that the weather here on the East Coast of the US is generally getting nice just about now and you have a great excuse to take some time off of work and watch basketball and perhaps enjoy a few adult beverages on an outdoor patio.  Well, as it turns out, life changes and despite the fact that today is a beautiful day outside and is also the first day of the tournament known here as "March Madness" I'll be in the office all day.  Life is all about choices for me these days and the fact that I spend what some would consider a pretty crazy amount of time on the Premier League means that something has to give from late August through early May and one of those things has been the amount of time I have for college basketball.

Before we get to the player ratings, I do have a few rants from last weekend...
  • How did Wilshere only get 1.5 points as an attacking midfielder playing 90 minutes when his team scored 4 goals (OK, 3 goals since one was an OG)?
  • At the same time, how does Adam Johnson come in for 20 minutes when Citeh were C...R...A...P... for nearly all of the first 70 minutes of the match and manage to put up 12 points (admittedly, his goal was sweet)?
  • How does N'Zogbia get 17 points against Bolton when his team is losing 4-0?
  • How big a disaster was the Gabby Agbonlahor pick? I was thinking briefly about RPav but just couldn't justify taking one game from him vs. what I thought was going to be two from Gabby...oops;
One final note before we get to the player recommendations for this week.  To everyone who checked in hoping for a Live Chat during the Arsenal match (as advertised) last weekend, I'm sorry I wasn't able to get back to the computer in time.  As has been noted here previously, my wife and I are in the process of building a house and from time-to-time we have weekend commitments where we have to go choose stuff like flooring or cabinets or paint colors.  We intentionally scheduled our meetings early last weekend because the early matches on TV weren't very interesting but despite that, we couldn't get home in time for the Arsenal match.  Chalk it up to yet another downside of doing this as a second job as opposed to as my primary job (if anyone wants to change this by paying us a living wage to do this, we'd both jump at the opportunity but until then, there will be the inevitable situations where life intervenes).  Hopefully, we have most of these things behind us now so there should be time for Live Chats again going forward.

Card Confusion

Red suits him, doesn't it?
The Ivory Coast striker’s four-match ban for ranting at Ovrebo as Chelsea crashed out in the semi-finals to Barcelona 12 months ago also carried a two-match suspended penalty, which could be triggered by Uefa after his sending-off for violent conduct. A straight red card in the Champions League carries an automatic two-game suspension so Drogba could begin next season’s competition with a four-match ban, just as he did during this campaign.
Alternate title, "Card Cheat Reggae". And yes, I've been listening to a lot of The Clash recently.

But to clear up any confusion, Drogba's red card in the Champions League has NO BEARING on the Premier League. He will be available to play @Blackburn and then Portsmouth. So keep him if you have him, at whatever price  If you don't have him... well Chelsea have some good enablers - Belletti 1.65; Mikel 3.71; Zhirkov 4.71; and most tempting Turbull at 5.98 - if you're trying to scrounge around for the 26.11 Drogba will cost you this week.

Robinson sidelined for a month

Blackburn Rovers have confirmed that goalkeeper Paul Robinson has been sidelined for a month.

Robinson limped out of Blackburn's weekend defeat to Tottenham and there were initial fears he would be out for six weeks.

The club have now confirmed that Robinson has torn a calf muscle and will be sidelined for four weeks.
Hard to imagine a Rovers keeper being cheaper than PRobbo, our enabler with upside. But Jason Brown is 4.02 and has matches against Chelsea and at Birmingham this week. The way he let Pavlyuchenko's shot go under him may give you pause, but along with Villa and Portsmouth, Rovers are the only two-gamers with both matches at home this week.

Benjani will step in for injured Jones

UPDATENever mind.
Kenwyne Jones will be able to play a part in Sunderland's Barclays Premier League run-in after being spared a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Manager Steve Bruce feared being without Jones for a month after the striker limped off at half-time during Sunday's 1-1 draw with Manchester City, but Bruce was handed a major boost when scans revealed no lasting damage and Jones could even retain his place in the squad for Birmingham's visit to the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Bruce told the club's official website: "Kenwyne's had a scan and, thankfully, the damage isn't as bad as we first feared. It's too early to say whether he will make Saturday's game, but we will keep an eye on him, give him all the treatment we can and keep our fingers crossed."
Kenwyne Jones could be sidelined for at least a month and miss half a dozen games after limping off at half-time yesterday with a muscle strain.

But manager Steve Bruce will resist any temptation to recall Martyn Waghorn from his loan spell at Leicester City and will instead hand Benjani his opportunity to shine alongside top scorer Darren Bent.
Benjani at 5.76 could be a nice option for Sunderland's upcoming 2-game week at home to Birmingham and at Aston Villa. He's even cheaper than Frazier Campbell (5.96) who will likely play wide right, if he continues to start.

In praise of well-chosen one-gamers

Fernando Torres

Wayne Rooney

Didier Drogba

Making a mockery of our insistence on having 2-gamers in our fantasy football teams.

Live Chat for Hull vs. Arsenal

Unfortunately, I am not available for either of the earlier two match slots but fear not, for those of you who are planning to watch the Arsenal match, I'll be back to comment on that match, recap Barn Door options from earlier in the day, and answering your questions.

In the meantime, here is my line-up and some early thoughts on the Barn Door for next week:

Line-up: BBBF, Verm, Bale, Hutton, Milner, Nasri, Wilshere, Arteta, Drogba, Gabby, Bendtner

BD Notes: West Ham, Wolves, Chelsea, Rovers, Pompey, and Brum have two matches each - Chelsea are particularly interesting with Rovers and Pompey the opposition albeit both on the road.  Probably worth keeping a close eye on Turnbull and Ferriera as inexpensive alternatives for getting in on that action. Among the one-gamers Arsenal host WHU and Villa host Wolves are the most attractive.

More later on the chat!

Cheers - Neal

A Theory Tested (well, if the MLS actually decides to play its season)

Collins John signs with Chicago Fire - Soccer -

So, for some time, Jeremy and I have had a running list of players who have had modest success in the Prem but not been able to really break through as first team regulars that we think would be great players in Major League Soccer here in the States.  We're of the opinion that MLS should be focused more on younger players who have some upside but may never be superstars rather than the fading stars losing their powers (like Becks or Henry or Raul or any of the others frequently linked to an MLS pre-retirement tour). 

One of the first guys on our list when we created it a number of years ago was Collins John.  He showed flashes of talent at Fulham when he was there but he couldn't sustain it and was destined to be a reserve at best if he tried to stick around the Prem.  Others who have made it into this conversation are Alidiere, Jeffers, Laurent Robert (who did eventually make it to decidedly mixed reviews but he was too old at that point to really qualify for this category), Marcus Bent, Ebanks-Blake, James McFadden, and the like.  I guess you should think about this list about the same way you think about the "wow, this guy isn't Prem quality but he'd be awesome at Celtic/Rangers list" but with taking into consideration that there is less money to spend.

Anyway, the reason I'm telling you this is that we get to test our intuition by finding out what one of our original nominees for this designation does now that he's done the right thing and come to MLS (again, assuming they have a season and all).

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog...

Cheers - Neal

Injuries and Suspensions

Premier League team news - Barclays Premier League - ESPN Soccernet

The big news is that it would take a "miracle" for Cesc to play for Arsenal at the weekend.  For all those who have him at a discount and were hoping to keep him through Arsenal's run of pretty easy matches, you're now at a crossroads.  The next match is just as attractive (home to WHU) with away to Birmingham a tougher match to follow that.  I'm inclined to drop him and suck it up and pay more if he is ready for WHU next week.  Too many points available via Gabby or someone like that to keep Cesc for the savings of a little budget.

Elsewhere for Arsenal, Sicky faces a fitness test and even if he passes I'm guessing he'll be on the bench and Sagna is also a doubt meaning Eboue will get the start at right back.  Campbell looks like he will make it back making him a more attractive option at the back for the Gunners based on his price.  Song is still suspended which makes it likely that Denilson, Nasri, and Diaby will play off of each other in the center of midfield with Denilson likely playing the deepest role but also getting a lot of the kicks.

At Spurs, the midfield continues to be a M*A*S*H unit with THud, Jenas, Lennon, and Bentley all missing.  This likely means that Bale will continue in midfield with Kranjcar and Modric the other attacking components.

For Rovers, DDunn is back and would be worth a look if he weren't so expensive (11.36) and on the road against a better team.

At Everton, Osman, Cahill, and Saha are all likely out which would be great for fantasy managers if Everton players weren't so expensive after last weekend's drubbing of Hull.

Nothing much of note from two-gamers Wigan or their first opponent Bolton on the injury/suspension front.  Ditto Burnley and Wolves with the minor exception of Fletcher likely coming back from his injury.

At Chelsea, Hilario is out (fill in your own joke about him being out even when he's technically present in net here) meaning that Ross Turnbull will get the call against the Hammers - certainly an interesting option if you want to roll the dice.  I'm a little wary after the Hilario debacle last weekend and I have the money for BBBF but if you don't and you can't stand the idea of Jensen and betting on Burnley then Turnbull might be your guy.

Also at Chelsea, with much of the defence injured, Ferreira is an inexpensive way to buy in if you think CHE will get a clean sheet against the Hammers. 

Looks like Villa will be essentially at full strength to start their two-match week.  Gabby should be back from his virus.

USMNT fans will be happy to hear that Dempsey is likely to get a start for Fulham against ManYoo as he recovers from his injury.  Otherwise not much of note in that tie other than Scholes likely dropping to the bench for Carrick.

Finally, Yousi Benayoun faces the dreaded "late fitness test" - probably wasn't on your radar for this weekend but this should seal your lack of interest...

The Live Chat schedule for tomorrow is that I will not be available until the Hull/Arsenal match.  I will be online then to get the live chat started.  See you then!

Cheers - Neal

The Week Ahead

I know I'm running terribly late with this post but the last two days (and really the last two months) have been a bit of a whirlwind of activity in my little corner of the world.  Since no one has seen fit to pay us enough to make this our day job, we occasionally have to bow to the pressures of schedule conflicts.

Speaking of schedule conflicts (in the media biz, we call that a segue way kids) we continue to suffer as fantasy managers for the oddities created by UEFA's desire to reduce the number of knockout stage matches on the same day, the subsequent changes to the FA Cup schedule, leading to a marked lack of "normal" weekends in the Prem where all 20 teams play.  We've seen a consistent run of match weeks like this one where most teams play once and a few play two to make up for cup cancellations.  However, before we get to the scheduling ups and downs and their impact on your line-up for this week, a few words on Landon Donovan, Everton, and the status of MLS labor negotiations...
  • As I was watching Everton's match this past week, I was struck by the fact that they're REALLY deep now that they're healthy - does ManYoo have a single midfielder that would break into the Arteta, Donovan, Osman, Rodwell, Pienaar, Gosling, Cahill, and (eventually) Fellaini group? Nani on a good day (but they're few and far between)...Valencia is maybe at par with the EVE wide players but certainly not clearly better...Giggs was certainly better than them all on his day but at his age he'd be a sub at Everton.  The defence - even minus Lescott - is now deep with Rodwell, Yobo, Heitinga, Hibbert, and Senderos all quality squad players behind the first team.  The striking depth is a little weak but with so many attacking midfielders, there really isn't much of a need for cover beyond Saha and Yakubu.
  • Donovan specifically has been excellent - he isn't a star and he isn't the cause of Everton's drive up the table (he's helped but a lot of players have returned to health) but he's a great piece to the ensemble cast that Everton have assembled, his teammates and the supporters seem to have taken to him, and while his presence for the rest of this season is probably irrelevant to the outcome of the Toffee's season - he'd be a great boost to a Champions League chase if they could land him for all of next season.
  • Finally, for those Toffee supporters in the audience - here's an update on MLS labor negotiations which, if they lead to a player strike, could lead to Lando sticking around at Everton.  Certainly doesn't look good for the new season to start as scheduled.
OK, back to the discussion of schedule and players.

O'Neill fearful of virus

... and no, he's not talking about Nigel Reo-Coker.
MARTIN O’Neill fears a virus could be spreading through his Villa camp ahead of this weekend’s trip to Stoke.

Striker Gabby Agbonlahor was laid low with the bug for last Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final thriller at Reading and a member of O’Neill’s backroom staff has since been taken ill.

Now, as Villa prepare to recommence their push for a place in the Premier League’s top four at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, the Villa boss is keeping his fingers cross that the illness doesn’t claim further victims. “One of our physiotherapists, Stuart Walker, has gone down with something similar (to Agbonlahor) so I’m hoping this won’t be spreading around the team for the weekend,” revealed O’Neill. “But we’ll see how it goes...

“Gabby missed training earlier this week and I’m hoping it’s one of those 48 to 72-hour viruses or something like that.”

Nasri Goal against Porto

This one's for Neal.

Toot toot!

Like a broken clock, even your intrepid bloggers are right once in a while.
How many times does it happen that clubs face each other in consecutive Cup and League matches? Mark my words, Pompey will win this weekend, but Birmingham will beat them in the League come Tuesday. Their respective priorities are SO different right now.

Blog Roundtable

In which we discuss Fabregas, Aston Villa and their upcoming double match week, and look at keeper choices for the remainder of the season.

Late Fitness Cesc

On the one hand...

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas says he wanted to play through the pain barrier against Porto, but took the advice of doctors in a bid to return to action at the weekend...

Scans have revealed that there is no major damage and there is a chance Fabregas could make his comeback against Hull this weekend.
On the other...
Arsenal are facing up to a month without William Gallas after the defender aggravated his calf injury.

What was just a few days ago considered to be a minor issue has turned in a major setback - and one which leaves Arsene Wenger with a major selection complication as he reshapes the centre of his defence.

Although Sol Campbell has been passed fit for tonight's meeting with Porto, he has so far proved unable to play more than one game a week since resigning with the Gunners in January and Wenger has admitted he may have to rotate the former England defender with Mikael Silvestre on a match-by-match basis...

As well as confirming that Cesc Fabregas would be unable to play against Porto and is unlikely to return for Saturday's trip to Hull, Wenger also acknowledged that Andrei Arshavin was not yet fit enough to play ninety minutes after his recent hamstring injury.
Of course the last time he returned from this hamstring injury he came off the bench to score two against Aston Villa. And speaking of Villa and twos. they travel to Stoke and Wigan this week. Perhaps Cesc to Milner or Young is the play here.

Early Late Fitness Test

Wenger accepts the loss of Arsenal's talisman - who has an outside chance of returning for the trip to Hull on Saturday - is a big blow. However, the Gunners boss insists his side have the quality to nevertheless secure their place in the quarter-finals by overturning a 2-1 deficit from the first leg.

"Cesc has a hamstring problem and we could not even take a gamble with him," said Wenger. "I was hoping he would recover after the Burnley game because we were cautious with him. We don't know how long he will be out. He is having a scan and we are convinced it will only be a small time, and he has a small chance of getting back for next weekend against Hull, but to play him again (Tuesday) would mean significant damage."

No Live Chat Today - Open Thread Here

With no early Premier League match (which I could have Live Chatted for) and life to attend to at the same time as the mid-day matches, there won't be a Live Chat today.  I invite you to participate via the comments thread if you're so inclined.

My team is as follows: THo, Verm, Bale, Fox, Hutton, Cesc, Gerrard, Arteta, Maxi, Drogs, and Bendtner

Looking ahead to next weekend, Villa have two matches (as do Wigan) and Arsenal (@Hull), Spurs (vs. Rovers), and Liverpool (vs. Pompey) have favorable one-game match-ups.  I'll be watching them most closely for the BD.

Cheers - Neal

Injuries and Suspensions

Premier League and FA Cup team news - Barclays Premier League - ESPN Soccernet

So, here's the latest rundown that might have an impact on your team for this weekend and beyond...

Arsenal are a bit of a disaster at the back with Song suspended and Gallas and Campbell hurt.  This reduces the value of Almunia pretty significantly - I still think they'll beat Burnley handily but they may do so 5-2 vs. 3-0 or 4-0.  The news is better up top with Diaby, Arshavin, and Denilson all back - my guess is that the impact will mostly be on Walcott and Nasri with Bendtner continuing to start.  The question you have to ask yourself is whether it is worth it to take a risk on someone like Silvestre who may deputize for Gallas/Campbell.  He's not terribly expensive but I don't have a hard time envisioning him getting a card and NOT getting any clean sheet points.

The interesting note for Burnley is the return of Graham Alexander who isn't insanely priced and famously takes PKs to the tune of 5 goals thus far this season.  At 8.20, that wouldn't be bad business.

Not much insight from Bolton on which of their midfielders (MTay, Weiss, Wilshere, etc) might get most of the minutes across their two matches.  If I had to guess, I'd say that Wilshere is the best bet for big minutes but I'm certainly not saying that with any confidence.

ManYoo's match-up with Wolves is interesting with Rio and Nani back from injury and suspension respectively while Giggs and Owen are out and Rooney is listed as "doubtful" with a knee injury.  Unless you're positive Rooney is going to start then I'd go with Torres or Gerrard for the money as that is too much money to have sitting on the bench if there is actually a real worry that he won't play.  Wolves would be a reasonable spot to rest him (although I wonder if the League will fine ManYoo for fielding a diminished line-up if that's the case).  If Rooney is out, Berbs value increases dramatically as he will theoretically be the focal point of an attack that should have plenty of chances.

Cahill is listed as "being in contention" for Everton but he hasn't trained yet so I'm guessing that he'll be a substitute if he plays at all.  Saha is ruled out which presumably means that the Yak will get a start at striker.  Otherwise, the big questions are which midfielders (I'm including Donovan in this group) between Donovan, Pienaar, Bily, Osman, and Arteta play? and where do they play? and who takes the majority of the kicks? I have to admit, I'm really not sure what the answers to those questions are.

On the Hull side, Jummy "could start" which means you have to consider him for fantasy purposes.  At the very least, you should be thinking BD because at his current price, he's a huge bargain if he's back at even 3/4 of his previous form.

Looks like Liverpool's defence is going to be somewhat intact with GJohnson coming back from his long term injury, Agger shaking off his knee injury from last week, and Kyrgiakos back after his suspension.  If all three are present, then Reina is better value than I was thinking when writing TWA.   Agger is still good value as is Kyrgiakos.

Good luck with your selections.

The Week Ahead

I'm really not a big fan of international friendlies - either as something to watch or as a distraction from/possible source of injuries related to the Fantasy Premier League season. I guess there is more utility in them now as teams start preparing for the World Cup but still more negative than positive in my view. What do I mean?

Huddlestone blow for Spurs

Tottenham have been rocked by the news that has suffered ankle ligament damage.

Huddlestone picked up the problem when he was challenged by John Heitinga during Spurs' 2-1 victory over Everton on Sunday.

The midfielder could not complete the match and left White Hart Lane in a protective boot.

The extent of the injury has now become more clear and Huddlestone will next consult a specialist as he faces up to a period on the sidelines.
I just realized why 'Arry recalled Jake Livermore from loan and not Jamie O'Hara.  He's going to move Modric infield and play Bale on the left wing!

I'm doomed.

The crazy thing is that, if this is true, Bale would be 11.47 well spent.  I'd just be competing with everyone who has him at 2-something.  Which, it looks like I'll be doing regardless.  That's like gifting your opponents another player of the Jarvis/Lee/Bullard caliber in ADDITION to the ten points per week Bale is likely to put up over and above any defender in that spot.

I'm doomed.

Mike, Neal... save this link for future reference.

Sports Guy Doubles Down on Donovan

From Friday's chat with Bill Simmons, The Sports Guy:
Dan (NJ)
Landon Donovan playing great for Everton. Ready to jinx it for him?

Bill Simmons
(12:19 PM)
It's very tough to root for anyone but Everton right now in EPL when they have Donovan and Tim Howard. I am an EPL sports bigamist - like Everton and Spurs.
And then Lando goes out on Sunday and hit Rodwell's cross wide of an open net.  It was so bad he had to apologize to the team after the match.
Landon Donovan issued an apology to his team-mates in the White Hart Lane dressing room after missing an open goal against Tottenham yesterday and costing Everton a point.

The United States forward, who came on as a substitute, admits he cannot understand how he stabbed his finish wide after being picked out by Jack Rodwell at the far post.

"Landon said sorry to us afterwards," said midfielder Mikel Arteta.

This of course after Simmons famously had a long discussion with Donovan about his cool under pressure in taking spot kicks days before Donovan missed his penalty in the MLS Cup shootout with Real Salt Lake.

Oddly enough, he's also being blamed for Canada beating the USA in Olympic hockey.  Fun!

Monday Morning Manager

If to dare is to do, I've certainly gone and done it. Despite his great run of form - and amazing fantasy returns - I've sold Gareth Bale. Spurs don't have a game this week because of the FA Cup and Benoit Assou-Ekotto (didn't even have to look that up!) is back from injury. Also, I bought Bale at 5.45, not the 2-something at which most fantasy manager had him. I feel like my fantasy season hinges on good old idiosyncratic 'Arry benching Bale again. Please, please, please, please, please... puh-lease!


Saha missed Everton's game with Spurs due to "injuries to his hamstring and Achilles". Just when he was looking like a great barn door candidate. In fact, I had him on the team Saturday afternoon along with Arteta and Bale. But wary, let's call it "mindful", of what might happen on Sunday I gutted Bale and Arteta to Hutton and Rodwell to move Saha to Torres. I'm happy to have squeezed another blue-chip player into my line-up, but I worry. Other than Fabregas, my midfield is Rodwell, AJohnson and KRichardson. That's just untenable.

Other than Everton's good matchup with Hull, Bolton and Burnley are two-gamers. But yuck... could there be a worse pair to choose from? Burnley are at Arsenal then home to Stoke. Bolton - they of one goal in seven matches - are at West Ham and at Sunderland. Not terrible match-ups, but I'm not sure I'm ready to bet on (or against) Bolton on the road. Twice.

There's sure to be much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth as the weekend approaches. International matches, FA Cup weekend which takes lots of teams, and their players, out of fantasy contention this weekend, two-gamers... oh my!

Are you betting on Bolton? Loaded up on the Barn Door? Let's hear about it in the comments.