The Week Ahead

Let the mediocrity continue.  That’s what I took away from today’s twin announcements that Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick have signed new long term contracts with Manchester United.  I’m sure some of you who have been following this space for a while will write these comments off to the sour grapes of a Gooner still stinging from the Carling Cup fiasco but I assure you, there is more thought behind what I say/type than that.

First, let me assure you, my primary intention isn’t to take cheap shots at Fletcher and Carrick.  I’m sure I could overstate the case and get the United supporters in the crowd riled up enough to fill the comments thread to overflowing with insults to my intelligence and/or the legitimacy of my position as a commentator on things Premier League-related.  Most of the time, however, I try to refrain from that sort of sensationalism in favor of trying to look a little deeper and interpret what I see going on in the league.

In this case, the negative signs that I see in the re-signings of these two players who I think we’ll all admit are limited on their best days is that the financial issues at Old Trafford are set to continue.  United certainly don’t lack for bodies that are best suited for playing in midfield.  They have Scholes, Giggs, Nani, Valencia, Park, Anderson, Gibson, Welbeck, Cleverley, and theoretically Hargreaves in addition to Fletcher and Carrick.  That’s a lot of bodies.  The problem is that, Nani aside, there isn’t a lot of quality.  Assuming that SAF isn’t ready to give up on the kids – Anderson, Gibson, Welbeck, and Cleverley – we can be fairly assured that nearly the entire group above will be back next season.  That is important because it implies that SAF is going to try to make due with quantity over quality again. 

Those of you who support United – as well as those who like to pick a good verbal fight – may point out that the quantity over quality thing has been working out fairly well for United this season so far.  They do still sit in first despite the loss to Chelsea last Sunday don’t they?  I can’t argue that.  What I can suggest is that this is an unusual year in that the points haul necessary to win the championship is likely to be about 10 points lower than it usually is.  If either United or Arsenal make it to 80 points, it will represent a reasonable stretch run.  Compare that to years past when the winner walked away with a point total in the high 80s or low 90s. 

If you believe that there is a “new normal” with more parity in the league and lower point totals are going to do the job for the foreseeable future then maybe United’s strategy can still keep them serious contenders.  If, on the other hand, you suspect like I do that one or more of the other contenders – most likely Chelsea or City on the backs of their wealth – will keep spending until they get their mix of high-priced players right then you have to suspect that United’s strategy isn’t going to get it done in the seasons to come.  They NEED another exceptional midfielder – preferably of the holding variety – in much the same way that Arsenal have obviously need an exceptional CB/Keeper over the last few summers.  If these signings are a hint that United – due to stubbornness or lack of ability to spend – are going to “pull a Wenger” and try to substitute numbers and youth for difference-makers then I suspect that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of those green and yellow scarves in the stands in the upcoming seasons.

On to the upcoming week in fantasy:

  • Birmingham – with two matches including a home match against struggling WBA and an away match with fellow strugglers Everton, the newly crowned Carling Cup champs are the toast of the fantasy world this week.
  • Everton – slightly less attractive given their unpredictable recent form, injuries, and more difficult schedule @NUFC and BRM but two matches is certainly still better than one for select Everton players.
  • Chelsea – Chelsea will be riding high and Blackpool will be without Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell – hardly seems fair to make Blackpool’s supporters watch this one.
  • Citeh - Hard not to like a home match against Wigan, isn't it?
  • Zigic – He’s been coming on strong in the second half of the season.  Throw in a cheap price (5.3) and modest opposition and you have an attractive proposition.
  • Saha – Beckford has scored more recently but if you’re choosing between the two and Saha hasn’t fallen apart between now and the weekend then you’d have to bet on Saha if you’re only choosing one.
  • Torres – He has to score one of these weekends doesn’t he? This would seem like an obvious time to break the ice.
  • Sturridge – More a “keep” than a buy since he only has one match but worth noting that in the January Transfer Window Goal Derby the tally is Sturridge 4; Suarez 1; Luiz 1; Torres 0; and Carroll 0 but at least Carroll has the excuse that he’s been crocked. Also, I feel like I haven't given him enough love since his move to Bolton so here is some.
  • Ba – I liked him last week and he rewarded me and I’m sticking with him – especially at just over 5.  If you don't have him at a discount, then there are probably better bargains.
  • Balotelli – He seems to be coming around and Wigan seem like the kind of weakling that he’d enjoy torturing.
  • Bendtner - This is a big weekend for good forward bargains so the first thing I'm assuming is that you'll all have three forwards in your line-up.  Here's another one that looks promising for a reasonable price.  

  • Bentley – He hasn’t been as good as I expected but I still like him more than any of the other Birmingham midfielders if that’s what you’re going for.  I could be talked into Larsson or Gardner but if you’re asking me – and you are in essence by reading this column – then Bentley is my guy.
  • Arteta – With Cahill out of action for the double week, Arteta becomes the next most attractive midfielder from Everton.  He’s a bit overpriced but since he gets you two matches, it isn’t that bad a deal.
  • Lampard – He isn’t the Lamps of old but he’s still taking PKs for Chelsea and that seems like a good thing to have going for you against Blackpool this weekend.
  • Nani – He’s been good enough that you really don’t need to know too much about the match-up to make this decision.
  • Toure - No, not the drug-taking one but the other one - I don't like trying to pick the weeks that players who don't score often will score but this feels like a solid bet for a reasonable price in a week that doesn't feature great midfield options.
  • Wilshere - Call it another hunch but he's been getting closer and closer to the big breakout fantasy match and there will be more focus on him with Cesc, Theo, and RvP injured.  He's also cheap which helps.

  • Johnson/Jiranek – Watch the injury report for both players who were looking less than fully fit after the Carling Cup win but they represent solid value at the high and lower end of the defender price range if healthy. 
  • Baines – Yup, he's expensive but with the two matches this week he's very likely to be worth it.
  • Coleman – He hasn't been great over the last couple of months despite starting regularly but the potential is still there and with the two matches you have to like his chances even at an elevated price.
  • Luiz – Great match-up and his price is still fairly reasonable at 7.71 - the only thing that concerns me is his troubling tendency to make one REALLY STUPID play per match that undermines an otherwise exceptional performance.
  • Walker –Steadily churning out the points at a reasonable price - one thing to watch is the fact that this is going to be his seventh match - the point at which prices seem to spike.  If you're interested then you should buy now or on the BD because he's likely to be in the high 8s or more after this weekend.

  • Foster – Two matches with a reasonable chance of two clean sheets although they are by no means guaranteed – that said, Foster also tends to get a lot of saves so even if he only gets one clean sheet, his week will look pretty solid.  The big caveat here is if Johnson and Jiranek join Dann in being injured.  Missing both would mean buying Foster would require a lot of faith in young replacements.
  • Cech – Great match-up but you’ll pay for it with Cech.  Still, you need players from other teams so this might be where you diversify since Chelsea seem almost guaranteed a clean sheet with Blackpool’s attacking injuries.
  • Hart – The match-up is just slightly less attractive than Cech’s but the price is slightly lower still I put Hart third on this list.
  • Howard – Despite the two matches, I’ve been suspect of Howard and the Everton defense all season.  Baines and Coleman were strong recommendations because they get lots of points going forward but Howard has to be seen as a risk in net even with two matches.


  1. Anonymous7:44 AM

    bentley,hitburger =), arteta, osman

    bye bye van pussy, hope birmingham on right path to win after gud performance again arsenal

  2. Anonymous8:00 AM

    that's a 3-4-2, moron

  3. that's a pretty deep analysis mate..but u'd have to look at it this way - Scholes is nearing his end(same talk from the past 3 seasons!), Gibson, Ando haven't been the most consistent of players and both of them being the attacking type, SAF would've liked to retain someone who can hold the play rather giving it away.
    United played a 3-man centre formation last season and this season the centre of the park hasn't been the most constant with gibby and ando popping in and out.
    Next season I can't see both of them starting as the only CMs though.
    Cleverly's got potential, so next season should define a proper midfield pairing for United.

  4. Dear AM and AMers,

    I'm torn between: Ridgewell + Carr vs. Coleman/Osman + Hitzlsperger...

    Any advice much appreciated.

    By the way, please rate the proposed team below:

    Howard / Baines, RoJo, Ridgewell, Carr / Arteta, Neville, Bentley / Beckford, Saha, Zigic

    Many thanks as always!

  5. Anonymous8:56 AM

    Anybody knows if Yahoo ever will take care of the error from week 2? The points for each specific player is correct but when you summarize almost all teams is incorrect, 1-2.5 points.

  6. Oops!!! Apologies to Neal and Jeremy...

    I'm torn between: Ridgewell + Carr vs. Coleman/Osman + Hitzlsperger...

    Any advice much appreciated.

    By the way, please rate the proposed team below:

    Howard / Baines, RoJo, Ridgewell, Carr / Arteta, Neville, Bentley / Beckford, Saha, Zigic

    Many thanks as always!

  7. Anonymous1:31 PM

    Neal - To be honest I don't think you are even a bit biase over united players, but I do notice that you fail to recognize their talent for their position. In your analisis you describe D. Fletcher as a mediocre is that? I, and many football lovers, love the way he plays. The way he moves the ball around and barely looses the ball or gives it away. Sorry mate but I'll have to disagree with you. I will though, agree that united are in dire need of a creative central midfielder...but that might come in due time.

  8. Anonymous1:43 PM

    BD alert: Dzeko's 7th this week.
    however, his average is not that high and they play at stamford bridge next week.


  9. Good analysis of United, although Fletcher is a good defensive midfielder, its more the combo of Carrick and the corpse of scholes as his partner that is the problem. Anyone remember when Carrick was a top player? ...hmm, Berbs too didn't quite make the transition from spurs to utd , hopefully that will put off the rest of them!

    (yes he's top scorer, but youtube his time at tottenham, he looked a different class there)

  10. Anonymous9:58 AM

    I think the analysis is pretty off the mark to be honest.

    Its easy to slag Fletcher and Carrick, but ask yourself, what have Cesc, Nasri, Arshavin and Co. accomplished at Arsenal?

    Some people just dont get it.

    United is on its way to winning its 4th title in 5 years because they have a squad full of players that are consistent, play within the team framework, and will put in a shift.

    United have beaten Liverpool twice, have a win and draw against Citeh and Tottenham, a victory over Arsenal and probably deserved a draw against Chelsea. Thats mediocre? United bossed almost everyone of those games with Flecther, Carrick and Anderson in the middle of the park.

    Fletcher and Carrick are the types of role players that help make United what they are. Players like OShea, Brown, Park etc arent sexy players that will wow you with their individual brilliance, but they are the types of players that provide the backbone for teams that win titles.