The Week Ahead - The Breaks of the Game Edition

Now in general I am a huge subscriber to the notion that "you are what your record says you are" (apologies to Bill Parcels).  Ifs, ands, buts, and the like are generally for losers.  That said, I came across this on The Twitter this morning and thought it would be interesting to share in light of the criticism that Arsene Wenger has received this season for sticking to his (ahem) guns when it comes to his policy of youth.  Likewise, it sheds some interesting light on the "amazing" job that Sir Alex is doing.

Modified table in a world where all shots off the bar/post went in (Source: Opta)
What do we see? That Arsenal would be running away with the title if they could shoot just THIS MUCH straighter.  I'm not smart enough to know if the tendency to hit the bar and the post often enough to cause this big a difference in the table is indicative of anything specific at Arsenal.  It could be the effect of youth.  It could be part of the Arsenal Way which seems to include trying to be too perfect or elegant when something else would get the job done.  It could be the pressure to win something.  It could be a compounding of the lack of confidence due to the team's recent habit of getting very close to winning things but "never winning the big one."  It could also just be bad luck.

In any event, with summer coming and the inevitable call for Arsenal to spend a ton to refurbish the squad this hypothetical graphic gives some wings to the notion that they really aren't that far off in what they're doing.

By contrast everything has gone perfectly for Man United who would be project to have EXACTLY the same number of points had all of their shots hitting the target gone in.  Call them brutally efficient if you'd like.  Also realize that it means that with the squad as currently constituted they have almost zero room for error.  If only a few of those shots that Chicharito nestled just inside the bar start hitting the bar and bouncing out instead they could be in for an ugly season unless they bolster their squad.

Before the comments start to roll in, this is in NO WAY an attempt to claim that Arsenal are the rightful winners of the title or that they are a better team than Manchester United this season.  You are what your record says you are.  United or Chelsea will win the title and if they do so they will do so deservedly.  My only point is that things aren't quite as dire as you are likely to read at the Emirates as they head into the summer.

And with that we take you to your regularly scheduled fantasy analysis:

As you are no doubt aware, Manchester Citeh and Spurs are playing twice this week while everyone else plays only once.  Clearly the big focus will be on those players even as we all worry about the fact that neither team has been setting the world on fire with five star attacking or a string of clean sheets.

As a result of the two-game schedule, I'm going to go off-format to focus on the players from each of Citeh and Spurs and then shine a light on those one-gamers who might be worth a spot.

Quickly looking at the two-gamers you have to like Spurs slate (BPL and @MAC) over that of Citeh (@EVE and TOT).  Neither looks like a cakewalk due mostly to the clash with the other combined with the fact that both teams have been incredibly inconsistent all season.  I'd like to say that I favor Spurs over Citeh in general because the other match-up is much stronger but Spurs have shown themselves unable to capitalize on their matches against the dregs of the league so even something that looks as tantalizing as "home to Blackpool" isn't filling me with warm and fuzzy feelings.

So, where does that leave us?

  • VDV - He takes the penalties and is tied with Nolan and Dempsey as the 2nd highest scoring midfielder in the league.  Seems like you'd want him over two games despite the price.
  • Bale - He really hasn't been very good in the second half of the season (remember when everyone hated me for saying he wasn't worth the money? no, I don't either) however I really don't want to take the risk of not having his explosive potential in my line-up over two matches when one involves Blackpool's defense. 
  • Forwards - What to make of this mis-firing group? I started off the BD with Defoe and then went to Pavyluchenko and now I'm wondering if I want any of them.  I can't say I know who is going to start.  If I get the starting thing right, I'm not sure they'll contribute much (their combined performance this season says "probably not"). I still have PVC in my line-up at this point but I'm certainly looking around at other options.
  • Lennon - I really don't like Lennon much as a fantasy player (he's failed to produce for me too many times in the past), that said he's not a BAD bet when considering the lack of top shelf options between the two teams.
  • Defenders - Seems unlikely that Blackpool will be shut out two weekends in a row which makes non-Bale defenders from Spurs a bit of a tough call when you consider that the other ask is that they get a clean sheet on the road at the fourth best team in the league.  Sounds like an expensive proposition.
  • Gomes - After last week's gaffe that was really bad but not as bad as the ref said it was, I'm not sure I can recommend him.  He is error prone, the match-ups aren't that favorable, and the only thing that really recommends him is the fact that he does tend to rack up the saves. 
  • Enablers -  Sort of annoying that Sandro got what is likely to be his only goal of the season last weekend.  His price went up and he probably used up his luck.  If you're buying retail, there isn't a lot to love here.
  • Forwards - Assuming Tevez doesn't make a miraculous recovery my assumption is that Balotelli will start and Dzeko will get some significant minutes off the bench.  If scoring his first goal didn't get Dzeko into the starting line-up then it's hard to see a change.  The next question is "will Balotelli do much?" and that is really the million dollar question this week.  Can't say I have anything approaching a great answer.  He's one of the most frustrating fantasy players out there.  I'm leaning toward keeping Balotelli in my line-up but I could easily change my mind.
  • Midfielders - The best of Citeh's fantasy midfielders - Toure, Silva, and Adam Johnson - aren't THAT great.  I'm leaning toward the following ranking of the three Silva > Toure > AJ.  My logic is that Silva is more talented and seems like he will definitely start - the downside is pretty minimal picking him.  So far, however, the upside of Silva is pretty limited too. Toure is more of a high upside but equally low downside option but he will almost definitely start both matches.  Finally, I'd have AJ ranked higher but I get the sense that he may not start both matches.  His "display" last weekend was anonymous against a bad team and there are options to replace him (Milner, etc.).
  • Defenders - Tough call here, for those who have Kolarov at a discount you're obviously going to keep him.  For those buying at retail, I assume you're choosing between he and Bale and I'd go with Bale every time.  The balance of the Citeh defenders (Kompany and Zabaletta mostly) are a bit overpriced unless you think one of them will score or they'll get two clean sheets.  With two tough matches, two clean sheets is a bit much to ask.
  • Hart - Another tough call given the price and the match-up.  I'm sticking with this pick though and hoping that he gets one match with a win/clean sheet and the other with a win/draw and only one goal allowed plus a few saves.  Basically I'm hoping for somewhere between 16 and 20 points which will more than justify his cost. 
  • Enablers - Like Sandro, de Jong scored last weekend ensuring that his price will be higher than it should be and that he is almost mathematically certain not to do it again.  If you got him on the BD, I wish you luck not pulling your hair out as you pray that he ONLY gets a yellow card or two vs. a red.
I think I've made it fairly clear that I'm dubious about both Spurs and Citeh but at the same time I'm still loading up. Why? I'm even more dubious of the one-gamers. As far as I can tell, the best match-up is Villa hosting Wigan and I can hardly say I love that one. Arsenal's trip to Stoke is also fairly interesting but that's about it for me. I'd be more excited for Bolton against Sunderland but I don't know for a fact that Sturridge will be healthy and without him I don't rate Bolton very highly. I guess my point is that in a world where just about everyone is of dubious value based on match-ups you should go for the guys who get two cracks at it.

Oh, and for those of you who are going to the Citeh vs. Spurs fantasy/Champions League qualification extravaganza on Tuesday, hit me up on Twitter @nealjthurman or on the Facebook thread. I'll be there in person trying to figure out what I want to happen between fantasy and real life.


  1. nice post the focus on the DGs is probably all anyone cares about. I'm taking a gamble and avoiding hart/gomes altogether and hoping for goals galore and opting for krul home to bcity with no gardener and really only larsson as a scoring threat. for 3.39 il take the chance and it gives me more freedom for my mf/df. that being said, i can move to bale/lennon/cheap enabler probably rodwell, OR do i leave bale alone and go for something along the lines of a spurs striker (PVC?),modric, and any of the higher mac/spurs defenders (I have kolarov already). i definitely dont want to miss out on bale if he breaks out

  2. Hey Neal!
    Nice post, as usual...

    I disagree with you on Balotelli. He's NOT "one of the most frustrating fantasy players out there" - he's "THE most frustrating fantasy players out there"

    Quite interesting perspective on Arsenal FC. Seen in this light, maybe they are not as frustrating as I had labelled them.

    For this week, I'm going for 10 double gamers (Suarez, on discount, being my only single gamer). I back Hart in goal over Gomes.
    I'm not really worried for rotation risks, as I figure all my players should have up to 120 minutes of playing time each, with 150 points in the bag. Time will tell...

    Best regards to all!

  3. Viraj4:55 PM

    Really nice post Neal, keep them coming :-)

  4. Anonymous6:41 PM

    What about Luka Modric? He has probably had a better fantasy season then bale and has remained consistent. I would say he might be a better choice over Bale if you look at their recent performances and points over recent weeks.

  5. Neal has a blind spot (putting it nicely) for Modric so I wasn't surprised that he didn't make the list this week.

    I'm looking at Modric for my team, though he's a bit hit or miss. Over two matches, I think he'll be value.

  6. Where's Mokoena when you need him?10:12 PM

    Forget the difference in Arsenal's season with shots off the post...what about the difference in my fantasy league season.

  7. Anonymous4:54 AM

    Bale at cost is way too expensive considering he could well be playing at leftback with Spurs defenders thin on the ground.