Adding 'em up

It's a bit confusing, but while ESPNSoccernet is leading with the 8-2 scoreboard, ESPN Soccer has gone with the day's total score, and bigger picture.

I still prefer London 0 Hull 4.


10 Things We Learned: Week 3

What an incredible weekend. It started with a forward who scored one goal all of last season scoring a brace and ended with three of the more remarkable fantasy performances we are likely to see all season - one from a forward who himself only scored twice in the league last season (admittedly in limited opportunity over only 15 matches).

[NOTE: Yup, I'm still tweaking the format for this Monday/Matchweek Wrap-up column. If you have any suggestions, I'm happy to hear them. The content is the content but I'm trying to come up with a nice wrapper/theme to pull it all together]

The Barn Door Live: Week 3

Sorry, didn't realize that the match started a little earlier today

Blog Roundtable

It's been a while since we've had a good blog roundtable around these parts. Here's us trying to help each other through the perils that is Friday trading:

Jeremy Spitzberg: maybe it's the hurricane...
Jeremy Spitzberg: but I'm considering dropping Kun
Jeremy Spitzberg: for Torres
Jeremy Spitzberg: requires Obertan in midfield though
Jeremy Spitzberg: ddg brown rangel kelly (to be sold to upgrade...) obertan hoilett watson silva suarez torres rooney
Neal Thurman: very interesting
Jeremy Spitzberg: could go kelly to lichaj
Jeremy Spitzberg: and obertan to cabaye or rtay (love the kicks, hate the position)
Neal Thurman: not looking at Briggs?
Jeremy Spitzberg: briggs @nufc or lichaj home to wolves
Jeremy Spitzberg: still want hunt though :-(
Neal Thurman: if Lichaj plays - looked like there were two options
Jeremy Spitzberg: he played (and scored in the Cup)
Jeremy Spitzberg: he played (and scored) in the Cup
Jeremy Spitzberg: barkley?
Neal Thurman: I did like watching him last weekend
Jeremy Spitzberg: the league/game too stacked at fwd this year
Neal Thurman: agreed
Jeremy Spitzberg: ddg brown rangel lichaj rtay hoilett watson silva suarez torres rooney
Jeremy Spitzberg: hmmmm
Jeremy Spitzberg: friday trading ;-)
Neal Thurman: nice
Neal Thurman: do like the lichaj option
Jeremy Spitzberg: TUP
Neal Thurman: could use an upgrade from Moses who is 50/50
Jeremy Spitzberg: how much $ do you have to spend?
Neal Thurman: not sure yet - on a ConCall :-)
Jeremy Spitzberg: k
Jeremy Spitzberg: barkley, cabaye, rtay all in the same range ;-)
Jeremy Spitzberg: taarabt
Jeremy Spitzberg: one last chance for him?
Neal Thurman: meh
Neal Thurman: like all the others better
Jeremy Spitzberg: fair enough
Jeremy Spitzberg: never seen you come off a crush so quickly
Neal Thurman: even more so over time if Barton arrives to take kicks
Jeremy Spitzberg: right
Jeremy Spitzberg: but for this week...
Neal Thurman: Still very "meh" based on what I've seen - his kicks haven't been incisive and there hasn't been anyone who looked particularly dangerous on the other end of the ones that have been into the box rather than (theoretically) on net
Neal Thurman: at least with a guy like Adam you could see the quality even when it didn't go well on kicks
Neal Thurman: feels more like a Dorans situation than a Adam/Brunt situation to me
Neal Thurman: great Championship level player, not so much at the big time level
Jeremy Spitzberg: interesting comparison
Neal Thurman: different players (Dorans not nearly as athletic) but the stat lines were similarly impressive in the Championship with combinations of goals/assists
Jeremy Spitzberg: this year's gary macsheffrey
Neal Thurman: another solid analogy
Neal Thurman: nice to see Yahoo FINALLY getting on the bandwagon with ads to the right and left of the usable screen - perfect for fantasy game
Neal Thurman: ok, off my call - if I stick with Kun then I have a ton of money for a Moses replacement (12.5) - if I go Kun to Nando then I have 6.5 for the replacement in midfield
Jeremy Spitzberg: in what universe should one be ditching aguero?
Jeremy Spitzberg: just asking ;-)
Neal Thurman: lol - weren't you the one who just suggested it?
Jeremy Spitzberg: yeah, but I'm an idiot
Neal Thurman: Ha
Neal Thurman: well, that and the fact that Kun's price hasn't gone up THAT much
Jeremy Spitzberg: they 1.5 for the week "helped"
Neal Thurman: right
Neal Thurman: so the options are Barkley + Torres or Brunt/Hunt + Kun
Jeremy Spitzberg: if you go with Hunt and he goes off, i'm going to be super, doubly pissed
Jeremy Spitzberg: and will have to make changes to match you
Neal Thurman: and don't get me wrong - that could be a big part of the fun
Jeremy Spitzberg: hoilett/watson to barkely/hunt ;-)
Neal Thurman: just trying to figure out how I feel about Hunt on the road vs. a solid team (Villa) vs. Brunt at home vs. a solid team (Stoke)
Neal Thurman: hmm - bad mojo picking players who will be facing off against each other? (Hunt/Lichaj)
Jeremy Spitzberg: indeed
Jeremy Spitzberg: trying to remind myself that i can get hunt for next week
Neal Thurman: pulled the trigger on Hunt for now but am still very up in the air
Jeremy Spitzberg: home to spurs and qpr next for wolves
Jeremy Spitzberg: Chris Herd is favourite to replace Luke Young at right-back.
Neal Thurman: trying to decide if I want to keep MRichards at a discount for next match (home to Wigan)
Jeremy Spitzberg: accding to yahoo
Jeremy Spitzberg: grrr
Neal Thurman: so that means that Lichaj is almost a lock ;-)
Jeremy Spitzberg: who the hell is chris herd?
Neal Thurman: the one I mentioned in Injuries and Suspensions as the likely competition for Lichaj for the RB spot at Villa ;-)
Jeremy Spitzberg: both started in midweek
Neal Thurman: Warnock rested?
Jeremy Spitzberg: not even on the bench
Neal Thurman: or did one play further up the field (likely to be replaced by Gabby/Albrighton)
Jeremy Spitzberg: herd replaced by beye on 87
Jeremy Spitzberg: lichaj on the left, maybe?
Neal Thurman: perhaps
Jeremy Spitzberg: herd not in the system
Jeremy Spitzberg: damn
Neal Thurman: still, a solid enabler
Jeremy Spitzberg: do i go briggs even though i have rtay?
Neal Thurman: but might go to Briggs just to be sure
Jeremy Spitzberg: wilson for stoke?
Jeremy Spitzberg: but don't like @wba
Neal Thurman: I'm not going to
Neal Thurman: excited for Boyata to Bolton (not for this week but eventually)
Neal Thurman: Barton to QPR official
Jeremy Spitzberg: i guess briggs doesn't need the CS to return value
Neal Thurman: RSC to Real Betis likely
Jeremy Spitzberg: got both left backs in that match :-(
Neal Thurman: could be worse - that match could easily be a 0-0 draw
Jeremy Spitzberg: except rtay listed as a middie
Neal Thurman: NUFC ugly in attack and Fulham always that way on the road
Jeremy Spitzberg: so no joy there
Neal Thurman: well, except that you'd get value on Briggs
Jeremy Spitzberg: damn friday trading!
Neal Thurman: :-)
Neal Thurman: always fun
Neal Thurman: my biggest regret is that I'm not doing the obvious thing and going in on Torres
Jeremy Spitzberg: b/c he was worse than agureo
Jeremy Spitzberg: kun
Jeremy Spitzberg: easier to type
Neal Thurman: Kun away to a good team; Torres home to a bad one - should be an easy choice but I just don't believe in Torres
Jeremy Spitzberg: 'for good reason
Neal Thurman: true dat - just going to be embarrassing if/when he goes off
Jeremy Spitzberg: yeah...
Jeremy Spitzberg: but which one? ;-)
Jeremy Spitzberg: either or both
Neal Thurman: heh
Neal Thurman: which is why I'm sticking with the one I got
Neal Thurman: plus, he's home to someone bad next
Jeremy Spitzberg: can Mata pull an Aguero this week?
Neal Thurman: seems unlikely
Neal Thurman: don't think he's THAT good
Jeremy Spitzberg: and Sturridge comes into play next week
Jeremy Spitzberg: this would all make a good chat post ;-)
Neal Thurman: it would - haven't had one of those in a while
Jeremy Spitzberg: something for this afternoon
Neal Thurman: ok - headed out for a few - back in a bit
Jeremy Spitzberg: k. i'll be out till afternoon
Neal Thurman: enjoy
Jeremy Spitzberg: brewery tour, so yes
Neal Thurman: sweet

NCNB: Funny Feeling Friday: Yayga

Hugo Rodallega to put QPR under pressure | Never Captain Nicky Butt

Never Manage Alone partner Never Captain Nicky Butt is at it again. He has chosen Huge Rodallega as his Funny Feeling Friday pick. See his reasoning behind the link above.

Injuries and Suspensions: Week 3

Premier League team news - ESPN Soccernet:

There are a fair number of interesting line-up machinations related to injuries, suspensions, and transfers.  For all of the fantasy implications for this weekend, here is everything you need to know:

Villas-Boas set to delay Mata debut

Villas-Boas set to delay Mata debut - Yahoo! Eurosport

Manager Andre Villas-Boas has warned Chelsea fans they may have to wait until after the international break to see Juan Mata in action for the club.

Wednesday night saw the Blues complete the signing of World Cup winner Mata, who is expected to add some much-needed creativity to their midfield.

Villas-Boas has revealed the 23-year-old, for whom Chelsea reportedly paid Valencia around £24million, is unlikely to start their Barclays Premier League game against Norwich, although he could well be on the bench.

"This league is very, very specific in terms of intensity, emotionally and culturally," Villas-Boas said. "It doesn't mean he's not threatening the starting XI, but two training sessions is short for a player creating new relationships with the players.

"Friday is a decisive day in terms of the strategic part of our game, so that's when we'll decide."
Juan Mata

The Week Ahead: Part 2 - Player Recommendations

As we get a few weeks into the season, you may have noticed a few changes to the Yahoo game upon which this blog was founded.  The most obvious are the visual and usability tweaks that have improved the experience of searching for players and changing your team around.  I applaud Yahoo for the changes they made but don't want to leave it at that.  There are also additional, behind-the-scenes, changes that it would probably be good for you to know about.  Since we know some people at Yahoo, we're here to help.

#1 - Points Up Faster: At the beginning of each new season it has been my impression that the Yahoo game got points up (and prices adjusted) pretty fast for the first few weeks. However, like buying a new computer, the improved performance was generally a temporary thing that eroded over the course of the season.  A person who knows about these things tells me that the change is the real thing this time around.  Why do you care? It will mean that you know how you did faster which is always nice.  It will also mean that the Barn Door will close faster all season.  For those of you unable to sit in front of a computer during matches and make changes as you find out the results, you'll be well served to at least take some pre-Barn Door risks on players you think you may want for the next week before heading off to whatever other obligations come before your fantasy team (as hard as it is to imagine that such things exist).

#2 - Players In Faster: Another by-product of the improved performance of the database/fantasy game interaction is an improvement in the speed of players being added to the system.  As of this writing on Thursday, Mata is not yet in (he signed officially late yesterday/early today) but Nasri is officially listed as a City player.  For those of us who have suffered through silly circumstances like Sessegnon not ever being listed last season or missing out on players like Kolarov for the first match of last season because they weren't added in a timely fashion.  This will answer a long-standing gripe.  For those new to the game, it will function as you'd probably expect and you'll be spared this particularly painful form of digital torture.

#3 - Pricing Changes - I'm not sure whether to be impressed (by the insight) or depressed (by the amount of time spent thinking about it when the world has real problems to solve) but fantasy players have gotten pretty smart about figuring out how prices will adjust, especially for players new to the league/game. The key finding in this was the "7 match rule" that saw new players increase dramatically in price after their 7th match played.  Before the 7th match, their prices tended to stay inappropriately low and afterward, it tended to go overly high if the player had had even a few solid performances.  In recognition of this and a general trend toward wild swings in pricing, Yahoo has adjusted the way prices are calculated. According to our sources, the "7 match rule" no longer exists and price changes should be a little less extreme for all players than in years past.

We tend to be harsh on Yahoo when we feel they aren't getting things right so we want to make sure that we're equally quick to praise them when they get things right and the changes made over this past summer fall firmly into the latter category.  Thanks to all involved in making that happen at Yahoo and also for listening when we have suggestions for improvements.

OK, on to the player recommendations...

Injury Roundup

A run-through of the news from ESPNSoccernet. More as it becomes available.

Cech set to return for Man Utd clash
The article isn't quite as definitive as the headline, but Cech is quoted as saying that, ""The rehabilitation is going according to plan," Cech told his personal website. "I don't want to jinx anything but it seems that I should be ready to return to action inside the original timescale" which could have him available for United on Sept 18. That would meant that Hilario will likely start just this weekend's game against Norwich and the trip to Sunderland after the international break.

Meireles injury blow for Reds
Suarez started the match and played an hour. Hopefully we'll see more of the same from him - goal and two assists - against Bolton at the weekend.

Alcararez blow for Wigan
Seemingly Stam will start at right back with Boyce coming inside to partner Caldwell. It may not matter against QPR, but Wigan will need all the help they can get when the schedule toughens up - Manchester City, Everton and Spurs are coming up after QPR.

Ebanks-Blake blow for Wolves
Just FYI.

Wilshere sidelined with ankle injury
Another month out for Wilshere and Arsenal can ill afford a prolonged absence from their team's new hub. They'll be missing Wilshere, Song, and Gervinho against Manchester United and still have questions over Koscielny and Gibbs.

Y!AM: Week 3 - Player Picks and Update

Yahoo! Fantasy Football Blog - Your Assistant Manager: Week 3 - Player Picks:

The weekly player picks column from Never Manage Alone partner the Yahoo! Assistant Manager. He hasn't started out the season in the greatest of form [who has? - Jeremy] but his pick column always provides some wisdom.

The Week Ahead: Part 1 - The Schedule

Talk about your all-time sigh-of-relief moment.  I can't say I'm entirely out of the woods in my nervousness related to Arsenal and their direction.  That said, the fact that they, you know, scored a couple goals and didn't have any players thrown out of the match was a nice step forward.  Winning on the road in the Champions League, even the qualifying stages, isn't easy and the fact that it came after both Nasri and Cesc were gone provides some nice closure.  That new addition Gervinho was integral to the critical goal was yet another positive sign that not EVERYTHING is going in the wrong direction.  Gervinho looked good and the combination of he and Walcott will clearly cause problems for their opposition based on speed on both sides of the field.  If one or both gets more comfortable with their end product then that's even better.

You can imagine a very strong Starting XI that includes Jack Wilshere replacing Frimpong/Rosicky.  The issue continues to be depth.  Targets for Arsenal in the transfer window can now be reassured that they will be moving to a team in the Champions League group stage.  Will that be enough to get a big name like Eden Hazard? Hard to say.  Regardless, it will be critical to find some cover at CB and CM.  It might not be a bad idea to find another left back and another forward unless Bendtner will indeed be sticking around.

Only with some critical fortifications can Wenger and Arsenal ensure that their supporters don't go immediately from worrying about THIS YEAR'S Champions League to worrying about NEXT YEAR'S Champions League where Liverpool and Spurs will give them a run for their money even with the acquisitions suggested above.

Zombies Calientes del Getafe

Ever since last January's transfer window, my fantasy team name has been "A Scotsman Named McTavish" after a brilliant quote from Ian Holloway.
"If Charlie Adam’s worth 4 million then I’m a Scotsman called McTavish"
But I've found my inspiration for a change. Feast your eyes - and try to wrap your brain around - this promotional video from Spanish side Getafe.  The premise is that they are a poorly supported team so the only way to get more fans in to have their current ones donate sperm.  And to encourage said donations they've concocted some soccer/sci-fi porno, "Zombies Calientes del Getafe".  This is not safe for work, nor is it suitable for anyone under the age of 18 without explicit parental consent.  That being said... enjoy, "Zombies Calientes del Getafe".

Barn Door Team - Week 3

Another disappointing week in week 2 has me scrambling for answers.  I'm trying to follow The Rules and Mo's Rules and it's not happening for me.  Looking at the team I have "on paper" for week three and I'm less than thrilled.

Rooney came in, but as well as he's doing he's going to have to keep producing at that level to be worth 20.  Would it be worth gambling with a cheaper option?  There are equally hot players like Long and Klasnic, as well as gambles with high upside like Torres.

In midfield it's all well and good but pehaps a little safe.  Yes, Cabaye is doing fine and he is home to Fulham.  But is he going to get the goal or score a ton of fantasy points?  I guess he could. But would it suit me more to field Sessegnon or Cahill who are more out-right attackers?

In defence, I like the idea of Bosingwa again but he's just a touch expensive. I wonder if I should just keep Richards for a little less.  I'd be happy enough with Brown - why did all of you gamble on him in a derby match? - but I'd be just as happy to get someone else.

So... all very wishy-washy.  But that's what a barn door team is -- a canvas.  A wet lump of clay to be molded over the course of the week.

How is your clay shaping up?

UPDATE:  Rooney/Cabaye/Bosingwa to Long/Malouda/Kelly?  Or will Barton's possible move to QPR enhance Cabaye's value enough to make him work keeping?

What Did We Learn: Week 2

Still one match left to go and we still haven't seen Spurs play. That aside, here are some observations from a weekend where I got to watch a pretty serious amount of footie. Here we go...

One Shot. One Goal. One Loss.

... or the "Sigil" (Shot. Goal. Loss), as it's known.

Tim Howard shows you how it's done:

A classic example. The platonic ideal, even.

The Barn Door Live: Week 2

A big weekend for Arsenal as they look to prove that their season is not lost even before it begins.  Despite all the drama they're two clean sheets in to the season after an away match and a Champions League qualifier against Italy's most prolific forward.  

Nasri Selection for ARS Tomorrow?

Samir could be selected - Wenger | News

An interesting wrinkle that is being reported pretty widely at this point has Samir Nasri participating in a final match at the Emirates tomorrow against Liverpool before heading off to Eastlands for obscene amounts of money. If true, it would likely mean the following alignment for Arsenal tomorrow:


Sagna, Verm, Kos, Jenkinson

Frimpong, Ramsey, Nasri

Arshavin, RvP, Walcott

Honestly, not as hideously bad as it would look if there were yet another youngster (Lansbury or Ryo) in midfield. With Liverpool not exactly blazing with speed down the wings (or anywhere really) Jenkinson has a solid chance even if he's playing out of position. The key will be Frimpong and whether he can handle wave after wave of skilled Liverpool central midfielders without picking up one or more early cards.

Should be an interesting match and we'll look forward to sharing it with you with a Live Chat during the match.

NCNB: Funny Feeling Friday: Gabby Agbonlahor

For fans of gut instincts everywhere, here's the inimitable NeverCaptainNickyButt with his Funny Feeling Friday post.

Agbonlahor to score against Blackburn | Never Captain Nicky Butt: Our Funny Feeling Friday this weekend is Aston Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor. Last week, we went with another cheaply priced forward – Andy Johnson at Fulham – and the 5.5M rated forward did not disappoint. Though he was only owned by 2% of fantasy players, and Fulham failed to score, Johnson was rated the best attacking player on the pitch – from either team – and finished the match with all 3 bonus points, and a respectable gameweek score of 5. We’ll take that…

Y!AM: Week 2 - Player Picks and Update

From Never Manage Alone co-conspirator the Yahoo! Assistant Manager.

Yahoo! Fantasy Football Blog - Your Assistant Manager: Week 2 - Player Picks: The dust has settled on Week 1, we've accepted that most of us did pretty poorly, but it's a new week and it's time for blog readers around the globe to put their disappointment behind them and start the march back towards the Top 50/Top 500/Top 1000 or whatever personal target they've set themselves for this season.

Plus an update

NCNB: Fantasy Premier League Gameweek 1 Preview | Never Captain Nicky Butt

From our resident expert on the official Premier League fantasy game:

Fantasy Premier League Gameweek 1 Preview | Never Captain Nicky Butt: Bolton and Manchester City sit at the top of the Premier League table and are set to face-off in Gameweek 2, but we’re here not just to talk Aguero or Gary Cahill but more importantly to preview I) the best match from a neutral’s perspective II) the most fantasy friendly game III) Studs and Duds across the entire league and IV) A predicted best eleven. Let’s do it. Week 2.

Injuries and Suspensions

Oh, how miserable it is to be an Arsenal supporter these days.  Critical matches to start the season, two excellent players seemingly out the door, two questionable suspensions from the first match of the season, and now the typical injury-riddled squad adding to the misery.  Here's the quick round up of the latest injury news heading into the weekend and the implication for fantasy owners:

The Week Ahead: Part 2

I'm a strategist at heart.  Most of the consulting work I do centers around helping businesses make better strategic decisions, improving their processes to yield better results, and creating digital tools to help them improve their engagement with customers.  In consulting we live for the elegant solution.  That one thing that simultaneously solves a bunch of issues for our client and proves how smart we are. As it turns out, that thing rarely exists.  Generally, the approach that brings results consists of a lot of little changes that all meet with a fair amount of resistance and make limited but positive impact by themselves.  Only after a few of them have come to fruition do you start seeing large scale change and potentially company-changing results.

I bring this up because it occurs to me that many Premier League teams need some help in understanding how to make change happen.  Since it is the (assumed) birthright of all consultants to make recommendations on businesses in which they themselves are not necessarily experts, I offer my unsolicited (and likely unwanted) advice to managers and technical directors across the land on small tweaks to the way they do things that will help down the line: 

Steve Bruce: See above, change happens slowly - you can't switch out your entire roster each season.  More money on 2 or 3 high quality additions each off-season rather than the same money spent on 8 or 9 lesser players you can't possibly hope to bring quickly into a unified team concept.

Arsene Wenger: Buy earlier man.  Everyone on the planet knew you had money coming in from Cesc and Nasri at some point.  Why not get ahead of your problem and buy Hazard and Jagielka BEFORE pre-season started (we know you were already on the phone with Lille)?  You have a new billionaire owner, I'm sure he'd have been willing to float the cash for a month until Cesc and Nasri were sold.  Why waste the value of an entire pre-season and the first few matches of the actual season?

AVB: Start playing Drogba and Torres together now because you just bought the "next Drogba" for a bunch of money.  All three players are best suited to the "9" role in your favored 4-3-3 alignment but those aren't the cards you've bought/been dealt.  You have one player (Malouda) who makes sense as a wide player in that alignment from time-to-time and a couple who either don't fit well (Anelka) or just aren't that good (Kalou).  Seems like time for Plan B.

Mancini: I'm sure that all of England appreciated that the first attempt that the club made to spend its way to success focused mostly on English players (SWP, Barry, Milner, Lescott, Bridge, etc.).  Now that the flaws in that plan have been revealed, it is time to allow the corpses of these players to go back to the mid-table clubs where they belong.  I have no problem with the notion of playing two holding-type midfielders but the ghost of Gareth Barry added very little going forward or backward against an over-matched Swansea side.  Time to let him find his rightful place on the bench or somewhere else where he can make a positive contribution.

Harry Redknapp: Be decisive.  I can only imagine the plight of current forwards Defoe, Crouch, and Pav.  They've spent the last two summers reading about how Spurs needed a world class forward to take the leap to being a serious and regular contender for the Top 4.  We're almost two seasons on and nothing has happened. Either shut up and try your best to boost their confidence because there is some talent there or pull the trigger and get the guy you want.  The middle ground isn't helping anyone but the media who get to write column after column about your failed/failing attempts to improve your lot at forward.

Petr Cech out for a month

After some good news on the injury front, here's some surprisingly bad news.

Petr Cech out for 3-4 weeks with medial knee ligament injury suffered in training. Courtois on loan, time for Hilario or Turnbull to step upless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

We'll post more information as we have it, but for fantasy this is a blow with Chelsea having a good matchup, home to West Brom. I don't think I'll take a gamble on Turnbull or Hilario against Long (and maybe Odemwingie) who's already drawn blood against the top teams. It would also give me pause if I had the likes of Cole, Bosingwa or Terry in my fantasy team.

The Week Ahead: Part 1

The Best Interests of the Game.

For all of the imperfections that have existed in the past and continue to exist in Major League Baseball, the governance of the game has embedded within it a clause that the commissioner can use to fill in when the rules as written just don't apply properly to the situation at hand.

There are two reasons I mention this in a column about the Premier League.  First, baseball sensibly has an "out" clause that the Premier League clearly lacks to help facilitate the right thing being done.  Second, baseball (and all American sports) rightly have appointed individuals (Commissioners) who are charged with overseeing their leagues, acting as figureheads/PR talking heads, and acting as the lightning rod for controversy when things go wrong.  The controversy at St. James Park on the opening Saturday of the season underscored the lack of an individual in the driver's seat with sufficient latitude to ensure that the right thing happens.

If the Premier League had a single Commissioner who the public generally held accountable (and feared in any way for the ability to hold down what is generally a high-paying, high-profile job) then the end result of this past weekend's melee would have been entirely different.  I could be talked into red cards for everyone involved (Song, Barton, and Gervinho).  I could be talked into yellow cards for all involved.  I could be talked into reds for Song and Barton and a yellow for Gervinho.  What I and any public-facing Commissioner would never be talked into under the confines of American sports is letting a technicality like "we already awarded Barton a yellow card so we can't even review it and get it right" because that's the way our screwed up system works.

A Commissioner that is forced to meet regularly with reporters, go on sports talk radio, and watch his name crushed on social media would find a way to get it right, and fast.  Apologies would be issued for the way things turned out.  Slowly but surely, the tide of public opinion would force even the most traditional of traditionalists (you listening Mr. Selig) to do things like enlist video replay to get more things right.

Instead, the Premier League continues on with a Chairman, a Chief Executive, and a Board of Directors to oversee day-to-day operations.  If ever there was a way to diffuse responsibility for things going wrong, this would be the way.  A Google search for "Barton" and "Scudamore" (the Chief Executive of the Prem) yielded exactly 13 hits under the "news" tab.  You have to try hard to find a search that yields only 13 hits.  A similar search for "Artest" and "Stern" yielded 30x more hits associated with a particularly ugly incident in the National Basketball Association.  Another similar search on "Selig" (MLB commissioner) and Dodgers (a financially troubled team where he had to step in) yielded even more than that.

My point is that with a diffused management structure at the league and even more ability to avoid responsibility by hiding behind the FA, UEFA, and FIFA there's almost no chance that the Premier League as currently constituted will ever be serious about making things better.  It would be like expecting FIFA to not be corrupt or the NCAA to make decisions that are in the best interests of the fans or the players.

Sadly, unlike most of my rants, I don't really have a proposed solution here.  The league has to WANT to change and make things better.  The clubs have to decide that there's some risk to their financial health to not making the change.  The way things are going with TV revenues, etc. that seems highly unlikely.  We'll just have to suffer through poor decisions left un-reviewed, no video replays, and an absence of even modest improvements like referees using spray paint to keep walls from encroaching like they do in the US and Argentina.

Etherington Boost For The Potters

Stoke City | News | Latest News | Latest News | Etherington Boost For The Potters
STOKE CITY have received a major boost ahead of their Europa League tie against FC Thun . . . with the news that winger Matthew Etherington should be available for the game in Switzerland after tests revealed no serious damage to his left arm.

Etherington was in the City squad that flew out of Manchester Airport today for Thursday's evening's away leg in the Play-Off tie after an X-ray revealed that he suffered nothing more than nerve damage in Sunday's match against Chelsea.
So you shouldn't have any worries about picking Eth against Norwich. Though, to be honest, his absence at the weekend would have been a real boost to Jermaine Pennant's value.

Shay Given to be fit for Blackburn Match

Shay Given set to be declared fit for Aston Villa's clash with Blackburn - Aston Villa FC news - Aston Villa - Sport - Birmingham Mail
Given will resume full training tomorrow after being advised to rest up following the slight groin problem he sustained in Saturday’s goalless draw at Fulham...

And Given is expected to be fit and raring to go for his and McLeish’s home debuts in Saturday afternoon’s Premier League clash against Blackburn at Villa Park.

“He’s on the mend,” confirmed McLeish. “He should be OK for the weekend.
A tip in the comments of my Barn Door Team post suggested that Given was struggling, but it looks like he'll be fine for this weekend's match against Blackburn Rovers.  And if Collins has to take goal kicks again as a precaution, so be it.  No fantasy points in that. ;-)

Week Two Barn Door Team

A bit of analysis, including who is on the bubble, coming soon.

This was my team after the weekend matches, though in truth I do have Riise and Formica held "behind the scenes", as Nik likes to say.  There's obviously a strong Manchester City contingent after yesterday's match.  Aguero was devestating in his 30-minute cameo and I wouldn't expect his playing time to be limited going forward.  Silva was the straw that stirred the drink, and Richards and Toure were sometimes the most advanced players on the pitch!  They travel to Bolton this weekend (top of the table clash!), and I am still betting against the Trotters.  Yes, I tried that last weekend with Taarabt and DJ Campbell, and no it didn't work out.  Bolton have a settled back five at the moment, even if those players couldn't keep a clean sheet to save their lives last season.  I'm not going to over-react to the QPR match (though maybe I'm over-reacting to the Swansea match?) and I'm going to bet on Citeh to do the business again.

Everton and Aston Villa get strong representation here, with two players apiece. Everton are opening their season and get to do so now at home, against QPR.  Saha is fit and does well when healthy.  Cahill should again play as a withdrawn forward, which is great for a fantasy midfielder.  He's also healthy, and scored for Australia against Wales last week. Mikel Arteta is back for Everton, but I'm not sure he'll start.  Osman is a bit more expensive than Cahill but could also represent a good bet.

Aston Villa are represented after their credible 0-0 draw at Fulham.  Given goes into the team and can hopefully replicate the clean sheet at home against a struggling Rovers side. Rovers played Hanley and N'Zonzi at center back last weekend so N'Zogbia (battle of the N's!) gets the nod in midfield.  Other candidates for the fantasy team would include Darren Bent - LOVE the idea of his running at that makeshift backline) and Warnock - who is back in the team and getting involved going forward as far as I can tell.

Rounding out the team is Luis Suarez, who picked up right where he left off after last season and seems to be a +10 fantasy player.  He should love running at, and around, the Arsenal defence this weekend.  That defence may or may not have Gibbs as he is not "unlikely" to be fit.  I may keep Gibbs at his ridiculously low price, but I may look to gut Bosingwa and bring in two mid-price defenders (back to Riise?) for the combined value.

Scheduled Maintenance

UPDATE: The Y!FF game is back online.

All of a sudden, Y! greeting me with this.

Better than the experience over the weekend with the official Premier League game, but still lousy timing.  Here's the official game's apology and list of make-rights.  It's impressive.  Y!, please note that this is how to handle the situation.  Free does not excuse a lack of communication with your users any longer.

Manchester United down to bare bones

Crocked Rio out for six weeks | Manchester United Football Club News, Fixtures, Results, Gossip | Football365
Sir Alex Ferguson revealed after the game Ferdinand will miss six weeks, meaning he will be out until the start of October...

Fellow central defender Nemanja Vidic also succumbed to injury on Sunday, struggling with a calf problem with the opening minutes before eventually coming off just after half-time.

It all adds up to serious defensive concerns for Ferguson who has also lost Rafael for 10 weeks after he dislocated a shoulder in training....

"Young Rafa has done his shoulder in training in Friday and will be out for 10 weeks, he's probably going to have an operation.

"Rio will be out for six weeks. Vida will have checks tomorrow, we don't know if it's just a nerve or something, but he could be out for a couple of weeks."
With Evra coming back (presumably) United have Evans and Jones (or Smalling) at center back, and Fabio (or Smalling) on the right. That is strength in depth, but certainly it's not a happy morning at Carrington.

What We Learned: Week 1

With one match left to go tomorrow (Monday), the first thing we learned is that when your fantasy pundit spends the summer harping on the fact that you should spend your time, effort, and budget picking home players that we won't see a home win in week 1.  I stick by my initial hypothesis that you should strongly favor players playing at home but this was certainly not great positive reinforcement early for those who might have thought I was off-base with my analysis.  At the end of the season though, I'm pretty sure you'll be happy if you keep the faith with the home players.

In other news from the first weekend of Premier League (and fantasy) action:

The Cesc Saga Ends - FINALLY

Arsenal agree terms with Barca for Fabregas | News Archive | News |

I'm not sure how to feel about this but it is finally over. Cesc Fabregas is now officially a Barca player with a bunch of money going the other way. Here are my thoughts:

It had to end this way - the negative press and momentum were like a cancer eating away at the club. His heart wasn't in being the focal point of the team and you just can't have your best player not into it.

Did they wait too long? My sense is that they waited one season too long. I don't know if they would have gotten any more money if they'd sold him last summer but I'm pretty sure that the club would be in a better place now if he'd been gone for the last year.

What do they know? Is his hammy a chronic thing? There's one thing you can say about Wenger during his Arsenal years, there aren't many players who have left and played better after they left. TH14 had some OK seasons at Barca but he wasn't his best. Vieira won trophies at Inter but wasn't an integral cog in the machine. K2...Toure...Flamini... you get the idea. Just something to keep in mind as you rush to crush Wenger for losing it.

Ready replacement? It certainly isn't Rosicky. I can see Wilshere and Ramsey being a solid pairing in front of Song. It is certainly a step back from Cesc/Nasri at their best. Is it a step back from the end of last season? No, not really. That said, the end of last season wasn't very good was it?

What's next? I can't claim to know about every high potential attacking midfielder out there but you have to think Arsenal need to buy someone at the Hazard/Mata level to keep themselves in the conversation with the big boys of the league.

Whether it is fair or not, I'd imagine Arsenal's next steps will be something of a referendum on Wenger and his ability to keep the club moving forward. If the club end up with the money in the bank, then the supporters aren't going to give him/them much of a leash for additional ugly 0-0 road matches with mid-table opponents. I'd imagine the supporters won't be satisfied unless there is both a center back and a replacement attacking midfielder regardless of what happens next with Nasri.

Barn Door Live: Season Opener

Welcome back to the new and improved blog with our old reliable online chat:

Fantasy Football 101

... or, Introduction to Fantasy Football.  (Whichever is more acceptable to our new search engine overloards.)

With the Premier League season set to kick off tomorrow, Spurs/Everton notwithstanding, a lot of us are head down, surfing the web for news, chopping and changing our team line-ups, and basically doing everything we can to be ready.  Those of us who have been playing the game for a while sometimes forget about someone who is new to fantasy football or who are asking themselves, "How do I play fantasy football?"  I think with ESPN and Fox Soccer covering the sport and raising its profile here in the United States, there are a lot of Americans asking that question.

So for you, the newbie fantasy manager, I present our two-part introduction to fantasy Premier League.  This is especially relevant to the Yahoo! Fantasy Football game, but the measures and guidelines are relevant across all competitions.

  • The Rules. Here is the latest incarnation of this post, written two years ago so forgive some of the outdated references.  If you are interested, here is the original incarnation.  This post will give you my fantasy football strategy advice.  This is pretty big-picture stuff, and especially relevant to the Yahoo! Fantasy Football game's unique scoring system. 
  • Mo Rules. This post is Neal's breakdown of a top-10 fantasy team over the course of yet another successful seasaon.  The analysis is a little more detailed, and I think adds some nuance to the broader advice given above.
Some other quick resources would include:
Whatever your level, good luck this season. Don't hesitate to post questions in the comments, or over in the Facebook group (of which you should become a fan).

Y!AM's Player Picks

If you'd like some additional insight over and above The Week Ahead.  Our Never Manage Alone partner the Yahoo! Assistant Manager has posted his weekly Player Picks column.


Injuries and Suspensions - Week 1

Premier League team news - ESPN Soccernet

So, what to make of all the injury news discussed behind the link above?

Here are my rapid-fire thoughts:

The Week Ahead - Never Manage Alone Edition, Part 2: Yahoo Player Recommendations

Click here for Part 1 - a look at the opening week's schedule plus a big announcement.

For a day when nothing concrete really happened, it has been a crazy day. The Tevez/Nasri swap was thrown out there and led to Jeremy's excellent post on other potential swap deals that might make sense for both clubs. I'll throw in a slightly smaller deal into the mix as my contribution to rampant speculation about transfers that will never happen:

Niko Kranjcar for Nik Bendtner
No, there's no way that these two North London rivals would get together and voluntarily do a swap deal but it would make sense. With Nasri and Cesc presumably on their way out, Kranjcar would be a logical short-term replacement for Nasri as a creative midfielder who tends to play a little wider than the average central midfielder but isn't a true wing player either - perfect for Arsenal. Not earth-shattering, but a good fit. Bendtner would be a great fit going back in the other direction. He may be a jack@ss but even in part-time duty, he's been more productive than either of Spurs' "big" forwards Crouch and Pav. Throw in the fact that Bendtner is young, has upside, and that his aristocratic wife could more than hold her own socially with Sylvie van der Vaart at team functions and you have the makings of a great swap that will never happen. As a Gooner, it would be a lot of fun getting to root against Bendtner for the next 5 years too.

Back to the swap deal that may come to fruition, I'm not sure how I feel about it. Here are some quick thoughts on the pros and cons of the deal if it has been correctly reported:

  • In Tevez, Arsenal get a playing asset rather than cash that they generally don't spend much of.
  • They get that asset in return for an expiring asset in Nasri who was, by all reports, going to leave for free next summer.
  • Tevez is really good.
  • If they were going to sell Nasri to a Premier League rival, I'm much happier with it being City (who really don't need him and for whom I don't see him as a huge upgrade on what they've got) instead of United where he'd fill a more pronounced gap. I'd rather offload him to Italy, Spain or Russia but if it had to be England, this is the best possible situation.
  • Getting the want-away elements out of the Arsenal dressing room can be nothing but a positive despite the talents of the players involved, it has clearly created an environment that the players can't overcome and overall negative momentum for the team.
  • Maybe this gets Arsenal out of the "we'll never buy a great player at his peak" mentality (the first evidence of Stan Kroenke's influence as owner? You could never see Wenger signing up for this entirely voluntarily could you?)
  • Did I mention that Tevez is really good?
  • Tevez never really seems to be happy so it seems highly likely that we'll be right back here in this spot next summer with Tevez agitating for a move elsewhere "to see his children". We'll call that Summer of Cesc, Part IV: The Tevez Drama when it inevitably happens.
  • As Jeremy accurately pointed out, it isn't clear how RvP and Tevez might work together given that Arsenal have been favoring what is essentially a 4-3-3 with RvP playing the only role I can see Tevez occupying which is the central #9 figure.
  • If the presence of RvP and Tevez dictates a move towards more of a 4-4-2 formation then what becomes of Gervinho who looks perfectly suited to one of the roles supporting the #9?
  • Assuming Cesc goes as well, have Arsenal lost too much creativity while replacing that creativity with big attacking names that are less creative and more goal-scorers? That's a big burden to put on Wilshere, Ramsey and someone who might be purchased either now or in January.

OK, enough speculation on random things and on to the main event, our first week's worth of player recommendations for the Yahoo! fantasy game. Keep in mind that the Spurs match has been postponed due to the riots but that the rest of them are likely to come off as scheduled.

Swap Meet

Funny thing about this transfer window is that teams have seemingly stocked up on redundant players rather than addressing clearer needs.  Also, we've seen a further concentration of players at the top as the biggest clubs fill out their 25-man rosters with full internationals while clubs below them are looking to academy and youth players to play a larger first-team role.  How do we address this?  Not being shy of an opinion, we offer our solution:

Based on the rumoured "Nasri for Tevez" swap, here are some ideas for player swaps that would help both sides.

Drogba for Modric
Chelsea want Modric, but Spurs are playing hardball and demanding an exorbitant fee.  Spurs are desperate for a striker, any striker, to help keep them in the hunt for Champions League football.  So, let's swap players!

Meireles for Shawcross
Stoke are desperate for some source of creativity in their central midfield and we're all well aware of Liverpool's glut of players in that department.  Also, Liverpool are looking to shore up their central defence as Carragher continues to age and neither Skrtel or Agger can put together a consistent run of matches.   So, let's swap players!

Adebayor for Aquilani
Back to Liverpool's bloated squad.  This swap makes sense for both teams in terms of shoring up their squads where they lack depth.  Adebayor would be an excellent "understudy" for Carroll as he would bring many of the same attributes to the team - good in the air, headcase, etc.  In return, Manchester City get another creative player who could be cover for Silva or be an alternative to Milner in the middle of the park. So, let's swap players!

Cahill, Reo-Coker for Vela, Bendtner, and Oxlade-Chamberlain
Bolton are reasonably well represented in central midfield with Muamba, Holden, Pratley, M Davies, S Davis as "specialists" while Ricardo Gardner can also play there.  They also have a ready-made replacement for Cahill in David Wheater.  In return for sending their commanding center-back to Arsenal they would get the attacking tools that they desperately need.  Bendtner could play though the middle with, or in place of, Davies while Vela can play across the front line.  In Oxlade-Chamberlain, Owen Coyle would get another youngster to mould and would provide cover on the wings with Chyong-Lee out with his broken leg.  So, let's swap players!

What swaps would you propose?

The Week Ahead - Never Manage Alone Edition, Part 1

The original reason we started the blog seven years ago was to keep a group of friends, increasingly separated by geography and the responsibilities of life, together around the Yahoo! fantasy game.  Over the years we’ve been doing this, one of the best parts of this experience for me was the opportunity get to know Jeremy as well as I have. [Jeremy's note: Right back at you, Neal!] We knew each other a little bit from common friends and socializing during the brief time we overlapped in Washington, DC but he was on his way to the sunshine of San Diego as I was returning from living in Atlanta for six years.  Without the blog, it is likely that our passing connection would have eroded over time, as would have the bonds among that larger group of friends.

I won’t bore you with the details of how the blog grew over the years but one of the best parts about it, and one of the things that drew me to starting the blog in the first place, is the idea that it is more fun watch games and play fantasy sports when there is a community you can share it with.   Thanks to the blog we've been able to maintain connections with our original circle of friends, but also we've now built relationships with people that, in most cases, we’ve never met in person.  I’ve gotten to know those who comment on the blog, on Facebook, or participate occasionally or regularly in our Saturday live chats.  We talk about the matches, the players, fantasy implications and move beyond them all to finding out bits and pieces about all of the people who participate.  I am not going to mention individual names because I don’t want to slight anyone as we appreciate everyone who reads and participates – even the ones who think we’re idiots some, or all of the time.  Suffice it to say, for someone living in a place where watching the Premier League isn’t the most popular activity on a Saturday, building a virtual pub of friends around the world has been fantastic. 

Chelsea struggling for defenders

Chelsea's Andre Villas-Boas struggling for defenders after Branislav Ivanovic injury | Mail Online
Branislav Ivanovic will miss Chelsea’s first game of the season with a thigh injury, leaving Andre Villas-Boas with a defensive headache ahead of Sunday’s trip to Stoke.

Ivanovic has not trained fully since pulling a muscle in pre-season and missed Serbia’s friendly in Russia.

His absence leaves Villas-Boas low on central defensive cover against Stoke’s aerial attack because Brazilian pair Alex and David Luiz have both had their pre-season programmes interrupted.
Chelsea have a winnable, if tough, match at Stoke but then face West Brom and Norwich at Stamford Bridge. For me, this news makes Bosingwa a viable option at the back. Though it worries me that Ferreira has gotten time at right back this preseason too, including the latest match against Rangers.

Premier League Match Postponements

Tottenham Riots
LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Everton game postponed - News Articles -
Following ongoing discussions with the necessary authorities regarding this weekend's Premier League home match against Everton, it has now been confirmed that this fixture will be postponed due to safety concerns relating to infrastructure of the High Road and access to the stadium caused by last Saturday's riots.
This was a stay-away match for fantasy anyway, but sad to see it be cancelled for the fans.  No word yet on the other matches, but we'll update this post as needed.

UPDATE:  All other matches cleared to be played.
The other nine games scheduled for the opening round of fixtures will go ahead as planned, the Premier League has confirmed.

A statement read: "Following on-going discussions with the Metropolitan Police, statutory authorities and clubs in London, the Premier League can confirm that, aside from the postponed Tottenham Hotspur v Everton match, all League games in the capital will go ahead as scheduled this weekend.

Provisional Line Up

You know, I don't hate this team... yet.

I'm looking to move my premium pick from Nani to Robin van Persie but I'm afraid that's too many eggs in the Arsenal basket.  They have most players away for internationals today, then at Newcastle a the weekend with a tough but oh so vital Champions League qualification match against Udinese on Tuesday.  I worry about their focus.  Also, I think there's more value at the 6-something range at forward than in midfield.  That being said I could swap Holt for Formica.  However, while Formica has been good in pre-season, I'm hesitant to gamble on him and Rovers, even at home, against Wolves.

Oh, and specifically about the Ramsey pick...

FCB will pay 40m euros (30 fixed+5 variables+5m that Cesc will take off wages). Only little details to confirm but been told done by weekendless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

What do you think, and how is your starting XI shaping up?

Season Preview - Wolves

Quick Reminder, Real Life

Despite a load of money spent on transfer window signings, Wolves found themselves in the relegation zone on the last day of the season but miraculously survived - finishing the season with 40 points - only one more than both Birmingham and Blackpool. Despite a -20 goal difference on the season, Wolves had some memorable wins at home (they beat Manchester United and Chelsea) and the form of winger Matt Jarvis and (when fit) striker Steven Fletcher went a long way in cementing the club’s Premier League status for one more year. The likable Mick McCarthy has won more games than he’s lost at Wolves - dating back to his time managing the club in the Championship, and despite the poor results for a majority of the 2010-2011 campaign, always displayed a sense of calm and confidence in his players.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

Starting at the back, George Elokobi was a decent 5th defender in the Official PL game - coming in at a bargain basement price and chipping in with a few goals and assists but it was further up the field - specifically Jamie O’Hara on loan from Tottenham - who really provided the fantasy spark. When fit, O’Hara was instrumental in creating chances for his Wolves teammates and his delivery from set pieces earned him much praise. His strike against West Brom was a ‘goal of the season’ contender. The well-known forwards Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher combined to score 15 league goals but lacked the season-long consistency necessary for prolonged fantasy investment.

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Wigan Athletic

Quick Reminder, Real Life

Wigan avoided relegation last season, just barely, finishing in 16th thanks to some late season heroics by Charles N’Zogbia (now an Aston Villa player) in a dramatic come from behind victory against relegated West Ham. Aside from N'Zogbia and goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, who had a breakout season and has proven to be a very reliable Premier League goalkeeper with a nice arsenal of quite acrobatic highlight reel saves to his name, there wasn't much joy around Wigan. Hugo Rodallega took a step back and didn’t improve on his breakout 2009-2010 season and the likes of Gomez and Moses didn't step up. All things considered, however, Wigan did just what they set out to do - survive. A small budget club where television viewers can often witness empty seats at the DW Stadium, Wigan were able to do just enough.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

N’Zogbia was one of the best value plays in Premier League history last season (along with Blackpool’s Charlie Adam) but is now gone. Hugo Rodallega chipped in with just 9 goals but did manage 18 bonus points - a nice return. Ben Watson scored a few goals and picked up a few assists on set-piece duty proving to be a ‘poor man’s N’Zogbia’ from his midfield role, and Al-Habsi kept a few 7 clean sheets and managed the position well after Kirkland's disasterous start to the season.

Summer Changes

Season Preview - West Bromwich Albion

Quick Reminder, Real Life

The two most important words on any West Brom fan’s lips last season must surely have been: Peter Odemwingie. What a breath of fresh air in the Premier League. Odemwingie arrived at The Hawthorns and was an instant hit. The club dismissed manager Roberto Di Matteo half-way through the year in the thick of a relegation battle, and Roy Hodgson came in, steadied the shape, and guided the Baggies to a mid-table (11th) finish, but it was all Odemwingie all the time. The Nigerian scored 15 goals in 32 league games. Chris Brunt scored twice (both penalties) in the memorable 2-1 win over Liverpool as Roy Hodgson took down his old club in April, and ended the season in form as he supported Odemwingie from wide attacking and central positions. Yussuf Mulumbu was also a consistent newcomer to the Premier League and steadied the ship in midfield throughout the ups and downs while former England international GK Scott Carson (now playing in Turkey) saw a majority of the action between the sticks.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

Peter Odemwingie was so consistent, racking up 5+ points per game in the Official PL game and giving the likes of Tevez, Bent, RVP, and Rooney a run for their money on a consistent basis as the league’s highest scoring weekly striker. Brunt, Jerome Thomas, and Mulumbu took turns chipping in with reasonable scoring from midfield positions - West Brom were solid last year in the middle of the pitch - and Somen Tchoyi even got in on the scoring fun, managing 6 league goals in just 800+ minutes of action, a superb return. James Morrison scored 4 goals from midfield - a typical return for the Scotland international who is a pacy right winger and productive in ‘real life’ but never seems to have that 5+ or 6+ goal breakthrough from a fantasy perspective to set him apart from his colleagues.

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Tottenham Hotspur

Quick Reminder, Real Life

With Manchester City a stronger outfit it was always going to be difficult for Tottenham to repeat their Top 4 finish - especially with their first Champions League campaign running in parallel - but they didn’t do themselves any favours in the Premier League. They added quality/experience in Van Der Vaart and Gallas and had Bale, Modric, Dawson and (the underrated) Assou-Ekotto performing at the top of their game much of the time, but failed to invest in a 20-goal-per-season-striker. The result was a season of missed opportunities; raising their level to compete against the top teams and having a decent run in early 2011, but lacking a clinical finisher (Defoe was never the same after his early season ankle injury) they failed to put away the sides in the bottom half, gaining just one win in six games against the three relegated clubs and 9 home draws in total, the most in the league. Harry Redknapp could be accused of tactical naivety due to his inability to change things when they weren’t going to plan, Gomes’ erratic form didn’t help and in the end 5th place and a Europa League spot was as good as they could muster - and the most they deserved.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

Van Der Vaart was a fantasy sensation throughout the season, taking set pieces away from Bale, taking on penalty duty, scoring/creating goals and making those of us who picked him up cheap early in the season very happy indeed. Much like his league form, Bale was a better producer pre-Xmas and quickly became very expensive in Yahoo’s game but popped up with his fair share of big weeks thanks to a return of 7 goals. Gomes scored consistently despite the catalogue of mistakes referred to earlier but it was slim pickings aside from these three, with Defoe, Pavlyuchenko & Crouch rotation risks and in poor form when given opportunities. Lennon had a disappointing year and Modric has never been prolific when it comes to Yahoo’s scoring system, although he did OK in the Official PL game thanks to a plethora of attacking bonus points. Defensively there was very little to get excited about in either fantasy format.

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Swansea City

Quick Reminder, Real Life

Finishing in a dead heat (on points) for third in the Championship with Welsh rivals Cardiff City, the Swans made the grade in the playoffs on the strength of a Scott Sinclair hat trick against Reading. An odd team, they were the 2nd strongest defensive team in the league and managed an impressive 23 clean sheets. On the other hand, when they were scored on it was at a clip of nearly 2 per match. Not sure exactly how that will translate to the Premier League. Regardless, the Premier League will have a trip to Wales to contend with this season which is a nice change of pace.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

With Swansea not in the division last season it’s hard to figure exactly how their players would have performed in fantasy. The defenders and keeper obviously would have done well with all those clean sheets. Sinclair scored 22 goals in 42 matches in the Championship which certainly should translate to something. He isn’t much of an assist guy (2) so his upside is being a poor man’s Darren Bent. Darren Pratley had a nice season (10 Goals, 5 Assists) before leaving for Bolton and a more certain spot in the Prem.

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Sunderland

Quick Reminder, Real Life

What started brightly with a forward line of DBent, Gyan, and Campbell came closer to the relegation zone than anyone who watched the first half of the season or looked at the final standings would ever have guessed. February, March, and the first half of April were an unmitigated disaster with the club earning exactly 1 point between Feb 1 and April 16. If you’re looking for causes, the sale of talisman Darren Bent to Villa combined with an injury to Campbell and a lack of many additional attacking options were a big root cause. A solid run from mid-April through the end of the season that saw them win three of their five matches saved their bacon and even got them a nice-looking 10th place finish despite their miserable run.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

Darren Bent was Darren Bent when he was there (leading one to wonder why they agreed to sell him to a non-"big" team or why DBent wanted to go). Gyan was OK but nothing great. Bardsley had a nice fantasy season that ended with some big matches in the second half despite Sunderland’s generally miserable play in the real world. Otherwise, it was a bit of a fantasy wasteland at the Stadium of Light, highlighted by Sessegnon's never making it into the sytsem! Just to give you an idea of how bad, most of Sunderland’s first page of options in Yahoo are players new to the team. Jordan Henderson had a solid fantasy season but certainly not one that helps explain the price Liverpool were willing to pay for him.

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Stoke City

Quick Reminder, Real Life

Fortress at home, inept on the road. Slightly fewer wins than losses. Slightly fewer scored than allowed. By far the fewest goals allowed in the bottom half of the table (their 48 were 8 fewer than next closest Bolton). Lots of tall players and lots of bruising defending. Yup, it was a Stoke sort of season. Never really in danger of relegation but never really likely to do anything more than mid-table. Given that they’ve only been back up since 2007-08 it must be said that having solidified themselves in the top flight and not fretting over relegation is a big deal. With that goal achieved though, one wonders whether there is a next achievable goal along the path or if this is it. They are in the process of qualifying for the Europa League so maybe a protracted European campaign is the next thing they can treat their fans to. Hopefully, they can use it to catapult themselves into the top half rather than it becoming a distraction that sees them dip closer to the relegation zone in the league.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

As usual at Stoke, there wasn’t an exceptional fantasy performer. There were, however, a few fairly solid performers between wings Etherington and Pennant, forward Jones, defender Huth, and keeper Begovic. The only downside to the season was that Pennant’s arrival and the typical injuries detracted a bit from Eth’s season. He took fewer kicks and the attack was focused down the left side of the field less because there was a second competent option for the first time in a while. Aside from the review of the regulars, Danny Higginbotham was excellent in limited duty. He managed two matches where he went over 20 points. Who would have guessed?

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Queens Park Rangers

Quick Reminder, Real Life

It was a bit of an odd ride to clinching the Championship title last season with the threat of 10 point penalty hanging over the club until the waning days of the season. With that disaster averted, Rangers are free to celebrate their return to the Premier League on the back of a particularly stingy defense which conceded 10 fewer goals than the next closest competitor. Next stop, the big time.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

If the defense were getting points, they’d have had a great fantasy season on the back of 24 clean sheets. That’s 24. Not bad at all. Throw the crazy season from Adel Taarabt that saw 19 goals and 16 assists credited to his account and you have some solid fantasy promise coming into their return season in the Prem.

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Norwich City

Quick Reminder, Real Life

The beginning of last season was OK but the real damage was done in the second half. After losing 2-0 at home to Pompey on December 11th, Norwich only lost one more match for the rest of the season (@ fellow promoted side Swansea City in early April. Not bad for a team in their first year back in the Championship.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

Since Norwich wasn’t in the league last season we don’t have any Premier League fantasy stats to regale you with but here are some statistical highlights from their successful promotion campaign. Grant Holt registered an impressive 21 goals and 14 assists while finishing as a close runner up to Adel Taarabt in the league’s POTY race. Canadian International Simeon Jackson chipped in 13 goals despite starting only 20 matches (he came in as a sub in an additional 18). Wesley Hoolahan added 10 goals and 9 assists from midfield. Despite their success, clean sheets were not a regular feature for the Canaries with the club registering only 11 over the course of the season (compared to 15 by 2nd place PL finisher Chelsea in 8 fewer matches).

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Newcastle United

Quick Reminder, Real Life

 A better than expected return to the Premier League for a team that was in all sorts of disarray when they went down two seasons ago. Incredibly a similar cast of odd characters that managed to get relegated amongst dysfunction and squandering of talent came back and not only stayed up but were good for 12th place despite losing their first choice keeper for a long stretch, their big off-season attacking acquisition for nearly the entire season, and selling their best forward in January. I don’t think even the most optimistic Geordie would have expected that finish if you’d told them that news ahead of the season.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

 Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan had great return seasons in both the Premier League for real and as fantasy standouts. Their performances continued to be strong their prices came up but both were exceptional bargains for the first half of the season. Likewise, Andy Carroll was a revelation early in the season before getting hurt and then sold off to Liverpool for a ton of money in January. The lone real disappointment was Hatem Ben Arfa who got hurt early before we got much of a chance to find out if he might live up to the hype that surrounded his move to the Prem from Ligue 1.

Summer Changes

Community Shield "Live" Blog

As I did with the Valerenga/Liverpool pre-season match, I'm going to "live" blog the Community Shield.  Even though it happened this morning, I'm just now getting a chance to watch.  But don't worry, I've been under the Cone of Silence all day so my reactions will be genuine.

And my first reaction is "WTF!?!?!?!" Kolarov starts over Clichy?  I thought the one nailed on spot was going to be Clichy as the starting left-back for Citeh.  If there's going to be rotation there... and it seems like there is now... I'm not so sure I want to gamble on either player starting against Swansea next week.  Looks like I'm going to spend a similar amount of money on the real sure thing - Kompany.

So neither defence is as expected with Smalling lining up at right back. Maybe that's temporary as Rafael was injured but does make the bench.  However, we saw Phil Jones line-up wide right last week and now Smalling.  Is Sir Alex just exploring all his options or does he have Smalling on a short-list for the position?

Further forward, Welbeck lines up with Rooney while Berbatov continues to be a £30 million squad player. It will be interesting to see how Welbeck and Rooney dove-tail.  Is the "Rooney needs to be a lead striker" argument over and replaced with the recently popular "he's more natural and effective playing behind the striker(s)"?

On to kickoff...

Another Forward To Chelsea

ESPN Soccernet - On The Move: "20.40: Anderlecht striker Romelu Lukaku has confirmed he will be having his Chelsea medical tomorrow. Just to recap: the clubs have agreed a fee, but he's still to pass his medical or agree personal terms (although reports in Belgium on Friday suggested he may have already agreed terms)."

It would appear that Lukaku is on the move to Chelsea in the very near future leaving one to wonder not about the wisdom of the move in isolation (he's apparently the next big thing) but of their priorities. They seem to need midfielders with upside much more than they need yet another forward who won't see any playing time. On the plus side, you have to figure that Sturridge will be on his way somewhere he'll get a game (e.g., back to Bolton, Newcastle, Spurs in part exchange for Modric).

Since this one seems like it is real (having a medical) vs. being speculation it seems OK to write about it.

Observations on the Community Shield

Starting Line-ups

If this is any indicator of starting line-ups - minus injuries (Rafael/Chicharito) or late returnees from tournaments (Aguero) - then we might make the following assessments about both teams:
  • Micah Richards started at RB and is priced very reasonably at 7.35 in the Yahoo game - not bad for a starting RB for a top 4 team.  Especially a team starting at home against a newly promoted team.  Just saying.
  • Anderson looks like he'll finally get his chance to shine and prove Jeremy right (or horribly wrong) once and for all.  Jeremy has been holding out hope that the Brazilian will make the big step up for a few seasons now and with Scholes gone he seems to have his chance. 
  • Welbeck has apparently earned a promotion up into consideration for serious playing time.  With Chicharito out, I have to admit I was surprised that he got the start over Berbs who doesn't appear on any injury reports.  With Chicharito likely out for a while longer, you'd think this would be SAF's chance to get the first team playing together - you don't think that means Welbeck has moved past Berbs, do you?
  • Looks like all of the "DDG is not necessarily our #1" talk from Ferguson was just a motivational tactic to make sure that the kid kept playing and training hard.  I can't think of a single reason they'd start him in this match and then not do it again when the curtain raises for real.
Set Pieces
  • United: They seemed to go mostly to Ashley Young with Nani taking the occasional attempt - particularly the direct kick from about 25 or 30 yards in the middle of the first half that deflected off Dzeko and ended up going just a shade wide.  
  • City: Silva and Kolarov split duty with Silva taking most of the attempts from the right side of the field and Kolarov from the left. Silva's cross for Lescott's opener was very nice. 

Season Preview - Manchester United

Quick Reminder, Real Life

A record breaking 19th league title and a Champions League Final appearance. Sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? These are even more impressive accomplishments since a lot of neutral observers would agree that it happened in something of a transition year for United. Their central midfield lacked an above-average talent (which Barca made abundantly clear in the Champions League final) and they featured a lot of very young (Rafael, Fabio, Smalling, and Chicharito) and very old players (Scholes, Giggs, and EvdS) all over the pitch in regular roles. The breakout star of the season and likely the difference between winning the title and not, was Mexican forward Javier Hernandez. Chicharito’s gift for efficient scoring saw him displace Dimitar Berbatov, the league’s joint top-scorer, as a starter. The only downside other than the loss in the final to Barca was a frustrating and non-Ferguson-like tendency to lose leads late on the road. “Fergie Time” just wasn’t quite the same when the Red Devils left Old Trafford last season. Still, with the title in the bag, that’s really just nitpicking isn’t it?

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

Nani was a fantasy stud for the first half of the season but ended it as only a part-time starter. Berbatov had matches where he was incredible followed by long barren stretches that caused fantasy managers to pull out the hair Rooney ultimately had transplanted in. Vidic was excellent but expensive. Park was incredibly effective for the price in limited duty. After a disasterous first half of the season, Rooney came back and had at least a pretty good second half (although still not up to his standards or price). Chris Smalling had a very nice run of production for a cheap price as injuries sidelined Ferdinand.

Summer Changes

Season Preview - Manchester City

Quick Reminder, Real Life

This was the season when all of the money invested started to pay off in a big way. Lots of shiny new objects came into the squad with the corresponding spare parts mostly going out on loan. Some of them fit - Yaya Toure, David Silva - while some of them didn’t - Jerome Boateng - and the jury is still out on others - Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, and Aleksander Kolarov. Still, at the end of the day, the money produced results in the form of an FA Cup trophy and an invitation to Europe’s biggest dance, the Champions League, for the upcoming season. Can’t really argue with that... unless you are turned off by teams just buying big names like the real world were just a big game of fantasy football.

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

Given their results on the pitch, you’d think that there would be more fantasy success around this group but that’s just not the way it turned out. The size of the squad and the frequent rotation between very good and pretty good players kept fantasy output low. The unquestioned fantasy studs were Joe Hart and Carlos Tevez with Kompany and Kolarov putting up solid numbers as well. Beyond that, players like YToure and Silva were much more productive on the real pitch than the virtual one.

Summer Changes