The Week Ahead - Finally We're Back Edition

As Jeremy mentioned, this month has been a bit of a challenge when it comes to getting our heads back into the Premier League. I appreciate the fact that internationals need to happen and cup competitions need to be wrapped up (although as an Arsenal fan, I could have done without those this season - yup, still bitter). Still, do they need to disrupt the Premier League season at such a critical time in the calendar?

Why not now? Spring is springing and there are at least some times when we might want to be outdoors. In the States, Major League Baseball is starting (today in fact), college basketball is all-encompassing for a few weeks, and for those of us inclined toward soccer MLS is starting up. Elsewhere in the world the Cricket World Cup is also going on which certainly has potential Premier League fans in places like India, South Africa, and Australia pretty engrossed (good luck to India in the finals on Saturday).

The bottom line is that there is so much going on that distracts us from the season. I have to admit that if you'd asked me yesterday I couldn't have told you with any fidelity who I had on my roster for either the Yahoo! or Premier League games. With a season so long I have to think that letting the audience, especially those outside the UK, turn their focus elsewhere for almost an entire month has to be a bad idea. Especially if the month is March. The Premier League would do well to lobby to have the same sort of break happen in February instead because there's nothing else going on then to distract the audience. Just a thought before diving into the recommendations.

Barn Door Team

The international break has thrown me for a bit of a loop, especially on the heels of the FA Cup break we just had. So I'm having a tough time getting back into the swing of of EPL things. But we have to start somewhere, right? And what better place than with the team I assembled on the barn door last weekend (two weeks ago!).

Part of me says, stop right there.  Don't look again.  Don't, whatever the inclination, Friday trade!  But let's be honest... that's inevitable.  Stupid, but inevitable.  Looking at the team, what jumps out at me is:

  • Two Hammers facing Manchester United.  Yes, WHU are playing better and ManU struggle a bit on the road.  But do I really want both Ba and Hitzlsperger?  They're both at cost so they could be moved out for the weekend and brought back for the upcoming games against Bolton and Aston Villa without penalty.
  • Osman.  What to do with Osman?  He was a GREAT pickup over Everton's recent double-game week and was ok last game week against Fulham.  Everton have a good run of fixtures upcoming and it might be worth keeping him.  But it sure isn't a sexy pick.
  • There are injury doubts over van Persie (could be back), Walker (should be back), and Adam (expected to be back).  Obviously all signs are good at this point, but the uncertainty is starting to make me nervous.
Clearly there is much to discuss over the next two days, but that's where I am right now.  You?

In which I pay too much attention to Kyle Walker's Groin

Groin is a lot better aswell tweeps hopefully running 2moro so I have a chance for sat touch and go at the minute so fingers crossed!less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Balotelli 'threw darts from window'

Premier League - Balotelli 'threw darts from window' - Yahoo! Eurosport

This is just incredible.
Manchester City are set to discuss Mario Balotelli's disciplinary issues after the striker was reportedly caught throwing darts from a first floor window.

The People claims that Balotelli lobbed the missiles in the direction of youth team players because he was "bored".

The incident occurred at City's Carrington training complex, and the club said nobody was injured.

However, the volatile striker could still face a fine for his actions, and a club spokesman said: "The matter will be dealt with internally."

God help the greater Manchester area if Bellamy ever returns from his loan spell at Cardiff and hooks up with this nut. At least Barton isn't there any longer. Those three together could initiate a singularity of teh stupid.

Player Pick of the Week

Jerome Boateng injured his knee training with Germany this week.

Jerome Boateng to undergo knee surgery. than a minute ago via web

Micah Richards did his hamstring earlier and is hoping to be fit by mid-April.

SkySports: Richards targets swift return: Micah Richards has admitted he is desperate to recover from a hamstrin... than a minute ago via twitterfeed

That leaves Dedryck Boyata. He's priced at 5.88 and sure to be at right back this weekend, at home against Sunderland, and again against Liverpool the next.

Scary Headlines Hall of Fame

Blackpool hit by Charlie Adam injury scare

Fortunately the article, even though it starts dire, paints a rosier picture:
Charlie Adam hopes to be fit for Blackpool's crunch clash at Fulham on Sunday after an injury scare in Scotland’s 2-0 defeat by Brazil yesterday.

National team boss Craig Levein suggested though Adam was suffering more mentally than physically after failing to carry his Blackpool form into the high-profile friendly at Arsenal.

The Seasiders skipper conceded the penalty for the Brazilians’ second and hurt his knee making a challenge but he insisted it was nothing serious.

Adam said: "I just got a whack on it. We clashed knees but I’ll be all right and hopefully I’ll be ready for the weekend."

I still fear the dreaded "late fitness test". But with the match on Sunday I expect he'll be fit. He's come through these knocks before this season.

FA Cup Causes League Postponements

Bolton Wanderers | News | Latest News | General | New Date Set For Fulham

Bolton Wanderers can confirm that due to the club's participation in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, the trip to play Fulham at Craven Cottage in the Barclays Premier League will now take place on Wednesday 27 April.

The game had originally been set to take place on Saturday 16 April but following Wanderers' progress in the FA Cup the league game against Fulham has now been put back to Wednesday 27 April.

So Bolton, Fulham, Stoke City, Wolves, and Manchester City will all be idle the weekend of 16 April. I think it's possible that Newcastle and Manchester Uniteds could still play their match on that following Tuesday. I think the NUFC/MUFC match was rescheduled to that Tuesday from Saturday. But definitely a fluid situation.

Oh, and two-gamers!


Stoke vs Wolves has been rescheduled for Tuesday 26 April. than a minute ago via web

Richards could be out for a month

Richards fears derby woe - Yahoo! Eurosport
Manchester City defender Micah Richards feels a hamstring injury may rule him out of the FA Cup semi-final clash with rivals Manchester United.

Richards was stretchered off three minutes into England Under-21s 4-0 victory over Denmark on Thursday night, and head coach Stuart Pearce revealed the full-back fears the worst.

"He's got a hamstring problem and he's diagnosed himself as being out for four weeks - that's Dr Richards for you," said Pearce.

That would rule him out of Sunderland and @Liverpool and open the right-back spot for Jerome Boateng. Unless Zabaleta were to return from compassionate leave sooner than expected.

First Impressions and Second Thoughts (Mostly as a test)

Teams tend to experiment with new players as the season winds down and Fantasy Blogs are no different.  I'm less interested in what you think of the content in this one - I'm sure you've already read everything you want to about last weekend - but I am interested in your comments on the slide show as an alternative to writing long text-driven pieces. Comments more than welcome.

Bale ruled out of England clash

Blow for Wales as Gareth Bale ruled out of England clash - ESPN Soccernet
Tottenham winger Gareth Bale has been ruled out of Wales' Euro 2012 qualifier against England on Saturday with a hamstring injury.

Bale did not train on Wednesday, despite reports that he was injured during a session, and he has only recently returned from a back injury that kept him out for six weeks from the end of January until early March.

Crucially for fantasy managers:
The Tottenham winger will now return to London for treatment on Thursday morning, but it is not yet clear whether he will be fit in time for Tottenham's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Real Madrid on April 5.

Of course that match is after Spurs' April 2 match at Wigan. #latefitnesstest

Dzeko Mocks Balotelli

Edin Dzeko mocks Balotelli's struggles to put on a bib from the previous week.

So he has a sense of humour. That's good. Maybe he can tease me for writing that Manchester City was going to come good with him in the line-up and that he was going to be a fantasy must-have for the second half of the season.

That was some poor, poor prognostication on my part.

Holden out for Six Months

Bolton Wanderers midfielder Stuart Holden will be sidelined for six months with a knee injury meaning the U.S. international will miss June's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Premier League club said on Monday.

Holden, 25, sustained a deep cut in Saturday's 1-0 defeat by Manchester United after a tackle that defender Jonny Evans was shown a red card for.

This season, six months might mean two weeks. Here's hoping as Holden has been a real joy to watch in Bolton's midfield. Expectations of what he could do for the USA at the international level were also rising and this is just another set-back on his way to real prominence. Get well soon!

Just had a sincere phone call from Jonny Evans wishing me the best in my recovery, def wasn't intentional, just unfortunate part of the gameless than a minute ago via ÜberSocial

Barn Door Watch

One match for everyone on the schedule right now during the next match week.  Most importantly there are a lot of good teams playing away to not so good teams.  Here's the quick list of the important ones:

  • ManYoo @ WHU - ManYoo aren't great on the road but they should be healthier - I'd be especially interested in value picks Smalling and Valencia and maybe Chicharito depending on how the rotation is looking.
  • Liverpool @ WBA - Good match-up for the Reds meaning Reina, Suarez, Meireles, and Carroll should be on your watch list this weekend as well as a check of the defenders.
  • Chelsea @ Stoke - Finally a weekend where you KNOW you want Luiz and maybe some others as well but Luiz is definitely the bargain to watch.
  • Spurs @ Wigan - Spurs good fantasy players tend to be pretty expensive these days but watching Bale, VDV, Defoe, and maybe Gomes given Wigan's deficiency in the scoring category.
  • Arsenal vs. Rovers - Finally a good team with a home match against a bad team.  If Arsenal were healthier this would be the pick of the litter.  As it is, the most important thing here will be deciding if you want to roll the dice with any of Arsenal's less expensive defenders - especially if they happen to do well this weekend against WBA.
That's what I'll be watching during the Live Chat tomorrow.  Please join us during the games and we'll see if those are things actually worth watching. 

The Barn Door Live - March Madness Edition

Injuries and Suspensions

Premier League team news - ESPN Soccernet

Here are the big news items hot (or at least semi-warm) off the presses:

  • Bale back with what looks like a great match-up for attackers
  • Piquionne/Ba are "doubts" with no explanation really given.
  • Villa defense injury-riddled with Dunne, Collins, Young Luke, and Clark either injured or suspended.
  • David Dunn is facing a late fitness test which, I'm pretty sure, will be the title of his autobiography if he ever writes one (and he should have a lot of time to write).
  • Adam is back from suspension but DJ Campbell is still in the middle of his.
  • Evans and Park back for ManYoo but Rio, Vidic, Fletch, O'Shea, and Rafael are all out - oh dear.
  • Carew is likely out meaning Kenwyne Jones should get more of a chance to shine.
  • Barton has returned to training but may or may not make the starting line-up so proceed with caution. 
  • Brunt questionable with an illness (although they might be better off without the second half of the season version of Brunt).  Dorrans is definitely out and Vela won't be able to face Arsenal.
  • Arsenal's injuries are pretty well documented but here they are: Szczesny, Fabianski, Djourou, Verm, Song, Theo, and Cesc.  Looks like it might be a high-scoring affair.
  • Zigic, Bowyer, Bentley, and Fahey are all at least doubtful.
  • Cahill may be fit for Everton but Arteta and Fellaini are still out.
  • The Suarez/Carroll partnership looks like it will get its first chance to start together in the league while Gerrard, Kelly, Aurelio, and Shelvey are all out.
The big impacts are on the likelihood of ManYoo and Aston Villa clean sheets given all of the injuries to their respective back lines.  We never really expected Arsenal to get a clean sheet this weekend so that isn't really a surprise.  The other question mark becomes WHU's attack if Keane, Piquionne, and Ba are all out. 

The (Quick) Week Ahead

No real time for a big rant this weekend. I know you're all disappointed to have 10 to 15 minutes of your Friday back but it can't be helped.  Between a lot going on at work and yesterday being one of the great days of the year in American sports (St. Patrick's Day/First Day of College Basketball Tournament/One of the first warm days of the year) there was no excuse but to be out enjoying it.  With that, I'll take you directly to what you need to know for the weekend ahead.

Rio Ferdinand Out for the Season?

Rio Ferdinand Potentially Out for the Season | Never Captain Nicky Butt

Never Captain Nicky Butt does the yoeman's work of rounding up the defensive injury crisis at Manchester United that we highlighted yesterday.

The news is that Rio may be done for the year, which would be a big blow to United as they continue to compete on three fronts. More immediately, it looks like we'll have a back four of Evra, Smalling, Brown and Fabio or Fletcher (Fletcher is out of the match with an illness) this weekend against Bolton. I would look to Bolton to play Petrov on the left to try to get behind whichever makeshift right back United put out. And through the middle... well we saw last weekend what Kevin Davies is still capable of. He must be licking his lips at the prospect of dueling with the inexperienced Smalling and/or the honestly past-it Wes Brown.

Arsenal Injured Again, Again

It starts with:

For Thomas Vermaelen the season is over,” confirmed Arsène Wenger at his pre-match press conference.

And goes on from there.
“Johan Djourou is out for at least six weeks,” he said. “There’s a little chance [he will play again this season], he has an arthroscopy on Monday and we will know more about the damage in his shoulder. We hope we will have good news but no matter what happens he will be out for six weeks.”

Nicklas Bendtner could be back in the squad after missing the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford through illness. But Wenger will also be without Alex Song (knee), Abou Diaby (groin), Wojciech Szczesny (finger), Lukasz Fabianski (shoulder), Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) and Theo Walcott (ankle) at the Hawthorns.

“Cesc Fabregas is out for the game on Saturday,” said Wenger. “He should be back after the international break, maybe, he has a chance, but he is not available for the weekend. Walcott is not available for the weekend and he has no chance [for the international break]. He is not available for England.”

Birmingham Doubts

Big Eck confirms that Zigic,Fahey,Bowyer & Bentley are all doubts for Wigan.Rest of #BCFC squad trained as normal.Details due up on bcfc.comless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®


Thin at the back for Manchester United

Michael Carrick is keeping his fingers crossed that he is not pressed into service as an emergency defender for Manchester United, who may be without 11 players when they host Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League on Saturday.

An already extensive injury list grew even longer during Tuesday's 2-1 Champions League triumph over Marseille at Old Trafford, with two right-backs, John O'Shea and Rafael da Silva, limping off with hamstring problems.

Unless Jonny Evans is able to recover from a calf problem that has kept him out of United's last eight games, Sir Alex Ferguson will have only four fit defenders available, including Rafael's twin brother, Fabio da Silva, who became his side's third right-back last night even though most of his first-team experience has come on the left.

United found themselves in a similar situation last December, when both Carrick and Darren Fletcher were deployed in defence for a match at Fulham. United lost 3-0.

PhysioRoom lists the injuries as such:

Good thing for them that Nani and Valencia have returned from injury, and that Giggs is able to play more than once a week again. The Bolton match should be very interesting, and a lot of fun for the neutral.


@jack_wilshere loves his twitter more than his girlfriend.less than a minute ago via web

Arsenal vs. ManYoo: A Look Ahead

Welcome to March.  That time of the year when we can expect crazy weather here on the East Coast of the United States that varies from snow to torrential rain to sunny and 70 degrees.  What else do we expect from March? Spring Training in baseball.  One amazing college basketball tournament.  Heavy squad rotation and injuries that throw our fantasy EPL line-ups into massive chaos.  And...most importantly for this particular post, March is about the time each year when we learn what combination of injuries, tragic mistakes, and bad luck will take Arsenal from "competing on four fronts" to "long shot for the league and booted out of the other tournaments". 

Is this year going to be any different for Arsenal? Tomorrow will tell.  As far as I see it, the season can go two ways:

He is K2

We've always called Adebayor K2 because:
He is tall as a mountain, and reminiscent of former Arsenal striker Kanu in his stature and playing style. Hence K2 or K2.0, or K2.6.
But now we learn that it was more appropriate than we ever knew.
Adebayor added: "I left frustrated. I loved Arsenal.

"When I was young, one of my dreams was to play for them because my idol, Kanu, played there.

"I thought I would stay there for the rest of my career."


Apropos of yesterday's discussion about leadership in the Arsenal squad, I found this story to be revealing:

Rio Ferdinand will always remember his first day at Manchester United and the childlike excitement of pulling on the strip. "I was thinking to myself: 'These are Man United socks, this is how they feel. This is how the shirt feels, these are their shorts.'" Then he went out for his first training session and, bang, Roy Keane was screaming in his face.

Ferdinand had made the mistake of taking the safe option, playing a nice, easy pass to his nearest team-mate. He remembers Keane "went mental and barked: 'Pass the fucking ball forward.' I looked at him, his face all contorted, and he goes: 'It's fucking easy going sideways, pass it forward.'"

Second Thoughts

Great post by Neal, exploding some of the easy myths around Arsenal.  And great comments everyone.  I think you've hit on some interesting points.  Let me add my $0.02:

First Impressions plus Champions League Thoughts

Quite the interesting few days to contemplate. It has been extremely busy around these parts so I have to say it is one of those rare times that I'm happy to see a weekend coming without Premier League matches. It gives me a little time to collect my thoughts and write something that isn't entirely focused on the immediate needs of fantasy managers. Here are a few remaining thoughts from the weekend that haven't been covered in-depth elsewhere and then some deeper analysis of Arsenal/Barca.

Birmingham City Team News

Birmingham City | News | Latest | Latest | EARLY TEAM NEWS FOR EVERTON GAME

"Gardner and Ferguson are still out, but we think Jiranek has a chance and will be okay," said Alex McLeish speaking on Tuesday.

"We'll have a look at Zigic this afternoon because he is on the borderline.

It isn't sounding very encouraging for Zigic owners.

Meanwhile Nikola Zigic will attempt to train with his teammates this afternoon to see if he is fit enough to make the trip up the M6, following the groin problem that kept him on the subs' bench against West Brom.

Attempt to train the day before the match. Anyone laying odds here?

And while we're betting, what are the chances Martins underperforms Zigic again, regardles of whether or not the big Serb even plays? #notbitter

Nani to Miss Only One League Match

That's according to The Sun who report that:

United believe Nani will miss a month's action - Saturday's home FA Cup clash with Arsenal, the Champions League return against Marseille and a Prem trip to Bolton.

After a week of international dates, United hope he will fit to return to face West Ham on April 2.

So presumably he misses only one Premier League fixture and then returns - but oh the "late fitness test drama" - for a very nice match-up against West Ham.

What's a fantasy manager to do?

For what it's worth, the man himself tweets:

thank you for your support after my injure. i hope to be back really soon.less than a minute ago via Who Say

Enabling the Future

There's a long time until "next week's" matches with the Premier League deferring to the FA Cup this weekend. There are a lot of games to be played between now and then and there are a lot of players whose injury status is in flux - Nani, Robin van Persie and Rafael van der Vaart come immediately to mind. Hell, this game week isn't even over as we have Chelsea/Blackpool and Everton/Birmingham still to be played.

But is any of that a reason, an excuse, not to be looking ahead? I think not! So here's an out-of-the-blue suggestion as you add, drop, and trade players, and configure and re-configure your lineup:

The Barn Door Live

Barn Door Preview

So, we're back to everyone having just one match for the next match week.  That makes things easier and yet harder at the same time.  Sort of nice being able to focus on one team like ManYoo or just a couple like BRM and EVE.  That said, here's a quick look ahead so that you can start contemplating your next moves before the matches start.

  • Stay away from Chelsea and Citeh who square off next Sunday.  Should be an interesting match but not one I'd want "in" on for fantasy purposes. 
  • Rovers get Blackpool at home in what could be a chance for a bounce back for now-struggling Rovers - this could be a way for you to get off of BRM and EVE players that you aren't interested in past the double.
  • Arsenal heads to WBA for what SHOULD be a win - how'd that work out last time again? - that said, the BD will be difficult with Arsenal since there are so many injury question marks ahead of the WBA match.  
  • United are home to Bolton - ah, home - good time to load back up - especially at the back.
See you on the Live Chat.

    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:

    Mini-First Impressions

    You couldn't swing a virtual dead cat on Twitter today/this evening without running into a comment about how great it was that the Chelsea/ManYoo match lived up to the hype.  And for once, the Twitterati were right, it was a heck of a match.  It had some exceptional goals from Rooney and Luiz.  It had controversy in the form of Luiz's foul on Rooney. And a huge talking point for the comments sections and forums in the form of the lack of Luiz Red Card as compared to the lack of the same for Rooney against Wigan.  Most importantly, it means that the title race is really back on.  Here are some additional thoughts from one thoroughly entertained blogger:

    Everton Team News

    Preview: Everton v Reading (19.30)
    Saha, who has been troubled with a hamstring injury of late, crashed his Ferrari into a fence on Sunday but David Moyes has included him in his squad to face the Championship side.

    Marouane Fellaini is a major doubt, however, after aggravating an ankle injury in Saturday's Premier League victory over Sunderland and a decision on his fitness will not be made until closer to kick-off.

    Jermaine Beckford could miss out because of a groin problem, while the fitness of Tim Cahill and Victor Anichebe will also be checked before Moyes names his starting line-up.
    Paying attention to the team news as Everton are 2-gamers next week (@NUFC, BRM) providing this FA Cup tie doesn't require a replay.

    UPDATE:  Everton team: Howard Neville Baines Jagielka Bilyaletdinov Saha Arteta Distin Osman Coleman Rodwell

    Van Persie out for a minimum of three weeks

    Van Persie out for a minimum of three weeks | News Archive | News |
    Robin van Persie will be missing for at least three weeks with the knee problem he picked up in the Carling Cup Final.

    The Dutchman got the injury while scoring Arsenal’s equaliser late in the first half. He soldiered on until the 68th minute before being substituted.
    And a bad week gets much, much worse. But I guess it frees up another spot for potential 2-gamers (pending today's Everton/Reading result).