Weekend Notes

Pre-season Grinds On
Its been a nice relaxing weekend around the Thurman Ranch after a lot of work and fun travel over the last month or two.  We're making great progress on the team-by-team season previews that have become a staple of the blog over the years.  It is my hope that we'll start posting them next week so that you'll have plenty of time to use that information for your fantasy teams.  We'd post them sooner but it feels like there are still a lot of pretty significant moves still to be made and we'd prefer not to post and then have to entirely re-do say Everton or Bolton or Arsenal's preview.  Fear not, they'll arrive soon enough along with a variety of other information to get you ready for the season to come. 

Before we get to the reason for the post, I'll also take a moment to bask in the excitement of the incredible weekend in Philadelphia sports.  The Phillies (baseball for those who aren't into the American sports) started the weekend with the best record in baseball.  The Eagles (American football) one-upped the Phillies by acquiring a ton of defensive talent as the season gets ready to start which firmly entrenches them as one of the top contenders for the Super Bowl title.  The Phillies, not to be outdone, also made a strong acquisition to fill one of the few gaps in their line-up as they prepare for their playoffs in October.  Oh, and on the field the Phillies have won both of their games thus far this weekend.  Good weekend to be a Philly sports fan.  

So, aside from writing and basking in the glow of being a Philly sports fan in 2011, I also got to watch a decent amount of pre-season action.  For those who had better things to do with their time, here are some observations from the Emirates Cup and a few Manchester United pre-season friendlies. 

Emirates Cup

Gerrard out until September, at least

Steven Gerrard was ruled out until September due to an infection related to his groin injury.

Liverpool's captain has not played since the 3-1 win over Manchester United at Anfield on 6 March, but had been expected to recover in time for the club's first Premier League game. However, the club have revealed that Gerrard is now undergoing a course of antibiotic treatment in hospital, where he will remain "for several days".

Gerrard will miss at least three Premier League matches – against Sunderland, Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers – plus England's friendly against Holland on 10 August.
I hate to beat a dead horse, but that only leaves Miereles, Lucas, Henderson, Aquilani, Sheveley, Spearing and Poulsen competing for two spots. King Kenny is going to have to earn his crown this season.

Plus ca change

What was true last January is true again this summer.
[11:21] JSpitzberg: so what does 20 million get you these days?
[11:21] JSpitzberg: a back up attacking middie, if you're LIV

Private Leagues: 5 through 8

In conjunction with Y!AM, here are the next set of private leagues. Please join only one.

YFF Blog League 5
Group ID#: 5085
Password: blog

YFF Blog League 6
Group ID#: 5086
Password: footy

YFF Blog League 7
Group ID#: 5088
Password: prem

YFF Blog League 8
Group ID#: 5089
Password: ball

Private Leagues: 1 through 4

We here at the fantasy blog are joining forces with Nik, the YFF Assistant Manager to bring you a combined set of private leagues and associated competitions (he ran a Yahoo Cup competition last season as well that was very successful).  There will be more to come on this alliance in the near future but for now, here are the first few private groups for you to start signing up for, PLEASE SIGN UP FOR ONE ONLY:

Downing is Not Moneyball

Downing Could Be A 'Moneyball' Buy | F365 Says
In some respects, Downing is a 'Moneyball' signing. Those of you that have read Michael Lewis's book will know that this approach is based on statistical objectivity, rather than subjective gut feelings or opinions. Instead of looking at a player's physical attributes, Billy Beane - the man around whom the book is based - would pay more attention to his statistics. Indeed, Beane would sometimes select players who his scouts actively advised against, as long as their numbers stacked up.

Beane adopted the 'sabermetrics' (a method of analysing baseball statistics objectively) approach with the Oakland A's, a baseball team towards the lower end of the financial spectrum in the MLB, because every dollar had to be spent wisely. Liverpool aren't exactly in the paupers section, but their resources are much more limited than many in the Premier League, so the same theory applies. John W. Henry and the Boston Red Sox won a couple of World Series on the back of that approach, and it looks like the theory is being carried over to Anfield.

In Downing, Liverpool are buying a statistically reliable footballer, who should in theory help get the best out of their current resources.
No, no, no.

Downing is NOT a "moneyball signing". As fashionable as it is to try to attribute that approach to Liverpool's new ownership growth that hugely misinterprets what moneyball means and what they are actually doing.

Look, it's no secret what their plan is. The article even makes the clearest case yet for what that is:
Perhaps the only attacking player that one imagines being a permanent fixture in that system is Andy Carroll, largely because at present Liverpool don't have another centre-forward capable of leading the line...

Therefore, much of Dalglish's strategy will be geared around exploiting Carroll's talents. It doesn't take a tactical genius to spot that much of Carroll's best work at Newcastle was done with Joey Barton pinging crosses onto his piratey head.
But the contention that Downing is a moneyball signing because he crosses the ball doesn't hold up because again, that's not moneyball.  First of all, that's not finding hidden value in a player based on advanced statistics as opposed to what the naked eye reveals.  That's just plain old-fashioned naked-eye work.  Downing is a winger who crosses the ball a lot.  I could tell you that and I can barely open a spreadsheet, much less interpret one. This is just team building 101.

Second, that's overlooking the "value" part of the moneyball equation.

[I]t's hard to contest that turning Downing into N'Zogbia and £10.5M doesn't represent a fantastic bit of business http://sbn.to/om9NNpless than a minute ago via bitly Favorite Retweet Reply

Liverpool overpaid for Downing. Explain it however you like - he's English, he solves a need, etc - 20million for Downing is over-the-odds. And it happened because it's SO CLEAR that he's English, and he solves a need. That's not moneyball.

The moneyball approach explains doesn't work for the Henderson signing either. Despite a surfeit of central midfielders Liverpool may have seen something in his cross rate when playing on the right side of midfield, or his successful pass ratio, that made them think that he can supply Carroll. But they still overpaid for Henderson. Adam too.

Looking at your needs and spending big to meet them isn't moneyball. Moneyball would have been saying that Gary McSheffrey looks statistically like another Frank Lampard and snatching him up relatively cheaply. And no, the moneyball approach doesn't always work out. But it's finding VALUE relative to more highly regarded, and paid, players and building a team around that value.

Downing isn't moneyball.


Abou Diaby sidelined for 10 weeks

As an update to our earlier post:

BBC Sport - Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby sidelined for 10 weeks
Midfielder Abou Diaby will miss the start of Arsenal's season after having ankle surgery during the summer.

Diaby, 25, has been troubled by the injury since the end of last season and was absent from the club's summer tour of Asia and a training camp in Germany.

Manager Arsene Wenger expects Diaby to miss league matches against Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester United.
First of all, that's a really rough run of games to start the season for Arsenal. It certainly makes me rethink Gervinho, regardless of cost and Robin van Persie, regardless of how freakin' amazing he was last season.

Second, it goes to the point about Diaby that he's just not reliable because of injuries. Talented, yes. Consistent, not in the least.

Hernandez Doubt for Season Start

Manchester United's Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez spent Tuesday night in the hospital after suffering a "mild concussion" in training. Now, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, he'll miss matches over the next few weeks.
Although medical staff found no major damage, Ferguson has confirmed the Mexico forward will not play for a couple of weeks, even though he will continue to train and remain on tour.

"He got concussion in training and we dealt with that," said Ferguson. "We took him to hospital, he had a scan, it was all clear.

"He is back in the hotel. He is in his room and will be out for a couple of weeks.
I would expect that he's out of any pre-season match, including next week's Charity Community Shield derby. But for Premier League fantasy, this must make him doubtful for the August 14 opener at West Brom. At best he'll be a "game-time decision", be "given every opportunity to prove his fitness", or, my favorite, "face a late fitness test".

While I would expect to see Berbatov step right into the starting role, it would be interesting to see Rooney as a lone forward with blog-favorite Ashley Young (BFAY) playing off him. Young played that role to some mixed success at Villa. That would allow both Nani and Valencia to get on the field in support of the attack. But more importantly, again for fantasy Premier League managers, it would mean that BFAY was +10 for the opening week - a midfielder playing forward and taking set-pieces. I couldn't be more excited!

Kun You Believe It?

One of the longest running transfer sagas of the last few years is finally over.  Sergio "Kun" Aguero is officially a Manchester City player as of today.  How does "son-in-law-of-Maradona" fit into the Citeh squad and more importantly your fantasy team? Here's the rundown:

Too Good at Soccer

Judah "World Champion" Friedlander's promo for the MLS All-Star Game against Manchester United.

Theo Walcott Injured Again

Groundhog Day.
Theo Walcott has been forced to fly home with an ankle injury.

Walcott will now undergo further scans with the new Premier League season just two weeks away.

"Theo went home early and was due to have an MRI on Tuesday," Wenger said.

"It is an old ankle injury from the end of last season. It's one that comes and goes.

"We need some more investigation because sometimes he's completely free of it and sometimes it affects him.

"But we had to send him back because he couldn't practice anymore."

At least it is not a new injury, but this is not how he wanted to start the new season. Especially with Gervinho ready to play on the right of a front three.


Screen grab rom http://totalfpl.com/

I can't speak to the veracity of these rumours, but for me, this juxtaposition highlights the inequality in the Premier League. And in truth, in world football in general. When one team is getting Kun Aguero and the other is hoping to land Leroy Lita... well, it's just not fair. I'm not saying it has to be fair, I'm just saying it's not.

Provisional Line-up

Obviously, this is a ridiculous exercise and the team will be very different come August 13. But for what it's worth, here's my first pass at a line-up.

Since I first set this up, Ben Arfa has been injured, Briggs has moved down the pecking order, N'Zogbia has been linked to - but not landed by - Aston Villa, and Ba... well, Ba I just want to like more than the match with Arsenal suggests I should.

Who is in your thoughts?

Balotelli Back-Heel Earns Substitution, Mancini Ire

Mario Balotelli's attempted back-heel against the Los Angeles Galaxy earns him an early bath, and a few words with the manager.

Has Balotelli finally pushed Mancini too far? Hard to say, but Dzeko is inching closer and closer to a starting spot on my opening day fantasy Premier League team.

As an aside, it's probably worth watching Mike Magee's goal from the match. A blast from distance!

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Gervinho's First Goal for Arsenal

Wenger: Gervinho can play on the right, on the left or through the middle. He can be an instant hit. http://t.co/rqwcEezless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

First game, first touch, first goal. I'd say that yes, he's an instant hit!

UPDATE: He does it again!

Gervinho Goal
16'  GOAL!! Gervinho again. Great goal. Wilshere sprays it out to Walcott who races through before squaring to the striker. He taps it in from 6 yards.

Nice to see Wilshere, who assisted on the first goal, creating the second as well. He's going to have to be huge for Arsenal this season. It remains to be seen if he's going to ever be a fantasy stud - I think a Modric-type return is his ceiling - but Arsenal are going to go as far as he takes them this season. Assuming he's the last man standing in that midfield.

Sir Alex Ferguson Goes for the Hat Trick

What, me worry?

UPDATE: "Sir Alex Ferguson has tipped Tom Cleverley to follow Danny Welbeck into the England squad and confirmed neither player will be leaving Manchester United on loan this season."

Sir Alex Ferguson dismisses suggestion Rooney can replace Scholes - ESPN Soccernet
"We lost five experienced players in the summer. Five players who gave the club great service - Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville. At the time, you think it's a big slice out of the cake, but we have replaced them by adding De Gea, Jones and Young, and also bringing back Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, who were on loan.

"We've actually got 12 players aged 22 or under with us now, so it could be an emerging team again. There are also some experienced players who are maturing and will carry the responsibility of performance - Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand have responsible roles, as do Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Michael Owen.

"These are experienced players we've got, and the young players will be desperate to get in their positions, so I think it's a healthy situation we're in."

I think I have my history right in that Sir Alex is credited with building two great Manchester United teams - the late nineties version with a midfield of Keane, Scholes, Giggs and Beckham, and the mid-2000s team with Ronaldo, Rooney, et al.

Now, in the wake of United's record 19th title and their third Champions League final in four years, Sir Alex is going for the hat-trick. And with all the money Chelsea and Manchester City have to spend - and Liverpool have spent - you still have to have United favorites for next season's title.

Here's United's potential line-up.  Not their best line-up, which today would include the likes of Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra, but the line-up of young studs that are just entering their primes:

Twitter Face-Off

This is for the nerdy, or plain bored, courtesy of Visual.ly.

What Makes a Good Squad Player

I had an interesting interaction with a reporter/writer that I was not familiar with until yesterday. His name is Tom Williams and he can be found on Twitter at @Tomwfootball. His original tweeted premise, on the occasion of Patrick Vieira's retirement as an active player, was spot on.

Measure of Vieira's impact: players like Abou Diaby mistakenly typecast as defensive midfielders just because they have a similar physique.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

There is an entire generation of lanky midfielders - mostly French or French-speaking West African - who have been labeled "next Vieira" while their managers, journalists and supporters attempt to push them into the "Vieira role", defined as box-to-box action with a heavy emphasis on the holding role. Not as holding-only as Makelele, but certainly far better and more focused on that role than someone like Pirlo or Alonso who is more deep-lying distributor.

As Mr. Williams indicates in his Tweet, it is a huge tribute to Vieira that the desire to find the next one of him caused managers to stop looking at a player's actual qualities and just assume that he should fit a certain mold. My response, which was perhaps a bit extreme but still valid at the core was that not only some players - most notably Yaya Toure - have been mis-categorized as holding midfielders by managers, the media, and supporters. There are also players, like Abou Diaby, who have been miscast as being better than they actually are because of the hope that they will eventually fulfill that "Next Vieira" promise.

@tomwfootball mistakenly typecast as DMs in the case of say Yaya Toure, miscast as top flight footballers period in the case of Diabyless than a minute ago via yoono Favorite Retweet Reply

Mr. Williams didn't think very highly of my opinion of Diaby as being "miscast as a top flight player" which got me to thinking about what makes a good squad player.  I think we'd all agree (even Mr. Williams) that Diaby hasn't shown enough that even a bottom half team would buy him with the intention of him being a regular starter.  Between injury and lack of consistent production (either attacking or defending) he just isn't as good as midfielders currently starting in the Prem.  Higher up the table he wouldn't be rated as of high enough quality.  Farther down the table, his abilities might shine a bit more in comparison to current starters but his inability to stay on the field for more than a few matches at a time would make him a poor choice.

In an effort to re-examine my reply to Mr. Williams' Tweet, I started thinking about what makes a good squad player in an effort to determine whether I over-reacted in saying that Diaby has been miscast as a top flight player (at least in England).  Here's what I came up with as far as constructing reserves:

Jerome Boateng joins Bayern from Manchester City

Boateng spent all too much time on City's bench - if not the treatment table.

Jerome Boateng joins Bayern from Manchester City - World Soccer - Yahoo! Sports
Germany defender Jerome Boateng is set to join Bayern Munich from Manchester City on a four-year contract.

Bayern said Thursday Boateng will arrive in Munich for a medical in the next few days and sign his contract. It said both clubs agreed not to disclose the transfer fee.
This is probably the best move for all parties, but I can't help but feel cheated somehow. Boateng was going to be a +10 after a good showing for Germany in the 2010 World Cup. But a succession of injuries, and the good form or Pablo Zabaleta, kept him of the pitch for most of the season.

Interestingly, "he is expected to partner up with Germany team-mate Badstuber in the centre of Bayern's defence." Evidently he prefers to play centrally. Have Bayern pulled a trick similar to Manchester United's (Smalling and Jones) and rebuilt their central defence for the foreseeable future? And how much of this spending amongst the top clubs is in response to Barcelona's absolute dominance of European competition over the last few years?

Stewart Downing to Liverpool

Liverpool have completed (I understand) a £20 million move for Aston Villa's Stewart Downing, solving their need for a left-winger. My first thoughts on the deal:

Could Villa get Lucas, Spearing and/or Shelvey in part return for Downing? Villa need to replace Reo-Coker and retire Petrov. #needsless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Paul Robinson Scores Goal Against Ben Foster

Neal's post about San Jose's goal against West Brom brough this magic moment to mind:

Live Commentary - USA/France

Our live, minute-by-minute (almost) reactions to the first half of the USA/France Women's World Cup Semi-final.

Jeremy Spitzberg: let's go, USA!
Neal Thurman: happy to be back home in the office to be able to watch - wouldn't have been so lucky if I were still in Indy
Jeremy Spitzberg: ;-)
Jeremy Spitzberg: we don't get espn3 anymore :-(
Jeremy Spitzberg: but found an okay feed
Neal Thurman: firewall?
Jeremy Spitzberg: recording at home, just in case
Jeremy Spitzberg: provider?
Jeremy Spitzberg: dunno
Neal Thurman: got it
Jeremy Spitzberg: women keepers should just stay on their line
Jeremy Spitzberg: #justsaying

I Hope This Isn't An Omen For WBA

Once Woy arrived on the scene last season, just about everything worked out perfectly for Albion.  The initial phases of the transfer window were also widely acclaimed as a success with some solid (and inexpensive) moves to solidify the back line while not losing last season's star Peter Odemwingie to a bigger club.  So with all this good mojo heading into the season, WBA shows up in lovely San Jose, California and are promptly greeted by this...

Riise returns to England with Fulham

Riise returns to England with Fulham - Yahoo! News

Fulham have completed the signing of former Liverpool defender John Arne Riise from Italian side Roma for an undisclosed fee, the English Premier League club announced on Wednesday.

Riise has signed a three-year contract and his arrival at Craven Cottage will see him linking up with brother Bjorn Helge.

I guess this paves the way for the end of the Carlos Salcido experiment. Shame, as he was a good fantasy defender. But Riise, in his day, was a great fantasy option - taking set pieces, even playing in midfield at times. He's still just 30 years old, which honestly surprised me, and I would expect that he will still be good value for fantasy managers. Especially when Fulham are at home.

Wolves close to Johnson signing

Wolves close to Johnson signing - Yahoo! Eurosport
Wolves are closing in on the signing of Birmingham defender Roger Johnson after agreeing a fee approaching £7million, Press Association Sport understands.

Johnson held talks with Wolves officials at Molineux on Monday morning and was set to undergo a medical later that day.

Sources close to Wolves anticipate the deal being completed sooner rather than later.
This is a big statement of intent from Wolves. For a scrappy, competitive side they were too often a mess at the back. Hopefully Johnson can sort them out. And he's wont to put some in the back of the opponents net too. He'll be a nice target on set-pieces.

Adam to Liverpool

Liverpool Seal Charlie Adam Switch - SBNation.com

We've known it was coming for a while and now it appears to be official according to people all over the world wide webs.  The mysterious Liverpool summer in which they stockpile central midfielders and fail to address their core needs (LB, CB, and both wings).  It really leaves you wondering, doesn't it?

I like Adam as a player and he's certainly better than Henderson is right now.  That said, I'm not sure he's better than Meireles.  Whether he's better than Gerrard depends on which Gerrard shows up this year.  None of the above are better than Gerrard at his best but all of them might be better than broken-down, injury-plagued Gerrard.  Assuming that the Liverpool captain is somewhere in-between those two models coming into the new season, I have a hard time guessing where he falls in the pecking order.  One thing we do know is that unless he's physically unable to go, politics at Liverpool are such that he'll be in the line-up regardless of where age/injury have left his ability to perform. 

So what next for Liverpool? Does this signal the end of Meireles in red? (If Fab4 is leaving Arsenal they could do far worse than Meireles as a short term replacement while they're waiting for Ramsey, Wilshere, and the next young guy Wenger buys to grow into their prime.  Just a random thought but one I suspect will find its way into the gossip rags soon enough.  Alternatively, he'd be a great buy/exchange for Villa is they can't keep hold of Downing.

Bolton Sign Darren Pratley and Sell Ali Al Habsi

Bolton Wanderers | News | Latest News | General | Wanderers Snap-Up Pratley

I missed this news over the holiday weekend, but Bolton bolster their central midfield options - in the wake of releasing Joey O'Brien and Tamir Cohen - by signing Swansea's Darren Pratley. Also, they have sold Ali Al Habsi to Wigan after his loan spell there last season.

Pratley has been improving his goal-scoring over the last two seasons and put in nine for the Swans last term. I won't pretend to know much more about him, or how he might be used at Bolton alongside the likes of Holden and Mulumbu Muamba, but consider this a marker and a reminder for further study.

Al Habsi is a keeper we've liked for a while now, and I for one am happy to see he's found a home at Wigan.  For fantasy purposes he may provide a good, cheap squad option who can rotate with David De Gea and the like.

Now we await the real news, which will be Bolton's signing (or taking on loan) a forward, be it Daniel Sturridge or someone else.

Manchester City Sign Stefan Savic

Man City complete deal for Savic from Partizan - ESPN Soccernet

Savic, a center back with the speed and athleticism to play right back, is only 20 and would seem to be one for the future. That being said, the only players between him and first team spot are Kompany, Lescott, Toure (when not banned), Boyata, Richards, Boateng and Zabaleta. #bloat

Arsenal, Brazil, Moneyball, and Other Random Thoughts

A number of fairly random things that had been swirling around in my head all came together a bit for me this past Saturday night.  A few friends and I had just come from the DC United match against the Philadelphia Union and were hanging out for a beer or two post-game at the Capitol Lounge.  If you'd have asked me, I'd probably have told you than if/when my mind wandered at that point, I'd be thinking about my MLS bigamy in the wake of another live United/Union match-up.  Instead, I was transfixed by a Fox Soccer Channel airing of the highlights of the 2001-2002 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea. 

My first thought was that it was nice to see Arsenal winning some silverware even if it required me watching something almost 10 years old.

My second reaction was to think fondly back on the club legends of that era.  Tony Adams was still leading the team out.  David Seaman and his sure hands (and hilarious porn ponytail/mustache) were anchoring the net.  Campbell, ACole, Vieira, Wiltord, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, and TH14 were all young and at or near their best. Romantic times.

My third reaction was to remember that while domestic silverware has been lacking, those great teams from the early 2000s didn't ever really amount to much outside of England.  Here's a reminder of the European exploits of the silverware-winning group up through the Invincibles season.
  • 2000-01: out in the first knockout match
  • 2001-02: didn't make knockout stages
  • 2002-03: didn't make knockout stages
  • 2003-04: won 1 knockout match
  • 2004-05: out in first knockout match
Not exactly covered in glory until that next season when they made it to the Final only to lose to Barca.

So What? 

Clichy to Manchester City

As the blog's resident Gooner, I figured it was my moral obligation to weigh in on the move of Clichy to Manchester City over the weekend.  As is usually the case with Arsenal over the last five or six seasons, my feelings on the topic are complex.  Here's some thinking on as many aspects of the move as I can think of:

Australia Denied Penalty on Blatant Handball

Hard to see from the original (high) angle shot, but the replays show an amazing penalty that was not called!

A tip of the hat to @GrantWahl for the catch (no pun intended).

Video: Worst uncalled handball penalty I've ever seen http://t.co/pa3TIF5 (via @101greatgoals) #WWCless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

USA 3 - Columbia 0

While not quite the famous USA 1 - Columbia 0 from 1994, this was a good win by the USA women and showcased some spectacular goals. Special mention for Heather O'Reilly's screamer to open the match. Well worth a few minutes of your time.

USA/Belgium Friendly Scheduled

Neal, die-hard United States Men's National Team fan and recent admirer of the Belgian Red Devils is a happy man today. The Belgian Royal Football Association has on its website a friendly between the two countries scheduled for September 6, 2011.

Woohoo!! *Looking @ calendar* RT @jspitzberg: @nealjthurman wet dream! Official Belgian website US v Belgium on Sept. 6 http://bit.ly/jbsCxYless than a minute ago via yoono Favorite Retweet Reply

It doesn't appear that the match is finalized yet as the US hasn't announced it, but this is certainly something to look forward to over that first, HIGHLY ANNOYING international break right after the Premier League season gets underway.