Week 7 Team

After lots of thought, but surely little understanding, here's my week 7 team.

 Good night, and good luck.

Arsenal Financials: Dead Weight Wages the Issue

BBC Sport - Arsenal financial future secure - Ivan Gazidis:
So, even in a "down" year that happened during a down economy, Arsenal are extremely profitable. Here is the big question that their numbers should be stirring up as everyone focuses their time talking about the transfer dollars in and out:

What has the impact of the transfers in and out on the "rising wage bill" been? I'm sure Nasri, Clichy, and Cesc were on big wages but Arteta, Yossi, Mertesacker, and Gervinho must certainly be on big wages as well and as you can clearly count, there are more of them coming in than going out.

The other important question from a financial standpoint is the wage bill impact of the players who are likely paid above their production including Rosicky, Diaby, Squillaci, and Almunia on the current roster and guys like Bendtner and Vela who are on loan. How far forward Arsenal's obligation to players who are, while not entirely dead weight if healthy, are definitely a huge drag on the a wage bill that could certainly be more productive if some of the big numbers watching from the sidelines were removed from it.

If Arsenal are to make the sorts of moves that will at least restore them to a decided position of superiority over Spurs and Liverpool while being more threatening at the heels of Chelsea, City, and United then they have to clean up the dead weight on the wage bill and make room for a couple of players we can see they have the cash to acquire on the transfer market.

Injuries and Suspensions

No big intro today, other than to highlight the fact that Rooney and Chicharito being back probably has us all scrambling to figure out how to align our teams to get as many United players as possible into our line-ups against Norwich.

The Week Ahead, Part 2 - Player Picks

I have to admit that my first experiences watching a Roberto Mancini-coached team was a good one.  It was in a pre-scandal Italy (at least the recent one).  Inter Milan were still a plucky 3rd or 4th best team fighting to keep up with Milan and Juve.  The thing that I remember enjoying about them is that you could see just about anything from them on any given weekend.  They could play the typical Italian grinding style and win 1-0, they could go up 3-0 and find a way to give away that lead for a thrilling conclusion or they could go down 3-0 and come all the way back to win 4-3.  It was a win of the latter type that I recall as my first meaningful recollection of Mancini.  It wasn't enough to get me to follow Serie A religiously but it was enough for me to pull for Inter.

I mention this because the same sort of pattern seems to be unfolding at Manchester City.  The budget is bigger.  The upside of the talent at his disposal is higher.  Still, there appear to be two common characteristics that bond his Inter teams with his City teams.  The first is their variance in mental discipline.  No matter what has happened in the matches and even the minutes leading up to a specific instant in time appears to be entirely irrelevant to predicting what will happen next.  Their first choice players will be playing poorly (like last weekend) and someone deep in the doghouse (Balotelli) or in a deep slump (Milner) score goals. You just never seem to know what is going to happen next. The week before it was looking great for the first 60 or 70 minutes and then collapsing and giving up a 2-0 lead on the road in the last 20 minutes rather than creating a 2 goal lead in the last 20 minutes.

The other thing that binds these two Mancini teams is the presence of some, shall we say, unique personalities.  This season's edition features Tevez's increasingly bizarre and petulant behavior, de Jong's no-holds-barred challenges (and occasional dirty play), Dzeko's seemingly from out of nowhere personality, and of course Balotelli-being-Balotelli.  For me, since I really have little for or against City historically, the combination of these two factors and Mancini's ability to manage a team to just about any outcome has made them a really fun story to follow this season.  May it long continue rather than evolving the way Chelsea did under similar financial circumstances.  It would be a shame if City became more ruthless but at the same time less interesting to watch.

OK, on to the player picks:

Holden Injured Again

American midfielder Stuart Holden to miss another six months with knee injury - Soccer Insider - The Washington Post:

It is rare that I get to link the blog of my favorite writer on US Soccer as there aren't many cross-over topics between his blog (mostly focused on the USMNT and MLS) and our Premier League and Premier League Fantasy blog.

Sadly, my opportunity comes on the occasion of Stuart Holden's relapse to the ranks of the long-term injured. Apparently he wasn't all the way healed and by coming back either unearthed or aggravated his condition. He required additional surgery yesterday and appears to be out until the start of next season.

Huge bummer for fans of Bolton, the USMNT, and fantasy managers everywhere hoping he'd get back to the form he flashed early last season.

Good luck for a speedy and full recovery to Mr. Holden.

The Week Ahead, Part 1 - The Schedule

Good to see Olof Mellberg again.  It's been a while.

In case you hadn't guessed, I am watching Arsenal vs. Olympiokos on DVR as I write this column.  I figured I'd better watch because I need to catch up on all the midweek excitement that I started missing out on yesterday while I was on the road for work.  Jeremy wrote about the drama at Manchester City and we've started to see stories elsewhere on topics related to the quality of Manchester United minus Wayne Rooney after their second consecutive draw to an inferior opponent.

The story line coming out of Arsenal seems likely to be the effectiveness of the unusual line-up that Wenger trotted out for the home tie with the Greek side.  If we didn't know Wenger better we'd guess that a line-up featuring Chamakh, Ox, Santos, Rosicky, and Frimpong would be one that would feature in the Carling Cup or the earlier stages of the FA Cup, not the Champions League group stage after dropping 2 points late in their opener in Germany.  Now, we DO know Wenger and for that reason we can be reasonably assured that his Carling Cup team will be significantly younger than this one.

[Match Update] The returns are positive early as I'm only two paragraphs in and the Ox made a nice move across the box and finished with aplomb. [/Match Update] 

The topic of The Ox brings me to another Arsenal related topic that underscores a point I made a few weeks back about how difficult and/or unusual it is for innovators like Wenger to be able to repeat the magic a second or third time once his rivals have caught up or surpassed the initial innovations that made him special in the first place.

Wenger's real trick was identifying undervalued "properties" and those opportunities generally came from one or two places - players like Vieira or Henry who were under-performing on the benches of big clubs elsewhere and players from lower profile countries or leagues.  That second group of players tended to come from places like West Africa that most clubs hadn't yet realized was a hotbed of emerging talent.  In the supply and demand-driven world of transfer economics, the relative lack of suitors meant low prices.

[Match Update] Nice ball in from Santos for a streaking ChamWow and then an even better follow-up for Arsenal's second goal.  That guy would be a fantasy force and a line-up fixture if he weren't, you know, forced to defend.  If Arsenal played with a true left midfielder in the Ashley Young/Stuart Downing mold, I'd advocate for Santos to be that guy and all the better since he's listed (without irony apparently) as a defender. As I was finishing this mini-update off ChamWow got a great opportunity and couldn't finish, what happened to him? [/Match Update]

A funny thing happened on the way to this model continuing to produce for Arsenal and Wenger, they either stopped pushing the frontier of emerging talent.  With the widespread realization that a bunch of African nations produce a great deal of talent, the competition and prices for that talent has gone up.  As other clubs have gone to places like Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, and the US to find relatively cheap talents like Luis Suarez, Chicharito and Clint Dempsey. Until the summer acquisitions of both a Japanese and Costa Rican player, Arsenal had been conspicuously slow to either enter or find any success in these emerging markets for talent.  Carlos Vela has been their only real brush with any of these emerging countries.

Instead, they have been spending their time and resources on recruiting expensive domestic and continental talent like Ox, Walcott, Nasri, and Ramsey at the "up and coming" level and players like Arshavin, Gervinho, Arteta, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen at the "established" level.  It isn't necessarily a complaint related to the players acquired but a question about the ability to succeed if they are going to be competing for players everyone is watching.  If guys like Aguero, Silva, and Mata represent the best "obvious" players that could be bought, it means that Arsenal are going to try to win by buying the second tier of "obvious" players.  Their system of play has been successful and fun to watch but it isn't sufficiently superior to elevate a team of second tier talents over a team of first tier talents.

[Match Update] Can we just ship Arshavin off now.  I just saw the reverse angle of Olympiokos' comically-easy first goal.  As the Greek player steamed toward the ball he eventually headed into the net, Arshavin - the closest Gunner - just sat there and watched like it was beneath him to track a late attacking run.  If that's how he feels, then why not at least spread the field and be further up for a quick counter attack?  Just no excuse for wandering aimlessly NEAR the area without putting out any effort to defend while you're there. [/Match Update]

In case you're wondering, the above was inspired indirectly by an email conversation I had with Simon Kuper (and yes, I'm shamelessly name-dropping) in which he called the types of books he writes "useful". I figured I'd better continue to use what I learned from reading Soccernomics and his column from Financial Times [Free Registration Required].

I know I write about Arsenal a fair amount but hopefully you continue to find the perspective both unbiased and at least a little bit different than what you're reading elsewhere.  With that, we're on to our analysis of the upcoming schedule:

Week 7 Barn Door Team

I have three different options for you to choose from this week.  Please vote in the comments below.

First there is the real Barn Door team, the one I came out of the weekend with:

I was nervous about going all in on the North London derby, but surely there are goals there.

 Then came the news about Tevez and Dzeko, and all of a sudden Balotelli (God help us all) looks like a great option, at Rovers.  So out goes RvP, who to be fair was flattered by a 10-man Bolton side, and we shake up the team with the extra money.  

Tevez and Dzeko in hot water with Mancini

Exit stage right.

 The news coming out of Manchester City's 0-2 loss to Bayern Munich is explosive.  Evidently, Carlos Tevez refused to come on as a substitute. As a result,
Roberto Mancini tells the post-match press conference that Carlos Tevez will "never, never play for City again".
In addition, it's also being reported on Twitter that Dzeko will also be benched.
It won't get as much coverage but Mancini was "furious" with Edin Dzeko too - "he will sit the next game next to me"
This may be the chance for Adebayor Jo Santa Cruz Bellamy Balotelli to grab the starting striker role against Blackburn.

UPDATE: Evidently, Dzeko had a strop when he was substituted.
Mancini also had strong words for striker Edin Dzeko who also reacted poorly at being a sub.  
“As for Dzeko, if he plays better next time, then maybe he can stay on the pitch.

“If we want to improve to the level of Bayern Munich, some players need to improve their behaviour.

“Dzeko was unhappy but I should be the one who is unhappy after his performance, not Dzeko.

“This is the last time that any player moves his head from side to side like this when they are substituted. You can feel upset inside but keep it inside.”
Video, after the jump.

UPDATE, Part the Second:

''Manchester City can confirm that striker Carlos Tevez has been suspended until further notice for a maximum period of two weeks,'' read a club statement.

''The player's suspension is pending a full review into his alleged conduct during Tuesday evening's 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich. The player will not be considered for selection or take part in training whilst the review is under way.''

Rooney could miss 'weeks'

Sir Alex Ferguson: Wayne Rooney could miss 'weeks' - ESPN Soccernet
Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed that Wayne Rooney could miss "a few weeks" of Manchester United's season.

United served up a surprise at Stoke on Saturday, as they arrived at the Britannia Stadium without their star man. Ferguson told ESPN after the 1-1 draw that the club had endured a "nightmare" training session on Friday. And it appears Rooney was one of the casualties with a hamstring injury.

"Rooney's is not a serious injury, but it was enough to keep him out today, and I think maybe for a few weeks," Ferguson said.

United lost Jonny Evans in the warm-up, while Javier Hernandez lasted less than 10 minutes before limping off.
More on these injuries as we find out the details.

First XI - What We Learned in Week 6

Sometimes there's no substitute for a good old fashioned lesson/reminder about what not to do in picking your fantasy team.  The first lesson I (re)learned this past weekend is that Friday trading with no additional information will generally lead to you out-thinking yourself.

What do I mean? On Friday, without any news from Wenger, I got it in my head that Gibbs might not start and that I should move to Boyata as a "more stable" enabler pick at the back.  This despite watching the Rovers match last weekend in which Santos essentially handed Rovers the two goals they scored themselves by playing Yakubu onside (even if one of the two wasn't actually onside, he was playing unnecessarily close and made it easier for the linesman to make the mistake).  Regardless, I made the switch and more so than losing out on that many points (2.5 for Boyata vs. 6 for Gibbs) I lost a likely starter from ARS for most of the year at 2.something for an occasional starter from BOL for a similar price.  Not a wise move.

The other lesson I (re)learned was that you shouldn't try to get too cute.  The other move I made on Friday was that I initially decided that it would be a good idea to double down on CHE defenders.  I swapped Richards out and brought in Luiz thinking he would start given the modest opposition.  An email exchange with Jeremy (fortunately) convinced me that Luiz was probably not going to start.  For some reason, after making that determination I didn't go straight back to Richards but started over-thinking my choice and decided to go with Smalling.  Indefensible move really.  He's playing away to a solid team vs. Richards playing at home against a solid team.  I let the NdJ injury get into my head too much and it ended with zero points when Smalling was left out of the squad vs. the 8 that Richards got for his modest phantom points and a clean sheet.  The overall result was about 10 points that I got vs. 23 or so that I would have gotten if I'd stuck to my guns and followed the rules. 

The third thing I (re)learned was to listen to my own advice.  I called the Ramires performance but didn't pull the trigger much to my own chagrin.  

OK, enough of my bitching, on to the more important observations about Week 6 in the Premier League that apply to all of our teams (and occasionally the real world too).

The Barn Door Live - Week 5

Injuries and Suspensions

We're finally back on schedule here at blog headquarters and since it is Friday morning on the East Coast of the United States that means it is time for all the news that is fit to print, err, type and link to about injuries and suspensions and how they impact your fantasy choices for the weekend.

The Week Ahead, Part Two - Player Picks

Sometimes we, and by we I mean the blog, pay the price for this not being a full time job.  There are times when the job that pays the bills takes precedence over the enjoyment of bringing you blog posts so long that your bosses, significant others, non-fantasy-playing friends, and children complain about the time spent on them on occasion.  I enjoy writing them as much as (I hope) you enjoy reading them.  Unfortunately, Wednesday and yesterday found me focused from dawn until dusk on my day job and with only enough energy to write part 1 of The Week Ahead.  Because I'm guessing you'd rather have the player picks as soon as I can get them to you versus waiting until I come up with a good-sized rant to open the column, I'll dispense with the usual prelude and get right to the picks.

The Week Ahead, Part 1 - The Schedule

 I have to be honest, I'm not feeling much in a ranting mood today.  A mid-week full of Carling Cup matches doesn't provide a lot of fodder for a good rant.  So, in the interest of keeping it brief (for once) I'll move directly to the schedule analysis which, I know, tends to go a little long anyway.

Agger out for a month

Rib facture sidelines Agger | Liverpool Football Club News, Fixtures, Results, Gossip
Liverpool defender Daniel Agger could be out for up to four weeks after fracturing a rib in Sunday's 4-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at Tottenham.

The Denmark international sustained the injury when he fell heavily in the first half and had to be substituted before half-time.
Evidently Daglish is down-playing the injury. Regardless, Liverpool can't continue to play center-backs out wide. None of Carragher, Skrtel or Agger have the pace for the role as was shown so starkly this weekend.

However, this doesn't have to be an issue. Even with Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly injured (hamstrings), Daglish still has youngsters John Flanagan and Jack Robinson able to play the position. And he hasn't been shy about using them in the past.

At home to Wolves this weekend, I would hope that he plays Flanagan at right back. That would be great for fantasy managers as well as Flanagan is listed at 3.96 in the Y! game. Right now I have Boyata (@Arsenal) as an enabler and while I can't move to Flanagan, I would definitely explore the option.

Hatem Ben Arfa set for Newcastle return

We're as suprised as anyone.

Hatem Ben Arfa set to return to action for Newcastle - ESPN Soccernet
Hatem Ben Arfa will finally return to the Newcastle side almost a year after suffering a double leg break against Manchester City.

...Now he will pull on the black and white shirt on Wednesday night as Newcastle travel to struggling Championship side Nottingham Forest in the Carling Cup.
It seems like the Carling Cup match will be his first introduction back into the team. I wouldn't expect him to start Premier League matches just yet. Pardew continues,
"What's important for him is to make sure he grabs the work-rate that we have got in the team. If he grabs that, he's got a good chance of getting into this team.
That's a shame with Rovers the visitors to St. James' Park this weekend.

However, when he does play, he'll be the attacking hub of the team. Likely he'll play off a lone-striker.
"He will have that number 10 role that Demba Ba did on Saturday and did very, very well for us, so that's where he's got good competition."
I've got Cabaye in my team at the moment, but if HBA comes through the Cup match unscathed, picking him up at 4.29 will be very tempting.  At the least he'll be a Barn Door selection with Newcastle's upcoming schedule including Rovers, @Wolves, Spurs, Wigan, @Stoke.

First XI - What We Learned in Week 5

In theory when you're a journalist you don't root for teams and therefore all you're looking for is an angle, something interesting to write about that will get people to buy your newspaper, click on your link, or head to the Facebook page to make some pithy comments about your genius idiocy.  As much as we'd all like to believe that our journalists stick to this standard (because they tell us over and over that they do), people don't get into sports journalism because it is incredibly lucrative or because it is likely to get you a lot of acclaim with the opposite sex.  No, they get into it because they are huge sports fans who aren't athletic enough to play sports for a living and this is the most feasible way to earn a living being involved with a kids game while still being able to afford to eat.

One of the best things about the blogging revolution is that it has removed the necessity to keep up the illusion that those of us that write about the game don't also have personal feelings about the teams and players.  I try to remain as objective as I can when doing analysis for fantasy purposes because fantasy is a game of numbers and you'll only read what I have to write if my advice is helpful.  Favoring the teams and players I LIKE versus the ones who are likely to be productive will lead to people thinking my analysis sucks and turning to one or more of the other options available for their fantasy league preparation.  That said, in the spaces around the objective fantasy analysis, I am not shy about letting you know who I like and dislike, respect and don't respect, root for and root against, etc.

The reason I give you this preamble is that it has taken me a while to arrive at something I'm happy about writing this week because this weekend was a pretty depressing one for me as a fan.  It was the moment that I finally decided that Arsene Wenger is done.  I'll propose a potential remedy for their current ailments below but I have no sense that it will happen.  To heap general misery on top of the state of Arsenal and its impact on me is the fact that almost all of the meaningful storylines this past weekend were negative.  Here's the run down from I to XI...

Week 6 Barn Door Team


It's all change at the back for me as Kieran Gibbs seems to have lost his place to Andre Santos.  Who knows what is going on at Arsenal but the Brazilian did but up good points against Rovers, and gets Bolton at home this week.  Another flying (former) Arsenal fullback, Armand Traore, gets the nod too.  I was hoping to get him last week but didn't like the way he limped out of the Newcastle match previously.  My loss as he even got an assist.  Queens Park Rangers host Aston Villa, which isn't a great matchup, but I do like the option.

Another QPR new boy, Shaun Wright-Phillips, remains a bright spot in my otherwise run-of-the-mill lineup. He continued his good form in an advanced midfield role, and at 4 and change is becoming an indispensable player.

Maybe not as indispensable as David SIlva, however.  This was Silva's worst week to date, but he's still putting up points with the promise of continued returns.  Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero round out the Manchester City contingent.  Hosting Everton isn't an ideal matchup, but I dare anyone to start dropping these players.

That being said, I did move former Gunner Nasri out for current Gunner Mikel Arteta.  "Who knows what is going on at Arsenal" but Arteta scored a goal and was taking corner kicks.  His price jumped as a result and it was worth getting him in the team before that happened.

The final midfield spot is a bit of an enabler. Yohan Cabaye is becoming the almost man for Newcastle, striking the bar against Aston Villa on a lovely snap shot from range. However, I like that he's shooting and taking kicks. Newcastle also host Rovers on Sunday and that seems to pay off. I was origianlly looking at Gabriel Obertan as a true enabler, but picking Dedryck Boyata in defence allowed me to move off someone whom I'm taking to calling "The Invisible Man".  I just never see him on the pitch.  Sometimes I do see him, but I've yet to see him make an impactful play. Until then, I'll keep my distance.

Of course, all this movement is to afford Wayne Rooney.  I didn't keep him against Chelsea and I almost paid a very heavy price. He ended the day with a respectable 9.5 points, but missed a penalty, hit the post on another shot, and had Dimitar Berbatov skew what would have been a assist off target. Manchester United are at Stoke this week, and as we know that's a tough place to play. In fact I originally had Javier Hernandez in the team, but with his potential injury layoff combined with Rooney's irresistible form at the moment, I don't want to take the chance of missing out.

Who's on your barn door team this morning?

Hernandez out for a "few weeks"

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

UPDATE: ManUtd.com is reporting that Welbeck is available for the Red Devils' League Cup match against Leeds United.
Danny Welbeck has revealed he is feeling fit again after returning to training and is ready to make a comeback when called upon by Sir Alex.

The striker started the season in superb form but pulled up with a hamstring problem after scoring in the win against Arsenal at Old Trafford. After making a speedy recovery, the exciting England international is delighted to be pushing for selection again.

"I trained late last week and had a little rest on Sunday before coming back in again on Monday," he told ManUtd.com. "I'm feeling good.

"I don't know the squad yet for Leeds but, if I'm called upon, I'm always prepared to be there as I feel ready. I wouldn't be training if I wasn't."

UPDATE: Seemingly we did indeed over-react. Y!Eurosport reports a statement from Chicharito's agent.
"Nothing, it's just a bump, nothing more," said Eduardo Hernandez. "It looked like (his absence) was longer, they were looking for a fracture, that's why they ran those tests on him. "I expect him to be training without incident on Wednesday."

from The Guardian
"We will have to see what the damage is in the morning but his [Javier Hernández's] leg is very numb and he could be out for a couple of weeks."
As Sir Alex says, we'll see. He was pretty critical of his own players, including Wayne Rooney, in the interview and seemed to be reaching a bit to keep the motivation high. I would expect Hernandez to be back sooner rather than later, but we'll see.

Wigan's Rodallega suffers serious knee injury

  Wigan's Rodallega suffers serious knee injury - Yahoo! Eurosport
Wigan Athletic's Colombia forward Hugo Rodallega could be sidelined for up to three months after damaging knee ligaments near the end of their 3-1 defeat at Everton in the Premier League on Saturday, manager Roberto Martinez said.

Hugo has damaged the medial ligament in his right knee and it doesn't look good," Martinez was quoted as saying on Wigan's official website (www.wiganlatics.co.uk).

Di Santo has been playing well, and now it doesn't look like he'll have any competition for the starting role until Christmas.

The Barn Door Live

We're back!

Gervinho to Score for Arsenal Against Blackburn | Never Captain Nicky Butt

This man gives Never Captain Nicky Butt a funny feeling.

Gervinho to Score for Arsenal Against Blackburn | Never Captain Nicky Butt:

The inimitable Ibracadabra was definitely on the same page as Jeremy and me when he came up with his Funny Feeling Friday pick for this week. Between the match-up, price and the fact that he's likely to be a bit of an afterthought after 3 weeks riding the Premier League pine due to his Barton-gate induced suspension you can't go too far wrong. The only question is whether he's SO obvious an underdog pick that he goes from being an under-appreciated to being an over-appreciated one without having kicked a ball in the league since Week 1.

We'll let you see what Ibracadabra has to say and you can decide for yourself.

Never Manage Alone: Y!AM Player Picks

Yahoo! Fantasy Football Blog - Your Assistant Manager: Week 5 - Player Picks:

Here's the link to Nik's Player Picks column for this week. I can't imagine that you'd need a different perspective than mine but he's pretty clever so I won't be offended if you click :-)

Injuries and Suspensions: Week 4

Premier League team news - ESPN Soccernet:

Here is the important news from behind the link along with the fantasy implications that the news implies.

Good news for Van der Vaart

  1. He "is expected to be back in action ahead of schedule."
  2. He "could play some part in the game [against Liverpool] at White Hart Lane."
  3. He's married to this woman:

The Week Ahead: Part 2 - Player Picks

"Fleet Street says you're shit!" is the new tea cups.

It was interesting reading the reaction to Manchester City's Champions League debut this morning.  My take after reading in a few places was that the media as a group were disappointed by City's results.  I was at work yesterday and didn't get a chance to watch the match live but after spending some time watching the replay, I was struck by the incongruity between the media reaction I'd read and the match I saw.

I saw a City team that played very well and could easily have scored 3 or 4 goals.  They were unlucky to hit the post (flush on one occasion and the inside on another) and not have the ball go in.  I will also say that they could easily have conceded more than the one that did go in - there was a crucial goalline clearance after Hart was beaten.  Still, if you total the chances that were THIS close to going in for each side, City had a decided advantage and if they had all gone in City would have won comfortably.  That this was achieved without the benefit of a true holding midfielder in Nigel de Jong's absence makes it a pretty reasonable Champions League debut against a pretty strong attacking team.

Perhaps the negative reaction in the press was due to the nature of City's impressive early season start in the league.  Perhaps the talent available - many with Champions League experience elsewhere - the expectation was dramatically different than say Spurs similar debut last season.  Maybe it was the fact that Napoli, regardless of the talent currently on their roster, isn't one of the glamour teams in Europe while people are penciling City into that category due to their assembled talent and the depth of their bank account.  Maybe it was concern over the overall quality of City's group.  Whatever the reason, I think City will progress to the knock-out stages and gain momentum as the group stage evolves and they become more and more familiar with their new players.

With that relatively brief rant off my chest, we'll move on to the player picks for this week:

Scouting, statistics and rice: the rise and fall of Arsène Wenger - FT.com

Scouting, statistics and rice: the rise and fall of Arsène Wenger - FT.com:

I don't think any of the themes about Arsene Wenger that Simon Kuper covers in this article will surprise any of the readers of this blog. I'm mostly posting this link (free sign-up required) because one of the most (the most?) respected pundit writing about the beautiful game has echoed the sentiments that I/we have been writing about Wenger.

The comparison with Billy Beane (of Moneyball fame) is an apt one as is the conclusion that even the most successful and pioneering among us have a tendency to fall in love with what has worked for us in the past. Detroit continues to love muscle cars. Microsoft still relies heavily on PC-based programs and still hasn't really figured out the web. Big media companies continue to focus their operations on print with digital secondary rather than the other way around. The lesson is that most great innovators don't have a second act. Even Google with all of its resources is still struggling for a second big hit.

As such, it is not at all incompatible to say that Wenger has been the most influential manager of his generation (not the best mind you, SAF has that salted away) AND that it is time for someone new to bring in the next innovation at Arsenal if they are going to continue to compete without the benefit of spending beyond their means.

An interesting question to ponder if you agree that Wenger has peaked is "If a manager or management team exists that can deliver the next level of innovation, would they have any motivation to choose to work at Arsenal?" Depending on your answer to that question you are also answering the question "Have Arsenal peaked as a club at the same time that Wenger peaked? Or can they find a way to have a second act under different leadership?"

Just something to think about as I get ready to start in on the Player Picks column

Swans Defence Down to Bare Bones

Swansea's make-shift back-line.

Caulker increases Swans' concerns - Yahoo! Eurosport:
Swansea have been dealt another defensive blow ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash against West Brom, with Steven Caulker set for a spell on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury.

The 19-year-old on-loan centre-half has started all four of the Swans Premier League games to date but damaged his cartilage after twisting his knee making a brave goal-line clearance in the 1-0 defeat at Arsenal last weekend, and will return to parent club Tottenham for treatment...

Swansea are already without Alan Tate, who recently broke his leg in a golf buggy accident, although captain Garry Monk could be in line for a rapid return after stepping up his return from a foot injury.

Manager Brendan Rodgers, who returned to training today following the death of his father, has also not been helped by the delay in receiving international clearance for deadline day signings Darnel Situ and Rafik Halliche, leaving him short of options at the back.

Kemy Agustien, who had been identified as a possible solution to the defensive shortage, is also out after suffering a hamstring injury against Arsenal, but fellow midfielder Wayne Routledge is back in training after missing out at the Emirates with an ankle problem.
You know when a golf cart injury hits that it's going to be a long season.  Swansea have been surprisingly strong defensively - an opening day 0-4 loss to Manchester City notwithstanding.  Since then they've kept clean sheets against Wigan and Sunderland and only conceded a fluke goal to Arsenal at the weekend.  I've had the mellifluous, Angel Rangel in my team for that stretch and have been very happy with the returns.  However, there's a point where it stops bending and starts breaking.  I would not expect them to keep a clean sheet against West Brom this weekend.  Odemwingie is the master of scoring in matches such as this. To that end, I'm considering dropping Rangel, even at home, to a cheaper defender to spend elsewhere.  To Neal's conclusions yesterday, I'm even considering betting on Bolton!

The Week Ahead: Part 1 - The Schedule

With the Manchester teams continuing to dominate the standings - both real and fantasy points - we come upon the first real test of the season.  Chelsea arrives at Old Trafford as the first team not already eliminated from the title race to face either high-flying Manchester side.  I don't really believe that Chelsea are in the race for the championship but with the collection of raw talent on hand and the fact that we're early in the season means we can't entirely write the possibility off (like we can for Arsenal, Spurs, and Liverpool).  Additionally, the memory of the United/Chelsea match at the close of last season should also be fresh in the minds of fantasy managers as there weren't that many points to be had there.

The occasion of Manchester United vs. Chelsea brings us a major dilemma.  Do we assume that United will continue to plow ahead with their domination of their opponents? If we make that assumption then it is a strong move to keep the United players - DDG, Rooney, Chicharito, etc - who you may have at a discount.

The alternative is to assume that Chelsea will make things very difficult for United and regardless of the outcome, make fantasy points hard to come by.  If you make that assumption the question becomes "where do I spend the money I'd been plowing into ManYoo players?"

I wish there were some statistical technique that I had unearthed to give you some hidden insight into the answer to the dilemma posed above.  Sadly, I don't have anything like that handy and if I did, I'd be gambling on my inside information rather than writing about it. What I will push forward are a few thoughts:

1) United are at home and over the past four seasons they are 3-1 against Chelsea at Old Trafford (when Chelsea were arguably more talented) with two clean sheets.  The last 2 matches have been 2-1 affairs with one going in each direction.

2) I like Chelsea's array of talent a lot more now with Mata, Sturridge, and Lukaku attacking, Luiz at the back, and AVB seemingly willing to tell Torres to have a seat until he starts doing his job and scoring goals.  The flipside of that statement is that the roster still feels disjointed with an odd mix of fading talents (JT, Lamps, Drogs, Elk) and rising stars (the group above and maybe Ramires if you're feeling charitable about his potential and athletic skills).  What Chelsea still lack is a core of exceptional players at the peak of their powers to bring together the old and the new.  FloMal, Mikel, Alex, Ivanovic, and Torres (plus Essien) were supposed to be those guys and while only Torres has been abjectly horrible none of the others among the healthy of that group have been exceptional either.  FloMal has had some exceptional stretches and Ivanovic has had some stretches of well-above-average-ness but that's about it.  More than enough on most days but not against the United buzzsaw.

3) By contrast to the picture of Chelsea painted above, United have a great combination of young (DDG, Smalling, Jones, Anderson, Cleverly, Welbeck, the twins, and Chicharito), old (mostly just Giggs and Rio now that GNev and Scholes have retired), and exceptional players in their primes (Rooney, AY, Vidic, Nani, and Evra).  When playing at home, it is going to be hard to overcome that combination.

Overall, my verdict (in the tradition of this year's version of this column) is that I'd favor United's attackers to do very well in this match-up but I'm not as bullish on their defenders and DDG being able to hold a clean sheet.  Verdict: Advantage United Attackers.

With my extended United vs. Chelsea preview out of the way, here are some notes on the other notable match-ups for the coming week:

Matt Jarvis Fit for Wolves

Needless to say, they're all very happy with the news.

Matt Jarvis declared fit for Wolves
[Matt Jarvis], who came off the bench for the last 14 minutes against Spurs, revealed how an injection has now solved the problem [ankle injury].

He said: "It’s been managed well and the injection has sorted it now, so I just want to carry on training and try to get back into the team.

"I’m 100 per cent fit and I want to carry on where I left off after a good start to the season.
Tasty matchup, decent price. He'll be competing with the likes of Theo Walcott, Mikel Arteta, and Leon Osman in that 12 range. But his taking set-pieces could see him get the nod in my fantasy team.

Eleven Things We Learned: Week 4

Never let it be said that I'm not happy to bow to the will of the audience.  You asked for 11 things that we learned instead of 10 and, never one to turn down the opportunity to write more rather than less, I'm in.  I have to admit that I was on the road returning from vacation all day on Saturday.  I followed the matches online as they happened, I watched the replay of the Arsenal match, and I saw most of both Sunday matches.  Not as much as I'd like to have see as the basis for this column but enough, when combined with highlights and fantasy results, to make for a strong column (or so I'd like to think).

Gyan Leaves Sunderland on Loan

What, me worry?

I'm not sure how this works outside of the transfer window, but Asamoah Gyan has left Sunderland. From Sunderland's official website:

Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan is set to join United Arab Emirates side Al-Ain on loan.

Officials from Al-Ain made contact with Sunderland earlier in the week with a view to signing the player on a permanent deal. After further discussions overnight however, it was agreed that the striker would join the club on a season-long loan.

Sunderland AFC would like to thank the officials from Al-Ain for the professional manner in which they entered into negotiations and the club wishes all parties well.

Manager Steve Bruce said: "Anyone who has seen Asamoah play will know that he hasn't been himself in recent months. This option suits all parties at the present time and the club is well-protected in the deal.

"Asamoah has three years remaining on his contract and of course my wish would be that he finds his spark again and we see him in red and white stripes next season in the form that first attracted us to him."

Gyan never settled at Sunderland, although he certainly had some highlights. This leaves Nicklas Bendtner as their only "experienced" Premier League striker, with Connor Wickham and the Bishop, Ji Dong-Won the other forwards. After today's match against Chelsea, Sunderland host Stoke, travel to Norwich and host West Brom. Bendtner under 6 could be a useful option and his schedule compares favorably against Adebayor's, who is similarly priced.

Javier Hernandez - The Forgotten Man

UPDATE:  I guess the secret is out.  Neal has included Chicharito in his Week Ahead Player Picks. Great minds, and all that.


Word on the street - and by street I mean Twitter - is that Danny Welbeck is going to return to training next week following his hamstring injury. In the meantime, Javier Hernandez is going to start against Bolton Wanderers, at Bolton, and to me looks a good fantasy bet. He's only 10 in the Yahoo! game, and I assume that he'll keep his starting place even if Welbeck recovers quickly. With a lot of good striking options like Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie costing a pretty penny, and uncertainty over some of the cheaper options like Juan Mata and Bryan Ruiz for example, Hernandez good be a value for money pick.

The Week Ahead, Part 2 - Player Picks

Unfortunately, my schedule and a general lack of a reliable internet connection prevented me from posting as much as I'd have liked about the transfer window.  In an effort to at least summarize some thoughts related to fantasy before the matches start up I'll do a quick version here before we get to this week's player picks.

Villa - As Spurs play revolving Right Backs with Villa Kyle Walker (and then Luke Young) head out and Alan Hutton makes his way in as the presumed starting right back.  For those hoping that Eric Lichaj (and his rock bottom price) would get a start you will have no such luck.  At 7.60, Hutton is his typical self.  Reasonably priced for now when he is at home against modest competition.  He'll occasionally have a solid attacking match but nothing you should get too excited about. 

Rovers - I really like the move for Scott Dann and there are other teams (Spurs, Arsenal, etc.) who would have done well to make that same move as cover for injury-plagued center back corps. From a fantasy standpoint, not much to see here as Dann won't likely be a definite starter. 

Bolton - Speaking of cut-priced defenders, Bolton got a nice one in Boyata who should get a long run of matches for a price of 2.05.  I wouldn't go in on him at home against United this coming weekend but the Barn Door holds some promise of a home match with Norwich the following week.  Other moves that deserve watching from a fantasy standpoint are the arrivals of Kakuta (we'll see how he fits in with Eagles and MPet) and N'gog (also likely to start out as a reserve).  I don't see either man going straight into the squad but there is at least SOME potential there. 

Everton - I have to admit that I haven't watched much Spanish soccer recently and even if I had, I'm not sure I'd have seen much of Royston Drenthe.  At one point he played well enough for Real to buy him but he's been mostly forgotten since then.  Whether he still has anything to offer remains to be seen.  I know even less of Denis Stracqualursi but you have to think he'll get a good run of playing time with Beckford and Yakubu sold off and Saha always a risk to be hurt (seriously, he could have been hurt while I was writing this paragraph).  The real winner here might be young Ross Barkley who will likely get a chance to play with Arteta gone from the Everton midfield.  That one really looks like he'll be worth watching. 

Fulham - I'm liking this Fulham team more and more with two solid acquisitions in Grygera and Ruiz.  Grygera will likely end up as an inexpensive starting right back option which is always nice to have around.  Ruiz could be anything from the next Alvarez, Mutu, Suarez to van Nistelrooy.  My guess is that he ends up injecting some pace into the Fulham attack to give them additional looks.  Hard to know whether he'll start regularly but I'll certainly be keeping tabs to find out on both.  There may be some downside here for Zamora/Dembele/Dempsey.  

NUFC - Davide Santon doesn't sound terribly Italian but at one point he was supposed to be the next big thing in Italian defenders.  If regular playing time can help him capture even some of that back then this is a great move for NUFC.  The question is whether RTay moves up to play left midfield (which would be good for him) or whether he goes to the bench in favor of Gutierrez.  If RTay goes to the bench then there may be some upside for Cabaye who will likely get more kicks.  Definitely worth watching to see how this works out.

QPR - Welcome to the club the poor man's version of the Premier League starter kit.  Joey Barton, SWP, Anton Ferdinand, and Luke Young all bring solid campaigners who are likely paid much more than they are worth.  Club finances aside though, they should be upgrades over what QPR had.  Barton, SWP and Taarabt could combine to make a very solid attacking midfield trio.  The question that we'll all need to be watching is who will be taking kicks between Taarabt and Barton and how much SWP has left in the tank.  SWP, due to his low price, 4.39, could be particularly interesting if he finds some of his old form.

Stoke - For me, Crouch is the only marginally interesting signing here and I'm still not sure he starts.  I assume Kenwyne Jones has the starting role as a target forward and regardless of Tony Pulis' love for fielding a basketball team rather than a soccer team, the idea of a Jones/Crouch partnership just feels awkward.

Sunderland - As bad an idea as Crouch to Stoke seems, I'm very optimistic about Bendtner to Sunderland.  He's exactly the kind of foil they need for Gyan up top.  I also think he'll be very good despite the fact he seems like a bit of a d!ck of a person.  That he comes in at a price of 5.55 doesn't hurt either.

OK, that was a long build-up so now we'll get to the player recommendations:

The Week Ahead: Part 1 - The Schedule

The first international break of the season.  It always comes too quickly and seems like it goes on forever.  I'm sure there are all sorts of reasons not to do this but why wouldn't the nice people at the Premier League suggest (read: Force) FIFA to have their international date in late August so that:

  1. People could get back from their vacations;
  2. There wasn't an unseemly break just after the start of the season; and 
  3. The transfer window could be completed (or all-but) before the matches start up.

The benefits would be as follows:

  1. The presence of families back from their vacations might increase attendance in places where that is an issue.
  2. Clubs would have their actual squad for more matches that count.  The velocity of change between the first Premier League match of the season and the end of the window is pretty stupid and doesn't exist to my knowledge in any other sport in the world.
  3. There would be more continuity to the story lines as they develop rather than getting the club narrative started only to have it interrupted almost immediately.  It doesn't take a genius storyteller to notice this. 

I'd assume that there are logical arguments about fixture congestion that mean that the changes would have to be more sweeping than just one switch out of international fixtures with Premier League matches but I'm sure some grouping of internationals in late August with the elimination of corresponding breaks in the Autumn months could be figured out pretty easily to allow a post-August 31 start to the season without the type of interruptions that we are now experiencing just when we were getting into the season.

If I thought really hard about it I could argue that a solid two week block of international matches in August would be great for both clubs and countries.  It would give the national teams a rare solid block of time together.  It would give clubs some pre-season time to play and train with some younger (and squad) players.  It would give teams without a ton of internationals a slight advantage early in the season.  Can anyone think of a reason that this might be a bad thing?

OK, enough ranting and on to the schedule breakdown for the week ahead:

Week 4 Barn Door Team


Here's my mid-week attempt to assemble a squad for the upcoming weekend. The defence is largely unchanged, with David De Gea, the wonderfully mellifluous Angel Rangel, and Matthew Briggs (though John Arne Riise started and played an hour of Norway's 0-2 loss to Denmark yesterday). I have brought in Armand Traore after his move to QPR. Hopefully he's an attacking left-back or even a spot starter in midfield. We'll see.  Traore and Briggs are probably on the bubble.

In midfield I've added Samir Nasri to complement David Silva, who is playing like a season keeper.  Theo Walcott and Yossi Benayoun (cheap and probably starting in place of the still suspended Gervinho) host Swansea, and while the Swans aren't pushovers (see Rangel, Angel above) Arsenal will be looking to put a few past the newly promoted team.

That's why I've made room in my team for Robin van Persie.  He's more expensive, thanks to his consolation goal at Old Trattford but he is likely still value-for-money should things go Arsenal's way this weekend.  Edin Dzeko gets a barn door place after his amazing four goals against Spurs. The final spot was either Sergio Aguero or Juan Mata, but with doubts over Aguero's staring place (flying back from India) and Mata's role in the team I'm leaning towards Fulham's new boy, Bryan Ruiz.  They're playing Blackburn Rovers this weekend, which seems to be the recipe for fantasy success this season.  Well that or playing for a Manchester side.  

Van der Vaart out for Six Weeks

Things just go from bad to worse for Spurs.

Via Yahoo!/Eurosport:
Dutch international midfielder Rafael van der Vaart will be out for up to six weeks after tearing a hamstring in last weekend's 5-1 defeat against Manchester City, his club Tottenham Hotspur said on Saturday.... 
He will miss at least the next four Premier League matches for Spurs as well as their opening Europa League fixtures against PAOK Salonica and Shamrock Rovers.
My money would be on Spurs pairing K2 (Emmanuel Adebayor) and Defoe in a classically 'arry "little/large" partnership. However, we could see Niko Kranjcar - who has started both of Spurs' matches so far - move into an advanced role with Tom Huddlestone (THud) coming into the midfield.

[In fact, THud should start regardless!]

For fantasy, this could see Gareth Bale reclaiming set-pieces and increasing his value.  Luka Modric could also see more of the ball as (if) he gets integrated back into the team.

However it plays out, Van Der Vaart has been Spurs' stand-out player since his arrival at the Lane, and he will be missed. Spurs aren't likely to be as good of a team without him, and sitting at the bottom of the table having scored one goal and shipped seven... that's a scary prospect.

Mixed Injury News for Liverpool

Liverpool got mixed news on two of their star midfielders over the weekend. First it was announced that Steven Gerrard is training again and expecting to make his Premier League return against Spurs on 18 Sep. However, this was tempered by the more immediate news that Charlie Adam has suffered a hip injury and is now a doubt for their trip to Stoke City.

I guess this is why Liverpool went on a shopping spree and ended up with a glut of central midfielders. Adam has a history of niggles, and Gerrard... well, Gerrard hasn't been available in what seems like forever. Now with Meireles gone to Chelsea, are Liverpool short of players for the weekend? Maybe it's not quite bare bones just yet. My best guess would be that we'll see Andy Carroll back in the line-up with Suarez in a free, attacking role. Dirk Kuyt and Downing would be the wingers with Henderson and Lucas Leiva in the center. That still leaves Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey on the bench, if need be.

Everton Further Depleted by Baines Injury

Everton were only able to register a first-team squad of 18 (out of a possible 25) players. Their financial crisis has seen them sell their best midfielder, Mikel Arteta; their starting striker, Jermaine Beckford; and sell or loan bit-part (but experienced Premier League campaigners) Yakubu and Yobo.  Now comes the news that Leighton Baines is out of the England squad with a hamstring injury and Victor Anichebe (who would stand to inherit Beckford's place) doubtful with a groin injury.

This could put immediate pressure on new arrivals Royston Drenthe at left back (rather than his expected left midfield), and Denis Stracqualarsi at striker.  As I mentioned below, Aston Villa @ Everton is probably a stay-away fantasy match. However, it might be worth an investment in the respective club's defences as a drab stalemate seems a likely option.

Darren Bent and Micah Richards out of England Squad

Darren Bent and Micah Richards have been ruled out of England's Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales on Tuesday and have returned to their clubs.

Aston Villa striker Bent had not been able to train in the build-up to Friday's win over Bulgaria after picking up a groin problem and could not take part in training on Saturday.

Manchester City defender Richards, who didn't play a part in the 3-0 win over Bulgaria on Friday night, is though to have suffered a hamstring injury in training.

Aston Villa have not been a fluid attacking team at all this season. Now you might argue that that is a hallmark of an Alex McLeish team. They did beat Rovers 3-0, but haven't scored otherwise. Agbonlahor looks dangerous, but N'Zogbia is not on song yet. If Bent isn't available for Villa's match against Everton (and McLeish is hopeful) I would expect Albrighton to come into the side and Heskey and Gabby to be the front pairing of a 4-4-2.  Truth be told, @Everton is probably a stay-away match for fantasy owners.

As for Manchester City, they have Richards doubtful with a hamstring injury and Pablo Zabaleta, who played right-back against Spurs, has been in India with the Argentinian national team.  That could hand Stefan Savic the starting berth, and see Sergio Aguero on the bench as well.

Granted this is all speculation at this point, but with fantasy managers going all-in on Manchester City players it's nerve-wracking stuff.

Vermaelen out for six weeks | News

Vermaelen out for six weeks | News:

Or is this year's Vermaelen last year's Vermaelen for Arsenal? It just doesn't look good for the Gunners right about now does it?

A few strong players come in but two of the better holdovers in Wilshere and Verm are sidelined for a while. It would be interesting to see what this team could do if they were actually healthy.

I'll mention again that it wouldn't be a bad idea to get the "Next Vermaelen" (Vertonghen of Ajax and Belgium) at the next opportunity. He'd certainly be better value than Cahill and has been compared favorably to the man he replaced at Ajax.

Wilshere injury blow for Gunners | News

Wilshere injury blow for Gunners | News:

Well, I guess we know how Arteta's playing time is going to look for at least the next three months. Looks like the big question is how Ramsey and Benayoun divide the time next to the Spaniard. It is definitely going to be an interesting few months until January for Arsenal.

And to those people who worried for the last few weeks that Wilshere might become this year's Vermaelen, it is looking like your worries are about halfway to coming true.


*Fingers Crossed*

After the Window: Spurs

Spurs late summer looked a lot like the one experienced across North London at Arsenal. What the acquisitions lacked in romance and long term strategic benefit they more than made up for in being effective near-term band-aids. Spurs needed something new at forward and a deep-lying player to both win the ball and start the attack. It certainly would have been nice to find a reliable partner for Michael Dawson but presumably the combination of Ledley King and William Gallas will be able to get the job done for 80% of the matches over the course of the upcoming season.

After the Window: Chelsea

I apologize for the delay in getting past the first team transfer summary.  We are using the international break for a nice rustic vacation in Maine.  I’ve been trying to generally stay away from the internet, email, and the other things that I tend to use for both my day job as well as staying up with current events in the Premier League and posting to the blog.  That lasted for a solid 3 days before I felt the pull of the laptop – I guess that’s why I’ve gotten involved in writing a blog on top of a day job. 

As it appears that I’m not going to get to every team, I’m going to start with the ones that have made the most substantial changes and move downward toward the ones that didn’t do much toward the end of window.  Since we’ve already covered Arsenal, I’ll move on to Chelsea.

I LOVED what Chelsea did toward the end of the window.  They had the type of window that Arsenal used to have.  Pick up a few very high end kids and throw in a very strong continental veteran.  The difference?  The price of the high end kids that used to be Arsenal’s stock and trade has increased by a factor of about ten since this was Wenger’s strategy.  I don’t know all the details but my guess is that Chelsea ended up paying Mata and Lukaku (and their previous clubs) like they were already established stars rather than rising talents with the potential to be the “next” someone good.   The economics aside, the moves look excellent.  The only downside is that they probably won’t payoff in huge measure for another couple years. 

After the Window: Arsenal

Volumes and volumes have been written about Arsenal and their travails from February of 2011 through the close of the transfer window.  Since we're pretty sure you've read quite enough about "contending in 4 competitions to nothing in the blink of an eye" and "Nasri/Cesc/Clichy out" and "will anyone arrive?" that we won't cover that ground again.  Instead, we'll spend some time focusing on what we have learned from the first three matches of the season plus the final touches from the transfer window.

Housekeeping Note

UPDATE: Beaten to the punch by the industrious Never Captain Nicky Butt. Here is his Transfer Window Winners and Losers.


Sorry for the light posting.  It's an international break, after all.  Additionally there was just too much transfer news -- in the end, not really, but it wasn't worth posting until everything was said and done.  So look for our reactions to "Deadline Day" soon. Then we'll be following the internationals and counting the fake, and not so fake, injuries as we head into week four of the Premier League season.

Week 4?!?!  How is it only week 4?