Sunday, September 28, 2008


The term wild card was originally used in card games, but the term has evolved to describe what the Merrian-Webster Dictionary calls "an unknown or unpredictable factor" in any number of domains.
In sports, it represents the teams who sneak into the playoffs, not as division winners but as unknown entities who often cause shocks and suprises.
In research, its a low probability but high impact event that often costitute the turning point in the evolution of a particular system.
In fantasy football the wildcard can make or break a season and the incorrect use of it has ruined many a season for many a team.

After another average week for Pure Juice, coupled with the emphatic return of Cristiano Ronaldo I have been tempted to play my wildcard. Everyone knew they faced this dilemna when it was announced that Ronaldo would miss the start of the season. But with other big guns flattering to deceive (Drogba, Rooney, Torres until this weekend, Gerrard) and Ronaldo looking to be in great shape, he suddenly looks not only affordable but necessary.

With my focus this season on having a good squad, it is obviously going to be tricky to fit a 14m man in the team. The obvious candidate to lose if Lampard (11.1m) and then save the 2.9m elsewhere, but with no other top price players this would involved two or three other deals (and hence ue the wildcard).

Option 1 - continued diversification
Lampard > Ronaldo
Agbonhlahor > Cole
Arteta > Nasri/Babel/Downing

On paper this looks very appealing. Cole has actually scored as many points (30) a Agbonlahor despite costing 2.7m less. I am looking to offload Arteta anyway based on Everton's tough upcoming games and Nasri (when fit), Babel (when played) and Downing are all decent replacements. My main concern would be to lose Lampard who leads all midfielders with 38 points so far this season. Perhaps more importantly he leads all players in bonus points - the key to turning a poor game into a good one or a good game into a great one. A further bonus here is that I wouldn't necessarily need to use my wildcard, using one or two weeks to make the deals.

Option 2- two headed monster
Young > Ronaldo
Van Persie > Cole
Arteta > Valencia

This allows me to keep Lampard, intead losing the almost equally impressive Ashley Young. Young has two goals, three asists and four bonus points so far leading to 34 points this term. Van Persie is actually 7 points behind Cole so far but this does seem to reek of point chasing. Valencia is a more than adequate replacement for Arteta, and someone I considered in option 1 despite his much lower price (6.1m). Van Persie is in the category of those players who are probably better in real life than in the stat-driven fantasy world, and having watched him hog the flanks against Hull I am fairly happy to lose him (though his next games against Sunderland, Everton, Spurs and Stoke certainly make the decision harder).

Option 3 - weaken the squad
Arteta > Ronaldo
Van Persie > Cole
Clichy > Figueroa

This looks great in that I lose Arteta who I want to get rid of anyway and get the potential fantasy MVP Ronaldo. Cole has so far out performed Van Persie and could still be a steal at 5.5m. My concern however is that by losing Clichy for Figueroa, I will be forced to pay one of either Figueroa, Melchiot or Traore every week. Traore seems to have established himself in the Portsmouth side and even notched an assist this week for a 9 point haul. If this form continues (as opposed to shipping 6 against City) he would be a decent every week play and makes this option look very attractive. Wigan are a decent bet, though having only conceded 5 goals in 6 games, it's a little disappointing to see just 2 clean sheets. If Wigan can turn those good performances into great ones then the fantasy points will follow and option 3 will become a sure fire winner.

This decision is certainly not one to be made on a Sunday afternoon and I will now doubt dwell on this one for the rest of the week. Updates on my thoughts and final decision will be forthcoming later in the week.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Torres Time?

It looks like Fernando Torres is back which throws more problems up for those trying to accommodate Ronaldo in their team. After a slow first half Torres looked sharp in the second taking his two goals well (especially the second) and having a sweet finish disallowed for an off the ball foul. At 12m he is still costly but with bargains like Zaki (6.6m) Cole (5.5m) to be had he is not too hard to fit into your side. He had a run of eight straight games at Anfield with a goal last season and you wouldn't bet against a similar run this year.
If you're carrying a player like Anelka (9.5m) or Rooney (10.8) then you almost certainly going to benefit by getting Torres and saving 2.5m or 1.2m by bringing in blog favourites Valencia (6.1m) or Ireland (5.9m) or even a real budget option like Delap (4.7m) or Marney (4.5m).

Torres faces a tricky three games at City, at home to Wigan then at Chelsea before embarking on the potential points bonanza of Portsmouth (H), Spurs (A), WBA (H), Bolton (A), Fulham (H), West Ham (H), Blackburn (A) and Hull (H). All those matches are very winnable and if Gerrard, Keane and Torres all hit form then the goals and fantasy points could certainly start flowing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

It isn't quatum physics

Saturday sees the anniversary of Einstein's paper "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?" which first introduced the equation E=MC2. Such intricacies and brain power will not be required this week in the fantasy world. Four of the best hot spots for fantasy talent - Arsenal, United, Chelsea and Villa - all face what appear to easy matchups that could be filled with goals and fantasy points. Its surely a matter of filling your lineup with as many of these as possible to max out your points this week.

Arsenal v Hull City
Hull have impressed so far with the exception of the Wigan game where their potential frailty was exposed. Arsenal have been in good form this season and after a bit of a nervy start against Bolton they played some breathtaking flowing football where the only disadvantage for fantasy owners was that anyone in the team could pop up with a goal (or be benched in van Persie's case).
With the big guns rested against Hull you would expect a full strength team to take the field which does not bode well for Hull. The defense looks to a good bet though none of the back for have scored a goal or assist (Clichy did get 2 bonus points in week 2). Interestingly, Clichy is owned by 20% where as Sagna just 4%. From the games I've seen this year both players get equal opportunities to forward and Sagna actually scored one last season to Clichy's zero.
Eboue (6.1m) and Denilson (6.4m) both still represent great value and you wouldn't bet against Fabregas (9.9m) kick starting his season if you can squeeze him in (plus he's always good for a couple of bonus points if nothing else).

Man U v Bolton
I hate to say it but this could be a massacre. With Megson's negative tactics and general cluelessness the triple headed of monster of Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov could spring into action and put 4 or 5 past the hapless Wanderers. Bolton looked decent in the second half against Arsenal but you felt it was more a case of Arsenal pushing on for more rather a tactical turnaround by Megson. The United midfield is hard to predict at the moment though Anderson (6m) and Fletcher (5.6m) are both potential steals if they make the team. Anderson was very impressive midweek and could really do some damage if he can hold down a regular spot for a while. No might be a great time to jump on van der Sar (5.9m) (as I might do) as although he has individually looked shaky this season, you are buying into a defensive unit not an individual player and with games against Blackburn, West Brom, Everton ,West Ham and Hull to follow the Bolton game, the big Dutch man may be the best value keeper over the next few weeks. Elsewhere Evra (6.5m) is the pick of the defense valued at 0.4m less than Ferdinand and Vidic. I would stay away from Neville (5.6m) and Brown (5.9m) until it becomes clearer who Ferguson is going to settle on (if indeed he does settle). For a great discussion on the return of Ronaldo see the blog over at 'Never Captain Nicky Butt'.

Stoke v Chelsea
Drogba (11m) should be back for this game having figured in the midweek defeat of Portsmouth. He is a potential fantasy star but will likely require so serious maneuvering (unless you have maybe Torres or Adebayour). With games against Villa, away at Boro, and then Liverpool it may be wise to hold of Drogba until he has proved his fitness and we've seen what form he is in. At 5.6m Alex looks like maybe the buy of the week, filling in for Carvalho who could be out for up to a month. Alex's free kicks and occasional long shots only spice up the deal further. Bosingwa (6.3m) and a rejuvenated Cole (6.5m) are decent value and could be picked on match up this week. Lampard (11.1) is in great scoring form, but as with Drogba will take serious tinkering to get him in at this point. A better option might be Ballack (8.8m) who should see extended playing time now Deco is out.

Aston Villa v Sunderland
Though not as high profile as the big three fixtures above I really like Villa's prospects here to pick up a decent 2-0 or 3-0 win. Sunderland are a decent side at home but haven't travelled as well the past couple of years (though they did earn a credible draw at Wigan two weeks ago). Villa have been very impressive when I've seen them this year and Young (8.5m) and Agbonlahor (8.2m) have been particularly good. I was very high on Luke Young (4.5m) to open the season though the villa defence hasn't really been up to last season's form so far. This week could be the week for this to change and I like Young and his team mates to notch a clean sheet this week. This makes Laursen (6.1m) good value as he is as dangerous as ever from set pieces. Reo Coker (5.1m) has been amazing value to date but with the Milner settling in you would expect his minutes will start to be reduced.

Elsewhere around the league . . .
The merseyside derby is a tough game to call and I'm not very high on anyone. I'm sticking by Arteta due to him taking all set pieces which may prove vital in these usually physical battles. Torres (12m) and Keane (8.7m) have been big disappointments so far but - as most journalists (and indeed Torres himself) seem to be pointing out - they must surely break this barren run soon. Fulham will look to capitalise on the turmoil at West Ham and I still like Bullard (6.5m) and Gera (5.4m) this week even after last weeks poor showing at Blackburn. The North West derby between Wigan and City is a game I'm personally relishing watching as two up and coming sides (for different reasons) meet at the JJB. Wigan have been a fantasy goldmine so far with Zaki (6.5m), Valencia (6.1m), Melchiot (4.5m) and Figueroa (4.2m) all making an impact. However, I am even more interested in City after their explosion last week against Portsmouth. I am keen to get another glimpse of Robinho (9.2m), Jo (8.0m), Shaun Wright Phillips (8.0m) and the still underrated Stephen Ireland (5.9m). City's next couple of games aren't great but they follow them with Newcastle, Stoke, Boro, Bolton, Spurs and Hull which could be a great time to hop aboard the City bandwagon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I (literally) should have seen this coming

As I look out of my living room window I can see the spires of the City of Manchester stadium and yet I did not foresee the fantasy impact of their transfer deadline dealings. I was a little higher on Robinho than some of the critics but I thought there were better options available in his price bracket (van Persie 9.5m, Santa Cruz 8.9m, Agbonlahor 8.2m and Defoe 8.2m). However, Robinho has scored 2 in 2 and notched an assist this week to give him 15 points in 2 games (a PPMS of 0.833 ahead of all but Zaki and Defoe). With van Persie being rested against Bolton I am starting to worry about Wenger tinkering too much with van Persie's playing time. Robinho therefore looks to be an interesting prospect at 9.2m, especially when you consider they play the likes of Newcastle, Stoke, Hull, Bolton and Spurs over the next 8 weeks.

Robinho's play also seems to have inspired others around him and Shaun Wright Phillips look well and truly settled back at Eastlands. At 8m his price has increased 0.5m in a couple of weeks but he still looks to be a steal on current form. Jo at 8m also looks like a player who might benefit from all the extra attacking options around him and may be a nice option if you're looking to differentiate your team (only 2.8% hold him).

Stephen Ireland continues to be great value at 5.9m and is now held by over 20% of the league. Elano is still expensive at 8.6m though consistent playing time along with penalty and free kick duties would still make him decent value. Petrov's value has crashed to 7.2m and he could be a steal when he's back from injury. However, with these talents alongside Michael Johnson (6M), Gelson Fernandes (4.8m) and Vincent Kompany (5.5m) someone is going to miss out and fantasy owners should monitor the situation for indications of Mark Hughes' best eleven.

A good indicator may be the Liverpool home game in two weeks where Hughes will surely field his best eleven (barring injuries). It may be worth waiting until then to commit yourself to the likes of Johnson, Kompany or Ireland but you will be safe taking Robinho and Wright Phillips who are likely to figure in as many games as possible.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gameweek 5 running diary

Taking inspiration from my favourite sports write, Bill Simmons, I thought I'd try a running diary of Gameweek 5:

11:02am I've finally decided on my weeks transfers bringing in Agbonlahor and Bullard for the injured Ashton and the ineffective Bentley. I had the intention of not doing any double transfers as last season I did way too many which cost more points than I received. However, with Ashton injured, my hand was forced and I didn't like anyone I could get without shifting Bentley out. I'm pleased with Bullard as his next four games are all rated as easy on my ratings system. Agbonlahor is not particularly cheap at 8.2m but after not scoring since week 1 he is probably due a goal and I've been very impressed when I've seen him this season. The potential loss of Young may hurt him a bit but against a West Brom side that has already given up 4 goals in their two home games he's a decent pick.

11:15am Checking the schedule for the week I notice there are only three games at 3pm and five on Saturday in total. I like having as many games on TV as possible but for tracking your fantasy team there's nothing better than six or seven games at 3pm on Saturday, watching the points role in on Sky Sports News. Still with Arsenal, Villa and Chelsea on TV weekend I get to see seven of my guys in action which is always a bonus. That leaves just Bullard and Green in action at 3pm.

12:47pm They're under way in Sunderland and there's news of Mido pulling out of the team after an injury picked up in the warm up. Mido and Alves (who was originally slated to start on the bench) were both considered as Ashton replacements this week so I'm hoping the decision to ignore Alves doesn't bit me in the ass.
Its incredible how many players get injured in pre game warmups. Having trained for hours all week you'd think an extra 30mins or so wouldn't cause too many issues.

13:06pm BBC sport live text say Boro look the better side and are knocking it around "sweetly". I wasn't into the Boro team at all pre-season but they've impressed so far. Southgate is willing to delpoy an attacking line up (though only one up front this afternoon) and give it a go every week. Their oldest player in the starting line up is 25 so with a bit of extra creative quality Boro could be a decent side for the next few years ahead.
13:14pm Cisse seems to causing some problems and I'm thinking he may be worth a go at 6.9m if the fixture list was right. Having searched for a replacement for Ashton I've noticed a distinct lack of options at forward so I'm considering anyone to replace Van Persie and Agbonlahor when their fixtures become a nightmare. Cisse hasn't proven to be a 90 minute man yet though, finishing just one game so far this season. The search continues . . .

13:33pm Half time in Sunderland and its 0-0 with Boro shading it by all accounts. With just Alves up front it looks like Boro might look for Sunderland to attack and wouldn't be too unhappy with a draw. We'll see how the Mackems react in the second half.

14:21pm Boro are awarded a penalty but Downing blasts it over the bar; his second miss of the season. I was going to do a piece on penalty and free kick takers and maybe his name won't be featuring. Alves could be intriguing if he were to be the penalty taker. Alves believes he can be the European Golden Boot; certainly would be an achievement for a 7.5m man.
14:28pm Sunderland make Downing pay and take the lead, with Chopra getting his a goal in his first game of the season. If you're desperate to save cash for the Ronaldo sweepstakes, Chopra could be worth a look if he gets decent playing time at just 5.4m.

14:37pm Chopra adds a second and it looks to be all over at the Stadium of Light, a good win for Sunderland but a disappointing result for Boro whose lack of ambition may have cost them (as well as Downing's miss of course).

15:08pm Zola's West Ham reign gets off to a great start with David di Michele scoring after only 8 minutes. The commentary on SSN suggests Cole got the assist which is annoying as he was one of the Ashton replacement candidates.

15:34pm Bulllard takes his second hit of the day and is walking a bit gingerly. I expect big things from Jimmy and I'd be gutted to lose him for just 1 point. He is staying on at the moment though.

15:38pm 2-0 West Ham, di Michele gets his second. Di Michele is inexplicably priced at 6m compared to Cole who is just 5.4 and Bellamy who is 6.4. I sometimes wonder where they get their prices from.

15:43pm So far so good for Greeny though he had clean sheets against City and Wigan at HT and conceded three and one in the second half of those games. Regardless this is Green's last game for the Juice with 0.9m tucked away to bring in Van der Sar next week. United play Bolton, Blackburn, West Brom, West Ham, Hull and Stoke in the next 8 weeks (Everton and Arsenal being the two harder games).

16:12pm West Ham are cruising as Etherington makes it three. What’s the betting the goal concede a stupid meaningless goal to deny Greeny his clean sheet

16:26pm It would be annoying if it weren’t so predictable. Own nets for the Magpies and Green will contribute nothing again this week. West Ham are so frustrating and I will never touch their defense again. Don’t bother getting on the Juice team bus Green, you’re fired.

16:43pm Rovers take the lead through Matt Derbyshire and that blows Bullard’s clean sheet. It looks like the double transfer this week will be a poor decision, unless Agbonlahor can pull something out of the bag tomorrow. When will I learn to not make double subs?

16:48pm In brighter news Green has made three saves so gets back the point just lost by Bullard. Still, 5 points for two players is not a great return. I really need an Arsenal clean sheet this evening.

16:49pm Stoke are holding on for a 0-0, great result. Shame I didn’t get any Liverpool defenders but you never know who’s going to play!

16:57pm No great fantasy impact so far today. Di Michele is the pick so far but he is owned by just 0.1% of the league (presumably his mother) so not much impact there. Blackburn and Liverpool defenders will be fairly widely held, especially Reina and Carragher who each have 6 points (before bonuses).

Chopra chipped in with 8 points though as di Michele it’s doubtful that many people own him (0.5%).

The day goes from bad to worse as I turn to Setanta to see van Persie on the bench. Wenger is fast becoming the new Benitez with his penchant for dropping key players. I think it may be time to lose RvP for a cheaper striker and replace one of my mid-tier midfielders with Fabregas who is due a goal run and scores bonus points for fun.

17:21pm Smolarek makes his Bolton debut which is interesting to say the least. I like the look of Riga and he’s unlucky to be behind another midfielder in the squad. It’s a defensive looking team from Megson considering they’re at home and if they don’t push on Arsenal will pick them apart. Still no Elmander so Gardner will push on down the left wing with Smolarek on the right and Davies anchoring the line. Their defense worries me without Cahill and I cannot see Shittu and O’Brien holding out Adebayour and co.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Adjusted Price Per Million Spent (APPMS)

I'm a big fan of looking for ways to use statistics to give us clues as to players' performances. While this is very hard for an actual football team, (as you cannot quantity desire, leadership and passion) for fantasy sports stats work brilliantly.

Below I have looked at the top scorers so far in relation to their value (as is done by the 'value' tap on the website). I've then adjusted this based on the fixtures they've played so far to account for players who have played easy/hard fixtures so far. The results are pretty interesting and may give a few clues as to bargains that are still to be found:

Given is atop the GK rankings despite only having kept one clean sheet due to his penalty save and multiple save bonuses. His relative low cost (5.1) have made him great value so far. David James has been the best of the big names after 4 games with an adjusted PPMS of 0.929. Almunia is a big loser in the system due to Arsenal's easy run of games. This would suggest his best is behind him and maybe to avoid drafting him in at this stage. Kirkland has been the hidden gem so far, though anyone who had him at the end of last season will be well aware of his point scoring ability.

Michael Ball is the shock leader in the defender category notching an excellent 1.169 APPMS. I didn't even expect him to play every game with the arrival of Ben Haim but Ball has done a great job playing in a decent City back four notching 2 clean sheets in 3 games despite a harder than average fixture list. At 5m Ball isn't a steal but if he continues to figure in Mark Hughes' first team plans he appears to be the pick of City's defenders.
The list contains three Arsenal defenders due to their three clean sheets in four games this season. Their APPMS is hurt by their easy strength of schedule and their high cost (6.5m each). Figueroa looks to be great value and may be worth getting if, like me, you have Melchiot already. At 0.5m less he has scored two extra points thanks to an assist last week.

The midfield leaderboard is dominated by mid-price acquisitions which will throw further doubt on Ronaldo's ability to give value for money. The likes of Ireland and Delap are currently twice the value of Gerrard and Fabregas though their ability to continue this for a season is of course questionable. Bentley is included here because he is in my team and not on merit. His paltry 0.277 APPMS shows how much of a disappointment he has been so far.

ForwardsUnsurprisingly Zaki, who leads the league in points, is atop the forwards list due his average strength of schedule and low cost (6.4m and rising). Defoe's attractiveness increases when you look at his strength at schedule, which at 2.25 is one of the highest in the league. To score 31 points in these games is impressive and at 8.1m he represents great value at the moment. Torres and Rooney have been included for reference and there are many more strikers above them in the value charts. Both have had a difficult start to the season, with Rooney yet to find the net in 3 games and who's position is actually inflated by the inexplicable 3 bonus points he received against Portsmouth (several players performed better on the night, most notably Evra). Adebayour is the only one of the big four (the final player being Drogba) to have made an impact this year and at an APPMS of 0.542 he represents a decent investment if you fancy a pricey front man.
I am loathed to recommend Drogba on a blog whose purpose is to focus on fact rather than gut feeling, but I do feel he's in for a big year when he's fully fit. The game against Liverpool last season sticks in the mind where he was simply unplayable and he's the kind of player to rack up the bonus points due to his marauding style.
I am starting to become intrigued by Carlton Cole who is ahead of my man Dean Ashton in the charts, scoring two more points despite costing 1.2m less. The pundits seem to love him too as he's taken home 6 bonus points, behind just Frank lampard and level with the celebrated Zaki, Defoe and Deco. In fact, I may have just persuaded myself to make the move.

Let me know what you think or if you have any other ways of measuring performance that you want to share.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Prisoner's Dilemma

With Cristiano Ronaldo due to return from injury tomorrow against Villareal, any sensible fantasy player must contemplate the possibility of bringing him into their team. Last season Ronaldo was simply incredible and anyone wishing to compete had to have him in their ranks (I was one of the stupid few who kept insisting he couldn't continue his form and I duly finished 7th in the league). As incredible as the 31 goals were last year, whats almost as fantastic was the fact that the prior year he'd accrued 244 points, only 39 less than last year's historical year. This leads me to believe he can ,and probably will, score along those line this year (minus the points for the 3 games missed already).

However, at 14m he is 2.6m more than the next midfielder (Gerrard) and 2m more than any other player (Torres).

Deco currently leads midfielders with 31 points but is only 7th in points per million spent (PPMS) at 0.816 (using his current value of 9.5m). Here are the top PPMS ratings so far this season in the midfield:

Granted, with all due respect, it is unlikely that Stephen Ireland and Rory Delap will continue at this pace for a whole season a player like Arteta or Deco may well do so and we'd expect Lampard to get even better from his current position. At Arteta's PPMS Ronaldo would have to notch 12.8 points
every week in order to represent as good value for money. At Deco's rate, 11.4 points per week. Even at Lampard's rate down in 12th position he'd need to accrue 8.5 every week.

Last year Ronaldo cost 12m and scored 283 points in 2746 minutes, the equivalent of 30.5 games. This gives him a PPMS of 0.773, below the likes of Deco so far this season. To maintain this rate he would need to score 10.8 points per week (the equivalent of say a goal, an assist and a couple of bonus points).

The Dilemma

So does the evidence suggest we should stay away from Ronaldo this season? Absolutely. But here is the dilemma, and the wild card that messes all of the above up: the captaincy. Whilst valid to say you'd prefer to save 3m and take Lampard using it to get, say Ricardo Carvalho rather than Andy O'Brien, the problem is that even if these two combined score as many as Ronaldo and O'Brien, you can only have one captain. And you can be sure that most people who fork out the 14m on Ronaldo will tattoo that armband to his arm for the rest of the season.

We are faced with the classic prisoner's dilemma situation. If we all could just agree to not take Ronaldo then we could carry on as is now with well balanced teams and good squads. However, no one can risk being the one guy who doesn't get on the bandwagon before he smashes four past Stoke (and these games will inevitably happen) so we all are forced into shoe-horning him into our teams.

I think the league may well be won and lost on how we treat Ronaldo and it'll be a brave (or foolish) man who leaves him out again. That being said, for me to free up enough cash to get him for Lampard I'd have to use all my bank balance (1.4m) and free up a further 1.6m by, say, trading down from Ashley Young to Aaron Lennon or Owen Hargreaves. Or I could lose Gael Clichy and replace him with Gretar Steinnson. At the moment I am unwilling to make such trades but upcoming home games for Ronaldo against West Brom, West Ham, Stoke and Hull I could well be using all my strength to try and close the stable door as the horse bolts into the distance.

Week 5 Tips

Play Forwards/Midfielders

Three matches stand out this week as games in which the fantasy points could flow.

Liverpool v Stoke

Liverpool looked good last week against United and have looked okay so far tonight (its currently half time in Marseille). Stoke have conceded 5 so far in their two away games despite only travelling to Bolton and Middlesbrough.
The obvious man to capitalise on this game is Fernando Torres though at 12m it will take some maneuvering to get him into
your team. Steven Gerrard is of course another safe bet and will look to grab a goal in the league after his great strike vs Marseille.
However, it is the cheaper options who look to b
e great value this week with Xabi Alonso and Ryan Babel looking to be good buys. Javier Mascherano played midweek and having just returned from South America is likely to be rested, allowing Alonso to continue his decent run of league form. Babel has been somewhat of an enigma this season since returning from the olympics. I really fancied him to take off this season after seeing him single handedly destroy Bolton at the Reebok last season (although perhaps that isn't too much of an achievement these days). He hasn't managed to lock down a first team place and has had to make do with scraps off the bench getting 26 minutes against Boro and 20 at the weekend against United, where he scored the winner.
At 6m Alonso is probably the better option though if he plays, Babel at 7.5m could be a steal this week.

West Ham v Newcastle
Newcastle have shipped 4 goals in their two away games this season though these were against United and Arsenal so we shouldn't judge too harshly. However, the team appears to be in
disarray at the minute and this coupled with injury problems and a lack of a manager appear to suggest a decent day for the likes of Dean Ashton and Carlton Cole.
West Ham on the other hand should be buoyed by the arrival of Gia
nfranco Zola as the great man returns to English football. West Ham will hope to benefit from the much-quoted 'new manager lift' that does often seem to accompany the arrival of a new chief. If Ashton can shake off his injury from last week he'll be a solid pick again this week (6.6m) and I am set to keep him for a few weeks yet. Cole is an interesting choice in that he only costs 5.4m but has already racked up a goal and 6 bonus points, second only to Frank Lampard. Having such a cheap player in the ranks or on the bench should open the door for you to get in the likes of Torres or the returning Cristiano Ronaldo so Cole is one to consider in the coming weeks.
I'm not a big fan of the West Ham midfield but I do think Scott Parker at 5m represents decent value. He chipped in with an assist in week 3 but has been largely unproductive as a fantasy force as yet this season. Still for 5m you're at least guaranteed 90 minutes which in a post-Europe week is nothing to be sniffed at.

Hull v Everton
I normally place a huge premium on home sides but I think Everton are due a good performance boosted by the goal scoring return of the excellent and underrated Tim Cahill. I have been struggling all week with whether to get him in the team which I always had in mind when I picked Mikel Arteta to open the season. However, Arteta has been even better than expected and still took all the set pieces and free kicks last week despite Cahill's return. I'm loathed to have two Everton players as I already have three Arsenal and three West Ham players and I like to keep a diversified squad. I would however, heartily encourage anyone else to get Cahill in before the inevitable rush of recruiters when the realise he's back after he scores again this weekend.
I'm not that high on Yakubu though being the figurehead
of this talented side as well as taking the penalties does make him an asset. At 8.1m I think he is slightly overpriced with Defoe (8.1) and the continually impressive Agbonlahor (8.2) being better options. Nevertheless if you have the Yak keep him in as this week is as good as any to get on the score sheet. As I will discuss later in the week, a look ahead at Everton's fixtures is not pretty reading so caution should be taken when adding them to your squad as they face Liverpool, Arsenal and United in the next 5 weeks.

WBA v Aston Villa

Villa were impressive on Monday at Spurs and I like
the chances of them continuing their form this week. West Brom have given up 4 goals at home in games against Sunderland and West Ham whilst Villa put two past both Stoke and Spurs on the road. I thought Barry was man of the match, though the boys at only gave him 1 bonus point (as mentioned previosuly, Laursen and Young took the top two awards). Young is another good option and I'm pleased to keep in Pure Juice for another few weeks. Finally , Gabriel Agbonlahor looks like a good bet to get on the score sheet having not found the net since his week 1 hat trick. John Carew picked up a knock on Monday and will miss the Thursday Uefa Cup match with Litex. If he shakes off the ankle injury by Sunday he should also be a decent bet to notch a few points (and decent value at 7.6).

Play Keepers/Defenders

Liverpool v Stoke
It's hardly controversial to pick one of the big four against a newly promoted side but this really should be a one sided affair. Liverpool are yet to keep a clean sheet at home despite having kept two on their travels (okay maybe that back the home team theory isn't such a great idea). My only concern is a Champions League hangover which could allow Stoke to nick a goal, as they have done in both their away games so far. However, I think Liverpool have enough physical presence to deal with Delap's long throws and should come away with a clean sheet which have been at a premium so far this season.
My problem with the Liverpool defense (which I'm remembering as I read this) is the constant uncertainty on who
will play alongside Jamie Carragher. Alvaro Arbeloa looks to be the best option having played all but 8 minutes this season. At 6m he is will priced and is a notch below the other premium defenders from the big four. At 5.9m Martin Skrtel is a decent bet having played 90 minutes in the last three league games as well as nothing two bonus points last week. Reina is perhaps the safest bet of all and at 6m is well valued if your keeper has a tough fixture. As with Everton above, caution should be taken in investing too heavily in Liverpool as the next five games after Stoke all rank as Medium-Hard on my rankings.

West Ham v Newcastle
Okay this is getting repetitive now but such is my concern for the abilities of Newcastle at the moment I had to include this game again. Or perhaps its the fact I've had Robert Green in my team since week 1 and so far he's conceded 1, 3, 1 and 3 goals and I'm desperate for him to turn it around. This could well be Green's last week in the Pure Juice team as the 1.4m in the bank is burning a whole in my pocket and I might upgrade to Cech (6.1m) or Van der Sar (6m) after this weeks clash of the big two.
As for this week, Callum Davenport at 4.5 may be a decent sleeper pick although the chances of him getting on the score sheet must be slim after scoring in week 3.

I don't have strong feelings on the other defensive prospects for the week with Chelsea and United facing off on Sunday and Arsenal facing a usually difficult trip to Bolton.Wigan have impressed me so far this season but a trip to Spurs this week is unlikely to pay high dividends. Meanwhile my newly acquired sub Armand Traore faces a difficult trip to Eastlands and so will remain on the bench again this week.

Week 4 Wrapup

Ashley Young and Martin Laursen chipped in with some useful points last night though it was within 4 minutes of being an excellent night. Darren Bent's 86th minute goal took away a clean sheet for Laursen and Young and Young when on to get booked for time wasting, costing a total of 6 points. Young and Laursen received 3 and 2 bonus points respectively to lessen this blow.

Another decent week leaves me 803rd in the rankings which is by far my best ever position. The game also convinced me that I need to get rid of David Bentley this week. He had been unimpressive this season but I thought I'd weather the storm and stick with him. However, he started on the bench last night which is unacceptable for a 8m player. Thoughts now turn to who to replace him with (see next post).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Week 4 Review

So far so good in week 4. With 3 players yet to play (Laursen, Young and Bentley) we've scored 55 thanks to stellar outings from captain Frank Lampard (18 points) and Mikel Arteta (10 points). Van Persie and Zaki also chipped in with a goal a piece and Sagna and Clichy played in an Arsenal side that scored the only clean sheet of the week so far.

Three players did well this week who have all been on my radar:

Tim Cahill

I had Cahill last year and when fit he's a constant goal threat who is playing just off the striker but is registered and priced as a midfielder - 7.9. The only downside to getting Cahill would be that it either leaves me with two Everton midfielders, or necessitates losing Arteta. Everton have Liverpool, Arsenal and United in the next 5 weeks so I'm going to stay away from Tim for now.

Zoltan Gera
I rated Gera highly at WBA though I wasn't sure how he'd figure in a revamped Fulham side. He has looked good the last two weeks and at 5.4 is well valued. The questions this leaves me with are (a) is he an every week fantasy player and (b) is 5.4 too much to spend on a bench player? At the moment i think 1m can be spent better rather than upgrading Mullins so I will again stay off Gera for now.

Jermaine Defoe
Defoe bagged his second brace is as many weeks and his partnership at Pompey with Crouch looks to be forming nicely. Defoe has always been a streaky scorer (see his ten in ten streak at Bournemouth) and this may be the start of another great streak. However, a few people in the league already have him and I can; help but feel I'm chasing points. Due to his price rising to 8.1 I cannot afford him if I remove Ashton but he is worth considering for future weeks.

Around the league
Emmanuel Adebayour bagged a hat trick against an average Rovers side though I still feel that in the long run I'd go with Drogba over him if I were to committ 11m to a striker.

Robinho took just 12 minutes to score for City, hitting a decent - if somewhat lucky - freekick against Chelsea. He looked sharp and may be a decent buy for 9.0. I'll probably see how City look over the next couple of weeks before snagging him though.

There was only one clean sheet for the week (before the Spurs - Villa game) which belonged to Arsenal. Clean sheets seem to have been hard to come by this year and I'm wondering if it may be worth trading in one of my pricey defenders for a cheaper player and using the money to upgrade the midfield or my strikeforce.

Looking Forward
United start a good fixture run including Bolton, WBA, West Ham, Hull and Stoke at home all within the next 8 games (following the Chelsea match). I think I'll aim to get a defender in by then and possibly consider Berbatov (who looked okay but not great vs Liverpool) to take advantage of this run. I don't really like any of the midfield except Anderson at 6.0 but he is far from guaranteed regular games when everyone is back to full fitness.

Liverpool also have decent fixtures coming up and I'm hoping Babel gets a decent run in the first team as at 7.5 he represents good value. He's scored a couple off the bench but until he locks down a starting spot he isn't worth the investment.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Week 4 preview

After ditching Bent for Zaki in week 3, I have 1.4m sat in the bank which I desperately want to invest to strengthen the team. The problem is that I'm not sure who to upgrade.
I'm not impressed with the West Ham defense but their fixtures are favourable so I decided to let Green stay for a couple more games.
Bentley has looked far from impressive at Spurs but I am undecided who I like to replace him. SWP looked excellent in his City return last week but as they entertain Chelsea this week I can;t see him him being a major upgrade over Bentley.
I also like Valencia who is great value at 6.0 and someone I may consider if I need to free up some cash.

With all that said I decided to upgrade my bench and added A.Traore who has been playing left wing for Pompey in place of Young whose Villa side have looked shaky so far. I love Traore as a bench option and Pompey play Stoke, Fulham and Sunderland over the next few weeks.

I like Everton this week against Stoke though I'm not sure if they'll keep a clean sheet so I'm not going to move for a defender this week. I also like Wigan at home to Sunderland so I'm hoping Zaki can continue his good form. Finally RvP has seven in eight against Rovers which bodes well for the Dutch man this week.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The story so far

This blog begins at the end of gameweek 4 in the Engligh Premier League fantasy season.
The season has gone well so far so I decided I needed a place to discuss the fantasy season with other fans as the season progresses.

Pre Season
The basic strategy for my team this year was to have a full squad available on a weekly basis (the league I am in allows four subs).
Last season I was often caught playing only 9 men due to a total lack of talent and playing minutes on my bench.
To get a decent bench you can either:
(a) Spread your budget (£100m) equally throughout the team, or
(b) Identify some key sleeper picks who will get regular playing minutes (and therefore points) despite only costing a few million.

Strategy (a) leaves you in a position of pricing yourself out of the market for the top tier players so I decided to go for (b) identifying the following potentially cheap players:

Pre Season Sleepers
Luke Young - 4.5 - well cheaper than his new Villa teammates, and Villa were a decent defnsive side last year.
Mario Melchiot - 4.5 - Wigan have improved since last year and Mario is guaranteed to play every as club captain. These minutes are vital for a bench player.
Hayden Mullins - 4.5 - I figured Mullins would play most weeks due to his versatility.
Maynor Figueroa - 4.0 - inexplicably priced at 4m, seemed too good to be true. Even takes a few left sided free kicks.
Scott Parker - 5.0 - should play every week and may chip in with the odd goal or assist.
Liam Lawrence - 5.5 - does everything for Stoke and got in double digit goals last season. Having seen him dissapoint at Sunderland I thought I'd wait and see him before I take the leap.
Lassana Diarra - 5.5 - excellent player but not sure on his fantasy impact.

Due to my desire to build a decent squad I pretty much limited myself to one superstar. Torres was very tempting, but at 12.0 seemed just a bit too steep. I am huge Cesc fan but he was nicked up to open season so I stayed away (as was also the case with Drogba). This led me to Lampard, who seems to rack up bonus points whenever he plays and adds those meaningless real world goals that all count the same in fantasy land.

The impact of fixtures should not be underestimated when picking your intial team, although most simply pick their favourite eleven.
Arsenal really stood out which led me to van Persie even though I'm not totally convinced he can consistently hit the back of the net.
United were due to not play in Week 3 so I shyed away from their players, who I will buy into later in the season.

Opening day
My team for the opening weekend was:
GK R.Green - 5.0
DF G.Clichy - 6.5
DF M.Laursen - 6.0
DF P.Evra - 6.5
MD F.Lampard - 11.0
MD A.Young - 8.5
MD M.Arteta - 7.5
MD D.Bentley - 8.0
FW R.van Persie - 9.5
FW D.Ashton - 6.5
FW D.Bent - 7.5

GK M.Schwarzer - 4.0
DF L.Young - 4.5
DF M.Melchiot - 4.5
MD H.Mullins - 4.5

The season so far
A solid week 0ne saw the team gain 67 points led by captain Lampard who chipped in with 20. Ashton's brace was encouraging though his fitness will always be a concern. The defense flattered to deceive but an overall lack of cleansheets reduced the damage.

I had intentionally left out the Man U players as I knew they weren't playing in week 3 due to the World Club Championship against Zenit. I therefore dumped Evra in week 2 and decided to try and double up with Arsenal adding Sagna to Clichy. This was a poor move as Evra got a clean sheet and an assist whilst Sagna conceded against Fulham and was left with just 2 points.
The team as a whole played poorly with Laursen adding the only goal for the team resulting in a dissapointing 38 points.

In hindsight D.Bent was a poor pick that was made purely on
his circumstances rather than the fact I rate him as a player. I had figured that due to the abundance of talented midfielders around him and no other strikers on the books (except for Berbs who Ramos wouldnt play) Bent would be there to knock in all the scraps.
After watching him in the first two games i had seen enough and went with a hunch pick who I'd seen play well the week before - Amr Zaki. Zaki repaid my faith notching two goals, an assist and three bonus points. Van Persie added a brace of his own and the defense rebounded well with clean sheets from Clichy, Sagna and Laursen. Finally Green added a penalty save to round out a good week for 75 points.