Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gameweek 14 Wrap-up

Blackburn 0-0 Stoke
I really liked the Blackburn defense here (3rd ranked) though I didn't fancy Stoke (15th ranked) to join them with a clean sheet. They were no doubt assisted by the withdrawal of David Dunn after half an hour which came as a massive blow to many fantasy owners given his excellent form of late. Neil MacDonald, the stand in manager in Big Sam's absence reports that Dunn suffered from a 'tight calf' which hopefully doesn't sound too bad. Watch this space later in the week.
Stoke's defense remain a solid option with Sorensen and Faye my favoured picks. Blackburn's away form is terrible (3.0 GPG conceded) so despite their useful home record (1.00 GPG) I think their defense in unusable right now. Attacking options for both sides are seriously limited, especially if Dunn's withdrawal was anything more than precautionary. At 5.5m Etherington is still good value but with a trip to the Emirates next week and a bye in week 17 I'd stay away from Stoke midfielders and forwards for now.

Fulham 1-1 Bolton
The final score masks how poor Bolton are playing right now having mustered just 4 shots on goal to Fulham's 18. 5 of these came from the in form Dempsey who at just 6.7m is starting to lay claims to must own status. However, a quick scan of the fixture list extinguishes these thoughts for me as the next 11 games see them face 7 red light opponents as well as having a bye week in week 17. I therefore rate all Fulham players as sells right now and see no reason why better value cannot be found elsewhere. The likes of Dempsey and, when fit, Murphy will have the odd good game but I like options elsewhere to deliver more consistent value in the 6-7m range.
As for Bolton, I think the lack of chances being created makes the entire team unworthy of fantasy ownership. The defense concedes 2 or more goals per game at home and away and the likes of Taylor and Davies just aren't getting enough chances to shine. As with the Fulham boys above, each will likely have the odd good week but lack the consistent productivity to justify their price tags. The only bright side for Bolton is that their fixtures are much kinder than Fulham's but until something changes I'd look elsewhere for my budget strikers and midfielders.

Man City 1-1 Hull
Big disappointment for owners of City players as Hull had surrendered 3.0 GPG on the road this year and this one looked like a home banker. I really liked Adebayor in this one but he played just 66 minutes and didn't manage a single shot on target. To be fair to the former Arsenal man, that was only the second time this season he has failed to contribute 5 points or more so I am not ready to write him off just yet. City play Chelsea next week but then have a decent run and only play 1 other top 7 side until week 27. Wright Phillips seems to have been awarded the goal despite a massive deflection, which puts him in a nice run of form and possibly deserves attention again at 8.1m. My concern with most of the City players is that the squad is getting fit now and the dreaded rotation might start to play a bigger part. Bellamy was the victim yesterday, being dropped for the returning Robinho.
Jimmy Bullard is very near the top of my transfer target list having contributed 2 goals, 2 assists and 6 bonus points in his 3 games since returning from injury. My only concern is the fixture list which sees Hull play 6 red light games and have a bye week in the next 10 gameweeks. At 6m he is possibly cheap enough to warrant consideration anyway seeing as he is such a focal point of the Hull side. If Dunn's injury is serious I would suggest Bullard as the natural choice to replace him.
Both these defenses are unreliable though City's defensive fixtures from weeks 18-27 suggest they still deserve some attention.

Portsmouth 1-4 Man United
In hindsight, I was foolish to rank Rooney as low as 5th in my captain rankings and he probably should have been in the top 3. That being said Rooney only had three shots aside from the penalties and United didn't really play as well as the scoreline suggests. Rooney's grip on penalty duties is clearly a bonus though as none of the other 10m+ strikers take then pens for their respective sides. Despite Giggs' big game I am still far from convinced by the United midfield and don't consider any of them great value right now. I was really disappointed to see United concede as I had this one down as a banker clean sheet. After next week's trip to West Ham, it's plain sailing for the United defense and I rank Wes Brown as my number one buy target for week 16 onwards.
Portsmouth provide a couple of decent rotation midfielders in Boateng and O'Hara and its good to see Boateng hold onto the penalty duties after missing last week against Stoke. Portsmouth have some good looking fixtures and they're playing better than alot of people think. I'd be happy with either in my squad and would consider Boateng as a weekly rotation option based on matchup.

West Ham 5-3 Burnley
Crazy game at Upton Park and I'm not sure we really learned anything to help us going forward. No one had a hugely impressive game though Eagles' 16 points are certainly worth noting. I'm far from convinced that the former United trainee is a legitimate option just yet, though his minutes are improving and the 3 bonus points were good to see. For fans of budget strikers, Guillermo Franco (5m) is quietly having an excellent start to his West Ham career with 3 goals in just 6 games. West Ham have a tough set of fixtures and with Cole facing a knee scan, their future is a bit uncertain. Nevertheless, you could do alot worse than rolling the dice with Franco.
Despite a couple of early clean sheets I am unconvinced by Burnley at home or away and I don't really rate any of their players as legitimate fantasy starters. Perhaps Eagles and Fletcher deserve some attention but I yet to be sold on either player.

Wigan 1-0 Sunderland
This was somewhat of a shock, though not as big as some made out. Wigan have been solid at home this year and I ranked their defense 8th in my clean sheet rankings. That said, Sunderland were clearly out of sorts, led by Darren Bent who failed to register a single shot in the game. Wigan on the other hand managed 17, led by Hugo Rodallega who added 7 on his own. I really like Rodallega who has shown an ability to score, provide assists and add bonus points this year. His goals have also come against strong and weaker sides which suggest you could plug him into your starting lineup and be happy. I'm not a huge fan of Wigan's next three fixtures but after that I am pencilling in Rodallega on top my list striker list if I decide to shift my money to an expensive midfield.Wigan's road form means that their defense should not be relied on consistently.
Sunderland have been really good this season and I see this game as an aberration rather than the start of a downwards trend. Bent and Reid remain excellent value and though the fixtures aren't great, they remain good options going forward. I am however, off the Sunderland defense after 2 of their 3 clean sheets have come against Liverpool and Arsenal. Such form is too unpredictable and I for one will be looking to move Turner on in the near future.

Aston Villa 1-1 Tottenham
I expected more from this game as neither side really showed they are ready to threaten the big four come the end of the season. Spurs looked decent when chasing the game and managed to get a good number of shots in in the final half hour. They were led by Huddlestone's 8 shots, though as the chalkboard shows, buying a ticket does not guarantee you a lottery win. I thought Kranjcar looked like the most dangerous player, and he was duly rewarded with 2 bonus points, however with Modric back in training it would be risky to bring the Croatian in now.
With trips to Old Trafford, the Stadium of Light and the Emirates, Villa's defenders are a sell unless you can afford to bench them. Spurs' fixtures are much nicer and Assou Ekotto and Bassong are worth thinking about. Consider though that despite conceding just 18 in 14 games, Spurs have only managed two clean sheets all season.

Wolves 0-1 Birmingham
Birmingham win their 6th clean sheet of the year and now have the third best defense in the league. Joe Hart is a must own keeper and for me, renders all 5m+ keepers overvalued. I love the keeper rotation strategy and with plenty of other solid options available I still like this idea going forward. Lee Bowyer has four goals on the season but his lack of assist and bonus points restrict his value somewhat. Still at 4.7m he is worth a thought and Birmingham have a decent run of games coming up if you need a short term fill.
Wolves are really struggling and I don't really like any of their players to contribute consistently on a weekly basis.

Everton 0-2 Liverpool
This was a pretty poor game and there aren't many players from either side I would be thrilled to own at the moment. Despite Liverpool's clean sheet, both defenses are overpriced and neither have a good enough fixture list to justify their price tags. Everton players are a more immediate problem given their next three games (Tot, @Che, Bye). Everton could be argued to have been the better side throughout the 90 minutes and they did fashion 16 shots but failed to force too many class saves from Reina (who did play well, to be fair). I don't understand how Jo started ahead of Saha - who looked fit enough to have played more than the 25 minutes he received - and until this situation is cleared up Saha cannot be considered a fantasy starter. Pienaar was Everton's best player and has some potential at 6.2 but he simply cannot convert his good play into points and better options are available for less money (Dunn, Etherington, Duff).
Liverpool will obviously improve when Torres returns, which could be as soon as this weekend. With a decent attacking fixture list on the horizon Torres might be a nice addition for those still looking to find a satisfactory replacement for Van Persie. Remember he has 10 goals in 10 games this year and is now only held by 19% of owners following his injury so if you jump on him early you could gain some ground on your opponents.

Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea
I am not an Arsenal fan but I am self-proc
laimed Wenger apologist, defending the legendary coach to the end. That said, this was a pretty dismal display by his Gunners side who once again failed to shake the 'pretty football, no result' tag they are so often labelled with. 3-0 probably flattered Chelsea (Arsenal had 12 shots vs Chelsea's 11) but there was only ever one team going to win this one. Ashley Cole was magnificent and for me is the premium defender for the foreseeable future, especially given that after this week's trip to Eastlands, Chelsea face just 2 more red light games until week 33 (@WH, Ars). Drogba was also superb and underlined his place as the top fantasy player in the league at the moment (sorry Cesc). The fixtures are not quite so generous offensively as defensively for Chelsea, but nevertheless Drogba is an every week starter who will warrant serious captaincy consideration. If there was ever a chalkboard to prove one of my thoughts, this one clearly shows that Lampard will not finish the season on top of the scoring charts. He is playing too deep to deliver regular goals and he still has just one goal from open play this year (plus three from the penalty spot). Yes he is still second among midfielders but his .525 PPMS is way down in the rankings and his 12.4m price tag is prohibitively high for me.

Despite back-to-back bad fantasy games I still have faith in Fabregas though the next three games do not look easy on paper. I am backtracking from my suggestion that Fabregas is approaching the Ronaldo pantheon of every week captain status but I still like him as the best premium midfielder around by some distance. Arsenal are clearly missing Van Persie but I am confident Arshavin will get better and Eduardo will pickup some of the goal scoring slack and Arsenal will get back on form. If you are trailing in your league by some distance it might be worth considering dropping Cesc to differentiate your team (current ownership is 46%) but this is a risky strategy as if you got on board early you will struggle to buy him back in the future such is the magnitude of his price rise. Its tough to be too high on any of the other Gunners right now but I quite like Eduardo to go on a scoring run at some point.

This week only served to illustrate the general lack of consistent fantasy depth around as each week it seems that new players are having big games. The only consistency seems to be from the premium players (Drogba, Rooney etc) and a handful of cheaper players having stellar seasons who are now widely owned (Bent, Hunt, Sorensen etc). It is therefore essential to remain agile and try and minimise your exposure to injuries and suspensions so that you can change your team each week based on matchups rather than being forced into necessary adjustments. This is worth considering as the 5 yellow card suspensions start rolling in, and I will endeavour to post these each week to keep you ahead of the game.

As always, please post your thoughts, comments and team issues below or tweet me @plfantasy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gameweek 14 Preview

Gameweek 14 Fixtures
Blackburn v Stoke City

Fulham v Bolton
Man City v Hull City
Portsmouth v Man Utd
West Ham v Burnley
Wigan v Sunderland
Aston Villa v Tottenham
Wolves v Birmingham (Sun)
Everton v Liverpool (Sun)
Arsenal v Chelsea (Sun)

I love the fixture list this week from both a fantasy and real life perspective, with Sunday's fixture list looking particularly tasty (not to mention ¡El SuperClásico! between Real Madrid and Barcelona later that evening). The stats suggest Villa, Everton, Fulham, City and West Ham should score goals, while common sense suggests that United should clearly be in this list (even though Portsmouth have actually been very solid at home 1.33 GPG conceded).

Unfortunately some managers won't be very well placed to make changes to capitalise on these fixtures as they try to put out fires in their team with Darren Bent the latest to go down with injury, although the latest reports suggest this isn't as bad as initially feared. Meanwhile, Drogba made a return midweek against Porto and should be fit to face Arsenal at the big clash of the weekend at the Emirates. Chelsea should also be able to call on Michael Ballack while some reports even suggest Lampard might be fit for the derby clash.

Clean Sheet Rankings (Rank, Predicted Goals)
1. Birmingham (0.31)
2. Chelsea (0.43)
3. Blackburn (0.45)
4. Man City (0.69)
5. Man Utd (0.76)
6. Fulham (0.76)
7. Sunderland (0.83)
8. Wigan (0.86)
9. Wolves (0.86)
10. Liverpool (0.97)
11. Aston Villa (0.99)
12. Burnley (1.00)
13. West Ham (1.08)
14. Arsenal (1.12)
15. Stoke (1.19)
16. Tottenham (1.30)
17. Everton (1.44)
18. Portsmouth (1.73)
19. Bolton (2.31)
20. Hull (2.89)

Chelsea's stellar road defensive form allow them to rank second despite facing an Arsenal side averaging 4.0 GPG at home. The best pickup of the week is the United defense who I am still not 100% convinced by, but have such good fixtures that they will pickup clean sheets in the coming weeks even if they don't hit top form. Vidic returned to action last week but in midweek he was very average and looked a bit sluggish, perhaps not yet at full fitness. With Ferdinand, Evans and O'Shea out, Wes Brown looks like a safe pick to play and I love his value at 5.6m. He can also be easily switched for O'Shea (5.5m) when players start to return to full fitness. Birmingham also look like a good source of players as their next 5 games look great and City's defense is currently 3rd in the league. Joe Hart is the obvious choice here but Carr (4m) and Dann (3.9m) also look like solid pickups.
Of the sides with bad games this week, Hull, Portsmouth, Everton and Stoke have a bad fixture list and should be considered sells, unless you hold them as bench players or viable rotation options (such as Sorensen).

Captain Picks
1. Emmanuel Adebayor
2. Cesc Fabregas
3. Craig Bellamy
4. Didier Drogba*
5. Wayne Rooney
6. Carlton Cole
7. Ashley Young
8. Shaun Wright Phillips
9. Steve Gerrard
10. Frank Lampard*
*Some injury risk with these players so check the latest news before signing.

Premium captain picks are always limited when two top teams square off and there's no doubt the likes of Fabregas and Drogba are damaged by this game. However, to play the odds I still like them in my top four as I'd prefer Fabregas in a tough game than, say, Ashley Young against any opponent. True, others will likely outscore Fabregas but as a safe pick he still remains one of the best. He is only topped this week by Adebayor who I'm really hoping repays me, having chosen him at the last minute last week ahead of Jermaine Defoe. City and West Ham look set to score a few this week and so I've gone with the top striker from each team to net this week. Rounding off the top 10 are the two former fantasy champions who have struggled a bit this year. Last season I would have bet money on a big game from Gerrard against local rivals Everton after the disappointment of midweek but I simply don't trust this team anymore and cannot recommend using your captaincy on any of Benitez's players until Torres is back.

I'll be back tomorrow with the last minute team news, but why not tweet @plfantasy or post your thoughts and lineup questions below.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gameweek 13 Wrapup

Okay, I'm not superstitious: I don't cross the street to avoid ladders, I'm not scared of black cats and I routinely open my umbrella inside the house. However, when you tip a player as your third best captain pick of the week, and post a message hours before the transfer deadline about not signing him in favour of a player you didn't rank in your top 5, and he goes on to score 5 goals in a game, you could forgive me for feeling slightly unlucky especially in week thirteen!

I do not however think I was unlucky, as Defoe had the best matchup of the weekend which I why I rated him so highly in the first place. I decided to play the long game and City have better fixtures than Spurs over the next 5 weeks. What I failed to account for is the fact that sometimes a single fixture or gameweek is so appealing for a player that you should consider bringing a player in for that week alone. Now while Defoe's five goals were an amazing return, I don't consider Wigan to be such a game and I therefore don't regret the process I used to make the decision.

For me fantasy football is all about playing the odds and if you continue to do so over a season you will likely come out towards the top of the pack. In order to win you clearly need some luck but chasing points and over committing to fixtures by paying for transfers is a sure fire way to lose track on the early leaders. That being said, I couldn't help but feel cheated every time the little striker smashed the ball into the Kirkland's goal.

Return of the clean sheet?
Six clean sheets in ten games is not a bad return, especially in light in of what we have seen so far this season. Even more encouraging is that 3 of my top 4 picks kept clean sheets which suggests an element of predictability is creeping in to defensive picks, although Blackburn on the road or anyone against Arsenal are clear aberrations that you just need to accept you will never be able to quantify. With this trend in mind, those who saved money by selling Lampard or van Persie might wish to consider upgrading their defense for the weeks to come.

The mid-range midfield
With me suggesting spending money in the defense, while strongly advocating you keep the likes of Cesc and Drogba, how exactly are you going to balance the books? Well, the top 5 midfielders in terms of points per million spent (PPMS) can be had for less than 6m and each of these are averaging a contribution of over 4.67 points per game (PPG). All these five players contributed at least 6 points this week and all warrant consideration as budget starters/top bench players:
  • Jimmy Bullard (6.0m, 1.222 PPMS, 7.33 PPG)
  • David Dunn (5.8m, 1.092, 6.44)
  • Andy Reid (6.0m, .879, 5.37)
  • Matt Etherington (5.4m, .864, 4.67)
  • Darren Fletcher (5.6m, .853, 4.78)
While I'm not ready to put these in the class of, say, Aaron Lennon or Ashley Young for the rest of the season, I do like them to match the contribution of the more inconsistent highly rated players such as Benayoun (whose place in inexplicably threatened by the inept Babel) and Giggs (who will surely be rotated more and more as the season progresses).

Gameweek 17
Although you have a while to arrange your team yet, note that Everton, Fulham, Hull and Stoke all have no game in week 17. This is particularly important for those of you who loaded up on these players for this week's double gameweek. Fulham's fixtures are good until then so I would sell these last, while Everton have a tough run and you may as well dump these guys as soon as you can.

I'll be back later in the week with some updated statistical analysis and of course the weekly preview for week 14. Also, having neglected it so far this year, I will be performing a weekly write up of the Blog league so check back later in the week to see how you're fairing. Until then, why not post your thoughts below or tweet me @plfantasy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Emmanuel Adebayor

After much deliberation, I am backtracking on my Defoe tip and hitching my wagon to Adebayor as the man to replace Van Persie/Drogba for this week and beyond. This week's game against Liverpool is admittedly not ideal (0.80 GPG) but the future is bright for City and their next few games include Hull (2.83 GPG) and Bolton (2.17 GPG).

Most importantly though is the fact that in 8 games this year, Adebayor has either scored or provided an assist in every game but one. Granted, he hasn't had one of the landmark 16 - 20 point games that stamp his authority as a top fantasy player yet, but that could - and should - come before the season ends. Despite not firing on all cylinders and having injuries to Adebayor, Tevez and Robinho, City are still 6th in goals and are especially dangerous at home. Their team is getting fit though and I like City to go a run before Christmas, scoring plenty of goals along the way.

Last time Adebayor played a top 4 side at Eastlands, he made the headlines for all the wrong reasons (though don't forget he did score) though I don't expect similar fireworks this week. Liverpool's defense has been highly inconsistent this year having kept a clean sheet against United while shipping 2 goals a piece to Birmingham, Bolton and West Ham. I don't love Adebayor this week but over the next 6 weeks or so I think he is the best option out there, unless you have definite plan on how you could use any cash you save bringing in a Carlton Cole, Louis Saha or Jermaine Defoe.

As always post your comments below or tweet your thoughts or questions @plfantasy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gameweek 13 Preview

Week 13 Fixtures
Liverpool v Man City
Birmingham v Fulham
Burnley v Aston Villa
Chelsea v Wolves
Hull City v West Ham
Sunderland v Arsenal
Man Utd v Everton
Bolton v Blackburn
Tottenham v Wigan
Stoke City v Portsmouth
Hull City v Everton
Fulham v Blackburn

The run up to this week's fantasy fixtures has been dominated by who isn't playing rather than who is, with - for those who somehow missed it - Lampard and Van Persie both being ruled out for 3 - 6 weeks. The timing for Van Persie isn't disastrous as I had advocated selling him after this week anyway as Arsenal's fixtures get tough and other top strikers return to form/fitness (such as Adebayor, Torres and Agbonlahor). The Lampard injury is more of a blow as the England man was starting to find some form and Chelsea's upcoming fixtures look pretty favourable.

The other headline for the week is the double gameweeks for Blackburn, Everton, Fulham and Hull with Fulham looking particularly well placed to take advantage of their fixtures this week (@Bir, Bla). Although I normally advise against the 4 point transfer fees, I think that bringing in a Fulham defender this week might be worth the price as they are almost certain to get your 4 points back (with 2 appearances) and I would put the odds at over 75% that they get at least one clean sheet. The fixtures this week are okay for Blackburn attackers and remain good in the coming weeks so a 4 point hit for Dunn might also be worth a thought.

Captain Picks
  1. Cesc Fabregas
  2. Didier Drogba
  3. Jermaine Defoe
  4. Wayne Rooney
  5. Deco
Both Lampard and Van Persie would have featured in here this week, with Lampard's absence a real shame given Chelsea's home game against Wolves (2.00 GPG conceded). In his place I like Deco to shine and at the tip of the diamond I think he can deliver good value in the coming weeks. With Ballack also likely sidelined, Deco looks like a definite start and a buy target for the week. At the top I like Fabregas and Drogba again and there isn't much more I can say. Odds would suggest Fabregas is due a bad week but there's no way I'm ever dropping him to guess when that is, and his 10.10 points average suggest you shouldn't either. Defoe is in here based on matchup (Wigan) which is the second best of the week after Bolton (Blackburn). Defoe has gone quiet after a strong start but this looks like the perfect chance for him to get back on the scoresheet. Rooney is a streaky player who is not in great form, but that can change quickly and a home game against former team Everton should be a good time for Rooney to shine. The extra effort and 'feel good' factor of the day should all but guarantee the former Blue the 3 bonus points.

Defensive Rankings
Rather than simply picking my top picks, I have decided to rank all the teams this week and beyond to help with your tough weekly decisions. In hindsight, knowing to play Stoke at home to Portsmouth isn't all that useful as you will do it anyway, what's more important is knowing that West Ham at Hull is a better play than Villa at Burnley. Below are the rankings of every team in the league, with the predicted number of goals they'll concede in brackets.
  1. Chelsea (0.15)
  2. Fulham (0.56 and 0.51)
  3. Stoke (0.39)
  4. Birmingham (0.53)
  5. Liverpool (0.71)
  6. West Ham (0.71)
  7. Burnley (0.74)
  8. Man United (0.77)
  9. Tottenham (0.77)
  10. Everton (2.11 and 0.78)
  11. Hull (0.91 and 0.91)
  12. Bolton (0.86)
  13. Aston Villa (1.29)
  14. Portsmouth (1.47)
  15. Man City (2.26)
  16. Sunderland (2.65)
  17. Arsenal (2.76)
  18. Wigan (2.87)
  19. Blackburn (3.11 and 3.27)
  20. Wolves (3.98)
Chelsea are yet again the top pick of the week and the good news for fantasy owners is that Ashley Cole looks likely to be fit for this one. As mentioned previously, Fulham are a great pick this week and they have a real shot at a least one clean sheet. The whole back four look to be good value though I like Hangeland for his bonus point potential (7 this season). Stoke and Birmingham present great budget plays and everyone should have a decent keeper this week as most owners have either Sorensen or Hart. Liverpool, United and Spurs present decent high end plays though I wouldn't pay a premium for any of these boys this week. Despite the double gameweek, Everton, Hull and Blackburn aren't as good value as you might imagine this week.

Under the Radar

Although I reccommend using the majority of your cash from Van Persie or Lampard on a premium player, there are several players this week who are cheaper and present good value for money. These are of course good pickups for those lucky enough to have avoided the injury bug:
  1. Louis Saha - although Saha gets two games this week, neither of them looks great for Everton forwards (1.17 GPG and 1.40 GPG conceded). However, Saha has 7 goals in 10 games along with 10 bonus points. The odds suggest he should contribute something in these two games, giving him at least 6 points or so for the week with the upside to hit double figures. This is a great return for 7.1m and with two good fixtures on the horizon, Saha is a good buy this week.
  2. David Dunn - another player with two games this week who has been in good form under the radar this year. 11 bonus points and 4 goals in just 8 games is a return more in line with a 8m player yet Dunn is still owned by just 9% of players. For 5.8m he is incredible value and Rovers' fixtures are good for the foreseeable future making Dunn and solid contributor at a bargain price.
  3. Deco - okay he isn't cheap but he is certainly under the radar (0.9% owned). I am not a huge fan of Deco and I am not convinced he is well suited to the English game, however, in Lampard's absence he should get a fair share of set pieces and this week's game against Wolves looks very promising. He's always risky as sometimes games can simply pass him by, but if you're looking for a differentiator with upside then the Portuguese maestro is worth a thought.
  4. Bobby Zamora - it was hard to type that name in a fantasy column as the long ridiculed front man has had well publicised struggles in hitting the net in the past. However, 3 goals, 3 assists and 5 bonus points represent a decent return for a 5.5m man and if you need to save cash Zamora on a double gameweek is worth a look.
As always, why not post your thoughts below or tweet your lineup/transfer issues @plfantasy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Recovering from Injuries

With Van Persie (6 weeks) joining fellow fantasy stud Lampard (3 weeks) on the sidelines, a large portion of fantasy owners will be looking to bring in one or two big name players this week. I have therefore ranked the 10m+ players at each position who will provide the best bang for your buck over the next 6 weeks:

Cesc Fabregas - his fixtures aren't great but as with Ronaldo in previous years Fabregas is now a must own player and should probably be captained most weeks. He is the natural replacement for Frank Lampard and will even save you 1.1m as an added bonus. You can make this change with confidence and perhaps target the week 17 game against Portsmouth as a good time to bring Lampad back if you so wish. However, with 43% ownership I'm sure most of you already have Cesc, so lets look slightly down the ownership ladder for our next pick.

Andrei Arshavin - Arshavin is the least held of the 10m midfielders and is well placed to prosper in the absence of van Persie. Before the season started I thought Arshavin might equal Lampard and Gerrard in total points and though his season has been disrupted by injury, he is just 0.5 PPG behind Gerrard and 1.1 PPG behind Lampard. The Russian has played in the last 6 games and added 3 goals in this period. His bonus points are limited by Fabregas' incredible form but I like his assists and possibly goals to increase in Van Persie's absence. For Fabregas owners it is a slight risk to pair Arshavin with his Arsenal teammate when the fixtures aren't great, but I was happily deploying Van Persie and Fabregas until now so it does not bother me to tie up so much cash in one team. Arshavin will free up 1.8m for you to spend elsewhere, which would be well invested in defenders and some teams look to be improving at the back.

Steven Gerrard - alot of owners will jump on today's news that Gerrard should play this week and switch from one England international to another. Due to his injuries this year, Gerrard is a risk, especially given Torres' absence and Liverpool's next two games (MNC, @Eve). Liverpool's fixtures are marginally better than Arsenal in the next 6 weeks but I would still favour Fabregas over Gerrard. For Fabregas owners Gerrard looks like the natural pickup for Lampard as at just 0.3m less than Lampard he allows you to utilise all your cash and in Torres' absence he should be good for bonus points and the odd goal.

Didier Drogba - The most owned striker in the game and the second top scorer (after Fabregas), Drogba looks like a great replacement for van Persie if you don't already own him. Chelsea's fixtures are solid but not spectacular and the absence of Lampard will hurt him somewhat. However, I think the likes of Ballack and Deco can replace Lampard and Drogba might even pickup penalty duties. Bonus points will also be more readily available and Drogba is for me the best bet to replace Van Persie.

Wayne Rooney - I have been down on Rooney for the past few weeks but United's fixtures are good and having scored in week 11 it's possible Rooney is due for one of his patented streaky scoring runs. At 11.1m you will have to raise 0.3m to get him which is a steep price to pay, and I think the two guys below are better value. Nevertheless, Rooney is a solid option who should attract bonus points and games against Portsmouth, West Ham and Wolves look appealing on paper.

Emmanuel Adebayor - I loved Adebayor before the year and after a few weeks it looked like I had struck gold, but Adebayor's form has dipped badly and he hasn't scored since week 5. Of the big teams City have the best fixture list during Van Persie's absence and Adebayor is well placed to take advantage of this. Though not scoring, he has added a few assists and surely the goals will come against the likes of Hull, Bolton and Sunderland. Bringing in Adebayor will also free up 0.7m to deploy elsewhere and with a holding of just 7% he is a useful differentiator.

Nicolas Anelka - I wouldn't recommend Anelka to Drogba owners as I don't like having two strikers from one team unless the fixtures are excellent. However, if you don't have Drogba, Anelka is a potential differentiator, though I must say I still think Drogba offers better value for money. Anelka only has 3 league goals in 11 games, though netted a fortuitous goal in midweek against Ireland. I don't love Anelka and its unclear how the diamond will function without Lampard so I think the above options present better value right now.

Fernando Torres - still too risky and probably only worth looking at in a few weeks, Torres is unlikely to provide much help for Van Persie owners in need of an instant solution.

The weekly preview will be up soon, but why not post or tweet your thoughts on the Van Persie and Lampard injuries in the mean time below or @plfantasy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Turn off the Lamp?

Football 365 were reporting earlier in the day that Frank Lampard was about to be shut down for the season after he aggravated a thigh injury on the flight to Doha this week. Poor old Frank had to suffer the frankly medieval conditions of sitting in economy class! Perhaps Blatter and Ronaldo were right when they described modern day footballers as slaves - imagine having to sit in economy class for almost four hours. Well it seems that F365 have backtracked somewhat and the mention of being out for the season has now been removed, with the Chelsea official site suggesting three weeks and suggesting the rest of 2009.

This story could have huge fantasy implications with Lampard being considered by many (not me) to be the fantasy player and is owned by 30% of all players (6th most in the league). With Gerrard struggling for fitness and form and Fabregas in majestic form, the transfers between these two players could be monumental. The extra week off and high publicity the injury will receive will alert thousands of fantasy players and the jump on the Fabregas bandwagon could be swift and sizable. Already owned by 41% of all players, Fabregas could hit Ronaldo-like highs and top the 50% mark by the time he next suits up for the Gunners.

If you don't already own Fabregas then for most players the suggestion to sign him goes against my normal trends. 4 of his next 7 games are 'red light' games and with such a massive following he is the antithesis of a differentiator. However, as with Ronaldo in prior years I think you have to think about Fabregas more in terms of how you can afford not to have him, than how you can fit him into your team. Regardless of schedule he looks like a must-own, and unless the matchup is awful, possibly a must-captain. You need to move quickly though as most fantasy owners tend to make their transfers early and if confirmed as a long term casualty Lampard's value will collapse soon.

My advice has been to get Fabregas for Lampard anyway, in spite of the fixtures and the latest injury news. Lampard has looked good in the past few weeks and thoughts of having both were starting to blossom in my mind. The injury obviously puts an end to that and Lampard should be sold immediately as the best case scenario still see him missing three games.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Strength of Schedule - Defense

After the Villa double gameweek and a few injuries and suspensions I assume many of you will be looking to make changes this week. The natural choice would be to gravitate to towards Fulham and Everton defenders due to their double gameweeks but a few other teams also look appealing.

Over the next eight gameweeks, the average GPG scored by opponents at home/away in brackets, the average goals each team have conceded per game this season and their calculated strength of schedule are as below:

The top two aren't exactly big surprises historically though United have been far from reliable this season and it's encouraging to see them on this list. Blog reader Andrew pointed out how good United's fixtures are in the coming weeks and the above stats back it up, with United getting the fourth best opposition GPG. Their only red light game (1.7 GPG+) for United is the trip to Upton Park to play West Ham (1.8 GPG) while the visit of Villa (1.33 GPG) also looks like it could be tricky. Chelsea's fixtures are more varied and while they have had by far the best defense so far this season, trips to Arsenal (4.0 GPG) and City (2.6 GPG) look particularly worrying.

Of the top 7 teams, only Birmingham have real budget players and with the third best schedule to go along with their impressive record to date, they look great value to fill your bench and even your starting lineup. Villa have been good value to date but their schedule looks pretty scary (Tot, @MNU, @Sun and @Ars are all red light games) and I would advise selling after this week's Burnley game or perhaps holding out until week 15 to get the Hull home fixture.

Players to Target
1. Chelsea - With Cole and Bosingwa both injured, Ivanovic (5.6) could be the pick, though I am still unsure about this one. With Zhirkov and Ferreira returning from injury there is recipe for plenty of rotation along the back line and Terry (7.4) looks like the only certainty at the moment. Long term I like Cole (7.3) the most though Terry's goal/man of the match at the week served as a reminder as to Terry's potential.

2. Man Utd - Evra (6.6) is the safest pick here though he's owned by 20% of players and doesn't offer great value for money. O'Shea (5.5) has followed up on his productive 08-09 season with another period of decent contribution and he's featured in every game this season (twice as a sub). His versatility suggests he will play most weeks though as the team gets back to full strength he may be limited to the right back spot (along with Neville, Brown and Rafael). He's probably worth a shot for now and I would suggest the right back spot is his to lose. Vidic (7.8) is way expensive right now and Ferdinand's (6.6) poor form and inability to stay fit make him too risky as well.

3. Birmingham - Roger Johnson (4.5) and Stephen Carr (4.0) are the safest picks here along with the highly popular Joe Hart (4.2). I like Scott Dann (3.9) alot and having played the last 7 games, he looks fairly safe. He's added 2 assists and a bonus point and added two clean sheets in his starts this year. I think Dann and Carr are great bench players though having either of them and Hart would be risky as Birmingham aren't really good enough to start two of them each week.

4. Fulham - though not quite as good on paper as the other three teams, the double gameweek in week 13 is very appealing. The downside is that Fulham do not play in week 17 and so you must make sure you can either move them back out or have good enough fixtures to cover their absence. I like Hangeland (5.1) as the safest choice while Hughes (4.6) presents outstanding value to the point you can happily bench him in week 17 without hurting your team too much. Both have played every minute this season and look like great value for the next 4 weeks.

I'm a huge fan of playing the schedule, particularly in the current times when the top four sides cannot be consistently relief upon for clean sheets. I think Chelsea are a hold despite their tough fixtures while United are the biggest buy right now. It might be worth selling high on Arsenal and Villa defenders with neither though Arsenal's run does clear up between week 17 and 22.

As always, let me know what you think by posting below or by tweeting me @plfantasy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Week 12 Wrap Up

I guess Liverpool have become so irrelevant in this year's title race that I am wrapping up the week before they've even played. With Gerrard on the bench, Torres out and the Liverpool defense in tatters, Rafa Benitez's side have become equally irrelevant in fantasy circles.

The teams of the week were Villa and, once again, Arsenal who provided 5 and 4 goals respectively, though each annoyingly conceded a worthless goal. Fabregas was once again sublime and recorded his 6th goal of the season along with his - what must a record - 5th straight man of the match. Clean sheets were once again at a premium with only two teams managing to keep the opposition out (Chelsea and Spurs). John Terry and John Carew led the week with 15 points, though I don't really value either as long term option.

A couple of bargain players had nice weeks including David Dunn (7 or more points in 5 of 8 games), Matt Etherington (at least 5 pts in 4 of his last 5 games) and Graham Alexander (4 goals this year). The Spurs defense also proved to be a nice purchase with Woodgate (4.8m) and blog favourite Assou Ekotto (5.0m) available at bargain prices.

Pure Juice had a pretty nice week with 75 points, 6 of which came with great fortune as Collins misses the Villa game and so Assou Ekotto filled in and added a clean sheet. On the negative side, my team has missed three penalties in 2 gameweeks (Young, Milner and Bent) which concerns me as Young and Milner look particularly vulnerable to lose these duties in the future. Dunn proved to be a nice acquisition while my Arsenal duo of Fabregas (26 points as captain) and Van Persie (7 points) continued to lead the team.

Transfer Targets
Frank Lampard
(12.6) added another 6 points, giving him 37 in the past 4 games (having scored just 45 in the previous 8 games). I do not rate him as highly as Fabregas yet but Chelsea's fixtures are a touch better and they could form a nice duo if you lose faith in the premium strikers on offer. He's still owned by 30% of owners though so he's far from a differentiator and I still maintain better value can be had elsewhere as Lampard was far from the focal point of Chelsea's attack on Sunday, only getting his points from set pieces once more.

I'm probably too late to the party here but Clint Dempsey (6.3) has scored in 3 straight games and took over penalty duties from Murphy in his absence. Fulham get the double gameweek this week with at home to Blackburn particularly looking like it could bear fantasy fruit. One would expect Dempsey's value to rise this week so he could be a nice replacement for the next 4 weeks (@Bir, Bla, Bol, Sun and @Bur).

The boys over at Never Captain Nicky Butt have been recommending Jamie O'Hara (4.5) for a while now and his past three performances have justified the hype. O'Hara followed up his 5 bonus points from weeks 10 and 11 with a goal this week to give him 17 in the last 3 games. Portsmouth are too inconsistent for O'Hara to be an every week guy but as a top sub who will play every week (6 straight 90 minutes aside from the game against Spurs in which he was ineligible) he could provide great value.

Fulham defenders look like a good buy right now, particularly in light of their appealing double gameweek @Birmingham and Blackburn. They follow that up with Bolton, Sunderland and @Burnley which all look like games with clean sheet potential. Fulham's defense has not hit the heights of last year but in their three easiest defensive games this year they have kept two clean sheets. Now consider that three of the next four are the easiest Fulham have faced all year and the potential for points becomes clear. Hangeland (5.1) is probably the choice due to his ability to attract bonus points though at 4.6m Hughes presents good value for those wishing to ditch an out of form defender from, say, Sunderland or Bolton.

Come back later in the week for a couple of features on the double gameweeks as well as the upcoming strength of schedules for every team in the coming weeks. As always, post your comments below or find me on Twitter to discuss the weekly fantasy news.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Injuries and Suspensions

Suspensions Plenty of suspensions this week as the 5 yellow cards start to kick in and the raft of red cards last week:
  • Jamie Carragher
  • Habib Beye
  • Gary Neville
  • J'Lloyd Samuel
  • Philp Degen
  • Stiliyan Petrov
  • Barry Ferguson
  • Diniyar Bilyaletdinov
  • Geovani
  • Lorik Cana
  • Kenwyne Jones
Note that Jermaine Defoe is back after serving his recent 3 game ban.

Injuries A few headlines this week, none more so than some potentially disastrous news from Anfield:

Fernando Torres - Rumours are flying round that Torres might need surgery though Sky Sports suggest that having seen a specialist this week, El Nino could avoid any procedures and even play this week against Birmingham. Still held by an incredible 26% of owners makes Torres overpriced and too risky right now. Weeks 14 - 19 look good for Liverpool and Torres might be worth a look then for Van Persie owners spooked by Arsenal's tough schedule but until then I would stay away for now.

Steven Gerrard - Phyio Room rate Gerrard as very doubtful and he is too risky to play this week. Bring in Fabregas or Lampard if you can spare the transfer.

Glen Johnson - Sorry to pile it on Liverpool fans but Johnson could also be out though the Guardian rate him as set for a possible return. I like Liverpool for a clean sheet this week so Johnson owners should wait until tomorrow before deciding on Johnson but if you want a one week premium pick I think either Vermaelen or Bridge are your men.

Gael Clichy - I was all over Kieran Gibbs as a budget pickup here but Drew correctly noted that Eboue could fill in along the back instead. The Guardian and Telegraph like Gibbs too but I agree he is slightly risky. If you have a suspect sub in the 4.5m range and your regular starters face tough fixtures then why not bring in Gibbs for your sub then at least your regular starter can sub in if Gibbs doesn't get the start.

James Milner - It was a massive blow for Milner owners (including me) who jumped on board the Milner bandwagon for his double gameweek only to see him play just 45 minutes total. He is a doubt again this week though the Guardian and Telegraph both suggest he will play. I would keep him active as he is highly unlikely to come off the bench so your sub will drop in if he doesn't make it for kick off. The fixture at home to Bolton looks like it could prove fruitful.

Rio Ferdinand - If you're reading this I can't imagine you have Ferdinand who is outrageously priced at 6.7m having wracked up 12 points all season. However, when on form he is still an upgrade over Evans and Brown so his absence is a boost to Drogba and co who I like this week despite the tough matchup on paper. In case you do own him, Ferdinand is out and should be sold immediately.Vidic might be back for kick off with the Guardian pencilling him into their lineup.

Ashley Cole - The Guardian and Telegraph both report Cole as fit to take his place in the lineup so feel free to start him this week. I know the fixture isn't great on paper but I think Chelsea have a decent shot at the clean sheet and Cole is a solid play.

Aaron Lennon - The Telegraph suggest Lennon could be back this week while the Guardian say he is out. Sky Sports also have the tricky winger missing the game against Sunderland and it seems likely they will be right. If you have him you can probably play him if your reserves are decent and keep him for gameweek 13 when Spurs get Wigan at home.

Carlton Cole - The Telegraph have him in but the Guardian have him out. The official West Ham site say its 'too early to say' but you with a tough schedule after the next three games you might want to look elsewhere anyway.

Stay tuned to Twitter for last minute news tonight and tomorrow morning before the deadline. Good luck for the upcoming week and always, thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Week 12 Preview

Week 12 Fixtures
Aston Villa v Bolton

Blackburn v Portsmouth

Man City v Burnley

Tottenham v Sunderland

Wolves v Arsenal

Hull City v Stoke City

West Ham v Everton

Wigan v Fulham

Chelsea v Man Utd

Liverpool v Birmingham

It seems like forever since I last posted a review, which is worrying seeing as it was less than two weeks ago! Last week saw a bit of order restored to the top of the league with the best three sides right now dishing out beatings to lesser opposition. Liverpool continue to struggle and are pretty much a fantasy minefield, especially in light of Torres' continued injured woes. Six teams face green light defensive fixtures this week, which considering last week's season high seven clean sheets suggests defenses could be back in the money.

Captain picks
The rich keep getting richer at the moment and though I can't help but expect this production to stop, the trends are still strong so I'm going to keep pushing these guys while the fixtures are hot.

1. Cesc Fabregas
2. Emmanuel Adebayor
3. Frank Lampard
4. Didier Drogba
5. Robin Van Persie

Not a great matchup for Cesc this week but he's averaging an insane 10.35 PPG which not even the great Ronaldo managed in his time in England. He is absolutely a must own right now and is probably close to every week captain status unless the matchup is terrible.
I'm a bit sceptical to tip Adebayor at the second spot with his status uncertain due to injury and the fact that he hasn't scored since Sep 12. However, Burnley are conceding 3.4 GPG on the road this year while City have scored 10 in 4 games at Eastlands. City's games are up and down over the next 5 but I rate Adebayor as a solid buy right now and at 10.1m and with 7.1% ownership he is a potential differentiator now everyone seems to be on the Drogba / Bent / Van Persie bandwagon.
I've been critical of Lampard this season but the last two games have given fantasy owners hope and it could be perfect timing with Arsenal's tough run of games coming on the horizon. Chelsea's fixtures are much better and if you can afford it, Lampard might be a great replacement for Fabregas from week 14 onwards. This week Lampard faces United which isn't great on paper but United's defense is thread bare and looked terrible midweek against Moscow. I can't see a rout but Chelsea might get a couple of goals with Lampard and Drogba involved as always.
Like Lampard, Drogba's matchup isn't the best but I like Chelsea to win and score a couple in the process. The Ivorian is in great form and the likes of Wes Brown and Jonny Evans will struggle to contain him.
Van Persie is in scintilating form with 6 goals in the last 5 league games. As with Fabregas above I don't love the trip to Wolves (1.2 GPG conceded) but the form of Arsenal is too strong to back against right now. I actually like Van Persie to score more than Fabregas but the little Spaniard has 12 bonus points in the last 4 games and I see no reason why that kind of production won't continue this week.

This is a new feature in which I suggest 5 players who aren't widely held that I like for this week only.

Tim Cahill
I keep expecting Cahill to rediscover his goalscoring form but he really seems to be missing Arteta and has only managed a single goal this year. Everton have the second best opposition on paper (2.0 GPG conceded) though the fact that Cahill played through pain tonight in the loss to Benfica suggests caution should be exercised before bringing him in.

James Beattie
Picking against Hull is a pretty good strategy this season and I like Beattie to get a goal this week having played well on his return from injury. In his 4 games since returning he has 2 goals and 4 bonus points and is gaining fitness every week. Hull aren't terrible at home but I like Beattie's presence to unsettle them and cause them problems all day.

Kieran Gibbs
With Clichy sidelined for a couple of weeks Gibbs should get a chance to shine at left back and he looked good midweek against AZ. At 4.5m he is great value and could even provide an attacking option for Wenger's side (3 goals for England U-21s already). Wolves have managed just 4 goals at home this year and Arsenal look like a great play.

Clean Sheets
1. Man City
2. Aston Villa
3. Arsenal
4. Liverpool
5. Chelsea

City have the ultimate matchup for the week as the welcome Burnley who have really struggled away from Turf Moor. I'm not totally sold on City's back line but I think they are solid enough for a clean sheet here and I like Bridge most to capitalise here.
Villa defenders are widely held after last weeks (failed) double gameweek but worth holding for this one. Bolton have actually been decent away from home (1.50 GPG) but are pretty inconsistent and I think Dunne and Collins should be able to deal with the threats Megson's side brings.
I was encouraged by Wenger's tactics to drop Diaby and Song back at 3-0 at the weekend though this hope for a run of Arsenal clean sheets was dashed slightly by the needless goal conceded in midweek. However, Wolves have really struggled for goals (especially at home) and with Gibbs and Song available at budget prices I really like the value you can get from Arsenal this week.
Liverpool's defense has been terrible of late and for much of the season so far but Birmingham just cannot score goals (8 in 11 games this year) and Liverpool really need this one. I'm not really high on this pick but I do like them if you already have players on your team.
Chelsea will seem like a strange pick to many but the fact is that Chelsea have conceded just one goal in 5 home games while United has been less than convincing of late. Again, I don't love this pick but I certainly wouldn't be benching your Chelsea player's if you already have them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'm back (but am I needed?)

Great work everyone during my off week, I'm gonna have to get some serious research done after alot of your captain and clean sheet picks worked out well last week.

Seven clean sheets gave a few teams some better returns from their back line, particularly with three of these coming from Arsenal, United and Chelsea. Heartbreak for fellow Ashley Cole who missed the clean sheet after Cole was a late scratch from the team sheet. Arsenal's clean sheet was a bit more surprising with Spurs averaging over 2 goals on the road this year and it was encouraging to see Song and Diaby dropped deeper as time went by which suggests Arsenal defenders could be more reliable in the coming weeks. They have frustrated us on several occasions this season throwing away the odd goal after the game was already won, so I was pleased to see them protect their clean sheet against Spurs. I like Song alot for 5.5m though some caution must be placed on his value as he could lose his place when Denilson returns (due at the end of the month). Another interesting option is Kieran Gibbs (4.5m) who looks set to benefit from Gael Clichy's injury (also due back in around a month).

More goals for the big strikers this week as Drogba, Van Persie, Rooney and Anelka all hit the back of the net. Aruna Dindane also announced himself on the scene with an impressive hattrick though I would not get carried away with that one just yet.

I'm still on board with the big striker strategy though suggestions of life from Lampard and the big four defenders suggest this may need consideration in the coming weeks.

I'll post my week 12 preview tomorrow night and follow it up with an injury post on Friday night/Saturday morning.

Again, thanks for all the posts in my absence, your comments really do make the blog work.