Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gameweek 19 Preview (condensed)

In case I can't get a full preview up in the next day or two, I have posted below my clean sheet and captain rankings for the week. The clean sheet rankings use a new tweaked formula to give a weighted average to both the teams average goals conceded at home/away and the ranking of their opponent for the season. Hopefully this will lead to better decisions for the future.

Clean Sheet Rankings
  1. Chelsea
  2. Man City
  3. Man Utd
  4. Wigan
  5. Liverpool
  6. Birmingham
  7. Burnley
  8. Arsenal
  9. Fulham
  10. West Ham
  11. Tottenham
  12. Sunderland
  13. Portsmouth
  14. Aston Villa
  15. Blackburn
  16. Bolton
  17. Stoke
  18. Everton
  19. Hull
  20. Wolves
Captain Rankings
  1. Fernando Torres
  2. Cesc Fabregas
  3. Didier Drogba
  4. Steven Gerrard
  5. Wayne Rooney
  6. Darren Bent
  7. Hugo Rodallega
  8. Ashley Cole
  9. Antonio Valencia
  10. Carlos Tevez
Apologies for the brief post this week, I will try and flesh this out in the next day or so. I will be on twitter and my iPhone though so please post questions below or @plfantasy and we can all discuss our plans for the week.

Dirty Sheets

It's been widely noted that clean sheets have been hard to come by this year and no team has really arisen as a dominant force whose defenders deserve captaincy consideration on a weekly basis (like Vidic last year and Laursen in the past). On an average week, 25% of teams are keeping a clean sheet which gives you around 5 chances at success on a weekly basis. The graph below shows how these trends have moved through the season so far:

After the severe dip in weeks 5-12, we have seen a general trend towards an increase in clean sheets and the last 5 weeks have given us at least 25% of teams keeping the opposition out with a peak of 35% in week 15. However, goals per game are also up from the start of the year at around 1.44 from 1.20. This suggests that the when teams are conceding they are conceding heavily, a stat that has probably been adversely affected by the 9-1 drubbing of Wigan by Spurs and the high score draws seen in the past couple of weeks.

So how does this compare to last year? As the below graph shows, clean sheets are well down on last year and while we've seen the lows from last year, we haven't yet seen the equivalent highs.

The lack of the big weeks for clean sheets is largely attributable to the inconsistency of the premium defenses this year. Consider:
  • Man United haven't kept back-to-back clean sheets all year
  • In the 425 minutes Michael Essien has missed for Chelsea, they have conceded 6 goals which equates to 1.27 GPG. At that rate they would have the 8th best defense in the league behind teams such as Stoke and Spurs. Essien is currently injured and his next game for Chelsea could be as far away as gameweek 25 due to the African Nations.
  • All of the 'big four' sides have failed to keep a clean sheet in the same week all season and in 11 of 18 weeks either one or none them have have done so.
  • Last season Liverpool conceded 27 goals; they have already given up 25 this year.
  • The top 6 fantasy goalkeepers include 'keepers from Stoke, Birmingham, Blackburn and Burnley.
These facts can be taken as good or bad news for the fantasy owner. It is harder to be sure on who to play each week and no one appears to be this year's Vidic - who you can plug in and even captain on a weekly basis. This also gives an opportunity to take advantage though as any old idiot manager can pick and play Vidic but an informed manager will be able to play the matchups and gain points on his competition each week.

With top line strikers scoring well and an abundance of mid level midfielders to pick from, my strategy for the coming weeks is to go for 5 defenders from good teams and play 3 of them based on matchup. Depending on how the cash works out, this may involve not holding any top rate defenders like Ashley Cole but rather cheaper options from top teams (Ivanovic, Song) or those exceeding expectations (Carr, Faye). This way you are less invested in a particular player and you should have the necessary fluidity to alter your team regularly to keep on top of double gameweeks and matchups.

I like Stoke (Collins, Shawcross, Sorensen) and Arsenal (Traore/Silvestre) most in the short term due to the double gameweek in week 20. Ivanovic remains a great option with Chelsea and De Laet should continue to get minutes for United for another week or two. Of the less obvious teams, Spurs have really solid fixtures and I like Dawson or Corluka most there. Fulham's fixtures are up and down but they are superb at home and fit nicely in a rotation scheme with Hughes being the best value option. Birmingham have been excellent this season but the injury to Johnson could be huge so watch this space before investing there. Finally, while local rivals Villa have also been immense, the fixtures get very dicey for the next 8 weeks and I might consider selling high if you're sitting on a profit.

Say for example, you picked up Traore, Ivanovic, Hughes, Collins and Dawson costing a mere 24.1m. You could play a back three for the next 8 weeks and your average opponents GPG would be 1.13 and you'd get three players with double gameweeks in week 20. Only in week 34 would you have to play a defender against a red light opponent (1.7+ GPG) and obviously by then your team would have changed anyway.

Its worth playing around with whose fixtures fit well together if you want to employ the rotation strategy but the certainty of them playing is even more important. It is therefore advisable to not get too many players like Traore who are not the normal first choice player for their club. The five I have suggested above are therefore risky as Traore, Dawson and even Ivanovic could all potentially be benched when other teammates return. Steadier players like Warnock, Corluka or Hangeland might be the way to go if you want to play it safe.

I feel that how we deal with our defensive woes might make or break our seasons and I think its vital you have a plan rather than just blindly sticking with big name players. Let me know what you think, and how you plan to obtain maximum points from you defense in the coming weeks. As always, post your thoughts below or @plfantasy and thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gameweek 18 Wrap Up

I'm currently feeling pretty sorry for myself and my team after a miserable fantasy weekend to follow up on the dismal midweek stretch of games. Let's start with the good: of the 6 clean sheets this week, 3 of the teams were ranked in my top 5 so hopefully you were able to rack up some defensive points this week. My captain picks were weak with only Arshavin, Lampard and Dunne providing any kind of contribution for their teams. The premium players this week were generally poor with Drogba, Torrer, Rooney, Gerrard, Anelka, Adebayor and Defoe all having off weeks with only Lampard and Arshavin giving any kind of production.

The big points once again came from mid price or even budget players like Abou Diaby, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff. It is becoming almost as important to get these budget picks as right as your premium players such is the gulf between the best and average budget picks.

Having lost ground on other managers in the past few weeks am I firmly in differentiate mode, and that will be the theme of my picks and tips over the coming weeks. I think we've hit the point in the season where it's time to 're-load' and think whether players like Darren Bent, ThomasVermaelen and Cesc Fabregas still offer the best use of your cash.

5 things we learned this week
  1. Stats don't lie, reputations do. My calculations showed Fulham as the 7th best clean sheet choice this week but I downgraded them based on the perception that surely playing defenders against the free-scoring champions is unwise. This is one of the key failures in fantasy football and I fell foul of it this week. It's the same phenomenon that makes people take favourites in handicapped betting - the fear of looking stupid. If you pick, say, Chelsea, to keep a clean sheet against West Ham and it goes wrong then you're unlucky, but if you pick Fulham against the Champions and they get whooped then you were foolish. For this reason we often shy away from the rational decision and opt for the safe pick. As I have said before with my GK-rotate strategy so long as you make consistent decisions each week, over the course of the season you should end up playing the right players most of the time.
  2. No defensive unit can be consistently relied upon. This time last year, United were in the middle of a 14 game stretch with zero goals conceded. The best run this season has been by Chelsea (5 games: weeks 10-14) with the second best the four gameweek stretches by Blackburn (weeks 13-16) and Villa (weeks 15 - current). United have not managed back-to-back clean sheets all season while Liverpool and Arsenal have managed this just once. For me, this means it is an absolute must to have 5 fit and healthy defenders on the bench so that you can rotate them each week, and possibly consider going with a 3 man backline to give you even more flexibility. I don't normally condone paying 4 points for a transfer but with the double gameweeks coming up in week 20 for Arsenal, Fulham and Stoke (all solid defences) it might be worth using an extra transfer if you have a dud sat on your bench to bring one of these boys in.
  3. No result is guaranteed. Although not directly impacting the fantasy side of the game, the fact that anyone can get a result against anyone (see Portsmouth v Liverpool, Everton v Chelsea and Fulham v Man United) means that more than ever you must check the stats and play the rational matchup not based on preconceptions. The extra parity we are seeing this year can help and hinder a fantasy team. It is useful in that players playing against United, Chelsea and Arsenal etc are not total write offs and decent returns can be had each week. However, on the flip side, there are no more Ronaldo's, who you can plug in and captain every week knowing that his side will drill the lesser opposition on a weekly basis. Of course this too can be seen as an opportunity in that your entire £100m can be used rather than 50% of owners cancelling out a £14m asset like Ronaldo and relying on the other 10 men to differentiate their teams.
  4. Chelsea are going to struggle during the African Nations (and not for the reason you think). I love Drogba and rate him as the third best player in the Premier League (behind Torres and Fabregas in case you are interested) and one of the world's premier strikers. However, an even bigger miss from now until the end of the African Nations will be Michael Essien. Consider that in the 14 games the Ghanaian has played in, Chelsea have conceded 9 goals but have shipped 5 in the games since he got injured. Perhaps more important for fantasy purposes is that in 8 of the 10 games Essien played and Chelsea won, they kept a clean sheet. It is this ability to lock out an opponent that prevents Arsenal from winning the title or being a top rate fantasy defense and without Essien I am worried Chelsea are going the same way. I still rate them highly - indeed I will still have them as my number one defense most weeks - however, I don't think Ashley Cole is now a must own and I would possibly advise against having 2 Chelsea defenders when they go away from the Bridge.
  5. Man City cannot be relied upon. Though clearly a ridiculous decision, the surprise by pundits of the sacking of Mark Hughes is unbelievable to me. The Telegraph nail it when they say Hughes "wasn't - and now emphatically isn't - the Abu Dhabi Group's man" and his sacking was on the cards from day one. It was clear all along that the City bosses wanted a big name to match the team of stars they want on the field each week. Anyway, from a fantasy perspective the change can hardly hurt as City players have been inconsistent at best (Bellamy, Tevez and Wright Phillips) and massive underachievers at worst (Adebayor, Barry and the whole defense). Santa Cruz got two on the weekend but he would surely hold more power under Hughes than Mancini due to his ties from Blackburn so who knows who will be favoured under the new regime. I will stay away from City for now but keep the likes of Adebayor in mind as someone that might help you out if he can be motivated in the right way in the future.
I'm currently putting a piece together on clean sheets around the league, and the usual weekly preview will be added sometime in the midweek. Due to the holidays I might not get a chance to post a full preview for gameweek 20 but I will endeavour to at least get some clean sheet and captain rankings up in time for the 28th deadline. Don't forget that Arsenal, Fulham, Stoke and Bolton play twice that week.

Stay tuned for the clean sheet analysis and why not post your thoughts below or @plfantasy in the mean time. As always, thanks for reading . . .

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gameweek 18 Preview

Gameweek 18 Fixtures
Portsmouth v Liverpool

Aston Villa v Stoke City

Blackburn v Tottenham

Fulham v Man Utd

Man City v Sunderland

Arsenal v Hull City

Wolves v Burnley

Everton v Birmingham

West Ham v Chelsea

Wigan v Bolton

Alot of us suffered a tough gameweek over the midweek games and will be looking to bounce back here. Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool all face comparatively weak opposition and so there should be plenty of goals to go around. The premium players should be back in force with Drogba expected to be fit and Torres should surely get a start after his midweek goal. Fabregas appears likely to miss out but his injury is less serious than expected and he could figure next week.

Clean Sheet Rankings (adjusted GPG in parentheses)
  1. Aston Villa (0.6) - HOLD
  2. Arsenal (0.8) - HOLD
  3. Man City (1.0) - BUY
  4. Man Utd (1.1) - BUY
  5. Wolves (1.3) - HOLD
  6. Blackburn (1.3) - HOLD/SELL
  7. Liverpool (1.4) - BUY
  8. Portsmouth (1.4) - SELL
  9. Wigan (1.4) - HOLD
  10. Birmingham (1.4) - BUY
  11. Chelsea (1.5) - BUY
  12. Everton (1.5) - SELL
  13. Fulham (1.5) - SELL
  14. Bolton (1.6) - HOLD
  15. Tottenham (1.6) - BUY
  16. Stoke (1.6) - HOLD
  17. Sunderland (1.9) - SELL
  18. Burnley (2.1) - HOLD
  19. West Ham (2.3) - SELL
  20. Hull (2.9) - SELL
The top of the list is dominated by premium teams but budget options can still be found even within these premium backlines. Warnock (4.9m) provides a good option at Villa, Silvestre (4.4) should get a game this week for Arsenal while De Laet (4.5m) apparently impressed Ferguson and could get another start for United this week. Chelsea don't have a great fixture after their poor run of form but West Ham's solid home GPG score of 1.9 is skewed somewhat by their early form and the 5 goals they put past Burnley. I'd be pretty happy starting anyone from Chelsea up this week but be mindful that the above represents the season's form and extra consideration for form needs to be added in (I am trying to devise a new formula to do this).

Captain Rankings
  1. Didier Drogba
  2. Fernando Torres
  3. Andrei Arshavin
  4. Frank Lampard
  5. Nicolas Anelka
  6. Darren Bent
  7. Richard Dunne
  8. Emmanuel Adebayor
  9. Hugo Rodallega
  10. Eduardo
Drogba is obviously a massive risk this week and I will be looking for some positive confirmation that he will play before I hand him the armband this week. That said, West Ham are giving up 2.38 GPG and I can't see them stopping Drogba and co this week. I equally love Torres this week even though the fixture isn't quite as good on paper (Portsmouth only give up 1.5 GPG at home). No defense is a match for a fully fit Torres and I am hoping that after only playing for just 30 minutes midweek the Spanish hitman will be back to full strength. Fabregas would have been the top pick this week as Hull surrender 2.63 GPG but in his place I like Arshavin to step up and have a big game. The lack of other Arsenal stars means that only Eduardo also cracks the top 10. The Villa defense looks like the best pick this week and the goal and bonus threat from Dunne makes him a great play this week.

African Nations
With just three gameweeks until most African players depart, its time to start considering whether to sell them now of wait until the death. Drogba is a great play this week but next week Chelsea travel to stingy Birmingham and that could be a window to switch Drogba for Torres or Rooney before the masses sell him and his value falls. Adebayor is out of form and might be a sell now anyway. Not many other players are widely owned enough to justify selling early so I'd only sell when they leave.

Why not post your lineup and transfer questions below or tweet them @plfantasy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gameweek 17 Wrap Up

My transfers and tips this week were about as successful as Chelsea's set piece defensive training. I really liked Drogba this week who was ruled out after a failing a late fitness test, and then my replacement captain Fabregas limped off and will miss at least the Hull game this week. Having mentioned in my preview that it was vital to field 11 men this week, I used a double substitution and still ended up having Drogba, Brown, Torres and Jarvis all starting and out of their team's first team lineup.

The bright spot was Torres' goal and El Nino is now my top rated player alongside Drogba, though considering Torres is owned by half as many owners and Drogba leaves for the African Nations Cup soon, I really like Tores as my top transfer target.

Injury Replacements
If you wish to replace Fabregas then Arshavin is the logical replacements if you are looking for a short term solution. If you are looking long term then you might need to re-arrange your whole team as no similarly priced players strike me a good value. I for one will be holding Fabregas as it will cost 0.6m to bring him back if I sell him now.

I think Drogba will be fit by the weekend but more on this to come on Friday as the injury reports come in. Drogba is going to be available for the gameweek 20 fixture against Fulham which gives you three more games (@WH, @Bir, Ful) if you decide to keep him this week. In that same period Torres faces @Por, Wol and @Ast which is statistically exactly the same as Drogba's schedule (opponent conceding an average of 1.42 GPG). 25,000 managers have already bought Torres this week and his value will rise soon so if you want him it might be an idea to make this switch now (Drogba's value will almost certainly fall when he leaves for Africa).

If you - like me - already have Drogba and Torres then I think Rooney is the only real option unless you can use the money saved by picking up, say, Defoe into really upgrading the core of your team. United have good fixtures after this week and the timing works out nicely in that you can play Drogba this week and then move over to Rooney to take advantage of the Hull and Wigan games.

Defensive woes
Three clean sheets in 8 games this week made clean sheets tough to come by once again. Many managers have Villa defenders and they have been rewarded for sticking with them after a string of 9 games without a clean sheet has been followed up by 3 straight. The likes of Dunne and Warnock remain excellent value although their fixtures are only okay so other options should at least be considered.

United were a great bet for a clean sheet this week but only Evra owners benefited as Brown was a late scratch and Vidic was agonisingly withdrawn after 59 minutes. Physio Room suggests that no one will be back for United this week Vidic is not listed on the injury report so should be okay. Evra is a great choice for the next few weeks while I think Vidic is overpriced given United's shaky back line. Its hard to recommend anyone else for fear that won't feature regularly for the foreseeable future.

Chelsea's defense has suddenly lost form with 6 goals conceded in the last 3 games after a run of 5 straight clean sheets. However, 12 of their 14 goals conceded have come from set pieces which is something that Ancelotti will be able to target in training. The upcoming fixtures are very encouraging and I still think Ivanovic might be the best value defender around at the moment. I have faith that Chelsea will turn it around and finish the season with the most clean sheets in the league.

Transfer Targets

Luka Modric
I had drafted a post on the virtues of Luka Modric and was about to crown him as my favourite transfer target around but I am now a bit nervous after the form Kranjcar has been in of late. It's possible that Modric could be shifted to the middle of the field in place of Huddlestone but either way I am not as high on Modric as I once was. At 7.1m he is still a potential steal but I would wait until it emerges if (and where) he will play before spending your cash on the Croatian playmaker.

Antonio Valencia
Valencia is the only midfielder valued between 8m and 11m that I love over the next month or so and I think he is an upgrade over the likes of Young, Ballack, Wright Phillips and even Lennon (due to Spurs' tough fixtures). After this week's trip to Fulham , United's only tough game before week 24 is a trip to Birmingham and I think Valencia can contribute in all categories over that period.

Seb Larrson
Larrson was excellent against Blackburn and I like him ahead of Bowyer and Ferguson for the remainder of the season. His lack of bonus points concerns me and I don't like him as an every week starter but I think Bowyer's goals will dry up quicker than Larsson's goals and assists.

Check back soon for my week 18 preview including the usual captain and clean sheet rankings. Until then, why not post your transfer and lineup issues below or tweet them @plfantasy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gameweek 17 Preview

Gameweek 17 Fixtures
Sunderland v Aston Villa

Birmingham v Blackburn

Bolton v West Ham

Man Utd v Wolves

Burnley v Arsenal

Chelsea v Portsmouth

Liverpool v Wigan

Tottenham v Man City

The most important issue this week are the four teams on a buy and what you should do with their players. To briefly sum up my thoughts:
  • Stoke - Sorensen has been in incredible form (35 points in 4 games) of late thanks to 3 penalty saves in that period. The defense hasn't actually been that good with just 3 clean sheets in the last 11 games though the Stoke defense as a whole remains okay value for the time being. The next two games after the bye are tough and so you might consider selling but unless you need to play them this week or next, I would simply bench my Stoke defenders and hold them for the double gameweek 20. I don't like the attack as much and I think Etherington is the only legitimate fantasy option for now. Sanli Tuncay intrigues me for the future but until he proves his ability to play every week I'd stay away. Etherington remains a hold despite the off week.
  • Fulham - Fulham's offensive fixtures are awful with no less than 6 red light games between now and week 24. Considering their off week, I consider all Fulham forwards and midfielders sell options as better value can be found elsewhere: Duff (Etherington, N'Zogbia), Dempsey (Dunn, Reid), Zamora (Fletcher, Doyle). The defensive fixtures are slightly better but the double gameweek is marred by having to go to Chelsea and I think better value can be found in the short to mid term future. They become decent value again from week 21 onwards but until then I would move on.
  • Everton - Everton's defense is overpriced right now anyway and has been a sell option for weeks. The off week only serves to make this matter more urgent and you should dump Baines and co immediately. If you can afford to rotate him, I think Saha is a hold due to Everton's decent fixtures from weeks 18-25. If you need to replace him I'd go for Rodallega, Franco or Benitez. None of Everton's other players are widely held - and with good reason.
  • Hull - Awful defensive fixtures and tough attacking fixtures make pretty much all Hull players sells right now though I think Hunt is the only one you should be looking at anyway. At 5.2m he is good value regardless of fixture, but I might take a shot with N'Zogbia, Elliot or Boateng for the next few weeks.
Liverpool, United and Birmingham have very attractive fixtures this week from an attacking perspective and should provide some decent options for those looking for a player to bring in for the week (such as Fletcher, Benitez, and Mascherano). Defensively, Chelsea and Birmingham once again have great matchups and owners will do well to ride these hot teams despite Chelsea's setback at the weekend.

Clean Sheet Rankings
  1. Chelsea (0.16) - BUY
  2. Birmingham (0.20) - HOLD
  3. Man Utd (0.62) - BUY
  4. Liverpool (0.98) - HOLD
  5. Sunderland (0.98) - HOLD
  6. Tottenham (1.01) - BUY
  7. Blackburn (1.23) - HOLD
  8. Burnley (1.23) - SELL
  9. West Ham (1.29) - SELL
  10. Aston Villa (1.33) - HOLD/SELL
  11. Arsenal (1.40) - HOLD
  12. Bolton (1.58) - HOLD
  13. Man City (2.25) - HOLD
  14. Wolves (2.50) - SELL
  15. Portsmouth (2.69) - SELL
  16. Wigan (5.15) - SELL
You have to like the top two again this week and despite Chelsea's lapse against Everton, I like them again this week to get the clean sheet. Portsmouth have scored just 4 goals away from home this season and I think Cole, Terry and even Ivanovic deserve some captaincy consideration this week. Birmingham's fixture on paper is almost as good and Sorensen owners will be pleased if they have Hart to fill in this week for their absent keeper. United's excellent defensive fixtures start this week and I like Wes Brown as a great short term pickup for the next few weeks.

Captain Rankings
  1. Didier Drogba
  2. Fernando Torres
  3. Wayne Rooney
  4. Cesc Fabregas
  5. Frank Lampard
  6. Andrei Arshavin
  7. Steven Gerrard
  8. Ashley Cole
  9. Antonio Valencia
  10. Jermaine Defoe
I love the top three this week as each gets a good looking fixture and should have the chance to find the net. Needless to say from the above I like the big four teams this week and I would ride them for the next few weeks as the majority of their fixtures are good. With Lampard and Gerrard continuing to underwhelm I think you should try and own two of those top 3 strikers, pairing them with perhaps Bent or a cheaper option like Rodallega if need be. All three have good fixtures and should provide the best source of points for the next 10 weeks or so.

John Heitinga
Marouane Fellaini
Craig Bellamy
Younes Kaboul
Mark Noble

This is a good week to gain a few points on your unprepared opponents who may have players on bye weeks or fail to update their teams in time for the deadline. It is therefore essential to try and field a full team of XI players and try and capitalise on the good matchups the big teams have. Why not post your lineup or transfer questions below or tweet them @plfantasy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gameweek 16 Wrap Up

Football365 summed up the weekend simply as 'wow'. Chelsea conceded 3 goals at home having conceded one in the previous seven fixtures, while United lost at home to Villa for the first time since 1983. The weekend served up 5 clean sheets (ranked 3rd, 8th, 12th, 17th and 20th in my weekly preview) including Wolves and Blackburn on the road who had conceded a combined 37 goals in 14 games on their travels to date.

The randomness of the clean sheets was exacerbated by goals from players who were rightly benched based on their matchup leaving their managers frustrated with fantasy points sitting on the bench (offenders included Saha, Gary Cahill and Villa defenders). It was also one of the worst days for the premium players in a while with only Drogba and Anelka delivering more than 5 points of the 9m+ players in action on Saturday. This was improved somewhatby Fabregas, Arshavin and Kuyt who all had decent contributions on Sunday afternoon. It has been noted by a few readers that Arsenal do not look like the same fluid team without Van Persie and that perhaps Fabregas has peaked. I will add a post midweek to discuss the options available if you wish to dump the Spanish maestro.

The top of my captain rankings had some good returns this week as I liked Drogba (13 points), Fabregas (7), Lampard (5) and Bent (5) though the returns from Defoe (2), Lennon (2) and Cole (1) were big disappointments. Hopefully most of you stuck with Drogba rather than the frustratingly inconsistent Spurs players, who I downgraded for precisely the reason that happened this week - they occasionally have an off day and get you no returns and so make risky captaincy picks.

The first board that caught my eye was Frank Lampard, who I liked this week and who duly delivered a solid but largely unspectacular 5 points. A look at his chalkboard compared with Joe Cole shows that Lampard was stuck playing on the left point of the diamond rather than at its apex which limited his opportunities to play dangerous balls into the box. It's hard to be too down on a guy who is third among all players in fantasy but he is also the most expensive at 12.6m; 1m more than Drogba and Fabregas. With so many good mid-value players (Bent, Milner, Dempsey, Saha etc) and a few top options departing for the African cup in January (Drogba and Adebayor) I think Lampard will become extensively held in a few weeks as owners look to spend all their available cash. In that scenario he is probably good value but I still prefer Cesc and Drogba by some distance for now.

A quick look at Rooney's board shows he had an incredible 9 shots on the day including an effort off the bar after he controlled a cross brilliantly inside the area. United have some pretty friendly fixtures over the coming weeks and I like Rooney to continue his solid premium form. He and Torres are the obvious replacements for Drogba during the African Nations in a few weeks time. Don't let this off game put you off the English forward.

Adebayor has firmly moved into my sell category and I am looking to ditch him this week. His chalkboard shows zero shots on goal and no passes completed from within Bolton's area. I don't really understand how Hughes is deploying him, and having not seen the game I can only assume from the chalkboards that Adebayor was told to collect the ball deep and then lay it off to the advancing SWP, Tevez, and even Micah Richards. Needless to say, this is not good enough for a 10m striker and I think the extra 1.5m is well worth it to upgrade to Rooney, Drogba or Torres. If cash is tight I think Bent and Defoe have better long term value, though City's fixtures are much better than Defoe's so I would hesitate slightly before making that switch.

Finally, I am not sure how highly to rate Arshavin who was not involved that much against Liverpool but came away with a goal and 2 bonus points, having played up front alone for most of the game. His lack of involvement does worry me though and I think he will be liable to have a few 2 point games so isn't a great captain choice. That said, he has the ability to generate big returns from nothing and being held by just 11.5% of players would allow you differentiate your team if necessary.

Don't forget that Gameweek 17 is midweek with the deadline at 19:30 GMT on Tuesday. I will post the weekly preview tomorrow. Why not post your thoughts and questions below or tweet them @plfantasy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gameweek 16 Preview

Gameweek 16 Fixtures
Stoke City v Wigan
Birmingham v West Ham

Bolton v Man City

Burnley v Fulham

Chelsea v Everton

Hull City v Blackburn

Sunderland v Portsmouth

Tottenham v Wolves

Man Utd v Aston Villa

Liverpool v Arsenal

In true Mark Lawrenson style, I will reach for an overused cliche and describe this week's fantasy contest as a game of two halves. While fantasy filled squads like Chelsea, City and Spurs all face very intriguing opponents, United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Villa have tough opponents and their fantasy production is likely to be somewhat limited.

Spurs at home to Wolves (2.29 GPG conceded) looks very appetising as does City's trip to the Reebok to play Bolton (2.14 GPG). Chelsea are the pick of the big four as they welcome an Everton side that have conceded 10 goals in their last 4 road trips.

The physio rooms across the country are starting to get full with injured players Michael Essien the latest big name player to go down. I will follow this post up tonight with a last minute run through of the latest injury news.

Clean Sheet Rankings (predicted goals conceded in parenthesis)
  1. Chelsea (0.10) - BUY
  2. Sunderland (0.35) - HOLD
  3. Birmingham (0.47) - HOLD
  4. Burnley (0.55) - HOLD
  5. Tottenham (0.64) - BUY
  6. West Ham (0.72) - HOLD
  7. Stoke (0.73) - HOLD/SELL
  8. Hull (0.74) - SELL
  9. Man Utd (0.82) - BUY
  10. Man City (0.83) - BUY
  11. Fulham (1.43) - SELL
  12. Aston Villa (1.67) - SELL
  13. Liverpool (1.67) - SELL
  14. Bolton (1.95) - SELL
  15. Portsmouth (2.29) - SELL
  16. Wigan (2.58) - SELL
  17. Blackburn (2.87) - HOLD/SELL
  18. Arsenal (3.01) - HOLD
  19. Everton (3.38) - SELL
  20. Wolves (4.37) - SELL
No less than 10 teams this week whose projected goals conceded comes in below 1.00 suggesting it could be a good week for clean sheets. The group is of course led by Chelsea who have conceded just once at home all year and welcome an Everton averaging just over one goal a game on the road this season. You also have to like Birmingham and Spurs who are in good defensive form, with Spurs looking particularly attractive having conceded just 2 goals in the last 4 home games (though still, frustratingly, have just 2 clean sheets for the year). Sunderland's statistical ranking is probably ahead of where I would have ranked them based on my preconceptions but such is Portsmouth's terrible away record (3 goals in 7 games), the likes or Michael Turner look like solid plays.

Of the teams at the bottom of the rankings, Wolves, Everton and Portsmouth are sells in the longer term with tough defensive fixtures over the coming few weeks. Remember also that Fulham, Stoke, Everton and Hull also have a bye next week, which suggests Stoke are a hold for the week rather than a buy.

Captain Rankings
  1. Didier Drogba
  2. Frank Lampard
  3. Jermaine Defoe
  4. Aaron Lennon
  5. Fernando Torres
  6. Ashley Cole
  7. Darren Bent
  8. Emmanuel Adebayor
  9. Cesc Fabregas
  10. Wayne Rooney
Some really good captain options this week and for the first time I easily filled my top 10 with players I would happily captain. I obviously love Chelsea at home to Everton both offensively and defensively and therefore Ashley Cole becomes the first defender to make an appearance on my rankings. The inclusion of Torres is clearly a risk having played jut 25 minutes midweek but I think Liverpool simply have to win this game to show they are still one of the favourites to grab a place in the Champions League and therefore Benitez will risk El Nino. Spurs have the best matchup of the week and I like Defoe to continue his goalscoring form at home to Wolves this week.

As always, thanks for reading and why not post your transfer or lineup questions below or tweet @plfantasy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Goalkeeper Strategy II

This season I have used a combination of two keepers (Hart and Sorensen) playing the one each week with the the best matchup and factoring in Birmingham's comparative home advantage (4 goals conceded in 7 games). I think this gives you the best chance to win as regardless of how good your top 'keeper is, you must still invest 4m on a sub. So, why play Petr Cech every week including when he faces United and Arsenal when you get a pair of budget 'keepers and never play anyone in the top half of the table?

Let's look at how this strategy has fared so far this season:

To date I played each keeper as highlighted in green, based on the matchup rankings I post each week. This has led me to score 69 points through 14 weeks out of a possible 79. If I had simply played Sorensen every week I would have scored 64. Compare this with scores of 59 for Given (25% owned), 58 for Cech (14% owned) and 53 for Reina (7% owned) and the value of the budget keeper becomes clear. While I accept the difference between the rotation strategy and simply playing Sorensen every week is small, this is largely due to the incredible value of Sorensen together with Stoke's relatively easy schedule to date. As these matchups get harder it will be important to have a pair of budget keepers to allow for proper rotation should you choose to go this route.

Complimentary Combinations
Given my desire to save cash at the keeper position I am only considering Sorensen, Hart, Jensen and Robinson who all cost below 4.5m and have each notched 50 points this year.
Over the next 10 weeks, the average opponent's GPG you will face by having the following pair of 'keepers is as below:
  • Robinson and Jensen - 1.04 (8.6m)
  • Hart and Jensen - 1.08 (8.4m)
  • Hart and Robinson - 1.11 (8.6m)
  • Robinson and Sorensen - 1.17 (8.8m)
  • Sorensen and Jensen - 1.26 (8.6m)
  • Hart and Sorensen - 1.34 (8.6m)
The best schedule you can get by playing one keeper is Shay Given's 1.14 due to City's excellent schedule from weeks 18-24). Given and the cheapest player available will cost you 9.6m which is 1m more than most of the above pairings. If you can afford this extra cash without hurting your team then it is tempting to recommend getting Given, in light of City's extraordinarily easy schedule (no other team is below 1.30).

It's tough to get rid of Sorensen before week 20 as he faces two opponents with GPG under 1.25 and I might stay put until then. The downside of this is having to either Chelsea or @Man City in week 19 so it becomes a tough decision. All four keepers have a decent matchup this week so we have another week to decide but with Stoke on a bye next week, you need to decide on how to juggle your keepers very soon.

As always, why not post your thoughts below or tweet @plfantasy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gameweek 15 Wrap Up

Portsmouth 2-0 Burnley
Burnley's woeful away form continued, while Portsmouth continue to get better, especially at home. The game saw Boateng lose his penalty duties to Dindane who squandered the chance suggesting Boateng might be taking them again soon. Dindane did manage to hit the net later in the game though, along with Hreidersson to give Avram Grant the 3 points. The popular fantasy pick Jamie O'Hara picked up an assist while one of my favourites Boateng came away empty handed.
The game confirms that Burnley at home is about as good as it gets for a fantasy team while travelling to Fratton Park is perhaps not an easy game these days.

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke
Many thought this would be a banana skin for under fire Wenger but Arsenal bossed the game from the off, finishing with 59% of possession. The disappointment of the game was the penalty miss by Fabregas, who rebounded somewhat by adding an assist for Arshavin's opener. Fabregas looked threatening and should have had a goal of his own though Eboue got in the way and cleared the ball off the line. I think Fabregas is particularly dangerous at home and this should play a factor in your captaincy decisions in the future. The fact Arsenal held on for a clean sheet was encouraging and my last minute sub Traore (4m) proved to be great value. With Gibbs out for 3 months and Clichy only due back towards the end of the month, I like Traore to provide great value for the next 2 or 3 gameweeks.
Sorensen gave some unexpected returns thanks to the penalty save and remains a good option who can almost be started every week. Stoke are continuing to struggle to score and not too many options attacking exist in their squad for fantasy purposes.

Aston Villa 3-0 Hull
Another one sided game that was over early on. In a trend that hasn't always been the case, Villa were also able to protect the clean sheet and reward fantasy owners who stuck with them through the last few poor performances. Dunne was particularly valuable given that he also added a goal. Milner once again contributed well and is well and truly back on track after stuttering for a few games in weeks 8-11. Ashley Young added an assist but his inability to score and the fact he no longer takes penalties makes him a sell option and I possibly like Valencia as the man to replace him. Villa defenders are still a sell for me with @MNU, @Sun and @Ars in the next four games.
Hull remains a wasteland for fantasy owners with their only viable option - Jimmy Bullard - ruled out again through injury.

Blackburn 0-0 Liverpool

Despite the class of some of Liverpool's players and the investment the team has had over the years, I would not be surprised if both these sides enter April next year in the exact same position - with nothing to play for. Anyone who thinks City, Spurs or Villa might threaten the big four better be talking about Liverpool's spot as it doesn't seem likely that Arsenal will be surrendering their place anytime soon. Without Torres they look impotent and bringing on the likes of El Zhar and Ngog is not good enough for a supposed title contender. They do have 5 clean sheets for the season but most of their defense is overpriced for such returns with only Insua (6m) available for a reasonable fee. It is not hyperbole that until Torres returns there isn't a single Liverpool player that I feel gives you good value for money (only Johnson has a PPMS above .500).
Blackburn continue to excel at home but their disastrous away form makes it tough to hold their defenders as you will bench them at least every other week. Dunn missed this game through injury and Blackburn clearly miss his creativity. I keep trying to find players in this side to back but the attacking options are pretty limited and despite the good fixtures I can't find anyone I really like aside from Dunn.

West Ham 0-4 Man Utd
United have responded well to the defeat against Chelsea, winning the last 3 game by a combined score of 11-1. Its still hard to find too many United players give good fantasy value, but I am enjoying the emergence of Antonio Valencia who has 3 double digit games in the past 7 weeks. My issue with him is still the inconsistency (the other 4 weeks led to a combined 9 points) but with Benayoun and Young losing a bit of form lately, I think Valencia can be considered in this group. The United defense has major injury woes and the back four to finish this game was Giggs, Carrick, Evra and Fletcher.

Wigan 2-3 Birmingham
I really didn't see many goals in this game, ranking these sides 4th and 5th in my clean sheet rankings. While I don't like Wigan's unit going forward I have still have faith in McLeish's side and the likes of Hart and Johnson still hold plenty of value. Offensively, two mid price midfielders underlined their credentials with N'Zogbia having another solid game and Seb Larsson announcing his arrival on the fantasy scene. I like N'Zogbia quite alot as a player but the fantasy production has always flattered to deceive a bit, but he has managed to contribute goals, assists and bonus points this year, suggesting he can provide excellent value for 5.4m. Larsson meanwhile is cheaper at 5m but I am yet to be convinced he can consistently produce. He is worth monitoring though as his free kick prowess means he will generate shots on goal is most games.

Wolves 2-1 Bolton
Not much to say about these two teams, who have basically no fantasy contributions to make. Matt Taylor is perhaps the exception but I still think he is overvalued at 6.7m as without Davies there just simply won't be too many goals to go around.
Steer clear of both sides and don't be drawn in by Jody Craddock who now has 4 goals for the season. Wolves defense isn't good enough to justfy holding any of their players.

Man City 2-1 Chelsea
Big shock here as I really liked Chelsea to stamp their authority on Mark Hughes' side. The Chelsea midfield was awful with Deco and Ballack totally anonymous and Lampard missing a penalty that would have given them a point (he will still take them going forward though). I am a bit concerned for this team during the African Nations as although Drogba is the big name absentee, Essien may be even more irreplaceable.
Adebayor was pretty quiet too despite his goal and if it wasn't for Spurs' tough schedule I would be promoting Defoe ahead of him in my rankings. The midfield is better in reality than fantasy terms and I don't love of any of them for the foreseeable future. The ESPN commentators gushed over Wright Phillips' contribution but I didn't think he was involved enough to ever provide enough assists to challenge the likes of Aaron Lennon.
Despite Chelsea conceding two goals, I still like their defense as the best in the league by some distance, though this may have to re-evaluated with the departure of the aforementioned African players. City's defense is too inconsistent for now, though the fixtures after week 18 are great and they might warrant further consideration then.

Fulham 1-0 Sunderland
I am starting to get concerned with Darren Bent who has now not scored away from the Stadium of Light since week 8. Though still good value at 7.9m his star is starting to wane and I am considering moving him out for Rodallega or Saha to free up cash to use on my defense.
The Fulham defense meanwhile continues to improve and have now gone 6 games without conceding more than a single goal. Regular readers will know that I prefer the budget keeper combo so Schwarzer is overvalued for me, but Hughes and Paintsil are very reasonable and are buy options from week 20 onwards.

Everton 2-2 Tottenham
This was a great game that had a dramatic ending with Spurs squandering a two goal lead and then missing an injury time penalty to leave the game equal at Goodison Park. Defoe missed the penalty which will put some owners off but he looked lively and I think he is a great option next week. I would personally hold off buying him until after week 19 though, after which the fixtures become alot easier. His teammate Aaron Lennon also looked dynamic and might be the pick of the 8m midfielders at the moment.
It was good to see a goal from another 8m+ midfielder as Tim Cahill added his 2nd goal of the campaign. I'm not sure why Saha didn't start here as he appears to be fit and is clearly superior to Jo in pretty much all facets of the game. Until Moyes shows he will play him every week its hard to recommend starting him in your team despite the fact that the Frenchman added his 9th goal after just 912 minutes play, which is a better rate than Rooney, Drogba and Bent.
Both defenses here looked shaky and better options can be had elsewhere for less money.

Overall a decent week for most managers but a quick look at the Blog league shows most teams scored between 50 and 70 points and differentiation is becoming increasingly hard. The key to the next few weeks is spotting the next big trend or player than you can jump on early and get ahead of the pack (perhaps the increasing number of clean sheets or the return of Torres). I'll try and suggest a few ideas during the week as to what we can do next to improve our team's fortunes in the run up to Christmas.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

African Cup of Nations

A few of us have turned our attentions to longer term replacements and transfer targets to fill our rosters into the Christmas period and beyond. A factor to consider is the 2010 African Cup of Nations that runs from 10 - 31 January. However, recent reports suggest that some players could leave as early as 27 December to allow for them to prepare for the tournament. Players will miss gameweeks 20-22 for the group stage and up to gameweek 24 for teams that reach the final four.
Below is a list of players likely to miss at least some time due to the tournament:
  • Alex Song
  • Emmanuel Eboue
  • Andre Bikey
  • Michael Essien
  • Jon Obi Mikel
  • Solomon Kalou
  • Didier Drogba
  • Joseph Yobo
  • Yakubu
  • John Paintsil
  • Seyi Olofinjana
  • Kamel Ghilas
  • Daniel Cousin
  • Kolo Toure
  • Emmanuel Adebayor
  • Aruna Dindane
  • Nadir Belhadj
  • Hassan Yebda
  • Mamady Sidibe
  • John Mensah
  • Sebastien Bassong
  • Benoit Assou Ekotto
The headlines are of course the Chelsea and City players but the loss of players like Assou Ekotto, Bikey and Bassong will be blows to many fantasy teams and plans must be made as soon as possible to start rotating these players out of your squad.
You have at least 5 weeks to make these moves so don't panic, and the likes of Drogba and Adebayor should be held as long as possible. If you some of the others on your bench though, I would consider moving them as soon as possible.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gameweek 15 Preview

Gameweek 15 Fixtures
Portsmouth v Burnley
Arsenal v Stoke City

Aston Villa v Hull City

Blackburn v Liverpool

West Ham v Man Utd

Wigan v Birmingham

Wolves v Bolton

Man City v Chelsea

Fulham v Sunderland

Everton v Tottenham

In a week where many focus their attention on tomorrow's world cup draw, there are some excellent looking fantasy games that should see some big points after a couple of up and down weeks for many of us. Villa and United each provide plenty of fantasy options and face opponents leaking goals a plenty this season (2.57 GPG and 2.14 GPG respectively). Three excellent defensive opportunities arise this week, with three teams given predicted to concede less than 0.5 GPG (Villa, Fulham and Arsenal).

After a flurry of big name injuries over the past month, the situation is starting to improve and we may even get Torres back this week. Of course as the fantasy Gods giveth they also taketh away with Carlton Cole out for 'several weeks' and Dunn's status unkown which are both blows given their good form for a budget price. The 5-yellow suspensions are also starting to kick in, with Alex Song, Kevin Davies, Johnny Heitinga, Marouane Fellaini and Younes Kaboul all out for this week.

Clean Sheet Rankings (Predicted goals conceded in parenthesis)
  1. Aston Villa (0.41)
  2. Fulham (0.41)
  3. Arsenal (0.45)*
  4. Wigan (0.86)
  5. Birmingham (0.96)*
  6. Blackburn (0.96)
  7. Bolton (0.96)
  8. Man United (1.23)*
  9. Portsmouth (1.31)
  10. Wolves (1.40)
  11. Tottenham (1.48)
  12. Chelsea (1.56)
  13. Sunderland (1.65)
  14. Liverpool (1.80)
  15. Everton (1.97)
  16. Man City (2.30)
  17. Stoke (2.55)
  18. Burnley (2.73)
  19. West Ham (2.87)
  20. Hull (3.20)
* Despite not having the best matchups this week, if you want to replace an injured player (such as Distin) or one from a team with bad matchups (such as Shawcross) then I like the three asterisked sides for the next 5 weeks or so. If you want a one week replacement then go with the above list.

It doesn't get much better than Villa and Fulham this week as two good defensive sides (6 goals conceded in 7 home games) face opponents who are really struggling on the road (5 goals in 7 road games each). Hull are obviously improving and Darren Bent is always a threat but you have to feel comfortable starting players from either of these sides this week. Arsenal have by far the best matchup of the premium teams and have a nice little run of fixtures excluding the week 16 trip to Anfield so might be worth a thought. I'm still high on the United defense despite the tough fixture this week and I still like them as my favourite premium side for the next 8 weeks.

Captain Rankings
  1. Didier Drogba
  2. Wayne Rooney
  3. Cesc Fabregas
  4. Jermaine Defoe
  5. Frank Lampard
  6. Aaron Lennon
  7. Andrei Arshavin
  8. Gabriel Agbonlahor
  9. Nicholas Anelka
  10. Ashley Young
I'm not backing against Drogba right now, no matter who the opponent is, and while City have scored goals at home they have also conceded 9 in 6 at Eastlands. United have the pick of the matchups for the big 4 sides so Rooney looks good again this week, while Villa's top matchup gives Young and Agbonlahor a chance to shine this week. Though the risk is higher with this pair, they have as high of a ceiling as anyone this week and are worth considering if you are looking to differentiate.

Yellow Card Watch
Before making any transfers this week, consider the following list of players who are just one card away from a 1 game suspension:
  • Phil Bardsley
  • Stephen Carr
  • Jamie Carragher
  • Didier Drogba
  • David Dunn
  • Julien Faubert
  • Ricardo Fuller
  • Johnny Heitinga
  • Jermaine Jenas
  • Aaron Mokoena
  • Fabrice Muamba
  • Scott Parker
  • Kieran Richardson
  • J'Lloyd Samuel
  • Ryan Shawcross
  • Martin Skrtel
  • Hendry Thomas
  • Nemanja Vidic
  • Glenn Whelan
Why not post your transfer and lineup issues below, or even tweet them @plfantasy