Saturday, May 29, 2010

Group Game Picks

We're getting closer to the final squads being announced but before then let's look at the fixtures for the group games and determine which ones to target. Reader David has already highlighted a few in a recent post so I thought I'd add my picks based on form, odds, goal scoring record and propensity to keep clean sheets.

My top picks for each round of group games are below:

Round 1
Slovakia vs New Zealand
Brazil vs North Korea
Spain vs Switzerland
Argentina vs Nigeria

For three of the games here (Brazil, Spain and Argentina), the key here is not to indicate that the likes of Messi, Villa and Kaka are good picks (no kidding!) but that you might want to double up rather than have, say a Brazilian and a Dutch strikeforce (with the Netherlands facing a much tougher opener against the Danes). For the record I think the key in week 1 is get to get 11 men on the field so going with captains and irreplaceable players rather than long shots is the key. While I always sing the praises of differentiators, I think these should be sought by picking a star from a lower profile team rather than a top team's 3rd best striker who may or may not play.

The matchup that will give value is an underrated Slovakia side against New Zealand, who the bookies give the longest odds in the whole competition. The highly rated Marek Hamsik might be worth a look after a very strong season in Serie A while Stanislav Sestak has a good international record (10 in 30) if you are really looking for a differentiator or budget option. How far down the barrel we have to scrape will largely depend on how the Official game values its players.

Round 2
Italy vs New Zealand
Portugal vs North Korea
Spain vs Honduras
England vs Algeria
Holland vs Japan
Argentina vs South Korea

Again, I will not dwell on the top seeded teams as we all know it's useful to have a player like Xavi or Messi in your team but I will note that Spain and Argentina feature in both round 1 and round 2 which gives them added value from day one and England feature in both round 2 and 3.

The only non-first seed here is Portugal who I do not fancy for the tournament (I actually have them going out to Ivory Coast in group G). That said, when you have a player like Ronaldo going up against North Korea, you have to at least consider picking him up. The opening game against the Ivory Coast could be high scoring too thus making Ronaldo a decent pickup for the first two games. Liedson might be worth monitoring to see if he is penciled in to play as he has enjoyed a very good season with Sporting (22 goals) and will not be fancied by the average player. On an interesting side note, Portugal - North Korea is a rematch of the 1966 Quarter Final following N.Korea's upset (perhaps the biggest in WC history) against Italy. Fantasy fans will be thrilled to learn that the game finished 5-3 with Portugal led by the legendary Eusebio.

Round 3
Ivory Coast vs North Korea
Paraguay vs New Zealand
England vs Slovenia

Poor old North Korea. They were actually very solid in qualifying (conceding 5 in 8 games) but they haven't come up against the likes of their Group G opponents for some time. The main man here will of course be Didier Drogba though I'm sure EPL fans will give some attention to Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane. An outside bet might be Gervinho who has a scored 11 in 22 for Lille and enjoyed a good Olympics for Les Elephants.

Paraguay did well in the CONMEBOL qualification, finishing ahead of fellow finalists Argentina and Uruguay. Their star man is another player who will be familiar to EPL fans, though less so this year as Roque Santa Cruz has suffered through a miserable season at Man City, failing to hold down a regular first team spot. With Italy in round 1 I would stay clear of Paraguay for now, gauge how good they are against Solvakia in round 2 then bring someone in if they have proven they can be competitive to play against New Zealand.

England are one of the highly (overly?) rated sides and with a fairly good group make good group game pickups. The defense should be solid under Capello (despite the recent friendlies) and someone like Glen Johnson or Ashley Cole should deliver good value. Rooney will be widely owned but I want to see how fit he is against the US before I buy into his considerable hype.

The Official Game announces the player values on the 3rd June so I will prepare an in depth post then with my value picks and sleepers as soon as possible after that. As always, thanks for reading and stay in touch over on Twitter @plfantasy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Around the World - News Roundup

Here's a quick run around the World Cup teams including goals, injuries and who will miss the final squad cuts:

Van Persie scored twice for the Netherlands in their defeat of Mexico. I am really high on the Netherlands and Van Persie becomes a legitimate option to start from week one (vs Denmark).

Michael Essien will miss the World Cup which is a huge blow to Ghana's chance. I like Serbia to progress from Group D after which they will likely meet a relatively strong England side.

Philip Lahm has been handed the German armband guaranteeing his place in the starting XI and making him one of the most valuable defenders around.

Like fellow ex-teammate Essien, Lassana Diarra will also miss the tournament. The injury should pave the way for PL Fantasy favourite Abou Diaby to play alongside Jeremy Toulanan, as they did on several occasions in the qualifiers.

Okay it was against Canada but Argentina finally put on a display that matches their talent levels. Goals for Tevez, Aguero and (new Real man?) Di Maria have encouraged me to rethink my shunning of Maradona's men with the insanely talented Di Maria particularly intriguing.

In what to me was a strange squad cut, Fabio Grosso will miss out for the Azzurri, despite starting 4 of the last 6 qualifiers. The unit should still be reliable with possibly Criscito slotting in at LB.

Eto'o is threatening to pull out from the Cameroon squad following criticism from World Cup legend Roger Milla. I think that success on a such a big stage is probably a bridge too far for Eto'o anyway and Cameroon aren't the threat they were back in '98.

Torres is back in training which is great news for Spain and fantasy players alike. I like Villa, Xavi and Silva more with Torres in the side, not to mention the fact that Torres himself would be a very useful pickup. Unless I see something concrete I will probably avoid Torres in game 1 but he definitely warrants transfer consideration.

Man United's Park Ji Sung was on target as South Korea beat Japan in a midweek friendly. South Korea have a decent chance of getting out of Group B and Park could be worth a quick thought if you need to grab a player from one of the less popular teams.

First team for Sky competition
With the McDonald's game still not open until the final squads are announced, I've been playing around with my Sky Sports team and I thought I'd share my first attempt to see what everyone thought. Why not share your own teams and hints for lesser known players to watch out in the this year's competition.
  1. I Casillas
  2. D Alves
  3. P Lahm
  4. G Chiellini
  5. G van Bronckhorst
  6. Kaka
  7. F Lampard
  8. F Ribery
  9. L Messi
  10. D Drogba
  11. D Villa
Nothing too controversial so far I know. I think that 70%+ of owners will have at least two of that front three and I think the key to the competition is getting goals from midfield.

Just to get you in the right mood, here's a classic World Cup goal from 2006 which is often neglected on the all time goal lists (though kudos to the Guardian for picking this one).

Friday, May 21, 2010

World Cup Preview: Spain

Here in the UK, Spain's chances are considered to be greatly hampered by the injuries to Torres and Fabregas, but in reality they still have an extremely strong team and should feature heavily in most fantasy conversations. Fabregas was, and is, likely to take the number 12 shirt ie being a very gifted substitute. Not much has changed since Euro 2008 when Cesc only started in the third group game (after Spain had already qualified) and then the final. He has played in more qualifiers lately but Xavi, Iniesta, Silva and company is far from a bad bunch so I am not sweating Cesc's absence despite my full blown man crush.

Torres however is a different story as the Liverpool hitman started every game of the Euro champs (aside from the meaningless 3rd group game) and has featured in most games during the qualifying period. In the 23 man squad, there is only real Fernando Llorente who would be identifiable as a 'striker' to partner Villa with the other forwards being more support men or even wide men such as Jesus Navas, Juan Mata and Pedro. I am therefore concerned by the injury as I don't like it when a team has to change it's shape due to the loss of one player.

Anyway, enough of the negatives and on to which players I do like:

Iker Casillas
I would normally focus my defensive pick on an attacking wing back or a goal scoring centre back but I don't really like any of the Spain defenders to provide too much going forward. Therefore I am backing Casillas given Spain's excellent defensive record in the qualifiers (5 conceded in 10 games). Spain's opponents were all fairly free scoring in the qualifiers (averaging 1.7 - 1.8 GPG) but I still back Casillas and co to notch at least one clean sheet with the potential for shut outs in all three games.

David Silva
Silva had an impressive Euro '08 which put him in the shop window for some of the major clubs in Europe's, but I think this is the tournament where he explodes and announces himself as truly world class. Silva scored 8 and assisted 9 in La Liga this season and it seems that Real are knocking at the door to bring him to Bernabeu. Either way, glass-half-full fantasy players can find good in the situation as he will either be settled before the tournament or playing for a major pay day in the near future. Torres' injury could be a boost too as Spain could play a kind of 4-3-2-1 with Silva and another playing off of Villa.

David Villa
Who else could you pick here. I actually rate Torres in terms of pure footballing talent a bit higher but with the Liverpool forward a massive injury risk along with Villa's form and settled future I like Villa's place as early golden boot favourite. Spain should progress to at least the semi final and with such incredible talent supplying the passes, no one is better placed than Villa to score plenty of goals this summer.

Possible First Team
  1. Iker Casillas
  2. Sergio Ramos
  3. Joan Capdevila
  4. Raul Albiol
  5. Carlos Puyol
  6. Senna
  7. Juan Mata
  8. Andres Iniesta
  9. Xavi
  10. David Silva
  11. David Villa
This of course is assuming that Torres and Fabregas miss out. If all fit I would insert Torres in place of Mata and Fabregas would likely platoon with Iniesta, who has been in so-so form for Barcelona.

I have backed Spain to win every tournament since France '98 so I am probably not the most objective of bloggers. However, their talent level is unarguable as shown by the lineup above, minus two of the top 5 players in the EPL. The run to the final will be tricky as Spain will likely face Portugal or (my pick) Cote D'Ivoire in the last 16 and then if all falls according to form, Italy in the quarters. The good news is that if they win their group they will avoid Brazil who some fancy as contenders and Netherlands, who I rate highly this year. Expect to see them in the final when I release my final predictions before the tournament.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

McDonald's Fantasy Game

Thanks to David among other readers for pointing out that the McDonald's fantasy game is now up and running, and is far superior to the Sky game. I'm still going to play the Sky Sports game as, well, can you ever have too many fantasy teams, but I will be focusing the site on the McDonald's game due to it's similarity to the EPL game we are all familiar with.

I have setup a blog league with the code: 128022-30277

Stay tuned for more team previews and some strategy thoughts in the coming days.

Monday, May 17, 2010

World Cup Preview: Brazil

Brazil are the second favourites (5/1) for the whole tournament thanks to good form in the qualifiers (top of their group) and an improved 'team' concept that should lead to a tighter defence (emphasis on the word 'should' rather than 'has'). Brazil have been drawn in Group G along with Portugal, Cote d'Ivoire and North Korea which is tough but should not prevent their advance to the next round.

A week 1 fixture against North Korea is beyond appetising and with 15 transfers to use in the group stages it makes alot of sense to bring a couple of Brazilians in for this week and move them later if they aren't hitting the highs of previous years.

Fantasy Picks
The team has been fairly unsettled during the qualifiers so it is hard to pick the final XI but there are several players who should feature in early games and therefore deserve fantasy consideration.

Kaka (MD)
Undoubtedly one of the top picks for this year's competition, Kaka is the only true world class attacking presence in the current Brazil squad and will be the lynchpin of everything they do. Despite not being regarded as having a great season, Kaka added 8 goals and 5 assists for Real this year and I like him to contribute goals and assist for this team too. The introduction of more steel into the Brazil midfield (Gilberto Silva/Ramires) should allow Kaka the flexibility to stay forward and lead the Brazil line.

Dani Alves (DF)
This pick is a riskier than it looks as the presence of Maicon makes it possible that one of this pair is benched. However, Alves featured alongside Maicon, taking his place in midfield, against Bolivia and Chile and his form for Barcelona should ensure his continued presence in the Brazil team. The wing backs don't play quite as an advanced role as Roberto Carlos and Cafu once did but nevertheless an increased clean sheet possibility (10 clean sheets in 18 qualifiers) along with a continued attacking presence should make Alves a top fantasy pick.

Luis Fabiano (FD)
Not a lock to start but has stated the majority of the qualifiers when fit and has been in good form for Sevilla this year (21 goals in 34). Someone in this team has to score goals as there is just too much talent to keep them down and with more defensive midfielders in the side, you feel they must come from one of the forwards. I find it hard to believe that Robinho plays all the games and with only four strikers in the squad (Fabiano, Nilmar, Robinho and Grafite) I think Fabiano gets a place in game one and becomes an interesting differentiator pick.

Possible First Team
  1. Julio Cesar
  2. Maicon
  3. Gilberto
  4. Luisao
  5. Lucio
  6. Gilberto Silva
  7. Dani Alves
  8. Felipe Melo
  9. Kaka
  10. Nilmar
  11. Luis Fabiano
It appears to be safe that Brazil will escape from a tricky group and then see off the runner up of Group H (Switzerland/Chile/Honduras) to make the quarter finals. With no upsets they would then face the Netherlands and I can see Brazil losing there. The team is solid and I'm totally on board the 'team concept' but they just lack the weapons that some of the previous Brazil teams, and other squads this year have. It's easy to back Brazil and I might look foolish here come July 11 but I'm not picking them to get out the of Quarters.

Stay tuned this week for previews on all the top teams in this year's competition along with some ideas on how to play the strategy of the game.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Premier League Awards

Before I get too carried away with the World Cup, I want to take a bit of time to look back over the season and hand out some well deserved awards. I will be posting some further analysis throughout the season as soon as I have managed to build a decent database that I can use.

Premier League Blog Champion
Congratulations to Ahmed el Kassar whose 'No Mercy' team won the blog league with a very impressive 2441 points to place just outside the top 1,000 in the world. I plan to comment more on the status of the league next year so please re-join next season and invite your friends as I look to integrate the progress of the team into the blog.

PL Team of the Year
I have selected the below squad which was available for under £100m at the start of the year, as my team of the year. I would guess that this might be the most controversial section so please post your alternatives below and we'll discuss:

GK T.Sorensen (4.0m)
Fourth among GK in points scored despite missing 4 games through injury. Led all players in Points Per Million Spent with a stunning 1.036 and contribute clean sheets, saves and bonus points throughout the year. I was heavily behind the Sorensen/Hart combo at the start of the year and though I have yet to run the numbers I think that the strategy worked well and I will be looking to employ a similar strategy next year.
Honorable mention: M.Hahnemann, J.Hart, J.Reina

DF Richard Dunne (5.0m)
Looking at the top scorers now, Dunne doesn't look as good value but remember that Dunne was available for just 5m at the start of the year and his 1.8m value increase was highest among all players (along with Drogba). Dunne lead all defenders on the year and contributed in all categories including 3 goals (9th among defenders) and 31 bonus points (1st among defenders). A real no brainer pick here.

DF Carlos Cuellar (5.5m)
Fourth among all defenders and totally unheralded throughout the season, Cuellar joins his teammate on the honour role. Incredibly consistent scoring just 5 points less than Terry despite being available for 2m less. Contributed goals, assists, clean sheets and bonus points and missed just 2 games all season.

Jody Craddock (4.0m)
I remember dismissing Craddock back in week X when he scored twice to win some fantasy plaudits. However, he was able to continue some of the form throughout the season on his way to 5 goals, 2 assists and 13 bonus points. Will I be targeting him for next season? Probably not, but he seemed to catch some lightning in a bottle and any owners who stuck with him were well rewarded.

Gareth Bale (5.5m)
Possibly the most controversial pick so far, Bale was just too good in the second half to ignore. Bale added an incredible 6.2 points per game with 3 goals, 5 assists and 24 bonus points. Anyone who jumped on the bandwagon at the right time received a PPMS of 1.016 and probably stole a jump on their mini league competitors. I like Assou-Ekotto (who had a decent season when fit) at the start of the year and if Bale stick around at Spurs and proves he has taken the next step, he is really one to watch for next year.

Defender honourable mention: Patrice Evra, Thomas Vermaelen, Chris Samba, Ryan Shawcross

Frank Lampard (12.5m) (c)
Another stellar season from Lampard, smashing last year's total of 226 with an incredible haul of 284. This was all despite a slow start in which he scored just one goal in the first 9 weeks of the season and appeared to be a notch below Fabregas in fantasy value. 10 goals in his last 8 games along with 11 bonus points drove many teams to league titles and not hitching on to this bandwagon cost many more a shot at theirs. One to watch in the upcoming world cup game given his position at the heart of the England and his incredible scoring form.
If Fabregas had played a whole season he would have threatened this spot (8.8 PPG and 0.752 PPMS) but I couldn't find room in the budget for a player who missed so much time.

James Milner (7.0m)
Milner bounced around from Leeds to Newcastle to Villa failing to live up to the hype that he brought with him from a very young age. Milner was able to build on a solid 2009/09 (128 points) to explode with 184 points, 3rd among midfielders. Despite Villa failing to make a realistic push for Champions League football, they enjoyed a decent season and got very good returns from Milner, Young and Agbonlahor. The inevitable rumours of a move to a 'bigger club' have started though hopefully he stays and continues to the focal point of a very good team next year (just don't expect to get him for 7m, expect a Stephen Ireland sized jump).

Charles N'Zogbia (5.5m)
Players such as Malouda and Young are unlucky to miss out here but the value delivered by N'Zogbia was too good to pass on. N'Zogbia took a real step at Wigan and along with fantasy steal Rodallega was one of the best buys of the year. The driver behind his success ahead of other budget midfielders was the fact that he caught the eye of the pundits earning 31 bonus points (as many as Drogba and Dunne). A potential move to Birmingham appears to be on the cards which I don't like and I will probably be looking elsewhere for budget midfielders next year but let that not detract from a great season from the once mocked Charles Insomnia.

Midfielder honourable mentions: Cesc Fabregas, Matt Etherington, Florent Malouda, Damien Duff

Didier Drogba (10.5m)
Another fine season from Drogba who (just) proved my pre season prediction of him as the golden boot as correct. Drogba's problem against Rooney will always be the bonus points which are stolen by Lampard while Rooney is free to take 3 points any time he plays (31 v 46 points). Drogba actually scored 3 more goals and added 7 more assists despite playing just 60 more minutes, hence why he has earned top striker for me this year. Hopefully he can parlay the season into success for Cote d'Ivoire in the summer.

Wayne Rooney (11.0m)
Rooney enjoyed his best season by far in both real and fantasy terms and was widely praised as the player of the year. Drogba pipped him to the golden boot and fantasy title but Rooney will be back next year and assuming United strengthen a bit, he should be right up there again next year. Stay tuned throughout the off season for some analysis I am planning on how best to predict how and when the big name strikers score their points.

Carlos Tevez (8.5m)
Tevez was a great fantasy pickup this year given his contribution across all categories and was consistent throughout the year. Eight double digit games, 23 goals and 36 bonus points made Tevez close to a must own player and he will be very highly sought after next season, especially if City can add one more attacking midfielder.

Forward honourable mentions: Darren Bent, Cameron Jerome, Bobby Zamora

Darren Bent (7.0m)
Matt Etherington (5.5m)
Ryan Shawcross (4.5m)
Joe Hart (4.0m)

If you had rolled with this team from day one you would have amassed 2,589 points and your team would now be worth 114.6m. If only we all had this kind of hindsight back in August.

More awards to follow include my biggest surprises for the season along with an early look at some players well placed to have a big 2010/11.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

World Cup First Look

A couple of readers have asked whether I will be running a World Cup fantasy competition and I'm pleased to say that the answer is yes. I have setup a mini league over at Sky Sports, though I am open to suggestions if people find a game that they think is better. The pin code in 902 if you want to join in the fun.

I will get to focusing on the strategy involved with the game later, especially given the strange format of having 15 transfers (yes 15!) to use over the group stages, but for the time being lets look back at how all the teams have got here.

I have taken the teams that all the qualifying nations played in qualification to look at the number of goals they scored and conceded. I have then tried to adjust the results based on the opponents world rankings to try and equalise the results. While this is a pretty crude measure it should give a better idea of where teams' strength lies rather than just "Germany always have a tight defense" (somewhat true) or "Argentina scores loads of goals" (false). Relying on last year's world cup is also dangerous given that a squad could be totally different 4 years on.

The table below shows the adjusted goals for and against for every qualifying nation (aside from hosts South Africa for whom insufficient data is available):

Uruguay A 2.3 0.8
France A 1.9 0.8
Mexico A 2.0 1.1
South Africa A - -
South Korea B 1.3 0.6
Nigeria B 1.3 0.8
Argentina B 1.9 0.8
Greece B 2.0 1.0
Slovenia C 1.7 0.4
Algeria C 1.5 0.7
England C 2.9 0.7
USA C 2.1 1.2
Australia D 1.4 0.1
Ghana D 1.4 0.6
Germany D 2.4 0.6
Serbia D 2.4 0.7
Netherlands E 2.3 0.2
Cameroon E 1.5 0.3
Denmark E 1.5 0.5
Japan E 1.3 0.8
Paraguay F 2.0 0.7
Italy F 1.8 0.7
Slovakia F 2.1 1.1
New Zealand F 1.7 1.3
Brazil G 2.6 0.5
Portgual G 1.6 0.5
North Korea G 0.9 0.6
Ivory Coast G 3.0 0.7
Spain H 2.7 0.5
Switzerland H 1.9 0.8
Chile H 2.6 0.9
Honduras H 2.0 1.0

A lot of the usual suspects rank near the top of the goals scored charts but I think Ivory Coast's goal scoring threat is highlighted here and I expect Drogba to be highly sort after in the game. Spain will be widely liked but injured pair Torres and Fabregas are massive risks and I would stay away for the group stages.

Defensively, I am really surprised to see Netherlands rank so highly, while Brazil's rating is also encouraging for those looking to pickup attacking full backs like Dani Alves.

Hopefully these first stats give you some ideas as to which teams to target when picking your preliminary team (remember it's unlimited transfers until the tournament kicks off). I'll be back throughout the coming weeks to focus on which players are guaranteed starters, which team's have the best fixtures and some strategies on how to best play the transfer game.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Gameweek 38 Preview

Apologies for the lack of posts this past week, work and commitments at home have taken over and I've barely even caught a game of footy never mind had chance to formulate some useful fantasy thoughts. I guess the good news is that with the season so close to finishing, it hopefully didn't cost anyone anything significant by not being able to talk through their team last week.

Clean Sheet Rankings
  1. Man Utd
  2. Everton
  3. Arsenal
  4. Aston Villa
  5. Chelsea
  6. Wolves
  7. Sunderland
  8. Hull
  9. Liverpool
  10. Tottenham
  11. Bolton
  12. Burnley
  13. Man City
  14. Birmingham
  15. Stoke
  16. West Ham
  17. Portsmouth
  18. Blackburn
  19. Fulham
  20. Wigan
The top 5 are a cut above this week, all enjoying home games against weaker opposition. With no distractions around either, all sides should be looking to go out on a high and of course United and Chelsea have the small matter of a title to play for so there shouldn't be too much Fulham-style slacking off here.

As a look ahead to next season, I have started to tweak my prediction spreadsheet to try and take into account more factors including recent form, type of opposition, form and injuries. Check back over the course of the off season for updates on how I plan to improve the statistical side of the blog to allow for better predictions and hence results.

Captain Picks
  1. Didier Drogba
  2. Frank Lampard
  3. Robin Van Persie
  4. Wayne Rooney
  5. Mikel Arteta
  6. Carlos Tevez
  7. Emmanuel Adebayor
  8. Louis Saha
  9. James Milner
  10. Florent Malouda
Again looking to next season, captain picks should be better than this year, which are largely based on form the opponents defense. I have started to create a database of players' performance against various teams to try and factor this in to the picks, so if, say, Darren Bent has scored in his last three against Birmingham then you might want to play him despite the fact that the Blues have a solid home defense.

I have big plans for the statistical side of the blog for the off season so continue to check back where I'll share some ideas and ask for your input into what info you'd like each week to help you make better decisions. Thanks for reading this season and I look forward to seeing you again throughout the off season to discuss all the latest transfer news and fantasy strategy.