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Best of the Prem 2014: Arsenal to Crystal Palace

Arsene Wenger could have done with less injuries, more silverware this season.

Arsene Wenger could have done with less injuries, more silverware this season.

Best. Season. Ever. You’ve heard it since Christmas from pundits and fans alike. I have to disagree because of my allegiances (heartbreak for my two clubs, although for different reasons)…. but for the neutral, this was the year that old hegemonies were broken and glimpses of the Premier League’s new reality started to come to light.  Here then is the first installment of my picks for each club’s best player in this remarkable season.

All Hail King Ramsey

All Hail King Ramsey

ARSENAL
Aaron Ramsey (WAL)  – Oh what could have been for the mighty Gunners this season.  After a summer of selling Arsenal’s flotsam and jetsam without a single major signing,  Arsène Wenger waited until the very end of the transfer window to bring in German and Real Madrid superstar Mesut Özil.  The move turned heads amongst the media, the supporters and England’s other clubs.  But it turns out Wenger’s best signing was one he made eight years ago, when he bought 16-year-old Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff City.  Wenger never wanted to make a splashy buy, preferring his policy of youth development.  If Aaron Ramsey didn’t have to deal with the ever-present spectre of injury that has marked his young career, he would vindicated his mentor this season.  The Welshman scored 13 goals and provided seven assists before Christmas.  After he went out, Arsenal slipped from the pile of title challengers, struggling to win the last Champions League spot.  Let’s see if he can help Arsenal gain some consolation next weekend at Wembley.

Benteke may need divine help to recover

Benteke may need divine help to recover

ASTON VILLA
Christian Benteke (BEL) – How bad are Aston Villa? Bad enough that three seasons of relegation escapes (16th, 15th and 15th) astound anyone who has a look at their threadbare squad.   They can’t defend: Villa gave up 12 goals in their last four games, and only the relegated teams had a worse goals-against.  Their offence was even worse… save for their young Belgian striker.  Christian Benteke was the club’s highest scorer, despite missing the last six weeks of the season.   He will likely be out until October with a ruptured Achilles tendon.  Depending on how he recovers, this next season with Aston Villa will likely be his last.

St. Peter: Upon this rock...

St. Peter: Upon this rock…

CARDIFF CITY
Peter Whittingham (ENG) – Over six years, you’ve seen your side climb from the bottom half of the Championship to promotion into the Premier League.  You found yourself at Wembley for two league finals.  You’ve watched a rich foreign owner buy the club and then turn it on its head.   You’ve watched as the man who kept his faith in you by signing you to a new contract, get turfed on the whim of said owner.  You watch as the supporters turn against vilified Bond Villain Owner, as your team sinks back in the relegation mire.  Yet even as you look around and think to yourself, “Bloody Hell”, you do your job as best you can… marshalling a midfield that is, well, middling.

Your name must be Peter Whittingham.

Care to Hazard a guess where he'll be next season?

Care to Hazard a guess where he’ll be next season?

CHELSEA
Eden Hazard (BEL) – When did José Mourinho go from megalomaniac to paranoid curmudgeon?  The Special One turned on Eden Hazard after the winger publicly criticized his manager’s negative-to-the-umpteenth-degree tactics against Liverpool and Atlético Madrid.  This season, Mourinho returned to his self-proclaimed home with the same propensity to pick internal squabbles as he did at Real Madrid.  Mourinho fought with Juan Mata, he chastized his Inter Milan favourite Samuel Eto’o… and even benched long-time loyalist Ashley Cole.  But to criticize a player like Eden Hazard — a winger who runs and swerves like he’s riding a motorcycle on its back wheel through the narrow streets of Brugge — is almost blasphemy.  The Belgian outscored all Chelsea strikers and picked up the slack when Oscar started to slump.   He rightly deserved the PFA Young Player of the Year, and he should be an absolute joy to watch in Brazil next month.

jason-puncheon-crystal-palace-transfer-363302

Puncheon-drunk love for Palace

CRYSTAL PALACE
Jason Puncheon (ENG) – No one had more fun than Crystal Palace fans this season, and Jason Puncheon was part of the reason why.  The Croyden native permanently returned to his boyhood club, after helping them get promoted last year.   He then benefited from Palace’s hiring of Tony Pulis, whose second-half revival of the club from 18th to 11th was simply remarkable.   Even Puncheon admits, after nine different clubs, he played the best football of his career this season.  The Eagles may end up selling him, but would he even want to leave?

Brent P. Lanthier

Up next: Everton to Manchester City

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Best of the Premier League: Starting XI

It was a big year for the big Serb

Manchester United’s record-breaking 19th league title is a testament to their manager. Sir Alex Ferguson did not have the same calibre of players as in the past. But the old gaffer leads his teams to trophies… and he would not be denied an opportunity to overtake his Merseyside nemeses. While they did not dominate, United players produced some fine individual efforts, along with their rivals Citeh and Chelsea.

Here are my starting XI for the 2011:

MIghty bright future for young Joe

GOALKEEPER
Joe Hart (Manchester City) — For some, the verdict is still out on the young Englishman. Playing for McLeish’s Birmingham and then Mancini’s Citeh means he had the benefit of great defences in front of him. But he made more saves than any other EPL keeper, except for his England understudies Ben Foster and Robert Green. The future looks bright for Old Blighty: Joe Hart is only 24.

On the bench: Petr Cech (Chelsea), Edwin Van der Sar (Manchester United)

Hot cross Baines...

LEFT BACK
Leighton Baines (Everton) — Why wouldn’t Miroslav Klose want to come to Goodison Park, where he could have Baines send over cross after cross after cross? Baines started every single game for Everton… netting seven goals and providing 12 assists. Ashley Cole’s perpetual presence on England’s left may be in jeopardy.

On the bench: Ashley Cole (Chelsea)

CENTRE BACKS
Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) — The big Serb won Barclay’s Player of the Year, and rightly so. Vidic terrorized defences as he marshalled United to the title. If Old Trafford was a fortress this year, than Vidic was its mighty rook.

Kompany's calling...

Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) — It wasn’t easy to score goals on the other side of Manchester either.  Vincent Kompany was a consistent leader in a back eight that tied Chelsea for stingiest defense. At only £6.7 million, he was a steal… especially compared to what Citeh paid for his teammates.

On the bench:  John Terry (Chelsea), Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

Calm down, son, calm down!

RIGHT BACK
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) — One of the most fouling — and carded — players in the Prem, Ivanovic is one of those sought after backs that scores, yet still plays defence. A genuine pest whose temper could get away from him, Ivanovic made it onto almost every one of Ancelotti’s team sheets.

On the bench: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

Arsenal's Song... and prayer

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER
Alex Song (Arsenal) — The Gunners didn’t lose because a lack of firepower… they lost because of the glaring holes in the centre back and goalkeeping positions. That should be reason enough for Gooners to thank Cheebus for Alex Song. The Cameroonian is a bruising DM who has embraced the old-school English philosophy of getting stuck in. Now if Arsene Wenger decides to go and buy himself a couple of solid defencemen, silver and joy might actually start to seep back into the red side of Norf London.

On the bench: Michael Essien (Chelsea)

You'd be smiling as well...

LEFT WING
Florent Malouda (Chelsea) — Crosses, runs, goals… what more do you want from a winger on a team that plays with three strikers named Drogba, Torres, Anelka? Fantastic, fantastic player.

On the bench: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

Citeh certainly got their Yaya out...

ATTACKING MIDFIELDER
Yaya Toure (Manchester City) — Reportedly the highest-paid player in the league, Toure is a box-to-box midfielder who was all over the park. The only Citeh player who scored more Prem goals than him is Tevez, who’s goal count pipped Toure for the squad’s Player of the Year.

On the bench: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)

"Stop... or I will stare at you a second time..."

RIGHT WING
Nani (Manchester United) — This season has been a revelation for the Portguese winger. (Ed Note: I know he also played a lot on the left. I just wanted to put him on the team.)  Last year, he was whingy, ineffective and prone to giving away the ball. This season, Nani was still whingy — mimicking another one of his countrymen who played for United — but at least he found the net, and helped others to do the same. Nani led the league in assists while scoring 10 of his own. His on-field antics are probably the only thing from getting named as POY.

On the bench: Stewart Downing (Aston Villa)

FORWARDS
Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) — The debate rages: is he a precision finisher… or just a cherry picker? Spurs fans spit his name, calling him lazy and opportunistic. But he did end the season with 20 goals, enough to share the league’s Golden Boot… albeit almost all of them were at Old Trafford. Check out Berba’s second goal in their 3-0 defeat of Liverpool… and then make up your mind.

Adios Tevez

Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) — Despite his tally of 23 goals (which would have likely been higher, had he not been injured), Tevez is in danger of doing something even more impressive: pissing off both sides of Manchester. He wanted to stay at United but SAF decided to sell. Yet after only two seasons, the captain of the “People’s Club” says he wants to move on. It may be an ideal time for the club to sell him… but what a shame for the supporters.

On the bench: Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Darren Bent (Aston Villa)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nemanja Vidic

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Premier League: Arsenal to Blackpool

No Big Ears for you, Sir Alex. Just little wee Scottish ones...

Hello.  Remember us?  Your favourite Interweb football journos-slash-pundits-slash-hacks? We know, we know, we haven’t posted in awhile.   But that’s because we’ve been busy doing very important stuff.  Ian’s been planning his wedding… and I’ve been… well, let’s just say it’s reaaaaaallly hard to get up in the morning.  Stuff is hard. 

But since we’ve last written for your reading pleasure, the MLS has started, the European leagues have finished, Barcelona has proven they are actual Valhallian gods… and FIFA has engaged in a circle-like exercise usually reserved for fraternity initiations. 

Nevertheless, we have been paying attention.  Honest.  So now that the dust has settled, and Manchester United fans have realized that their squad won the Premier League by default this season, let’s get to my picks of the Premier League’s best…. which are not up for discussion.

"Lalalala... I can't hear jeuuw... lalalalalala..."

ARSENAL
Robin Van Persie (NED) — Sigh.  This one pains me.  Robin Van Persie bugs me.  He’s a shining example of why the people hate the Dutch… national team.  He is, quite simply, a bit of a whiner and he was injured a lot.  But when he did play, he found the back of the net almost every match.  Twenty-two goals in 27 matches.  Cesc who?

Young hears the big clubs calling for him.

ASTON VILLA
Ashley Young (ENG) — A supremely talented winger who will not be with the squad, come August.  Young was a stalwart of a team that really didn’t survive the abrupt departure of Martin O’Neill.   He lead the team in scoring in all competitions… but his real talent lays in his crosses. Rumours are that he is headed for Old Trafford.  Hopefully, Sir Alex will help him lose his Ronaldo-like habit of falling over in the box at the slightest touch.

Bye-bye Birmingham?

BIRMINGHAM
Liam Ridgewell (ENG) — A centre back by trade, Ridgewell was a shining light at left back on a defensive squad that should have been too good to go down. This writer believes he could compete with Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines for England’s LB spot.  In fact, Capello might do the whole country good by switching Ridgewell to the right, thereby ending the Glen Johnson experiment. Although Ridgewell signed a three-year deal last year, look for the East Ender to quickly return to the Prem.  Fulham, anyone?

Samba: The bright light on an awful team

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Christopher Samba (CON) — While I was tempted to pick Jason Roberts — aka the Second Coming of Alan Shearer (Ed. Note: While I writing that line, I laughed so hard, I had to get a Kleenex) — with his five goals in all competitions, I have to go with a man who was a giant on a team of footballing dwarves.  Samba stood tall in the middle of the defence on a team that missed Big Sam.  Wow… I never thought I’d write that. The blogosphere is rife with rumours that the Congolese national is heading to the Emirates.

BLACKPOOL
Charlie Adam (SCO) — A right pest in the midfield, Adam did himself a thousand favours by leaving Rangers in 2009 for a squad that had recently been promoted, and was languishing at the foot of the Championship table.  Cue Blackpool’s surprise promotion and subsequent taking of several big scalps.  Although Ian Holloway beat off the big boys clamouring for Adam’s services during the season, expect the Scotsman to join one of the Big Six teams before August.  But still the question remains: can he repeat his Tangerine Dream elsewhere?

Oh Charlie. You've turned into a right sexy bastard, haven't ye?

Tomorrow: Bolton Wanderers to Liverpool

Brent Lanthier

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Number Crunching

Nani, are you OK? Are you OK? Are you OK, Nani?

While my distant relative Sir Alex (an ancestral assumption on my part) makes it look easy, there’s a lot of factors to consider when you’re the manager. (Groans from the editorial staff).

You’ve got what you see from your fairly crappy vantage point at the side of the pitch, what you see when reviewing the game tape… and then there are the cold emotionless — but truthful — facts of the stats.

As a fantasy manager there are three key stats you need to look at to maintain a top knotch squad.

First… the overall score. This tells you who has been consistently producing all year at a high level… but often the numbers are more deceiving than you would think. For example, can you quickly guess who has been the most productive points producer in the Premier League this season? Drogba?

Nope. It’s Manchester United’s Nani who leads the league with 78 points followed by Drogba with 74, Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll with a shocking 72 alongside Florent Malouda and rounding out the top five is another Chelsea man, defender Ashley Cole with 71.

Second… value. This is a very important stat as it compares how a player’s points production with his cost.  The top player is this category is the aforementioned Carroll with Bolton striker Johan Elmander close behind. Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton are also providing a lot of bang for your buck along with goalkeepers Simon Mignolet from Sunderland and Birmingham’s Ben Foster.

Last one is form. Self-explanatory. You want players who are playing their best starting for your squad. According to the form stats provided by the premierleague.com pool, nobody is hotter than Andy Carroll, with Nolan, and Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia close behind. After that come the big names like Nani, Fernando Torres, and Marouane Chamakh from Arsenal.

Transfers

I’ve been getting it handed to me on my predictions lately so use these with caution! It’s all strikers this week!

Nando fights his way to the top of Fergie's picks

In: Fernando Torres
First off, remember a few short weeks ago when I told you to get rid of Fernando Torres until he starts scoring? Well he’s started! You need to get him in your lineup now! I’m sorry I ever doubted him. Those two goals against Chelsea were the kind of magic Liverpool fans have been waiting for… and there is more to come.

But how can you afford him? You’ll have to figure that one out. Dropping the similarly priced Didier Drogba or Carlos Tevez would be an option but a risky one. Drogba is recovering from malaria and has been quiet of late, but you get the feeling he’s ready to go off on another goal-scoring spree that could begin again at home versus Sunderland this weekend.

In: Marouane Chamakh
The verdict is in. He’s the real deal and a strong option if you can’t afford Torres. Will his minutes be cut back with the returning Robin Van Persie? Better hope not if you are a Gunners fan. Dropping the under-performing Dimitar Berbatov may help you fit him into your lineup.  Yes, I know I told you pick up Berbatov last month.  But I forgot that when someone else on United starts scoring (in this case the brilliant Javier Hernandez)Berbatov starts slumping. And pouting. Like I said, my picks have not been gold lately.
Carroll: The Geordie Fabio

In: Andrew Carroll
How many times can I write that you need to have Andrew Carroll in your lineup? Apparently quite a bit, but it’s been a few weeks since I mentioned him. He is becoming as reliable as his ponytail is long. That’s right: he’s about a foot too reliable.

Scott Ferguson

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Fergie’s Fantasy – Cleaning the sheets

No, this is not another column about Wayne Rooney (though did anyone notice it was the day after I published last week’s anti-Rooney rant that he came to his senses? I’m sure Wayne is a regular At The Rails reader). This column is about getting points without getting goals. And the way to do that is picking players on teams likely to deliver clean sheets. When your goalies and defenders don’t let the other team score you get four points, the same amount for a goal by a striker, so its worth the time to pick a strong back four and keeper.

The obvious choice here are players from Chelsea, who have seven clean sheets in nine games. Petr Cech might be your best bet here though because regular defenders like Ashley Cole and John Terry are pricey. Not to say they aren’t worth it, but defenders are where most fantasy managers save money in order to spend more on high priced strikers and midfielders.

The key is that it doesn’t matter how many goals a team concedes, but how many clean sheets they keep. For example, when Wigan are bad they seem to concede a pile of goals, but they have low priced defenders who have kept three clean sheets. That’s more than Liverpool (two) and Tottenham (one). The other surprise in this category is Sunderland, tied for second in the league with Manchester City in the clean sheets stat with four. Again a team where bargains on defence can pay off (and I recommend a particular player from the Black Cats below…).

Week in Review – Top Performers

Samir Nasri – the Arsenal midfielder was the top point getter in the league last week with a hat trick of sorts. He had a goal, an assist, and his team kept a clean sheet. Nasri is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the Gunners’ offence and is a solid choice as long as he stays healthy.

Javier Hernandez – the man who rescued Manchester United from another disappointing result. Hernandez scored both goals in a key 2-1 win over Stoke City. He then came on as a sub and notched the winner in United’s League Cup victory over wolves. He’s a great choice while Rooney’s hurt, but will probably see his playing time cut back when Wayne returns.

Liam Ridgewell – a goal plus a clean sheet meant Ridgewell was the top scoring defender last week. Birmingham play a strong defensive game and have notched three clean sheets themselves so expect Ridgewell to continue to be a safe fantasy bet.

Scott’s Subs:

Last week I told you to pick up Dimitar Berbatov, Rafael Van Der Vaart, and Florent Malouda. Berbatov disappointed but the other two scored so I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. The points per game average for my recommended players was 5.3. The league average was 4. The average for players I told you to steer clear of was 2. And that would have been lower except Andrey Arshavin proved me wrong and scored for Arsenal. Here are my suggested subs for this week:

IN

Didier Drogba – Yes he’s the most expensive player in the league in fantasy terms. But 43% of all fantasy teams are paying the price. Can you afford not to?

OUT

Fernando Torres – I’m sure Torres will be a golden boot winner in the coming years (perhaps in the Championship if Liverpool doesn’t start improving) but this just isn’t looking like his year. The talent is there, but right now you can pick up someone who will score just as many goals for half the price.

IN

Ahmed Elmohamady –Do I know a lot about Ahmed “Tickle Me” Elmohamady? Not really, other than that isn’t his nickname. But numbers don’t lie. He is third in points for defenders behind Chelsea’s Cole and Terry. He is the defender with the highest value in the league when you look at his points vs. cost. And his cost has risen the most of any defender so buy now.

OUT

Tony Hibbert – The Everton defender is priced like a starter, and often plays, but rarely for the full 90 minutes. Avoid him.

IN:

Nani – Wasn’t Antonio Valencia supposed to be the one to try and replace Cristiano Ronaldo? But with his injury, the weight of scoring goals  and delivering lovely crosses from the wing has fallen on Nani, who has answered handsomely. And don’t worry, you don’t lose fantasy points for players faking injuries only to be fine moments after the ref stops the play.

OUT:

Joe Cole –I know I’ve picked on Joe Cole in the past. But not in my new Scott’s subs section! I want him to do well, I really do, but he just isn’t doing well. And you should avoid him until he starts putting some balls into the back of the net.

Scott Ferguson

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Fergie’s Fantasy: The Dream Team

Lamps' hernia operation means no fantasy points

We are only five weeks into the season, but many fantasy managers are already thinking about using their “wild card” to start again from scratch (unless you’re like me, and you’ve already used it).

How else can you make up for mistakes, like thinking poor World Cup play by Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres wouldn’t carry over into the Premier league? Did you really think this is the year Cesc Fabregas stays healthy? How could you guess that Frank Lampard wouldn’t even rate as one of the three Chelsea players you should have in your line-up?

To help you in your search for the “best of the best”, here’s the top scoring players at each position so far. Without regard for the rules of the fantasy game — you can only have three players from any given club, and your salary cap wouldn’t allow you to afford all of the players below — I bring you the dream starting 11… (if you had to play by all the rules, it would be a “dream” team now would it?)

FORWARDS

Didier Drogba – Chelsea

As I mentioned, two of the most threatening strikers in the league — Rooney and Torres — are off to very slow starts. But last year’s Golden Boot winner Didier Drogba has picked up exactly where he left off, and thus is the Premier League’s most valuable fantasy point getter. He’s also the most expensive player in the league but I suggest you suck it up, pay his price, and make him your captain every week until he starts to slow down. Drogba is not only scoring goals, he’s also setting them up and taking the corners while Lampard has been injured. That makes him even more valuable.

Berba finally starts flying...

Dimitar Berbatov – Manchester United

On a team with Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, and new signing Javier Hernandez, Manchester United’s Bulgarian striker had to show some spark early on and he’s done just that. Witness how he single-handedly took apart Liverpool last week with a hat trick,  including a bicycle kick goal that will be a contender for goal of the year. With play like this, it will be impossible for Sir Alex Ferguson to keep him out of the lineup.

Carlos Tevez – Manchester City

This Argentinian bulldog is technically tied with Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll at this point… but I expect Carroll to fade and Tevez to come on even stronger. Man City have a wealth of striker options but Tevez seems to be the only one with any consistency right now. The fact that he’s regularly outperforming Rooney couldn’t be more annoying for United fans.

MIDFIELDERS

Florent Malouda – Chelsea

Here’s a player who has overcome his World Cup woes after playing for France. Malouda has shown an impressive scoring touch so far, and an obviously improved chemistry with his teammates after taking the bulk of last year getting used to life in the Premier League. I see no reason why his form would dip. A must-have purchase for all fantasy managers, as his price keeps going up.

Kalou on top... but for how long?

Salomon Kalou – Chelsea

Kalou is reaching the potential Chelsea thought he would have when they signed him. His four goals in five games is all the more impressive when you consider he only started two of those games. He could be a risky long-term prospect as I’m not sure he’ll start as often when Lampard comes back… if the rest of team stays healthy. But he’s on fire right now at a good price: he could be a strong short-term pick-up.

Nani – Manchester United

You are likely smarter than me anyway, but you are definitely smarter than me if you took Nani at the beginning of the season. With Valencia rounding into form at the end of last year, it appeared Nani might be a useful substitute. However, he’s now proving to be an indispensible supplier of crosses into the box for United and has the ability to score, given the chance. If another player brushes up against him, he goes down like he received an uppercut to the face, but there’s no fantasy deductions for that!

Theo Walcott – Arsenal

Gooners were ecstatic to see Walcott get off to a flying start with four goals in the first three games… especially since he’s never scored more than four in a whole season! His pace gives him the ability to score almost every time he gets the ball and some space to work in and now he’s playing with a lot of confidence. The only problem? He’s injured and it’s likely he’s won’t be back until sometime in October. Keep an eye on him when he returns as he could be worth a transfer into your squad if he keeps it up.

Defenders

Ashley Cole – Chelsea

The quantity of Chelsea players on this list is a bit annoying, but there’s nothing bad you can say about Cole’s performance this year. He’s made great runs down the left side for years, but now it seems those crosses always get to someone in blue who will put them in the back of the net. Cole is pricey, but he’s the top scoring defender in the league right now, so you get what you pay for.

Captain Schtupping has yet to face serious opposition

John Terry – Chelsea

I wouldn’t necessarily introduce him to my girlfriend, but it’s hard to do better in selecting a defender. Again, he’s expensive but you get what you pay for. Chelsea are likely to continue racking up clean sheets and Terry is virtually a constant presence on their back four.

Micah Richards – Manchester City

Richards has played every moment so far for Manchester City and has helped them keep two clean sheets, along with the occasional assist. You could also look at Nemanja Vidic from Man United or Alex from Chelsea, but Richards is a lot cheaper and is sure to play in every game.

Goalkeeper

Hart has only allowed two goal so far

Joe Hart – Manchester City

A big part of the reason Micah Richards is on this list is the amazing play of Joe Hart. He’s showing that he should have been the man for England in South Africa (i.e. he has yet to throw a ball into his own net). Hart has a bright future and his fantasy value is also only going to go up.

Scott Ferguson

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Safe Bets for Big Four (Five?)

Flashback all the way to last Saturday morning. The Ferguson household was quiet. Manchester United was playing the early game, so I snuck downstairs with my Rooney jersey on, eager to see the Red Devils take on Everton (it takes more than cheating on your pregnant wife to before I’ll stop wearing your jersey… I also own a Tiger Woods hat).  

But lo and behold, there was a very unexpected decision from my distant relative Sir Alex Ferguson (an unconfirmed presumption of mine): Wayne Rooney would not be playing. 

While, for roughly 85 minutes or so, it seemed like the idea would work out, it was always going to be bad for fantasy managers like me. It turned out to be bad for Man United as well, as they gave up two late goals and settled for a draw.

The decision to rest Wayne Rooney was made more to protect him from the jeers of fans of his former club. But Sir Alex likely also had the Champions League in mind…  as did other top teams who rested or limited minutes to stars to get them ready for games in Europe.

Few players are hotter than Florent Malouda but he only played about 10 minutes last week for Chelsea. This is the danger you run into, choosing players from the Big Four and Tottenham. You pay a high price for the players and these teams are deep enough — and play in enough competitions — that they rotate bench players into the lineup more often than mid-table squads.

However, there are a few players (besides the goalkeepers) that manage to keep their spot in the lineup every week… even on these teams. Remember, they can’t earn you points if they aren’t playing… and yes, I still count Liverpool in the Big Four.

Essien and Cole have been fantasy league gold

Chelsea
Defender Ashley Cole and midfielder John Obi Mikel have played every minute of this season so far, while John Terry is not far behind. Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, and Nicolas Anelka have all shown offensive flair this year along with playing most of every game this season.

Arsenal
No one has played every minute of every game for Arsenal… but midfielder Andrey Arshavin and new striker Maroune Chamakh have come close. Some discipline and injury issues have caused Arsene Wenger to rotate defenders but Bacary Sanga and Gael Clichy are likely to be there for most games.

Manchester United
There’s been a lot of consistency on the back line for Man United so far this season, with John O’Shea and Nemanja Vidic playing every minute along with midfielder Darren Fletcher.  Patrice Evra has been a constant presence at left back and Dimitar Berbatov has logged a lot of time up front. Some thought the signing of Javier Hernandez would limit his minutes, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Gareth Bale's a bit "special"... just look at 'em...

Tottenham
The main stalwarts for Tottenham have been midfielders Gareth Bale and Tom Huddlestone. Close behind them is midfielder Aaron Lennon. The defenders are settling into a pattern… but no one has played more than the equivalent of three out of four games this season and the strikers are being rotated a lot, due to injuries.

Liverpool
With Rafael Benitez gone, fantasy managers have enjoyed a more consistent lineup from Liverpool with a few players logging the full 360 minutes of the season so far. They include defenders Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, and Jamie Carragher, and midfielder Steven Gerrard. Also logging a lot of time are strikers Milan Jovanovic and Fernando Torres, who will be a fixture as long as he’s healthy.

FERGIE’S FIVE:

Let’s review last week’s column. Even in a week where there were few goals, I gave you some gems to add into your fantasy team. Did any other fantasy column in the world predict that West Brom’s Chris Brunt would get on the board against Tottenham? Ahem… Or how about that sage advice that Birmingham’s Ben Foster had something to prove this season? Foster rewarded myself and the managers who chose him with a clean sheet vs. Liverpool.

Here are five players to watch for this weekend:

THE CAPTAIN: I promise to pick someone different next week… but how can you go wrong with making Didier Drogba your captain when Chelsea is at home to Blackpool (and is it me or has Chelsea had a very friendly schedule so far this season…). If you don’t have Drogba, make any other Chelsea player your captain!

HOT STREAKS:Bolton’s Johan Elmander is finally living up to his potential as a goal scorer. Surprisingly he’s been more deadly around the net than Kevin Davies this season, giving Bolton a strong attacking duo up front.

One Dembele... there's only one Dembele...

Fulham’s Moussa Dembele has two goals and two assists in his last two games and will be asked to carry an even heavier load after the injury to Bobby Zamora.

BARGAINS:Even though he’s going up against Chelsea, it must be said that Blackpool’s Charlie Adam has been one of the most efficient players early in the season. Adam has a goal and two assists in the first four games from the midfield position.

And though he’s only owned by only 4% of teams in the fantasy league, Birmingham midfielder Craig Gardner already has three goals. Can he keep it up? Probably not, but it won’t cost you much to find out.

Scott Ferguson

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