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Best of the Prem: Swansea City to Wolverhampton

Roy Hodgson does his best George Bailey impression: “Well, I don’t have your trophy. It’s at Roman’s house… and Alex’s house… and Roberto’s house…”

Part Four takes us to a team that squandered their European dreams, another side that dropped like a stone, a third that pulled away from the edge of the precipice, and then two more that found the soft, creamy middle of the table.  Let’s have a look at their best, shall we?

The Dutchman did his part…

SWANSEA CITY
Michel Vorm (NED) – The first Welsh team in Premier League history was the mirror image of its fellow Championship graduate, Norwich.  Just like the East Anglians, the Swans’ gaffer opted for a wide-open system that had trouble on the counter.  Good thing Swansea had Michel Vorm.  The Dutchman faced a barrage of shots, but his save percentage remained in the top flight’s top five.  That’s why he will compete for the honour of being the Oranje ‘s No. 2 in the Ukraine this summer.

Ade wants to stay

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Emmanuel Adebayor (TOT) – I know that many Spurs fans — along with several neutral observers — will take issue with this pick. Why not Gareth Bale, or Luka Modric?  But the stats are pretty clear: more goals, more assists in the league, more possession, more clear chances on goal.  Sure the big man up front was a bit of lazy git at times, and Tottenham fans are worried that they have another Berbatov on their hands.  But the Togolese striker was lethal for the Lilywhites and, more importantly, he wants to stay.  The same might not be said for his teammates in midfield.

The Baggies’ Foster child…

WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Ben Foster (ENG) – Beware when your best player is a keeper.  WBA finished a positively decent 10th place under a positively decent manager, Uncle Woy.  Peter Odemwingie had a decent season with 10 goals in the league.  The Baggies were 12th in scoring, 14th in defence.  Foster was decent in the middle of the goalkeeper pack when it came to saves and goals against.  All of this bodes well for England, doesn’t it?… Doesn’t it?!?

NOT Gary Caldwell…

WIGAN ATHLETIC
Gary Caldwell (SCO) – Hey Wigan! Come here, you! No, go away! No, come here! No, go away! The Latics channeled the ghost of Alexei Sayle by dallying with relegation for the entire season (Editor’s Note: Alexei Sayle is not dead).  Wigan were bottom of the table as late as St. Patrick’s Day, so it was apropos that a former shamrock-wearing defender led the charge to safety.   Gary Caldwell’s team posted a record of eight wins and only two losses in their last nine matches, while only letting in seven goals.  That’s as many as the eventual champions, Manchester City.  (Ed. Note: Caldwell didna kill his brother — and former Wigan teammate — Stephen.  He’s at Birmingham City… )

Wolves say they won’t let Fletcher go…

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Steven Fletcher (SCO) – One of the only above-average players on a very sub-par squad, Fletcher had more goals than Frank Lampard, Rafael van der Vaart, Chicharito and Gareth Bale.  ‘Nuff said…

Brent Lanthier

Up Next: Season’s Starting XI and ATR’s PoY!

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Second Chances: Birmingham City

Big Eck has a GOB moment: "I've made a huge mistake..."

Oh Birmingham City, we’ve seen this before.  After a 16-season stint in the lower divisions, the Blues were promoted in 2002… and then finished three seasons mid-table, before enduring four more yo-yo years into the Championship and back.  Yet last season was supposed to be different. Under the guidance of Carson Yeung and Alex McLeish, Brum finished a respectable ninth in 2010 with a stingy defence and a young keeper on-loan.  Who cared if they couldn’t score? It was a new era.

Ugh. Fast forward 12 months.  Despite their first trophy in almost 50 years, and an appearance in the FA Cup semi-final, Brum rode a train of mediocrity into relegation.  Before their historic victory over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, City were 6-12-9.  The 30 points weren’t great… but it left them only a handful of wins away from the magic safety zone of 40.  But after that,  Birmingham only won twice in their last 12 matches… including three straight losses at the end to send them down, allowing Wigan (ugh) and Wolves to remain.

Now McLeish’s defection to hated Aston Villa has fans on both sides of Birmingham screaming Blue murder.   But unlike other serious rivalries, the teams’ exposure to each other has been spotty over the years… while the Second City derby features a couple of key players that have swapped shades of  blue,  with a lot of claret thrown in.

Ridgewell can't believe McLeish left him at City. COME. ON.

One such player is the sensational Liam Ridgewell, who joined Birmingham from Aston Villa in 2007.    The left back scored as many goals as the club’s strikers this season, which is probably a statement on both Ridgewell’s talent and the dire situation in Birmingham’s attack.  Ridgewell signed a new contract last summer… but West Brom have come calling, offering £3 million.   City thinks he’s worth more,  and so does this writer.  The big clubs could do worse than pick up him up.

After 200 matches, Sebastian Larsson is set to leave the Blues, having declined a new contract with the relegated side.  His father says the right winger has signed at Sunderland for Steve Bruce… the man who brought the Swede to St. Andrews in the first place. 

England back-up keeper Ben Foster is no youngster… but has always seemed a star-in-waiting.  Foster performed admirably this season, replacing his contemporary Joe Hart in net with one of the league’s highest save percentages, while facing the second-most shots.  Foster is a Premier League keeper, plain and simple.  I will make a call and say this West Midlander will follow McLeish to Villa.

Roger Johnson and Scott Dann would have received England call-ups, had it not said “Birmingham City” on their badges.  Roger Johnson started almost every match for the Brummies, while Scott Dann had his season cut short by injuries.  Both will likely get a sniff from the big clubs, including Dann, a Scouser whose name is creating rumbles at Anfield.  Meanwhile, Johnson is tough and good in the air.  Both made it onto the score sheet… and neither are afraid of a booking now and then.

Birmingham’s skipper — Stephen Carr — is 34… kind of up there in football years.  But the right back was the lynch pin for the club’s excellent defence: the Irishman started almost as many games as Johnson.  It’s likely he will stay because a) he has extended his contract by a year, and b) his former coach at Spurs and Ireland — Chris Hughton — is the front runner to take McLeish’s place.  Still… Carr’s performance this year merits another kick at the Premiership can.

Do you know which Villa player led the club in fouls and yellow cards? Ashley Young (stop snickering!).  Now that the team’s “hard man” (uncontrollable guffawing) looks bound for Manchester United, and Nigel Reo-Coker (a man who actually would give us nightmares, were we would good enough to play Premier League football) has been released, the club needs some steel in the middle.  Cue Barry Ferguson

Gardner tries the old hand-over-the-badge trick...

Finally, we have Craig Gardner — Birmingham’s answer to Steven Gerrard, circa Istanbul.  Gardner led his team in both goals and infractions this past seaon.  In a Robbie Keane-like obfuscation, Gardner has claimed to be a lifelong Villa or City fan — depending where he’s playing.  Yet he could still return to Villa Park.  After the vitriol that’s greeted Big Eck, the move would likely have Lions fans foaming at the mouth.   However, he has been linked with a move to the Northeast, either Newcastle or Sunderland.

Brent Lanthier

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Crunch Time

Little Leighton feels comfortable at home....

Toffees and the Carling Cup Champs
We are heading into the home stretch and while I never, ever, recommend spending transfer money (maybe if you can’t field a starting 11 but even then it may not be worth spending four points), you have to start maximizing your weekly returns.  If you are watching the fixture list like a hawk, as you should be, then you have a spotted an opportunity.  Everton and Birmingham City both play twice this week so you should spend at least your free weekly transfer on a player from one of these teams.

Everton
Coming off a clean sheet last week, Everton’s defenders — as well as keeper Tim Howard — are pretty good bets. The Toffees are away to Newcastle and then home to Birmingham City.  Two of the top three fantasy performers on Everton are on the back line: Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.  Baines gets lots of offensive points by being the primary corner and free-kick taker, along with making some decent runs down the left side.  He’s pricey but worth it.

More affordable and a bit of a fantasy rule-breaking grey area is Seamus Coleman. That’s because while he is listed in the game as a defender, he’s playing as a midfielder.  This means when he scores or gets a clean sheet, your team will be credited with more points than you normally would if he was listed correctly.

Saha may light up the league this week... if he can avoid the knock...

Up front, Everton also have a couple of in -orm strikers in Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford. Beckford notched two goals last game to give him three in his last three games.  Saha came up empty but he is always deadly as he showed in his four-goal performance a few weeks ago.

The latest injury reports have the great Aussie midfielder Tim Cahill out for three weeks so avoid him, along with the giant afro-sporting Marouane Fellaini, who is out for the season.

Birmingham
The Carling Cup winners have likely just peaked on the year, but they do have some players worth considering.  This week, they are home to West Brom and away to Everton.  Their top player this season has been goalkeeper Ben Foster who would be a solid pick this week as well.

Johnson points out how he's a solid choice.

The most in-form player on the team has to be Nikola Zigic who has three goals in his last four Premier League games, including one in the Carling Cup final.  He’s also quite affordable.  Same for Barry Ferguson who is having a solid season, but he’s a better long term investment then someone who will score big points in one week. New signing David Bentley has also impressed, though I’d like to see how consistent he is before grabbing him for my squad.

Finally, if you need a defender, Roger Johnson is a solid choice at the back.  He won’t provide a lot of offence but he and Foster have a good chance of getting clean sheets against West Brom.

Scott Ferguson

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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 – Great Bargains!

Odemwingie can't believe how inexpensive he is...

Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised at the price of something you want. Or sometimes — like a Robert Green England jersey — it’s in the bargain bin for a reason. As a fantasy team manager operating within a budget, you want the highest producing players for lowest prices. Here are the top bargains so far this year and who you should avoid. For a laugh, we also look at who are the biggest statistical disappointments.

Great Bargains

Peter Odemwingie – The West Brom striker is so far the best buy in the Premier League this season. With three goals and an assist in five games at a price of only 5.1, he’s leading a revitalized West Brom attack. The Nigerian’s scored many goals in his past in the Russian and French leagues, and now it looks like he’ll continue to do the same in England.

Johan Elmander – I’m a year too late on Elmander. I stuck by him for a while last year while he struggled so I didn’t bother to pick him up. It’s been my loss as he’s also got three goals so far and looks every bit the player Bolton thought he would be when they signed him. A player finally living up to his potential at a good price of only 5.7.

Ben Foster – Helped by Birmingham’s tight defensive game, Ben Foster is another player finally living up to his potential in a way he never did when he was with Manchester United. At a price of 4.7 he’s a great choice for a back-up or maybe even a starter on any fantasy team.

Buyer Beware

Caroll may not be able to carry the Toon...

Andrew Carroll– He is the most acquired player among all fantasy teams since the season started. The Newcastle striker convinced many, including myself, with a hat trick in Week Two, followed by another goal the week after. He’s still a good buy at 5.7… but there are lingering feelings that the hat trick may have been more the exception than the rule here.

Joe Hart – Without a doubt, Joe Hart has been the Premier League’s top goalkeeper this year. It’s just that his price has risen from 6 all the way to 6.5. Eventually he’ll be too expensive: he already costs as much as Edwin Van Der Sar and Peter Cech. And while he’s earned that high price, you can get almost as many points from keepers who cost far less.

High prices, Poor Results

Joe Cole aka Joe Dirt for FFL owners

Joe Cole –  With a price of 8.7, the Liverpool midfielder should have at least done something this positive this year in his two and half games. But so far, he has zero goals, zero assists… and a red card that basically kept him out of 3 1/2 of the first four games this season.

Emmanuel Adebayor – Remember three years ago when he was fantasy gold with 24 goals for Arsenal? Now he can’t get off the bench for Manchester City. Avoid him until he sees regular playing time.

Wigan Strikers – The biggest price drops have been for Wigan strikers Hugo Rodallega and Mauro Boselli, who have one goal between them. Wigan is off to a terrible start and while Rodallega looks threatening most games, wait until he starts scoring to consider him for your team.

Wayne Rooney – The fifth-most expensive player in the league at 11.6 (he was higher but his price has dropped) should have done much more by now than score one goal. He does have three assists, but is now out for another few weeks with an injury. This doesn’t look like Wayne’s year. Transfer him out when you can. Coleen may be stuck with him… but you are not.

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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