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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: Winning Strategies

We’re a few weeks into the season now and you are either feeling good about the start of your team’s season… or perhaps you feel a bit like West Ham, searching for answers on how it all went so wrong so quickly.

Unfortunately for you, firing the manager early on to get the attention of your lacklustre players is not an option. So the only way to get your mates — who have clearly been more lucky than clever — to shut up is to grin and bear it and fight your way back to the top!

Here are some proven winning strategies that you can apply whether you are at the top of the table or in danger of being relegated.

1. Steady as she goes with the Captain
You don’t see Steven Gerrard passing around the captain’s armband each week and neither should you. You’ve likely selected one of the highest-priced players to captain your squad like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres, Gerrard, Cesc Fabregas, or Carlos Tevez.

If you have done that, it means you’ve locked up more than ten percent of your available money into one player. That alone makes it worthwhile  to keep them as your captain. I’m not saying keep them forever but all of those players are proven performers…  and the week you transfer them out of your squad is the week they likely get a hat trick.

2. Watch the fixture list
This goes without saying: check to see who is playing who each week. One day you may feel like starting Matthew Upson or Robert Green from West Ham… just not this week when Chelsea is coming to town (I know, I’m picking on West Ham, but so is everyone else who plays them). On the other hand, it’s a good week to get your Fulham defenders out there as they are home to Wolves.

You especially need to watch the fixture list when it comes to choosing your starting goalie and defenders. Those players who have home games will serve you well.

This is also why it’s important to make sure your bench is filled with players who start, and not just cheap throwaway players. Having low priced starters on the bench gives you more flexibility in choosing your line-up.

With offensive midfielders and strikers, home field advantages appears to be less pronounced. The good ones bulge the twine regularly on the road as well as at their home ground.

Brunt: A Matter of Time?

3. You are your own scouting department
Sure you have me to tell you what to do, but there really is no better substitute than watching your players in action.

Taking in the full 90 minutes or the highlights, or reading a description of the game on the web, you’ll get a sense of who is ready to go on a hot streak and whose numbers may be deceiving.

For example — and I’ve yet to be proven right about this — I’ve been watching West Brom’s Chris Brunt ring balls off the woodwork. It’s only a matter of time before he puts a few into the net.

4. Don’t pay for transfers
Yes, I know you watched Asamoah Gyan at the World Cup… and now that he’s on Sunderland you need him on your team. But at the same time, you may be an Arsenal fan who has really missed Alexander Hleb and you want him as well. Don’t pay the four points to pick up both. It’s never worth it.

Trust me, when you look back at the end of the season and see how many points you spent on transfers, it can be the difference between a top five finish and being mid-table. If you need to add more than one player in a week because of injuries, then play your wild card. You get another wild card to use during the January transfer window so don’t be shy about using it.

Whatever you do, don’t pay for extra transfers now. Wait a week until you have another free transfer at your disposal.

5. Read the tabloids (or at least, more than just the box scores)
You need to know about any external pressures or distractions facing your squad. You might not care that Wayne Rooney is getting a red card from his wife for scoring away from home, but you need to know how it will affect his game this weekend.  Sure, he scored in Switzerland for England, but I think the Everton fans are going to give him a much rougher time which may rattle him a bit. Mea culpa here though: despite this, I do plan to keep Wayne on my team this week.

What about Cesc Fabregas and his badly-wanted non-transfer to Barcelona? I believed him when he said he was ready to give Arsenal his full effort, but we have yet to really see it on the pitch.

Foster may have something to prove

On the more positive side, players like Birmingham’s Ben Foster have something to prove after not fitting in with Manchester United’s plans and he has shown some strong work in goal so far this season.

Admittedly, this is not an exact science. But you want to look for players with extra motivation and shy away from those with off the field drama.

FERGIE’S FIVE TO WATCH:

Captain: I’m sounding like a broken record here, but it’s hard to have a better start to the season than Didier Drogba. This week he has another favourable match up with Chelsea visiting struggling West Ham (okay, next week I promise to lay off West Ham).

Bargain Bin: I’m sure he’ll slow down eventually, but there’s no better bargain right now than Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll. His squad are home versus Blackpool so we may see him put a few more in the back of the net.

Also, Alexander Hleb is available for a good price as he returns to the Premier League. I presume he’ll get a lot of minutes with Birmingham but you may want to hold off a game or two before adding him just to see how he fits into the squad.

In Form: It really hurts me to write nice things about Chelsea players but honestly: who is playing better than Florent Malouda? He has scored in every game this season.

X-Factor: Will Louis Saha of Everton finally get on the score sheet? Normally I wouldn’t pick a striker to take advantage of Manchester United coming to town. But don’t forget that United is his old club, so there could be some extra motivation this week. And if he doesn’t show up this week it might be time for a transfer out of your team.

Scott Ferguson

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