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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: Manchester City to Sunderland

Bent's departure left a bitter taste in Bruce's mouth.

They are now the Kings of England, the most winning club side in domestic history. But Manchester United captured their 19th league title with arguably their weakest side since they started claiming silverware again in 1990. Here is my pick from that team, along with four others.

Tevez: The footballing version of Kung-Fu's Kane...

MANCHESTER CITY
Carlos Tevez (ARG)— Should he stay or should he go? Despite clashing reports of where Tevez will play next season, there was no doubt that the Argentine was the head of a very gifted (and expensive) class. He shared the Golden Boot with Dimitar Berbatov this year, but it just feels like Tevez deserved it more. He scored more in all competitions… and he scored in more games as well.

Vidic won Barclay's Player of the Season

 
MANCHESTER UNITED
Nemanja Vidic (SER) — It may seem strange to not pick a Golden Boot winner on a Championship team, but Berbatov seemed like a poacher to Vidic’s Big Game hunter. The Serb terrorized attacking opponents, while scoring five of his own. He has eclipsed Ferdinand in the backfield, earning him the captain’s armband.
 
 

Nolan keeps puffing away for the Geordies

NEWCASTLE UNITED
Kevin Nolan (ENG) — Nolan’s production tapered off after the departure of Andy Carroll, and he missed the last part of the campaign through injury. But the former Bolton player captained the newly-promoted Magpies to 12th place (it would have been ninth if not for a collapse on the final day to West Brom). Many argue that a club as big as Newcastle should aim high… but this is a team in constant chaos with a nefarious owner. A glut of young options in Fabio Capello’s midfield means Nolan will likely never earn an England cap. Pity.

Slack-jawed Shawcross is bound for Europe

STOKE CITY
Ryan Shawcross (ENG) — Here’s a shock: Stoke’s best player is a defender. Tony Pulis’ side is boring and negative, but they got the job done. Shawcross captained the Potters to a surprise FA Cup final, earning them a taste of Europe next season. Shawcross was one of the most penalized players in the Prem… fitting for a Stoke team that puts the Pulis in “pugilist”.

Will Henderson follow Bent out the door?

SUNDERLAND
Jordan Henderson (ENG) — You can’t help but tie Sunderland’s fortunes to the departed Darren Bent.  Before he left, the Black Cats were chugging along in a very nice seventh place.  But then he went south, and so did Sunderland’s fortunes.  The good news is that Steve Bruce was able to rely on young Henderson for the entire season.  The bad news is that the big clubs are knocking on the door of Wearside… and Henderson may follow them through it.

Tomorrow: Tottenham Hotspur to Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wednesday: My Premier League Starting XI.

Brent Lanthier

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The Best of Times, The Blurst of Times

Do Wolves have any legs left?

Call it the Year of the Keystone Kops… a season where clubs have been stumbling over each other to fail.   So forget about Manchester United’s mediocre march to the title (and don’t tell me they’re up for the double by winning Big Ears.  If Schalke doesn’t surprise them, Real or Barca will certainly dispatch them with maximum efficiency).  Forget about Arsenal finding new and novel ways to self-destruct, sending Arsene Wenger further along the road to Nutterville. Chelsea are old.  Man Citeh’s millions couldn’t buy a team.  ‘Arry’s mighty offence petered out.  Liverpool were already falling down the hill.  And as usual, David Moyes’ Everton started too late to matter.

So with the exception of the FA Cup final — whose implications for Europe require an engineering degree to calculate — I’m watching the relegation battle that potentially involves half the league.

Two points separate seven teams: Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom, Fulham, Stoke City, Sunderland and Birmingham.  All sit relatively safe.  Next are Blackburn and Wigan in the two spots above the relegation zone that currently contains Blackpool, West Ham and Wolves.  Newcastle and Villa (at 10th and 11th, respectively) have reached the so-called magic number of 40 points.  For the others, the next 5-6 games are critical.

Wide-eyed Woy widing high at WBA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say West Bromwich Albion are safe.  Saturday’s loss to Chelsea was their first under Roy Hodgson, and no club has scored more since his reign began. 

Hodgson’s legacy of going for the draw seems to be lingering at Fulham under Mark Hughes.  The Cottagers’ next two games are at bottom Wolves before they host Bolton, who are woeful on the road.  They should hit the 40-point mark no problem.

Stoke City and Birmingham are the Premier League’s little European embarrassments.  Birmingham is already in the Europa League, via their Carling Cup win… but whether Stoke qualifies is still up in the air.  If they win the FA Cup final, they are in.  If they lose but Citeh qualifies for the Champions League, they are in.  Otherwise the spot goes to the sixth-placed team… I think… carry the one…

Either way, both have not been playing well as of late, with each team only winning two games in their last eight.   The bad news for Stoke is that they must face three other relegation battlers — Blackpool, Wolves and Wigan — plus Arsenal and the aforementioned Citeh.  Birmingham must also face teams fighting for a spot in Europe.  I think they will both stay up… only because there are teams playing worse.  But if they drop, it means two of England’s three Europa clubs won’t be playing in the top-flight at home.

That leaves six teams fighting it out for three spots above the drop.  Wolverhampton Wanderers are 20th, but they will leapfrog Wigan into 17th if they win that game in hand against Stoke.  Many pundits say Wolves are too good to go down… and they took some serious scalps this season.  But despite their recent form, every single one of their remaining games is against a struggling club.  It could be tough going for Mick McCarthy’s men.

Bruce wonders where it went wrong

At the beginning of the season, I picked Wigan Athletic to drop, partly because they barely missed it last year… but mostly because I was irritated that such a small, unsupported club was taking up a Premier League spot.  They also have to play several games against strugglers… as well as a surging Everton.

West Ham United sit 19th.  I thought with the addition of Demba Ba, they might have a fighting shot at making it out alive.  But they remain ensconced in the drop zone due to their inability to go for the jugular.

It’s the three remaining clubs that have the most to worry about.  Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool and Sunderland have been dropping like stones.  Blackburn have performed poorly since the departure of Big Sam Allardyce.  Blackpool and Sunderland seem to be on opposite sides of a mirror.  The Black Cats haven’t been the same since they lost their best player in Darren Bent; the Tangerines have suffered without cashing in on Charlie Adam.  Out of the three clubs, only Blackpool has won a game since the end of January.

In such a topsy-turvy season, I still think we are in for some surprises on the final day of the season… on both ends of the table.  It’s either the best season in years… or English football is at it’s most mediocre.

By the way, here are my picks for the drop: Wigan, Blackpool, West Ham.

Brent Lanthier

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Fergie’s Fantasy – Rating the Transfers

Bent already has one goal to show for his kit change

You may have notice the jerseys on some of the players on your fantasy team have changed colour.   This is not because they were bored with what they were wearing.  It means your man has been transferred to a new squad in the January transfer window.

A move can be good or bad news in terms of fantasy points.  A benchwarmer on one team could be a starter on another and vice versa.  Here’s a few of the more notable transfers and what they mean for you…

Darren Bent – Sunderland to Aston Villa
Bent immediately became Aston Villa’s deadliest striker upon his arrival and he showed it, scoring moments into his first game with the club.  I don’t think he will regain his amazing form from last year, but I see more goals in his future.  Buy him if you need a striker.

This transfer is also good news for owners of other Sunderland forwards Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck who will reap the awards of more playing time in Bent’s absence.

John Carew – Aston Villa to Stoke City
Carew has struggled this year for playing time, which has resulted in the once-powerful striker having a grand total of zero goals so far.  The change of scenery might help, but a better option would be his cheaper and more proficient teammate Kenwyne Jones.

David Bentley – Tottenham to Birmingham
I’ve always thought Bentley was better than he showed in his limited playing time with Tottenham. But without a born goal scorer up front,who is going to get on the end of his crosses at Birmingham?  I’d steer clear for now.

Steven Pienaar – Everton to Tottenham
The speedy South African midfielder finds himself in a very crowded midfield with the likes of Gareth Bale, Rafael Van der Vaart, Aaron Lennon, and Luka Modric.  Again, I’d steer clear until we see whether he gets enough playing time to merit picking him for your squad.

It's like he never left...

Roque Santa Cruz – Manchester City to Blackburn Rovers
I like this one.  RSC is bound to get more playing time with Blackburn and he’s a proven goal scorer.  He can be picked up right now for a bargain price.

Wayne Bridge – Manchester City to West Ham United
I want to say something nice about Wayne Bridge because he’s had a tough go of it lately.  But you don’t want any West Ham defenders on your squad right now.  Just don’t trade him in for John Terry because that’s been done and it was awkward for all involved…

Scott Ferguson

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The Hits Keep Coming

 

Again? Really?!?

 

England has taken another injury hit. This time, in-form Darren Bent says he cannot face in-form Montenegro because of a groin injury.  The news follows Captain Schtupping’s exit from the squad; he says his back hurts, poor dear.

There are now four players who say they can’t play. Last week, Everton’s Phil Jagielka and Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon withdrew.  That means Rio Ferdinand — who has only played four games since May — will partner up with either Gary Cahill or Joleon Lescott at the back.  Logic dictates putting Cahill in… but that won’t happen.

What’s worse is Fabio Capello taking the captain’s armband back from Steven Gerrard and giving it to Ferdinand.  What for? Because England are winning? Even Sir Alex has taken away Blame-It-On’s captaincy of United because of the uncertainty over his bum knee.

Meanwhile, Peter Crouch is coming in for Bent.  A good move, as Crouchie is the anti-Rooney: scores little for his club, but is a wunderkind for the Lions.

With tiny Montenegro full of confidence after going 3-0 so far in qualifying, I hope England aren’t in for a shock…. sigh….

 

Again? Really?!?

 

Gazza Watch:
For the second time in less than a year, Paul Gascoigne is arrested for drunk driving.  Can you say Georgie Best?

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Prem: Starting XI

Brent Lanthier

After one of the closest seasons in years, the EPL produced some breakout superstars, as well as some familiar faces who are almost guaranteed to perform.  Here is my dream team for 2009-10.


Brent’s choice for Player of the Year. Sorry, Wayne…

GK: Joe Hart (Birmingham City)
Despite facing the third most shots in the League, Hart still had the second best save percentage, and starting every game in his loan to Birmingham. At 23, he is simply a better keeper than Shay Given, which says a lot. Look for Man City to tighten up at the back as Hart returns to Lancashire.

On the bench: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa), Petr Cech (Chelsea)

LB: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
France’s newly crowned capitaine, Evra is a left-back who is a pure defender. Fierce and fiery, the Senegalese-born defender has disrupted the attack of many a right winger this season, and turned play around quickly on the counter-attack.

On the bench: Leighton Baines (Everton)

CB: Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)
One of Martin O’Neill’s most important pieces of business last year was the purchase of Manchester City’s former captain, Richard Dunne. The mighty Irishman is simply scary, but he’s also a leader on the pitch and proved invaluable in Villa’s drive for European football.

CB: John Terry (Chelsea)
Despite all of Captain Schtupping’s off-field problems, Terry eventually regained his composure to captain Chelsea to the rare double. Despite the unfortunate game against Everton, despite the sending off against Tottenham, and despite the poor showing against Inter Milan, Terry is still the bedrock of one of the best defences in the Premier League.

On the bench: Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jody Craddock (Wolverhampton)

RB: Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa)
The Spanish defender is a centre-half-cum-right-back, a common occurance in a league that seems to have little regard for the position. Picked up by Villa from Glasgow Rangers, Cuellar is the only member of Martin O’Neill’s preferred starting XI to not have been capped by his country. Villa will likely buy a natural RB after South Africa, but Cuellar has done an admirable job out of position.

On the bench: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

LW: Florent Malouda (Chelsea)
This Frenchman experienced a rebirth under Carlo Ancelotti. He was utilized as defensive midfielder — and even a left back — under Avram Grant and Big Phil Scolari. But this season, he had 14 goals and 10 assists, and was an important part of Chelsea’s double-winning season.

On the bench: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

CM: Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Twenty-two goals and 14 assists, Lampard is the complete player, year in and year out. He’s the engine of HMS Chelsea.

CM: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
Arsenal’s captain and best player at only 23 years old, the Gunners suffered when he got injured. Arsene Wenger needs to hang on to the Catalan in order to maintain his club’s Champions League spot.

On the bench: James Milner (Aston Villa), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

RW: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
This Ecuadorian had a bit of a slow start, but he came round once the season began to pick up.  The mirror image of Ryan Giggs on the right side, Valencia is a playmaker, spraying the ball with lethal accuracy, while picking up a smattering of goals along the way.  Wayne Rooney has said that Valencia is the reason why he scored so many goals this year. Shades of a posh former United player….

On the bench: Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool)

F: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
What else can be said about the Scouser in Manc clothing? He runs at defenders, he never gives up, he finds ways to score. One of the best players in the world.

F: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
His World Cup-ending injury is a loss to football fans everywhere. This year’s Golden Boot winner simply wills his way into the box. His humanitarian efforts alone would make him easy to cheer for, if he didn’t pout so much, or engage in so many false theatrics.

On the bench: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

That’s it for the Prem until next month. We’ll see how the trades play out over the summer. Enjoy the World Cup!

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Best of the Prem: Sunderland to Wolves

Brent Lanthier

Here are my final picks for each club’s player of the year.  Get your own blog if you don’t like it.  I’m just kidding, please don’t stop reading ours. I have to send my imaginary kids to private schools…

Sunderland: Darren Bent (ENG)
Deemed surplus to ‘Arry’s requirements at Spurs, Darren Bent pulled a Tevez and shot out of the gates. The former Charlton player proved Redknapp — and his grandmother — wrong by coming third in the Premier League’s scoring race. In fact, his 24 goals accounted for half of the club’s production for the entire year. He was the only Black Cat to start every single League game.

Future:  Without Bent, Sunderland has no offence — Kenwyne Jones notwithstanding — and Steve Bruce knows it.  He’s not going anywhere.

World Cup-bound? No. Bent made Capello’s premliminary 30-man squad.  But he didn’t do much in the game against Japan, and likely blew his chance to impress Don Fabio, who was probably always going to take Heskey instead.

Tottenham Hotspur:
Jermain Defoe (ENG)
Spurs’ remarkable season saw them win admission to Europe’s top club competition for the first time in almost a half-century.  So it was always going to be a tough choice on who to pick, but White Hart Lane’s tiny prodigal son was just a bit special on a talented team. Defoe played only 17 full games all season, yet he scored twenty-four goals in all competitions. Sweet revenge for the player who was pushed out by Robbie Keane and Berbatov, both of whom wilted after seeking out greener pastures.

Future: Seemingly safe at Tottenham, Defoe seems to follow Redknapp whereever he goes.  So if ‘Arry gets it in his head to move again…

World Cup-bound? Yes. Defoe will likely start on the bench, but could be used as fresh — and fast — legs against tired defenders.

West Ham United: Robert Green (ENG)
I’ll repeat my warning: Beware when the best player on your team is your goalkeeper. The Hammers were dangerously close to the drop for much of the season, and it cost Gianfranco Zola his job. West Ham were a half-decent team on paper but failed to meet the sum of their parts.  But Green kept them in it, despite facing a barrage of shots.

Future: Let’s hope Avram Grant builds a half-decent defence in front of him.

World Cup-bound? Yes. He’s wearing the number 12 but could be England’s number one on June 12th. Only Fabio knows.

Wigan Athletic: Titus Bramble (ENG)
Yes, I’ll say it again. Titus Bramble. A central defender on the league’s second-worst defence? Check. A name who still causes Newcastle fans to shudder? Yep. But Bramble seems to have drastically improved his concentration under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez. Rodallega barely scored in the new year and N’Zogbia played with flair. But Bramble did his job for Wigan this season, clearing the ball when he had to, and generally not f#cking up.

Future: After being run out of Tyneside with pitchforks and torches, Bramble may have found a home, even if they get relegated next season.

World Cup-bound? Good God, no.

Wolverhampton Wanderers:
Jody Craddock (ENG)

You know your offence is pitiful when a 34-year-old centre back is your second-leading scorer. Club captain Craddock scored five of Wolves’32 Premier League goals this season. The fans’ Player of the Season, Craddock is a dependable defensive general who does his job.

Future: Craddock just signed a one-year contract extension with WW.

World Cup-bound? No, but he could have gotten a glimpse, just for fun.

That’s it for the best of the Premier clubs. Up next, I’ll give you my Starting XI.

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