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Colombia, Ivory Coast take Group C pole positions

Group C’s matches were spaced out on Saturday, with the two Group D games between them. Presumably, this was to air the Ivory Coast-Japan game during prime time for Brazil’s significant Japanese population.   Every team in this group played to form, and the results were expected, if not predictable.

GROUP C
Radamel who? Colombia‘s performance was punctuated by an international coming-out party for James Rodriguez.  The Monaco man ran his little heart out and scored a lovely left-footed poke at the end of the match.  This game was also an example of what can go wrong with the current trend of having high-playing fullbacks/wingbacks.  Greece‘s José Holebas was exposed on the left as he failed to track back, allowing Colombia to score early.   Juan Cuadrado was brought in to flood the right and he did just that, setting up the first and third goals.  Greece also missed some great chances, including a sitter by Theo Gekas who headed the ball off the crossbar.  Colombia 3-0 Greece

First of two goals in as many mintues

First of two goals in as many minutes

The Ivory Coast went down early after Keisuke Honda’s cracker in the 13th minute.  I watched this one in the pub, and the entire room gasped when he scored.    But then Japan sat back and let the Elephants come at them.   The key moment, though, was the entrance of Didier Drogba.  The Ivory Coast captain sat while Wilfried Bony got the start.  Playing Bony made sense, considering the two players’ respective league seasons.  But Drogba’s introduction came at the expense of the holding midfielder, and now there were two strikers.  Bony scored two minutes after Drogba came on; Gervinho scored two minutes after that.   Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan

Brent P. Lanthier

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World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups C & D

England weepsDespite what the Germans, Portuguese, Americans and Ghanians believe, Group D is this World Cup’s real Group of Death.   But sometimes an equally balanced group of lower-ranked nations can also make it a challenge to predict how they’ll finish.  That would be Group C.

"Er, Falcao? No lo se..."

“Er, Falcao? No lo se…”

GROUP C
The loss of Radamel Falcao is significant for Colombia… but not unexpected.  His debut season for Monaco was truncated by injury, and even in January we knew that he might not make it. His goal-scoring will be missed, but it’s not a death blow to this talented team.  AC Milan midfielder (and Manchester United target) Cristián Zapata and team captain Mario Yepes will marshal a solid backline.  Meanwhile an offence featuring James Rodríguez, Juan Cuadrado, Fredy Guarín, Carlos Bacca and Adrián Ramos is nothing to scoff at.  Throw in a tournament in their home continent, and the Colombianos could go far.  QUARTER-FINALISTS

"You think your name's long?!?"

“You think your name’s long?!?”

Greece‘s style of play is no mystery: defend, defend, defend.  But yet it is still tough to pick whether Ethniki will frustrate their way into the knockout rounds, or they will simply run out of ideas should they go down in the game.  Lots of familiar faces return, including elderly captain Giorgos Karagounis, who played a total of 14 games for Fulham this season; Kostas Mitroglu played a solitary game for the same club.  Of course, the star of the side is a defender: 25-year-old Sokratis Papastathopoulos.  But the Dortmund defender may not be sufficient to survive the pressure of a Colombia or Ivory Coast.  Even if they get everyone behind the ball and grind out three draws, it still won’t be enough.  THREE AND OUT

Last shot at love and glory for Drogba?

Last shot at love and glory for Drogba?

The Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) is the anti-Greece, a team top-heavy with offensive talent but lacking a credible back line.  Like many other nations,  it has seen its golden generation shine and fade.  Most of the old faces are there.  Kolo Touré is back, but a forgettable season with Liverpool shows the depths of his decline.  Didier Zokora’s best days are also behind him.  Sol Bamba didn’t play a single game of competitive club football this season.  Up front shows more promise.  Cheick Tioté should provide defensive cover and Yaya Touré is coming off a blinder of a season… which may not matter if he arrives in Brazil nursing an injury.   Salomon Kalou and Gervinho will play up the wings, and the sole striker position should be filled by Les Éléphants‘ talisman, Didier Drogba.  But Wilfried Bony’s satisfying first season in the Prem may earn the Swansea City man the right to play up front instead.   This is a big physical team who will be able to push back against the stifling Greeks and the technically gifted, but smaller, Japanese side.   ROUND OF 16

Okazaki scored bunches for Mainz... can he do the same for country?

Okazaki scored bunches for Mainz… can he do the same for country?

Ah yes, the enigma that is Japan.  They made it to the knockout phase in South Africa, and lost on kicks to Paraguay, but detractors say their path was weak.  Both Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki are back: Honda is fresh off his debut season in Europe, and Okazaki rewarded his new club, Mainz, with a 15 goals.  But too many questions remain on whether Japan can compete with the other nations in this group.  THREE AND OUT

Pirlo: the epitome of Italian cool... and Azzurri skill.

Pirlo: the epitome of Italian cool… and Azzurri skill.

GROUP D
Never, EVER, count Italy out… except in 2010 when they finished last in their group, drawing their first two games (in very Italian style) and then belatedly realizing that Slovenia weren’t a walk in the park.   That’s not going to happen this time.  Cesare Prandelli has built this team around Andrea Pirlo, including using Juventus-like tactics.  That includes Juve boss Antonio Conte’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, even using La Vecchia‘s three centre backs: Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci.   Daniele De Rossi will patrol the back field while PSG’s Thiago Motta will join Pirlo in the middle.  A front line could consist of new Dortmund signing Ciro Immobile, his former strike partner at Torino, Alessio Cerci, and of course, the irascible Mario Balotelli.  This isn’t your father’s Azzurri… and that’s alright.   QUARTER-FINALISTS

Whither Suarez?

Whither Suarez?

Here’s where things get tough. Anyone who says Luis Suárez didn’t have a season for the ages is lying or delusional.  Suárez is an influencer, a man whose temperament and skill can both influence matches in equal measure. He is also struggling with injury, desperately trying to get fit in time to play for Uruguay on South American soil. Despite being a semi-finalist in South Africa (albeit due to an extremely dodgy hand ball and subsequent missed penalty), this is a nation in decline, football-wise. Diego Godín is coming off a miracle season with Atlético Madrid, as is Cristían Rodriguez, and Maxi Pereira was outstanding in 2010.  But team captain Diego Lugano doesn’t even have a club (he was released by West Brom, for God’s sake), and Diego Forlán is plying his trade in the J-League.   Of course, Edinson Cavani is still in the side, and he is still a world class player.  But Suárez is Uruguay’s X-Factor.  HEALTHY SUÁREZ: ROUND OF 16; NO SUÁREZ: THREE AND OUT

England has nothing to lose... except three matches.

England has nothing to lose… except three matches.

England, on the other hand, have no such game changer, nor do they have many expectations… despite what they say in public.  The English press and supporters famously make hand-wringing into an art form, and this time should be no different.  But despite having a squad based entirely in the Premier League (save Celtic keeper Fraser Forster), this is not a squad of superstars.  It is a roster of talented young players assembled by Roy Hodgson who barely have the burden of reputation to contend with.  Yes, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard are there.   But some of the Prem’s most exciting youngsters will get a run out; some of them will even start.   Expect The Three Lions to play like Liverpool 2.0:  pacey and pass-y going forward, but a little bit suspect at the back.  They could do really well, or they could go home after four-and-half hours.  Much will depend on how the other teams in this group react to them.   SEE ABOVE: ROUND OF 16, OR THREE AND OUT

Sing when you're winning

Sing when you’re winning

Costa Rica: No Bryan Oviedo, Bryan Ruiz had a season to forget, and young Joel Campbell spent the year on the football equivalent of a caravan trip around Europe.   Most of the other squad members ply their trade in lesser leagues in Europe and North America.   The bookies have the Ticos dead last for odds on winning the World Cup.  THREE AND OUT

Brent P. Lanthier

Up Next: Groups E & F

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Predicting the Unpredictable

Our Ferg has a less-hardy constitution than the Ol' Gaffer here...

At The Rails would like to welcome fantasy football columnist Scott Ferguson back to the fold after a prolonged hiatus.  Pneumonia? Really, Ferg?!? Pfffffttttt…

In what has been an unpredictable season in the English Premier League,  one has to open one’s mind to new ideas.

For example, can you really fathom that Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll is the highest- scoring striker in the league in terms of fantasy points? Or that Chelsea defenders, who one carried a justifiable high price… now haven’t kept a clean sheet in five weeks? Or that high priced talent like Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney would both miss penalty kicks on the same weekend?

When you can’t rely on the reliable, it’s time to think out of the box and then pray it will all work out. Here’s four players to consider who may not normally be on your radar…

For Your Consideration

Yaya shakes up fantasy pools...

Yaya Toure – He’s always been a consistently solid player,  but now Yaya is showing his offensive side with two goals and two assists in his last four games. As a midfielder he also picks up a bonus point for every Manchester City clean sheet… of which there are many. His low price makes him worth a look even if he’s more slow and steady than exciting and explosive.

Ji-Sung Park – Yes that goal that beat Arsenal was skill and not luck. Okay maybe a bit of both. Okay… maybe it was lucky. But everyone’s favourite South Korean player is really standing out for Manchester United this season. He’s started every Premier League game since Oct. 30th, so he’s becoming a safer purchase despite his low price. Since becoming a regular starter seven games ago, he has four goals, an assist… and United had five clean sheets… in case you have any doubts.

Nedum Onuoha – Sunderland are defending better than usual, racking up two clean sheets in their last two games. Not only did defender Onuoha pick up the clean sheet points and the playing time points, he also received two bonus points in each game. He’s becoming a key part of their back four though he’s only owned by 7% of fantasy managers. I guess the question is whether any of us think Sunderland can keep this up!

Joe Hart – Okay so he probably is on your radar. But only 30% of fantasy managers have picked him up… likely because he’s pricey. But in my opinion, he’s worth it. No one else is keeping clean sheets like Manchester City so pay the money and just start him every week.

Proceed with Caution
There are a few key questions that need answering. For example, with the Tevez transfer controversy, will his head be in the game or thinking about the future? Also, what about Florent Malouda? He was on fire to begin the season but has turned very cold. Does the return of Frank Lampard to the Chelsea lineup mean less time on the ball for Malouda? Or less time on the pitch even? He has a high price so it could be time to sell.

Talk to you next week, and even though it’s getting cold out there, in the paraphrased words of my presumed distant relative Sir Alex, don’t be caught in public wearing a snood. 

Scott Ferguson

 (Ed. Note: Look for several United players to suddenly develop pneumonia…)

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Mr. Popularity

You're always picked last when your name starts with "Z"...

Just like in high school, Mr. Popularity is not your friend.

The only difference is that in high school you really hoped he would be. As a fantasy manager, you might want to have the same players as everyone else in order to keep pace, but to make a move up the table you are going to need to do some scouting and grab point-getters the other teams don’t have.

In fantasy terms, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba is the most popular player owned by 45% of all fantasy teams. He’s closely followed by teammate Florent Malouda and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, both of whom are above the 40% mark. These are great players and great picks. I have all three on my personal fantasy team. But I have done some digging for you and found four solid players chosen by a mere 1% of all fantasy teams. When you see them score on Saturday you won’t have to worry that you are sharing those points with half the pool!

The One Percenters:

Carlos Salcido – The Fulham right back has kept John Pantsil on the bench for good reason. His accurate crosses are turning into goals for Craven Cottagers like Clint Dempsey.

Greek Love...

Sotirios Kyrgiakos – A bright spot on Liverpool’s back line, he’s got two goals already and is still pretty affordable at 5.1.

Nikola Zigic – The massive Birmingham striker was on the bench for the early part of the season but has played every minute of the last three games. With goals in two of three of those starts, he will likely remain a fixture of their starting 11.

Marcus Hahnemann– Wolves have had problems keeping clean sheets this year, but Hahnemann has played every minute of the season. He could be worth picking up as your backup keeper, starting him when WW play weaker teams at home (Yes, technically, I know only West Ham is weaker right now… but you know what I mean…)

Scott’s Subs
Here’s who you should bring in and keep out this week.

Nolan has been "duck"ing praise up on Tyneside

In: Kevin Nolan – Newcastle United — It’s never a good idea to pick up a player right after he gets a hat trick, but how can you resist Nolan? He already has 7 goals and will still only cost you 5.8 to pick him up. You’ll enjoy his duck-like arm-flapping goal celebration more if he’s earning you fantasy points.

Out: Charlie Adam – Blackpool — His numbers are very good for what he costs, but I’m thinking Blackpool are going to flame out pretty soon and start edging their way towards the bottom of the table rather than the top.

In: Clint Dempsey – Fulham — Another knee jerk reaction on my part? Perhaps. He did just score two goals last week… but he’s also among the top scoring midfielders this season in terms of fantasy points overall. His price of 7 at the beginning of the season was a bit high — he’s now at a more reasonable 6.7.

Out: Michael Essien – Chelsea — A wonderful player, but there are just too many other scorers on the champions for Essien to make a great offensive impact. And with Frank Lampard coming back soon, one can only presume he’ll see the ball even less.

In: Sotirios Kyrgiakos – Liverpool — For all the reasons I’ve stated above… and because I’ve recently been very hard on Liverpool players…

Out: Luke Young — Aston Villa — In the past, he’s been an average fantasy pick… but as his price creeps up to 5.2, I think it’s time to let him go. He is coming off a clean sheet performance but I doubt Aston Villa have a pile of those coming in the future.

My Form

Over the past two weeks, the players I’ve recommend have scored an average of 5.25 points a game. The average starter has scored 4.15 and the players I’ve told you to avoid have averaged 2 points.  Note that I was not asked to show my work on those calculations.

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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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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