Tag Archives: gareth bale

Real dominates Rayo Vallecano in Derbi Madrileño

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Nine minutes… that’s how long it took Real Madrid put down Rayo Vallecano in today’s La Liga match.  Sure the two sides played out their 90-plus minutes.  But such was the domination of the European Champions against their tiny Madrid neighbours that the result was really never in doubt.

Carlo Ancelotti changed four players from the mid-week Champions League match at the Bernabeu against Liverpool, not that it truly mattered.  His side still featured two World Cup winners and six nominees for this year’s Ballon D’Or.

Back to the ninth minute, then, and a lovely play that saw Cristiano Ronaldo feed the ball to Toni Kroos at the left of the box, who then slotted it to a galloping Gareth Bale in front of goal.  One-nil Real.

Los Blancos almost doubled their score right away after a similar play; this time, Karim Benzema lanced the ball at James Rodríguez.  The Colombian then quickly turned and passed it to Ronaldo, whose shot went wayward.  The league’s top scorer missed but it was indicative of how Real are playing at the moment; their movement is so good, so fluid that they glide across the pitch, often in anticipation of passes that almost never miss their mark.

That’s not to say that Vallecano were pushovers.  Striker Albert Bueno was on his game, sending a thunderbolt in the 21st minute from 20 yards out that a shaky Keylor Navas struggled to deflect.   The men in red also took to attacking Real’s right flank where Nacho has been playing as a makeshift fullback.  Los Franjirrojos were pesky in the box on set pieces, and a couple moments of Real disarray looked like they would lead to a goal.  On the other end, Vallecano held their lines, and Cristian Álvarez played with awareness, even as the league leaders poured forward with pressure.

But after 40 minutes, that pressure got to the visitors as another cross made its way into the box.  Real centre back Sergio Ramos took the volley on his thigh and deflected the ball into the net, doubling the lead.  It was the defender’s 50th for Real Madrid, a stunning feat for a man whose job is to stop goals, not score them.

However, four minutes later, a bad throw by Navas into a group of Vallecano players caused James to panic with a back pass. Vallecano took advantage and Bueno made no mistake.  It was 2-1 for Madrid but, after a half where the visitors passed and moved as well as their hosts, Vallecano had every reason to feel confident at the break.

That confidence quickly melted away in the second half.   Vallecano seemed to wilt under the onslaught while the home side showed no signs of fatigue from a gruelling mid-week clash.  Real’s third goal in the 55th minute was sublime as Kroos curled the ball around two defenders and into the corner of the net.  Four minutes later, Benzema scored despite being glaringly offside.   Howls of protest from the Vallecano bench fell on deaf ears, although it could be considered payback for other egregious non-calls by the referee, most notably a tackle from behind on James in the first half.   Roberto Trashorras stopped the Colombian as he was about to break, but it generated neither a twitch nor gesture from the officials.

A late goal from Cristiano Ronaldo finished the evening with a 5-1 final score.  Los Nuevos Galacticos have now won 13 straight matches, 10 of those after scoring three goals or more.  The worrying part for their upcoming opponents is that after a post-Lisbon hangover, the champions appear to be picking up momentum.   With a relatively easy schedule over the next six weeks, and progression to the knockout round of the Champions League guaranteed, Madrid will want to keep up their league form before making an almost embarrassingly easy journey to nearby Morocco for the FIFA Club World Cup in December.

Barcelona, Valencia and Atlético supporters might disagree at the moment.  But none of those teams can boast of the firepower that Real possesses. Like Chelsea in England, and Bayern Munich in Germany, Real could be another mega-club that wraps up its league title with plenty of time to spare.

Brent Lanthier

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A World Cup Without Them

zlatanWe are now 164 days away from the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and with almost every league hunkered down for a Christmas break (with the exception of the Barmy Brits… but that’s a discussion for another post), we can start to look towards June in what should be an epic tournament.

Why epic? When you look at the teams that have qualified for Brazil 2014, there isn’t a nation that makes you think, “They shouldn’t be there”.  Conversely, I can’t think of a team that, based on recent form, has been hard done by not qualifying.   That means that all the past champions will be going, all the heavy hitters and nearly men (Dutchies, I’m looking at you).

I was recently reminded that, despite appearing in three World Cups, the great Zico had never won the thing.  That’s gotta hurt, but he’s not alone.  In fact, the list of players who have never lifted the Jules Rimet trophy is extensive.  Think about it: Sindelar, Puskas, Di Stefano, Fontaine, Eusebio, Cruyff, Platini, Stoichkov, Baggio, Maldini, Figo… none of them have ever won the biggest tournament on the planet.   It’s probably as good as any argument that football is won and lost as a team, at least internationally.

But you can’t win the Coupe du Monde if you don’t get to go in the first place.  Some major marquee players won’t be appearing in Brazil because they and their compatriots couldn’t get it done.  Here are the top 10 players staying home in June:

Alaba: still only 21

Alaba: still only 21

10) David Alaba (AUT) — Is he a fullback? Is he a midfielder? All we know is that the Austrian wunderkind will be off the pitch, while  just about every other one of his Bayern Munich teammates will be in Brazil (except for Claudio Pizarro).  Austria actually held their own in qualifying , but were done in by double losses to Germany and then to Sweden on the penultimate match day.  No worries though, as Austria’s youngest-ever Player of the Year is only 21 years old, so he’ll have a few more shots at it.

Serbs have to sit out

Serbs have to sit out

9) Branislav Ivanovic (SER) — Speaking of fullbacks, pundits are calling Ivanovic the best right back in the world right now.   His is the first name on Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team sheet, and he is a menace in attack and defence.  But after starting with a 1-1-3 record in qualifying, the Serbians were pretty much doomed, even though ultra-rivals Croatia finished with two losses.  The Croats went through, which has to sting more than a little.

Ta ra, Turan...

Ta ra, Turan…

8) Arda Turan (TUR) — There was a time when Turkey’s national football team was filled with German-born Bundesliga players who were considered too much Türken and not enough Deutsch.  The DFB has become far more progressive — look at Germany’s multicultural line-up now — and Turkish football has come into its own, with Turkish-born players staying in the Superlig.  The one notable exception is Arda Turan, the tough winger who has helped put Atlético Madrid in the running for its first Liga title in 18 years.  The good news for the Atleti?  Turan will be able to rest up this summer before they sell him off to a bigger club.  Hooray.

Trying to read the name on his kit…

7) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (GAB) — Like many African players, Aubameyang was born in France, but decided to represent the nation of his parents.   Too bad.  The young Gabonese had a high enough profile at St. Etienne, before lighting up the Bundesliga with Dortmund this season, to find a place on a troubled French squad.  Instead, he has become the African version of Dimitar Berbatov playing for Bulgaria, a great player on a team that will do nothing.   It’s just as well: that name is a nightmare for the kit makers.

DAMN YOU, ARMENIA!!!

DAMN YOU, ARMENIA!!!

6) Petr Cech (CZE) — Oh how the strong and steady goalkeeper must pine for the days of Koller, Baroš and Nedved, when his countrymen were qualifying for European semi-finals and actually appearing at the World Cup.  Alas, the veteran netminder (a 31-year-old who has looked 50 since he was 20) will have to settle for glory at Chelsea, where he and his club have won every major European and English title.

Hamsik

“Oh Mamma Mia, let me go!”

5) Marek Hamsik (SLO) — Slovakia did alright at South Africa 2010, their first major tournament since they split from the Czechs.  Hamsik captained his side to the Group of 16 by shocking the Italians 3-2, before losing to eventual finalists, Netherlands.  But when they tried to qualify for Brazil, they were outdone by a lack of adventure: only once did the Slovaks score more than one goal from open play.  Too bad… because Hamsik’s Mohawk/Kid n’ Play fade looks awesome streaking up the pitch.

Wales v Scotland

Air guitar…

4) Aaron Ramsey (WAL) — This one will elicit the most groans as undeserving,  but the young Taffy has been a revelation this season.  Arsene Wenger has kept faith in his midfielder, who has had trouble keeping off the treatment table.  But he has been Arsenal’s best player since August and has overshadowed teammates who are offensive threats in their own right.

"Will not let you go!"

“Will not let you go!”

3) Robert Lewandowski (POL) — Poland’s failure to qualify for even the playoffs is a case of a team’s parts being better than the team itself.  The squad has some great talent (with tricky names): Blaszczykowski, Piszczek, Boruc, Szczesny, and Dortmund’s highest scorer over the last three seasons, Lewandowski.  Last year, he was a goal away from the Bundesliga scoring title, and two away from being the Champions League’s top marksman.  He is among the top 10 strikers in the world, but unfortunately he will not be able to play with his peers in Brazil.

Bale hearts Wales... which means no World Cup

Bale hearts Wales… which means no World Cup

2) Gareth Bale (WAL) — Surely the world’s biggest tournament should feature the world’s most expensive player.  When Gareth Bale went to Real Madrid for €100M, most people thought that the whole affair was ridiculous.  But the spectacle of the transaction should not take away from a player who is starting to reach the height of his powers.  Nine goals in fifteen games for Madrid: he’s no Ronaldo, but he doesn’t need to be.  Unfortunately, he plays for a nation that has never fully embraced association football and may not qualify for a major tournament for some time.

1) Zlatan Ibrahimovic (SWE) — You could hear the collective groans around the soccer world when Sweden was paired with Portugal in the qualifying play-offs.  We knew that either Christiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic would not be playing in this summer’s tournament.   That’s a shame because if there is ever a place for massive egos, it is the World Cup… and they don’t get much bigger than CR7 or Ibra.   In the end, it was a battle between two huge talents on otherwise mediocre teams.  After a tight first leg, it was left to the big striker to tie everything up on aggregate. Unfortunately for the Scandanavians, Ronaldo showed why he is better than everyone else… include Kung Fu Zlatan.  Still, we will miss the sound bites, the temper tantrums, and the awesome, awesome goals.  Ibra’s take on the loss: “One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing to watch.”

Brent Lanthier

No Ibra means none of this...

No Ibra means none of this…

... or this...

… or this…

... or this.

… or this.

 

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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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Gov for Sale

Image

After a decade-and-a-half of complaints about the oligarchical (big word alert!) domination of the Premier League by four or five clubs, you have to love the drama going into the last week of the season.  Mancunian rivals competing for the title! Three teams scrambling for the final Champions League spots! Chelsea threatening to throw it all into the wind by winning the Champions League! Merseyside clubs competing for… well, isn’t it wonderful?

But if you dig a little deeper, you find a stumble to the finish.  Clubs have taken a hot potato approach to the league table, with the teams falling over themselves trying to acquiesce table positions, often to their most hated rival.  And no side is more guilty of this than Tottenham Hotspur.

When he lasted posted, Our Ian wrote about Harry Redknapp’s acquittal and how the Spurs boss was riding high in the table.  On paper, Tottenham had a formidable team.  On the pitch, Spurs were more fun to watch than Barcelona.  Players like Bale, Van der Vaart, Lennon, Adebayor and Modric followed ‘Arry’s advice to “just run about”, while the starting fullbacks — Walker and Assou-Ekotto — joined in the rush.  It was “all-hands-on-deck” and the Warriors of White Hart Lane did not disappoint.  While they were scoring and winning, they were also keeping one of the stingiest defences in the league.  Quite simply, Tottenham were feared.

But the last third of the season has not been kind to the club.  At one point, Tottenham sat 13 points above their Highbury rivals.  They are now a point below.  Talk of Redknapp’s automatic coronation as the England gaffer was obviously premature and rightly so.  Three Lions’ supporters around the globe have taken a look at the Old Wheeler Dealer and wondered what all the fuss is about. Despite his heritage (obviously something that he had nothing to do with), his credentials are thin.  One trophy and a possible penchant for leaving when it seems to suit him.

Over the last eight matches, their London rivals seem to want Champions League football as little as they do.  Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea have all gone 3-3-2 with the same goal difference. It’s a wash, with Arsenal and Tottenham trying to avoid fourth place in the unlikely event that a born-again Chelsea actually beat Bayern in Munich.

But if Arsenal manage to sack the Woy-less Baggies, and the Blues actually complete their Bavarian putsch, then the Lilywhites’ support will look towards the dugout for answers.  Answers on why a team that spent more on average per year than Manchester United is still trying to find a foothold in the Champions League.  Answers as to why the gaffer says the club should spend even MORE in the summer.

But more importantly, the club’s heart-and-soul support should ask themselves why they would tolerate such a mercenary to lead them into the future, after he seemed so willing to abandon them at the drop of a contract.

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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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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White Hot Bale thrills White Hart Lane

Move over Giggsy, there's a new Welsh Wizard

Our Ian was in London for Tottenham’s famous win over the defending European champions, Inter Milan.  You can read his write-up about his beloved Spurs and their glorious night at Toro Magazine.

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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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Luck of the draw? Yids learn CL fate

Welcome to the Champions League, Tottenham. And just in case you weren’t sure who the best team in the tournament was, it became painfully evident as teammate after teammate from reigning title holders Inter Milan sauntered up to the stage during today’s draw in Monaco (a painfully long event but one surprisingly well photographed by audience members) to receive player of the tournament awards. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, defender Maicon, midfielder Wesley Sneijder and striker Diego Milito (who also won player of the year) were each honoured with a small trophy and the opportunity to pick little balls out of a cup and reveal the teams within. And when all was said and done, Spurs found themselves in Group A alongside Inter’s star-studded cast. Will the Italian treble winners still be the same team with Rafa Benitez at the helm? We’ll find out when the Serie A gets rolling this weekend.

Of course, it’s a better draw for Spurs than they would have faced in Group G, whose teams have won a combined 20 Champions League crowns and finished runner-up nine times. At least, with Germany’s Werder Bremen and Holland’s FC Twente rounding out Group A, the last three teams are fairly evenly balanced, meaning second place and passage to the knockout round should be up for grabs. Despite their lofty UEFA coefficient, I’d rather face Bremen (third in the Bundesliga last year) from Pot 2 than any of Real Madrid, Roma, Valencia, Marseille, Panathinaikos or Benfica. Twente, who won their first Eredivisie title last season but saw Schteve leave for Germany over the summer, were one of the highest ranked teams in Pot 4. It’s also a kind geographical draw for Spurs, with no lengthy excursions to Kazan, Donetsk or Tel Aviv required.

Whoever the opponent, health of key players is a big issue for Spurs with the first matchday just over two weeks away. I’ll be happy as long as Welsh winger Gareth Bale, who set up all four goals in Wednesday’s famous 4-0 win over Young Boys, is healthy and ready to run. He’s been become  simply brilliant since Arry told him to stop messing with his barnet.

Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, all Pot 1 teams, are undoubtedly feeling pretty comfortable about their team’s chances of progression to the round of 16, with all three London clubs dreaming of a berth at the Wem-ber-lee final. In Manchester, the police force is already bracing for trouble when Rangers visit, based on their experience from the UEFA Cup Final in 2008, while the tie gives Sir Alex gets a chance to face his former team.

What’s also shocking is the number of big names  who’ll be watching from the wings this Champions League season, including Liverpool, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiacos, Villareal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.

In today’s Europa League playoffs, a reeling Aston Villa met their match in Rapid Vienna for the second successive year, with a Stiliyan Petrov penalty miss proving fatal, while Celtic’s European misery continued with a 4-0 defeat at Utrecht. Liverpool and Manchester City, however, both booked passage to the group stages, with the Reds reversing an early 1-0 deficit at Trabzonspor and Citeh easing to a 2-0 win over Timisoara.

On this side of the Atlantic, current MLS champions Real Salt Lake watched a 3-1 lead turn into a 5-4 defeat at Mexico City’s Cruz Azul in CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday night, meaning all four teams in Group A, including Toronto FC, have a win and a loss through two matches. As for TFC, they were busy today announcing Doneil Henry as the first academy player to sign a pro contract.

Ian Harrison

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Yid Army invades New York City

I’ve finally cooled off from my time in the blast furnace better known as New York City, where I spent the past few days and saw Tottenham take on Sporting Lisbon in the back half of the Barclays Challenge at Red Bulls Arena.

Our long weekend in the red hot Big Apple, which also featured a game at Yankee Stadium, plenty of tasty eats and some gentle walking tours between Manhattan bars, was certainly a lot of fun, and a great chance to see my Yid Army without crossing the Atlantic. But thanks to the long travel and blistering heat and humidity, ’Arry still seems a bit hot under the collar, unsure of whether a three-game swing from California to the Empire State and back home was the best way to prepare for his team’s inaugural Champions League campaign.

Spilt milk now, of course, and hopefully a few dollars and pounds earned for a bolstering of the back line before qualifying begins, especially now that Jonathan Woodgate looks less and less likely to be fit anytime soon, while Ledley King also remains a doubt.

Tottenham take the field to face Sporting at Red Bulls Arena.

Tottenham played four right backs against Sporting, with Alan Hutton in his regular role, Vedran Corluka, Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton rounding out the defense. Redknapp used the US tour to fiddle around up front with his formation up front a bit, and even though Robbie Keane looked good up front against the Portuguese, there’s still no guarantee he’ll be a Yid when the transfer window closes. It was great to see 90 minutes of strong running by Gareth Bale and passing from Tom Huddlestone, interesting to watch Adel Taraabt, who unfortunately didn’t distinguish himself too much, unlike Jonathan Obika, who came on as a substitute and blasted home the tying goal.

That strike, and a late Huddlestone miss from half with the keeper out of his net, meant the matched ended a 2-2 draw. It was certainly entertaining and the Spurs support was surprisingly and pleasantly vocal…our tickets were at the other end of the ground but we moved down and sat behind the rowdies for the second half to join in the singing, which was a blast. We totally drowned out the Sporting fans, even though there’s a big Portuguese community in Newark, across the river from where the Red Bulls play in Harrison, New Jersey. Didn’t see too much of the town that bears my name, but the land around the brand new stadium was pretty desolate. They’re planning to develop the area with shops and restaurants, but for now it’s the same forlorn industrial wasteland so commonly associated with the Garden State.

I haven’t had too many nice things to say about Thierry Henry over the past while, not much of a surprise considering he’s a cheating ex-Gooner, but I am pretty impressed that he travelled to his first Red Bulls game the same way I did – by paying $1.75 for the four-stop, 20-minute PATH train ride from the World Trade Center site in Manhattan. Speaking of which – this was my first trip to NYC since April, 2001 and thus my first look at the hole in the ground in lower Manhattan. It’s hard to imagine the old WTC anymore…I had to watch Tribe Called Quest’s Electric Relaxation video when I got home to remind myself. With the twin towers gone, the Empire State Building is back to being the anchor of what Kurt Vonnegut once called ‘Skyscraper National Park.’

Inside, the stadium offers comfortable, covered seating and solid sightlines of the (thinning) grass pitch, with two levels of private boxes replacing the upper deck on the side of the pitch behind the benches and press seating blended into the stands, as at some European grounds. The concourses are a bit narrow and crowded but offer a wide selection of ethnic foods, like empanadas, Brazilian food, and several European beers. Not surprisingly, a can of Red Bull ($3) is cheaper than a bottle of water ($4).  Overall, a solid soccer experience. We stayed for the first 15 minutes of the Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over Manchester City (one of two losses by Manc clubs to MLS opponents on the day, with United losing by the same score to the KC Wizards), enough time to see a glowing welcome for Henry and NY’s opening goal. The flag-waving supporters clubs behind the goal were in full voice, although they were led in their cheers by a dude with a megaphone.

At the game with my Futbol Guapa.

Finally, here are a couple more soccer stories that caught my eye today (not including Diego’s ouster in Argentina, which Dr. Z will likely chime in on later). First, a new survey says only seven percent of people wouldn’t accept a gay footballer, which could mean fewer offers of reporter sister sex from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Of course, there’s still plenty of love for hot women in the football world, which is why it’s news that some lucky crooks in Brazil got to pluck a cell phone from between curvy Paraguayan Larissa Riquelme’s mountainous mammaries. A grand theft, indeed.

Ian Harrison

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