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Fergie’s Fantasy – Cleaning the sheets

No, this is not another column about Wayne Rooney (though did anyone notice it was the day after I published last week’s anti-Rooney rant that he came to his senses? I’m sure Wayne is a regular At The Rails reader). This column is about getting points without getting goals. And the way to do that is picking players on teams likely to deliver clean sheets. When your goalies and defenders don’t let the other team score you get four points, the same amount for a goal by a striker, so its worth the time to pick a strong back four and keeper.

The obvious choice here are players from Chelsea, who have seven clean sheets in nine games. Petr Cech might be your best bet here though because regular defenders like Ashley Cole and John Terry are pricey. Not to say they aren’t worth it, but defenders are where most fantasy managers save money in order to spend more on high priced strikers and midfielders.

The key is that it doesn’t matter how many goals a team concedes, but how many clean sheets they keep. For example, when Wigan are bad they seem to concede a pile of goals, but they have low priced defenders who have kept three clean sheets. That’s more than Liverpool (two) and Tottenham (one). The other surprise in this category is Sunderland, tied for second in the league with Manchester City in the clean sheets stat with four. Again a team where bargains on defence can pay off (and I recommend a particular player from the Black Cats below…).

Week in Review – Top Performers

Samir Nasri – the Arsenal midfielder was the top point getter in the league last week with a hat trick of sorts. He had a goal, an assist, and his team kept a clean sheet. Nasri is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the Gunners’ offence and is a solid choice as long as he stays healthy.

Javier Hernandez – the man who rescued Manchester United from another disappointing result. Hernandez scored both goals in a key 2-1 win over Stoke City. He then came on as a sub and notched the winner in United’s League Cup victory over wolves. He’s a great choice while Rooney’s hurt, but will probably see his playing time cut back when Wayne returns.

Liam Ridgewell – a goal plus a clean sheet meant Ridgewell was the top scoring defender last week. Birmingham play a strong defensive game and have notched three clean sheets themselves so expect Ridgewell to continue to be a safe fantasy bet.

Scott’s Subs:

Last week I told you to pick up Dimitar Berbatov, Rafael Van Der Vaart, and Florent Malouda. Berbatov disappointed but the other two scored so I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. The points per game average for my recommended players was 5.3. The league average was 4. The average for players I told you to steer clear of was 2. And that would have been lower except Andrey Arshavin proved me wrong and scored for Arsenal. Here are my suggested subs for this week:

IN

Didier Drogba – Yes he’s the most expensive player in the league in fantasy terms. But 43% of all fantasy teams are paying the price. Can you afford not to?

OUT

Fernando Torres – I’m sure Torres will be a golden boot winner in the coming years (perhaps in the Championship if Liverpool doesn’t start improving) but this just isn’t looking like his year. The talent is there, but right now you can pick up someone who will score just as many goals for half the price.

IN

Ahmed Elmohamady –Do I know a lot about Ahmed “Tickle Me” Elmohamady? Not really, other than that isn’t his nickname. But numbers don’t lie. He is third in points for defenders behind Chelsea’s Cole and Terry. He is the defender with the highest value in the league when you look at his points vs. cost. And his cost has risen the most of any defender so buy now.

OUT

Tony Hibbert – The Everton defender is priced like a starter, and often plays, but rarely for the full 90 minutes. Avoid him.

IN:

Nani – Wasn’t Antonio Valencia supposed to be the one to try and replace Cristiano Ronaldo? But with his injury, the weight of scoring goals  and delivering lovely crosses from the wing has fallen on Nani, who has answered handsomely. And don’t worry, you don’t lose fantasy points for players faking injuries only to be fine moments after the ref stops the play.

OUT:

Joe Cole –I know I’ve picked on Joe Cole in the past. But not in my new Scott’s subs section! I want him to do well, I really do, but he just isn’t doing well. And you should avoid him until he starts putting some balls into the back of the net.

Scott Ferguson

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Filed under English Football, Fantasy Football, Premier League

Fergie’s Fantasy – Great Bargains!

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

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

Great Bargains

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

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

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

Buyer Beware

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

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

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

High prices, Poor Results

Joe Cole aka Joe Dirt for FFL owners

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

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

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

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

Scott Ferguson

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An Open Letter to Roy Hodgson

Woy rues the "walk on through the rain" bit of the song...

Dear Roy Hodgson,

Welcome to Anfield!  Sorry about the mess… hope it’s not a problem…

It’s only been two months but we noticed you’re already getting a bit snippy with the press. Perhaps your optimism has been dampened by the malaise of your players… and the fans… and the members of the board who don’t own team.

To be fair, Woy, it’s not been a good week for you. In seven days, you’ve lost to hated rivals Manchester United, and then to much-feared Northampton Town.  To top it off — on LFC’s first Saturday game of the season — the Reds put in such a lacklustre performance against Sunderland that the Kop went into a venti lather, extra-whipped, extra-foamy.

It hasn’t been a great start to the entire season either. Facing Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United in the first five Prem games can give any manager a bit of the “frownies”.  One has to wonder if bad results at the start of the season might send the team into a downward cycle of depression and self-loathing — just as Chelsea’s ridiculously easy start may have gone to their heads.  Perhaps you could have Kenny Daglish step in to give the boys a bit of a pep talk, eh?

You’ve also said you’re a bit concerned about the ownership situation.  Maybe you’ve realized that no one’s even come close to  Tom Hicks’ minimum bid for the team on eBay.  Or you could be miffed that he recently tried to pawn the players, stadium and team assets off just to pay the rent… because he’ll earn it back. You just have to trust him.

Conversely, you may be worried that Hicks and Gillet won’t make their debt deadline… meaning the Royal Bank of Scotland would own the team. Are you worried that the league would consider that a financial no-no and deducts points? Or are you worried that the club would be run by actual Scottish people? Hey, there’s King Kenny again, waving from his office… and he’s waiting for your call!

We can see how you’d be upset about losing points to administration. Let’s see: 6 minus 9… carry the “1”… a bit of a steep hill, no? If you listen closely, you can hear Wigan and West Ham fans laughing…

Look on the bright side: you are the manager of Liverpool FC, England’s most successful team! But now you’re miffed that the same media outlets that squeezed your cheeks and patted your bum — after you took little Fulham to the finals of that little tournament — are now reminding you that Liverpool has had its worst start in 57 years.  And they won’t stop.

But not to worry! You’ve got Steven Gerrard (when he’s not hurt), Fernando Torres (when he’s not hurt… or close to tears) and Joe Cole (when he’s not suspended… or hurt… or both). Just ask Stevie… this year, this is the year. He promises.

So turn that frown upside-down, and remember: it’s only three more months to go until the next transfer window. What could possibly go wrong between now and then?

Sincerely,
At The Rails

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Liverpool’s Summer of Love

Three months ago, I wrote that Liverpool faced a bleak off-season. Arrogant owners had plunged the club into obscene levels of debt, while bragging how they would reap record profits from its sale. The team finished a dismal seventh, ending another season where the trophy case remained dusty and unopened.  And Liverpool’s major stars — Gerrard, Torres and Mascherano — all appeared headed for the door.

Oh, what a difference three months has made.  Instead of panic, there has been a steely determination to weather the storm.  Roy Hodgson — a candidate by default, some would say — was hired to manage the team, if only for a little while. But instead of being a lame-duck leader, Hodgson started manning the phones.  He convinced Joe Cole to leave the safe confines of London… and then everything seemed to fall into place.

The commitment of Steven Gerrard to the club was an important step. Never mind the cynics who said he was unwanted abroad. The pledge showed that Liverpool’s captain — and heart and soul — believes there is a future on Merseyside.  But there was still a problem of finances.

Enter Kenny Huang.  It seems the Chinese businessman doesn’t see a club in turmoil, he sees a massive opportunity. Huang remembers that Liverpool is still the most successful English club in history… indeed, one of the most successful in the world.  He saw the survey that shows Fernando Torres shirts sold more units worldwide than any other Premier League player.  He knows owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are mucking about… and thinks he can do something about it.

Huang is being aggressive. The billionaire claims that the club’s debt is so massive, it’s made shares virtually worthless. If he successfully buys that debt from the bank, it’s curtains for Hicks and Gillett.  Good riddance.

Torres has said all along that the club needs new investment, and implied that new owners would be required to get him to stay.  Today, he committed his future to the club… another tremendous psychological boost.  Huang has promised to bring in big players and start in on a new stadium — promises heard from the current owners that ended up ringing hollow. But the rapidly dwindling millions of Hicks and Gillett are drops in the bucket when compared to Huang’s billions.

They say money can’t buy happiness. I think the Anfield faithful beg to differ.

Brent Lanthier

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Consider the Gaffer

"I'm thinking of a player between 1 and 10..."

The half-truths, the innuendo, the egos… I can’t wait.

Mad Men’s season premiere is tonight.

But there is also this nebulous time in the football world — after the World Cup, but before the league seasons start — where players, agents, managers and the media all say the most outrageous things in the hopes that they’ll come true. It’s very Geppetto-esque… like wishing that Cristiano Ronaldo will someday become a real boy.

'Arry orders another drink before speaking to the press

First of all, managers are scrambling to strengthen their squads, while hoping to outsmart their opponents. Witness ‘Arry’s backhanded compliment towards Manchester City.

The gaffers also have the task of trying to keep their stars happy and at home. Arsene Wenger has had to beat off Barcelona with a stick for Cesc Fabregas.  West Ham has had to put a ridiculous price tag on Scott Parker.  And sadly, some clubs are willing to pay absurd amounts just to pry a player away, with Manchester City assuming the role of Cheslea, circa 2004 — or Real Madrid, years 2000 to the present. More on them in a second.

Of course, some managers get by on good old-fashioned wits and salesmenship. Just ask Joe Cole.  But even though Roy Hodgson has done a little bit of transfer magic, it still might not be enough to keep Fernando Torres on Merseyside. And before you can sweet-talk a player, you have to be able to actually talk to him first.

The Special One starts his freshman season at Real Madrid, with pockets as deep as he had when he was in London’s West End.   So of course, the media has linked Jose Mourinho to everyone in the football world, on every team, ever.

Meanwhile, the man who wanted Mourinho’s new job — but got his old one instead — will have to show that he can build on last year’s treble success, and basically not f#ck things up.  Good luck, Rafa, you’ll need it.  And you thought the English press was bad… look for more rants this season.

The one manager who has remained suprisingly quiet in all of this is Sir Alex Ferguson.  True, he had to offer Dolph Lundgren-look-alike Nemanja Vidic a new contract to keep the other vultures away.  But SAF has only bought two players — Javier Hernandez and Fulham’s Chris Smalling.  Maybe Sir Alex is revelling in the fact that Manchester United only had five players away at the World Cup — six, if you count Hernandez — and none of them made it out of the second round.  Get yer rest boys, yer going to need it.

Speaking of Sir Alex, At The Rails’ own Ian Harrison wrote a lovely piece on the man for Toro Magazine on Fergie’s ties to our home and native land.

But until the leagues begin, I’ve got a bit of Mad Men to watch. And now for a gratuitous picture of Christina Hendricks.  Because I can…

Football? What football?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under La Liga, Premier League, Serie A

Obi-Woy uses the Force…

"These aren't the players you're looking for..."

What a difference seven days make.

Last week, I was writing stories (at my day job) about Spain’s victory, laughing as I realized I had inadvertently picked their victory song.  But on the inside, I was an emotional blender.  On one hand, I knew we’d be jumping into another League season, which is my true love.

On the other hand, I’m a Liverpool fan….

Last season ended bleakly to say the least.  Drawing on the last day to Hull meant the Reds finished in seventh place, missing out on the valuable Champions League next season.  The owners were 350 million pounds in debt and looking to sell.  The manager bailed to fashionable Milan. The team’s two best players looked tired — and in Torres case, damaged — and it looked like rats for the good ship Anfield.

But then Woy appeared.  Like old Ben Kenobi appearing out of the desert — alright then, Fulham — Roy Hodgson didn’t look like much. But he seems to have added a calming and stabilizing, er, force to a team very much in transition.

Before the World Cup was over, Liverpool announced the signing of Serbian striker Milan Jovanovic.  Of course, Rafael Benitez did the deal before leaving.  But Jovanovic scored a nice poacher’s goal against Ze Germans… something that neither Torres or Rooney managed to do. He’s coming from the less-than-impressive Belgian league… but I expect the team will lean on him early as Torres struggles to regain fitness.

And then… a minor coup.  Obviously using a Cockney mind-trick, Woy somehow convinced want-away Joe Cole to leave Swinging London and set up camp on Hoth… I mean, Merseyside. I’m now stopping with the Star Wars references…

So now the questions start:

How will he play? Is he washed up at 28, or can he finally play the game he was destined to play?

Where will he play? Cole has said he sees himself in an attacking midfield role.  Um, hello… Number 10? Meet Number Eight.  Steven Gerrard has all but said he is now staying with the team. But England’s problem –where to play both Lampard and Gerrard — may now be Liverpool’s problem: where to play both Cole and Gerrard.

Can he keep fit? Liverpool fans are just about fed up with superstar signings touted as the next Red hope, only to spend too much time on the physio table. Torres, Aquilani, and Johnson spring to mind.

But no matter.  Hodgson admits that Cole’s arrival does not automatically solve all of Liverpool’s problems. What he has done is what he was brought in to do: Stop the leak, soothe fears, and — Praise Cheebus — win.   But do or do not. There is no try. Sorry.

Side note: Liverpool — along with five other Premier League teams — has banned vuvuzelas at its home games.  Small mercies.

Brent Lanthier

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Whither withering Albion…

As if on cue, the English handwringing has begun. Once more, The Three Lions have failed to reach the final of a major tournament… and once more, the finger-pointing and navel-gazing has started in earnest.  Football analysts will speculate for the rest of the summer on why this “golden generation” failed to make it past the second round, after failing to qualify for Euro 2008 altogether.

Was it fatigue? Don Fabio claims his players were tired from an overlong Premier League season.  Most of his players were selected from teams playing in cup runs or in European leagues.  Some pundits argue the team which qualified so easily by the autumn of 2009 was a shadow of itself, come summer of 2010.

Was it the ball? John Terry was caught out on the first goal yesterday when the ball sailed over his head, allowing Miroslav Klose to score the first tally.  Terry may have been out of position, but the Jabulani seems to have taken some players by surprise. Some observers say it is more favourable for the quick short-pass game of the South Americans… who have seen great success in this tournament so far.

Was it the manager?  Little Englanders say an Italian manager can never understand an English player. Of course, Schteve McClaren was English… and he was pants. Also it’s a little suspect that some of those calling for an English manager are looking for the job themselves.

Was it the selection? When Capello was hired, he said he would pick players based on form. But it soon became clear that the usual cast of characters would be appearing. A brittle Ferdinand was selected, along with players like Carrick, Upson, Heskey, James, Green, Walcott, SWP and Joe Cole… players who didn’t have the best seasons but seemed to have been chosen simply because they had all been capped before.  In-form players like Birmingham’s Roger Johnson, Stoke City’s Etherington and even Wolves’ Jody Craddock weren’t even given a glance.  They may not have international experience… but after this dismal World Cup, would it have mattered?

Was it age? England’s oldest-ever World Cup squad looked slow and random against a positively juvenile German team who looked more organized and experienced yesterday.  Was too much faith put into a group of players who — despite all their club success — have never achieved at the international level?

Is it English football itself? The Premier League has become a sporting Tower of Babel, a marketplace for the world’s players to make their fortunes on the global stage. But with big clubs buying — rather than developing — their players, England’s national team seems to have suffered. Witness the thin pool of talent available to Capello in goal and across the back four.

Many of the current players will likely call time on their international career, come Brazil in 2014.  Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand; they will join the ranks of Lineker, Gascoigne, Shearer, Owen and Beckham before them.  All of them were great players who will never know what it feels like to win the greatest tournament on the planet.

For England fans, there is still 2012… and 2014… and so on. The faithful will wring their hands, hold their breath, and whisper, “Please don’t let us down again.”

Brent Lanthier

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