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Pirlo does an Italian Job on England, Costa Rica’s rich rewards

Italy winsAs is the way with these things, I made my way to the pub hours before the England kick-off, because I wanted to be sure of a seat and a clear line of sight.  However just as I walked in and turned towards the screen, Joel Campbell chested the ball and then tied the game up for Costa Rica against Uruguay.  I had just enough time to order my drink when they did it again, this time it was Óscar Duarte (who was starting in place of Johnny Acosta).  2-1 Costa Rica… are you kidding me?

Costa Rica means "Rich Coast".  Just sayin'...

Costa Rica means “Rich Coast”. Just sayin’…

Uruguay badly missed Luis Suárez, who sat to rest from meniscus surgery.  Lucky us.  Uruguay looked ordinary and their defenders are terrible.  Throw in a bone-headed tackle from Maxi Pereira to earn him the red, and Uruguay look like they are in trouble.  Costa Rica 3-1 Uruguay

So a couple of bevvies to warm up…  and then it was England vs. Italy.   It wasn’t at all embarrassing when Ginger Kev and I were so excited by Sterling’s blast into the side netting that he jumped into my arms.  But hey, the BBC put up the score at 1-0 so we weren’t the only ones.   Then came the Claudio Marchisio goal.  Andrea Pirlo’s dummy made me think of when you see a gorgeous girl, and then you find out she has a boyfriend.  A boyfriend who is better looking, richer and drives a better car.  That kind of vision and nonchalance is evidence of an incredible talent…  and so it was 1-nil Italy.

Stevie G in a midfield battle with Serpico

Stevie G in a midfield battle with Serpico

Wayne Rooney was once again a defensive liability, not providing the cover he needed down the left-hand side.  Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson were playing up so high, they were effectively wingers… but Matteo Darmian and Giorgio Chiellini (as a make-shift fullback) were giving them headaches.  Rooney doesn’t play well with others, but all was almost forgiven on the Daniel Sturridge goal.   Raheem Sterling (who had a fantastic game) picked out Wazza’s run, who in turn put a perfect cross through the box for the Liverpool striker to finish off.  However, Italy would counter with what was basically a mirror image of the goal (Darmian’s cross in front of the box for Mario Balotelli on the far post)… and that was that.  Italy 2-1 England

Brent P. Lanthier

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Premier League Starting XI – 2013-2014

Luis_Suarez_Liverpool-377452

Many pints have been bought/drunk/spilled while friends/strangers/adversaries debate the Premier League’s best players.  In my list, I’ve tried to avoid hype and reputation… but that’s not to say it’s all about the stats.  I’ve also been liberal with the positions, using a 4-1-3-2 but frankly putting players in to fit.   For example, Steven Gerrard was praised for his reinvention as a defensive midfielder, but let’s face it, he mostly played the same as he always has… he just had farther to run.

Here then are my Starting XI:

Mannone of the season for Sunderland

Mannone of the season for Sunderland

Goalkeeper
Vito Mannone (SUN) – There was a reason for Vito Mannone’s switch from the bright lights of the Emirates to the ironically-named Stadium of Light.   Like almost every other professional athlete, he probably expected to start.  So it must have been disappointing when Paolo di Canio went with Keiran Westwood, a man who had spent most of his career in the lower leagues.  The Black Cats’ start to the season was dismal — going  2-1-6 — with Westwood letting in almost one out of every two shots on goal.  Mannone got his chance when Westwood got injured, and the Mackems improved, finishing a stronger 10-7-11 with 11 of those games finishing in a clean sheet for Sunderland.  In fact, Mannone faced more shots on goal than any other keeper in the league, despite missing a quarter of the season.  Quite rightly, he was named Sunderland’s Player of the Season.

Bench: Petr Cech (CHE), Tim Howard (EVE)

Coleman, Baines were lethal from the back this season.

Coleman, Baines were lethal from the back this season.

Fullbacks
(LB) Leighton Baines, (RB) Seamus Coleman (EVE) – The Toffees seem to have an embarrassment of riches at the fullback position.  Under Roberto Martinez, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman act as virtual wingers in an already offence-friendly side.  The pair fly in with crosses, complementing the Mirallas/Barkley/Osman contingent on the wings.  That leaves the two centre backs, along with a resurgent Gareth Barry and GK Tim Howard, to worry about any defensive issues.  It seemed to work: Everton had the third-best defensive record in the Prem, while the Scouser and the Irishman both scored as many goals as their colleagues in midfield.

Bench – Patrice Evra (LB), Bacary Sagna (RB)

Skrtel, Koscielny saw both highs and lows this season

Skrtel, Koscielny saw both highs and lows this season

Centrebacks
Martin Skrtel (LIV), Laurent Koscielny (ARS) – I can hear the howls of protests already.  Why not players from Chelsea or City or even Everton? How can you pick one player who set a record for own goals in a season, and another with a propensity to self-destruct?  Because the game-in, game-out stats tell a different story.  In a league where goals are up across the board, both players were on sides built to throw everything forward in attractive — but dangerous — football.  Martin Skrtel led the league in clearances and was tied for fourth in block shots.  Think back to the images of him racing back to clear the ball, because Brendan Rodgers had his team playing such a high line.  (Don’t forget Skrtel scored seven goals… he’s a centre back!).  Meanwhile, Laurent Koscielny was in the league’s top ten for both interceptions and offsides won, and he was in the top 20 for blocked shots.

Bench – John Terry (CHE), Per Mertesacker (ARS)

Jedinak might be the hardest man in the Prem.

Jedinak might be the hardest man in the Prem.

Defensive Midfield
Mile Jedinak (CRY) – Crikey! Mile Jedinak has maintained the fearsome reputation of Aussie footballers in the Premier League — Messrs. Emerton, Neill and Cahill come to mind (like a prog-rock band! Ha!).  The Palace player led the league in interceptions per game, and was 2nd in tackles per game.  That’s all the more impressive when you realize he started every single game.  A big reason why the Eagles had the league’s sixth-best Goals-Against.

On the bench – Gareth Barry (EVE)

Ramsey was one of the league's best midfielders, despite injuries

Ramsey was one of the league’s best midfielders, despite injuries

Right Wing
Aaron Ramsey (ARS) – Mr. Arsenal this season, Aaron Ramsey set the league on fire in the season’s first half, before he was twice sidelined by injury. He was Arsenal’s second-biggest goal-scorer in the league, and tied for third in assists, despite playing in only 60% of the Gunners’ matches.

On the bench – David Silva (MNC)

Yaya holds his birthday cake that's coincidentally shaped like a trophy

Yaya holds his birthday cake that’s coincidentally shaped like a trophy

Central Midfield
Yaya Touré (MNC) – What hasn’t already been said about Yaya Touré’s season?  The first midfielder since Frank Lampard to score 20 goals in a season, tied for fifth in assists, the Ivorian was Citeh’s talisman (an overused cliché, but in this case, true) and led the Citizens to their second title in three years.

On the bench – Steven Gerrard (LIV)

"Oh my God, I can't believe I made ATR's Starting XI!"

“Oh my God, I can’t believe I made ATR’s Starting XI!”

Left Wing
Eden Hazard (CHE) – José Mourinho had a rough relationship with his forwards this season, and sometimes played without a striker.  Enter the Belgian, Eden Hazard.  The attacking midfielder led his team in goals and assists, and was one of the league’s best passers.  An incredible player to watch (unless you’re a ball boy), Hazard will be a key part of Marc Wilmot’s plans in Brazil.

On the bench – Adam Lallana (SOU)

Suarez and Sturridge: 52 goals between the pair.

Suarez and Sturridge: 52 goals between the pair.

Strikers
Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge (LIV) – The picking of these two players was almost a no-brainer… almost.  Luis Suarez tied the Premier League record for goals in a 38-game season, despite missing the first five matches.  He was also second in the league for assists — just behind team mate Steven Gerrard — so it’s not like he was being selfish.  Love him or hate him, he had a brilliant season and propelled Liverpool into the most exciting title run in almost two decades.

Sergio Agüero was almost equally brilliant, scoring 17 in 23 appearances.  But injuries hampered an otherwise brilliant season, and young(ish) Daniel Sturridge found his own touch, scoring 21 of his own.   That’s why he would start in my XI.

On the bench – Sergio Aguero (MNC), Wayne Rooney (MNU)

Player of the Season: Luis Suarez

Brent P. Lanthier

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Best of the Prem: Everton to Man U

Fergie has something stuck to the roof of his mouth. It might be crow…

Part Two features players from both sides of Merseyside, along with the two big sides from Manchester.  Part of what made this season so great is that these big clubs — along with the North London clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham — finished right next to their derby rivals in the table. Greatest Premier League season, indeed.

Baines and Jelavic: Goodison’s best

EVERTON
Leighton Baines (ENG) – If that season began on January 31st, then Nikica Jelavic would have been the obvious choice, scoring 13 goals since his arrival, while the Toffees went 10-6-3 in all competitions.  But the season is of course long and arduous.  Typical Everton then, who were awful in the first half of the campaign… except for Leighton Baines.  The first name on David Moyes’ team sheet, Baines is everything a manager wants in a full-back.  He can race up the wing but still served as a member of one of the league’s stingiest defences.  The Scouser is also a superb deliverer of crosses and is a set-piece specialist.  If he can stand a month in the Ukraine, then he may actually get onto the pitch under Roy Hodgson.

Dempsey OK for USA

FULHAM
Clint Dempsey (USA) – Who else could it have been? The Yank has been a revelation since the 2010 World Cup, leading the Cottagers in scoring over the last two seasons by a country mile.   This year, Dempsey set the single-season record for Premier League goals in a Fulham shirt.  He has taken over from Landon Donovan as the global face of American soccer, and Jurgen Klinsmann will need Dempsey firing on all cylinders as Team USA begins its World Cup-qualifying campaign.  Another player who is so good that he may be wearing different club colours, come August.

LIVERPOOL
Jose Enrique (ESP) – To be honest, the Spanish fullback is the best of a bad lot.  While King Kenny forked out millions for Andy Carroll, the “other” former Newcastle player was the shining light on an underachieving Anfield side.  It is telling that Enrique’s decline coincided with a reversal in Liverpool’s fortunes after the Christmas break.  In fairness, he has brought some consistency to a position that seems to have been a black hole for the Merseyside club.  As well, he was ever-present in the squad sheet and the Liverpool defence still managed to be one of the league’s best.

Silva has lots to cheer about this season.

MANCHESTER CITY
David Silva (ESP) – On a team deep with expensive talent, this £30m man has proved to be worth every penny.  The league’s ultimate winger, speedy Silva led the league in assists.  Kompany may hoist the trophies, and Aguero/Tevez/Balotelli may find the back of the net, but Silva might be the best playmaker in the league.  A Spanish midfield of Xavi and Iniesta in the middle, with Silva and Mata on the wings, is a formidable thing indeed.

MANCHESTER UNITED
Wayne Rooney (ENG) – Quite possibly the most frustrating man to ever put on an England jersey (apologies to Paul Gascoigne).   The man (still only 26 years old) seems to have an infinite supply of talent.  After a season-long post-World Cup hangover, Rooney rebounded in 2011/2012 with an astonishing 34 goals in 42 games for United.  That includes 27 in the EPL, where he pushed Van Persie for the scoring title right until the end.  In fact, it’s hard to believe he has yet to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot.  How frustrating then, for both the players and the fans, that he must sit out what will surely be two critical games for England this summer.

Brent Lanthier

Coming Up: Newcastle United to Sunderland

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by | May 16, 2012 · 9:07 pm

Best of the Premier League: Starting XI

It was a big year for the big Serb

Manchester United’s record-breaking 19th league title is a testament to their manager. Sir Alex Ferguson did not have the same calibre of players as in the past. But the old gaffer leads his teams to trophies… and he would not be denied an opportunity to overtake his Merseyside nemeses. While they did not dominate, United players produced some fine individual efforts, along with their rivals Citeh and Chelsea.

Here are my starting XI for the 2011:

MIghty bright future for young Joe

GOALKEEPER
Joe Hart (Manchester City) — For some, the verdict is still out on the young Englishman. Playing for McLeish’s Birmingham and then Mancini’s Citeh means he had the benefit of great defences in front of him. But he made more saves than any other EPL keeper, except for his England understudies Ben Foster and Robert Green. The future looks bright for Old Blighty: Joe Hart is only 24.

On the bench: Petr Cech (Chelsea), Edwin Van der Sar (Manchester United)

Hot cross Baines...

LEFT BACK
Leighton Baines (Everton) — Why wouldn’t Miroslav Klose want to come to Goodison Park, where he could have Baines send over cross after cross after cross? Baines started every single game for Everton… netting seven goals and providing 12 assists. Ashley Cole’s perpetual presence on England’s left may be in jeopardy.

On the bench: Ashley Cole (Chelsea)

CENTRE BACKS
Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) — The big Serb won Barclay’s Player of the Year, and rightly so. Vidic terrorized defences as he marshalled United to the title. If Old Trafford was a fortress this year, than Vidic was its mighty rook.

Kompany's calling...

Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) — It wasn’t easy to score goals on the other side of Manchester either.  Vincent Kompany was a consistent leader in a back eight that tied Chelsea for stingiest defense. At only £6.7 million, he was a steal… especially compared to what Citeh paid for his teammates.

On the bench:  John Terry (Chelsea), Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

Calm down, son, calm down!

RIGHT BACK
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) — One of the most fouling — and carded — players in the Prem, Ivanovic is one of those sought after backs that scores, yet still plays defence. A genuine pest whose temper could get away from him, Ivanovic made it onto almost every one of Ancelotti’s team sheets.

On the bench: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

Arsenal's Song... and prayer

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER
Alex Song (Arsenal) — The Gunners didn’t lose because a lack of firepower… they lost because of the glaring holes in the centre back and goalkeeping positions. That should be reason enough for Gooners to thank Cheebus for Alex Song. The Cameroonian is a bruising DM who has embraced the old-school English philosophy of getting stuck in. Now if Arsene Wenger decides to go and buy himself a couple of solid defencemen, silver and joy might actually start to seep back into the red side of Norf London.

On the bench: Michael Essien (Chelsea)

You'd be smiling as well...

LEFT WING
Florent Malouda (Chelsea) — Crosses, runs, goals… what more do you want from a winger on a team that plays with three strikers named Drogba, Torres, Anelka? Fantastic, fantastic player.

On the bench: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

Citeh certainly got their Yaya out...

ATTACKING MIDFIELDER
Yaya Toure (Manchester City) — Reportedly the highest-paid player in the league, Toure is a box-to-box midfielder who was all over the park. The only Citeh player who scored more Prem goals than him is Tevez, who’s goal count pipped Toure for the squad’s Player of the Year.

On the bench: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)

"Stop... or I will stare at you a second time..."

RIGHT WING
Nani (Manchester United) — This season has been a revelation for the Portguese winger. (Ed Note: I know he also played a lot on the left. I just wanted to put him on the team.)  Last year, he was whingy, ineffective and prone to giving away the ball. This season, Nani was still whingy — mimicking another one of his countrymen who played for United — but at least he found the net, and helped others to do the same. Nani led the league in assists while scoring 10 of his own. His on-field antics are probably the only thing from getting named as POY.

On the bench: Stewart Downing (Aston Villa)

FORWARDS
Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) — The debate rages: is he a precision finisher… or just a cherry picker? Spurs fans spit his name, calling him lazy and opportunistic. But he did end the season with 20 goals, enough to share the league’s Golden Boot… albeit almost all of them were at Old Trafford. Check out Berba’s second goal in their 3-0 defeat of Liverpool… and then make up your mind.

Adios Tevez

Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) — Despite his tally of 23 goals (which would have likely been higher, had he not been injured), Tevez is in danger of doing something even more impressive: pissing off both sides of Manchester. He wanted to stay at United but SAF decided to sell. Yet after only two seasons, the captain of the “People’s Club” says he wants to move on. It may be an ideal time for the club to sell him… but what a shame for the supporters.

On the bench: Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Darren Bent (Aston Villa)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nemanja Vidic

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Premier League: Bolton to Liverpool

Andy Carroll! Andy Carroll! Andy Carroll! Dalglish does a mean imitation of Ruprecht...

For these next five clubs, it was a tale of two seasons.  The two Merseyside clubs — along with Fulham — started awfully before performing some second-half magic… while Chelsea and Bolton were left wondering what could have been.  Here are my picks for their Players of the Season.

Too good for Bolton...

BOLTON WANDERERS
Gary Cahill (ENG) — Despite the Owen Coyle “revolution”, Bolton are still a small club stranded in mediocrity. That is a shame, because on any other team, Gary Cahill would be a coveted old school English centre back. Cahill is being courted by the big clubs and, depending on who you believe, the Yorkshireman is heading for either Manchester or London.

Malouda: Exceptional season

CHELSEA
Florent Malouda (FRA) — Even though the focus on Chelsea has been the drama surrounding their striker “trifecta”, the man who provides service for these poachers was the team’s engine this season. A former star for Olympique Lyonnais, Malouda sat in the shadows until the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti (a man who just suffered the sting of changing loyalties). In the last two seasons, the Frenchman has scored in the double digits. Frankly (pun intended), Malouda has displaced Lampard as Chelsea’s crown jewel.

Good. Very Good. Even without his mum...

EVERTON
Leighton Baines (ENG) — One of the few players from last year’s Best Of list, Baines didn’t get many chances to score. But when he did, he often made it count. The left back played every one of the Toffees’ matches, and he led the team in assists. Ashley Cole might have been afraid for his England spot, except that Baines is afraid of being away from Merseyside for more than two hours.

Feel free to photoshop a horned helmet...

FULHAM
Brede Hangeland (FUL) — I once tried to go drink for drink with a Scandinavian, a former Toronto Maple Leafs defencemen. I thought I was holding my own… but paid for it the next morning. The advice I received? “Don’t f#ck with a Viking.” Fair enough. Fulham’s star centre back was second in scoring for the Cottagers this season, while helping them keep a better goals-against than Liverpool, Everton and Spurs. Skal.

Kuyt punches through into the league's elite

LIVERPOOL
Dirk Kuyt (NED) — Runrunrunrunrunrunrunrun kick runrunrunrunrun tackle runrunrunrunrurnrunrun score. With 13 goals and seven assists, Dirk Kuyt was simply awesome on a team that needed a Liverpool legend to save it.  A hat trick against United sealed the Dutchman’s place in Liverpool lore.

Monday: Manchester City to Sunderland.

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Premier League: Arsenal to Blackpool

No Big Ears for you, Sir Alex. Just little wee Scottish ones...

Hello.  Remember us?  Your favourite Interweb football journos-slash-pundits-slash-hacks? We know, we know, we haven’t posted in awhile.   But that’s because we’ve been busy doing very important stuff.  Ian’s been planning his wedding… and I’ve been… well, let’s just say it’s reaaaaaallly hard to get up in the morning.  Stuff is hard. 

But since we’ve last written for your reading pleasure, the MLS has started, the European leagues have finished, Barcelona has proven they are actual Valhallian gods… and FIFA has engaged in a circle-like exercise usually reserved for fraternity initiations. 

Nevertheless, we have been paying attention.  Honest.  So now that the dust has settled, and Manchester United fans have realized that their squad won the Premier League by default this season, let’s get to my picks of the Premier League’s best…. which are not up for discussion.

"Lalalala... I can't hear jeuuw... lalalalalala..."

ARSENAL
Robin Van Persie (NED) — Sigh.  This one pains me.  Robin Van Persie bugs me.  He’s a shining example of why the people hate the Dutch… national team.  He is, quite simply, a bit of a whiner and he was injured a lot.  But when he did play, he found the back of the net almost every match.  Twenty-two goals in 27 matches.  Cesc who?

Young hears the big clubs calling for him.

ASTON VILLA
Ashley Young (ENG) — A supremely talented winger who will not be with the squad, come August.  Young was a stalwart of a team that really didn’t survive the abrupt departure of Martin O’Neill.   He lead the team in scoring in all competitions… but his real talent lays in his crosses. Rumours are that he is headed for Old Trafford.  Hopefully, Sir Alex will help him lose his Ronaldo-like habit of falling over in the box at the slightest touch.

Bye-bye Birmingham?

BIRMINGHAM
Liam Ridgewell (ENG) — A centre back by trade, Ridgewell was a shining light at left back on a defensive squad that should have been too good to go down. This writer believes he could compete with Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines for England’s LB spot.  In fact, Capello might do the whole country good by switching Ridgewell to the right, thereby ending the Glen Johnson experiment. Although Ridgewell signed a three-year deal last year, look for the East Ender to quickly return to the Prem.  Fulham, anyone?

Samba: The bright light on an awful team

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Christopher Samba (CON) — While I was tempted to pick Jason Roberts — aka the Second Coming of Alan Shearer (Ed. Note: While I writing that line, I laughed so hard, I had to get a Kleenex) — with his five goals in all competitions, I have to go with a man who was a giant on a team of footballing dwarves.  Samba stood tall in the middle of the defence on a team that missed Big Sam.  Wow… I never thought I’d write that. The blogosphere is rife with rumours that the Congolese national is heading to the Emirates.

BLACKPOOL
Charlie Adam (SCO) — A right pest in the midfield, Adam did himself a thousand favours by leaving Rangers in 2009 for a squad that had recently been promoted, and was languishing at the foot of the Championship table.  Cue Blackpool’s surprise promotion and subsequent taking of several big scalps.  Although Ian Holloway beat off the big boys clamouring for Adam’s services during the season, expect the Scotsman to join one of the Big Six teams before August.  But still the question remains: can he repeat his Tangerine Dream elsewhere?

Oh Charlie. You've turned into a right sexy bastard, haven't ye?

Tomorrow: Bolton Wanderers to Liverpool

Brent Lanthier

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Crunch Time

Little Leighton feels comfortable at home....

Toffees and the Carling Cup Champs
We are heading into the home stretch and while I never, ever, recommend spending transfer money (maybe if you can’t field a starting 11 but even then it may not be worth spending four points), you have to start maximizing your weekly returns.  If you are watching the fixture list like a hawk, as you should be, then you have a spotted an opportunity.  Everton and Birmingham City both play twice this week so you should spend at least your free weekly transfer on a player from one of these teams.

Everton
Coming off a clean sheet last week, Everton’s defenders — as well as keeper Tim Howard — are pretty good bets. The Toffees are away to Newcastle and then home to Birmingham City.  Two of the top three fantasy performers on Everton are on the back line: Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.  Baines gets lots of offensive points by being the primary corner and free-kick taker, along with making some decent runs down the left side.  He’s pricey but worth it.

More affordable and a bit of a fantasy rule-breaking grey area is Seamus Coleman. That’s because while he is listed in the game as a defender, he’s playing as a midfielder.  This means when he scores or gets a clean sheet, your team will be credited with more points than you normally would if he was listed correctly.

Saha may light up the league this week... if he can avoid the knock...

Up front, Everton also have a couple of in -orm strikers in Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford. Beckford notched two goals last game to give him three in his last three games.  Saha came up empty but he is always deadly as he showed in his four-goal performance a few weeks ago.

The latest injury reports have the great Aussie midfielder Tim Cahill out for three weeks so avoid him, along with the giant afro-sporting Marouane Fellaini, who is out for the season.

Birmingham
The Carling Cup winners have likely just peaked on the year, but they do have some players worth considering.  This week, they are home to West Brom and away to Everton.  Their top player this season has been goalkeeper Ben Foster who would be a solid pick this week as well.

Johnson points out how he's a solid choice.

The most in-form player on the team has to be Nikola Zigic who has three goals in his last four Premier League games, including one in the Carling Cup final.  He’s also quite affordable.  Same for Barry Ferguson who is having a solid season, but he’s a better long term investment then someone who will score big points in one week. New signing David Bentley has also impressed, though I’d like to see how consistent he is before grabbing him for my squad.

Finally, if you need a defender, Roger Johnson is a solid choice at the back.  He won’t provide a lot of offence but he and Foster have a good chance of getting clean sheets against West Brom.

Scott Ferguson

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Rating the Dream Team

Betcha he wishes he had a wild card...

It’s the January transfer window! While it’s not as exciting as the summer transfer window, it is a good opportunity for fantasy managers to revamp their teams. That’s because, for the first time, the Premier League fantasy game offers a January wild card where you can make as many transfers as you like.   Here’s the top 11 in terms of points for the season so far, and whether you should transfer them in or out…

Goalkeeper

Joe Hart –  Manchester City – 110pts.
He’s pricey but worth every penny.  Just ask Arsenal.  He made five brilliant saves to hold a clean sheet against them away from home.  IN

Defenders

No-nonsense Vidic

Nemanja Vidic – Manchester United – 90 pts. 
The rock on Manchester United’s back four has been as solid as ever lately. While does have three goals this year, you can count on him for clean-sheet points as Man U has been very stingy when it comes to conceding goals.  IN

Ashley Cole – Chelsea – 89 pts.
Nothing against Cole personally but Chelsea are in a freefall (Ed Note: He’s a tw@t).  Nobody on the squad is scoring consistently and they aren’t keeping many clean sheets either.  If the veterans start to turn on each other it could get uglier.  OUT unless Chelsea turns it around.

Leighton Baines – Everton – 92 pts. 
The Everton defender had 138 pts last season and now has 92 at the halfway point.  He’s on fire.  Yes he’s pricey, but worth it.  IN

Midfielders

Nani has been more than OK for FFL points

Nani – Manchester United – 116 pts.
Nani has thrived in the absence of Valencia from the Man United lineup. He also seems to score whether Wayne Rooney is in or not. In addition to his goals he gets piles of assists from his crosses. Did I mention he and Tevez are tied for the fantasy scoring lead? IN. Make him your captain.

Tim Cahill – Everton – 107 pts.
Cahill plays almost as high up the pitch as a striker, but he’s still classified as a midfielder…. so in that sense is an interesting choice.  He’s an unstoppable force in the box this season but since he’s now at the Asia Cup, you need to ditch him.  If he stays healthy think about grabbing him again later on.  OUT

Florent Malouda – Chelsea – 105 pts.
I thought this was going to be Malouda’s year.  He seemed to be an explosive offensive force throughout the early portion of the season, but like Ashley Cole, his fantasy numbers have tanked during the team’s recent struggles.  OUT

Rafael Van Der Vaart – Tottenham – 108pts.
If it weren’t for some injury trouble, he would surely be leading the league in fantasy points.  He does it all: scores goals, sets up goals, takes corners, takes free kicks.  Combined with the strong play of Gareth Bale, Spurs have an increasingly deadly midfield.  IN and make him your captain (if for some reason you haven’t picked up Nani.)

Strikers

Tevez breezes by Captain Schtupping

Carlos Tevez – Manchester City – 116 pts.
One of the few players who seems to be able to leave any off-field issues where they belong: off the field.  He performs against great competition and weak teams both and can score almost any time he touches the ball.  IN

Dimitar Berbatov – Manchester United – 113 pts.
Maybe I’m bitter because I dropped him the night before he scored his five goals in one game, (Hey, can you blame me? He hadn’t scored in ten games or so.  But that still didn’t stop me from weeping as I watched.  No one was buying my ‘tears of joy’ excuse.) but I don’t think Berbatov can score without playing alongside Wayne Rooney.  He slumped the first time Rooney was injured this year, and I wouldn’t advise picking him up until they are reunited. OUT

Andrew Carroll – Newcastle – 113 pts.
A walking advertisement for the quality of the Championship, Carroll waltzed into the Premier League and immediately became one of its most deadly strikers.  He’s injured now but if you have him, I’d keep him.  If not, wait until he gets healthy, which should be in a week or two, and then transfer him. IN

Scott Ferguson

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Best of the Prem: Starting XI

Brent Lanthier

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


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

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

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

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

On the bench: Leighton Baines (Everton)

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

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

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

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

On the bench: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

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

On the bench: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

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

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

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

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

On the bench: Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool)

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

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

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

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

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Best of the Prem: Burnley to Hull City

Brent Lanthier

Don’t get yer knickers in a bunch, we’ve got more World Cup coverage coming! But you should probably keep the Premier League in the back of your mind, since the backroom machinations are still ongoing. Several clubs can’t wait for the tournament to end to start their wheeling and dealing.

Burnley: Wade Elliott (ENG)
Burnley’s Player of the Year, At The Rails has already sung the praises of Wade Elliott. He created width down the right while adding some grit to the Clarets: he led the team in both fouls and yellow cards. A team leader on last season’s version of Blackpool.

Future: While Burnley descends back into the Championship, Elliott will likely remain behind with one of the Prem’s lesser lights. Reports say his former boss Owen Coyle will offer Burnley 750,000 pounds to bring the winger to Bolton.

World Cup-bound? No, but at least it would have been nice to see him get a taste. Alas, playing on a relegation-bound club shut him out of Don Fabio’s plans immediately.

Chelsea: Frank Lampard (ENG)
This is going to bring the wrath of my fellow ATR writers: Fat Frank should have been the league’s Player of the Year.  After a shaky start, he was the real leader of Chelsea when Captain Schtupping was busy…. um, getting busy. The axis around which the entire team rotates, Lampard had 22 goals (as a central midfielder!) and led the league with 14 assists. Rooney had a stunning season but Frank was the complete player.

Future: Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, London, SW6 1HS.

World Cup-bound? Yes but where to play him? And who with? Barry or Gerrard?

Everton: Leighton Baines (ENG)
Last Monday’s performance notwithstanding, Baines was a model of consistency this season.  He started more games than any other Everton player and proved to be a force on the left side, defending and attacking with equal measure.  He also led in time of possession for the Toffees.

Future: A Scouser who grew up in Wigan’s system, he seems to finally be home.  Let’s hope his England experience will leave him with something to prove next season.

 World Cup-bound? No.  Apparently Baines is painfully shy… and now the whole world knows. Ugh.

Fulham: Mark Schwarzer (AUS)
The Cottagers allowed one more goal than Manchester City this season, and Schwarzer was a big part of that. The big Aussie faced a barrage of shots this season in the League, not to mention the club’s improbable run to the Europa Cup final. In fact, the last two seasons have been improbable for tiny Fulham. Guess when Schwarzer showed up?

Future: Schwarzer has one more year on his contract. But there are rumours Arsene Wenger wants to bring him to the Emirates… because Almunia is sh!te.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Pim Verbeek has built his team around Schwarzer and a strong back-four.  Many a punter has picked the Socceroos as their dark horse this tournament.

Hull City: Stephen Hunt (IRE)
Is he a bad luck charm or is he just unlucky? Hunt has been relegated from the Premier League twice… but it’s not been his fault.  The Irishman led the Tigers in scoring, even though he was injured for the last two months of the season. An intense midfielder, he was voted Player of the Year by the Hull faithful.

Future: Hull will be selling and he doesn’t appear to want to go back anyway.

World Cup-bound? Ask Thierry Henry.

Up Next: Liverpool to Stoke City

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