Tag Archives: wenger

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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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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Best of the Prem: Arsenal to Bolton

Brent Lanthier

Oh look, I finally put my name on an article! This is a five-part series on picks for each Premier League team’s player of the season. The reasons why they were picked, what the future holds for each player, as well as their World Cup prospects (if any!).

In the fifth piece, I’ll pick my Team of the Year, as well as Player of the Year. Most of you won’t be happy….

Arsenal: Francesc Fabregas (ESP)
The Gunners’ captain missed the last six weeks of the season with a broken fibula and his team definitely missed him. Arsenal only won two of their last seven games, including a humbling 4-1 loss to Barcelona, followed by losses to hated rivals Tottenham at the Emirates… and then to lowly Wigan.

Future: There are reports that Arsene Wenger called the Catalonian at home in a last-ditch plea to keep him from bolting back to Barcelona.

World Cup-bound? Yes. But this EPL Player of the Year candidate will likely start on Del Bosque’s bench, behind Barcelona’s formidable midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta.

Aston Villa: Gabriel Agbonlahor (ENG)
“Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby Agbonlahor. He’s f#cking fast, he’s f####cking faaaaaast.”
Sung to the tune of Karma Chameleon, the Villa fans colourfully sum up the skills of the speedy scorer. Agbonlahor led the club in goals, on a talented team that should have scored more. Critics say Gabby himself should have done better, given the amount of times he went through defenders. Brad Friedel gets honourable mention here: he faced more shots than 75% of Premier League keepers, yet Villa was fourth in goals against.

Future: Rumours of a move to Man City are likely just talk for Agbonlahor, a native Brummie.

World Cup-bound? No. There’s really only three spots up front after Rooney. With Jermaine Defoe playing the role of speedy striker, teammate Emile Heskey adding some heft up front, and Darren Bent having both speed and size, Agbonlahor never really stood a chance.

Birmingham City: Joe Hart (ENG)
An injured Shay Given means Man City will recall on-loan Joe Hart. But what a season. Birmingham was expected to rebound back to the Championship. But despite facing the third-most shots in the Premier League, Hart backstopped Brum to eighth place, with the Blues being especially stingy at St. Andrew’s.

Future: The numbers say Joe Hart is a better keeper than Shay Given, and he could be one more important piece in Man City’s Champions League puzzle.

World Cup-bound? Yes, yes, yes. This writer thinks Joe Hart will get the Go signal from Don Fabio, over Robert Green and too-old Calamity James.

Blackburn Rovers: Ryan Nelsen (NZ)
It was a toss-up between Nelsen and the resurgent David Dunn. But in the end , the 32-year-old captain for both Blackburn and New Zealand won out. Hard without being dirty, the central defender was third in scoring on a typically boring Allardyce team.

Future: After Rovers’ surprising ninth-place finish, Big Sam is unlikely to deal his defensive lynch pin. However, an exceptional showing by New Zealand in the World Cup could thrust Nelsen into the spotlight, and onto the auction block.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Nelsen will be the All Whites’ keystone in South Africa.

Bolton Wanderers: Jussi Jaaskelainen (FIN)
Owen Coyle escaped the drop when he swapped Lancashire clubs, and he can thank Jaaskelainen for helping him escape again. The big Finn faced more shots than any other keeper in the Prem. But it’s not a good sign for a side when their best player is the goalkeeper. Despite Bolton’s 14th place finish, they’ll likely have to battle local rivals Wigan to avoid the relegation next season.

Future: Jaaskelainen has been Bolton’s go-to man for a decade. With over 400 games under his belt, the Finn should retire in the black and white.

World Cup-bound? No. Finland failed to qualify on the back of losses to Russia, and a draw against Liechenstein. Jaaskelainen retired from international competition at the end of qualifiers.

Up Next: Burnley to Hull City

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