Posts Tagged ‘vermaelen’

Season Previews 2010/11 – Arsenal

12/08/2010

Arsenal

Last Season: 3rd

New Signings: Koscielny, Chamakh

Key Player: Robin van Persie

Ones To Watch: Jack Wilshere

Needs  A Big Year: Laurent Koscielny

Would Quite Like: A new goalkeeper and another centre back, but in terms of the season a first trophy since 2005.

Prediction: 2nd

Thoughts: TThe biggest story at the Emirates this summer was whether Cesc Fabregas would leave Arsenal and join Barcelona. After a fifth year without a trophy and a particularly spineless end to the season, Arsenal’s captain decided he had had enough and was going to rejoin his boyhood team.

Fine you might say, Cesc had given fantastic service and no one could begrudge him wanting to win things. However Barcelona were clearly not well versed in how transfers work, where if one club wants one of the best midfielders in the world, they have to pay what he’s worth, especially if he still has five years left on his contract.

Still an Arsenal player for now.

Instead, there were two derisory bids, and a daily quote from a Barcelona player about how Fabregas was being held prisoner, had Barca DNA, and Arsenal should just let him go. Seeing as Arsenal were very much in the position of power and Barcelona had spent what little money they had on David Villa, it meant Fabregas has to stay another year.

Is this the most important decision of the summer? Well yes and no. Nobody can deny Cesc’s influence and he had his best season for Arsenal, finishing as top scorer having played an advanced role. This will no doubt continue, as whatever his personal ambitions may be he’s professional enough to still do his best for Arsenal.

However the decision not to have a new goalkeeper in place for the opening day game with Liverpool has far greater ramifications. Yes, there’s still over two weeks of the window left, but despite being linked with the likes of Schwarzer and Marchetti, it is not guaranteed that a replacement will come in.

Crap meets crapper.

Manuel Almunia, for all his faults is still better than Lukasz Fabianski. While they are both the proverbial good shot stopper, neither seems able to deal with the mental pressure of big games and the physical pressure of high balls swung into the box. That Wenger views Fabianski as having the attributes of a No.1 keeper is worrying to say the least.

The lack of new keeper and the dearth of cover at centre-back (Campbell, Sylvestre, Gallas and Senderos out – Koscielny and fit again Djourou in) mean the same issues from last season look likely to rear their ugly head. As an Arsenal fan, it’s most frustrating. Knowing we are so close to winning the league but not addressing the clear issues preventing us from doing it is careless to say that least.

If you consider that they lost all four games against United and Chelsea last season, but were still in the running until late throwaway defeats to Wigan and Spurs, suggests that it only needs a player or two to help with that final step – that player or two being the aforementioned goalkeeper and extra centre back.

Needs to quickly adapt.

The talk emanating from the club over the summer suggests that it’s finally got through to the players what’s needed. No more slacking off when two goals up, no more being bullied by the more physical teams in the league, etc.

I think the impact of Sol Campbell’s half season cameo shouldn’t be underestimated. He came into the squad and showed what it takes to achieve something you want; that there’s no escaping hard work if you want to win. Though he’s left, his attitude seems to have rubbed off.

In terms of the squad, things generally look quite good. Marouane Chamakh has finally joined and should be an improvement on the departing Eduardo. The Crozillian never truly recovered from the horrific injury he sustained and coupled with hypocritical reaction to his dive against Celtic meant a change of scene was probably best. Chamakh is by no means prolific but gives a different option, and should prove useful in tough away games.

Vela stays for now and gets an upgraded squad number but the important news is Robin van Persie being fully fit again (albeit a couple of weeks behind in training). His injury really hurt Arsenal last November. Remember all the talk of how Arsenal could score 100 goals after all the big wins early on? The goals per game ratio went right down after RvP was out. They continued to challenge without him but with Bendtner also out at the time, you had the bizarre situation of Andrey Arshavin playing on his own up front, which was no fun for either player or fans.

Arguably Arsenal's most important player.

The Russian had an average season, nearly always played out of position. I think bigger things are expected this season. The midfield is boosted by Fabregas staying and Wilshere being ready for regular first team football. I would expect him to be ahead of Rosicky in the pecking order sooner rather than later.

Two players who failed to make their respective World Cup squads will be particularly determined to shine this year. Samir Nasri looked very sharp in pre-season and has a previously unseen seriousness about him. Similarly, Theo Walcott will want a season where he doesn’t pick up lots of small injuries. A run of 20-25 games in a row would do him a world of good. If he hits his target of 20 assists he’ll have had a great season.

Bounce back seasons ahead.

Once you factor in Song, Diaby, Eboue, the emerging Frimpong, Denilson and the hopefully returning Ramsey and you have more than enough options.

As discussed earlier, it’s defence where there are issues. There are currently just three centre-backs, at least one more is a must. Full backs are covered with Eboue and Gibbs being the reserves for Sagna and Clichy. Gibbs in particular excites me, I think he’ll be the first choice left back by the end of the season.

In terms of tactics I think Wenger will slightly adjust the 433 of last season seeing how overrun it caused the midfield to be. The benefits it brought to Fabregas and van Persie’s game make it worth sticking with but perhaps a slight switch to make it a 4231 instead with Fabregas advanced behind van Persie and two attacking midfielders/forwards playing either side of them will do the trick.

Arsenal don’t really have natural wingers who can play in a 442. You just get central midfielders or wide forwards out of position. It might be case of dropping an extra player (Diaby or Denilson) back to sit alongside Song with Fabregas ahead of them. Van Persie will be the central striker with any two of about eight players filling the wide roles in the 3.

It worked very well when the Dutchman was fit and the added bonus is Chamakh could take up the role were he to get injured. I would like to see more solid set-ups when playing the big teams as last season Chelsea, Man Utd and Barcelona had much fun drawing us out of position and hitting us on the break. In these games a four or even five men in midfield would work; there is enough pace in the side that the lone striker would never be too isolated.

Yes it is five years since we won a trophy but my players have great potential.

In terms of prospects, despite what many writers are saying, I think Arsenal will improve on last season if they sign a keeper before the window shuts. A simplistic theory you might think but if you consider that a top keeper is worth around nine points a season (that’s three match-saving performances – not unrealistic) then Arsenal will be very close indeed.

A slight tactical adjustment and they’ll be pretty close to that elusive trophy. Maybe even close enough to win it. No new goalkeeper or centre-back and it will be the same old problems and the usual 4th place.

T.

Arsenal

Last Season: 3rd

New Signings: Koscielny, Chamakh

Key Player: Robin van Persie

Ones To Watch: Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs

Needs A Big Year: Cesc Fabregas

Would Quite Like: A new goalkeeper and another centre back, but in terms of the season a first trophy since 2005.

Prediction: 2nd

Thoughts:

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Fantasy Premier League – End Of Season Review 09/10

14/05/2010

So another year of fantasy football ended last Sunday without too much drama. A solid final week meant I held on to my league lead and won it for the first time in the four seasons we’ve played.

Victory at last.

It was an entertaining season and at one stage looked to be a four-way title race. That said I don’t think I let go of the lead since about week 19 so without gloating too much victory is deserved. I was kind of limping to the finish line for the last few weeks and dropped from a position of 7,264 as late as gameweek 31 down to a final ranking of 24,501 out of 2.3m+. Not my highest ever position but still very good and just outside the top 1%.

Sportboy P came a worthy second while longtime leader Amer came third. Too many transfers and dodgy captain choices cost him and he couldn’t pick it back up. Three time winner the Football Guy had his worst ever season in fifth. I expect him to bounce back next year.

On to some awards.

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Player of the season:

Frank Lampard wins this for the second straight season. I learnt from my lesson last year and made sure he was in my team when in mattered, not least for the run in. Top scoring player by 42 points and his total of 284 is quite incredible. I only realised while writing this that it’s the highest ever score in a fantasy season, edging out Ronaldo’s 283 points in 2007/08.

I think it was Chelsea’s sheer volume of goals that did it, as although he ‘only’ scored 22 (compared to C-Ron’s 31) he weighed in with a season high 17 assists (only 8 for CR). If you factor in that he wasn’t even the highest recipient of bonus points, or that he played neither game vs Wolves, you start to wonder whether a 300 point season is possible.

An honourable mention too for Cesc Fabregas who matched Lampard for points per game and got the second most bonus points this season but due to his various injuries missed eleven games thus ended up with  214.

Frank Lampard fantasy football

Maverick's 2009/10 Top Gun.

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Best value player:

Thomas Sorensen is the clear winner here, gaining 164 points for his measly £4m initial price tag. He even saved three penalties this season. Joe Hart was also a big plus here, with a lower score but higher price rise over the course of the season.

However I think the best bargain to be had this season was Darren Bent. Costing just £7m to start with, he banged in 24 goals for a frankly average Sunderland side. He was quieter in the second half of the season when Sunderland went on a long winless run and Drogba/Rooney/Tevez was the way to go but picked it up again in the final few games.

bent sunderland

Bargain of the season.

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Best sub:

Birmingham defenders were this year’s Fulham, providing regular clean sheets at a bargain basement price. Though they faded somewhat once they hit 40 points, they were a great option.

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Fantasy bike:

There wasn’t one single player I kept bringing in this season, but looking back it seems Drogba, Lampard and Tevez were all transferred in on three occasions. With expensive players all generally performing this season, you could usually mix and match as fitness and suspension dictated and not have to worry about losing money.

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Biggest flop:

Many of last season’s flops bounced back, not least Fabregas, Tevez and Drogba. For his price tag Steven Gerrard has to be up there. A victim of Liverpool’s poor season; he was generally pretty useless until about gameweek 32, before an end of season points binge.

Elsewhere big things were expected of Andrey Arshavin after last year’s four-month cameo but I thought 135 points was poor while Dirk Kuyt has gone back to being a plodder. You could argue Van Persie and Torres were disappointing but everyone knows they’re injury prone. When they played they both had a high points per game average – 5th and 6th overall.

arshavin arsenal

Could have done so much more.

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Best improvement:

The way of looking at this is rise in value over the season. Here Richard Dunne and Didier Drogba are the winners, just edging out James Milner. All three had terrific seasons and the former two rose by £1.8m in price.

I would say Dunne was the most unexpected, and he picked up Martin Laursen’s tendency for being a bonus point machine while captaining Aston Villa at centre back. That said, clever old me came up with this gem of a prediction about Drogba in one of my previews.

"I no longer think the Ivorian has the ability to get 20 goals a season."

Good thing I realised the error of my ways!

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Biggest surprise:

The under performance of Gerrard – previously a lock for 200 points. Gareth Bale post January (116 points) compared to pre January (2 points).

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Best performance:

Last season’s high was 21 points from Arshavin. I think this score got beaten six times this year. In reverse order:

Joint 3rd: Benayoun and Kalou – 24 points

2nd: Defoe – 25 points

1st: Lampard – 28 points versus Aston Villa through four goals, an assist and three bonus. Needless to say that was one of the few weeks he wasn’t in my team, let alone in my team as captain.

Credit to Fabregas for getting 22 twice and Rooney for getting 32 in a double gameweek.

And Arshavin’s high score this season? 11…

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Cesc Fabregas award for cheap bonus points:

Wayne Rooney with 46 (matching Lampard last year). Cesc was second with 41.

rooney man utd

Bonus. Om om om.

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Biggest fall from grace value wise:

Biggest price drop was Diamanti of West Ham and surprisingly Nicolas Anelka. Both went down £1.2m. I assume the latter was a victim of people going with the three highest scoring strikers and just sticking with them. Of the other renowned players Carrick fell by £1m while Arshavin again plays a part here, falling £0.9m.

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Biggest fall from grace performance wise:

Aaron Lennon was fantastic until December, then got injured and only returned for the last few games. Perhaps it’s a little harsh to include him here. Jermain Defoe on the other hand had 14 goals before January and just four afterwards. Antonio Valencia was also pretty poor in 2010 with just four assists and no goals.

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Best impact:

Gareth Bale was immense after the turn of the year, scoring well over 100 points. I didn’t bring him in though due to his price.

From a personal point of view I was pleased with the transfers of Martin Olsson and Adam Johnson. The former was listed as a £3.8m defender yet played in an advanced midfield role, while the latter made a big impact after joining Man City in the January transfer window. Both were nice differentials who scored steady points in the run in.

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Predictions:

I mentioned the Drogba one earlier and how I fancied Anelka over him this season. Other specials included tipping the likes of Ebanks-Blake, Zhirkov, Scotland and Robinho while being negative on players like Bellamy, Lennon and Valencia. In my defence, I had Milner, Bent plus more expensive guys like Fabregas and Rooney to have good seasons.

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Finally lets take a look my team in August:

fantasy premier league week 1

Ebanks-Blake, what was I thinking?!

and the team I ended the season with:

fantasy premier league week 38

The league winning side.

Pretty different as you can see. I think Sorensen was the only player to make it through the season without being transferred out, surviving even the wildcard. I played a three-man defence for much of the season and given how well strikers did it was usually three up front.

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T.

Fantasy Premier League – Gameweek 35 Preview

16/04/2010

Just four weeks left and 44 points to play with. My lead has been shrinking slowly but hopefully the season can be seen out without too much fuss. It’s starting to get rather tricky given the numerous injuries to the so-called ‘big’ players. Indeed only Drogba and Lampard can say they’re fully fit right now with maybe Rooney to come back soon. The search is on for the less heralded players who can make a difference.

In terms of overall performance, a second shocking week in three (by shocking I mean 1.3millionth for the week) means I’ve dropped out of the top 10,000. I’m still on track for my highest ever finish both points and position wise but it would be nice to end things on a high.

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Gameweek 34 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):

Graham Alexander Burnley

Maverick approves of vendettas. Reminds him of the one he had with Iceman.

Graham Alexander seems to have some kind of personal vendetta against Hull. After winning the gameweek 11 Top Gun for 21 points against Hull (two goals, clean sheet and 3BP) he decided to repeat the trick last week in the return match. Another two goals (both penalties) coupled with being man of the match saw 17 points coming his way.

There was no clean sheet this time but once again it illustrated the value of having penalty takers in your fantasy squad, even if they do play for a rubbish team. Elsewhere, Adebayor and Tevez continued their newfound high-scoring partnership with 15 and 11 points respectively. Let’s see them do it against Man Utd this weekend though.

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Three Captain Choices:

1. Young (or maybe Agbonlahor)/Aston Villa – Aston Villa play twice this gameweek; both away games against basement dwellers Portsmouth and Hull. If they have any lingering hopes of finishing fourth then six points is a must. The fact Villa are away in both matches should suit their counter-attacking style and I’m looking at their paciest players as captain options.

While Milner is a fair shout, he’s burnt many a manager in not one but two previous double gameweeks and his recent form hasn’t been great anyway. Young (Ashley not Luke btw!) on the other hand has four assists, a goal and three bonus points in his last five. Meanwhile upfront Agbonlahor tends to score in bunches and he got his first goal in about six weeks on Wednesday.

2. Tevez/Man Utd City – You just know he’s going to do something against his old team.

3. Bullard/HullPhil Brown’s Iain Dowie’s side are the other team playing twice and while the realist in me thinks they’ll lose both, on the the other hand they face a Birmingham side in poor form and with nothing to play for and an Aston Villa side fading when it matters. You might be looking at goal or two if nothing else and the likeliest man to score for Hull is Bullard.

Ashley Young fantasy football

Gets a Captain's tick.

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Three Suggested Transfers In:

1. Van Persie/Arsenal – I mentioned last week you should keep an eye on him and if Wednesday’s ultimately fruitless 25 minute cameo against Spurs is anything to go by then he’s not far from being back amongst the fantasy points. Arsenal face Wigan this weekend before Man City at home next week.

While he may not start this time, I imagine he’ll be getting a minimum of 30 minutes before a super motivated start against his old friend Adebayor next weekend. As good a differential as you’re likely to find at this stage.

2. Johnson/Liverpool – Sneakily scoring quite good points over the last five weeks after returning to full fitness. Liverpool are pretty solid again right now and he’s popped up with a couple of assists too. Still well pricey at £7.6m but maybe get him in and cheap midfielder rather than hoping that the likes of Arteta etc will regain fitness.

3. Gomes/Spurs – 26 points in three games, still under £5m.

Robin van Persie

Might be worth a pick.

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Three To Avoid:

1. Vermaelen/Arsenal – Another key player at Arsenal bites the dust for the season.

2. Torres/Liverpool – One of the most frustrating players I’ve encountered in fantasy football. So good yet injured so often.

3. Birmingham players – Bottom of the form league.

thomas vermaelen arsenal

Are you taking the mick?!

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T.

Fantasy Premier League – Gameweek 30 Preview

12/03/2010

I kept putting it off because I knew it would happen. But last week I could wait no more and finally got rid of Darren Bent in exchange for Nicklas Bendtner. It’s not that I doubted Bent’s ability to score but there’s only so long you can wait for Sunderland to win a game.

One hat-trick from Mr. Bent later and I wish I somewhat regretted the decision (despite NB’s five points against Burnley). Going into the rest of the season it was a move I wanted to make as Bendtner plays every week when fit and is so very cheap, thus allowing improvement elsewhere.

Getting a combined total of 38 minutes out of Rooney (injured), Drogba (no game) and Fabregas (one assist before injury) meant the weekly score was low at 41 points. I lost 12 points with Pompey’s last-minute consolation vs Birmingham but overall it was a week to get through as best you could.

It’s all in preparation for Wigan and Villa playing twice this week before the mighty gameweek 31 where TEN teams play twice. Leagues will be won or lost right there.

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Gameweek 29 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):

mikel arteta everton

Maverick thinks Arteta is almost as good-looking as he is.

After being a bit of a fantasy god in the first season (06/07) I played (every week he’d assist a Joleon Lescott header) Arteta has had his fair share of injury problems in the three years since. Still a top player but often out for long periods.

This season was no exception but he has recently returned to full fitness and reminded us all of just how good a player he is. 18 points against Hull through two goals, an assist and three bonus points. He does tend to be a bit of a bonus point magnet when he plays and should be a good points scorer for the rest of the season.

Darren Bent pushed him hard this week with a 16 point hat-trick, while cheap strikers that you’re not likely to have followed with Nugent getting 14 and Jerome 13.

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Three Captain Choices:

1. Milner/Aston Villa – Two games this week, against Stoke and Wigan away. While Villa have been better away than at home, I’m reluctant to suggest a defender for two away matches. Milner has cooled off recently but is now their top points scorer and most likely to produce this week.

2. Drogba or Lampard/Chelsea – A home game against West Ham is a near banker for Chelsea, despite the useless Ross Turnbull (even worse than Hilario) set to play in goal. Lampard scored twice in the defeat to Man City but I still am more inclined to captain Drogba given a choice between the two.

3. Rodallega/Wigan – Games against Bolton and Villa. As always, you never know which Wigan will turn up but the beauty of them having two matches is that they should perform in at least one. N’Zogbia has been a little quiet since his bonus point binge a month ago so I’ll suggest Rodallega who got nine points against Liverpool last week.

James Milner Aston Villa

Gets a Captain's tick.

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Three Suggested Transfers In:

1. Aston Villa players – All about forward planning this week. Ten teams play twice next week so you’ll want to stock in order for a big week 31 score. Best option of all are Aston Villa players who have an unprecedented double double – four games in two gameweeks! I’d say go with attacking players like Milner/Young/Agbonlahor/Downing for this week’s away games and top up with defenders next week for the two home matches.

2. Everton players – A decent game against Birmingham this week followed by Bolton and Man City next week. I’d waver more towards the midfielders give the choice. Arteta will see a lot of pick up this week but justifiably so, while Pienaar offers cheaper but perhaps better value. Jack Rodwell is back in the picture too and before his injury was playing 90 minutes every week for only £4.3m.

3. O’Hara/Portsmouth – Ten bonus points and two assists in his last six games. Yes Portsmouth are rubbish and will be relegated soon but at home they still usually score. They have two home games next week (one against Hull) and O’Hara is only £4.5m leaving you to upgrade elsewhere.

Ashley Young fantasy football

Might be worth a pick.

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Three To Avoid:

1. Fulham defenders – They had a nice little run of games from which I picked up two sets of four clean sheets from five games but their Europa League exploits look to be catching up with them. Still worth a bench spot but there’s no need for me to have two players any more. Shorey might find he loses his place to a returning Konchesky.

2. Gerrard & Torres/Liverpool – Overpriced and underscoring. Pompey at home is a last chance saloon in terms of fantasy relevance this year.

3. Fabregas/Arsenal – Before you all get in a twist I’m just suggesting getting rid for this week and next before bringing him back in week 32. He definitely won’t face Hull and then has an admittedly good match against West Ham in week 31. In that time however Frank Lampard will play three times. Also, the last time Wenger said an Arsenal player had a small, small calf strain, Eduardo ended up being out for a month. Depends how much money you stand to lose on him I guess..

shorey fulham

Are you taking the mick?!

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T.

Live Report – Arsenal vs Aston Villa 27/12/09

29/12/2009

I was personally quite apprehensive going into the Christmas fixture against Aston Villa. They were unbeaten at the Emirates and possessed qualities which would no doubt cause Arsenal problems such as good crossing, organisation and pace on the break. With Fabregas doubtful I thought we would struggle a little. In the event my fears proved unfounded.

arsenal aston villa

Nervous excitement and a nice view from the upper tier.

Arsenal lined up in the now usual 4-3-3/4-5-1 with Eduardo Nasri and Arshavin as the front three and Diaby and Denilson in midfield with Song. In defence Armand Traore returned to offer some pace down the left flank. A bright opening saw Eduardo hit a tame shot (a passback really) straight at Brad Friedel when essentially one on one.

Vermaelen and Song were putting in some strong tackles that gained crowd approval while a few set pieces caused danger in the Aston Villa box (though none of the chances were clear-cut). Villa meanwhile looked to Agbonlahor to stretch the Arsenal defence through his pace and Heskey to challenge it with his strength. Almunia looked indecisive, and was constantly lumping it long to Arshavin which was pointless as Richard Dunne would win the header everytime.

Arsenal Aston Villa Fabregas

Two free kicks in two weeks? Not this time, but later.

Half-time saw the teams level at 0-0. An intriguing contest and an entertaining one, but one you felt had only a goal in it which was worrying given Villa’s result against Man Utd a few weeks back. The crowd was fairly subdued I thought and inklings of frustration were beginning to creep in as the misplaced pass count began to increase.

Denilson, though not playing badly, had once or twice failed to find the final pass and it was no surprise to see him come off for Fabregas on the hour. The impact was immediate. The pace of Arsenal’s play increased and balls began to find their way to Arshavin more often (he was often in space yet no one was giving him the ball).

Not long after Fabregas won himself a free kick, dusted himself down and curled a beauty into the top corner with Friedel flailing. The American’s positioning didn’t look set but I don’t think he would have saved it even if it was. With a 1-0 lead, the game opened up and was brought on to expose Villa on the break.

15 minutes later exactly that happened. Traore found Walcott on the right who went surging towards goal. Following him was Fabregas who was busting a gut (and a hamstring) to meet a through ball. Walcott’s pass was perfectly weighted and Cesc simply slotted past Friedel into the back of the net. His celebrations consisted of some stretching which was somewhat worrying, but this was tempered by the fact the game was won.

fabregas denilson arsenal aston villa

Denilson hadn't played badly but Fabregas offered much more attacking threat.

A huge cheer greeted his replacement by Ramsey. Fabregas had been the difference and this was our hardest game for a while so was perhaps worth the risk of his injury. A few minutes later, Diaby capped off a fine performance with a nice solo goal, as he just ran past the dejected Aston Villa midfield and curled it round Friedel from about 20 yards. He has been very good the past few games and you just wonder whether he can finally make his undoubted talent stick.

So a fantastic win coupled with probably our best half of the season. Aston Villa can count themselves slightly unlucky to come away with a 3-0 defeat but ultimately they didn’t have someone who could make the difference like Fabregas. Ashley Young was very quiet while Agbonlahor was marshalled well by Gallas and Vermaelen. Cesc looks like he’ll be out for a couple of weeks but with the next games against Portsmouth and Bolton he should hopefully not be missed too much.

T.

The Six Pointer – Men vs Midgets, Self-Deprecation & more…

30/11/2009

That was the weekend that was.

 

1. Chelsea showed Arsenal what it takes to be champions elect yesterday with a lesson in how to blend skill with power. Up until the first goal Arsenal were in control without really doing anything, though Chelsea could have had a penalty for Sagna’s foul on Anelka. Then out of nothing Cole wasn’t closed down and a great cross came over for Drogba to finish clinically. The defending wasn’t the best. Sagna could have made a better attempt to prevent the cross from Cole and one of the centre backs could have cleared it but it was a great ball in.

A couple of minutes later an almost identical goal was scored. Cole again had time and space to put in a great ball from the left but this time it went in off Vermaelen who was expecting Gallas to clear it. Two quick goals before half time, game over. The second half was notable for Arshavin’s disallowed goal, Drogba’s free kick to wrap up the victory and nothing more.

The game showed exactly how far Arsenal have to go if they are to match Chelsea. Ancelotti’s team had height and strength all over the pitch as well as skill, overpowering Arsenal everywhere. Wenger was missing Van Persie, Bendtner and Diaby who all would have played in this game and perhaps made a difference. However you’d imagine that even with them on the pitch Chelsea would find have found a way to win.

For some reason there was a constant stream of hopeful crosses and medium length passes to the forward line of Arshavin, Nasri and Eduardo, who every time were beaten in the air by Terry & co. It changed a little in the second half but there were mainly lots of runs up blind alleys. Eduardo in particular looked well off the pace and badly needs a meaningful goal while Arshavin continued his peripheral form of this season. Walcott was poor when he came on and there are no true wingers at the clubs, instead lots of inside forward types.

didier drogba ashley cole arsenal chelsea

I find it so hard to decide who I dislike more in this picture.

As for Drogba, Arsenal must be sick of him. Two great goals and an all action performance in tandem with Anelka. He now has 10 goals in 11 games vs Arsenal and has been directly the match winner six times.  I think Almunia should have done better with the third goal; his positioning was wrong (why move behind the wall?) and thus the ball was already in the net before he even reached with his dive.

Wenger can say the disallowed goal was pivotal but I disagree. As in the game against Man Utd, having all the possession is pointless if you can’t do anything with it. The reason why Chelsea and Man Utd have been the two top teams for the past few years is that they can soak up pressure and still win. Arsenal have yet to discover that method.

arsenal weak

What you see and what you get.

 

2. Everton lost again and although there’s no shame in being beaten by Liverpool (actually…) you sense that perhaps Moyes has taken them as far as he can. That’s not to say he isn’t right for the job and the Scot has done wonders with the budget and constraints he has but maybe something needs freshening up.

Everton won’t reach the heights of the past few seasons and the constant long-term injuries to key players means a likely finish outside the top eight this year. With the Kirkby stadium plans rejected and no buyers for the club, the future looks a little uncertain at Goodison.

 

3. Is the clock ticking for Mark Hughes? Seven straight draws now. Funny how you can say they’re unbeaten in ten or without a win in seven. Hughes will no doubt slant to the former but I suspect the owners will be looking at the latter. Of the seven games (Villa A, Wigan A, Fulham H, Birmingham A, Burnley H, Liverpool A, Hull H), only Villa and Liverpool are truly tough games if you have real aspirations to be in the top four, and despite everything said otherwise that is the target. Somehow I don’t think Hughes will get a second attempt if he doesn’t achieve it this season in what is such an open year.

 

4. Hats off to Jimmy Bullard for the celebration of the season. In case you haven’t seen it, he gathered his teammates in a circle and mock scolded a la Tango Man last season. Ironically enough it was at the City of Manchester Stadium again. His return has been the main reason behind Hull’s resurgence and they may yet find themselves in a position like last where they weren’t very good but three teams were worse. He has brought a sense of fun back to the KC Stadium and fair play to Phil Brown for being able to see the funny side of Bullard’s celebration.

jimmy bullard goal celebration man city hull

Genius.

 

5. One of those teams will be Wolves unless Mick McCarthy goes. It took a while but it’s now clear that either the players or the manager aren’t cut out for this level. Time for either to prove that’s not true.

 

6. Birmingham have been doing well of late. They have been hard to break down since the start of the season but Alex McLeish has realised that by adding an extra striker and playing 4-4-2 he is far more likely to rack up the points that will lead Birmingham to safety this season.

 

T.

The Six Pointer – Missing Rooney, inspirational Cesc & more…

05/10/2009

1. Arsenal were fantastic going forward against Blackburn yesterday and Cesc Fabregas inspired a 6-2 rout with six different scorers. Paul Robinson got his usual work out against the Gunners and has now conceded an amazing 47 goals in 16 games against Arsenal, fourteen of which have come in the last three games. I thought he actually played quite well but there was a definite strategy to pepper him with mid to long range shots.

Rovers had taken an unexpected lead twice before Arsenal hit back, Fabregas providing four assists and a goal before coming off. All six goals were of a high quality but I’d say Bendtner’s was the best. It was obvious as soon as he got the ball what he wanted to do but those efforts are now starting to go in rather then sail high and wide.

I love Arsenal and ROsicky loves me.

I love Arsenal and Rosicky loves me.

There was some talk earlier in the season about how Fabregas looked distracted and unhappy but I think he’s back to his best. There will always be speculation surrounding his future and I think most Arsenal fans accept he will one day play for Barcelona but at the same time it may not be for a few years yet (at least not until Wenger burns him out!). You can see what it would mean to him to win trophies with this team and if he can direct those kind of performances against the big sides then Arsenal could well have a shout for one this season.

Allardyce called Vermaelen’s foul on Dunn at 3-2 a turning point and while yes it was a definite penalty, to say it was a red card offence too is just silly. Even if Blackburn had scored, there was no way Arsenal were losing yesterday, they were just too good going forward. Maybe if Allardyce hadn’t taken off his best player in David Dunn, not played four full backs and generally shown a bit more adventure, then he might have had a point.

Blah blah blah

Blah blah blah.

The return of Rosicky has been very pleasing too and I think everyone forgot just what a classy player he was before he got injured. He’s constantly creating space and playing intelligent passes and he fits really well into the 4-3-3 system. With Nasri back sooner rather than later and Ramsey ever more impressive in his weekly substitute cameo, it should hopefully consign Diaby to the bench. I think right now his height is the only thing going for him (meaning he plays against ‘big’ sides like Rovers) but his overall play just doesn’t fit. He did very little on Saturday and can only offer potential for so long.

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2. Liverpool lost for the fourth time this season (including Europe) and each time it’s been a good side. They have become more expansive this season but with that have sacrificed much of the solidity that brought them good results. They are turning into flat track bullies who can hammer 20 goals past the likes of Burnley, Hull, Stoke, West Ham and Bolton but then struggle when facing half decent sides like Spurs, Fiorentina, Chelsea and Aston Villa. Similarly Torres can score five in two games but then waste the two presentable opportunites he had yesterday. He was well marshalled by Terry and must show that he can impose himself on a big match consistently like Drogba can.

It has been said before but Alonso is being missed with every passing week and the return of Aquilani won’t help that. Alonso sat deep with Mascherano and gave it to Gerrard or played in Torres. Aquilani is much less likely to do the same and like Lucas will wander forward, given that by nature they are both more attacking players. This leaves the centre back pairing exposed and may explain partly why Carragher has been so poor this season. Meanwhile if you rely on Torres and Gerrard so much, when they’re stopped so are Liverpool. Benitez can say they are still contenders, and of course points wise they are. But I think there are fundamental issues at which will prevent Liverpool from winning the league yet again.

Hey lads, why do you flatter to deceive?

Hey lads, why do you flatter to deceive?

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3. After just four draws in the opening 66 games there were four this weekend. As teams finally get the measure of each other we can expect that total to increase. Tellingly, there have been only two draws amongst the top ten and six in the bottom half. The usual scenario of nervousness at the foot of the table is beginning to creep in. How many times have we seen positive play rewarded with more wins, hence more three point gains, hence eventual safety. Something to take heed of for those playing 4-5-1.

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4. Man Utd got out of jail on Saturday evening against Sunderland with an injury time equaliser via the unfortunate Anton Ferdinand who scored an own goal. Prior to that Sunderland had fully deserved to be leading, Cattermole and Cana again holding their own against an opposition midfield. Those two have quickly become one of the better partnerships in the league and offer a nice mixture of toughness and harassment but with enough skill to allow for some creativity.

Up front Darren Bent is fast developing an impressive habit of scoring against the big sides as well as the small so it was a surprise to not see him get called up for England given the two qualifiers are essentially meaningless.

The other English striker on show Rooney (though I suppose there was Welbeck too, who was bizarrely chosen down the left) had another poor game and has yet to learn how to avoid his drops in form. Throughout his career (a bit like Defoe really) he has gone on runs where he’ll score in something like six successive games before doing nothing of note for ages and then picking up again. Now that he is the main player at Old Trafford, he can no longer afford these extended periods of goalless play.

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5. Good to see Portsmouth rewarded for their recent good form with a victory at last. They’ve been unfortunate to lose the last couple of games and it’s encouraging that despite not being paid they are still trying on the pitch. The expected suspects (+ one of two others in Fulham and West Ham) are beginning to form an orderly group in the bottom half and it was vital that Portsmouth didn’t fall too far adrift. I still think this season spells doom, unless this mystery new takeover happens to inject half a new squad in January, but to be fair at this stage last season Spurs had just points and still managed a top half finish. There’s hope yet for Pompey fans.

I think he's happy.

I think he's happy.

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6. Four straight Premier League victories at Turf Moor to go with the six at the end of last season. Are Burnley set to do a Stoke and stay up based almost entirely on their home form?

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T.

Fantasy Premier League – Gameweek 7

25/09/2009

After much talk, I went and used my wildcard last week and am much happier with my team for it. There has been nothing to suggest the there will plenty of clean sheets this season and it appears that in general teams are going for it a lot more. Whilst I think the big teams will start despatching poor sides with ease later in the season, I don’t think we’ll see anything to match Man Utd’s ridiculous clean sheet run of 08/09.

Anyway I decided to sacrifice most of my expensive defenders as well as one pricey midfielder (Arshavin) in order to get Rooney and Van Persie/Adebayor(once he’s back) up front. I still have Lampard and Gerrard plus Darren Bent so all in all quite pleased. Getting rid of Arshavin was something I was unsure of but at the moment he’s not producing and is getting injuries. I still think he’ll be pushing 200 points come May but for now I’ll run with the in form strikers.

I did think about trying to get Cole or Johnson in there but I think the former won’t keep up his goalscoring while the latter is too expensive now. I was also pleased that the leader in our league Amer, who you may remember has been as high as sixth in the world, also played his wildcard. I don’t especially like the changes he made and am still confident he can be clawed back despite a lead of 90 points. Of the main people I think only Sportboy P is yet to use his so we’ll see how long he waits.

Gameweek 6 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise approves):

Maverick denies the accusation that the Top Gun award is designed to favour Arsenal players.

Maverick denies the accusation that the Top Gun award is designed to favour Arsenal players.

An Arsenal player wins it for the third time this season as 19 points come from Thomas Vermaelen who scored twice against Wigan and kept a clean sheet too. He only got one bonus point and having been at the game I think that was fair. He scored two good goals but there were more important players who contributed to the 4-0 win.

It’s a little tricky with Arsenal players this year as there are quite a few who are capable of random bursts of points scoring (see Diaby in week 3) but there’s a lot more fluidity (and rotation) in the new formation meaning you’re never quite sure who’s going to come up trumps. I could quite easily imagine Arshavin, Eduardo and Van Persie all winning the Top Gun award before the season is out.

Elsewhere James Milner continues to increase his influence at Villa with 14, Ryan Giggs got three assists in the Manchester derby for 14 and Torres scored two great goals against West Ham for 13.

Interestingly, every single recipient of the Top Gun award has stunk the place out the following week – Fabregas 2pts, Johnson 1pt, Diaby 2pts, Cole 1pts, Benayoun 2pts. It looks like the Football Guy’s decision to bring in last week’s Top Gun Vermaelen could well backfire. Expect two solitary points in a 2-1 victory!

Three Captain choices:

1. Torres or Gerrard or Johnson or Kuyt/Liverpool – You should really have one of these guys in your team if you any ambitions for winning private leagues and with a home game at Hull it’s take your pick as to who you think will cause most damage. Torres is back in form and Hull have a shocking defence, Gerrard has been on the verge of a huge week for a while now, Dirk Diggler Kuyt has scored two weeks running while Johnson is very likely to get a clean sheet and assist.

2. Defoe/Tottenham – Ickle Defoe was quiet against Chelsea but has a home game against Burnley this weekend. Burnley are no pushovers of course but I’m pretty sure this game will have goals in it, hence Defoe is as likely as anyone to be amongst them.

3. Baines/Everton– Portsmouth are fast becoming the team where you pick whoever is playing against them as captain. Six straight defeats and I don’t see Everton not beating them to make seven. Baines is in great form and has assists in three straight games. Clean sheet + assist? A good chance I’d say. If you’re feeling adventurous pick Saha, Yakubu or Bilyaletdinov.

Gets a Captain's tick.

Gets a Captain's tick.

Three to bring in:

1. Giggs/Man Utd – Old man Giggs has shown that he still runs (metaphorically at least) the Man Utd midfield. His set-piece delivery is still second to none and he got three assists last week. While I don’t think he can maintain it for the whole season, it’s worth getting him in for the time being. He’s only £7m which is excellent value. Fletcher is worth considering, but he doesn’t contribute much beyond the odd bonus point (last week’s double aside).

2. Bilyaletdinov/Everton– The injury list at Goodison Park is always quite large with any number of players out. This guy was signed in August for £10m or so and he has impressed in his two cup games so far with five, yes five assists. A bit of set piece specialist by all accounts he’s only played two league minutes so far but I expect he will get more shortly. Worth a punt at £6.5m with four very favourable fixtures coming up. Put that in your spellchecker and smoke it!

3. Barry/Man City– Fast becoming the bonus point machine at Eastlands. I think the pattern will go something like this: if Adebayor scores he gets three bonus, if he doesn’t but City still win then Barry will. Not very scientific but still.

Might be worth a pick.

Might be worth a pick.

Three to avoid:

1. Foster/Man Utd – I still have him but every passing week I’m less impressed. I’m very tempted to cash that £5m in, get a second cheap keeper who saves enough to make up for fewer clean sheets and invest the rest elsewhere. VDS isn’t that far away from being back either.

2. Bolton players – Booed off the pitch last week and the next five games are quite tough (Birmingham A, Spurs H, Man Utd A, Everton H & Chelsea H). I can see them getting no more than two points and it wouldn’t surprise me if they lost all five.

3. Benayoun/Liverpool – Not because he isn’t a good player, but the 24 point week is the exception rather than the rule and I would much rather have the more consistent Dirk Kuyt in my team (and regular readers will know my irrational fantasy hate for Dirk). Benayoun strikes me as someone who will always be the guy who assists the assist, i.e. the guy who gets no points.

Are you taking the mick?

Are you taking the mick?

T.

The Six Pointer – Pocket aces, lazy Cascarino & more…

17/08/2009

That was the weekend that was.

After a three month break, the six pointer (© Sky hyperbole department) returns with the last word on the weekend’s action. Here are six thoughts on the opening games.

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1. After being many people’s tip for the title this season, Liverpool will be most disappointed with the opening performance against Spurs at White Hart Lane. Losing there for the second year running, Liverpool failed to produce much creativity of note. It was worrying how little imagination there was in midfield without Xabi Alonso. Of course, Aquilani may yet provide that but he’s a different kind of player. The game seemed a continuation of their sloppy pre-season, and though they could have had a penalty for the Voronin incident, it wouldn’t have glossed over the poor performance. While they should improve considerably for the first home game of the season against Stoke on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see whether the long term struggle to break down stubborn opposition has returned.

What will Liverpool get on the flop?

What will Liverpool get on the flop?

You could argue that at this point in time Tottenham’s squad is actually stronger than Liverpool’s. Their sub options yesterday were Cudicini, Hutton, O’Hara, Crouch, Pavlyuchenko, Naughton and Bentley. Liverpool on the other hand had Cavalieri, Spearing, Kelly, Dossena, Ayala, Benayoun, and Voronin. A few too many unproven youngsters and second rate Italian full backs there for my liking (some current injuries not withstanding).

I think Rafa could certainly do with another striker and possibly some cheap centre back cover too. He needs to remember that whilst having two of the best players in the league, you need credible backup options should they get injured. To use a poker analogy, it’s no use having two aces if someone else has three jacks.

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2. I don’t think even the most optimistic Arsenal fans expected to beat Everton 6-1 at Goodison Park. An encouraging start for Fabregas following last year’s injury problems while six goals were scored without any by Van Persie or Arshavin, their two mains goal threats this season. In truth Everton were awful but it still takes a good performance to clinically score six goals, whatever defensive mistakes might have contributed.

Solid debut.

Solid debut.

One of the most pleasing things was the debut of Thomas Vermaelen. He took his goal well having been in acres of space, but the defensive aspect of his game was encouraging. Facing the 6’5” Marouane Fellaini he was comfortable for most of the afternoon, timing his jumps well and attacking the ball. If he can continue this style of play then many of the defensive issues faced by Arsenal last year will have been solved.

One thing that l’ve seen from a few lazy pundits (Tony Cascarino and Stan Collymore who’s normally quite good) is “let’s see how they do on a wet night up north in February” or variations on that theme. The problem with Wenger’s side last season was not such games (they were unbeaten all of January, February and March) but the fact the lost five of the first fourteen – a time when pitches are still pristine and weather is dry. Let them say what they want, Arsenal are often at their best when written off.

Cliché.

Cliché.

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3. Talking of Everton, and their potential transfer buddies Man City, Saturday’s games probably showed that the Toffees would be better off selling Joleon Lescott to Mark Hughes and his money men. For a start I don’t think he’s worth £22million or whatever Moyes wants for him and even if he is, I think Everton could get a more than adequate replacement (or Phil Senderos) for about half the price and then invest elsewhere. While Saturday’s 6-1 defeat was a collectively poor showing, you could see that Lescott seemed somewhat distracted. We shouldn’t forget that Jagielka is their best centre back anyway.

Man City in contrast won their game 2-0 against Blackburn but the score line doesn’t tell the whole story. Blackburn had their chances and if Given hadn’t been playing then they would probably have won. Until that second centre back is signed I think most top teams will be capable of scoring against a partnership of Toure and Dunne. That said, City’s new look side did have something about them in midfield and attack, more than matching Blackburn’s physical approach. They are already halfway to matching last season’s total of two away wins.

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4. Impressive starts for two teams I’m keen to see a lot of this season; Sunderland and Wigan. Steve Bruce had an immediate impact and his new signings led the Wearsiders to a good away win over Bolton. Darren Bent scored the winner and looked lively while Cana and Cattermole formed an impressive partnership in midfield, providing high work rate but also some decent football. It will be interesting to see how they cope against Chelsea at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday.

Stunner.

Stunner.

Bruce’s old side Wigan meanwhile got one of the more impressive results over the weekend with a 2-0 away win at Aston Villa. Roberto Martinez was quick to establish his passing, attacking style on the team (who have a good foundation thanks to Bruce) and Hugo Rodallega scored an early contender for goal of the season. It was vital Wigan got some early points on the board to gain some confidence ahead of some tough fixtures coming up but if they continue as they did on Saturday, then a good season is on the cards. Their defeated opponents were booed off the pitch twice and Martin O’Neill has much to do before the transfer window shuts.

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5. Of the promoted sides I’d say probably Birmingham had the best showing but no one really disgraced or impressed too much. Burnley were missing some key defenders which led to some lacklustre set piece marking against Stoke. Their next four games could see them remain pointless though and Owen Coyle will do well to remind his players that the season lasts 38 games and they have plenty of winnable games to come.

Birmingham - blunt up front.

Birmingham - blunt up front.

Alex McLeish’s side was as expected, pretty solid but without much creative product. Though Benitez nearly snatched an equaliser, Man Utd weren’t especially troubled. That said, solid and but creatively ineffective is often quite successful in the Premier League so we’ll see how they get on. Wolves are missing several players so it’s hard to judge them quite yet. Mick McCarthy will need to cut out the naivety however and hope Kightly and Doyle return as quickly possible.

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6. For all Chelsea’s dislikable players, the questions about their diamond formation and whether the Premier League is the real priority, there’s no denying they are a great team at finding late ways to win. Hull played quite well but in an on form Drogba , Chelsea still have one of the best strikers in the game.

I do wonder how long they’ll persist with the diamond. It relies on the full backs pushing forward and providing width and we already saw last season that if you stop Bosingwa and Cole, you go a long way to stopping Chelsea. This was when they were still playing with wide midfielders so I can only think it’s even more obvious this season with a diamond that it‘s the full backs who need to be stopped. Still, it’s the mark of a good side that you play badly and still win.

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T.

Fantasy Premier League Preview 09/10 – Defenders

29/07/2009

Defenders are another area where there are two schools of thought. Either splurge on attacking players and just see what you have left, or have a solid base on which you can rely each week to get a clean sheet. I prefer the latter but it’s quite difficult to have quality across your squad. Invariably this means defence is an area where you try and make ends meet.

To be honest you can set up your team so that you have three solid players and two from relegation strugglers. This way the three wil play every week and if for some they’re injured you’ll at least get a couple of points from the two subs. Again, if it’s anything like last season where an unheralded team does well, you could end up with a John Paintsil coming off the bench to score you six points every week. Not bad for a £4m player.

Eyes of a serial killer points scorer.

Eyes of a serial killer points scorer.

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Expensive (£6.5m-£8m)

Following his all-star performances last season, Nemanja Vidic tops the defenders list at £8m. Understandable as he scored 187 points which was good enough for fourth overall, but I don’t expect Man Utd to have quite as good a defensive record this year. Well certainly not 12 clean sheets in a row or whatever it was. You have to ask whether Vidic will get you £1.5m worth of value in terms of extra points compared to a £6.5m defender like Evra. I’m not so sure myself.

Last year saw the second lowest goals total in Premier League history, and this is reflected with defensive prices being higher than ever. The six main players competing to be in the Chelsea defence all cost over £7m! Even Carvalho, who was injured for ages and scored the grand total of 44 points. The only Chelsea option I like is new signing Yuri Zhirkov. I agree with the Football Guy that he’s likely to play left wing, which means clean sheets, goals and assists. He’s expensive at £7.5m but worth it I’d say.

Elsewhere you’re welcome to go for Rio, Carragher, Johnson etc but I’ll be looking for cheap players in top four defences. Right back at Man Utd is an area to watch, all the candidates fall in the next category. I avoid Arsenal defenders as Arsenal defenders don’t generally keep enough clean sheets to warrant costing £6.5m. They may surprise with Vermaelen now marshalling but it’s unlikely. Gallas scores quite a few goals though. Baines is interesting at Everton, he really kicked on in the second half of last season. He takes his fair share of set-pieces so could be good for some assists.

Seven assists last year.

Seven assists last year.

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Mid-range (£5m-£6m)

There are some good picks to be found at this price level if you look hard enough and you could form quite a nice back three. As mentioned, the candidates for right back at Man Utd all fall at £5.5m (Wes Brown at £6m aside) and hopefully it will be one of Rafael, O’Shea or Neville who gets it.

Elsewhere it’s the range of defenders who play for Europa League chasing clubs – the likes of Fulham, Everton and Aston Villa. It’s difficult to see who stands out really. All the Fulham boys are now unappealing at £5-5.5m. Villa really need to replace the retired Martin Laursen if I’m to pick anyone from their back five – they fell apart without him post Janaury. Everton will hard to beat as usual so maybe a Yobo or Jagielka (when he comes back). With Man City signing Toure plus Barry in midfield, they should concede a lot less. Bridge is good for assists and should get some clean sheets.

I like the look of Insua at Liverpool but he won’t play too much initially. To the lower end of the scale (£5m) you should be looking at the key defender for the mid-table teams like Bolton and West Ham. Guys like Cahill, Upson and Woodgate for Spurs will often be the key to a particularly good result against a top side and will thus snaffle the three bonus points that will come with it. All three of them got 15 points + in bonuses last year.

Underrated.

Underrated.

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Cheap (£4m-£4.5m)

Here’s where some of the fun of fantasy is.  You’ll find yourself with 14 of your squad picked and you’ve only got £4m for your last defender. You then spend ages debating whether one particular Burnley defender is better than another despite knowing nothing about either. It usually ends up being pot luck with who you choose (invariably based on last season’s Championship appearances) and more often than not I’ll pick someone with the best name. How about Ronald Zubar from Wolves? Or Danny Shittu from Bolton (an oldie but a classic). Kallio? Stoor? Zayatte? To be honest your guess is as good as mine. You can at least be safe in the knowledge that whoever you pick, they’ll be getting transferred in Gameweek 2 for someone who actually plays.

On a more serious note there’s some decent bets at £4.5m who I expect to have good seasons. Steve Bruce made Wigan into a good defensive unit when he was at the JJB and I expect him to do the same now he’s at the Stadium of Light. I’m not a 100% on who will be first choice but someone like Ferdinand could be a good shout. I was impressed with what I saw from Roberto Martinez at Swansea last year and he should see that he continues Bruce’s good work at Wigan. Bolton, Blackburn and Stoke should also provide a few options (Faye is still £4.5m as is Nelson).

Say hello to your third sub!

Say hello to your third sub!

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T.


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