If There Were a Blog CPS

"Waaah! Feed me! Change me! Waaaah!" Shut up, blog.

…we would have been arrested for Child Negligence a long time ago.  Sorry, boys and girls.  Broken computers and grad school kind of caught up with us. Hopefully, this post will sort of make up for it.

——-

Recently, every time I look at the Premier League table, I can’t help but look twice.  “Is that a three horse race?  What?  No way.  And it’s ARSENAL?!”  Sadly, yes, it is Arsenal and Manchester United.  Also, since the last time we’ve written Liverpool have conjured up a string of results and have managed to put themselves in fifth.  Britt has repeatedly told me, TO MY FACE, that Liverpool will be third by the end of February.  If this is true, I’m turning Britt in to the local witchcraft authorities, and they can have their way with him.  I think it would be ludicrous for something like that to happen.  I can definitely see Tottenham dropping out of the top four very soon, but third?  It would mean that Arsenal’s striker problem would just get worse, their defense would start getting picked apart by injuries and they’d start dropping points.  Britt stands by his word, and hopefully for Liverpool supporters, he’s right.

Liverpool have two tough fixtures coming up, after their bout with Bolton (I am brushing aside Bolton, but don’t be surprised if something ridiculous happens in that match. It’s been a strange season so far).  Liverpool has matches against Everton at Anfield and Arsenal at the Emirates within 4 days of each other.  I think Liverpool have a reasonable shot at getting three points in each instance as long as Rafa’s decisions don’t interfere.  Gerrard is getting healthy, and although without Torres, Liverpool could patch together a couple of great results playing sound team football.  I see the last results against Wolves as an aberration.  I just assume anything can happen away (See: Wigan v. Chelsea).  So, keeping this in mind, Liverpool might get 7-2’d when they head to London.  Who knows?!  I know I’ll be watching.

I really don’t know what to say about United.  They just keep winning game after game.  And, sure they drop points here and there, but so has everyone else.  Valencia has been playing great.  Rooney is having a monster season.  I just don’t know.  I don’t SEE them winning the Prem.  They don’t have that umph I’m so used to seeing in United.  They seem beatable in every match, no matter who they’re playing.  They keep winning, and that is what’s most important, but it’s not convincingly enough for me, especially considering the form Chelsea have started to take.

Chelsea look really good.  I mean.  REALLY GOOD.  Ancelotti has thrown out the 4-1-2-1-2 and has changed to a 4-3-3.  The players are obviously more comfortable playing in this formation.  The results are showing.  With Drogba on his way back along with Mikel, Kalou and Essien in a month or so from injury, Chelsea are going to be hard to beat out.  They have the squad depth, the determination and the position to take the crown from three-time consecutive champions United.  Chelsea control their own destiny.  They cannot afford to drop points or lose winnable matches.  Actually, no one can at this point, if they want to remain in contention for the crown or capture a top four sport.

Alright, what else do we have here, Portsmouth for their transfer ban lifted.  Now they can stock up on kids for their Coca-Cola Championship side next season.  Avram is doing a great job at Pompey gathering points where they can in order to stay afloat and out of the relegation zone.  I don’t think they’ll be able to, though.  I see them, Burnley and Wolves getting relegated.  Close contenders for the bottom spots will be Bolton, Hull and Wigan.  It’s not a shock.  Burnely, after losing the guidance of Coyle, I feel have no hope of staying in the Premiership. And, Wolves are just plain bad.

Anyway, this has been a pretty scatter-brained attempt at a comeback post.  I felt the blog needed something new.  One of us will discuss the transfer window proceedings after it closes.  Enjoy this weekend’s football proceedings, all.😀

Matches I’ll be watching:

  • Arsenal v. Manchester United
  • Burnley v. Chelsea
  • Birmingham v. Tottenham
  • Sunderland v. Stoke City (Because I’m a glutton for pain and suffering)

-dago

Fantasy Gameweek 18 Preview

Last week was a pretty embarrassing Dreamteam preview for me.  After a 63 point week, I dropped down to 25.  Granted, I fell victim to a few surprise results and the general unpredictability of midweek fixtures in December.  But, that’s no excuse.  Here’s Gameweek 17’s actual results:

Fantasy Gameweek 17 Actual

This week, I’m sticking with the sure things – or the closest thing to a sure thing in the world of English football.  Over the past few games, nothing has looked surer to me than the play of Aston Villa.  Richard Dunne is, in my mind, the best transfer of the year and as proof sits a cool 17 points in the lead for fantasy defenders over the course of the season.  James Milner has come to life since the start of November, with three goals and five assists in the six games he’s played in.  To some extent, Brad Friedel will continue to succeed on the coattails of Villa’s resurgent defensive form, but in reality, Friedel has kept the bed-sheets bleached with some pretty outrageous saves in almost every game this season.  Until Villa prove me wrong, they will be represented on my Dreamteam preview.  After all, Villa has had a representative in the weekly Dreamteam nine of out 17 times.  That’s over 50%.  Huge.

Antonio Valencia seems to be settling in at United, and Fulham like giving goals away after a decent defensive run of form, especially to red-hot Wayne Rooney and United.

Fernando Torres is healthy, and Liverpool finally looked competent enough to win a game for 90 whole minutes.  Granted, it was Wigan, but hey, Portsmouth is up next.  If Liverpool play well, it has to be through Torres, and I fully expect him to have a HUGE game for the Reds.

Cesc Fabregas’ injury is leaving 34% of fantasy heads in need of scratching.  I predict that most managers will place a straight swap of Andre Arshavin for Cesc, but I highly advise against it.  If Arshavin has to lead the line again, which he has in the past few games, he will really suffer from the drop of passing accuracy in a Cesc-less midfield.  Guys like RVP and Nick Bendtner don’t need perfect passes into their feet; they can body up and force their way into positions for the ball.  Despite Arshavin’s overstuffed bag of tricks, he doesn’t have the size or strength to lead that kind of line.  Maybe Wenger will run out Eduardo and drop Arshavin into the center of midfield, but that still leaves Andre with a lot of long-shots to hit before he puts up good fantasy numbers.  Then again, the Gunners do play Hull…

Don’t expect Drogba to play, either, as he’s still out with that back injury.  Anelka’s golden boot will shine against a Hammers team who have let in 14 goals in the past five matches.

Without further ado, here’s your Gameweek:

fantasy gameweek 18 preview

Good luck!

Fantasy Gameweek 17 Preview

I absolutely love this time of the year.  We’re all out of school (or just about) and we get to enjoy the most compact run of games in the entire schedule.

And while that’s good for our entertainment, it can mean noodley legs for the players, most of whom will have played a full 90 minutes just three days ago.  Traditionally, midweek fixtures make for sloppy football, and I expect this week to be no exception.

The fatigue in these fixtures could go either way.  Sometimes, tired legs equal tired shot, and goal droughts stretch throughout the fixtures.  Other times, defensive knees look wobbly, with bad positioning and technical mistakes opening up lanes for even more goals than normal.  This week’s list of games and the recent form of some of the league’s high scoring teams leads me to suggest a defensive dominance.

This week, I chose players for my dreamteam who are both in form and loaded with energy.  Carlos Tevez is perhaps the best example of this:  a player whose boundless electricity will run right by Spurs, who looked sluggish against Wolves even with a full week’s rest.  Midweek fixtures against Wigan are made for Dirk Kuyt, who despite demonstrating some of the most hazardous touches of his entire career, will continue to hustle himself into ideal trash-goal positions.

Take a look at THIS:

Fantasy Gameweek 17 Dreamteam Preview

Another thing to add:  The Fantasy Cup!

The Fantasy Cup offers another competition within the premier league fantasy system.  It mirrors the way the Champions League works within the Barclay’s Premier League season, or the FA Cup perhaps.  Here’s how it works (taken from the site itself).

Think your season is over? Think again!

The fantasy cup starts in Gameweek 17 (15 Dec) and all existing teams are automatically entered

Qualifying

Gameweek 17 (15 Dec) is a qualifying round. The top 2,097,152 scorers in Gameweek 17 will enter the first round in Gameweek 18 (19 Dec).

If there are more than 2,097,152 qualifiers then there will be a random draw between the lowest scoring teams to see who qualifies.

The knock-out rounds

Each qualifying team will be randomly drawn against another in the first round. The winner (the team with the highest gameweek score minus any transfer points), will progress to the second round and another random draw, the losers are out! This process continues until the final gameweek when the two remaining teams contest the fantasy cup final.

Remember, transfer points will be deducted from the following round’s cup score.

If a cup match is drawn, then the following tie-breaks will be applied until a winner is found:

  • 1. Most Goals scored in the gameweek
  • 2. Fewest Goals conceded in the gameweek
  • 3. Virtual coin toss

Prize

The cup winner will receive a digital camera, an mp3 player, and a Premier League club replica kit of the Winner’s choice.

Sounds legit to me.  Get your team ready, and remember, games start tomorrow!

that just happened – week 16 in review

Chelsea 3 – Everton 3

This game taught me something about the dynamics of teams. To clarify, there are squads and teamsSquads are made up of men for the purpose of winning.  Teams consist of men for the purpose of winning for each other.   While the qualification between the two seems minimal at a glance, squads, regardless of quality, rarely win titles.  Teams do, and in that, the difference is gargantuan.

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Europe)

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Europ

On Saturday, Stamford Bridge witnessed a tale of two teams.  Chelsea, a team propelled by the urgency of looming arthritis and rotary-club fees, and Everton, a teamhuddling for footholds above the canyoning rapids of relegation, met with designs of resurgence, albeit from different places.

What struck me about the Mersyside Derby was how well Everton played, despite losing to Liverpool.  As an avid Liverpool supporter, I took the points with glee.  But in writing, I wondered which would last; the rectified performance and an unlucky loss or another subpar outing and a sympathetic three points?  It seems my question was answered in the subsequent fixtures, which saw Liverpool continue to struggle and Everton continue to improve.

If asked if I thought Everton stood a chance against Chelsea, I would have said no.  If asked if I thought Everton could overcome three goals from Chelsea, I would have said no much more resoundingly, and probably with a few obscenities for emphasis.  But credit to the Toffees, they showed tremendous character, not only against Chelsea but in their continued improvement within the trenches of defeat.  It’s difficult enough to improve while winning.  But to grow through disappointing results is a function of a team, not a squad.

Chelsea fans will probably look at the tie to Everton as a failure.  And in a weekend that offered a great opportunity for separation, maybe it was.  But Chelsea have learned, either through a common thread of purpose or simply from playing together for so long, how to lose as a team.  I maintain that the ability to adapt quickly from poor performances is the quintessential attribute to any title-winning team.  Manchester United whittled their adaptation scheme down to minutes last season.  Chelsea has the quality and leadership – both on the field and on the sidelines – to do the same.

Manchester United 0 – Aston Villa 1

MASH

United physios tell Rio Ferdinand, "There's nothing more we can do."

But what a glorious opportunity Chelsea’s tie provided Manchester United, who after the result sat only three points behind the leaders in the table.  I said in my fantasy preview before the match that Aston Villa’s pace would expose United’s defense, which at the time looked more like an episode of M*A*S*H than a top-four back-line.  Even at full strength, Evra is the only consistent defender in the side that can deal with the threat of speed, as Vidic, Ferdinand, O’Shea, and Neville look consistently awkward when facing a concoction of open field and quickness.  Throw Darren Fletcher and Wes Brown to the whirling dervish gauntlet of Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, and Gabby Agbonlahor, and there’s just no chance of containment for 90 minutes.

Sure enough, Ashley Young (marked by Darren Fletcher) assisted Gabby Agbonlahor (lost by everyone else) for the only goal of the match.  Shocker!

Aston Villa’s season is starting to resemble Liverpool’s from last year.  So far, Villa have toppled Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool, three out of four of tradition’s alleged top-four clubs.  With only Arsenal left on the docket, Villa have a great chance to beat all the teams above them, yet just like Liverpool’s 08/09 team, are stuck in cactus-patch of dropped points to weaker opposition.  Liverpool’s bane seemed to be negative team selections in supposed “easy” games, but Martin O’Neil won’t sit back.  His coaching style and his squad simply don’t allow for tactical caution.

Ashley Young

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images Sport

So why won’t Aston Villa really pose a challenge for the title?  My theory at this point in the season is that they don’t have the squad depth to support their core group ofplayers and the way that they play.  By that, I mean that several of Villa’s attacking threats, specifically Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor, Stewart Downing, and James Milner, play such an exhausting brand of physically intense, high pressure football.  Their running is such a key element of Villa’s victories that I feel it must wear on them, especially in games immediately following the major fixtures in their schedule.

After beating Chelsea, they tied wolves.  After pummeling Bolton 5-1, they drew at Burnley.  We’ll see if my theory holds true on Tuesday, as Villa expect their key players to run Sunderland into the ground just three days after firestorming United.

United, despite losing to Villa, will challenge for the title.  In fact, they may be the only ones up there with Chelsea win the season comes to a close.  The reason is simple; they have cover for fatigue and injury at every possible position.  Proof is in the Villa game – they held a very potent attack to one goal despite injuries to seven possible defenders.  Same is true for midfield and striking options.  If Ashley Young picks up a knock or runs out of gas, or Stew Downing or Gabby, the side loses a tremendous amount of potency regardless of the replacement.

But, I won’t cast dark clouds.  Aston Villa defended superbly, especially in the second half.  Commitment to make robust challenges and full-body blocks is a beautiful brand of football, and Villa are a very dangerous team when playing it.

Liverpool 1 – Arsenal 2

Torres and Gerrard

"Turn away, Steven, you mustn't see me like this."

The Liverpool boards have been interesting this afternoon.  Recently, maybe even as far back as last season, “Rafa Out” ralliers have been calling for Rafa’s sacking on the basis of persistent negative-tactics in winnable games.  This season, its been alike but louder, with Rafa’s harsher critics demonstrating expletive unrest at Lucas and Kuyt’s seemingly lock-tight position on the team-sheet.

But Rafa got it right this afternoon.  Kuyt scored, Lucas played well, and out of three substitutions, three forward-thinking, impact players.  Surely Liverpool’s abyssmal zero shots on goal in the second half can’t be Rafa’s fault?

From the Liverpool forums:

“We were a totally different team in the second half than we were in the first.  The only common element is the half-time team talk.  Rafa has to go!”

A few like-minded Rafa-axers reasoned:

“He took off Mascherano, our only passionate player, Benny, who is always a threat to score, and Glen Johnson, who has been one of our most consistent attacking wide-options.  Rafa’s lost the plot!”

A few things seem true.  First, Liverpool played pretty well in the first half.  For the first time in a long time, they controlled the game with passes on the ground, created chances on the break, and pressured the ball high up the pitch.  Second, Arsenal never got out of first gear.  They were pedestrian throughout, and never really looked like taking the game by the throat like they have so often this season.  But, they never had to accelerate because, third, Liverpool never came out of the locker room.  The entire team looked sickly, as if Donovan McNabb’s mother stopped by with some month old Campbell’s Chunky Soup.

Rafa said after the game that the loss came down to lack of confidence.  I believe he’s right, and to a major extent, the forging of that confidence depends on the players, especially Steven Gerrard.  But a major part of that confidence depends on the manager.  In today’s footballing culture, with big paychecks and bigger egos, it’s become increasingly important for managers to be able to focus players towards a single goal as a collective unit.  Confidence is built from that collective, and a manager welds that steel together.Rafa and Wenger

Some reports from Melwood suggest that Rafa’s new contract has incited complacency, as regular hour-long scouting reports at training sessions have virtually vanished.  Whether this is true or fabricated, it seems likely that a loss in confidence amongst the players may mirror a manager’s loss of motivation in at least some respect.

On a technical level, Rafa Benitez is a considered by many to be a master tactician.  Yet despite his footballing brain, which I don’t claim to have the experience to contest, the managing of players must be equally important if not more so in the job description of a top-level football boss.  I don’t think many would argue that Rafa’s interpersonal skills are lackluster at best, which makes me wonder just how sturdy a tactical base of management can be.  The problem with relying on tactics to motivate a team, and therefore build confidence, is that it is absolutely contingent on winning.  In a rough patch, which every team inevitably faces, every manager should have that extra club in their bag to inspire confidence in their squad.  Whether that be a connection to the club’s legends, an uplifting team-talk, or a riotous sense of humor, a manager must have that extra dimension of intangible spirit that reflects what he wants on the field.  Rafa doesn’t have that.  In my eyes, he’s a one-trick pony.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have to be worried about their title hopes.  So far this season, Arsenal have lost to Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City.  Coupled with a very mediocre showing at Anfield and the impending clash with Villa, Arsenal can’t be oozing confidence at their threat to major opposition.  A lot of that is due to the loss of Robin Van Persie, without whom Arsenal are forced to field several key players out of position.  High pressure and rough tackling will totally scuff up the current Arsenal attack, just as Liverpool managed to do effectively in the first half, because the Gunners have no strength or hold-up play in outlet positions.

Arsenal need to be very careful with their next five fixtures, as Hull City, Burnley, Portsmouth, and Bolton will almost assuredly attempt to pressure way up the pitch and hassle the small-bodied Arsenal tricksters.  For me, these next games will tell the story of the rest of Arsenal’s season.  Can the Gunners learn the championship quality of winning ugly?

p.s.

Dear Commentary,

Stop stop stop saying Xabi Alonso.  If you’re content to discredit Aquilani’s ability to single-handily turn Liverpool’s season around, surely you must recognize the fallacy in blaming all of Liverpool’s woes on Xabi’s departure?

yours,

-Britt

p.s.s

Probably the most disappointing part of the loss today was realizing that I wouldn’t get to hear one of Wenger’s nonsensical rants after the game.

Other Results:

Tottenham 0 – Wolves 1  [Gettin’ paid the Spurs way]

Stoke 2 – Wigan 2

Birmingham City 1 – West Ham 0

Bolton 3 – Man City 3  [Great show by Carlos Tevez.  Would pay just about anything to see him in a red shirt]

Burnley 1 – Fulham 1

Hull City 0 – Blackburn 0  [A defensive struggle?  Nah, just Hull vs Rovers]

Sunderland 1 – Pompey 1  [How do managerial shakeups work, exactly?]

See you so soon!  Midweek fixtures + winter break = a Louis Armstrong song

fantasy gameweek 16 recap

Gameweek 16 Dreamteam – 106 points

My Gameweek 16 Dreamteam – 63 points

I chose not to rely on a lot of the big guns this week, but it turns out I should have backed off even more.  I thought United would have a rough time with Villa, but I honestly never expected Tottenham to go limp at Wolves.  On a more personal note…

It’s bitterly depressing that I have more faith in Tottenham scoring goals than I do in Liverpool.  Last season seems so far away…

*whimpers*  come bbaacckkk

Gameweek 17 starts on Tuesday, so check back on Monday for the next Premier League Fantasy Preview.

Gameweek 16 Fantasy Preview

Did anyone notice how gimicky the last few weeks have been?  And no, I’m not talking about this blog’s own piggybacking off of the themes of other actually successful blogs – which we will continue to do at breakneck pace.  I’m talking about some of the rarest happenings in the game happening regularly, as if scripted for case study.

Last week was the week of the missed penalties, or saved penalties, with four penalties missed (for whatever reason) from some of the most confident finishers in the sport, including Cesc Fabregas, Frank Lampard, and Jermain Defoe.

The week before that was the week of penalties made, with six converted penalties in the weekend’s fixtures.

The first weekend in November was the week of red cards, which saw ten players sent off in the three days.

So what will be written in the pages of Gameweek 16?  Could it be the week of resurgence, featuring marquee talents fresh back from injury?  Or maybe the week of turnarounds, with Liverpool, Everton, Villa and others staring down the barrel of the rest of their season.  Maybe seven goalkeepers will score in injury time…

Rather anticlimatically, I predict this weekend to be the week of getting back to normal. Chelsea’s loss to City won’t sit well with that group of players, and they will subsequently thrash Everton’s gaping backend (yup).  Fernando Torres will mean goals for Liverpool, and probably sooner than later, but that defense is still lacking the discipline to keep the plot for 90+ minutes.

Let’s get back to seeing big names dropping phat points.  Here’s your gameweek: