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Archive for July, 2011

Premier League Fantasy Picks: Week One


Picking an initial fantasy team may not make or break your year but it has huge implications for how your season could pan out. The key is not to make too many gambles but given the enforced salary cap, certain risks do need to be made. Consistent performers can still be found on the cheap and don’t automatically assume the bigger names will be the biggest hitters. Here’s my week one guide to the Premier League’s official fantasy game:

Goalkeepers

Bank on him…

Shay Given

Twelve months ago we were unsure if Given (£5m) or Joe Hart would be Roberto Mancini’s number one at Manchester City. Hart was awarded the title and Given spent the entire 2010-2011 season looking on. He’s now £2m cheaper than Hart and playing for an Aston Villa team which regularly recorded clean sheets under Martin O’Neill. New boss Alex McLeish ran a tight ship at Birmingham and so Given will be considered by plenty this time around.

Roll the dice…

Paddy Kenny

QPR’s Kenny was imperious last year, being voted Fans’ Player of the Year in a QPR team which won the Championship with a solid back-line. The step-up will faze some Rangers players but Kenny’s been here before with Sheffield United. For £4.5m he could be a suitable back-up if you need to free-up money for other players.

One to avoid…

Manuel Almunia

Three Arsenal goalkeepers are valued at £5.5m or above and Almunia (£5.5m) is probably Arsène Wenger’s third choice to go between the sticks. Wojciech Szczęsny should begin as number one with Łukasz Fabiański backing him up. Almunia shouldn’t therefore be considered at all unless either picks up an injury.

Defenders

Bank on him…

Brede Hangleand

There is no centre-back pairing more familiar with each other than Fulham’s Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. Both collected well over 100 points last year and Hangeland was the second highest scoring defender behind Leighton Baines. Hangeland is an ever-present fixture in Fulham’s team and is always a threat at set pieces. At £6.5m he also represents decent value.

Roll the dice…

Kieran Gibbs

There hasn’t been a mass exodus from Arsenal this summer but first-choice left back Gaël Clichy used his searing pace to run out of the Emirates door. The Gunners are in need of a player to fill that berth and Gibbs (£5.5m) looks the most likely to do so having impressed before. Tottenham’s Kyle Walker (£5.5m) is another who may tempt some, particularly after his strong showing at the under-21 tournament this summer. However Gibbs should be a regular starter whilst Walker may share time with Alan Hutton and Vedran Ćorluka.

Two young Arsenal stars who could have different fantasy years

One to avoid…

Rio Ferdinand

The inclusion of the former England captain under the ‘one to avoid’ banner may surprise some but United centre-back Ferdinand (£6.5m) continues to present bad value. His frequent injuries mean he often has spells on the sidelines and he lacks the potency from set-pieces which make Nemanja Vidić, Robert Huth and Leighton Baines so enticing. Need further proof? In his last three seasons, Ferdinand’s managed 69, 49 and 92 points compared to compatriot Vidić’s totals of 148, 94 and 187. Look for Ferdinand’s role to diminish further still with the arrival of Phil Jones and the continued maturation of Chris Smalling.

Midfielders

Bank on him…

Rafael van der Vaart

Last year the big trio, Steven Gerrard, Cesc Fàbregas and Frank Lampard, were poor by their own very high standards. Lampard only showed flashes, Gerrard is returning to a strong squad and Fàbregas may yet start the season at his beloved Barcelona. In the next tier, Florent Malouda blows hot and cold, how Ferguson plans to fit Nani, Ashley Young and Valencia in isn’t clear and Dirk Kuyt may see less playing time. So my reliable pick is Spurs’ Rafael van der Vaart (£10m). Takes penalties and free-kicks, makes goals and is in no danger of losing much playing time to his teammates.

Roll the dice…

Scott Sinclair

Every year they’ll be some debate about ascribing certain positions to certain players. Categorising Swansea’s Sinclair (£6m) as a midfielder could be worthy of such debate giving his striking tendencies. The former Chelsea and Wigan man has been highly rated for some years now but has struggled to perform in the top flight. However his form at the tail end of last season suggests he’s ready for another crack at the big time.

 There are other gambles which may be worth taking. How about Hatem Ben Arfa at £5.5m? An impressive talent who creates and scores goals, the only question mark is if he will return to the Newcastle team with as much verve after his serious injury.

One to avoid…

Jack Wilshere

Again the very mention of Wilshere’s name here will shock some and he seems a popular option for fantasy players this season. But let’s not forget the England man was ever present for Arsenal last year yet scored just once with three assists. He failed to score 100 points in a very good team, playing more minutes than any other Gunners midfielder. Yes he is cheap (£6.5m), but there’s a reason for this. It may be that Wilshere has a season similar to Fàbregas’ a few campaigns back when he suddenly started scoring frequently but until Wilshere shows some signs of doing so, I’m avoiding him.

Strikers

Bank on him…

Darren Bent

Villa’s Bent (£10m) is the model of point-scoring consistency wherever he ends up. Seventeen goals last year after a mid-season move, 24 the year before that, and 100 points in four of his last five campaigns. Sergio Agüero may take time to adapt to England, Wayne Rooney’s form can be patchy and there may or may not be enough room at Chelsea to accommodate Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres every week. Look for Luis Suárez (£9.5m) to continue his excellent form from last year too; I think he’ll comfortably out-score Liverpool teammate Andy Carroll who costs more.

Roll the dice…

Jay Bothroyd

Picking a striker to surprise is difficult but this doesn’t mean one won’t spring up and record a shed load of points. Last year DJ Campbell and Peter Odemwingie defied their valuations and had impressive years. QPR’s Bothroyd (£6m), called up by England last year, could well emulate their achievements. Were Robbie Keane to move within the division he could be an interesting proposition. He has a record of scoring goals wherever he’s gone and £5m represents good value for the man who’s scored more Republic or Ireland goals than anyone else.

One to avoid…

Fernando Torres

An obvious one by all accounts but Torres’ dire end of season form last year for Chelsea should serve as a warning to fantasy owners. At £11m he carries a hefty price tag and he won’t start justifying that until he starts netting on a frequent basis at the Bridge. Carlos Tévez’s (£12m) desire to remain out of Manchester needs to be considered too. Don’t write him off totally because we’ve seen an unhappy Tévez can still be a valuable asset but that is all dependent on him returning to City.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Ladies and gentlemen, the NFL IS back

July 25, 2011 2 comments

“Absence does not make the heart grow fonder, but it sure heats up the blood”

Ladies and gentlemen, the NFL IS back.

The lockout, which began on March 12th, has been the longest in the league’s history. But today, the NFL and the NFLPA (NFL Players’ Association) have agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The important news is that no regular season games will be lost. Furthermore the astronomical fees that first-round draft picks used to command will be severely reduced.

The league and everyone with any sense of attachment to it will not have appreciated the prolonged period which has seen them jettisoned from the sporting headlines. This is the all-swaggering, hit-somebody-in-the-mouth National Football League. It is a place for the brash, brazen and bolshie not for the silent and secretive.

Where will Moss and Asomugha end up next year?

Yet the lockout ushered in a hush-hush tone. Terms were debated around the table, behind closed doors. I have my own opinions on the American media’s handling of the affair and intend to blog on them at some point in the very near future. My main source of frustration centres around this pertinent question: if a similar incident were to happen in the Premier League, do you think the English media would have seemed so out of the loop? Personally I think the America media purposely gave both sides their distance. They enjoy almost unparalleled access to players, coaches and locker rooms and it’s a fruitful arrangement which they daren’t disrupt. The English media have to make do with weekly press conferences and post-match interviews which, in certain instances, are only hosted by an in-house television channel. Whether intimate access or strong investigative journalism is better for the general public is something to debate elsewhere.

But now football is back, expect the fireworks to light up the sky once more. The absence of any real drama has caused me to yearn for the crazy storylines even more.

I can tire of lengthy transfer sagas quite easily (I’m looking at you Luka, Cesc and Carlos). But the Americans have a way of inducing drama into the mundane. It took three years of Favre Watch for me to finally become exasperated with the depressingly familiar scenario. It’s the little things like telling us Carson Palmer’s house in Cincinnati has been sold or announcing that Brett Favre’s wife had renewed her fitness membership in Minnesota.

Free agency will begin this week and there are plenty of players who will be looking to move or at least substantially increase their back accounts. There are, in the shape of, Nnamdi Asomugha, Peyton Manning, Sidney Rice, DeAngelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, Randy Moss, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, some massive free agents capable of turning around many team’s fortunes. But there is considerably less sand in the egg timer this time. Envisage the furore on the final day of football’s transfer window and translate that madness to the free agency stampede this time around.

The starting pistol has been fired but the marathon of the off-season has been reduced to an 800 metre dash. As Jason La Canfora stated: “every hour is of the essence with clubs trying to cram what could normally be done over weeks into hectic days”.

We may have lost no actual football action but the fans have been short-changed this offseason. Ladies and gentlemen, American football IS back. Time to indulge on the madness.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Dear Diary, a week in the life of…Wes Brown

July 10, 2011 1 comment

This is the first in a brand new series called “Dear Diary, a week in the life of…” which will take a satirical swipe at the escapades of a football figure in the news. Wes Brown opens up this new feature following his move from Sunderland and speaks of his desire to leave behind John O’Shea who had other ideas…

Dear Diary, I expected this week’s entry to be a lot more positive. Finally, after years of having to put up with John O’Shea, I managed to leave him and join Sunderland.

Next day, I switch on Sky Sports News and who do I find parading round in a Sunderland strip? Sheasy. He’s grinning like a moron. I barely lasted a day without him.

I’d told Sheasy I’d been picked to go to the World Cup and being Irish he had no idea it wasn’t on this summer. Danny Welbeck told me all about Sunderland, said it was far enough away so Sheasy wouldn’t follow me. I thanked Danny for his Catch Me If You Can DVD as I left United.

Brown trying hard to escape from O'Shea.

Sunderland seemed an obvious choice. I like Steve Bruce and he’s impressed with how many England caps I’ve got. If he kicks off I know I can keep him quiet by telling him I’ll give him one for free. Can’t believe that tactic only worked for Darren Fletcher and Andy Goram at Old Trafford.

I’ve wanted to leave ever since Paul Scholes announced his retirement. It’s no fun being ginger at the best of times but once I knew I was going to be the only one left, things changed. Had a bit of a chat with Wayne Rooney about how we were easy targets for abuse on the hair front now. He went for a hair transplant; I decided I’d just go to Sunderland. At least I’ve got Jack Colback here to keep me company. Told him I’d batter him if he dyes his locks, think the message got through.

I met some of the boys in the canteen on my first day. Lee Cattermole crushed a Capri Sun with his hand and told me he’s going to break my nose. Anton Ferdinand assured me it’s a sign of acceptance and told me I should see what he says to those he doesn’t like. I felt uneasy but laughed it off.

Next day Sheasy signed and the atmosphere changed. I heard some murmuring as I went into the canteen; it’s Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley blaming me for bringing him here. Am guessing the grapes that hit me came from them. Am guessing the flying chair which just missed my head came from Cattermole.

Onto training and Sheasy stuck to me like glue. It’s like when your mum tells you to walk to school with the nerdy kid because she’s friends with their parents. Meanwhile he tried to recruit people for the Ireland squad. Asking Steed Malbranque if his parents are from Cork is one thing but mentoring Asamoah Gyan on a river dance is a bit far. Cattermole told Sheasy he’s going to break his nose. I’m not sure it’s a term of endearment this time.

After training Sheasy told me Darron Gibson wants to follow him here. He said it’s really annoying when someone just follows you round everywhere. He has no idea.

Debating whether to offer Cattermole a few of my England caps to ‘sort’ Sheasy out. If Gibson gets here too it’s going to be unbearable.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

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