Bank on him…
Newcastle’s defence has probably gone under the radar in recent weeks. But perhaps it’s time to give them their dues now the Joey Barton soap opera has moved onto Loftus Road. The Magpies have opened their Premier League account with back-to-back clean sheets. What used to be a problem and source of constant humour for Newcastle has no turned into something of a positive.
Reliable entities such as Tim Krul, Danny Simpson and Fabricio Coloccini are all good fantasy purchases but Ryan Taylor has muscled his way into the limelight. Taylor normally plies his trade at right-back and has found the ever-present Simpson immovable in recent years. But José Enrique’s departure has seen him fill in at left-back and he’s performed admirably.
Taylor’s biggest attribute is his devastating free-kick and this past week saw him score in not one but two dead ball situations. The first against Sunderland in the derby gave them all three points in the league and he followed that up with an equaliser against Scunthorpe in the Carling Cup which took them to extra time.
Taylor currently tops the list of defenders in the Fantasy Premier League with 18 points alongside namesake Steven. S Taylor (£4.5m) has had two three point bonuses but R Taylor’s (£4.1m) ability to curl a ball up and over a wall and into the net makes him a very plausible option. Newcastle have Fulham at home this week before a trip to QPR so both Taylors look good value for their third and fourth successive league clean-sheets. Ryan Taylor will continue to fill in at left-back providing Alan Pardew doesn’t sign a left-back before next Thursday so get him whilst he’s relatively cheap.
Roll the dice…
Everton are still the only Premier League team yet to dip into the transfer market this summer and could conceivably let the window shut without making any additions. The lack of funds will give those within the squad a chance to nail down first team spots as David Moyes has a small squad and he already has injury concerns. Séamus Coleman, a stand-out star last term, is out for a while and there are doubts over Tim Cahill, Jermaine Beckford and Magaye Gueye for this weekend’s game.
The Toffees didn’t get off to the brightest start. They were beaten by QPR, an ‘upset’ which many saw coming given Everton’s static stance this off-season and their history of slow starts. But there was a modicum of joy for Moyes and that came in the form of the performance of 17-year-old Ross Barkley.
“I’ve said to the players in the dressing room that I was disappointed with most of them, but not Ross he played well,” said Moyes.
“He needs a big pat on the back, because he’s not long 17.”
There is plenty of excitement about the development of Barkley and a genuine sense that he will be the finest talent to emerge from Goodison Park since a certain Wayne Rooney. The inevitable comparisons with him are futile, particularly given Barkley’s position, but he did give another glimpse into the reasoning behind the hype against Sheffield United on Tuesday, contributing two assists in a 3-1 win.
He is excellent value at £5m and there are several reasons to like him. The small squad and current injuries to the likes of Coleman mean Barkley is likely to see plenty of playing time. He is a confident player, good with both feet and not afraid to take a shot when an opportunity presents itself. David Moyes is protective of his youngsters but he won’t be afraid to utilise Barkley. Based on the strength of his first two performances, he may have no choice.
One to avoid…
Brad Friedel’s inclusion at Manchester United on Monday seems to have provided a definitive answer to the question of whether he would be Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp’s number one over Heurelho Gomes. The American put in a typical sturdy performance and it is unlikely that Redknapp will reinstall the erratic Gomes.
Friedel (£5.5m) is a reliable performer and Spurs do keep plenty of clean sheets but the time to choose him is not right before they face the irresistible Manchester City. United notched up three goals on Monday night and Friedel prevented them from grabbing plenty more, making a mammoth 13 saves. That earned him four points but you do not want your keeper that active every week. City have helped themselves to seven goals in the past two games and Samir Nasri has joined the cavalry to provide yet another attacking option for Roberto Mancini.
Carlos Tévez could start, Sergio Agüero and David Silva have started on fire and Edin Džeko looks like an entirely different prospect from the one which toiled last season. Brad Friedel may be a good option in the long run but don’t acquire him this week. If he’s already amongst your ranks, show him to his seat on the bench.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending”
Around 18 months ago the first three picks of the 2010 NFL Draft went to the St Louis Rams, the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The trio had, in their own unique ways, failed dismally the season before. The Rams propelled themselves to the top of the draft with a 2009 regular season which saw just a solitary triumph, over the pitiful Lions. Detroit followed up their winless season with only two victories and the fact this was seen as somewhat of a success shows just how bad their team was. As for Tampa, they left it until week nine to get their first win and notched up another two to be left with a paltry 3-13 record.
But the beauty of the NFL’s parity is that, pending the correct personnel decisions, nobody stays at the bottom for too long. The Rams were able to pick up Sam Bradford who has shown signs that he may go on to be one of the best quarterbacks of any draft whilst the Lions were able to grab Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best and one of the league’s most dominant performers in Ndamukong Suh. The Bucs, meanwhile, made some astute moves and surrounded blossoming quarterback Josh Freeman with some very capable football players.
All three narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season, Tampa Bay and St Louis on the final day, but they combined for a total record of 23-25, compared to in 6-42 in 2009 and 11-36 in 2008.
The Rams haven’t posted a winning season since 2003 (when they were last in the play-offs), Lions fans have had to wait even longer (since 2000) for a winning campaign and the Bucs haven’t reached the post-season in the competitive NFC South since 2007.
But all that could be about to change as the three franchises look as if they’re moving in the right direction. The Lions and Buccaneers will have to better the past two Super Bowl champions to take their divisions but will be in well in the hunt for wildcards should they fall just short. Meanwhile the Rams are more than capable of taking a wide-open NFC West.
It may have been unthinkable 18 months ago but the Rams, Lions and Buccaneers may just record winning seasons.
(Predicted finish in brackets)
Green Bay Packers (11-5)
The reigning Super Bowl champions went all the way last year despite numerous injuries. Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant will come back in to make the offense even more potent. Meanwhile the defense has playmakers everywhere and co-ordinator Dom Capers knows how to best utilise the talented Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson.
Detroit Lions (9-7)
The Lions will go as far as Matthew Stafford’s shoulder will take them. He has stacks of talent around him, including Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew, but needs to stay healthy. Fans of solid defenses will simply be salivating at the prospect of a front four of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Cliff Avril.
Chicago Bears (8-8)
The Bears were one step away from the Super Bowl last year and had Jay Cutler stayed fit/not wimped out (depending on your personal stance) they may very well have got there. But the team did it without being particularly spectacular. Question marks remain about Cutler’s ability to lead but they will remain competitive if Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers continue to destroy on D.
Minnesota Vikings (5-11)
The Brett Favre experiment is over. In comes another experienced veteran warhorse in the shape of Donovan McNabb. The former Redskins quarterback was treated shoddily in the capital and never really garnered adulation in Philly either but he’s still a very good QB especially with Adrian Peterson behind him. Sadly his biggest weapon, Sidney Rice, has gone and an aging defense looks like it could be vulnerable.
Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
The Eagles have made a concentrated effort to snare almost every free agent available this off-season. Nnamdi Asomugha has been the most impressive recruit but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith, Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin all improve Philadelphia greatly. Michael Vick will be given the reigns from the start, DeSean Jackson remains the league’s most exciting player whilst Trent Cole may just be the most underrated. They are the ones to watch.
Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
Last season was a colossal failure for Dallas given the strength of their roster. Jason Garrett has assumed head coaching duties and he has a task given Philly’s aggressive moves in free agency. Tony Romo will be back under centre and in Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant he has an excellent receiving corp. The run game stalled last year and Felix Jones must prove he can handle the load. But the biggest concern is the defense which was blown apart on multiple occasions last year.
New York Giants (8-8)
2010 was a strange season for the Giants. They didn’t make the play-offs due to costly errors at crucial times. Eli Manning racked up the yards but he also had a penchant for interceptions. There are still plenty of playmakers on defense and they’ll need them to be at their best in this division. The o-line is aging and may be a cause for concern, particularly if they leave Eli with plenty to do again.
Washington Redskins (2-14)
Each of the elite leagues seems to have a team which lags behind and the side dragging down the NFC East is the Redskins. Neither John Beck nor Rex Grossman is the answer at quarterback and they have a backfield committee without a stand-out star. They have some fine players on the defensive side of the ball but there is little to like offensively.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Raheem Morris’ young charges did remarkably well last year. There is plenty to admire about Josh Freeman and the rest of the team seems to have gelled perfectly. With another year of experience they could be ready for the post-season. They will have to factor in a trip to Wembley in mid-season but that didn’t prove a deterrent for the Giants in 2007.
Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
They were so impressive in the regular season but were despatched with ease by the Packers at the first post-season hurdle. Their defense was shown up to look very average and they haven’t really strengthened in that area, barring the astute acquirement of Ray Edwards. The Falcons gave up an awful lot for Julio Jones but he can slot in as a useful accompaniment to the marvellous Roddy White and quarterback Matt Ryan is on the elite’s periphery.
New Orleans Saints (10-6)
Competing as the reigning champs is never an easy thing to do but the Saints sneaked a play-off place last year. They were bizarrely beaten by the Seahawks as a weakness to defending the run was exposed. That could be an issue once again although their own rushing attacking has been improved considerably. Mark Ingram was a great draft pick and should be ready to carry the load to free up some space for Drew Brees to do his thing.
Carolina Panthers (3-13)
Selected first at the draft due to a poor campaign and with that pick they drafted quarterback Cam Newton. He won’t be expected to perform miracles straight away, even if he does start. The Panthers aren’t a terrible team but they are in a very strong division where wins will be hard to come by. Didn’t replace Julius Peppers’ influence and must find someone capable of pressuring the quarterback if they are to have any success.
St Louis Rams (10-6)
Sam Bradford’s rookie season was one to remember as he broke Peyton Manning’s record for most passes completed by a novice (354). They gave him a lot more to do than was initially expected proving their confidence in a top prospect and their much-improved offensive line. Bradford has been rewarded with wide receiver Mike Sims Walker who posted some impressive figures in Jacksonville. Still some way from being a great team but the NFC West is wide open.
San Francisco 49ers (8-8)
The 49ers were expected to walk the NFC West in 2010 but they lurched from one disaster to another. There are plenty of talented players on this roster in Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore but too often they shot themselves in the foot. Who stays under centre and how they perform will ultimately decide whether their season is a success or not.
Arizona Cardinals (7-9)
The Cardinals took a punt on Kevin Kolb and that gamble will define the coming years. Larry Fitzgerald has been signed up to a big contract but they missed the likes of Karlos Dansby, Anquan Boldin and Antre Rolle who were so pivotal in their Super Bowl run a few years back. Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie is another to depart and they must get more out of their running game to assist Kolb.
Seattle Seahawks (3-13)
The Seahawks made the play-offs by the skin of their teeth but even they were not happy with the season as a whole, reflected in the fact that Tarvaris Jackson will be the new quarterback. He was unimpressive in Minnesota but probably deserves another shot; fellow former Viking Sidney Rice’s arrival is a nice upshot for Jackson as is tight-end Zach Miller. Need more from former first-round pick Aaron Curry to show he doesn’t join Vernon Gholston and Aaron Maybin in the first-round outside-linebacker bust group.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
“It is better to take many injuries than to give one”
The Premier League’s fantasy league has offered a lifeline to users who suffered with log-in problems last week. There will be unlimited transfers up until the Week 2 deadline and the urge to tinker will prove too much for many. The mass clamour for Sergio Agüero is perhaps understandable but there are diamonds in the rough to be unearthed following a spate of early injuries.
Bank on them…
The brightest fantasy managers are always the ones who seize the small windows of opportunity when they present themselves.
These may come in the form of double game weeks or, often, in the form of injuries. Even in week two the latter is already coming into play.
Chelsea today announced that a knee injury would keep Petr Čech on the injury table for four weeks. In his absence, Hilário (£4.5m) suddenly becomes a very appealing option. He will feature in Chelsea’s next two, possibly three league games. They are against West Brom and Norwich at home before a trip to Sunderland in four weeks. Bank on him to record some clean-sheets in the coming weeks.
Manchester United’s defensive injury crisis is good news for the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Fábio and Jonny Evans. The difficulty as always with Sir Alex Ferguson, is second guessing his team selection. Smalling and Fábio started against West Brom but both Jones and Evans came on when Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić departed with injuries. Patrice Evra may return for the game against Tottenham meaning the Champions could name several different starting back-lines. Smalling (£5.5m) will probably fill one of the centre-back berths and Jonny Evans (£4.5m) may get the nod over Phil Jones due to his big match experience. But Fábio presents possibly the best value at £5m. His attacking instincts mean he could be among the assists or even goals. Of course picking any United defender is a risk after horror shows from goalkeeper David de Gea in his first two matches.
Roll the dice…
Cesc Fàbregas is gone and Samir Nasri’s pen is ready for Manchester City’s colossus contract offer. England’s bright hope Jack Wilshere is injured, as is Abou Diaby, and Gervinho and Alex Song will start three game suspensions. The spotlight will therefore focus on Aaron Ramsey (£6.5m). Games with Liverpool and Manchester United are tricky encounters but Ramsey proved he can rise to the big stage by grabbing the winner when the Gunners beat United at The Emirates last year.
It was Ramsey who set up Theo Walcott for the only goal of the game against Udinese in the week so consider him as a relatively cheap choice despite Arsenal’s difficult fixtures.
One to avoid…
United are not the only top club experiencing problems with injuries. Arsenal have kept two clean sheets in their first two games but are now down to the bare bones with Johan Djourou, Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traoré all out. That means that rookie defender Carl Jenkinson (£5.5m), who came on in the win over Udinese is likely to get the nod.
But think twice before plumping for the teenager. There are no guarantees of clean sheets in those clashes with Liverpool and United and sandwiched inbetween that is a trip to Italy for the second leg with Udinese.
For a player who has only appeared once for Arsenal and eight times for previous club Charlton, Jenkinson carries a hefty price tag.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.