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:
Bank on him…
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…
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…
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.
Bank on him…
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…
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.
One to avoid…
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.
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…
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…
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.
Bank on him…
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…
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…
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.
“Communication is the real work of leadership”
I don’t envy Fabio Capello some times. Picking an England captain should be a rudimentary decision. It should also be irrelevant. Yet we seem to hold the title in the highest esteem in this country and so handling it with such colossal thoughtlessness was not Don Fabio’s wisest move.
The armband and title are merely superficial. In fact, were England’s senior players not a collection of wholly uncouth morons, it would probably matter even less. It is just a title to appease the media hoards who want a figurehead to speak to and a scapegoat to hold accountable when, always inevitably in England’s case, the latest crisis rears its head.
The title of captain is one which John Terry clearly relishes. It may in part be egotistical but it’s more that possessing the armband shows that others appreciate his more endearing qualities. Terry is a leader; he is an organiser and a very good one at that. This season he’s performed magnificently at times in what has proven a difficult period for Chelsea. He also has an excellent injury and disciplinary record and is very committed to playing for his country.
Strip away the personality and the misdemeanours and you have a perfectly adequate candidate. Of course, that’s hard to ignore.
But Terry’s biggest faux pas and the reason why he shouldn’t be within a country mile of the captaincy dates back to a press conference he held back in South Africa. What he said on the record (we can only assume that what was said off it was an even more damning indictment of the Capello regime) completely undermined the Italian. He questioned his tactics, his methods, his team selection, all at a time when England needed to rally behind their manager the most.
Handing him back the captaincy is one thing but the manner in which Capello has handled it is a more worrying one which highlights his most underlying flaw. Rio Ferdinand’s continually sporadic England appearances should result in a charging of the guard if not on a permanent basis then at least a temporary one. But instead of a quiet word in Ferdinand’s ear explaining the decision we had Chinese whispers, we had a reportedly disgruntled Ferdinand who was blissfully unaware of Capello’s thoughts. Capello’s biggest drawback was highlighted once again. He is completely distant from his team. He doesn’t communicate with those in the camp frequently enough.
It is not, as some of his naysayers claim, to do with his grasp of the language. There are a growing number of problems Capello has caused himself simply by ignoring one of the most fundamental managerial qualities; communication.
Ferdinand should have heard from Capello, not the media, that he was to lose the armband. The goalkeepers should have been informed of who would start in South Africa well in advance rather than a day before. If he wanted to recruit Paul Scholes, he should, as Scholes alluded to, have called the Manchester United midfielder much earlier. Then there was the awkward Community Shield moment when Michael Carrick, who Capello had presumed unfit, strode past the bewildered Italian to collect his medal.
Communication is vital. It is important not just to gauge the opinions and thoughts of your players but also in commanding respect from all involved.
Was there any uproar and upheaval when Rio lost the captain’s armband to Nemanja Vidic? No, because Alex Ferguson communicates with his players. As a result they respect him and they respect his decisions.
The England captaincy shouldn’t have been an issue but the cloak and dagger stuff that has surrounded Terry’s reappointment has soured what should have been a positive week for England. I think that people are overly critical of Capello but he has to start communicating better with his players to ensure he doesn’t contribute to his own downfall any more.
This is a classic example. Moreover, how can Capello expect to command the respect and discipline he yearns for when he promotes the one man who so publically challenged his methods? By handing Terry the captain’s armband, Capello has handed over the keys of the asylum to the lunatics.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn
“And they call him one of the best referees. That’s a joke”
It had a certain sense of inevitability. Here we had competitive players suddenly equipped with an addictive toy which they could utilise with emotions still running high.
As cricket players and American footballers already know to their cost, the forum of Twitter can easily land you in trouble. It was only a matter of time before one of the growing football contingent found the hot water. Step forward Liverpool’s Ryan Babel. The Dutchman was the first recipient of an F.A. charge after posting a picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt.
In today’s society, where humour and fun are often suppressed, Babel’s tweet was seen as out of line. The F.A. no doubt believed his artistic licence made a mockery of their much vaunted Respect campaign. But does a tongue-in-cheek picture really cause more damage to that campaign than the vile abuse referees suffer every weekend?
Are this country’s kids more likely to respond to a controversial decision on a Sunday morning with a barrage of swear words or are they more likely to go home and put their Photoshop skills to the test?
Twitter is a fantastic tool and we should enjoy the fact sportsmen have embraced it. Not only does it (sometimes) provide an excellent insight into footballer’s lives and day-to-day musings, it also allows fans to interact with their heroes. The days of footballers mingling with supporters are way behind us and if Twitter bridges the gap, surely this can only be a good thing?
My fear is that Babel’s charge will now kick-start a precedence which could see many others reprimanded for their views. In recent weeks Rio Ferdinand, Jack Wilshire and Wojciech Sczcesny have all tweeted varying degrees of outrage at referee’s decisions. If opinions aren’t tolerated then the players won’t see the purpose of Twitter and managers and owners will simply enforce social networking bans.
Without it, we will rely on the all too cushy press officer-controlled environments which we feed off now. Where footballers transform into monotonous drones and glide through interviews armed with press-bites and suitable clichés. It makes footballers appear stupid and it weakens post-match analysis to a mind-numbingly boring level.
Twitter can be dangerous but it also offers footballers a chance to be more expressive. Babel’s picture was merely a playful jibe and I sincerely hope it does not fuel the end of footballers on Twitter.