As you will come to realize, I tend to start my columns off with something of a rant on whatever topic I see fit each week before diving into the fantasy analysis.
I do this for a few reasons. First, I like mixing it up a bit and thinking a bit more broadly about the Premier League and soccer in general. Second, an abrupt analysis of the upcoming week in fantasy would start looking pretty repetitive. And third, whatever I pick as the topic is generally more likely to rile up readers and get them talking in the comments section – the alternative is people nodding to themselves as they read and then navigating over to the Premier League site to make some adjustments to their team. They may return to the comments section after the matches have been played to, ahem, remind me of where I was wrong and ignore the parts I got right but I prefer to keep the dialog going before during and after the matches.
So before I get to my Fantasy Premier League tips on how to rack up the most number of points this week, divulge me so I can focus on my topic of the week, the title chase.
With Chelsea’s win over United on Tuesday the cries in the headlines were that the race is “wide open” again. I appreciate that the “wide open” sentiment makes for good headlines but clearly they were written before anyone looked at the table and the remaining schedules. Outside of Arsenal, the next closest challengers are City who are 10 points back on an even number of games and Chelsea who are 12 points back with a match in hand. Did I mention that there are only 10 (or in Chelsea and Arsenal’s case 11) matches left in the season?
Here’s a quick breakdown for those who think that anyone other than Arsenal could jump into the title race. United has 10 matches remaining. Of those, five are at home and five are away. Only two or three matches remain against strong competition depending on how you feel about Liverpool going into this weekend. At Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea are clearly the most difficult matches United will have at least on paper. Looking at that slate, even if United lose all three difficult matches and unexpectedly draw two additional matches against teams they should beat, that gives them 17 additional points for a total of 77. City would have to win 9 of their of their remaining 10 matches to beat that total. Chelsea would have to win 10 of their 11 to eclipse United’s point total and win the title.
So, could United fall on hard times and lower the bar for either City or Chelsea? I suppose it is possible but before supporters of those two teams in blue get too excited, here are the longest streaks of consecutive wins for each team thus far this season: City – 4 consecutive wins in the league; Chelsea – 5 consecutive wins. Oh, and both streaks happened very early in the season. Doesn’t seem likely that both United and Arsenal will fall off a cliff and make this more than a two team race.
Apparently “wide open” just means that Arsenal – who were weren’t far off the pace to start with – got a little bit closer. Apparently I need to take hype (or is that hyperbole?) lessons so I can write better headlines. If you ask me, the headline for the entire season is that just about anything can happen because the supposed “big” teams aren’t as much better than the rest as usual and the relegation strugglers aren’t as bad in comparison to the rest as they usually are. It makes for a fun season but given the lack of dominance by any side, the relative importance of one result even at this late date is probably overstated. Maybe we should just enjoy the fact that it was exceptional entertainment.
On to the upcoming week in fantasy:
· Birmingham – with two matches including a home match against struggling WBA and an away match with fellow strugglers Everton, the newly crowned Carling Cup champs are the toast of the fantasy world this week.
· Everton – slightly less attractive given their unpredictable recent form, injuries, and more difficult schedule @NUFC and BRM but two matches is certainly still better than one for select Everton players.
· Chelsea – Chelsea will be riding high and Blackpool will be without Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell – hardly seems fair to make Blackpool’s supporters watch this one.
· Zigic – He’s been coming on strong in the second half of the season. Throw in a cheap price (5.3) and modest opposition and you have an attractive proposition.
· Saha – Beckford has scored more recently but if you’re choosing between the two and Saha hasn’t fallen apart between now and the weekend then you’d have to bet on Saha if you’re only choosing one.
· Torres – He has to score one of these weekends doesn’t he? This would seem like an obvious time to break the ice.
· Sturridge – More a “keep” than a buy since he only has one match but worth noting that in the January Transfer Window Goal Derby the tally is Sturridge 4; Suarez 1; Luiz 1; Torres 0; and Carroll 0 but at least Carroll has the excuse that he’s been crocked.
· Ba – I liked him last week and he rewarded me and I’m sticking with him – especially at 5.0
· Balotelli – He seems to be coming around and Wigan seem like the kind of weakling that he’d enjoy torturing.
· Bentley – He hasn’t been as good as I expected but I still like him more than any of the other Birmingham midfielders if that’s what you’re going for. I could be talked into Larsson or Gardner but if you’re asking me – and you are in essence by reading this column – then Bentley is my guy.
· Arteta – With Cahill out of action for the double week, Arteta becomes the next most attractive midfielder from Everton. He’s a bit overpriced but since he gets you two matches, it isn’t that bad a deal.
· Lampard – He isn’t the Lamps of old but he’s still taking PKs for Chelsea and that seems like a good thing to have going for you against Blackpool this weekend.
· Nani – He’s been good enough that you really don’t need to know too much about the match-up to make this decision.
· Dempsey – Quietly the fourth most productive midfielder in the Premier League game and he’s home against Rovers. Not a bad deal for 7.3.
· Johnson/Jiranek – Johnson has been very good all season and the price is pretty good but if you need to really economize I’d take Jiranek over Carr who has a tendency to pick up yellow cards like they’re free cash lying on the ground. Watch both for injuries though as neither looked fully healthy coming off of the Cup win on Sunday.
· Baines – Fourth most productive defender in the game and he has two matches – pretty easy choice.
· Coleman – The tenth most productive defender in the game and he didn’t become a regular starter until December. Those are great numbers for someone playing twice at a cost of only 5.2.
· ACole – Great match-up if you’ve already gone through your allotment of Birmingham and Everton players and he’s been incredible productive – remember, this is a fantasy team and you don’t actually have to spend any time with him.
· Kolarov – I’m still a bit disappointed by his production in the Premier League game (he’s much better in the Yahoo! format) but I still like his chances for points at home against Wigan.
· Foster – Two matches with a reasonable chance of two clean sheets although they are by no means guaranteed – that said, Foster also tends to get a lot of saves so even if he only gets one clean sheet, his week will look pretty solid. The big caveat here is if Johnson and Jiranek join Dann in being injured. Missing both would mean buying Foster would require a lot of faith in young replacements.
· Cech – Great match-up but you’ll pay for it with Cech. Still, you need players from other teams so this might be where you diversify since Chelsea seem almost guaranteed a clean sheet with Blackpool’s attacking injuries.
· Hart – The match-up is just slightly less attractive than Cech’s and the price just slightly higher which puts Hart third on this list.
· Howard – Despite the two matches, I’ve been suspect of Howard and the Everton defense all season. Baines and Coleman were strong recommendations because they get lots of points going forward but Howard has to be seen as a risk in net even with two matches.
· Saha – I’m a high risk sort of guy and Saha seems more likely than Zigic to have a huge two-match stretch and that wins him the top spot here.
· Zigic – If you don’t want to live in fear of your captain limping off after 10 minutes of the first match of the double week, then Zigic is a steadier bet to pay off as your captain.
· Balotelli – Same theory as Saha – he seems one of the more likely of the one-gamers to have a hat trick – the downside is that he could just as easily kick a defender in the head and be sent off early.
Editor’s note: The EPL Talk private league in Fantasy Premier League is currently ranked 12th (out of 223,046 private leagues worldwide). If you haven’t updated your team recently, please do so before Saturday morning. In the meantime, here’s thetop 50 players in the EPL Talk private league.