I don’t know where you live. I don’t know what the laws are or what is generally accepted versus what is not. I don’t know if gambling is legal where you are, or at least overlooked if it is on a small scale. What I DO know is that the Premier League season is a long one and for fantasy managers, this is the time of year when it gets really hard to keep yourself motivated. Unless, of course, you’ve sweetened the action with some financial incentive.
For the first six or seven months of the season it is easy to stay motivated to actively manage your fantasy team. You know you’ll be watching matches that mean something in the league and it will be even better if you have a fantasy team to add to the excitement in matches that you might otherwise not care so much about. The sad fact is that unless you’re fascinated by the relegation battle – and it is fascinating this year – there is less and less motivation to stay glued to the Premier League with each passing week.
I think we’d all agree that United sewed up the title this past weekend if they hadn’t already done so. Arsenal’s inability to put away a modestly talented Rovers side saw to that. So that’s the title race. For an Arsenal supporter like me the last month has made the final eight matches of the season MUCH less interesting.
Maybe you can get excited for the race for the remaining Champions League spots between Spurs, City and Chelsea. Even that has lost some edge with Spurs lagging in the league and the number of games remaining dwindling, I have a hard time seeing Spurs putting up enough of a fight to make that interesting. I give that about the same chance I gave Arsenal of winning their entire remaining schedule going into last weekend and claiming the title – remote.
So how do you keep yourself motivated in a world where the season lasts nine or ten months and the important outcomes can be decided with upwards of a quarter of the season remaining? Make side bets! Neither the Premier League nor Yahoo! offer much in the way of prizes. There are scattered derivative competitions that are offered by sites like the one you are reading that offer some motivation but my guess is that most of you already know how that will be turning out for you. No, the best way to keep up a guaranteed level of motivation is to create your own mini-competition with friends.
As an example, one side bet I have engaged in for years with my Yahoo! fantasy team is with my blogging partner Jeremy. He and I bet a Premier League replica jersey of the winner’s choice paid for by the loser in a direct competition between our two teams. Our skill levels in the Yahoo! game are pretty similar and I can say for certain that our races for the replica shirt have been much more interesting than the title race in the real Premier League for most of the last ten years.
In fantasy MLS a group of longtime friends has created a really bad trophy from a Transformers action figure that gets sent across the country to the winner of our league. It might not seem like much motivation but being able to call your team the Transformer Home Team (i.e., the reigning champions) in the following season certainly makes it easier to stay focused on MLS for a while into the autumn even after the Premier League has taken back most of our attention.
My overall message is that the Premier League season is a long grind for fantasy managers and whether you find additional rewards through sites like EPLTalk or through a group of friends, don’t count on the excitement of the last few weeks of the season to keep you motivated. Even United fans are bound to lose some level of interest watching each match intently enough for fantasy purposes as their team plays out the string and counts down the weeks until the championship inevitably returns to Old Trafford.
Where we separate the matches that offer fantasy managers real value versus those that just appear to do so.
- Chelsea vs. Wigan – Don’t be fooled by Chelsea’s mediocre match against Stoke or Wigan’s holding of Spurs last weekend. Chelsea aren’t entirely out of the woods yet on Champions League qualifying for next season and Wigan are no match for them at home.
- ManUtd vs. Fulham – The visitors have made a fortress out of Craven Cottage but their exploits on the road haven’t been nearly so noteworthy. Oh, and United are just exceptional at home. ‘nuff said.
- Blackpool vs. Arsenal – No, I’m not betting on all of the spoils going to Arsenal so much as this being an open attacking match in both directions where you should consider both sets of attacking players and stay far away from the defenders and ‘keepers.
I don’t see a lot of matches that LOOK attractive but aren’t. What I see are a lot of even match-ups that could go either way. This shouldn’t dissuade you from taking players in an even match-up. What it SHOULD do is cause you to choose players who produce week-in and week-out as opposed to occasional contributors whose value improves when the match-up is a strong one for that player’s team.
- Chicharito – Assuming Rooney is out suspended, Chicharito should start and return great value.
- SEB – If you went with my advice last weekend, I’d stick with him since it won’t cost you a transfer.
- Gyan – I was much more excited about this picking coming off Gyan’s performance against England and before Sunderland’s stinker against City. That said, it still makes too much sense to pick against WBA on the road.
- Sturridge – He’s cooled off since his early run of goals for Bolton but you have to like his chances of returning to the scoring column against West Ham’s shameful defense.
- Ba – He has also cooled down a bit but having Vidic mark you will do that. Look for him to get back to it this weekend even if the Hammers don’t get all three points on the road.
- Downing – He’s been really good recently. His points come more from assists than goals but I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him for both club and country in the last month or so.
- Adam – A bit of a stinker last weekend but who among us thinks Arsenal’s defense is solid enough not to give up a PK and maybe more to Blackpool’s talisman.
- Nani/Valencia – If you have the money, Nani is the guy, if you need a bargain then Valencia is the alternative.
- Adam Johnson – I really don’t like the match-up of City at Anfield but I did really like the way Johnson played last weekend. Liverpool are much better than Sunderland but they are likely to struggle with wing players since all of their defenders are more central types.
- Walcott – I like Walcott going against a fairly slow Blackpool defense. His price isn’t bad either which makes him a pretty solid gamble if you’re looking for a midfielder.
- Smalling – He didn’t pay off last weekend but he’s still a great bet assuming Rio isn’t going to return to the line-up and it’s hard to imagine that Rio will play twice over a few days after being out so long.
- Luiz – He didn’t pay off last weekend either but he’s got a better match-up this weekend and he’s still high quality for a low price. These are the kinds of risk-reward propositions we like here at the fantasy blog.
- Kolarov – He DID pay off last weekend and while I don’t like his match-up nearly so well, I don’t see any reason to go away from value for the money.
- R Johnson – Picking Birmingham players on the road seems like it might be a bit of a fool’s errand (insert your own joke here) but this has all the makings of an ugly, low-scoring affair. That could mean lots of yellow cards and just enough goals to make picking a defender here a bad idea but I’m going the other way and suggesting that for the money, Johnson and a Brum clean sheet aren’t a terrible bet.
- Hart – I know I said I didn’t love the match-up but Hart has been money all season so certainly stick with him if you already have him. If you’re buying then might I suggest,
- Friedel – He’s cheap and for some reason I think Villa will show up at home while Newcastle won’t. If you don’t have the stomach for that choice then maybe,
- Gomes – He’s even cheaper and Spurs do have a solid match-up even if I hate their current momentum but if you’re worried about him then might I suggest…
- Almunia – I really don’t believe in him keeping a clean sheet two weeks in a row but I didn’t believe he’d do it last weekend either and he did.
- Kuszczak – If you’re willing to wait until Friday to see how EvdS’s injury situation is reported, there seems a reasonable chance that his back-up might play this weekend and provide solid value.
- Chicharito – It is feeling a bit like a United sort of weekend and with Rooney suspended “the pea” seems like the best alternative.
- Nani – If you like your points from midfield then it doesn’t get much more probable than Nani. He’s been consistent all season and the match-up and home match make him as solid a bet as you’ll find.
- Drogba – I know, I didn’t recommend him above which has mostly to do with his price. If you can afford him then by all means buy him. If you have been sticking with him then you should think about captaining him. What, you thought I was going to go with Torres?