Some friends and I went to the movies last night to see Thor. We were all rather excited because the movies featuring the Avengers started off very well with Iron Man. To add to the excitement is a pretty strong cast around the relatively unknown titular character including Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard. Throw in Kenneth Branaugh as the director and it was hard to believe that you wouldn’t at least get some strong dialog and acting performances even if the story ended up being a bit comic book formulaic.
What we ended up seeing was a real stinker of a movie. The acting was terrible. The story and character development were worse. The villain (Loki) who is probably one of the most interesting characters in all of ancient mythology was the worst thing a villain could be – uninteresting. Needless to say, we did not leave the theater happy.
The reason I bring this up is that there are some direct lessons for the final weekend of the fantasy season. There are situations that seem like they should work out but what we can never know is how motivated the players are. My overriding impression of Thor was that the “A list” actors who were there figured that their names, the Marvel brand, the success of recent comic book adaptations, and the special effects would guarantee a success. Knowing this, or at least assuming it, they pretty much mailed in their performances. Seriously, I think Natalie Portman should lose her Oscar for being almost unwatchable in this thing.
Applying the same logic to the matches on the final weekend of the season, we find that a great deal of the Premier League has exactly nothing to play for this weekend. This means we’re likely to know less about who will start, who will try hard, and who will be more focused on packing for vacation. If you want to know what I’m talking about, here is a real Tweet from @Ph1lj0nes “Picking up a few essentials for the summer breaks away. Flip flops are on the agenda at the moment.” And HIS team is facing a serious battle to survive relegation even if his future is in the Premier League regardless of where Rovers find themselves next season.
My point is that under the best of circumstances it is difficult to know who is going to perform and who isn’t. When you take away obvious motivation it gets even more difficult. Some of the guys you expect to do well week in and week out will do what you expect absent any real purpose because they have personal agendas like personal pride or boosting their statistics. Others will either be rotated unpredictably or just go through the motions on the way to the airport of first tee.
As a result, my strategy is to try to stack my teams with players who, at least presumably, have something to play for. Well, other than Mr. Jones for obvious reasons.
The interesting thing about the last day of the year this season is that there is no incredibly obvious team. That is, there isn’t a home team with a ton on the line playing against an opponent that doesn’t have anything to play for.
Given that, here is a quick run-down of the next best things:
- Wolves vs. Rovers – Both teams are fighting for their lives with Wolves being at home and riding some solid momentum I’m favoring their players more so than Rovers. Probably not a high scoring affair but I could see 2-0 or 2-1 for Wolves.
- Blackpool @ United – Don’t get me wrong, I’m not betting on Blackpool’s defense regardless of whom SAF rolls out to start. I will, however, l bet on Blackpool scoring some goals whether they win, lose or draw on Sunday. If nothing else this will be the match to watch.
- Wigan @ Stoke – Could Wigan come back from the dead? Seems unlikely but I’m betting they, like Blackpool, will score a few goals regardless of the outcome. It will also help that Stoke have to be a bit demoralized after two straight losses to Citeh.
- Citeh @ Bolton – I think Citeh would like to lock down automatic qualification and Bolton, other than doing what everyone other than United has been doing and beating Arsenal, have been pretty terrible over the last couple of months (where have you gone Stuart Holden?).
- Arsenal/Liverpool/Spurs – Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of any of these three – Arsenal are just a disaster and neither Champions League aspirant seems too excited about the prospect of the Europa Cup. My sense is that all three represent slight value but not a ton.
- Tevez – His motivation will be two-fold. His team is competing for direct entry into the group stage of the Champions League and he has a personal battle with cross-town rival Berbatov for the Golden Boot. Seems like motivation enough for me.
- Ba – If he starts (which is in minor doubt due to the racism controversy) he seems like a player with plenty of motivation as he auditions for a new job. West Ham as a group may not be terribly motivated but I like Ba’s chances against an equally uninspired Sunderland team that is also missing almost a full squad.
- DJ Campbell – Back in the goals with a brace last weekend for Blackpool and potentially going against a defense that will include Johnny Evans – seems like a solid recipe for scoring.
- Fletcher – With rumors swirling that Doyle has had a recurrence of the injury that kept him out for the majority of the run-in, Fletcher will be back to leading the line against a poor Blackburn team.
- Rodallega – Wigan will be desperate and he came up with a solid fantasy performance last weekend – seems likely that he’ll do it again.
- Berbs – This should really be held until Friday when we know whether he is likely to start or not but I felt like it would be irresponsible not to mention that there’s a great chance that he’ll play and score enough to win the most improbably Golden Boot in the history of the league.
- Adam – He just keeps justifying his place as THE fantasy player of the season, especially in the PremerLeague.com format where his price still isn’t crazy. Throw in the motivation of captaining a team fighting to stay up (even if Adam is not likely to be around next year regardless) and you have the must-have player of the week.
- Puncheon – Keeping with the Blackpool theme, I think of him as Adam-light (and a great bet to improve dramatically as a fantasy player next season if Adam moves on and BPL stay up).
- N’Zogbia – His performance last season reminded me of long-time blog punchline Mark Viduka – his performances always improve when he feels like he is auditioning for his next job/contract. Seems like something you might want to get in on.
- Larsson – With Bentley out because he can’t play against the team that owns his rights, you have to assume Larsson will be integral to whatever attacking Birmingham does – the only downside is that even with their survival in the Prem on the line you wonder how much attacking that might be.
- Toure – Yaya is an odd player – I don’t think there’s any way he could have been viewed as an overwhelming success this season given his price in the transfer market (the real one) and the fact that his game isn’t very flashy. That said, he’s quietly been one of the more effective fantasy midfielders around this season.
- Zenden – We put a lot of stock on players who take free kicks for their teams, especially defenders and midfielders. This gives them improved chances for assists and maybe even the occasional goal. With all of the injuries at Sunderland, Zenden finds himself taking more and more and you get those opportunities for a bargain price. If you’ve seen Sunderland play in the last couple weeks, you’ll know he’s been close…and that you should get a life because they’ve been unpleasant to watch.
- S. Ward – Assuming Doyle is indeed hurt then Ward is a great option as an inexpensive defender playing as a withdrawn striker. Great potential value as he is also at home and playing against Blackburn.
- Smalling – I think Blackpool will score more than one goal but if you want to balance out your investment in their attack then Smalling (likely to play) is a relatively low-cost way to do so.
- Elokobi – Not the most fashionable fantasy player ever but a reasonable bet for both a clean sheet and potential attacking points for a reasonable price.
- Craddock – But likely only if you’re a Wolves supporter and are looking to pay homage to his extremely well-struck goal that was instrumental in last weekend’s huge win. He is cheap if you don’t have the above reasons.
Hard for me to guess where a clean sheet, or even a win, might come from this weekend which means that I’m unlikely to invest heavily in my goalkeeper or use a valuable transaction on one. Joe Hart is the best bet and my guess is that a high percentage of players already have him which should work out fine. Other inexpensive options if you need to make a change include Robbo, Hennessey, and Al-Habsi.
- Tevez – You have to like his motivation combined with his skill and his form.
- Berbs – The story of this odd Premier League season might not be complete without a Golden Boot for a player who hasn’t started an important match down the stretch for his club.
- Adam – Until proven otherwise, he’s probably the safest bet to produce points that would then get doubled.