Before we dive into gameweek 32 tomorrow, here are my adventures in Fantasy Premier League, gameweek 31 from last weekend.
Ricardo Lambert (pronounced Lam-bear): My father sometimes “Europeanizes” Rickie Lambert’s (7.1) name, probably in an effort to sound funny. After all, Lambert has spent most of his career in the Football League, and there’s nothing more English than the three divisions that buttress the Premiership. But wait a second. Lambert hasn’t missed a single penalty in his entire Southampton career. He’s muscular in the way most English forwards are muscular, but he can also dribble and pass, and, on Saturday, he scored a brilliant free kick. If there’s such a thing as a stereotypical lower-league striker, Ricardo Lambert isn’t it.
Andy Carroll scores two goals: Carroll (8.2) is definitely English, and he plays like a man who has his footballing priorities straight. He’s strong in the air because that’s where good old-fashioned players send the ball whenever they stumble into a bit of space. He no longer plays for Liverpool because Brendan Rodgers’ tactical master plan doesn’t involve 60-yard punts. He has finally ditched his ridiculous ponytail. That said, Carroll’s second goal against West Brom was genuinely beautiful — the body bag and chloroform with which Kevin Nolan (6.0) disables uncooperative referees didn’t feature. Demba Ba (7.8) scored a similar goal in Monday’s FA Cup quarterfinal.
United keeps another clean sheet (but you shouldn’t sign Rio Ferdinand): Manchester United doesn’t want this season’s title race to become at all interesting, which, after last year’s final day heartbreak, is fair enough, I suppose. On Saturday, United ground out a 1-0 win at Sunderland, arguably the most boring team in the division, without ever clicking into top gear. Wayne Rooney (12.0) didn’t play, either because he injured his groin (the official line) or because he ate too many Montenegrin chips (you never know). Nemanja Vidic (6.6) and Chris Smalling (5.0) both performed well, but Vidic rarely plays consecutive matches and Smalling is just another variation on the old Wes Brown/John O’Shea theme – he starts only when other players are unavailable. Rio Ferdinand (5.8) won’t join your fantasy team unless you sell John Terry (6.5), move to Qatar, and #ff the crap out of @rioferdy5.
Wigan is doing its thing: For some reason, Wigan doesn’t win games until late in the season, at which point manager Roberto Martinez becomes The Talk Of The League, rejects a move to a better team, pledges his future to the Latics, and begins the cycle anew. Striker Arouna Kone (6.6) is having an excellent season, but Franco Di Santo (5.3) is as mediocre as ever.
Belgians in the Premier League: Everyone knows that Belgian football has produced the latest “golden generation,” though why you’d want to tar any group of players with that brush is beyond me. Eden Hazard (9.5), Romelu Lukaku (6.5) and the rest of the Belgian national team are probably better sons, friends and husbands than their English counterparts, but it’s unclear whether they’re capable of functioning as a coherent unit. Still, Jan Vertonghen (6.5) and Christian Benteke (7.2) each scored a goal this weekend, and, as far as I can tell, there’s no Belgian equivalent to the Lampard-Gerrard debate, which — well, thank God for small mercies.