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The Week Ahead

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So many topics to write about since I last blogged. 

What to say about...

1) ...the opening of the eagerly (but I'm not sure why) awaited opening of Messiah 2: Pay No Mind to the Lack of Experience or Personality in Newcastle.  Keegan may not have been the best manager ever but at least there was a solid reason behind the hysteria.  I know Shearer is a local icon and was one of the great strikers in the history of the Prem but if you substituted Maradona for Shearer and Argentina for NUFC you'd have (and in fact you did have) widespread laughter from the knowing throngs that could see the disaster coming a mile away.  Need evidence? Bolivia 6 - Argentina 1 - really? I wouldn't have guessed that Bolivia could hang 6 on Argentina's U20 side let alone their first team.

2) ...ManYoo's self-destruction coming down the stretch.  We're not at collapse proportions yet but is anyone ready to admit that SAF's construction of this team isn't any less subject to his personal blinders than Wenger's construction of Arsenal? I'm sure I'm not the only person outside of England to notice that Rooney only lives up to the hype for short bursts during any given season.  Now that CRon is just a very good player, there are a lot of cracks showing - most notably the fact that they have no midfielders.  Giggs is contributing on muscle memory but can't be counted on, Carrick/Anderson/Fletcher/O'Shea are OK players but when was the last time you read anything about a major European club "sniffing around" any of ManYoo's midfielders? (For these purposes we are correctly classifying CRon as a forward, not a midfielder) There has to be a reason for this.  Pundits seem to be pointing to Hargreaves injury as a major factor here but I don't remember a time since he came to United when he wasn't injured for anything other than a short stretch - building a squad around his capability isn't any sounder a strategy than expecting Tomas Rosicky to make a contribution.  Could still be enough to win the Prem given the number of matches left but mark my words, there is NO WAY they will win the Champions League.

3) ...a brainstorm on how to make the Carling Cup more interesting.  I mentioned March Madness in a column the other day referring to the Men's College Basketball Championship tournament here in the US - without a doubt, the best concentrated yearly tournament in world sports - 3 weekends, 33 games, plenty of drama, and it's all over rather quickly.  As generally happens here, sportswriters focused on other sports tend to try to apply the lessons of March Madness to their sports at this time of year - a cheap gimick for a column? absolutely.  Am I going to submit a modest proposal anyway? You bet.  My thought...revitalize the Carling Cup by condensing it down into a 3 week tournament starting just after the New Years Day matches.  Why?

  1. It would bring some much needed excitement and focus to a competition that is mostly viewed with a yawn;
  2. For clubs who go out early, it would represent the frequently-requested Winter Break;
  3. It would give managers and administrators time to integrate January signings outside of the pressure of the primary league competition;
  4. "Underdog" teams from lower divisions with hopes of making a run in the Carling Cup wouldn't need to sustain excellent performance over a number of months, just a short stretch of 5 or 6 matches over 3 weeks - a hot striker or goalkeeper could really make an impact on a relatively small club progressing beyond their means/reputation.

With clubs in need of additional sources of revenue in the face of the recession, things like what I'm suggestion should be considered more seriously than ever before.  There is comfort in tradition but at this point, you have to consider any option available to keep the coffers full because the in-stadium crowd that keeps most lower division clubs afloat just isn't going to stay steady for the next year or two.

OK, with those thoughts planted in your head, we'll move on to the Week Ahead in fantasy...

There are some teams playing on the road this weekend that should have fantasy managers salivating - between Citeh, Boro, and Stoke you can almost guarantee road losses each time out and all three are traveling.  The most enticing has to be Citeh traveling to the Emirates where Arsenal have found the nets again - could get ugly.  The only downside of the other two trips is that Boro are headed to Bolton who are never great to bet on and Stoke are traveling to West Brom who are where they are in the table for a reason. The other big question is which side in poor form - ManYoo or Villa - will snap out of it?  Given that they are at home and, well, more talented you'd have to guess it will be United.  Liverpool take their hotstreak on the road to Fulham while everyone waits and wonders what will happen when struggling Chelsea walk into the cauldron of emotions and other strangeness that awaits them at St. James' Park.

With Liverpool flying high, it's hard not to get excited about Nando as a premium priced striker.  He didn't cash in much on Pool's dismantling of Villa but you have to expect that his outburst will be coming soon.  If you're looking below the radar a little bit - Roman Bednar and Johan Elmander are interesting options given their opposition and reasonable prices - neither are no-brainers but Davies is too expensive for my tastes at Bolton. 

Other interesting options outside of the obvious choices are Giovanni and Pavlyuchenko for Spurs (assuming that DBent is out).

The great unknown is who will line up at striker for Arsenal.  Arshavin should be something of a no-brainer this weekend but with RvP injured on international duty, Bendtner always a question, and EdS's status ever-uncertain you have to wonder.  Is K2 (a relative bargain at just over 11.00) a potential steal this weekend?  Worth following the injury news and thinking about how to get in on the action.

Hard to stay away from Gerrard on a hot streak - if you have him, by all means keep him.  If you don't, probably worth thinking about him over CRon or Lamps as the bedrock of your midfield.  Nasri also seems to be coming into his own fantasy-wise as he gels with Arshavin and finds the cracks in the defense that Arsh opens up.  He really is the heir to Pires' role.  He isn't a game-changer on his own but he appears to have the makings of a fantastic sidekick.

If you're looking for the under-the-radar guys then Kilbane, Morrison, Modric, and Essien are interesting bets.  At the same time, I'd stay away from Matty Taylor and Ashley Young given their high prices - MTay had a great week and has a great match-up but that's generally the time he delivers a 3.5 point effort.

I would also be remiss if I didn't throw Mark Noble into the mix on Jeremy's behalf, Jer has something of a footie-crush on Noble but managed to leave him out for his goal last week - I haven't heard anything about Noble making it back to Jer's line-up so the fantasy gods are likely to continue punishing Jeremy with more goals.

A couple pretty big items of note related to defenders - first, we eagerly await anything resembling a presumed line-up from Everton as we evaluate the potential of some of the Toffees' young midfielders-listed-as-defenders (Rodwell and Gosling).  If either are likely to play, they're worth a look.  Robinson and Olsson for WBA are also interesting one-week options hosting Stoke who are always a strong bet to be shut out on the road.  Gallas is a decent bargain for Arsenal at just over 8.00 with equally-likely-to-be-blanked Citeh coming to town - throw in the decent shot at a goal (or at least an SOT or two) and you have good value.  Old favorite JLloyd Samuel is another interesting bargain who has a good shot a a steady point return - if you're a bit more of a gambler, then Gardner should be in your thinking against Boro.  He tends to get forward and make things happen when he's given the chance - the only issue is whether he'll start.

Jussi is the obvious choice here unless you have the money to get to Almunia.  As I think about it, even if you do have the money to move up, I might stick with Jussi - much easier to see one of Citeh's quality individual attackers (Robinho, Ireland, etc.) getting a goal against the run of play than it is to see someone from Boro doing the same.  Scott Carson would be my fallback position but his price is a bit high after a solid fantasy performance last time out and, well, he's Scott Carson so he could easily be the cause of his own undoing even if his team plays well in front of him.

OK, that's all until Injuries and Suspensions tomorrow.

Cheers - Neal

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