Premier League: GW4 Retrospect

With the international break, managers and players alike had an extra week to rest, relax before making their next moves for GW4. My intention before I found out Aguero would face a suspension due to an elbow to Reid in GW3 was to use exchange my WC for unlimited transfers for GW4. Much like last year, when Aguero returned from international duty injured I was forced to WC sooner than I liked. I am off to the best start in the 4 years I’ve been playing fantasy football with my weekly goal being to score 60 points a gameweek, which breaks down to just 5.45 points per player, 2 of which you get if you start and play a majority of the game. As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles scoring 60 points a week would result in 2280, which would put you in the top of the top out of some 3.8 million managers. Not too shabby. Heading into Monday as Everton visits the Stadium of Light to take on Sunderland I am sitting with just 46 points, 14 off my goal but 10 points better than the weekly average. Does that tell you just how bad the weekend was for many? Fortunately I have Defoe (captained) and Williams playing.

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It was a very busy WC week, as I waited until Friday before I confirmed my use of the WC, missing out on a few player price increases earlier in the week. Money that could be well spent as I team is a bit behind at just 100.6. At this point I had hoped to surpassed 101.0 to allow some more player movement, but I am pleased with the current progress. Out of 15 players on my squad I transferred 11 out retaining only Foster and Zlatan in the starting XI.

I retooled my defense, opting to sit Valencia in GW4 due to the Manchester Derby, appeared to be a valid move until I saw results from the rest of my defenders. Starting defenders included McAuley, Collins and Williams. Foster and McAuley lost their clean sheet late in the 79th minute. I think the Hammers are still wondering what the hell got into Watford, giving up 4 goals after going up 2-0 in the 33rd minute only to walk off the pitch at halftime at 2-2. A combined 5 points with Williams going today.

The basis for the WC move was the lack of production from my midfield, at a time when my defenders were putting up clean sheets and forwards were scoring, my overall points were taking a hit with many low, single digit returns. Mahrez, Tadic, Barkley (owned just 1 week), Ramirez and Fletcher all saw the door. There was some thought in keeping Mahrez based on the GW5 match up with Burnley, but a nasty run upcoming sealed his fate.

I made a valiant attempt to secure the services of Sanchez in my starting XI along side Hazard, Sterling, Antonio but my budget wouldn’t allow the 11.0 midfielder. After reading Arsene might sit him, I moved in another direction and brought in Cazorla instead. A move that paid off, as he found the back of the net from the spot to beat Southampton. The final piece of puzzle was the red hot Capoue, who continued an amazing start finding the back of the net recording 13 points! I had not planned on starting him because of my 3-4-3 formation.

Hazard and Sterling disappointed in their matches, especially for those managers who overwhelmingly supported Hazard with the captain’s armband and a total of 2 points. Sterling equaled Hazard with a single point, being pulled after 59 minutes. Two players in very good form who came back to bite many mangers in GW3. Cazorla and Antonio on the other hand excelled! Antonio on the back of two goals and a bonus point scored 13, while Cazorla rescued the Gunners and his performance taking all 3 bonus points for a total of 9, second week in a row!

Up front many scrambled to find a valid replacement for Aguero. I made the decision to replace him, but wanted to figure out how I was going to Aguero back in my starting XI before transferring him out and burning all the additional money I suddenly had. After reading articles on some of my preferred fantasy sites and comments in different thread I decided to bring in Costa and Defoe in the interim to replace the missing Argentine.

Costa worried me, already on 2 yellows in the first 3 games, the likelihood for another yellow was possible, but in the end it didn’t discourage me from starting him. At 9.7 it was a solid decision, 2 goals and 3 bonus points, picking up 12 points and his third yellow on the season. He is just a fill in and regardless of what he does won’t have a starting position when Kun returns to the City line up. I understand a player like Costa is someone you want on your team and not going against your team. He’s a talent on the pitch, but I don’t like how he plays the game, the dives, the calls, the “hotheadedness” he brings turns a fantastic player into a schmuck at times.

With the money I had remaining, I decided to take a chance on Defoe for Sunderland, the man who continues to get it done for the Black Cats up front with 2 goals on the season. With 2 goals vs Everton in his last three meetings, I just have a gut feeling the 33 year old will get it done and bring home a goal or two. Defoe is also wearing the captain’s armband, so I could feast on points or come up very short. One thing I do know, he can’t do any worse than what Hazard returned with nothing to lose today I am pushing to get to 70 points on the week.

Update on Tuesday!

Premier League: GW3 Retrospect

High expectations coming off a very successful GW2, but met with a catastrophic fail going into the international break. As I mentioned from GW1, my goal is to average 60 points a week, which could put be at 2280 by season’s end resulting in a top finish out of some 3 million managers. GW3 was a step backwards, which many experienced managers will take. Being only my 4th year I am still wet behind the ears and learning the ins and outs of fantasy football.

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It was not until Friday afternoon that I finally decided to use my FT (free transfer) for the week. I had been looking at a few players, which would yield a few different lineups, going as far as a 3-5-2. After copious amounts of reading and referencing players and reading some more I decided to make, what was considered a quality transfer transferring out Payet, who had played just 24 minutes through the first 2 weeks and brought in Barkley from Everton, who had seen 90 minutes through each of the first two games, adding a goal and an assist. Seemed a solid transfer heading into a tilt with Butland-less Potters.

Like last year I toyed with the idea of playing my WC, but figured I would run into complications after the international break if any of my players came back with an injury, something I wanted to avoid this season, as opposed to last. I continued to hold my WC and made the decision that prior to GW4, depending on the health of my squad I would conceivably play it. Still only 3 weeks into a 38 week season could seem to be a hasty move. Consider I made up most of my ground to get me into the top 75k last year during the second half the season. So transfer now or wait?

Watching the early games disappointed, as Gray was shutout out by Chelsea, which we all knew would happen, but Barkley was nearly invisible versus Stoke City as I started the week in poor form, just 4 points. It didn’t get much better as Mahrez was held in check against the Swans thanks in part of a penalty miss. Only a brighter note, Morgan shined against defensively leading Leicester to a shut out and 8 points. Valencia continued that tend in the later game scoring 9 points against Hull behind a shutout and 3 bonus points. Stones, disappointed again, conceding a goal vs West Ham and being pulled after just 58 minutes with an injury. Not a good start to his City career considering through 5 games last season City did not concede a goal. Then again, City is still without Kompany.

Rounding out the midfield it was Tadic 3 points versus Sunderland and Ramirez 2 points versus a stingy West Brom defense. Both players were pulled before 90 minutes. As I witnessed the first two weeks my midfield continues to struggle. None of the big named or big price tagged players have stepped up. At least not those on my squad, which is part of the reason I am considering the WC before GW4.

Up front was a dismal abyss. The “dynamic duo” of Ibra and Kun tallied just 4 points between them, for those of us, like me, who captained Aguero, we finished the day on 6 points. Nothing seemed to go to plan in GW3, then again maybe that’s why we play this damn game because of the twists and turns and chances we take through out the season. Never did I consider captaining another player prior to handing Kun the armband for the third week in a row.

In goal Foster shined again! 6 points, his second shut out in three games, as the Baggies continue to have a solid defensive form. Going forward it could get tricky starting with GW8, but until that time I have the utmost confidence in Tony Pulis and the West Brom defense. Next question, do I double up?

The international break is on the horizon before GW4, so it’s nearly 2 weeks to sit and consider what moves to make going forward. How do I consistently break through that 60 point threshold I am looking to achieve. Do I go 3-5-2 or stay with 3-4-3? Who will shine in the next 3-6 weeks? Big names such as Hazard, Sanchez and Costa are on my radar. Costly, all of them. So I sit, reflect and wait to see what I do with my WC.

Premier League: GW2 Retrospect

Bring on the green arrow, as I improved my overall position to 182k, jumping some 119k spots with 72 points this weekend. Yet, all is not as it appears to be, as I am struggling to generate points from the midfield. Last week Mahrez went for 8 points, thanks in part to a goal from the spot, but this week wasn’t to be versus the Gunners. Payet nursing a knock didn’t even make the bench for West Ham and Fletcher was substituted in after the fact. Tadic has looked dynamic, but yet to provide, Ramirez from ‘Boro is my budget buy and has played well, but the frustration is building.

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I started GW2 off with transferring Kante out and introducing Fletcher, in hindsight it probably should have been Capoue, who scored in GW1 and again this week, but also picked up calf injury. I debated even using the FT since I knew whoever I picked up wasn’t going to be in the starting XI. Now with the price changes, I am sitting in a more precarious position, as I wanted to bring in Hazard, but with the 0.1 bump to 10.1 I can’t make a one for one transfer with Mahrez or Payet. Back to the drawing board for GW3.

Up front I am glad I am a team with Ibra, as opposed to without Ibra. Three games in to Premier League games, he is off and running in fine fashion. Not to be left behing, Aguero has been matching him goal for goal, as both have tallied 3 through two games. Aguero has been captained the last 2 weeks as well. I did hold Gray from Burnley and was rewarded with a goal and bonus point in GW2. A total of 59 points was a great way to start the week.

At the back Everton got the best of the Baggies and Foster finished with just 2 points. I honestly thought it would have been a solid play this week, but the Toffees seem to have upped their game under Koeman. There was no consideration to start Jakupovic versus Swansea, who recorded his first clean sheet of the year. He will remain the back up going forward.

The defenders improved on their lackluster performance last week. Clean sheets from Leicester and Man U meant 6 points for Valencia and Morgan, which was something I missed in GW1. But the question mark is Stones and what’s going through Pep’s mind starting Caballero over Hart in goal. Through 2 weeks, “Slick Willy” has let a goal a piece in resulting in frustration for Stones owners. He remains a great buy for managers with 35.5% ownership. Can you afford NOT to be without him at this point? I do believe City will tighten things up at the back and reverse this trend. Their upcoming matches feature West Ham (H), the Manchester Derby (A) and Spurs (A) in GW7. So clean sheets might be at a premium over the next 5 game weeks.

With just one more week before the international break, I am trying like hell not to use my wild card. This time last year I was struggling to score points and I completely overhauled my squad. Not sure I want to follow that template this year. The intended plan was to introduce Hazard, but the 0.1 increase has taken me over budget for straight swap with Mahrez or Payet. Leicester face some favorable games, Swansea (H), Liverpool (A) and Burley (H) over their next 3 and I look for them to have a few multiple goal games.

That puts Payet’s status on my squad in question. Coutinho at 32.9% is the highest owned, but feel his play is too inconsistent, 15 points in GW1 and just 2 points in GW2. Which Philippe shows up versus Spurs in GW4? Barkley and Martial are the other immediate options with the schedule favoring Everton through GW7.

My other line of thinking, hold Payet in hopes he returns in GW3, away to Man City. Based on their lackluster performance in GW2, they need his talent in the midfield to set the tempo and provide a better transition game. This would make Tadic expendable and could be a straight swap for Barkley leaving me 0.3 ITB. Again, the schedule favors the Toffees but the return of Lakaku up front will drop Delofeu back to the midfield, while the addition of Bolasie could continue to shake up the center of the pitch. With all that said, I believe Barkley’s position is not in jeopardy; 90 minutes in each of the first two games with a goal.

My last option, don’t rush to judgment, leave the squad and save the FT for after the international break. One reason I am not thrilled to use the WC before the break, injuries. We saw it last year with Aguero. He started off hot but came back injured and struggled. How many times did you captain Kun against a weak opponent only to be let down? I would like to keep 1 FT in my back pocket, “just in case.” We will see how things play out next Monday.

Premier League: GW1 Retrospect

GW1 of the Premier League is finally in the book after the 2-1 Chelsea victory over West Ham last night. As with every fantasy football (soccer for the Americans) season, there were some surprises, Hull defeating last year’s champions, Leicester City, 2-1 as well as some impressive individual performances, Philippe Coutinho, 2 goals and 3 bonus points. Yet when Monday morning comes, league managers are always quick to pull the trigger to improve their team. The international break comes after GW3 and I would like to hold onto my wild card (WC) until after the break. I would also like to carry over a transfer, giving me 2 transfers to use prior to GW4.

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I had high expectations to start this fantasy season stronger than last year, while 59 points isn’t anything to write home about, it’s 15 points higher than the league average, but well off the high score of 104. Overall, I am still pleased with my starting XI, but second guessing on Friday night cost me quite a few points I could of had.

Yet, we cannot play fantasy football on “woulda, coulda, shoulda” that fact is I didn’t play any of these players, transferring them all out after reading some late articles that convinced me, to doubt my first choice selections. At one point Friday I had McAuley, Snodgrass, Lamela and Redmond in my starting XI. I didn’t feel comfortable with two WBA defensive players, even though their first 6 games are all winnable.

I did however like the fact that Redmond made the move from Norwich City to Southampton but didn’t want to double up on midfielders since I was already running Tadic out on the pitch. Intending to start Sigurdsson, I dropped him at the last might, opting for Lamela, but couldn’t pull the trigger with him and wanted Eriksen instead. Finally Snodgrass, sorta the engine that makes Hull City go, down that right side. That equals 36 points I missed out on. Of which I would of had 27.

Since we don’t play fantasy like that, we must look at what we did achieve with our 59 points and look forward to the remainder for the schedule. The positives, Foster in goal for WBA dropping 10 points. Looked strong and should run off 4-5 shutouts to start the season, which would see his value increase. Very disappointed in my three starting defenders, all of which had the chance to notch shutouts; Morgan, Stones and Valencia combined for a dismal 5 points, which Leicester losing 2-1 against the newly promoted Hull City. I don’t believe we will see many shutouts until Huth returns and partners with Morgan.

I mentioned Snodgrass, upon his transfer out, I brought in Ramirez from ‘Boro who provided an assist for 4 points, while Mahrez hit from the penalty spot and grabbed a bonus point for a total of 8. Still the catalyst for the team, I think it’s crazy to consider his transfer fodder after a single game. Remaining starters, Tadic and Payet combined for 3, with Payet entering the game versus Chelsea in the second half, but not producing any magic to start the season.

The bench players were just as poor Parades and Fry didn’t play, not that I expected them to and Kante picked up a yellow, recording a single marker in GW1. Honestly, the only reason I selected Kante was the price tag of 5.0 but any hope of him rising anytime soon probably won’t come, putting him on the transfer block.

Up front, I was impressed with new boy, Ibrahimovic, his 30 yard strike just reconfirmed by I didn’t blink at his 11.5 price tag, as he looked sharp nearly the who game. He finished the day with 9 points. Aguero grabbed a goal and all 3 bonus points, as well as being captained and finished the day on 18 points. Gray of Burnley, after an amazing Championship season last year didn’t get off the blocks after a hot preseason with just 2 points. Another who might be on the transfer block, yet any scoring from Burnley will come from him.

Averaging 60 points a week, 10 points a player will yield 2280 during the 38 week season. That score puts you into the upper 1& of nearly 3 million managers playing fantasy football. In that respect, I am right where I want to be, just a single tally off that 60 point start, knowing I was on the right track with my initial selections.

While I am holding tight early in the week to see what prices do, I am considering one transfer this week either at the defensive end of the pitch, moving Morgan for McAuley or up front with Gray making way for another 6.5 forward. The Morgan/McAuley move would save me 0.5, allowing me to upgrade Kante to Snodgrass.

EURO Fantasy 2016

UEFA European Championship (EURO 2016) is just 3 days away, as national teams playing their final tune up games before France v Romania kick off on June 10. I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 days going over stats and news in order to put together my 15 player fantasy teams in McDonald’ Fantasy Football. What makes this challenge tough is the fact, many don’t watch some of these national players. Outside of the more popular leagues; La Liga, EPL, Serie A, Ligue 1, and the Bundesliga I don’t much thought into just how many leagues and great footballers there are worldwide.

Much like the World Cup, national teams play qualifiers during group play to fill the 24 slots who will  vie for the title of best team in Europe. Spain is the current champion, winning the last two competitions in 2008 and 2012, while they are the odds on favorite to hoist the cup, France has won their last two championships on their home soil; World Cup in 1998, the European Championship in 1984 and 2000. World Cup champions, Germany are a top contender as well, but defensively they have been a mess recently, followed by a string of defeats.

The challenge, field a 15 player (2 Goalkeepers,5 Defenders,5 Midfielders,3 Forwards) on a budget of €100 million. There are eight formations for your starting XI. I’ve selected a 3-4-3 formation for this tournament, in hopes the big named strikers fill the back of the nets with goals. This could potentially allow for the big money strikers to shine, but cause roster issues with your remaining budget. Wild cards and the ability to change your line ups after Gameday 1 and Gameday 2 allow some leeway for changes during the group stages.

Using the resources at my disposal, Fantasy Football Geek, Fantasy Football First, Fantasy Football Scout and FPL Bet, as well as current EURO news pieces, I have built, what I feel is a competitive squad ahead of the Friday kick off featuring the host nation, France taking on Romania.

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‘Vivo Azzurri’, my current squad for the upcoming championship is pictured above, but not the team I started with. The original line up featured: De Gea, Boateng, Dier, Djourou, Ramos, Alli, Fabergas, Gotze, Giroud, Lewandowski and Muller. It provided me a starting point, nothing more.

First idea I had, fill my squad with 3 players (max from each nation) from Spain, Germany and France, while filling in the remaining slots with budget players. While I didn’t quite get what I wanted in my first attempt, I felt I there were some question marks that I didn’t have answers for. Eric Dier (5.0) and Dele Alli (6.5) are both great buys, but I am not sold on England. The fact Alli is playing behind Rooney in the midfield made me hesitant on keeping him, yet 33% of managers still feel Alli’s place is warranted. Dier is one of those offensive minded defenders for Spurs, coming off a great season. Selected by just 9% of managers, I don’t feel England’s defense is very strong, outside of Joe Hart, which means Dier needs get forward in the attack. It was my hope to find defenders who can get forward, but also have the possibility of a clean sheet or two during the group stage.

The current squad is anchored by three strong midfielders, Alaba, DeBruyne and Pogba with Forsberg (5.5) as the budget starter and Joao Mario (6.0) on the bench. While there has been some unrest in the Belgium camp with KDB, I am keeping the door open for Mario Gotze (9.0), which would save me 1.0 to spend. Looking over the midfield options starting at 7.0 include, Fabergas, Matuidi, Grosicki, Modic and Kroos, as well as a slew of players at 6.5, including the aforementioned Alli. Decisions, decisions…

Defensively, I had thoughts of using De Gea or Neuer, both priced at 6.0, but felt Patricio of POR had better group stage games, allowing me to save 1.0 to use elsewhere on the pitch. Jordi Alba (7.0) is the most expensive defender, who can get forward but also put up clean sheets. Going forward I looked for another attacking defender, initially I had plans for Koscielny (vs ROU, ALB, SWI), but his tendency for yellow cards was a turn off, primarily used on set pieces and corners, I felt more confident in Ricardo Rodriguez at 6.0 (vs ALB, ROU, FRA). At 5.0, Dier reentered the starting XI for his ability to get forward, while Denayer gets the nod for Belgium, although their defense hasn’t been very strong during the qualifiers. Currently I have 5 defenders that all start for their respective nations.

Ah yes, strikers, the centerpiece of any fantasy squad, the transferring out of Lewandowski freed up 3.5 to spend, after downgrading to Mario Mandzukic (8.0), while Giroud and Muller go unchanged. For a moment, I considered looking for a budget forward at 6.0, but felt there was too much uncertainty over their starting status. Nolito was the only name I considered, solely based on the friendlies leading up to start of the tournament.

By potentially making this move, I would change my shift my formation from a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2, using Giroud and Muller as my strikers and Alaba, DeBruyne, Pogba, Gotze and Forsberg as my starting midfield. Yet there comes a point in preparation where you start to talk yourself out of a strong starting XI, in search of a stronger squad. Currently, I am at that point, looking to improve on a squad before the whistle has blown for the first match, going off qualifiers and friendlies that don’t always tell the full story, full of inflated statistics, as many teams end up playing a “minnow” during qualifying.

So with 2 days remaining before I official set my lineup, I will continue to tweak my lineup, hoping to selection a strong starting XI that will provide me the best opportunity when on the pitch.

2015/2016 Premier League Fantasy Result

Not that I have a big following when it comes to the “beautiful game” but even less of an interest when you bring the fantasy aspect to the forefront. Talking fantasy fútbol , which ended this past Tuesday for the English Premier League thus concluding my third season participating. I admit, it was my best showing to date scoring 2,170 points (winner scored 2,458 points), which was up 119 points from last season giving me a final ranking of 75,025 (out of 3,734,001)! Inside the top 100k was my goal this year and I achieved it. I ended on a streak of three green arrows and five out of the last six week I improved my overall position, undoubtedly my best run of the year, when it’s needed most.

When you start breaking down the numbers on a weekly basis, that 288 point difference between my final standing and the winner ends up as a difference of 7.57 points a week. That’s not many points. Drop in 4 points for a clean sheet and number decreases even more! Looking over the season, I am still on the upswing of the learning curve. However, I did get in on some of the “template” players earlier than later in during the season. It took only 3 game weeks and I had used my first wild card introducing Hart, Williams, Ward, Mahrez, Sanchez, Ayew, Silva, Aguero and Gomis. Picked up an early injury on Calum Wilson, who was added prior to game week 2. I did benefit from the use of the early WC, seeing my ranking and team value rise over the next 4 week, climbing to 536k and £102.6m respectively. Unfortunately I left 50 points on the bench during game week 3 and 4.

The triple captain chip was dropped into play for game week 4 on Kun Aguero vs Watford resulting in 6 points, as City won 2-0 and Aguero was held scoreless. Not how I planned on seeing this potential bonus going down, as I had paid heavily for the striker’s services, which meant he won the captain’s arm band often. Game week paid off nicely as Aguero scored 5 goals vs Newcastle scoring 50 points and lead my team to best (non DGW) score of 103. It also vaulted my team to the top 65k my best overall ranking in 3 years. Unfortunately the international break arrived, Aguero got injured and this started a run of red arrows through game week 14 dropping my overall rank to 582k.

Game week 9 saw my all out attack chip played starting Cresswell and Francis as my sole defenders, Chadli, Ayew, Sanchez, DeBruyne and Mahrez in the midfield and Pelle, martial and Ighalo up front. I finished this week with just 43 points, my 5th lowest score of the year and another red arrow following by best score, the week before. I was frustrated, as my decisions were not paying off, weeks of 43, 53, 48, 42, 44 and now 56 capped off my worst run of the year.

Week 15 I made two transfer, which cost me 4 points, the third time this early in the season I had done so. Five weeks prior I had jumped on the Vardy bandwagon, but that was after his 11 game goal scoring streak had ended, yet Jamie was still scoring and Leicester was still winning. Lukaku and Alderweireld made an instant impact on the transfer in, scoring 16 and 6 respectively. Mahrez also hit for 21 points, things were looking up!

What I learned this year, as this was the first year for the three chips, I should of held this chips for the DGW or double game weeks that appeared during the later part of the season. I got antsy and attempted to play catch up by using the chips early in the year, which through 14 weeks had scored my only an additional 4 points! Not how I saw my chips playing out this season.

For the next 8 weeks it was a mix of red and green arrows, never really establishing a consistency on the pitch. Even a good week of 72 points in game week 17 saw a red arrow when the average points scored was just 59. Yet the season started to turn around during game week 23, when my team put up 88 points behind top performances of Alli, Firmino, Ighalo and Aguero. This total propelled my team 324k spots in the ranking to 279k, my best ranking since game week 11.

The next 3 game weeks, scores of 61, 63 and 60 saw just average returns but two green arrows the final two weeks. Looking forward we were starting to get an idea of DGWs and teams with no games because of cup action. The final 13 games weeks saw 9 green arrows and only 4 red arrows, as I chipped away moving closer to 100k.

Week 29, a score of 90 points with 6 players on the dream team pushed me inside 200k, jumping my team 103k for the week. Behind just a single transfer of Schmeichel, for the week, he was key in 28 points for my defensive players with Mahrez, Payet and Aguero scoring 11, 13 and 22 respectively.

One notable issue I need to address next season, the number of transfers that take a point hit in the mini-leagues. I recorded 9 weeks of -4 points and a single week of -20 points (game week 37). Speaking of mini-league action, I started the season 6-0, suffering my first loss, 58-41 in game week 7. The next 8 weeks I would go 2-6, losing 2 game weeks (14, 15) by a total of 3 points. Toss in a draw during week 16 and my team would not recover falling from the top of the table. I did win my final 3 matches, but never moved higher than 5th for the rest of the season. Go ‘Orns finished the season 20-1-15 scoring 2,170 points, outscoring the next closest team by 231 points.

DGW 34 put me in a great position to finish the season, 139 points (avg. 72) powered by Sanchez (25 pts) and Aguero (52), who wore the captain’s armband pushed me inside 108k, my best position since game week 8. After the first games, I was thrilled to see just how well my team and expected bigger points for the second games teams were playing, yet I set my expectations too high and some of the bigger names disappointed.

As the season was winding down, it was one more toss of the dice in game week 37, I took a -20 point hit and made big changes to my squad in hopes of improving my final standing. Introducing Van Aanholt to my defense and giving Hazard the armband accounted for 41 of my 97 points, Payet and Sanchez continued to pay dividends, while Defoe scored another goal. The season closed with a final week of 56 points thanks to a shutout from Bellerin and Monreal as well as a flier on Mane, which resulted in 13 points.

Looking back on the season, I realize I must listen to my head more than I listen to some pundits or polls. Many of us can relate, talking yourself out of a starting certain players or changing the captain’s armband just before the lineups are locked. The bonus points for the three chips absolutely killed me this season, planning on a big reward, which yielded a single digit total. These will be held much longer next season.

The final factor is challenging, starting the season with players who end up on the “template” for much of the season. This year, Vardy and Marhez impressed much of the season. Kane, didn’t hit early on but came back very strong. Ozil was a consistent assist machine for the Gunners. All were template players, but it would those 2-3 players outside the template who hopefully made a positive difference in your team.

After 3 years of playing I set personal records for most points, 2,170 and rank, 75,024. Last year’s score of 1,912 saw a finish of 531k, while my inaugural year was 2,041, finishing 877k. This year was a huge step forward and a cornerstone on which to build for next Premier League season.

Fantasy EPL – DGW 37

This post will fall mainly on deaf ears since football (aka soccer) is not taken seriously in the United States. Sure, we have the MSL, USL and NASL but none of them compare to the game that’s played abroad, but I am not here to drag my soapbox out about the inferior play and leagues in America. This is about the fantasy aspect of football, which is big business, especially in the Barclay’s Premier League. Just like the NFL and countless leagues that pop up when the season rolls around, football in England takes center stage for a 38 week season.

Outside of hockey and basketball I have played fantasy sports since 1983, when I started my own fantasy football (NFL) league with 5 friends. So while my expertise flourished with stats, players and strategy, interest in the NFL has waned the past 10 years and while I still participate I do out of friendship for the guys I play with. It’s the EPL that has taken center stage for me, played on a very large scale with 3.7 million players taking part in the Fantasy Premier League. This is just the third season I have participated, but after 36 weeks I will post my best score to date based on a very hard to predict EPL season.

Compared to my past NFL expertise, I am a 3 year “newbie” to the fantasy world, sometimes learning the ropes, “the hard way.” Each year is a new experience, a new piece of the puzzle to implement in hopes or fielding the best 11 players on the pitch. Yet 2015-2016 has already seen the league turned upside down with Leicester City, a 5000-1 long shot winning the league. Past performances of top players have been questionable at best sometimes, but subscribing to “form over fixture” seems to hold true more often than not. In the past it was “the law of fantasy football averages” as it related to the NFL (read The Ogletree Factor). “This is a law that dictates there are only so many yards and TD’s to go around and mediocre guys who have really good weeks will have to have really bad weeks later on to average their stats out. It also works in reverse for good and/or great players. Those who have really bad weeks will have to have some really good ones to again, average it out by seasons end.”

Form over fixture is important, as hot players can quickly go cold, so being able to predict “who” will move is based purely on speculation. When it goes in your favor, you are genius! Sometimes a few weeks can make your break you entire fantasy season. For me, my season broke in week 9, on the heels of a 109 point week. thanks in part to Kun Aguero dropping a 5 goal performance on Newcastle which netted me 50 points! These two weeks were separated by the international break, which saw an injury to Aguero. I took a -2 hit point restructured my team transferring Aguero out and bringing in Graziano Pellè and Kevin De Bruyne, a move that accounted for just 4 points in week 9 and started a run of red arrows the next 5 out of 6 weeks.

At the end of week 8 I was ranked 65k, my highest ever ranking. After week 14 I sat at 583k, a drop of some 520k positions. I thought I turned the corner after consecutive green arrows in weeks 15 and 16 (66 & 69 points), but 72 points in week 17 saw another down arrow. Continuing to read the fantasy sites, take advice and participate in weekly polls, it was tough to see much change. The dynamics of my team continued to shift, I did however maintain a 3-5-2 formation, but hurt myself by playing my chips too early in the season. It makes great sense to hold these gems (all out attack, triple captain and bench booster) until the DGWs or double game weeks begain.

Entering week 34, the first DGW I was ranked 161k, coming off a solid 76 point performance, 20 points above the average. By this time, Aguero was back on the front line and Alexis Sanchez was transferred in. When the DGW ended I was score 139 (-4 points for 2 transfers), 60 points above the average. You can play the “what if…” game every week in fantasy sports. “What if I would have held my triple captain chip?” “What if I played my bench boost?” You can drive yourself to a white, padded room thinking about the “what if…” scenarios. I saw a green arrow and my highest rank, now 107k since week 9.

Since week 1 the team has changed considerable. In this game getting in on “the template” is imperative. The template are those players that many of the top 10k players own. What make one team flourish and the other flounder are those “differentials” you have on  your team, any given week that score to make a difference in finishing with a red, down arrow or a green, up arrow. Week 3 saw me burn my first wildcard (WC) in order to bring my team close to those players on the template but passed on Leicester City’s, Jamie Vardy for weeks on end during his 11-goal scoring streak. The use of that WC helped me gain 520k spots in just 4 weeks.

Now we stand on the edge of week 37, another DGW. Many owners have held onto some of their chips or even a WC and are preparing to make that final push to close out this strange year in the EPL. Entering this week with 2041 points, I have matched my best point total from 2013/2014 but 300 points off the overall leader. That equates to less than a 9 point/week difference. That’s a defender gaining a shutout or a midfielder being awarded 3 bonus point. Even easier points, holding the chips until the DGWs. Regardless of how the year ends up, I will end the year on a positive note, even if I happen to go tits up with two red arrows.

week37dgwAs for this week I am hoping for BIG things, taking a -20 point hit to field a team of 10 starters all playing in the DGW. It’s a big gamble, but 140-160 is a distinct possibility given the form of the players I transferred in. Like the end of any season, it becomes a crap shoot as manager rotate players or rest players depending on European matches left to play. However, confidence is high in this starting IX, just don’t like seeing Harry Kane on the bench, based purely on his potential. Then again I have been playing Kun Aguero nearly all year because of his explosive potential.

Chalk this year crazy year up to another learning experience, ending the year knowing more now than when I started the year. Using a few fantasy sites to my advantage, while going with gut instead of with the pundits. Ending in the top 100k will be an achievement but it will require a big leap forward to break into the top 10k next year, which is a more coveted position come the end of the year.

Coaching Soccer

IMG_5329What satisfaction last night, as I helped coach my first youth soccer game. As with baseball, soccer is not about winning, first and foremost it’s about having fun. Once the smile leave the faces of your kids, the fun has been lost. That is not the case with this group of 12 boys who make up the Blazers. My voice is still recuperating after all the yells of encouragement and positioning through the 50 minute game.

While the team won’t winner any championship (who cares!) they boys laughed and smiled all game long. It was just a few minutes into the game and we were already 3-0 down, but the heads remained up and the boys played well and tried to climb back into the game. In fact, the head coach remarked this was the best the boys had played to date!

Through out the game we have many positive signs that what they are being taught is being used on the field. We had some great passes and a few strong and accurate shots, including out first goal of the season, thanks in part to my son’s best friend, Alex. For the most part, the boys were receptive to our shouts.

Even some of the lesser skilled boys put in some very solid shifts and made positive strides with and without the ball. One in particular, who has never played soccer before listened to nearly everything I said while on the field, working on his position and playing his heart out. I would have given him player of the game, if we awarded individuals. Since soccer is a TEAM sports, there was no award, but his smile was all I needed.

The coach did a good job fielding the team, mixing the talent with timid. It’s a fine line in hopes to field a team that plays well at each end of the field and together. There were some shortcomings, which will need to be worked on, such as positioning on the field. I think the concept of fractions is lost on some kids as it relates to soccer. Dividing the field into thirds in attempt to keep boys spread out has been challenging and as of last night it seems everyone wants a piece of the ball.

Playing defense was challenging and the goalkeepers were left on too many 1 v 1 situations, at a disadvantage. Many times our defender would make an initial challenge, but not follow through and before they knew it, the ball was rolling toward the goal. Teaching boys how to be aggressive shouldn’t be difficult, right? Many boys like to play rough, but that concept seems to be lost when going against another player who has the ball. Many times players would misjudge the ball and overrun the play, taking themselves out of strong defensive position and end up chasing the opposing player to the net.

Regardless of those “must improve” areas, the boys had fun. It was great to see the smiles and high fives through out the team after their first goal. The season is still young and in my opinion, like baseball, as long as the boys can take away a positive experience and learn something this year on the pitch will be successful!

Fantasy Premier League 2015-2016

eplThe 2015-2016 Barclay’s English Premier League is upon us! Time for “football” fans to rejoice as the chase for the cup begins. There have been some big moves in the EPL this year, not surprisingly coming from the top teams; Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. Yet we can’t forget the middle of the pack teams who make up a bulk of the action, as well as the newly promoted clubs; newcomers, AFC Bournemouth, Norwich City and Watford!

This is 4th year I have participated in Fantasy Premier League. While I haven’t done well in the past, it’s been a real learning experience. Much like jumping into fantasy football that is played in the US, following the NFL, it takes times, lots of studying in order to “get it right” the first time. Now I won’t say I have a got anything right when it comes to spending my £100 on 15 players that will make up my squad, Go’Orns (which is short for Go Hornets, the nick for Watford).

I have spent more time this year than I have the previous 4 years learning, studying and tinkering with my squad. Every time I finish a new article I find myself shuffling players in and out. Unlike NFL fantasy football, where you a waiver wire, you only get a single transfer (not including your wild cards) per week playing the EPL.. So getting your team correct starting gameweek 1 is very important. My confidence is running very high, as it usually does before the start of any fantasy league.

Injuries and fatigue from summer play have impacted a few notable players on the eve of kickoff. This has seen players like Alexis Sanchez, Sergio Agüero and Diego Costa, all questionable, all of whom were top scorers last season. I don’t know how many times I have shuffled my lineup with all three them on the pitch at one time or another the last month. Yet, as we look towards Man. U v Spurs, I think I have finally secured my lineup for the start of the season.

Goalkeepers: Petr Cech, ARS / Wayne Hennessy, CRY
There were two schools of thought for the man between the sticks, go cheap and rotate keepers on lower teams based on their strength of schedule. Initially this is how I was set up, but after further thought and consideration I decided I wanted a goalkeeper I could start and forget. The man to fill that position, Petr Cech, Arsenal, newly acquired from rival Chelsea. After relegation to a back up roll at Chelsea last season, Arsenal might have the final piece of the puzzle to challenge for a league title. No doubt Cech will take that defense to the next level with the likes of  Per “BFG” Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny anchoring the defense. Cech alone is with a 5-10 wins during the year and will increase the number of of shutouts Arsenal records this year. At £5.5 he didn’t come cheap, but I feel the extra money is well spent. Backup goalkeeper is Wayne Hennessy of Crystal Palace, I don’t expect to use him, but at £4.0 he will see some starts as Julian Speroni is injured to start the year.

Defenders: Laurent Koscielny, ARS / Nathaniel Clyne LIV, Aaron Cresswell, WHU / Robert Huth, LEI / Matt Targett SOU

Defenders, much like goalkeepers can be had cheap and with a good rotation could benefit you based on their weekly match ups. It comes as no surprise that Chelsea has the top three defenders based on price (Ivanovic, Terry and Cahill). At one point I decided to anchor my defense with Ivanovic, but soon realized that would leave me a few million pounds short through the midfield and up front. For much of the month I had Caesar Azpilicueta slotted as my route into the Chelsea defense, a rock solid performer who will undoubtedly see improvement this year from last. Yet it was just a few days ago I opted for Laurent Koscielny to anchor my defense. The reason why, falls to the man between the sticks, Petr Cech. Koscielny can perform on both ends of the pitch. He is prone to yellow cards, but 3 goals and 11 shutouts last year could potentially increase by the end of the season. Nathaniel Clyne moved to Liverpool and will control the right side, with ability to get up and down the field, he scored twice last year and added two assists with 13 clean sheets. At £5.5 he isn’t cheap, but could be worth every pound spent on his return. Aaron Cresswell rounds out my starting three, he played every minute of every game last year and recorded 129 points. With some questions in the Hammers midfield, Cresswell could improve on his 4 assists last year. Robert Huth and Aaron Targett round out my 5 defenders and currently I don’t plan on playing either of them unless there is an emergency.

Midfielders: Eden Hazard, CHE / Santi Cazorla, ARS / Victor Wanyama, SOU / Raheem Sterling, MCI / Jordan Henderson LIV

As expected the bulk of my £100 went into the midfield position, spending £40.5! If I were to adjust my forwards and save £1.5 to £2.0 I could conceivably be starting 5 midfielders. The thought has crossed my mind numerous times, but only realistically started looking at that option last night. Not sure I want to tinker too much with the lineup at this point. No surprised to see Hazard leading the group, high scorer last year and I don’t see him slowing down this year. He is a “must have” on your fantasy team. In a surprise move I decided to add Raheem Sterling, after his move to City, playing with a group of talented midfielders, Sterling could shine in his first season. It’s money well spent and he comes in £1.0 less than David Silva (another midfielder I had slotted a few times). I fully expect to sell Sterling when Aguero is healthy to strengthen my forwards, which means I will trade down for a second tier midfielder such as Yannick Bolasie from Palace or Matt Richie, Bournemouth. For a few weeks it was Mesut Özil in my starting five, finally playing in the 10 spot for the Gunners, but after further consideration I swapped him out and added Santi Cazorla, who is favored from the spot and free kicks. Behind Sanchez, he was the second highest scoring Gunner last year. I could see him clipping 200 points this year with the addition of a few more assists and an increase in shutouts, thanks to Cech. Since Liverpool didn’t keep Steven Gerrard, the armband was passed to Jordan Henderson, 162 last year topped the team. With new boys Firmino, Milner and Ibe, I do see Henderson being a 90 minute player. The addition of Benteke and Ings up front with a healthy (whenever that it) Sturridge and Henderson could come into his own this season for L’pool.  Victor Wanyama was my budget buy coming in at £4.5, while playing near 2400 minutes last year with 3 goals and 1 assist. Hopefully Wanyama won’t get lost with Tadic and Mané prowling the midfield for Southampton.

Forwards: Wayne Rooney MUN / Christian Benteke LIV / Callum Wilson BOU

This group has undergone many changes and might see one more revision before I finalize my starters for the weekend. Rooney was actually my third choice for a starting forward. Initially Agüero was penciled in as my starter, but after fatigue from Copa America this summer and the possibility of missing gameweek 1 I pulled him for Diego Costa (CHE), who’s start is in question because of a hamstring. So, Rooney it is. Playing back up top with a good complement of midfielders, Rooney could flourish this season, coming off a disappointing campaign last year. I will plan on selling Rooney when Agüero returns (along with Sterling). At one point it was Danny Ings slotted to start, but after Benteke made the move to Anfield, Ings fell by the wayside. But it was Romelu Lukaku who was going to partner with Rooney, but a hamstring injury might slow him. Benteke is a monster, who, when on is really on, but when off, can be a complete disaster. He’s got the midfield to feed him up front, so I will take a chance with Benteke as my #2. Third forward has been flip flopping between Troy Deeney of Watford and Callum Wilson of Bournemouth, both play for the newly promoted teams and while I favor Deeney because I am a Watford fan, I penciled in Wilson. Why? Wilson is the point of the attack for Bournemouth, while Deeney has Ighalo and Vydra in the mix. Still 3 years with 20+ goal season is how to deny, yet it was the lower league, but for now, Wilson gets the now. Hopefully one of these two bargain players end up being the new Charlie Austin.

I plan on a 3-4-3 lineup to start the season and have no money in the back. With any luck I will be able to hold on to my wildcard until Agüero returns. I don’t plan on rotating any players right now, but the rotation will show up in the defense first. Hopefully I can improve on my finish last year, but confidence is running very high, although there are still many unanswered questions.

2014 FIFA World Cup – Brazil

FIFA-world-cup-2014Four years of waiting is over and it all begins today as Brazil host Croatia in the opening game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The beautiful game returns to the heart of football, as São Paulo takes center stage today kicking off 30 days of football bliss. In a true world competition, it’s great to see 32 nations come together with the goal of winning the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Much has been made of the draw and group selections, from the team who surprisingly made it and those who did not qualify. Looking over the 32 teams, it can quickly be reduced to a small, handful of teams who have a chance to win the competition this year.

Top of the bunch, EURO 2012 and World Cup 2010 winners, Spain top the list. Arguably, one of the best countries that have dominated the sport and major competitions the last few years. This country has one of the best starting XI and a very deep bench. Yet repeating as World Cup Champions is never an easy task, as host country Brazil has repeated 1958 and 1962 and Italy back in 1930 and 1934. Spain starts their quest on Friday against their 2010 World Cup final opponent, Holland. Talk about a game setting the tone for the rest of the cup, this is it.

My heart continues to scream “ITALIA!” but realistically I am not thrilled at their prospects past the group stage. Yet, they were a dark horse in the in the EURO 2012, when they made the finals after an amazing 2-1 victory over a stronger Germany team, but ended up burnt out dropping a 4-0 decision to Spain. Italy will go the way of Mario Balotelli. If Cesare Prandelli can keep the big man involved and happy, Italy could make it to the quarterfinals. A great mix of young and old in the midfield led my Andrea Pirlo and Danielle DeRossi with a stalwart, Gigi Buffon between the posts.

This year I am picking Argentina, La Albiceleste, to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup in neighboring Brazil. Argentina should cruise through the group stage with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. Their ticket out of Group F should be punched to the semifinals, where they could end up playing defending champions, Spain. Not an easy task, but the offense that La Albiceleste brings is going to be tough to stop. Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuain lead the attack with Angel DeMaria, Maxi Rodriguez, Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano anchoring a good midfield. Their weakness could be on defense, but if their offense can find the back of the net 3-4 times games, Argentina will be set.

Brazil will carry the weight of their countrymen on their shoulder as the host nation this year. You can never count these skilled footballers out, but could their inexperience be their downfall? Neymar is being put in the spotlight up front to do the damage for Brazil, with Jô, Fred and Hulk. The midfield stacks up nicely with Ramires and playmaker, Oscar. The defense is very potent on offense with Dani Alves, Marcelo and David Luiz. Good to see AS Roma defender Maicon part of the squad in could be his final World Cup at age 32.

I do think highly of Germany and Uruguay, but both teams have been struck with injury that could affect their run at the World Cup. The Germans lost their goal scoring threat in Marco Reus and will most likely be replaced by Chelsea star, André Schürrle. Four Germans have 100+ caps, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Poldolski and Miraslov Klose, they have the experience, which could play a major role in Brazil, as long as they can find some goals.

Uruguay looks to be competitive, but Luiz Suarez’s status is still in doubt for the first game. He put up some excellent numbers this year for Liverpool scoring 31 times. If he can’t go, then it will be the experience of Diego Forlan to take over the striker duties. Edison Cavani would need to step up his play to make up for the loss of Suarez. However I think La Celeste comes up just a bit short this World Cup.

While not really sleepers or dark horses, I do like Chile and Belgium both having great showings in Brazil. Belgium has been on everyone’s radar for some time with talent and experience and a game changer in Eden Hazard. Without doubht Thibaut Courtois is the best goalkeeper in the world as World Cup play starts. Pele has already tipped Chile as a favorite this year in Brazil. With a high tempo offense led by Alexi Sanchez and anchored by Autro Vidal, manager Jorge Sampaoli has his work cut out for him.

Beyond this group, I don’t see any other surprises in the tournament. You already know what little I think of US Soccer, Jurgen Klinsmann has similar thoughts. They MIGHT win one game in their group, but will be going home early. Portugal might be the only team some would see as a surprise not to progress. You can’t replace the FIFA Ballon d’Or winner, Christiano Ronaldo, if he can’t go Portugal will struggle. Even if he plays, I don’t see Portugal advancing past the second round. France is the other team, after quitting on Raymond Domenech in South Africa 4 years ago, Les Bleus was stuck with an injury to Franck Ribery, which is the heart of their offense. While they should advance out of Group E, their run will end in the second round.

Can’t wait for a month full of world class football from one of the greatest footballing countries in the world, Brazil. Hopefully the protests don’t interfere and the stadiums are ready and safe. Football is here, get ready to enjoy the 2014 FIFA World Cup!

World Cup 2014 Draw

brazil2014The die has been cast and the 2014 World Cup Draw is complete. It will be another year the Men’s US Soccer Team will be eliminated before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil in 2014.  It’s no secret, I am not a fan of American “soccer” but the US has been dealt into the “Group of Death” (Group G) with Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Germany eliminated the US in 2002 and Ghana got them back to back in 2006 and 2010. Germany is currently ranked #2 and Portugal, #5 in the FIFA World Rankings. Ghana, currently ranked #24 took third place in the 2013 African Cup of Nations.

Many eyes and commentary will come from Group G because of 3 quality teams that could come out of this group. I believe it will be Germany and Portugal coming out of the group and moving on. A case could be made for Group D as the Group of Death with Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy. 2010 World Cup and Euro 2010 and 2012 Champions, Spain will be looking to retain their title and the #1 ranking as they are grouped with Netherlands, Chile and Australia.

The host nation, Brazil has a golden path to the knockout stage facing Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. I am not fooled by their #10 ranking, as they have been playing some great football, most recently defeating Chile 2-1 in November. Another South American powerhouse, Argentina (#3 in the world) probably have the easiest of all groups with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria.

Group C has #4 Columbia with Côte d’Ivoire, Greece and Japan. Columbia most recently defeated Belgium, 2-0 and drew against Netherlands. Côte d’Ivoire brings the last hurrah for Didier Drogba, now 35, but CIV is loaded with talent. France celebrated when they shocked the football world by making it out of qualifying and now the fooball gods give them a favorable draw in Group E with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

While I like the draw for the Azzurri, I still believe they don’t have enough talent to make it to the finals. Much like Euro 2012, Italy advanced defeated England, then Germany in the semi-finals (2-1), but had nothing left for the finals versus Spain, losing 4-0. Speaking of Spain, I like them to repeat as World Cup Champions. They play on level above most every other team with some of the best players in the world at their core. I do like Brazil, but as the host nations, they have the weight of the county on their shoulders. Brazil at home will be tough to stop. My dark horse this year, Belgium. Although some will argue they are a contender, they have a loads of young talent ready to take the world stage.

Matches begin June 12, 2014 as host, Brazil take on Croatia in Arena de São Paulo, São Paulo.

Forza Italia!

UEFA EURO 2012 ends today in Kyiv as Italy takes on defending champions, Spain in the final. Whatever the outcome, the Italians put together a very good run in the tournament. My pre-tournament favorite to win EURO 2012 was the defending champions, Spain. I didn’t expect this sort of showing from Italy, but they have surprised fans and the world advancing to the finals.

I do believe is Italy played like their did their first match of the competition, when they went 1-0 on Spain in the 61st minute, only to give up the equalizing goal 3 minutes later. Yet the Italians only played for 61 minutes and could not finish off the Spaniards. I think we saw a much different, determined squad in the semi-finals versus Germany. They had the on pitch prowess and a determination to get the job done. The struck fast and controlled every facet of the game. For all the accolades Germany had up to this point, with their talent, skill and experience, as well as being a favorite to win, Italy quieted them all.

Hard to go against the Italians at this point, who have the momentum coming off a big win. Spain struggled against Portugal and never got into their game, yet still had enough, as you would expect the FIFA #1 ranked team to do. It should be a very competitive game, but expect a 1-0 victory for Italy in regular time.