First XI - What We Learned, Premier League Week 11

Take a bow, you certainly earned it (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Things are never dull in the Premier League.  Just when you think you have things figured out, a Swansea will take a point at Anfield, Arsenal will look exceptional at home, and Bolton will put up five goals against a perfectly good Premier League side.  The only things we seem to be able to count on these days are John Terry finding new ways to show himself to be a reprehensible human being, Spurs will continuing to exceed the expectations of just about everyone, and Wigan being bad enough that you legitimately wonder if they'd be top half in the Championship this season.  

I realize that I'm just piling on with John Terry, I don't think he actually found any new ways to make himself look bad this weekend but I continue to be amazed by the fact that there seem to be no professional or personal consequences for his long string of misdeeds.  It would seem that his fans were the ones picking up the slack for his lack of creativity in finding new outlets for boorish behavior by sending death threats to Anton Ferdinand.  Maybe because I'm not English and he hasn't been the captain of my national team combined with the fact that Chelsea have been incredibly unlovable to neutrals since Abramovich took over I feel less interested in being a Terry-apologist.  I understand that star athletes get a lot of leeway on poor behavior (a philosophical debate for another time) but Terry seems to be getting that same leeway despite the fact that he also isn't playing very well.  That seems to be the ideal time for clubs to at least claim they have a conscience - take action against an under-performing player with a big name who continues to act like he's a star in his prime.  

1. Buying - Where we give credit to those players who excelled and it didn't just look like a flash in the pan.

 

  • Jamie O'Hara - I have to admit Jeremy turned me on to him when he was still a bit player at Spurs and I've enjoyed him more and more each season - especially as his connection to Spurs has waned.  Wolves have had a very disappointing two months but O'Hara has been a bright spot through the losing and was even brighter in the win.  He could easily have had multiple goals and assists if things had broken slightly differently around the goal mouth. 
  • Ivan Klasnic - He started off the season in strong form and Bolton clearly needed his goals. Appeared to be in the doghouse for the month of October with his only start in the Carling Cup against Arsenal but a return to the starting line-up yielded a brace and, perhaps, a return of one of the few forwards on the roster capable of being a sniper. 
  • Thomas Vermaelen - The momentum at Arsenal is building.  Granted they aren't playing exceptional opposition but getting their best defender back and getting a goal from him as well (and it could have been two) may position them alongside Chelsea rather than Spurs in the race for that fourth Champions League spot.  
  • Gareth Bale/Aaron Lennon - Remember that run of form where people were calling Bale one of the best players in the world? Looks like he might be rediscovering that vein after a relatively quiet start to the season.  Remember that run of form a few years back when people were calling Lennon something more than a track star with no end product? He seems to be getting closer to rediscovering that form as well.  Heady times for Spurs. 
  • Gabby Agbonlahor - This is apparently the weekend for talking about players rediscovering their best form and of the group above none can say they were BETTER than Gabby this past weekend.  He scored one, assisted on the other two, and should have had a third assist but for DBent missing one he usually makes.  He was just a terror.  If anyone wants to join in on the "Gabby for England" campaign, follow the nice folks over at 7500 to Holte - they're a good follow on match day for all your Villa news. 

 

2. Selling - Where we let you know where performances were over-rated, a flash in the pan, or indicative of a player in decline. 

 

  • Chelsea's Defense - At the end of the match the scoreline said that Chelsea had recorded their 2nd clean sheet of the season but if you watched the match, you'll know it wasn't because they rediscovered their collective defensive mojo.  They just got lucky that Rovers can't finish.  The Yakubu of 3 or 4 years ago might have had a hat trick.  Kudos only to Cech for soldiering on after getting smashed in the face by the always lovable Ashley Cole
  • Sir Alex Ferguson's Selection Policy - He sat De Gea for no real good reason making fantasy managers miserable and then he either pressured or allowed Patrice Evra to stick around for the match despite the fact that Evra's brother's funeral was going on in France on Saturday.  At the very least he could have had the decency to let us know that these things were happening ahead of time.  25 years of pissing us off and counting.  Cheers to SAF for commemorating the occasion like only he can.  
  • Wes Brown and Steve Bruce - The own goal wasn't REALLY his fault was it? Just a bad bounce to be sure.  However, throw in Sunderland and Steve Bruce's miserable record against United, the occasion of SAF's 25th anniversary with the club, and the suspicious non-penalty and you have a conspiracy theorist's dream.  Let the paranoia flow. 
  • Andy Carroll - One week after things seemed to be looking up for Carroll and the Suarez/Carroll partnership, they seem to be right back where they were.  With Carroll as the second worst forward purchase of the Premier League era based on money spent and value returned.  Apparently the timing worked out about as perfectly for Newcastle as it possibly could have.  Carroll on a hot streak...Liverpool's pockets full of Torres money...New owners needing to overpay to make a splash...don't think Suarez is a big enough name to make that splash by himself.  After almost 12 months I think we can all agree that an "oops" is about appropriate at this point. 
  • Fernando Torres - The only saving grace for Andy Carroll is that the man who was sold to fun his purchase missed just as badly, if not worse on Saturday.  The difference being that Torres' miss will be largely forgotten because his team won anyway.  Carroll's miss will be remembered because Liverpool dropped two key points at home to an opponent they needed three points from.  For any still clinging to their past memories of Torres for fantasy purposes, please remember that he is collectively dead to us.  Don't waste your money.  I thought we'd all agreed on this point but we had a few people on the Live Chat on Saturday who were pining away for a substitute goal.  

 

3.  Changing Fantasy "Rules" - After spending a lot of time on the Mo Rules over the summer, it has been quite annoying to come to the realization that those rules don't really seem to be holding true so far this season.  Whereas the last few seasons a manager could find great success by not being loyal to any particular player and going with home match-ups, this season has been characterized by sticking with a few players at a high price - Lampard, RvP, VDV, etc - to give you a base of points you haven't been able to reliably get anywhere else.  I don't know if this will persist but it seems like a decided change from last season and one that it has taken too long for me to recognize. 

4. City Continue to Impress - None of the three teams that we initially thought would be competing for the title had difficult matches this past weekend.  City went to QPR, United hosted Sunderland, and Chelsea traveled to Rovers.  Of the three, City were by far the most impressive.  They weren't as dominant as you might have expected but for the second week in a row they won comfortably despite not playing particularly well.  United and Chelsea squeaked by with 1-0 wins but they were in no way convincing.  This is particularly poor from United since they were playing at home.  Hard to see anyone catching City unless there's a significant change in circumstances due to injuries or January transfers. 

5. Spurs Equally Impressive - I ask you, if they replayed the Spurs vs. Manchester United match from earlier in the season on a neutral field this past weekend, who would you have as your favorite? As much as I hate to say it, I think I'd have to favor Spurs right now.  Even with K2 not particularly sharp the combination of Bale, VDV, and Lennon being on their respective games feels like it would be too much for United's shaky defense to handle.  I'm still not 100% sold on the Spurs defense but with Gallas coming back, King sort of healthy, and Dawson still to return there is still some upside for the North London club.  Maybe I'm getting a little carried away but it doesn't seem unreasonable to say that over the last month or so that Spurs have been the second best team in the Prem. 

6. Anticipating NUFC vs. Chelsea - Newcastle continued to get fat on the mediocre teams of the Premier League this weekend with a good-but-not-great win over Everton.  They've now dispatched with the easy part of their schedule and find their next three matches a little more difficult - @MAC, @MAN, CHE.  Yikes!  I wouldn't favor anyone coming out of consecutive visits to Manchester with any points so they can very reasonably lose their next two and suffer no loss of standing in my eyes.  The match that I'm very anxious for will be the December 3rd match-up with Chelsea at St. James' Park.  Chelsea seem vulnerable and this will be the Magpies' chance to show that they're more than "the best of the rest" - I'm not ready to make a prediction one way or the other but I know I'm looking forward to it. Here's hoping that Yohan Cabaye and his groin are recovered for the occasion. 

7. What Happened to Stoke? - They started off the season looking like they might be the ones who challenged Newcastle as a mid-table club capable of rising about the pack a little bit.  They certainly showed well early with points against Chelsea and City and the full 3 points against Liverpool.  Over the last three weeks they've plummeted with three consecutive losses to Arsenal, Newcastle, and now Bolton.  Their loss to Arsenal was at the Emirates and can now be mitigated a bit as it seems that Arsenal are on their way back up.  Even the home loss to Newcastle could be mitigated to the Magpies' strong start to the season.  The loss to Bolton though puts those other two losses into a dimmer light.  To not only lose to Bolton but to be embarrassed by them is the stuff of relegation, not contending for the top half.  I don't want to hear about a Europa Cup hangover either, they rotated a fair percentage of their starting squad between Thursday's away match in Israel and Sunday's trip to Wanderers.

8. Arsenal Rising - After facing two of the mid-table clubs who have given them trouble recently over the past three weeks - Stoke have been a constant thorn in their sides (the new Bolton) and WBA beat them soundly at the Emirates last season - Arsenal appear to be coming into their own.  If they can keep Vermaelen healthy and get Gibbs, Sagna and Wilshere back in the weeks ahead (longer for Wilshere) then they seem well poised to challenge for a Champions League spot.  We'll get back into the mini-leagues later in the week but Arsenal are only 3 points behind Chelsea right now and they have a relatively easy balance of the first half of their schedule with @MAC the only daunting match remaining in 2011.  Chelsea, on the other hand, have LIV, @NUFC, MAC, and @TOT before they can call their first half of the season complete.  If you were handicapping the opening half of the season at this point, you'd have to say that Arsenal are ahead of Chelsea despite Arsenal's embarrassing losses at United and Rovers. Just something to think about as the table changes before your eyes over the next two months. 

9. A Return to Competency - Despite SAF's best efforts to derail my fantasy performance this weekend, I managed to go over 100 points for the first time in recent memory.  RvP, Gabby, and Lamps were the big contributors with Silva and Jenkinson doing some nice work as well.  I haven't looked at standings since the Bolton and Spurs points were posted but I had a nice surge in the standings until that point.  Here's hoping it won't be too tragic when I look again.  

10. FNFL Results - My teams tend to be pretty heavy on Philadelphia Eagles and with them playing on Monday Night my match-ups are unresolved at this point.  I'm definitely going to lose one of the four but of the other three, I seem to be in fairly strong shape barring a disaster from the Eagles.  Here's hoping for another strong 3-1 week (and knocking on wood furiously that I'm not jinxing the Eagles by saying this).

11. Belated Props for the Fantasy Challenge Final Round - I didn't see the message from regular AM reader Hansraj until too late to publish this as part of one of the preview pieces this past week but congratulations to everyone who participated in the Fantasy Challenge over on his site.  I don't know who ended up being the overall winner but if Hans is interested in writing up a FanPost, we'll be happy to promote it to the main blog page to give the winner some bragging rights.  

I hope everyone enjoyed the weekend of matches as much as I did and has something to keep them busy and out of trouble over the international break.  

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