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The Week Ahead, Part 1 - Premier League Schedule Analysis

This guy was at the heart of a great sporting weekend for Neal despite that including a Spurs win.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
This guy was at the heart of a great sporting weekend for Neal despite that including a Spurs win. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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I had a really good sporting weekend this past weekend and it got me to thinking about all of the ways that I can derive pleasure from sports in the course of a given weekend.  Here's a quick rundown that will help you understand why I say it was an excellent weekend (and a little bit of how much of a geek I am about these things):

The "Real" World - No, not the one where we face economic turmoil and increasingly unpleasant and unproductive political debate over how to make things better but the real sports world in which my two favorite teams currently playing Arsenal and the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL) squared off against big rivals.  Both teams are in remarkable similar circumstances having had tumultuous off-seasons followed by far-below-expectations starts to their regular seasons.  The job security of long standing successful coaches for both teams were squarely at the center of the debate.  Both teams performed well above expectations, got huge wins, and put themselves back in the conversation to achieve what they set out to at the start of the season (for the Eagles a potential Super Bowl Championship and for Arsenal securing a Champions League spot as they transition their roster). The only minor downside was that the Philadelphia Union lost the home leg of their MLS playoff match but as a new team, being in the playoffs in their second season is already a win so that didn't bring me down much. 

Fantasy Predictions - Like anyone who writes about anything, I like it when I turn out to have gotten things right.  At some level that's the reason that you guys keep coming back is that there is some insight offered here.  If the writing is also occasionally entertaining and a nice conduit to interacting with a broader community in the comments section, that is icing but solid analysis has to be the basis.  I was particularly pleased with having recommended Gareth Bale for his big breakout match.  There are always ups and downs in any week of making predictions but that one made me particularly happy even though it involved a Spurs win. 

EPL Predictions - I'm not going to stop reminding everyone that I went on record as really liking Newcastle's summer comings and goings and with every additional win, I feel better and better about having gone out on that limb (if you'll recall most "experts" were killing them for not spending more of their Carroll money on bigger name players).  Newcastle, for once, took a path more typically trod by Arsenal and bought less glamorous players who didn't cost an arm and a leg and have been reaping the rewards for the opening ten weeks of the season.  I also feel good for Jeremy because he's as much a NUFC supporter as anything else and they haven't given him much to be happy about for a number of years. 

Fantasy NFL Performance - Unlike Fantasy EPL, performance in NFL fantasy leagues is much more defined.  You play against another team every week and you come out of it with a win or a loss as opposed to accumulating fantasy points over the course of a season.  I have four different fantasy NFL teams playing in four slightly different scoring formats with four different (but occasionally overlapping) groups of friends.  Not only did I go 4-0 across my four match-ups but two of those games went down to the wire - one on Sunday night and the other on Monday night.  On Sunday night I was at a huge deficit going into the Eagles/Cowboys game with LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin to play - they did just enough for me to squeak out a win.  In the remaining match-up, I watched a huge lead get chipped away by the same LeSean McCoy (this time owned by my opponent) and Ryan Matthews who played on Monday night.  Matthews needed to get 9 points for my opponent to tie me and 10 for him to get the win (he was predicted to get at least 15 or 16).  He got to 8 fantasy points and then pulled a muscle and was out for the rest of the game salting away my win.  So, not only did I win all of my games but I got two incredibly close finishes and came out on top of both to drive my combined Week 8 record to 26-6.  We'll just say I'm feeling very good about my fantasy NFL performance right about now (as I pause in writing waiting for the text telling me that one or more of my players has been catastrophically injured).  

EPL/Champions League Availability News - This is a bit of a one off but learning that Fox and DirecTV got an eleventh hour deal worked out means that I won't be forced to find pirated internet feeds to get my fix/host the Saturday morning chat this coming weekend. 

Fantasy EPL Performance - This is the one area where I just can't seem to get on track.  I switch things up from DDG to Vorm at home where Swansea hasn't given up a goal all season and he has his own team score on him and he doesn't pile up his usual 5+ saves.  I pick Bale in my column but can't quite get the money together to buy him and I end up with Modric instead who does squat.  If I'd stayed with DDG, I'd have had the money for Bale.  On such things can a fantasy weekend turn.  I really need to turn things around soon.

As you can see, the weekend started out strong with Arsenal's big win over Chelsea and ended with a bang that included the Eagles and my fantasy NFL teams coming up huge late on Sunday and into Monday.  How do you evaluate your sporting weekends once they're over? 

The Home Teams - We tend to favor players playing at home here at the blog (although the early going this season is testing that theory) and here are the teams with the best home match-ups:

Liverpool vs. Swansea City - I know what you're thinking but Swansea haven't been as good as you think and Liverpool haven't been as disappointing.  Swansea are where you'd expect a relegation-struggler to be given the scheduled they've played thus far and Liverpool are about on pace to challenge for fourth place (although Spurs and NUFC have created a breakneck pace ahead of them).  That means that you SHOULD look at this is say 5th place playing at home against 15th which should give the advantage firmly to Liverpool.  Not only that, I'd be inclined to say that Liverpool should have distinct advantages at both ends of the pitch.  Swansea have struggled to score against quality opposition and while Liverpool haven't been efficient with their chances, they've created a lot of phantom points. Verdict: Advantage Liverpool Attackers AND Defenders. 

Arsenal vs. West Bromwich Albion - A home draw in the Champions League isn't the worst thing in the world but it probably slowed Arsenal's momentum a bit after the big win against Chelsea last Saturday.  I still remember this same fixture from last season well enough to be worried about Arsenal's ability to keep a clean sheet but with Robin van Persie held back for most of the match against Marseilles and Walcott starting to look like an asset going forward I have a hard time seeing Albion stemming the tide of the Arsenal attack. Verdict: Advantage Arsenal Attackers. 

Wolves vs. Wigan - If ever there was desperation time at the Molineux then this is it.  Wolves need a win about as badly as a team could possibly need a win.  Their effort against City last weekend was strong but they were just outclassed.  With Wigan coming to town they will need to show their own class and not only win but dominate to capture back some belief.  If Wolves win then they are probably on reasonable ground back in the mix in the middle of the table.  If they drop any points then both have to be looked at as being in the thick of the relegation race.  Verdict: Advantage Wolves Attackers. 

Manchester United vs. Sunderland - If I were the conspiracy theory type, I'd suggest that Steve Bruce agrees to have his players roll over in this fixture every year in exchange for getting SAF's leftovers (via transfer) and youngsters (via loan).  United's attack seems to be sputtering but with the return of Vidic, I expect them to run off a string of clean sheets. Verdict: Advantage United Defenders. 

The Away Teams - They have been prospering more than usual so far this season and there are some particularly attractive ones this weekend. 

Manchester City @ Queens Park Rangers - There are two real questions here for City - how will they do at the back without the suspended Vincent Kompany? and who will play the attacking roles coming off of a Champions League away match? The outcome is probably not in doubt.  City will win.  The question is whether they get a clean sheet and who will contribute going forward.  My guess is "no" and the "second team attackers".  Verdict: Advantage City's Second Team Attack. 

Tottenham @ Fulham - We have come to take "Fulham is tough at home" as axiomatic over the years.  Funny thing is that they really haven't been very good at the Cottage so far this season.  If you take away the outlier that was their 6-0 thrashing of QPR at home, they're 0-3-1 with 4 goals scored and 6 conceded.  The worse news is that other than the draw with City, the opposition hasn't been great (Villa, Rovers, and Everton).  Now come Spurs who have been very good on the road 3-1-1 with their only loss coming at United when they were scorching hot and their only draw coming to Newcastle.  All signs point to Spurs dominating this match-up.  My guess is that we'll see another 3-1 win for Spurs. Verdict: Advantage Spurs Attackers. 

Chelsea @ Rovers - After only getting a point at Genk in the Champions League we are left wondering if Chelsea is at an advantage over anyone right now but I have a hard time picturing their attacking not getting the better of Rovers.  They still have too many problems at the back with the mis-match of personnel and system for me to recommend their highly priced defenders but I feel good going back to the well with their attackers (other than Torres who continues to be dead to me/the blog).  Verdict: Advantage Chelsea Attackers. 

Nik is not going to get his usual Player Picks column in this week because he's completely underwater at work.  I'll be back either later today or early tomorrow with mine in Part 2 of TWA.