Big doings in the Carling Cup. I'm oddly happy with the way Arsenal's kids played against City even though the result was a 1-0 loss. The difference in reputation on the field for each side, especially after Aguero was introduced in the first half, was immense and the fact that Arsenal stayed with their richer rivals was impressive. I hate to use the term "moral victory" but after being embarrassed by United at Old Trafford you had to wonder how Arsenal would hold up against talented opposition this time around. So, a moral victory it is.
In the other "big" match, the loss of Lucas for the balance of the season has to be seen as a huge loss for Liverpool. He has long since out-performed the criticisms that were heaped on him early in his career and, unlike so many of his Liverpool compatriots in midfield, is the one player who doesn't really have a solid alternative on the roster. Liverpool are left with an overabundance of attacking and creative midfielders of all types - Gerrard, Adam, Maxi, Henderson, and Downing - but are a bit bereft of strong depth at holding midfielder. With so many contenders battling it out for the final two Champions League berths (beneath the two Manchester teams), even a quality early-January replacement might not come soon enough to stave off irreparable damage to Liverpool's cause. As Arsenal suffered at the start of the season without Alex Song and Spurs looked incomplete until the arrival of Scott Parker, you have to hope for the sake of the team and their supporters that the Reds won't prove to be as dependent on Lucas.
Matches like this weekend's trip to Fulham will be exactly the type of match-up you would have expected Liverpool to get full points from before the injury. It will be instructive to see how they fare with an inferior replacement sitting in front of what has been a solid defense. Was Lucas key to that solidity? Or a beneficiary of the improved play behind him?
More analysis of the schedule for the purposes of picking your fantasy roster after the jumpThe Home Teams
- Manchester City vs. Norwich - The big question here isn't whether City will win, I think we're all assuming that to be the case. The bigger question is, with a must-win Champions League match looming and many first-team attackers having played in mid-week, who will start for Citeh against Norwich? If you guess right, chances are you'll be rewarded with some points. My only concern is City's string of matches without a clean sheet in the league. Verdict: Advantage City Attackers.
- Tottenham vs. Bolton - Things just aren't going very well at Bolton and the schedule continues to be miserable to them with a trip to high-flying Spurs. With most of their regulars rested for their Europa Cup loss, you can count on a rested and healthy (for them) Spurs side. Seems like a solid match-up to bet on Spurs players on both sides of the ball. Verdict: Advantage Spurs Attackers and Defenders.
- Wolves vs. Sunderland - With Wolves desperate and Sunderland in disarray this might be the time to jump on the Wolves bandwagon for a rare home match that you can legitimately favor them in. With O'Hara and Hunt coming back from suspension, Doyle working his way back from injury, and the Black Cats having showed modest-at-best defensive resistance, Wolves attackers may have some momentum. I'm less sold on the possibility of a clean sheet - Wolves haven't kept a clean sheet since the calendar turned to September. Verdict: Advantage Wolves Attackers.
- Everton vs. Stoke - This looks a lot like a mid-table vs. mid-table match-up that is hard to find much advantage in but with Stoke playing in the Europa Cup (yes, it is at home) and not having won on the road since August and only having won against Rovers since October we might have to stop confusing Stoke with words like "solid" and "mid-table". Seems like a good time to bet on Everton and especially their defense against Stoke's 1 away goal since August. Verdict: Advantage Everton Defense.
- Arsenal @ Wigan - Wigan are still a mess despite winning last weekend. Arsenal rested a lot of players in mid-week but you still wonder if they'll use the occasion of a trip to a relegation-threatened team combined with a meaningless Champions League match next mid-week to get an extended rest for some of the regulars like RvP. I don't have any inside info here, just putting two and two together. Verdict: Advantage Arsenal's Attackers (whoever they end up being).
- Swansea @ Rovers - Rovers are a mess and Swansea have the sort of game that can punish that despite their status as newly-promoted. I don't see Swansea breaking out and scoring a ton but it is easy to see them putting a clean sheet together. Verdict: Advantage Swansea Defenders.