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First XI: The Weekend That Was In The Premier League

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Was he really gone to the African Cup of Nations for the past month and didn't tell anyone?  He appears to be back as the tournament wraps up.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Was he really gone to the African Cup of Nations for the past month and didn't tell anyone? He appears to be back as the tournament wraps up. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Well, I'd been telling you for a while that it was coming and it finally arrived. The weekend where all of my fantasy picks went in the wrong direction. I'd had four straight match weeks of charging up the charts which crested with me making an entry into the Top 1000 and securing the second spot in the private group that Jeremy and I have been in for 10 or 11 years now. The worst part was that I had most of the right intuition. What do I mean?

I knew Tim Krul would likely have a bad weekend against Spurs, I just thought his bad weekend would be of the 2 to 4 point variety, not the -13 variety.

I knew that Craig Bellamy's days as a great value at 5+ had come to an end and I had a bunch of money to replace him. After considering Danny Graham, Scott Sinclair, Peter Odemwingie, Luis Suarez, and Clint Dempsey I went with Dempsey. Oops.

It was just that sort of weekend. Saving grace did come in the form of the person who is leading our private group actually doing worse than I did (sorry Luke) so I picked up 10 points on the lead and, oh yeah, one of the greatest Arsenal moments we're likely to see this year in the form of TH12 making his final Premier League appearance and getting the winner in stoppage time. Honestly, it could have been a much worse weekend and that moment would have been enough to make it a great one on the balance.

1. Buying - the list of players who seem to be legitimately improving or establishing themselves as honest-to-goodness quality.

  • Danny Graham - Granted he wouldn't have gotten the second (from the spot) if Scott Sinclair were still on the pitch but he's managed to keep scoring and scoring at the same rate as much more famous players like Adebayor, Dempsey, and Bale.
  • Yakubu - He has 13 goals this season and Rovers are still very near the bottom of the table. Can you imagine how bad they'd be if they hadn't made what was generally considered to be a poor move over the summer?
  • The Ox - He wasn't as scintillating this weekend as he was against Rovers but he still looked lively against a much more organized defense. He is hardly the finished article but now that we've seen him a little bit I have to say I'm very optimistic (much more so than I am about Theo Walcott for instance).
  • Jean Beausejour - Hard to say if it was just a mirage against a bad team or a harbinger of things to come but if you're looking for an alternative to the Ox (likely - or at least a risk - to be on the bench with Gervinho returning from the ACN).
  • Steven Fletcher - Of the players with 10 league goals here are the Shot on Target numbers - 38, 36, 30, 26, and 15. Fletcher is the 15. That isn't necessarily great in the Yahoo format where you get points for the extra SOTs but two things: 1) appreciate the amazing efficiency; 2) imagine how many goals he might have if he were playing for a team where he were getting more shots on target.
2. Selling - the list of players who either played poorly (and seem unlikely to improve significantly) or played well and don't seem likely to continue that form over the long term.
  • Emmanuel Adebayor/Louis Saha - Maybe K2 actually went off to the African Cup of Nations, didn't tell anyone and just had a look-alike filling in (poorly) until he returned this past weekend. More likely, he woke up briefly and will revert to mediocrity soon enough. We've always known Saha had it in him but we also know that he might have tripped over the sideline on the way back to the locker room after the match and put himself out of action for the next 6 weeks. Enjoy it for what it was which is a spectacular performance, just don't expect to see it regularly at the Lane. Doesn't help that the next two matches are @Arsenal and home to Manchester United.
  • Papiss Cisse - There are players who announce themselves with an exceptional first match in the Premier League and continue to be amazing (see Aguero, Sergio) and there are those who have a great first match and then turn out to just be adequate. Cisse had the excellent first match but I have to say he didn't cover himself in glory against Spurs. By contrast Demba Ba managed to look dangerous even while Newcastle was getting whipped. I don't know which way things will go but don't get overly excited and think you're getting Demba Ba 2.0 for half the price when you're looking at Cisse for the next match.
  • Peter Odemwingie - I was really taken with him last season but this season, it just hasn't been there. I'm not sure what got into him today against Wolves but my sense is that we shouldn't assume that he's back to last season's form. Throw in his new, higher price and I'd be staying away.
  • Andrei Arshavin - It was thrilling to see him create Henry's romantic winner at the Stadium of Light but it would be a miracle if he revitalized his career trajectory. It will be even more difficult as you have to assume he's now fallen to fourth, behind Gervinho, Walcott, and the Ox, in the Arsenal wide attacker pecking order.

3. Suarez-gate - I'm sure you've all had just about enough of the Suarez-Evra-racism thing so I'll keep it brief. As far as I can see there were no winners in this melodrama. Suarez came off like exactly what everyone accused him of being - if not a racist then a classless @sshole who didn't see the benefit of making the entire situation go away. Patrice Evra's "victory lap" made him look like there was a winning outcome here. Rio Ferdinand, supposedly a mature captain-worthy guy in his career, looked petty for not shaking Suarez's offered hand. Kenny Dalglish and the entire Liverpool organization have looked insensitive at best by sticking up for Suarez throughout this issue. I understand sticking up for your own but there is language that you can use to do so that doesn't completely dismiss the relevance of the underlying issue to the people who buy the tickets, watch on TV, and otherwise finance the lavish lifestyles enjoyed by (nearly) everyone associated with the Premier League. Here's hoping that all involved learn something from this. Let's also hope that we've heard the last of it.

4. Oh Yeah, The Game - Turns out that the Suarez-gate completely overwhelmed the match and there are some very useful things that should have been taken from the match. First, Liverpool, and in particular Stuart Downing are really bad. Second, that Kenny Dalglish seems to be insisting on NOT choosing his best attacking player (that's Craig Bellamy if you haven't been watching) for their biggest matches. Third, Patrice Evra, when not embroiled in controversy, is a shadow of his former self - it leaves you to wonder whether Fabio will be ready to improve on the play United are currently getting at left back.

5. The Race for Fourth - We may look back on Henry's late goal as far more than an amazing sentimental moment but a turning point in the race for the last place in the Champions League. With Newcastle, Liverpool, and Chelsea all losing (and none of them looking even remotely good in doing so), Arsenal were seconds from letting them off the hook by dropping two points to a much-improved Sunderland side. With one redirection of an Arshavin cross, TH12 vaulted Arsenal back into the race for fourth. With Spurs, @Liverpool, and NUFC their next three matches dropping 2 points would have likely doomed the Gunners to the Europa League or worse. Now they probably only need points from two of their next three to be in a strong position for the rest of the season.

6. The Lin-sanity - We don't push into other sports very often but the story of Jeremy Lin came up in the Barn Door Live Chats on both Saturday and Sunday so I didn't know how I could fail to mention it. For those who don't know, Jeremy Lin is a rookie guard from Harvard for the New York Knicks (that's basketball) who has taken the basketball world by storm over the last week or so. His story is amazing because scouts overlooked him as a high school player (he wasn't recruited to a big time college program despite being the California Player of the Year as a senior) and a college player (he wasn't drafted). It isn't 100% guaranteed that he was overlooked because he is Asian-American but the fact that there aren't many (non-7 foot tall) Asians that play basketball at a professional level. I don't know what kind of career he will end up having but for anyone who has ever been overlooked because they didn't look like the stereotypical star in whatever they were trying to become, it is a great story that will hopefully help open eyes to the possibility that talent and skill can come in a lot of different packages.

7. The Relegation "Race" - West Brom's destruction of Wolves on Sunday combined with wins by Rovers and Wigan have made a race that looked destined to be "won" by Rovers, Wigan, and Bolton into a tightly packed, five team competition between QPR, Wolves, Rovers, Wigan and Bolton. Wolves were always likely to be dragged back into the mire but QPR have been particularly disappointing given all the money they spent in January on their roster as well as bringing in Mark Hughes. As it has the past few years, the relegation race seems to be shaping up as the equal of the race for fourth. Given that we might also be treated to race for the title it could be a pretty amazing end of the season.

8. Chelsea Are Just Bad - You have to wonder how much longer Roman will put up with this. There was a definite need to change out the "old blood" and despite the extent to which I really liked the players Chelsea bought last summer, AVB seems to be making a gigantic mess of the situation. I have been an advocate for staying the course on him and keeping him on through the transition but that opinion is changing with each new failure. Unlike Arsenal where there are clear gaps in talent, Chelsea's problems seem to be far more related to a failure to get the most out of more than adequate talent and that falls on the manager. I don't know if it is because the veteran players aren't interested in listening to a manager who is about the same age as they are and isn't proven. I don't know if the old guard just don't like playing with the new guys. I don't know if the undoubtedly talented parts just don't fit together very well. What I do know is that it feels like Chelsea have more talent than Manchester United but are getting far less from those players.

With the exception of that one exceptional forward (Rooney over Torres/Drogba) I can't think of a position group where United is clearly superior to Chelsea. Despite this, United are staying in the title race while Chelsea are looking less and less likely to finish in the Champions League places.

9. The Race Between Bloggers - In the never-ending race between Jeremy and I for bragging rights he has jumped 2.5 points ahead of me.

10. Thinking Ahead, Part 1 - If you're looking for a cheap goalkeeper then I'd consider Thomas Sorensen. I love the Swansea story but they have scored exactly 10 road goals and only one of those (in a 4-1 loss to Chelsea) has come against a good team. The balance of them have come against the relegation-strugglers - with 2 each against Rovers, Bolton, West Brom, and Aston Villa and one against mid-table Norwich. Did I mention that Sorensen was priced at 2.20?

11. Thinking Ahead, Part 2 - Before you get overly excited about Aston Villa's trip to Wigan - take a look at the reality. Wigan may be terrible at home but Villa are pretty rotten on the road (and in general). Specifically, I wouldn't be looking for a Villa clean sheet. Wigan have only been blanked once at home by a team not contending for a Champions League place (oddly it was Fulham who are also terrible on the road) and Villa have only kept three road clean sheets (oddly one was against Fulham who are generally good at home). In any event, I'd be looking for a 1-1 draw or something that is unlikely to get you excited about investing in this match.

UPDATE: Clark and Dunne out for Aston Villa

I hope you enjoyed the weekend. We'll be around writing over the next couple of weeks as we wait for the league schedule to resume.