What a great Premier League year this has turned out to be. With three weekends left there are great stories and lots of tension left everywhere you turn. There is still a race for the title which may or may not extend beyond Monday's match but at the very least makes that match the latest "Match of the Year" candidate. There is still a ton of drama left to be had in the race for Champions League spots. If it were a normal year, Arsenal's spot would look quite comfortable after their draw with Chelsea and Spurs' loss to QPR. The interesting wrinkle is the potential that Chelsea wins the Champions League final and qualifies on that basis rendering a 4th place finish irrelevant. That puts all of the pressure on Arsenal to hold off Newcastle (and theoretically Spurs) for the third spot. It also opens the potentially tragic scenario where the Magpies manage to shock the world and finish fourth but get no European reward.
As all of that drama unfolds at the top of the table, the bottom of the table swung dramatically over the course of two minutes this past Tuesday. Almost lost amid the excitement of 10 man Chelsea's dramatic win over Barcelona was Aston Villa's potentially gigantic stumble in the 62nd and 63rd minutes against Bolton. Villa had gone up 1-0 in the 61st minute on, of all things, a Stephen Warnock goal. If you got up to go to the bathroom or get a beer after the goal you may well have missed the shock of Warnock conceding a penalty, Martin Petrov converting it and then David Ngog putting Bolton ahead all within the span of two minutes. If Villa had held the 1-0 lead for the win, they would have been sitting pretty (relatively speaking) at 39 points with Rovers representing the "top" of the relegation zone at 31 points. That's as close to being mathematically safe as is possible without out BEING mathematically safe. Instead, Villa finds itself 3 points from the drop zone with Bolton, QPR, and Wigan all within 3 points of them and Bolton even having a match in hand. The stage is set for an incredible 5-way struggle between Rovers, Bolton, QPR, Wigan, and Aston Villa with all five hoping to avoid being among the two who will accompany Wolves on their journey down to the Championship.
Finally, and probably almost invisibly to the rest of you is the closeness of the private war between Jeremy, Nik, and myself for the title of Champion of Never Manage Alone for our inaugural season as an official blog team. We were all within 10 points of each other going into last week. Nik separated himself from the pack a bit by putting up a 125 for the week while Jeremy did a respectable 100.5 and I choked my way to a rather mundane 88. It doesn't look great for me catching Nik but anything can happen and I'm still only 15 points from catching Jeremy in our eternal struggle for bragging rights. Regardless, I'm pretty sure we'll all end up the year at personal bests. I'm sitting at 253 overall and obviously Nik and Jeremy are even higher up than that. Here's hoping we finish strong and do ourselves and our new SBNation overlords (just kidding) proud.
Wow, I'm out of breath with excitement and I haven't even started thinking about the upcoming week and all of the possible outcomes of the two-match scenarios that we have in front of us. My thoughts on that below the jump:
Outside of any players you may be keeping at a deep discount, there are only 8 teams that you should care at all about this week, the two-gamers: Chelsea, Spurs, Newcastle, Liverpool, Everton, Fulham, Stoke, and Bolton. Of those, Bolton (@SUN, TOT), Fulham (@EVE, @LIV), and Stoke (ARS, EVE) are hard to get excited about due to their match-ups. Looking at the five teams left, you have to pick your poison:
- Chelsea: Two tough matches as they likely conserve their resources for their two Cup Finals. Rotation will be a huge risk as their Premier League matches are fairly meaningless at this point.
- Spurs: Their matches look easy and are very important but the same could be said for their last one against QPR and look how that turned out. Very hard to know what you're going to get from them.
- Newcastle: In excellent form and with a ton to play for but the actual matches - both away against in-form opposition (with the above caveat about Chelsea) - are tough.
- Liverpool: The risks here lie in both their recent performances AND the fact that they have a Cup Final to worry about next weekend.
- Everton: Probably the best set of match-ups (FUL, @STO) goes to the least productive fantasy team of the group. Outside of Jelavic, points tend to come from many places and the midfield gets rotated a lot.
- Papiss Cisse - He's in the best form of any forward in the league for my money.
- Nikica Jelavic - Second best form, cheaper price and better match-ups than Cisse.
- Decisions - In my mind, Cisse and Jelavic are the two "must-haves" with LOTS of questions and risks among guys like Suarez (will he be rested mid-week?), Adebayor (will he be healthy by Sunday?), Mata/Drogba/Sturridge/Kalou/Torres (how will Di Mateo use them with the two Cup finals looming). I'm staying away from all of them pending Team News tomorrow.
- Hatem Ben Arfa - He has been a bit up and down but over two matches that Newcastle MUST get at least 4 points from, it feels like he should have at least one big match and one OK one.
- Yohan Cabaye - He's coming off of his best fantasy match of the season so you may be expecting more than he's likely to delivery but with Newcastle's form you can't argue with loading up on them.
- Gareth Bale & Rafael van der Vaart - You probably can't afford both so you'll have to pick your favorite or flip a coin. I'd favor Bale slightly because VDV's hamstrings are always a risk when the matches start to pile up.
- Clint Dempsey - If the Spurs malaise makes you nervous and you have the money, Deuce has been very productive even when Fulham haven't been winning.
- Danny Rose - With BAE injured, he's likely to deputize at left back for cheap if you need an enabler with potential.
- Darron Gibson - A great enabler in the mid-5s.
- Stephen Pienaar > Leon Osman > Matthew Etherington > Marouane Fellaini > Anyone from Chelsea or Liverpool who represents a huge rotation risk - I'm really on Pienaar by default here since Fellaini's great weekend last weekend was a mirage, Etherington has had an almost entirely barren second half of the season, and Osman has been almost as pointless as Eth since the calendar moved to 2012. My objections to Chelsea and Liverpool should be obvious at this point regardless of the quality of their players.
- Davide Santon - The least expensive of the NUFC defensive corps likely to get two starts.
- Sylvain Distin - Same logic as Santon except you substitute NUFC with Everton
- Daniel Agger - Do you risk that he might get two matches? The price is right.
- Glen Johnson - See Agger above but remove the price part and substitute - that it is right given his potential production.
- Tim Ream - Solid enabler who returned some value last week despite no clean sheets.
- William Gallas - There aren't many healthy Spurs defenders at this point and Gallas is one of them and his price isn't too bad.
- Tim Krul - He is the ideal choice but his price is likely prohibitive
- Tim Howard - His price is much lower and the match-ups seem fairly enticing
- Brad Friedel - The price is lower still BUT he looked every one of his 40 years on Taarabt's free kick goal last weekend and the defense around him (and the team in general) is crumbling.
- Pepe Reina - He's scored a NET of 8 points over the second half of the season with his last four matches played all ending up in the red. The price has dropped as a result but how safe do you feel with that recent track record? Just saying.