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Premier League Preview: Chelsea, United & City – It’s all change at the top!

Premier League: And now, the end is near…

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And so in a flash of Robin van Persie’s left boot, of Shaun Maloney’s set-pieces, of Luis Suarez’s nutmegs and of Santi Cazorla’s passes it was all but gone. The 2012/13 Premier League season has nearly finished.

In terms of games played and of goals scored it might not be remembered as a vintage one, but it will always be recalled as the last campaign of the greatest old campaigner of the lot.

Sir Alex Ferguson has called it a day at Manchester United, something that will not perhaps hit home until we see David Moyes sat in his fellow Scotsman’s seat in the dugout when the new campaign begins in August.

United without Ferguson is a little like salt without pepper, like eggs without bacon and like Ant without Dec. It doesn’t look right, it doesn’t feel right and we don’t necessarily want to consider one without the other.

Typically, Ferguson bowed out with a Premier League title success which was as serene as any of the 12 he’d won previously, something in part down to the lack of a credible challenge put up by others but largely due to the remarkable consistency shown by his team.

With Van Persie leading from the front and thriving on the proper title challenge that he had left Arsenal for, United never really looked like letting the lead slip once they took it in November, and there have been few more worthy champions.

Previous holders Manchester City were never quite so convincing, with their failure to mount an impressive enough challenge ultimately seeing Roberto Mancini fall upon the sword which had been dangling nearer and nearer to him following yet another failed Champions League campaign. Next season promises to be an interesting one for a new look City.

But then the same can be said for United, Everton, Chelsea, Jose Mourinho and quite possibly Wayne Rooney. It’ll be more than just the kits that have changed come 2013/14, it’ll be the men wearing them too.

They, as ever, will be the focus of so much drama, glory, outrage and expectation.

Suarez, Gareth Bale, Juan Mata, Christian Benteke, Michu, Rickie Lambert. There were so many stars that lit up this campaign that it was hard to keep track of them.

You always knew where QPR and Reading were throughout their seasons, but that they have been joined by Roberto Martinez’s Wigan in being demoted to the Championship is a great shame.

Just 72 hours after completing one of the greatest stories in modern English football the Latics set a rather unwanted record. They are the first team to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season.

Yet their Wembley success as well as that of Swansea City – and indeed League Two’s Bradford City, their beaten opponents in the Capital One Cup final – has shown that the potential for glory is there whoever you are. Perhaps we’ll see more teams grasp the nettle and go for broke in the Premier League next season as a result.

With United, City, Everton and Chelsea all in somewhat of a transitional stage – although Chelsea have one of those every six months – perhaps this could be a time for Arsenal, Tottenham and maybe even Liverpool to shine?

All have impressed at various points throughout this campaign and all can do so going into the next, when they’ll be joined by promoted Cardiff City, Hull City and one of Watford and Crystal Palace.

Such talk is for another day though, a day when we can really look forward to the new campaign as we put the old one behind us.

That day will come on Sunday, about 30 seconds after the final whistle on a season which sadly brings an end to the careers of men as distinguished as Ferguson, Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher.

They’ll be gone but not forgotten, just like this season will be too.

See you in August for the next one.

@Mark_Jones86

Champions League: Real Madrid v Manchester United..Caption Competition

It has possibly escaped your notice but in between GW26 and GW27 there is the small matter of a little match taking place at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. It’s a low profile game so it may have gone under your radar…

WRONG!!!

The Champions League is back and there is a HUGE match up with Manchester United travelling to Spain to take on Real Madrid.

All the talk is on Ronaldo taking on his old club, however from an Fantasy Football perspective many will be hoping that the likes of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie come through this match unscathed! With such a high percentage ownership for RVP in particular you have to wonder with a 12 point lead in the League if Sir Alex may decide to rest his star man in some of the upcoming Premier League games should they continue to challenge in Cup competitions also.

To coincide with this match up StanJames.com are giving away a FREE £25 BET to the winner of our Caption Competition.

To enter all you have to to is Tweet your best Caption response for the picture below to @StanJames  @FantasyYIRMA and @FPL_advice_Tips. You must be following all 3 accounts for your response to be counted!

I would say try and keep it clean but having seen some of the replies already I know that won’t happen!!

Winner will be selected by StanJames during the Real Madrid vs Manchester United game on Wednesday 13th of February.

@ryano83

Gameweek 24 PREVIEW: Time for Wayne to reign again?

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There has only been one star in Manchester United’s and in 44.8% of Fantasy Premier League teams’ seasons.

Robin van Persie (£14.1m) has been the main man, the top goalscorer, the top points scorer, the man outshining all the others. He has looked indestructible. He even survived that attack from Ashley Williams at Swansea before Christmas.

The man eclipsed by the rise and rise of Van Persie’s star has been Wayne Rooney (£11.8m), as frequent injuries and frustrations have left him looking enviously at his team’s Dutch master and wondering just how he let a top billing that he used to own slip so easily into the former Arsenal man’s grasp. Just recently though, he’s been making hay whilst Van Persie was away.

Alright, they were in the FA Cup. And okay, he did hopelessly miss a penalty in the West Ham game, but Rooney has found the net in each of United’s last two matches at Old Trafford – matches that Van Persie was rested for – and so should be in a confident mood ahead of the visit of Southampton on Wednesday night.

The forward is itching to impress after scoring just seven Premier League goals this season, and he could just be the key to a strong ending to the season for both United and for your Fantasy team.

As the pressure cranks up, each and every win for United looks more and more important as they seek yet another title. Sir Alex Ferguson could find himself turning to the man who has been there and done it before in a bid to get over the line.

That bid could start on Wednesday.

Elsewhere during this midweek Gameweek – everyone loves a midweek Gameweek don’t they? – there will be tales of cup woe to be shared at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal meet Liverpool.

Supporters of Bradford City and Oldham Athletic can watch that one with smug smiles on their faces, and one man that Liverpool will need to watch closely will be the Gunners forward Olivier Giroud (£7.8m), who could just shunt Theo Walcott (£9.4m) out to the right of midfield again following his excellent recent form.

There were also cup woes for Norwich and QPR at the weekend, and they don’t look like disappearing in the league as the duo host Tottenham and Manchester City respectively. Gareth Bale (£9.8m) and David Silva (£9.4m) look to be the men to watch.

Rafael Benitez takes his Chelsea team to Reading, and in amongst the usual suspects in his Blues side – although there’s no Eden Hazard here of course – it could also be worth looking at the visitors’ defence, particularly the Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta (£5.7m) who has racked up four assists since becoming more of a regular in the Blues’ team in November. Against a Reading outfit who have been known to leak goals at home, he’ll be looking to get forward.

Everton should also be on the front foot in their match against a stuttering West Brom, and many bosses will be hoping that Marouane Fellaini (£7.7m) can return to scoring ways after failing to find the net since December 1st. Meanwhile, Nikica Jelavic (£8.0m) has lost support following just one goal in 12 games.

One man who is more used to hitting the back of the net recently is Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke (£6.5m), and with the Belgian forward providing one of very few rays of light amidst the doom and gloom surrounding his club this season, Villa will be looking to him to fire against a similarly out of form Newcastle United at Villa Park.

He can do just that, and ensure that whilst his star still isn’t as high as Van Persie’s or even Rooney’s, it will at least stay on the rise.

@Mark_Jones86

Premier League: Fightback Statistics! (Part 2)

Many thanks to @JonnyGrossmark for providing this excellent guest post. If you are not following him on Twitter already – get on it!

As always, Guest posts are welcome on the FantasyYirma page. If you have an idea for a new article or would like to promote a recent piece contact Ryan at fantasyYirma@hotmail.com for more information.

#FY

 

Part 1 of this series is available here

Mid-Table Sides “FightBack” Analysis

Having looked at the Top 6 teams, it is appropriate to look at the teams which sit outside the top six but which were expected at the beginning of the season to find a mid table berth and have no fear of relegation but no thoughts of getting into Europe.

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I have written extensively about Newcastle this season and they are a very interesting in terms of the phrase “yo- yo’ on the basis that they are a team that goes up and down the EPL table.

Focusing on their inability to fight back when conceding first should have given some doubt in the ability of Pardew to get Newcastle into the Top 6 again this season.

Pardew was awarded the League Managers Association award for last season which is voted for by fellow professional managers and Sir Alex won it in 2011 and this is a prestigious award. In effect this cemented the 8 year contract that Pardew signed to give him time to deliver the first trophy since they won the fairs Cup in 1969.

My question is do we take at face value that Pardew did an excellent job or do we add raw data to the mix to show that last season Newcastle over achieved and a drop in positions was an expected outcome this season with potential that Newcastle could easily drop out of the EPL in the next few seasons again?

If I advise that Pardew does not have the ability to micro manage players you could rightly counter and say that Newcastle finished 5th last year so obviously he must have the mindset to lead his squad and motivate the players on and off the pitch with a solid team behind him.

I would argue that under Pardew, Newcastle have only won 37% of games and that  he has had success with regard to getting teams from the Championship into the EPL but not been able to consolidate on the progress.

It is also a well known fact that at West Ham, Pardew was given media training to be able to connect with the fans more and I express the thought that how well does he communicate with his own players after the BBC described him as a …”distant animal”. I have watched a number of games this season (mainly recorded) looking at the body language of Pardew and apart from writing notes, I have not seen anything to suggest that he commands the loyalty of the players as in too many games this season, Newcastle have given up as soon as they have conceded first and they are also showing an inability to hold onto leads having won just 50% of the games where they scored first this  season which is not top six form and astonishingly since Pardew joined, Newcastle have not won one game when conceding first and their last win was against West Ham in October 2010. Newcastle conceded an early goal scored by Carlton Cole on 12 minutes to “fightback” and Newcastle dominated most of the game under Hughton who I consider to be far more capable as a Manager then Pardew.

Football blogging is at a stage where if it does not fit the model then it must be a random event such as playing snakes and ladders which has zero skill value but I think this is a dangerous route to take as one of the biggest academic arguments is over sample size but in football past performance is not an indicator of future performance although there is no reason to think that Newcastle will become a “fightback” team in the near future.

We are only limited by our interpretation of the data presented. When Spurs beat Wigan 9-1 we can clearly see that this is a random event as there was not expectation at Half Time that Wigan would concede eight second half goals. Newcastle coming 5th last season cannot be explained as a random event but can show the limitations of the understanding of data as we are now in a situation where Pardew is now publicly blaming the players(survival analysis) when he is the one who should be blamed.

Compare this to Sunderland conceding first exactly 17 times over the previous four completed seasons. Is this consistent behaviour random or explained?

By   @JonnyGrossmark

Liverpool: The kids are alright, but is that enough?

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As symbolism goes the image was a pretty stark one.

On a chilly Sunday afternoon when there were many more serious issues than football to ponder at Anfield it seems wrong to pay so much attention to the mere matters that were going on at pitch level, but just seconds into the second half there was a moment that spoke volumes for just where Liverpool are heading under Brendan Rodgers.

The 18-year-old Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáez de la Torre – or ‘Suso’ to his mates and now the millions worldwide who watched his Premier League debut on Sunday – picked the ball up on the left corner of the penalty area and was suddenly face-to-face with the man he’d entered the pitch with seconds earlier.

Whilst Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had turned to Paul Scholes, 37, at half-time as his side sought to gain control of midfield now that Liverpool were down to 10 men, Rodgers had opted for Suso to replace the injured Fabio Borini.

Undeterred by the sense of occasion, the fact that this was his first act as a Premier League footballer nor that his side had seen a man sent off, Suso faced up to Scholes on the corner of the box, showed him the ball and then quick as a flash burst past a man more than twice his age. At that moment the great Scholes could probably feel his old bones creaking.

That Suso’s cross was only half-cleared and eventually – via the good work of Glen Johnson – resulted in Steven Gerrard firing Liverpool into a deserved lead only crystallised the moment more. These young Liverpool players, regardless of who they are facing and how many players they are facing them with, are fearless.

At 18 Suso wasn’t even the youngest Reds player on the pitch at the time, with that honour going to the 17-year-old Raheem Sterling. Jonjo Shelvey, 20, had somewhat harshly been sent off by then, whilst the injury suffered by the 22-year-old Martin Kelly would leave Liverpool with just nine men by full-time. Borini, 21, and Joe Allen, 22, were playing in their third Anfield league game since big summer moves to Merseyside, a switch made by 22-year-old second half substitute Jordan Henderson last year. The 19-year-old Andre Wisdom scored in the Europa League last week and could now be set for more appearances given that Kelly is out for the foreseeable future with an ACL injury. Many more young players at set to feature in the Capital One Cup at West Brom on Wednesday night.

The omnipresence of Gerrard and a late cameo from Jamie Carragher reminded everyone that this isn’t a total revolution just yet, but it is hard to think of a club operating at the levels Liverpool are that is currently putting so much faith in youth. As admirable as it is, the worry has to be that it is too much too soon.

The club’s failings in the transfer market have a lot to do with it of course, but Rodgers is on record extolling the virtues of his young charges.

As he and Ferguson have said in the past, young players will rarely let you down when called upon, but at a time when the club are coming to terms with a new style of play as well as new personnel with which to play it, the potential for errors has crept in. At this level such mistakes can and will be capitalised on, as United showed in coming back to win on Sunday.

The next three Premier League fixtures – away at Norwich and then at home to Stoke and Reading – have already been identified as crucial to Liverpool following their tough start, and the youngsters in the team are likely to have to grow up quickly if success is to be achieved in all of them.

There is no doubt that a great excitement builds when the likes of Suso and Sterling get the ball, but it is up to Gerrard and Luis Suarez to show seniority and help guide them. Allen, the excellent Johnson and the still acclimatising Nuri Sahin will prove important in this regard too.

Is it too much too young for some of these Liverpool players? That remains to be seen, but one thing that they are certainly not lacking in is confidence. If Suso can do that to Scholes, then anything is possible.

The kids aren’t United, they’re Liverpool, and this could just be the start of something special if it is given time.

@Mark_Jones86

Why Wayne Rooney could take a leaf out of the Paul Scholes book

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Around this time last year, when we thought we’d seen him kick a ball and/or opponent for the final time, we were hearing from one man an awful lot more than we were used to.

You suspect that it was a little forced, and that Paul Scholes didn’t exactly want to hold court on issues ranging from life under Sir Alex Ferguson to the trophies he’s won to the reason why he retired from playing for England so early, but when you’ve got an autobiography to sell there are certain sacrifices to be made.

It’s doubtful that Wayne Rooney sees them as sacrifices though.

The international break – a break he has sat out following the nasty thigh injury he picked up against Fulham – has seen Rooney plugging his latest book My Decade in the Premier League, the third autobiography from his money-spinning deal with publishers Harper Collins signed in 2006.

The reviews haven’t exactly been stellar, with the book’s serialisation offering up the ‘fascinating’ insights that Rooney once returned to training following a summer holiday unfit and overweight, and that he could barely stomach seeing Manchester City winning the league last season. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time it isn’t.

Whilst the book does offer us a timeline of Rooney’s career ever since he joined Manchester United in 2004, it will be unable to shed light on the most interesting period of those eight years. Namely right now.

Ferguson – who is believed to privately see Rooney’s injury as a blessing in disguise given that he once again returned from his summer break in less than top condition – made huge statements in the summer with the captures of Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie, the former a shining light in one of the most entertaining sides on the continent over the past couple of years and the latter a prolific goalscorer who is already well on his way to becoming a Premier League icon.

The question of where these purchases left Rooney was almost immediately raised, and although Manchester United’s strongest team would still surely find room for their No. 10, the belief that the forward is undroppable rather quickly evaporated. Suddenly Rooney would have to work harder than ever before.

So perhaps it isn’t the best time to be rolling out another book, specifically one which points out that one of your major flaws is an apparent aversion to staying healthy when out of your manager’s gaze.

Such decisions are likely to be taken out of Rooney’s hands of course, but at a time when actions need to speak louder than words, the forward is creating an awful lot of noise.

Scholes quickly went back to letting his football do the talking following his return to the game and to the Manchester United team back in January, and Rooney could do worse than follow in his team-mate’s footsteps when it comes to ensuring that the chapters in future tomes will be successful, Old Trafford-based ones.

At the end of the current season there will be two years left on the contract that Rooney earned after so much dramatic posturing at the end of 2010, with the entry into the final 24 months of a deal traditionally the moment when key, difficult decisions have to be made about a player’s future – unless you’re Arsenal of course.

Rooney will be 27 next month, and with United never likely to be able to get more money for him than they could command in the summer then a key decision might have to be made, a decision that could be made easier if Kagawa and van Persie turn out to be the success stories they are threatening to be.

When he’s fully fit Rooney will be back in the United and England teams, but as the man himself seems so keen to tell us, just when that will be is up for debate.

He can talk a good game, but Rooney now needs to get back to playing one.

@Mark_Jones86

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