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Fantasy Football: Injuries to Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United forcing changes

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So the last international break of the noughties has been and gone, we know who will be lining up in South Africa next summer, and we know that Robin Van Persie’s ligaments will soon be enjoying the sweet, sweet smell of placenta fluid as he looks to regain the momentum lost in another meaningless friendly.

But, more importantly, the Fantasy League is back. Managers up and down the country have been anxiously pacing the floors of their homes, awaiting terrible news of their charges. It was not just Carlo Ancelotti who grimaced when word of Frank Lampard’s thigh strain reached England.

Gameweek 12 was nothing too special, we had Captain JT leading Chelsea to a controversial win over Manchester United, big John Carew slaloming his way through Bolton’s defence like a graceful giraffe, and another Arsenal masterclass at Wolves. The more things change….

You can join the Football Media fantasy football league (and try your hand at beating Neil to the finish line) by signing up here.

The Men in Form

It is getting tiresome to say so now, but if you don’t have Cesc Fabregas in your team, you really need to remedy that. The Spaniard is in majestic form for Arsenal, picking up another 13 points in their 4-1 win at Wolves last time out. His value has already risen by £1m since the start of the season, and it would appear that this figure is only going to rise further.

Meanwhile, England’s friendly with Brazil may not have had the excitement the name suggested, but there were lessons learnt. One was that Aston Villa’s James Milner is very much in contention for a place at next summer’s World Cup. The 23 year-old is tearing up the flanks at Villa Park, his goal and two assists against Bolton gave him 11 points – a figure which would have been even greater had he not fluffed a penalty in the second half (although Steve Sidwell is the man who should be embarrassed!).

Ok, and finally, a mention for Blackburn. Jason Roberts and Benni McCarthy may have only inconsistency in common, but both emerged from the Ewood Park bench last week to change the game against Portsmouth. Roberts netted twice and picked up a cool 12 points, not bad for 45 minutes’ work.

The Men to Avoid

Injuries are mounting around the Premier League, and some big names are slipping under. Among the biggest has to be Rio Ferdinand. The Manchester United defender has been ruled out for an indefinite period due to back and hamstring complaints, after a string of substandard performances. As a £6m plus defender, he should be off everyone’s radar until the spring at least.

Likewise Gael Clichy, although he should be expected back much sooner than Ferdinand. The Arsenal and France full back has sustained a stress fracture of his lower back, and is likely to miss at least a month. His Arsenal colleagues Nicklas Bendtner and Robin Van Persie are also set for lengthy absences.

At Chelsea, meanwhile, Frank Lampard, Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole are all facing at least four weeks out, with both Michael Ballack and Yuri Zhirkov also struggling. Picking a side this week is looking like a tough ask, for Ancelotti, and for you.

Bargain Hunt

Cameron Jerome (Birmingham, £4.4m) – Right, he might never hit another ball so sweetly again, but Jerome’s goal at Anfield last week was something special. The lanky frontman may lack consistency, the howitzer in the fog was his first of the season, but he is one of the cheapest strikers around, and with Garry O’Connor injured, Christian Benitez awful, and Kevin Phillips ancient, Jerome is likely to start plenty of games. A useful, money-saving, third choice striker if ever there was one.

Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa, £4.9m) – An England international for under £5m? That has to be worth a look. Warnock’s form since his August switch to Villa from Blackburn has been good enough to re-register him on Fabio Capello’s radar, and his crossing is improving Villa’s side. Both he and James Collins are available at knock-down prices, and both are useful punts.

Zavon Hines (West Ham, £4.5m) – You can tell Hines is going places at West Ham, his two late misses in their defeat to Everton were greeted not with derision, but disbelief by the Upton Park faithful. The pacy, diminutive winger-cum-striker is making a name for himself under Gianfranco Zola, and is very much a regular these days. Should not be banked upon, but certainly a worthy squad player for Fantasy gamers.

Premier League Fixtures

Liverpool v Man City
Birmingham v Fulham
Burnley v Aston Villa
Chelsea v Wolves
Hull City v West Ham
Sunderland v Arsenal
Man Utd v Everton
Bolton v Blackburn
Tottenham v Wigan
Stoke City v Portsmouth
Hull City v Everton
Fulham v Blackburn

Right, points of interest. Liverpool v Man City starts the weekend, the pretenders versus the vulnerable in the race for 4th place. Liverpool should have Steven Gerrard back fit but not Fernando Torres. Manchester United and new-dad Wayne Rooney face Everton, Wazza’s old club. Tottenham and Chelsea have winnable home games whilst Arsenal travel to Sunderland for a thorough examination minus Van Persie and co.

Furthermore, Hull, Everton, Fulham and Blackburn have two fixtures in this gameweek. Stick Jimmy Bullard, a Fulham defender or David Dunn in your side and hope for the best.

My Team

Another so-so week, lit up by Cesc and Van Persie as usual, with Milner making his move into my first choice. Let downs from Drogba and Rooney in their head to head, Drogba’s first game without a goal or assist by the way. Sorensen and Shawcross looked nailed on for a clean sheet at Hull until a second half collapse, and Gallas conceded a late goal to Wolves which drew more than a few expletives from my mouth.

This week I have been forced into 2 changes, ceding 4 points to my rivals. Van Persie’s injury is too long term to ignore, so in comes Spurs skipper Robbie Keane. The money saved allowed an upgrade in defence, so Ricardo Carvalho replaces Michael Turner. Hopefully Chelsea and Spurs will win those winnable home games.

Football Media League

Well, my sojourn at the league’s summit was a brief one. These newcomers are dangerous. Ray Wall’s Razors United remain top after a solid 63 point gameweek, but competition beyond him is fierce. Jon Reeson’s Westfield Irons, Pavenpal Bhullar’s Boca Juniors and Jon-Eggert Hallsson’s Handavinna are all lurking between the Baroque Social and a title push.

Kudos should also be given to the week’s top scorers (in the top 100 anyhow), George Bowles’ Jammy Donuts, who amassed 81 points. Jammy? Yes. Donuts? Not this week.

You can join the Football Media fantasy football league (and try your hand at beating Neil to the finish line) by signing up here.

The winners announcements have been delayed but they will be made (for the months of September, October and November) during the first week of December 2009.

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Right, where to start? My name is Neil Jones, I'm 23 years old and from Liverpool- therefore I'm a Liverpool F.C. supporter. I have been writing football related bits and bobs for as long as I can remember. It was a massive ambition of mine right the way through school to be a sports writer, until the smell of money distracted me from University at 18! But now I'm determined to give it another go, starting from now! I guess I find it easy to write about something I seem to spend most my life talking/thinking/reading about, and have an awful lot of passion for. Hope you enjoy reading my pieces, and don't be afraid to cut me down if you disagree with my opinions. After all, that's what football is all about isn't it?