Seven goals, seven minutes of added time, seven players from the Big Four in the team of the week. Yes, the big boys claimed back their rightful place at the top of the Premier League table last week, the pretenders of Manchester City & Tottenham slotted firmly into their place. Wins for Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool & Arsenal meant it was a good week for the star names, as well as a few lesser ones too.
The Men In Form
When Arsenal splashed out £10m on a Belgian defender who was struggling to reach the 6ft mark, one or two eyebrows were raised. How would Thomas Vermaelen handle the physical element of the Premier League? Would he compete aerially? Is a Belgian ever really any good? The answer – on all three counts it seems – is a resounding “Yes!”. Vermaelen picked up a whopping 19 points at the weekend thanks to his clean sheet, coupled with two lovely goals. It takes him third on the defenders list, with 34 season points, and his value is rocketing skywards. Sign him up if you can.
Ashley Cole doesn’t share the same sort of affinity with Arsenal these days of course, his murky move to Stamford Bridge and the frighteningly egotistical revelations in his autobiography pretty much severed his ties with North London. Not that Chelsea mind of course, Cole is currently in the form of his life across town, his second goal of the season, allied to some clean sheet and bonus points, promotes the England left back to second in the defenders chart with 40 points – reassuringly for Fabio Capello it is the England right back, Glen Johnson, who sits atop that particular table. But then, does Don Fabio play Fantasy Football?
And how about a bit of nostalgia? Every year people take a long hard look at Manchester United’s squad, and come to the same conclusion. “Sooner or later they will have to strengthen that midfield, cos Giggs (and Scholes) can’t go on forever”. Every year they are wrong. Last season’s PFA Player of the Year is in sparkling form right now, adding three quality assists in the Manchester derby on Sunday, and picking up a richly deserved man-of-the-match award. Approaching his 36th birthday, Giggs is still running the show at Old Trafford like a seventeen year old. Long may it continue.
The Men to Avoid
Spare a thought meanwhile, for Giggs’ supposed contemporary, Michael Carrick. The former Spurs and West Ham midfielder was a model of self-improvement during his first couple of seasons at United, but has found himself firmly out of favour this term. A missed penalty at Burnley is his only notable contribution so far in this campaign, unless you count the 30 seconds added on for his late, late substitution on Sunday….
Likewise Emile Heskey. Indispensable for England, indistinguished for Aston Villa. Heskey has played just 116 minutes this season, picking up a paltry 4 points. His value is dropping fast, and with Gabby Agbonlahor and John Carew impressing each week, his chances look like being even more limited as autumn approaches winter.
Staying on the England theme, how about Joleon Lescott? Manchester City may have moved heaven and earth to persuade Lescott to swap royal blue for sky blue, but they don’t appear to have papered over the cracks in his game as effectively. Three more conceded by Lescott’s defence on Sunday means the former Wolves man has just five points to his name this season, from four games. At £7.1m, Lescott looks a bit heavily priced too.
Peter Crouch (Tottenham) – Ok, so he hasn’t featured as much as he would have liked so far this season (that will probably be written on his gravestone come to think of it). But Crouch was in dazzling form netting a hat-trick in the Carling Cup in midweek, and Spurs boss Harry Redknapp knows he can’t rely on his little and littler strike-force of Jermain Defoe & Robbie Keane every week, so expect Crouch to enter the side at some point. Probably this week at home to Burnley actually. At £7.1m, Crouch represents a better bet than most similarly priced forwards – think Jo at Everton, Kenwyne Jones at Sunderland or Benni McCarthy at Blackburn.
Michael Kightly (Wolves) – Not many players in the current Premier League system have experience of playing non-league. Michael Kightly does, having been plucked from Grays Athletic by Wolves boss Mick McCarthy. He repaid him pretty comprehensively too, the nippy wide player was inspirational as Wolves romped to promotion last year, but a metatarsal injury has sidelined him since April. He is back now though, and keen to grasp his chance in the big time. Expect the diminutive Londoner to terrify more than a few defences this season, and expect him to represent excellent value at £5.4m.
James Collins (Aston Villa) – Some people, including me, wondered where this lad got his reputation from at West Ham. I’d never noticed anything special about him, that’s for sure. But Martin O’Neill liked him, and he has slotted in nicely alongside fellow newboy Richard Dunne in the centre of Villa’s defence. No goals conceded in both games since his arrival says it all, and with him costing just £4.6m, Collins could be a sharp piece of business for any manager.
Portsmouth v Everton
Birmingham v Bolton
Blackburn v Aston Villa
Liverpool v Hull City
Stoke City v Man Utd
Tottenham v Burnley
Wigan v Chelsea
Fulham v Arsenal
Sunderland v Wolves
Man City v West Ham
A quick skim of the fixtures shows Liverpool should have a home banker against Hull City, load up on Gerrards and Torreses if you can, and expect clean sheets to finally arrive for Carragher and co. Tottenham too should find Burnley a more welcoming guest than Manchester United were to White Hart Lane, whilst Chelsea should prove too strong for Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic side. Arsenal have a chance to show their mettle with a trip to Fulham, and Manchester United will need to show theirs as they travel to Stoke. Manchester City complete the weekend’s action, with a home clash with West Ham.
Still going solid, all things told. Cesc Fabregas did his job as skipper with a late goal, whilst all three of my strikers performed well, including a goal for Darren Bent on his first outing for my side. Steven Gerrard picked up an assist, as did Emiliano Insua, whilst my decision to start Joe Hart proved inspired, as he was keeper-of-the-week with 8 points.
Just the one change this week, in comes Sylvain Distin of Everton to strengthen my defence. Kevin Foley’s drop to £3.9m precipitated this move, but Everton are resurgent and Distin will be integral to their improving defence. His fall in value (from £5m at the start) has worked to my advantage.
Football Media League
Jon Eggert Hallson is showing no sign of relenting at the top of Soccerlens’ league, his Handavinna side clung to top spot with a fine week – inspired by Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba & Ashley Cole. Behind him it is the battle of the Corrigans as Colin (Hats Off FC) and Dermot (Nil Satis XI) occupy second and third place, whilst a special mention must go to Greg Stark and his Ipswich Down side, who amassed 88 points thanks in part to having the likes of James Milner, Louis Saha & Gareth Barry amongst the bigger boys.
My side, the Baroque Social rose, salmon-like to 28th spot thanks to a solid week, but sit 56 points off the leaders. Wild card time anyone?