Saturday, 15 August 2009

David Puddy XI (“Alright, high-five”)

I used to get well excited about putting together Fantasy/Dream Teams when I was a kid. It was almost like a real Championship Manager. I’d stay up all hours creating shortlists and working out different teams and formations. It’d take several weeks for me to narrow down a first XI and then I’d have to do another team because I felt bad for all those I left out. Hell, I even like typing in all the individual player codes on phone.

Now, I could give a shit. I did my first one in years last season because it allowed me to get away from work momentarily and ended up doing my 30 (!) transfers before February. It’d be better if had something riding on the league winner because “pride” isn’t really going cut it for me.

Having said that, I did enjoy picking out a player or two that I think will shine over the course of the season. But even though my starting XI’s will no doubt change within the week, I still aired on the side of caution and went with some guaranteed points players.

Anyway, here’s a sentence or two on each player of my team…

Manuel Almunia – 3.5

Is the cheapest keeper of the top four and will be a starter every week. He and Arsenal’s defence are a liability though so this might be one of the first changes I’ll make.

Branislav Ivanovic – 3.3

Solid defender and was favoured over Bosingwa in the Charity Shield. With the persisting rumours the Portuguese right back is off to Bayern Munich, I expect the Serbian to start a lot of games.

Richardo Carvalho – 3.8

Hopefully Ancelotti will instil Carvalho back alongside Terry at the heart of Chelsea’s defence. If so, they’ll be lots of clean sheets, and maybe he’ll pop up with odd goal.

Mathew Upson – 3.5

This pick is in hope that Lescott stays at Goodison so Man City will quickly move for Upson. If so, he’ll probably acquire more points, but whether at West Ham or Eastlands, he’s a guaranteed starter and consistent performer.

Yuri Zhirkov – 4.2

I don’t expect Zhirkov to start too many games at left back if Ashley Cole’s fit, so he’ll probably line up on the left hand side of midfield. My only concern is he’s an Abramovich buy so he might not fit into Ancelotti’s plans. Good player though.

Andrei Arshavin – 5.5

I’m guessing Wenger’s learnt his lesson about leaving out this little genius. Should be the focal point of Arsenal’s attack where he’ll make and score goals all season.

Steven Gerrard – 6.5

Like Lampard, you know what you’re getting with Gerrard and he’ll doubtlessly score points every time he plays.

Morten Gamst Pedersen – 3.4

Believe it or not, I actually chose Pedersen before his midweek brace against Scotland. I’ve always been a fan and while he’s underperformed the last couple of season, I’m hopeful he’ll recapture some of that form that made him one of the most dynamic players in the league.

Wayne Rooney – 6.8

Rooney is supposedly going to start more games through the middle, so that can only mean more points for a man who already scores them regularly.

Peter Crouch – 5.7

I expect Crouch will be preferred to Pavlychenko and alongside either Defoe or Keane he should be the spearhead of the Spurs attack. Is accomplished enough now to guarantee you 12 + goals a season.

Christian Benitez – 3.8

This boy’s my pick to make an impact. You don’t drop 9 mil on player (especially if your Birmingham) if he hasn’t got something. Hopefully he’ll settle early but with pace, power and an excellent goalscoring record, he’s got a chance.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Premier League Prediction

Predicting the outcome of the Premier League season before a ball has been kicked is a foolhardy pursuit. So here, nailed to the mast, is a few of our top 4, bottom 3 predictions. I'm thinking it'll be nice to come back here at various points in the season and just point and laugh at our own stupidity.

Kevin O’Neill

Top four: Man Utd, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Chelsea.

Come on! This season is exciting -- the genuine possibility for Utd, Liverpool or Chelsea to win it, as they seem more evenly matched than ever before. Liverpool are probably the strongest going into the first day, as they have a clear idea of how they're going to set up next year, i.e. the same as last year. However, I think it will be just not quite good enough yet again. Their strength in depth is poor, and they still have weaknesses on the wing that the acquisition of Glen Johnson will help, but not solve. Chelsea won't settle in in time to make a real threat, and Abramovich will fuck them up yet again, probably firing Ancelotti by September. United get the title not by default, but because I think Ferguson is best equipped to shepherd his team to the title. Buying Owen was a masterful move (wait for this to backfire, obviously). Finally, I've been thinking a lot about Arsenal, and decided they won't get in the top four. I love them -- if I have an English team, it's them (which, as a Celtic fan, brings up a whole other conflict in a couple of weeks, which I'll be writing about on here...), but they seem to be in a serious re-building phase just now, and injuries to key players hamper them more than most. Villa get third in a champion effort from my former nemesis-namesake Martin O'Neill.

Bottom three: Blackburn, Burnley, Birmingham.

I'd love Burnley to survive, but I don't see their resources being up to the task. Hopefully they'll get a dramatic last-day finish, if nothing else, but they're going back down. Birmingham too -- Alex McLeish is a nice football personality, but his attachment to former Scottish proteges will be his downfall. Blackburn will finally succumb to the drop, as Sam Allardyce's anti-football tactics prove inadequate to a new era of Xavi/Iniesta-inspired passing football in the League (one can dream...).

Ryan Taylor

Top 4 - Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Everton

Can Ancelloti guide Chelsea to the Premier League title in his first season? I guess I think he can. He inherits a strong squad that’s been galvanised by winning the FA Cup under Hiddink. Zhirkov looks like a decent addition that will add balance on the left. The marquee signing that Captain Terry demanded before ‘proving’ his loyalty doesn’t look likely but they might benefit from the continuity. Maybe I’m putting too much on the Ronaldo sale, he did spend half the season being a petulant brat but he was still effective. Most predictions I’ve read focus on Rooney’s added importance to the team rather than any focus on a genuine replacement for the oily one. For me, they just look that little bit more beatable without him. It seems Wenger’s fledglings may finally be ready to push on this season. In Arshavin, Fabregas, Rosicky and Nasri they boast the most creative of midfield talents. They still lack a top goalscorer and there will be a lot of pressure on Vermaelen to settle in quickly. They might even lead the race come Christmas only for Wenger to blow a gasket as his youthful squad crack under pressure. And finally predicting the that the team that have finished in 5th place for the past two seasons can go one better this year should not necessarily be a large leap of faith, but it probably is. Everton are consistent and have some very good players (Arteta, Cahill and Jagielka). They also have genuine competition for places (Yakubu, Jo, Saha, Anichebe and Vaughan) bolstered with emerging talent from the academy (Rodwell, Baxter) if injuries don’t take there toll. They seemed to improve when Lescott was moved to the centre and Baines began playing regularly last season, if Lescott goes, and for footballs sake let’s hope he doesn’t, Yobo and Jagielka (Rodwell until he returns) will provide an adequate shield for ticking Timmy.

Bottom 3 – Hull, Portsmouth, Burnley

I never really thought I was a bad judge of character, I think Phil Brown’s fall from grace last season proves that I am. At first I thought he and his battling Hull side were a breath of fresh air, then came the increasingly outlandish quotes, the silly fuzz and finally that horrific last day debacle with him celebrating a defeat like a massive bell in the middle of the pitch. They didn’t necessarily keep themselves up last season, more Middlesbrough and Newcastle got themselves relegated and I don’t think they’ll be so fortunate this time. I’ve included Portsmouth here for the sheer volume of quality players they have lost. It echoes their South Coast neighbours troubles of last season albeit a division below. Hart seems pragmatic and affable but he’ll prove himself an astute manager keeping this threadbare (even with some genuine quality in it) squad up. Finally, Burnley. I was harping on to all who’d listen that Burnley would get through the playoff’s in May and now here I am proclaiming they'll be propping up the table all season. I won’t be the only one. They just look too good to stay in this division. Too honest, too willing to try and play football. A bit naive? I've been proven wrong on more the one occassion and I’d be delighted if they did but my it’s hard to see it.

Paul Morris

Top 4

Despite all the hoo-hah involving Man City and the familiar question of whether Arsenal can keep their place in the elite, I can’t see anyone breaking the stranglehold of season’s past. Each team have had to deal with a big departure over the summer (Utd – Ronaldo; Chelsea – Hiddink; Liverpool – Alonso; Arsenal – Adebayor) but I think they all have enough to compensate for that loss.

I’d love to share Taylor’s ludicrous optimism that the mighty Toffees will breach the gap, but it aint happening. They haven’t improved the squad enough to do so and Moysie boasts a quite miserable record against the big boys. Same goes for Aston Villa and Tottenham. O’Neill should just be concentrating on keeping Villa consistent while ‘Appy ‘Arry’s penchant for playing Champ Man might make his Spurs side entertaining, it inevitably leads to disappointment (ask Keegan).

I’m not going to completely rule out ‘Sparky Hughes’ Abu Dhabi Army’ though. Potential frontline combinations of any of Tevez, Robinho, Adebayor, Santa Cruz, Bellamy and Wrighty P, with the likes of Barry, Ireland, De Jong and Kompany in behind them is something you really can’t argue with. Add Lescott or Upson (or both) to Richards, Onuoha, Bridge and the excellent Given and you got yourself a squad of players.

That being said, here’s my 2009/2010 Top 4…

#1 Manchester United

Ronaldo’s world record breaking move to Real Madrid might be the biggest monetary transfer of the pre-season. However, it’s the boy now occupying his No. 7 jersey who is gained all the attention. Since C-Ron’s exit, the question for Utd and Sir Alex is whether they can fill the void left by the Portuguese Pretty Boy. The arrival of Michael Owen and Antonio Luis Valencia suggest that they’ve acted decisively to cover the goal scoring and making exploits of the World Player of the Year. Whether they have or not will be answered before Christmas.

Defensively Utd are as strong as anyone and they possess depth and diversity in midfield. Their question marks lie in the final third of the field. Talk of the added responsibility on Rooney’s shoulders seems to have overshadowed the importance of Berbatov’s performances this year. For Utd to succeed, I believe the Bulgarian has to be a consistent influence and can’t resort to flitting in and out of games as he did in the last campaign.

I’m a huge fan of Berbatov; I think he’s complete class. Players of his and ‘Wazza’s’ pedigree don’t think about “gelling”, they just trust each other’s pure ability. Throw in the guaranteed goals of Michael Owen and the precocious young Itai Macheda and scoring looks easy. I think the strength of Utd’s squad still ranks above most in the world and this will be enough to make it four on the spin. My only concern would be whether Sir Alex places the Champions League over the Premiership. After last season’s frustration, he’ll want to get it right this time round and that could see a shift in his priorities.

#2 Chelsea

Similarly to Utd, Chelsea have added very little player-wise over the summer and will rely on what they’ve already got. The obvious question is whether Carlo Ancelotti can carry on what Guus Hiddink appeared to start. After the ups and downs of Avram Grant and ‘Big Phil’, Hiddink got them playing again and clearly had a very positive impact on the players. Ancelotti is inheriting a confident, content squad and will have to do something quite drastic to disrupt their dynamic. From what I’ve seen of them in pre-season Ancelotti looks to be implementing his customary 4-4-2 diamond. Chelsea certainly have the players to accommodate this formation, it’s just whether the egos will allow it.

For me, it’s key that Chelsea get Carvalho back alongside Terry as a first choice centre half. He’s proven he’s a great player and was the backbone of their success under Jose. The attack looks relatively settled with Drogba, having professed his undying love for The Blues, and last season’s top score Anelka looking like forming a more regular strike force this time round. Chelsea’s problem will lie in who occupies the four midfield berths. Lampard is a certainty at the peak while Obi-Mikel and Essien will probably vie for the holding role. Malouda was better last year but will come under pressure from the returning Joe Cole, plus egos-in-arms Ballack and Deco will no doubt have their say. Ancelotti will have to be ruthless and not cower to these decisions just because someone might get a bit pissy. I reckon he’s got it in him.

I’m really interested to see how Ancelotti and his new formation do. Whether it works or not, Chelsea will still be the model of consistency, dismantling bottom half teams home and away. However, they’ll have to produce more against those in the top 6. I see them pushing Utd very close, especially if both Drogba and Anelka can get scoring.

#3 Liverpool

I’m not really going to waste much time on Liverpool because I don’t think anything will change. Benitez will play the same way, use the same tactics in the same formation. He’ll rightly try and keep going what they put together last season which was a strong, defensively savvy team with probably the two best players in the league spearheading it.

Alonso’s move back home does leave a rather gaping hole to fill that could effectively change the way Liverpool set up. Its unlikely Gerrard will drop in there to form a more conventional 4-4-2 as Benitez has clearly shown he prefers him in behind Torres. So expect to see the industrious Lucas Leiva line up alongside Javier Mascherano. I’ve only seen this Aquilani play a few times but he’s never impressed me. He looks entirely too lightweight to play as a central midfielder and not really penetrative enough to play higher up the pitch. However, at 20 mil, Rafa’s got to find a place for him somewhere. This one’s got Robbie Keane written all over it.

Benitez has constructed a regimented unit that knows will always get him results. His problem seems to be finding alternative ways of playing when Gerrard and Torres are misfiring or absent. The purchase of Glen Johnson might give them more going forward but he’s an awful defender (although anything’s an improvement on Arbeloa). Like many, I’d like to see Benitez use Babel more. He can be a little erratic and oblivious but has the potential to turn games with his raw pace and power. After last year, Liverpool will underwhelm in the league but I can definitely see them reaching or winning a cup final.

#4 Arsenal

Its odd how Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger were staunchly hated about five years back but are now universally loved for their application of ‘the beautiful game’. “Loved” might be an exaggeration. “Pitied” seems more suitable. They’re the football equivalent of Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler’: sublime, almost tear-inducing performance that sorrowfully won’t get them what they want. Now that they’re not routinely winning trophies they are no longer a legitimate threat and everybody’s appreciation of their flowing football is tinged with a “You know they really do deserve something for the way they play”.

The thing I love about Wenger is his completely blinkered view that his team, no matter what they clearly lack, is as good as it’s ever been. His unwavering belief in the youngsters he has is testament to those who think money is ruining the game. The problem for Arsenal is, youth and ability will only get you so far. And because Wenger is so pig-headed (or French) he’s never going to admit what is publicly evident. Even the slight wobble he had considering a move for old boy Patrick Viera was quickly quashed. This, despite the fact they’ve lacked any real leadership in years and the players he’s turned to (Gallas, Gilberto, Toure, even Henry) didn’t have it.

Keeping hold of Fabregas, placing emphasis on his role and building around him is key. Great flair players like Arshavin, Rosicky, Nasri are an enormous asset but there are going to struggle to play without someone to do their graft. Arsenal need someone with bite in the middle of the park and until they find that, they’ll continue to underachieve. They’ll no doubt set us alight with some of their football, once in a while humiliating teams, making us sit up and notice. But ability alone doesn’t get you through 38 games, and when that falters, they don’t have much to fall back on.

Bottom 3

As I rambled like a mental patient about the top 4, I’ll keep this one brief (plus I should really do some work at work). Picking relegation fodder used to be easy. It always involved the three promoted teams plus a couple usual suspects. But since the turn of the century, big teams are regularly involved in the fight for survival and now there always seems to be a surprise faller. After last season’s ridiculously tight bottom half, I see it being the same way this year. I think 7 or 8 teams will be involved throughout the season so I’m just going to go with the gut on this one…

#18 Wigan Athletic

This was a toss up with Wolves and I surprised myself by backing the perennially moaning old bastard Mick McCarthy. Since their promotion in 2005, people have questioned Wigan’s place in the Premiership. But after another solid year under Steve Bruce, they were on the road to being the Bolton Wanderers. A few astute signings plus his ability to get the best (or something) out poor players meant The Latics had something to build on. Bruce has now left for the opportunity to spend some cash and has been replaced by former Wigan favourite Roberto Martinez. He got Swansea promoted from League One in his first season and kept them in the Championship playoff hunt last. While he’s had early success, I’m convinced this is a premature appointment and one just to appease the fans. Wigan are a team that often need to be dragged through games which Bruce was perfectly weathered for. I’m not sure Martinez currently has that mental toughness to take on the burden of Wigan’s inevitable struggle. My favourite for first Premiership sacking (unless Spughesy loses two on the bounce).

#19 Stoke City

I can’t see it carrying on. They did fantastically well in their first season and really ruffled a lot of feathers. But they’ve barely added to their squad which means we’re going to get the same physical, stifling displays that previously saw them bully lesser teams. This year, that novelty (it is 2010) will have gone and teams will be better prepared for any aerial onslaught. I think they’ll get goals but be too fragile at the back to stay out of it.

#20 Burnley

The obvious ones maybe, but for a reason. Owen Coyle had success against Premiership opposition in the cups last season, but I can’t see his Burnley side maintaining any sort of form at any time during the year. He’s clearly instilled an excellent spirit and work ethic within the squad but the lack of real talent or top flight quality. They have some promising youngsters but it isn’t enough to keep them up.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Fantasy XI - Part III

Last season was my first foray into the aggravating and depressing world of Fantasy Football, and my abysmal performance in my friends’ league should have warned me off a second stab. I spent most of the season in the cellar, eventually finishing mid-table only because some of the others in the league basically stopped playing. Of course, settling comfortably in the middle of the pack by virtue of not being as bad as everyone around you is probably the most accurate approximation of the Premier League, so give it some points for realism. I fear I’m still stuck in the Guardian mentality, which had a ridiculous system of +2 for every clearance, giving decent defenders in really poor teams the advantage over everyone else, so I expect my Telegraph team will change rather quickly once the season gets underway. I went with a 4-4-2, just because I don’t trust strikers.

Jussi Jaaskaleinen – £3.2 m

A real bargain at that price, he’s capable of some magic in goals. Even if the Bolton clean sheet record isn’t as strong as it was under Allardyce, I would hope a slightly more solid defense this season will give Jussi some help. Either way he’s certainly in Friedel’s league, and on a good day I’d throw him down against any Cech you got.

Vincent Kompany - £3.5 m

Another cheap buy (as is the rest of the defense), he played really well last season. Since Citeh’s big summer buys went almost solely to attacking players, I think he’s got his place in the team sewn up. He’s got the pace to keep the wingers in check, and on occasion he’s a threat going the other way. Cards might be an issue due to a sometimes-poor temperament, but I think he’s a keeper.

Ricardo Gardner - £3.4 m

Another cog in the hopefully solid Bolton defense, it’s his forward ability that sets him apart. Even if he doesn’t start every game, when subbed in he can wake up a side that has a tendency to fall asleep at the wheel. Honestly he should probably have been listed as a midfielder, but if I’m really lucky I can get the best of both worlds out of the error.

Michael Turner - £3.4 m

The best points-getter for me last season, this will probably be a mistake as he alone won’t be able to save Hull from being ripped apart again and again. Still, he’s an excellent player, and with a bit of luck, he might get sold to a better team before the transfer window shuts. Okay, that’s wishful thinking, but still a bargain.

Alan Hutton - £3.2 m

Within minutes of this selection I was questioning why the hell I chose him. I still don’t know. Maybe I just wanted a comedy Scot in the side? Either way, expect a swift transfer out in the coming weeks.

Steven Gerrard - £6.5 m

He may be the biggest tool this side of John Terry, but his influence on a game is incredible. Guaranteed goals, and probably more assists if he has to pick up some of the slack from the dearly departed Alonso, it will probably help that this year is (another) make-or-break for Benitez. Even if the augurs don’t look good for a trophy, it won’t be for lack of effort on Gerrard’s part.

Andrei Arshavin - £5.5 m

More than just THE footballer picture meme of the 2008/2009 season, Arshavin was probably the best signing of the year. He settled into the team quickly, and I can’t help but think he’ll only get better. No matter what Wenger says, the loss of Adebayor does hurt their goal-scoring ability, so I’ll expect a greater emphasis on the midfield and the wingers since van Persie has never struck me as the ideal target man. Plus, that Liverpool game.

Cesc Fabregas - £5 m

If Wenger really is moving towards a Barcelona shape-is-the-key system, then Fabregas will be the lynchpin. In any case, with 3,000 passes a game, one of them’s gotta be an assist, right?

Darren Fletcher – £3.3 m

There might be a bit of the Scottish romanticism here, but he’s a good player and without Ronaldo around, I expect he’ll fancy a pop from outside the box now and again. His performance in the Charity Shield (first half, anyway) makes me think this is real value for money.

Fernando Torres - £7 m

If he stays fit, he’ll be the focus of Liverpool’s attack and he’ll score a lot of goals. Bonus points come from games where his team is dominating, and he’ll slot a few extra in just for the hell of it.

Kevin Davies - £5.9 m

I don’t expect much from Elmander, so once again Davies will be the go-to man for a desperate side out of ideas. Everyone take a drink when he’s described as a “journeyman” and “workmanlike”, but he’s got a lot of skill to go with his strong-arm tactics. Points will be deducted for a surplus of yellow cards, as every season he has about 4 or 5 contenders for Most Atrocious Tackle of the Year, but it’s a risk worth taking. In a team that thrives on sloppy goalmouth confusion, he’s the king of the scramble. I’m not sure any player works harder for mid-table obscurity.

So that’s the team. I really intended to get past my Chelsea-dislike and drop Carvalho or Cech in, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Such is the irrational world of fantasy football, but since I expect the Blues to do well, I might get over my prejudice and transfer some in down the road.


Saturday, 8 August 2009

UFC 101: Declaration

With the fallout of last month’s record-breaking event still resonating, UFC returns with another action-packed card this Saturday. As with all UFC pay-per-views these days there are enough diverse and interesting match ups to appease the most cynical ‘fan’, with the top two fights providing the star power attraction.

While my picks for UFC 100 didn’t exactly paint me as an “expert” (although no one could foresee Bonnar losing a decision (!) to Coleman), I will continue to persist with a run-through of the line-up and my predictions below. Also, this column (you’ll be glad to read) will be significantly shorter than the last. Apart from not being as arsed, I’m still reeling from the death of the genius that is John Hughes.

So, let’s start at the top…

UFC Lightweight Championship: ‘The Prodigy’ BJ Penn vs. Kenny ‘KenFlo’ Florian

Everyone familiar with MMA knows what skills “Baby Jay” possesses: exceptional stand up, extraordinary jiu-jitsu and the flexibility of a Romanian Olympic gymnast (to name a few). Florian is a very good, well disciplined all-rounder who has deservedly earned his title shot with a current 6-0 win streak.

As long as Baby Jay can combine his natural ability with the right mentality, he should easily overwhelm ‘KenFlo’ in every department. Florian will wisely keep away from a grappling contest, but keeping it standing won’t be too shrewd a move either. BJ’s going to control this wherever it goes, inevitably finishing sometime in the third (before he gets too tired). Penn submission in the 3rd.

Light-Heavyweight: Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva vs. Forrest Griffin

This is an excellent challenge for Anderson Silva, who has looked decidedly lacklustre in his last two Middleweight outings. His pound-for-pound status is on the decline so he will want to put in an impressive performance against the People’s Champ ™. Griffin himself won’t just view this as another chance to boost his “scrappy underdog” mantle. He’ll want to bounce back convincingly from losing his title and prove that he does actually belong amongst the MMA elite.

There’s no doubt Griffin will pose a genuinely stern test for Anderson. He’ll have a nice size advantage over the Brazilian and will look to use this to smother his offence. Silva’s precision striking is well documented and it’s impossible to think he won’t seriously test Forrest’s chin throughout. As a three round contest, Anderson won’t have much time for his usual feel out process, so he’ll have to push it a little bit more to get Forrest to engage. While I think Griffin has the necessary for an upset, I can’t see it myself. There’s an outside chance of it going the distance but I’m pretty confident Silva will find his range sometime during the 2nd, ending it the brutal fashion we’ve become accustomed to. Silva TKO in the 2nd.

Middleweight: Ricardo ‘Big Dog’ Almeida vs. Kendall ‘Da Spyder’ Grove

At a spindly 6’6, Grove will have significant reach over Almeida. He will no doubt look to utilise this advantage to work his way into the comfort of a Muay Thai clinch where he can unload his array of knees and elbows. Almeida is a jiu-jitsu specialist who will want this thing to hit the ground as soon as. If it does, it should be a clinic from there on in.

This fight has me torn. I like the ‘Big Dog’ but he hasn’t impressed me since his return to the UFC. Kendall is by no means a top contender in the Middleweight division, but I do think he has the appropriate tools to do the job on the Almeida. However, Kendall’s long limbs are right for the plucking and I’d be less than surprised if Almeida takes one home with him. I’m really interested to see how this one pans out and will just favour ‘Da Spyder’ to eek out a decision victory. Grove majority decision.

Welterweight: Amir Sadollah vs. Johny Hendricks

After a wealth of injuries and such, Sadollah finally makes his (proper) UFC debut since winning the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter. He impressed on the show with a combination of calm and decisive finishing. Hendricks I have no clue about. Apparently he’s a wrestler and he’s got himself an Evan Tanner/hobo beard.

Unsurprisingly I’m going to take Sadollah. He seems like a genuinely likeable guy who has shown legitimate promise. He’s also a black belt Sambo (Russian martial art) which is discipline we rarely see in mainstream MMA. Sadollah submission in the 2nd.

Lightweight: Josh ‘The Dentist’ Neer vs. Kurt ‘Batman’ Pellegrino

Neer is a big lightweight with solid stand-up and ruthless aggressive intent. Pellegrino is an accomplished grappler with decent mat skills to match.

I certainly favour Neer in this one because Pellegrino has never really impressed me. Neer, if anything, is made of tough stuff and doesn’t seem stupid enough to get caught in a fight ending submission. Plus, he’s a mean looking sucker. Neer TKO in the 3rd.

Welterweight: Tamdan ‘The Barn Cat’ McCrory vs. John ‘Doomsday’ Howard

McCrory is a young fighter who has shown some real glimpses of potential in previous outings. His scrawny frame has supposedly packed on some pounds in recent months so he now has the physique to complement his skill set. Again, I don’t know enough about Howard to form a proper opinion but his last fight (and UFC debut) was a less than impressive split decision victory.

I like McCrory’s unorthodox style and with nearly a foot in height difference between the two (McCrory’s 6’4 while Howard’s 5’7) I see him taking full advantage of Howard’s one-dimensional approach.

McCrory unanimous decision.

Middleweight: Thales Leites vs. Alessio ‘Legionarius’ Sakara

I’m not really sure how a fighter can go from pay-per-view headliner to prelim afterthought. I suppose that’s how seriously the UFC took Thales Leites middleweight title challenge. However, Leites returns against an opponent clearly fed to him so he can reclaim a little pride after April’s abomination against Anderson Silva.

Sakara has zero ground game and Leites is a black belt in jiu-jitsu. This is an equation that offers an obvious result. Sakara’s only hope is that Leites is stupid enough to try and bang with him, as the former professional boxer should effortlessly win that. Nonetheless, the Italian won’t get a chance as Leites will have him on the ground and tapping in no time. Leites submission in the 1st.

Lightweight: Shane Nelson vs. Aaron Riley

This is a rematch following a controversial stoppage in favour of Nelson this past March. I didn’t see that fight, all I know is that decision cost me about £180 in a tenner accumulator.

My choice remains the same as it did for the first fight. Riley will be too aggressive for Nelson and will steamroll the Hawaiian with some vicious ground-and-pound retribution. Riley TKO in the 1st.

Middleweight: Matthew Riddle vs. Dan Cramer

Two Ultimate Fighter combatants square off here in what appears to be a fairly even contest. Both are just beginning their MMA careers, but the UFC top brass are definitely looking at Riddle to excel.

While these two have similar styles, the one difference seems to be in power. This is where Riddle should win the fight. I imagine it will be a scrappy affair, but Riddle’s core strength will see him through.

Riddle unanimous decision.

Welterweight: George Sotiropoulos vs. George Roop

Roop doesn’t really have anything outside of some decent striking. Sotiropoulos has good jiu-jitsu and an overall power that Roop won’t be able to match. The obvious result sees Sotiropoulos overwhelm his smaller opponent for us never to hear from Roop again. Sotiropoulos submission in the 1st.

Welterweight: Jesse Lennox vs. Danillo ‘Indio’ Villefort

These two are making their UFC debuts and I’m not going to pretend to anything about either. From what I’ve read it should be Villefort’s to lose and the odds suggest that as well. Villefort submission in the 2nd.

The betting odds for many of these fights have been a lot better than recent events. There’s decent value in a few here so me and my boy Moore have picked 7 of the 11 for our accumulator. They are as follows:

  • Kendall Grove
  • Amir Sadollah
  • Josh Neer
  • Tamden McCrory
  • Thales Leites
  • Aaron Riley
  • Matthew Riddle

This gave us odds of 31/1. And despite a current streak of 0-6, I’m surprisingly confident. Hopefully this’ll be the first deposit in the ‘Vegas’ fund. It’s happening.

Friday, 7 August 2009

(The) Mothers of Invention

So Ryan's done his team. Here's mine:

I stuck to the two-players-from-one-team rule. It's a nice constraint.

I went with Jose Reina in goal. I think this is a safe option to get some points. Oh balls, I just realised I have three Liverpool players now. I added Johnson after another change. There goes the rule. OK, changing Reina to Cech. Reina I originally chose because he was the cheapest of the big three, and I think Foster is a risk for a permanent slot, despite VdS's injury. Ha, Cech's picture is better than Reina's. He has his protective hat on and is shouting. I think Chelsea have just scored a goal. Or perhaps he just saved a penalty. This made me smile.

My defence is less of the midfielder-cum-defender style that Ryan went for. I'm not sure what the style of mine is. I changed my mind a few times. Glen Johnson is probably the safest player here. If he settles into the team and doesn't do a Robbie Keane. Jagielka I'm not sure if he's going to be fit for the start of the season. I should probably look into that. Everton do OK with clean sheets, and Jagielka pops up with stuff now and then. Onuoha I don't have a clue about, to be honest. I'm curious about Man City and want to see if he might pick up some points on the sly. I'll probably transfer him out. Rafael seems like a decent punt at 3 mil. He might not play much. I'll see how it goes.

(Oh, I also went with a 4-3-3. It seems the easy option but I might mix it up during the season. Can we do that? I hope so.)

Gerrard is my other guaranteed points-getter. I think he is value for money. Kranjcar is a cheap option. I've liked watching him play for Portsmouth. I think how good he is will depend on how Portsmouth start the season. Barry Ferguson is sort of a joke choice. But McLeish loves him. I think he has a chance of doing well. He takes a lot of free-kicks and penalties. But he didn't do that well the last time he left Rangers. I will probably transfer him out. When he moved to Blackburn I thought he would do well. I don't particularly think that now. This feels a bit cruel.

I hope Wayne Rooney does well this season. It seems that Ronaldo leaving might be the best thing for his career. We'll see. Robbie Keane should hopefully be back to normal this year. And Agbonlahor has so much potential that I think he is worth trying. I am a bit worried that all of my strikers tend to have dry spells. I will have some money to play with if they don't work. It seemed too easy to go for Anelka as well as Gerrard. I may regret this later in the season.

I think I am most worried that some of the players I picked won't even play. This would be embarrassing. I am looking forward to this making me more active in my following the Premier League.

Fantasy Football Team

Every year I pick a fantasy football XI. Every year I don’t do very well. One year I tried to pick a team made up entirely of players with the surname Taylor, with Ricardo Vaz Te and Stern John upfront. That was a particularly bad year.

This year I’ve decided to tell you about the team I’ve picked. Think of my selections as a guide on who you should probably not pick. Prices come from the Telegraph Fantasy Football game. I’ve picked a 4-3-3 formation and limit myself to 2 players from each team, that’s not an official rule I just think it’s more sporting.

Ben Foster ­– Manchester United (£3.0)

Even before van der Sar's injury I pencilled in Foster this year. If he claims the number 1 spot you'll have a cheap keeper playing regularly, sweet.

Stephen Warnock – Blackburn Rovers (£3.5)

The Blackburn full back often pushes into midfield, he scored 3 goals last season and plays regularly.

Yuri Zhirkov – Chelsea (£4.2)

This is a bit of a gamble as I haven't seen him play that much but he could make the position on the left of Ancelloti's diamond his own. Another defender playing in midfield.

Graham Alexander – Burnley (£3.0)

This one is probably my biggest folly. I just really like the Coventry born Scotland international. Coyle deployed him as a holding midfielder last year and he managed to score 9 goals.

Herita Ilunga – West Ham (£3.6)

Another attacking full back Ilunga bagged a lot of points last term in an improving West Ham team.

Marouane Fellaini – Everton (£3.7)

The big Fella (ahem) looked impressive last season and is a cheaper alternative to the equally useful Cahill and Arteta.

Andrei Arshavin – Arsenal (£5.5)

The diminutive Russian looks like he is going to be key to the Arsenal set up this season. Playing in a system that will give him license to roam and get goals.

Martin Petrov – Manchester City (£3.1)

I didn't want to go for any City players as it's almost impossible to pick out who will start regularly. Arguably Petrov hugging the left hand side might give them some balance.

I'm rethinking this one already.

Eduardo – Arsenal (£5.3)

It looks like Wenger might start the season with van Persie on his own upfront. On the evidence of van Persie's performance against Atletico Madrid it wont be long before Eduardo is introduced as he is more naturally suited to the role (with van Persie dropping in behind).

Michael Owen – Manchester United (£6.2)

It's got to happen hasn't it? He will get goals, wont he?

Fernando Torres – Liverpool (£7.0)

A full season without injury could bring a 20 goal return for the brilliant Spaniard.