Rafa Benitez, prior to substantial weight and facial hair gain
I. Manchester United @ Liverpool: A must win game for under fire manager Rafa Benitez, but one that if he wins – will put Liverpool just 4 points behind United after 10 games. Not too much to worry about then if Liverpool can pull off the win against the league leaders.
But with Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres both doubts to feature in this one, Liverpool face a tremendous uphill battle. Both players have groin problems – as does star attacking defender Glen Johnson – which leads me to wonder just how all of these Liverpool stars are injuring themselves in the upper thigh area. Have the physios at Anfield not taught these lads the butterfly stretch? Maybe a little bit of yoga will fix the problem – the cobbler’s pose is always popular for the groin. Stevie, get on that cobbler, player.
If Gerrard is out, the blog’s favorite player Yossi Benayoun and Dutchman Dirk Kuyt will be expected to breach United’s rearguard – but Liverpool are low on confidence after four straight losses while Sir Alex’s men sit at the top of the table – even without Cristiano Ronaldo.
But United also have a few key players struggling for fitness – Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher, and Ryan Giggs should all be monitored tomorrow in the Friday team press conferences.
United’s Dimitar Berbatov (9.5M) is in excellent form – a classy flick here, a goal there, a brilliant through ball or two and the past 4-5 fixtures have really shown the true brilliance from the Bulgarian. I expect more at Anfield facing a Liverpool defense that is far from settled. Berbatov could be a great straight up replacement for Defoe (8.8M) owners seething after Jermain’s red card at Portsmouth.
United have not drawn an away game in the league in their last 14 trips, while Liverpool have gone 21 games in a row without a draw – so this one shouldn’t end in a stalemate if statistics have anything to do with it – but they probably don’t – so I’ll go with a draw.
Prediction: 1 – 1 draw
II. Blackburn @ Chelsea: The tastiest matchup from a fantasy perspective is at Stamford Bridge this weekend – with Chelsea looking to continue their hot home form following a superb Champions League win midweek. Manchester City host Fulham – which should translate to a 2 or 3 goal win for the hosts, but I see the unstoppable Drogba and company equalling or bettering that output.
Don’t be fooled by Frank Lampard’s 1 goal and 1 assist game midweek – Drogba was still suspended for the Champions League and until he leaves for Africa, Frank will not be the main man in Chelsea’s attack. He’s just not in charge of the attack this year. Everything runs through Drogba. Deco, Ballack, Kalou, Anelka, and Lampard are all ancillary players who may shine every 3-4 games but the consistency just isn’t there with Drogba hogging the set pieces and the best chances from the run of play.
Chelsea’s defense looks a solid play at home as well – even without the embarrassed Ric Carvalho, though Blackburn did score 2 at the Emirates, I believe Ancelotti’s men are much tighter at the back than Wenger’s. Expect goals and a clean sheet then. Business as usual at the Bridge.
Prediction: 3 – 0 Chelsea
III. Studs and Duds: Manchester City attackers – if healthy – are studs at home to Fulham. Fulham just played a tough 1-1 draw in the Europa League with Roma but that was at Craven Cottage and they aren’t as good on their travels. Expect the in-form Martin Petrov to continue his hot streak if he plays, and Adebayor / Bellamy / Tevez to shine if they feature (the former two are injury doubts). City have been conceding goals, however, so while Given / Bridge remain attractive as studs, they are certainly not in form at the back.
I like Portsmouth’s really cheap attacking options on the road at Hull as studs. The club created a half dozen chances against Tottenham – and if it weren’t for amazing goalkeeping by Gomes, would have won. Boateng, O’Hara, Smith and Dindane are surprisingly, all studs for me this week. And all are very cheap.
Tottenham and Arsenal players continue as studs – both should create chances despite facing more difficult opposition this week in Stoke and West Ham, respectively.
Duds this week include the usually reliable Everton back-line. Davis Moyes played a few second stringers alongside Distin today in the Europa League and lost 5-0 against Benfica. A poor display. Everton travel to Bolton – who are not having any trouble scoring at the moment. I expect Everton defenders to end up duds then with studs Matty Taylor and Kevin Davies (both 6.7M) leading the way for Bolton in a score draw or home win.
IV. Gameweek 10 Best Eleven:
D: A. Cole – Bassong – Bikey
M: Fabregas – M. Taylor – O’Hara – M. Petrov – Arshavin
F: Drogba – Van Persie
Subs: Hart – Ricketts – Craddock – C. Jerome