At a time when so much in the world divides us, when nobody can agree on anything, when the fabric of our society is coming apart like a damp out of date cream cracker, it’s comforting when something comes along to unite us. And that something is Friday’s Fantasy League update. Pointless, flamboyantly immature, irrelevant fantasy football. But it gives us a warm glow, a sense of purpose and well-being. Well, I like it anyway.
Whilst it’s not been a great week Frank L-L-L-L-L-Lampard (six defeats on the bounce for Chelsea) it was a very good week for Michael, who hit 155 points, with double point splurges from six players and a hefty haul from his bench boost. Close behind was Paul P (1270) and Chris (116).
Of course, Aleksa stays top of the pops on 2,294 points, with Michael (2,288) and Chris (2,230) leading the Beck family charge – Paul is loitering in ninth too. Aleksa won the April Manager of the Month with 518 points, followed by James S (503) and Tudor (497) harvesting heavily.
Bahia became the thirteenth club to join the City Football Group, CFG, owners of Man C, this week. Full name Esporte Clube Bahia, they become the third South American club in CFG, joining Montevideo City in Uruguay and Club Bolivar in Bolivia. Man C, New York City FC, Melbourne City, Yokohama F Marinos, Girona, Sichuan Jiuniu, Mumbai City, Lommel, Troyes and Palermo complete the list. They’ll be setting up their own league soon.
At the other end of the scale, football has sponsors for everything these days – stands, the matchday programme, even the time added on at the end of each half – but Newport County have taken it one step further with sponsorship of substitutions. As the sub enters the field of play, the tannoy announcer greets the crowd with ‘Newport substitute is sponsored by Rob Santwris World of Carpets’. Ok, promoting a local business… but there is a five second pause followed by ‘Get your free gripperods’.
When Chelsea’s owners announced Frank Lampard as caretaker manager, they cheered We want to give ourselves every chance of success and Frank has all the characteristics and qualities we need to drive us to the finish line. As the statement’s authors failed to elaborate on what exactly those characteristics and qualities happened to be, it was left to Lampard’s chums in the punditocracy to elaborate, pointing out that he knew where the training ground was and Chelsea still probably had loads of monogrammed ‘FL’ training tops and manager coats.
He had previously saved Everton from relegation by steering them from 16th in the table, four points above the relegation zone, to the dizzy heights of 16th in the Premier League table, four points above the relegation zone, five months later. But it’s not gone well. Chelsea’s latest humiliation at Arsenal this week saw them 0-3 after 35 minutes. Game over. With games against Forest, both Manchester clubs and Newcastle looming, Chelsea could still have a major say in this crazy season’s denouement, but first up is a trip to Bournemouth for the mother of all mid-table six-pointers.
New Leeds boss Sam Allardyce marked his Premier League return by declaring: There’s nobody ahead of me in football terms. Not Pep, not Klopp, not Arteta. For me, the switch from Bielsa to Sam is like having your front room ceiling painted one day by Michelangelo then the local graffiti artist turns up to finish the job the next. It was a slight stretch for a man whose most recent top flight job saw him relegated with West Brom, but Big Sam’s lofty claims will be no surprise to connoisseurs of his self-belief: back in 2010, fresh from leading Blackburn to a mid-table finish he confidently announced that he would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid.
Two years later and the phone calls never came, but you have to admire his self-confidence. However, it’s hard to imagine Carlo Ancelotti or Zinedine Zidane flogging dodgy transfer advice while guzzling down a pint of wine and prawn crackers in a Chinese restaurant. Let’s see how Leeds do at City this weekend.
Spurs striker Richarlison has achieved the remarkable feat of getting booked three times for celebrating goals, despite the fact he’s only scored once – the two were disallowed. You’d think by the third time he would’ve learned not to rip his shirt off and chicken dance until the VAR check was complete, but Richarlison has always been one for rash declarations of joy. After Brazil’s run to the World Cup quarter finals, the striker marked the occasion with an absolutely awful tattoo of himself, Neymar and Ronaldo. Neymar wasn’t impressed and has now sent him a legal order to get his face removed.
Nothing in football tests nerve and moral fibre quite like a tough away fixture. Manchester United’s results against the top nine in the Premier League this season make for a grisly character reference: 0-4, 3-6, 1-3, 2-3, 0-7, 0-3, 0-2 and 0-1 at Brighton last night. In the grand scheme United have still had a decent campaign under ETH and the transition, but the ease and frequency with which they have been dismantled away from home is, depending on your perspective, genuinely alarming, utterly hilarious or both. It’s easy to blame De Gea and Harry Maguire, and it’s true that Thursday night’s first goal at Seville last week was a Michelin star dish for connoisseurs of tragicomedy and schadenfreude, but the problems go deeper.
There are, broadly, two ways of looking at United for next season. The first is that the squad is shattered, mentally and physically, after a uniquely demanding season; the second is that Ten Hag needs to bundle some of them through the door without sentiment. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Ten Hag’s biggest job is to sort the sense from the hysteria, the future from the past and the wheat from the chaff – he’s returned Rashford to his best, Fernandes has had a better season, so they could finish above Everton and Chelsea again next season.
Back in the 1990s I worked for an IT Services company that saw me trek around the UK to six offices, mainly by train. To relieve the tedium of long journeys to London, Portsmouth, Reading, Newcastle and Edinburgh, I started to keep a list of football grounds I’d seen from the train.
It may be a Tuesday morning or a Thursday afternoon. There will be two or three people in the carriage talking on their phones about missed meetings or giving Paul from Sales the ‘heads up’. Others idle through newspapers, checking the TV listings. Some jab at the laptop keyboards. But not me. I have the feeling that as we pull into Newcastle, the flicker of St James Park Main Stand can be caught, so I am looking out of the window.
The ordinariness of a midweek train journey helps make the spotting of a football ground an act of escapism. In this setting I get a flirty glance. I am probably the only one staring out of the window and the ground is grateful for my lecherous eye. It nods back and takes me to the game, I hear men caterwauling about lottery tickets and programmes, early fans starting the first chants. I can smell the Bovril and pies.
The most seductive have floodlights, iron pillars like four fingers beckoning. Some nights coming back on the 7pm from Euston to Manchester in an empty Coach H and the heart flutters: Stafford Rangers, Stoke City, Crewe Alex, Macclesfield Town, Stockport, lights fill the night sky. Sometimes the railway ran so close I could almost touch the turnstiles. But this is a private show. Then the moment is gone. But for the last few minutes I have been somewhere else.
As we race towards the final weekends of the season, my wife said she’s glad it’s nearly all over for another year. She says my life revolves around football and she’s sick of it. I’m quite upset, we were together for 39 seasons now.
‘Pep roulette’ feels at its riskiest in Gameweek 35 with the first leg of City’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid coming up Tuesday. The Striking Viking remains an obvious choice as captain for a home game against Leeds but how much game time is he going to get after completing 90 minutes against Arsenal, Fulham, and West Ham in the space of eight days?
The same question goes for the likes of Stones and Grealish, but City’s form and run-in – including a double gameweek 37 – means we want to hold on to their main men in our FPL squads so sit tight and hope you’ve got a strong enough bench to see you through. If you do have room in your squad for another City asset though it may be worth considering Julian Alvarez as a bargain differential forward at just £6m. Alvarez would be a great captaincy option if we were certain he was going to start against Leeds, but I don’t think we’ll be lucky enough to get that information from the manager before the deadline!
There are plenty of non-City candidates this week though if you decide you don’t want to take your chances with Pep roulette. Rashford or Fernandes would both be decent shouts for United’s trip to West Ham, as would Mo Salah for Liverpool’s home game against Brentford – with the Egyptian having scored in both fixtures in gameweek 34 to make it 11 attacking returns in his past 10 appearances.
Don’t feel you have to make a transfer this week though if you think your team is looking in reasonable shape for gameweek 35. It will be an advantage to set yourself up with two free transfers for either of the double Gameweeks in 36 or 37. I wouldn’t go for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, however. He touched the ball just nine times for Chelsea before being taken off at half time against former side Arsenal – with four of them being from kick-offs in a turbulent first period!
Transfer deadline is 130pm Saturday.