This is a pivotal moment in my career as a fantasy sports journalist. With the scheduling of league and cup matches causing an extra few days between league rounds, there was an opportunity to contribute a column that could deviate from the norm. I have chosen to take the bull by the horns on this opportunity and offer up something truly special for our devoted readers...
Follow the RotoWorld_PL team on Twitter: Galin | Jeremy | Neal | Nik | Steve | Ben | Rob | Aaron
Here at Rotoworld, we pride ourselves on delivering all the relevant news in the Premier League, the potential impact on said news, and our best prognosis from a fantasy perspective on how that news can help or hurt your XI. In-depth analysis derived from combing over statistics, reading between the lines at press conferences, and assessing the domino effect injuries can have on players' pitch time all play a part in providing you with the best resource around for gaining that edge when playing fantasy Premier League.
None of that sort of thing will be found here today.
Instead, I want to toss stats out the window for a change and touch on the results this year that have left me perpetually shaking my head. They say misery loves company and I am convinced that those who enjoy playing fantasy sports must have some streak of sadism coursing through their veins in that it is virtually impossible to play fantasy sports without developing an ulcer or twelve. You have to enjoy pain on some level, especially in standard fantasy Premier League games where you are ranked overall against the rest of the world. There can be only one #1. The other hundreds of thousands of participants end their season measuring how much they blew it against the managers who finished above them. It is a game designed to make your blood boil.
Yes, I am here to simply highlight the most painful experiences I have endured so far this season, be they fantasy or reality, and relive them just one more time, because I am a glutton for punishment. Let us begin with something simple and eventually we will turn up the pain dial to eleven by the end of this cathartic exercise.
1.) Clean Sheet Nightmares - This happens to me every season and is the weakest point of my game in fantasy PL, the ability to pick the clean sheet. I suppose if I had some statistics handy to back myself up, I would see that this season I have had better luck at predicting them than in season's past. Inevitably though, every week it seems there is a match that SCREAMS clean sheet, more obvious than all the other matchups, and inevitably that match will not go according to plan. Last week, I had a friend triple up on Sunderland defenders. It made perfect sense. They were hosting QPR, a side without one good result on the road this year and whose scoring depended more on Charlie Austin than any club depends on any one player, and he was known to be unavailable for the match. So naturally, Rangers won 0-2. In leagues where one can change as many players as they wish without penalty, it would seem the best strategy if playing three at the back, would be to triple up against Aston Villa, a club averaging less than one goal per two games. The law of averages says that more often than not, you will have three clean sheets. Because I am pointing this out however, all bets are off. Villa are bound to find their scoring touch the moment you try something like that. That is how fantasy works. Haven't you picked up on that yet?
2.) Starting Lineup Misery - Let me use another recent example to illustrate this particular bugaboo. The last round of midweek games featured a very tasty matchup for Arsenal investment - a home game against basement-dwellers, Leicester City. With Alexis Sanchez's fitness in question and a quick turnaround for players recently returning from long injury layoffs like Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott, the biggest concern was to shy away from any players Arsene Wenger may potentially rest. Surely, Olivier Giroud was the soundest investment one could make from the options. He was in good form - either scoring or assisting in the Gunners last three contests and is their only true out-and-out striker, with Sanchez and Danny Welbeck seeing more time out wide when Giroud is healthy. I went so far as to hand Giroud the armband in one version of the fantasy game, and he was in my XI in every possible league. Team news comes out - Giroud on the bench. So an hour before Week 25 even begins, I have been blind sided by something that will cast a shadow over the rest of the gameweek. How about the round before when the Merseyside Derby took place sans Leighton Baines? Where were you Leighton? No mention of a knee issue all week by Roberto Martinez. The first mention of it came minutes after team news was released and the twitterverse was wielding torches and pitchforks looking for an answer. Doesn't Martinez know how expensive Baines is in every fantasy format? It makes one wonder if he had a head-to-head opponent who was using Baines and kept his injury under wraps on purpose. I know, a ludicrous idea. Something has been distracting Martinez this season though, so who knows?
3.) Alan Pardew (Alpha Papa) - Any Steve Coogan fans about? Throw fantasy implications completely out the window on this one, this comes as a Spurs fan. (And it won't be the last one of its kind, either) Alan Pardew is an enemy of mine until my final breath after pulling a double whammy on Spurs this season. One of the most bitter results of the campaign as a Spurs fan came back in Week 9, when after being spanked by Manchester City the week before, we managed to take a 1-0 lead into halftime against a Magpies side who's fans were clamoring to have Pardew sacked. They had shown virtually no threat in that first half of that match and it was a chance for Spurs to rebound. Instead, the Magpies scored twice to come from to win and it left me extremely bitter. So imagine how I felt along with my fellow brethren after Spurs played Crystal Palace in Week 21. This was Pardew's first game in charge of the Eagles and what was the result? Spurs had a 0-1 lead at the break at Selhurst and history decided to cruelly repeat itself. Two unanswered goals in the second half by Palace and Spurs fell victim to Pardew again. Sometimes a transfer can mean facing a tough player an extra time on the season. Theoretically, one could be forced to try and stop Sergio Aguero for Man City one weekend in January, then turn around and play Aguero as a member of Chelsea the following weekend. I suppose managers can do the same thing. But why rain on Spurs parade like that Alan, why?
Follow the RotoWorld_PL team on Twitter: Galin | Jeremy | Neal | Nik | Steve | Ben | Rob | Aaron
4.) Oh Captain, my Captain! - For those who play in leagues where you designate one player to wear the armband for a given week, and that player returns double the points, this rant is for you. Getting the captain right in leagues that use them is crucial to a successful season and I have to tell you I do not speak in hyperbole when I state that I could not have luck more rotten in this department than I have had this year. Perhaps I have been spoiled. In season's past, there always seemed to be a clear candidate every week. Luis Suarez was the most recent, Robin van Persie and Gareth Bale have also been regular armband material over the past several years and while every player is going to have games with no production, these names delivered on the regular. This season - I just keep getting it wrong. It is as if as soon as a player feels "safe" enough to captain, I will do it and they will return nothing. Who captained Saido Berahino the week he finally decided to stop scoring? Me. Who gave Rooney the armband the week Louis van Gaal decided to convert him into a deep lying midfielder? Two thumbs pointing at this guy. Who backed Harry Kane as the top performer the only two week he DIDN'T do anything? I think you know. Who said, "Hey, Charlie Austin has scored ten goals total in his last ten, is money at home and has a home game against Crystal Palace who have been conceding regularly in recent weeks, so now is the time to make him a captain"? OK. We get it. Austin did zilch in that one. It is a frustrating trend to say the least and has ruined my goal this season for a top 5k overall finish. I will have to work hard at top 50k at this point. When it comes to picking captains, I am a carrying a curse that would make Ahab not fret so much about that whale.
5.) You owe me Kevin Mirallas - So one thing I am very excited about this season has been my participation in the industry experts' league with fellow Rotoworld writers and other writers who are the who's who of fantasy premier league coverage. In this league, I am currently residing in first place and I have been there since week one. It is a head-to-head league with 15 other managers and I currently own a record of 17-3, a three game lead (nine points) on my closest opponent. Naturally you want to do well when tested against your fellow colleagues and barring an absolute disaster, I should be set for a respectable finish, with the chances of winning the league looking promising. Even if things do end gloriously, I will still have a chip on my shoulder about one of the weeks in which I lost though. In this league, it is like traditional fantasy NFL or MLB where only one manager owns one player at a given time and I happen to be an owner of Mirallas. A few weeks back, I was in a close matchup with my H2H opponent with just the Monday night matchup to go - Everton v West Brom. This is the infamous match where Mirallas stubbornly kept a penalty chance out of Leighton Baines' hands and took it himself only to miss. I lost my H2H by less than a point and a penalty chance missed is a -2 on your score. I had this game won heading into the latter stages of the Monday night match and all that needed to happen was what the entire world except Mirallas knew needed to happen - give Baines the ball. Everton probably wins and I don't suffer a loss in such heartbreaking fashion.
6,) Why Always You? - Finally, the inspiration that set this column into motion gets his deserved place, in this column's final moments. Mario Balotelli - the bane of my existence. I am still wearing a neck brace from all the head shaking I did after he scored the winning goal for Liverpool over my Spurs last weekend. I am sure from a distance, the career of Mario Balotelli is pure entertainment - no harm, no foul. As a fan of Tottenham and of the sport in general though, I personally cannot stand the man. I was privy to his antics before he joined the Premier League with Manchester City and I admit, the guy will give you a chuckle. Whether he cannot figure out how to take his bib off in warmups or his famous "Why Always ME?" homemade shirt he displayed after scoring a goal, or all the antics off the pitch that fill the pages of tabloids around the globe on a daily basis, there is no denying that he is a dynamic personality for better or for worse. Three occasions stand out in my mind though that qualifies him to be the player I love to hate most. First, he delivered a ridiculous stamp to the chest of Scott Parker in a match between Spurs and Man City a few years ago. I still feel that egregious act did not receive the punishment it deserved. Then, on a preseason tour in the states, he made a mockery of the game against LA Galaxy when he tried to back heel a goal when there was absolutely no reason to. The net was wide open, point blank, and a simple poke off the toe would have done the trick. Instead, he inexplicably turns his back to the goal and misses the world's most unnecessary backheel attempt in the history of the sport. MLS is doing its best to grow and it is a big deal to have PL clubs come over and show the level of product MLS can ultimately be, and Balotelli treated it with a level of reverence like it was an MTV's Rock n' Jock Softball game. The third and final straw came last weekend. After being an absolute bust of a signing for the Reds, with nary a goal to his name as the season is two-thirds finished, Balotelli finally broke his duck and it had to happen against my club in a huge match where we erased two deficits in the dying moments of the match. That result was a bitter enough pill to swallow but to then see him sprint for the locker room at the final whistle rather than celebrate the huge win on the pitch with his teammates....it left me sick. I sent a doctor's bill to Mario's twitter account and I haven't heard back yet.
There are several more moments this season where I was left shaking my head, but for your own sanity, I will limit this to a half dozen examples. I am sure there are a few things that have escaped my mind that perhaps deserved mention, but I will consider my inability to recall these events which were a cause of pain in my life as a blessing. This is the perfect time for you to offer up yours though! Feel free to rant in the comments section below about your own personal fantasy tragedies you have suffered this season. I will make reference of any in my next Bargain Hunter column. For now, it is back to meditation so that I can allow myself to heal.