Saturday 24 September 2011

The miserable life of the fantasy football manager

Winning feels good. So do predictions that turn out to be correct and risky gambles that ultimately pay off. This explains the lure of fantasy football and why so many poor souls have become addicted to a competition that rewards footballers who happen to set up a goal with their arse. We all want to display our superior footballing knowledge and what better platform to do that than fantasy football?

Like deluded Liverpool fans convinced that signing Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam guarantees fourth place, we tell ourselves each year that we will crack the top 1000 managers and see off all competitors in our private leagues. After all, they're not going to realise that Aaron Hughes is a cheaper, better alternative to Brede Hangeland. Victory must surely be in the bag, right?

Wrong. Fantasy football is a miserable game more crushingly depressing and grindingly frustrating than the national lottery. Each gameweek you tell yourself that the eleven players you've chosen are destined for an 80-point haul but the same factors invariably conspire against you. Here is a list, by no means exhaustive, of the cruel truths and grim inevitabilities of the world's most tortuous game:

* Your captain will not be your highest scorer. Pundits are fond of saying form goes out the window on occasion. When you select a player who's scored twenty goals in his last four games as your captain, form really does collect its things and dive headfirst through a glass pane. If you're lucky, your captain might pick up a respectable two points for playing ninety minutes and you can rest with some dignity intact. Far more likely, however, is your captain to withdraw through injury five minutes before the match or else get sent off and plunge into negative figures, which will be doubled for good measure.

* The international break will ravage your team. You like to think you're a clever manager. You avoid injury-prone players and instead pick a team you know will stay fit. Unfortunately, Gary Cahill's 100 consecutive starts count for nothing when he's away on international duty. Like the PlayStation 1 game you loaned to your cousin, he'll return scratched and broken and in no fit state to play, along with at least two of your other "reliables". If you're particularly unlucky, you'll be plagued by a myriad of 'Doubtful's, leaving you unsure as to whether you should risk replacing the Doubtfuls or not. For your diaries: the next international break follows gameweek 7.

* A home banker? Your players will be rested. Man United at home to Swansea? Start filling your team with United players two gameweeks in advance. You can't miss out on these points. Make Wayne Rooney your captain; he'll score at least three goals. But hang on a minute, what about that midweek Champions League match? Yep, it's time for rotation. The players who you entrust to score the big points will be rested and there's nothing you can do about it. What's more, the four points for your goalkeeper's clean sheet that you took for granted will be spoiled by a last-minute consolation goal. It won't make the slightest bit of difference to the result but it will strike a devastating blow to your points total.

* Bonus points. Ah, bonus points. One last chance for vindication; three unexpected points really can do wonders for a beleaguered team, especially if they go to your captain. After Chelsea's opening game against Stoke, Sky awarded Fernando Torres man of the match even though the game finished 0-0; it came as welcome relief to fantasy football managers who took a gamble on Fernando. At least a bonus point or two would ease the pain of (yet) a(nother) miserable opening week. But Torres got nothing; zilch, nada, nul points. You can't count on anything in this game. It'll fill you with optimism just to shoot you down.

What a miserable pursuit fantasy football is. Why do we bother? Maybe one gameweek in five we'll be satisfied with our weekend's work; the rest of the time we spend worrying over decisions, obsessively checking stats and cursing bad fortune. And no matter how long we spend refining our team, meticulously weighing up the merits or otherwise of potential transfers, the lad who never checks his team and has only made one transfer all year will beat you.

We'll crack 100 points next gameweek, though.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Euro 2012 qualifying Goup B explained

With all six teams in Group B having played eight games, the identity of the eventual top two is still uncertain. Macedonia and Andorra are unable to qualify, so here's a look at the four teams still in contention:

Russia - 17 points
Slovakia (A); Andorra (H)
As the current leaders, Russia know that four points from their remaining two games will see them through to Euro 2012 as group winners. Their final game, at home to Andorra, is a virtual banker so they travel to Slovakia knowing that a draw will almost definitely earn qualification. If they finish level on points with Ireland or Armenia, their superior head-to-head record will see them through.

Ireland - 15 points
Andorra (A); Armenia (H)
Two wins from two in Ireland's final games will guarantee a playoff place at the very least. If Ireland are to have any chance of topping the group, Slovakia must beat Russia at home. Should Ireland and Armenia win their penultimate matches (away to Andorra and home to Macedonia respectively), both teams will meet each other in Dublin with only a single point in Ireland's favour separating them.

Armenia - 14 points
Macedonia (H); Ireland (A)
Armenia's convincing win away to Slovakia has seen them emerge as late contenders for a playoff place, and they know that victory in their final two games will assure them of second place at the very least. While they enjoy the better head-to-head record against Slovakia, defeat in Moscow means Russia will come out on top if the two teams finish level on points. The three points Russia will surely collect against Andorra therefore means that a top-place finish is out of the question for Andorra.

Slovakia - 14 points
Russia (H); Macedonia (A)
One point from their crucial two games against Ireland and Armenia has put a serious dent in their qualification hopes, but, such is the tightness of Group B, they still have a chance of progression. Their home game against Russia is undoubtedly the pick of the remaining Group B matches; if Slovakia win, they'll overtake Russia in the standings thanks to their superior head-to-head record. Assuming Ireland beat Andorra, any dropped points will make it impossible for Slovakia to finish ahead of Giovanni Trapattoni's team. Even if Slovakia do beat Russia and Macedonia, it may not be enough to earn top spot in the group; two Irish wins will result in them having to settle for second.