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Up for the Cup?

The ESPN Soccernet Fantasy Cup returns this week and it gives every manager a chance for glory even if they are struggling in the league. It also provides new players with the chance to get involved in real competition.

Just like the FA Cup, it is run on a knockout basis right through to the final on the last round of Premier League fixtures on May 23. The competition is open to everyone as long as you've registered your team by the day's game lock on Saturday, January 17 at 14.45 GMT, which is just before the first Premier League games of the day.

The first game week will act purely as a qualifying round as we whittle down the numbers to a level for the knockout rounds. The top 65,536 scoring teams for that round of Premier League games will make it through to the first round.

From then on the competition is based on a team's total score for each round of Premier League fixtures on a head-to-head basis. Any extra matches, for instance Manchester United's game in hand against Fulham and other postponed games which have been rearranged, will not count. The team which amasses the most points for the game week will advance to the next round to face another tie against a qualifying manager. If the scores are level then the teams will be separated on goals scored.

As the Cup does not require you to have played the game before it really is a free-for-all and anyone can emerge victorious. New managers will have plenty of transfers to play with for each round but there will be many existing teams who have wiped out their transfers already and will be left hamstrung.

With a lucky draw the new bosses can make it through the early stages and then mould their squads accordingly in line with form and fitness. Perhaps a new manager can cause an upset and go all the way. Remember, new managers will have the full 30 transfers at their disposal and have every chance of going far.

There will also be Cup competitions for our La Liga and Serie A games though the cut off for these leagues will be on February 7. The Cup will start in Spain and Italy on February 14 with the top 32,768 teams making it into the first round. So if you think you have the knowledge to make an impact in Europe too but have not played from the start why not give the Cup a go?

Meanwhile, the Squad of the Month for December threw up the usual mix of star names and surprises. The Most Valuable Player was Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, and by some margin. With five goals, three assists and two clean sheets he raced to 50 points for the month which makes him the second best performer in the entire game. Only Frank Lampard has scored more points and the Chelsea midfielder also makes the Squad of the Month, fourth best with 32 points.

Everton are the top performers for the month, supplying four members of the squad. Tim Howard, Joleon Lescott and Phil Neville are testament to the turnaround in the club's defensive form. At one point Lescott's value had dropped more than any other player in the game but it will now surely begin to recover and he was second only to Gerrard across December. And at £3.7 million those who held on to Neville are finding they have a real bargain. Tim Cahill also sneaks into the midfield.

Aston Villa have two players in the Squad, notably the best striker in Gabriel Agbonlahor who scored a solitary point more than Newcastle's Michael Owen and Carlton Cole of West Ham United. After another goal last weekend Cole is beginning to make a name for himself but jumping in now could be seen as horsebolting for a player who has never been prolific. The other Villa player is Ashley Young who is also third highest scorer for the month.

Two Manchester United players fit in at the back. Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was the best stopper of the month while Nemanja Vidic slots in behind Lescott among the defenders. And with Vidic grabbing a goal against Chelsea on Sunday and only three rounds of games this month it's almost a given he will be in the squad for January too.

Completing the defence we have two unsung heroes. Liverpool's Sami Hyypia defies those who thought he would not play much to just make the 15. And a surprise name in the party is Ryan Taylor of Wigan Athletic, thanks to his customary goal against Newcastle United.

And the final name is another player who will sit in few fantasy teams, unless you're a fan of the USA, as Clint Dempsey proved a hit for Fulham with three goals.

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