The Week Ahead: Fantasy EPL Player Picks Match Week 30

He didn't score big last weekend but he was very good - Michael Regan

We've officially moved into the home stretch of the Premier League and fantasy seasons and all clubs are back with matches this week with obvious advantages to Manchester United and Chelsea and a slightly less obvious one for Liverpool.

As it turned out, the matches last weekend weren't bad at all despite the relative lack of glamour. Sure, Manchester United coughing up a 2-0 lead at home to Chelsea in the FA Cup stole all the headlines (which have since been usurped by Barcelona's amazing mid-week comeback over Milan) but the few Premier League matches we did have were entertaining even if the skill level on display was only so-so.

The most important result from last weekend as we start looking forward to this weekend is the Liverpool win over Spurs. The match-up advantages for Manchester United (vs. Reading) and Chelsea (vs. West Ham United) are pretty clear. What may be a little less clear is exactly the extent to which Liverpool are crushing bottom half opponents. Here are the scores of their outings against lower level opposition in the Premier League since the year turned to 2013 (plus the last result of 2012):

  • Wigan 0-4 Liverpool
  • Liverpool 5-0 Swansea (I'm counting this as a lower level opponent due to Swansea playing their "B" team)
  • Liverpool 5-0 Norwich
  • Liverpool 3-0 Sunderland
  • QPR 0-3 Liverpool
Hard to argue with those results. That's an aggregate 20-0 across 5 matches fairly evenly divided between home and away. I point this out because Southampton fits this profile very nicely this weekend to the extent that managers shouldn't be scared away by the fact that 'pool are away while United and Chelsea are at home. Just by way of comparison here are the recent matches for United and Chelsea against bottom half opposition at home:
  • Manchester United 4-0 Norwich
  • Manchester United 2-1 Southampton
  • Chelsea 4-1 Wigan Athletic
  • Chelsea 2-2 Southampton
  • Chelsea 0-1 QPR
That reading certainly isn't horrible either from the point of view of selecting Manchester United and Chelsea players but given that those results are only home results would you rather buy in on Liverpool's aggregate 20-0 over five matches or United/Chelsea's aggregate 12-5? Just something to think about before you load up your entire roster with Red Devils and Blues. Those two clubs have shown at least some propensity to take their foot off the gas against poor opposition whereas Liverpool have been merciless in similar situations.

This isn't to say that Liverpool are a better team than United or Chelsea, just that they are a better team when facing bad teams which is what all three are doing this weekend.

Forwards
Luis Suarez - With Robin van Persie and Juan Mata slumping, Eden Hazard the definition of inconsistent, and Demba Ba being at least a little bit of a risk for rotation there aren't many premium forwards left. Based on his form and the analysis above, I like him more than Rooney.

Wayne Rooney - That said, Rooney isn't a bad option at all and he's much cheaper than Suarez at retail.

Eden Hazard - Hard to know what's happened to Juan Mata's mojo but Hazard has been the more prolific of the two Chelsea outside forwards in recent weeks. There have been ups and downs and he has been absent some as well but when he's been in and engaged, he's been delivering the way we thought he would all season. That equalizer at Old Trafford won't hurt his confidence any either even though it wasn't in the league.

Yoan Gouffran - I'm still picking him over Papiss Cisse this week at Wigan despite Cisse getting a goal last weekend. Gouffran is much less expensive of the two forwards squaring off against Wigan.

Demba Ba - Ba bookended weeks 20 through 29 with performances in the 20s in Week 20 and 28 but he was quiet in-between with only one other double digit performance. It's a lot to pay unless you think he's going into the 20s again. I'd stay away at his current price.

Jermain Defoe - At home against Fulham seems like a good time for him to get his form back and his price is much more reasonable than his Chelsea counterparts.

Midfielders
Oscar - This recommendation would be even more emphatic if he was guaranteed to start but he's been starting most matches recently and seems to be coming on as an attacking force. He's a little pricey but if you're trying to get in on Chelsea's advantage without paying Hazard/Mata/Ba/Lampard prices then he's the guy.

Yohan Cabaye - He's been on fire since coming back from injury and it should continue against Wigan. The only concern is the steep price in a week when there are a bunch of expensive forward to consider strongly.

Philippe Coutinho - He didn't do much for fantasy managers last weekend against Spurs but don't let that discourage you, he played very well - especially in the first half. Turn down the level of opposition a few notches and good things will happen for less than 8.00.

Ryan Giggs/Ashley Young - With little information available on Nani's injury you have to figure one of these guys will get a start opposite dead-to-fantasy-managers-winger-Antonio-Valencia. Either is a reasonable pick-up if you know he is going to start.

James McArthur - I would love to recommend Jordi Gomez in this spot but he doesn't start frequently enough and more than half of his points came in that one massive hat trick performance early in the season. I recommend McArthur instead because he's starting against a Newcastle team that has been shipping goals even as it has been winning a greater share of its matches. The Magpies haven't kept a clean sheet since a mid-January blanking of Norwich. So as far as long shots go, there's definitely some opportunity here.

Defenders
Jamie Carragher - Remember the 0 part of Liverpool's 20-0 aggregate scoreline against bad teams in 2013? For Carra's current price of under 5.00, it is worth it to buy him here if you don't have more than one inexpensive defender at a massive discount like Nemanja Vidic or Jan Vertonghen.

Fabio - Another defender at a low price who could do well this weekend with Aston Villa the opposition and QPR on a bit of a roll (at least for them).

Titus Bramble - Sunderland aren't great but Norwich are worse and on the road which makes Bramble a moderate bargain at 6.45.

Marc Wilson - Still on the bandwagon with Wilson as an enabler at home against WBA.

Nemanja Vidic - The least expensive of United's likely starters has been putting up consistently strong numbers since he returned to the line-up on a regular basis. If you have the money (and don't have him at a discount) then I'd still consider him.

John Terry - Might it be time for him to get a start against modest opposition? If so, he's priced to move.

Goalkeeper
Brad Guzan - His price still isn't high and he's at home against the bottom team in the league. Villa aren't much better but given Guzan's price, this is a solid bargain option.

Simon Mignolet - Hard to have much fantasy love for Sunderland but Mignolet at home against Norwich for a reasonable price (8.45) is worth mentioning and recommending (even if it is a weak recommendation).

Brad Jones - If you have just a little bit more money, I'd go with Brad Jones over Mignolet. He put up strong numbers against Spurs despite conceding two goals which makes you feel good about how it will turn out against Southampton.

Hugo Lloris - A lot of people have kept the French #1 for a long stretch at a major discount despite the fact that he's only put up double digits once in the last 10 match weeks (he has twice as many negative outputs over the same time). This weekend looks like a time for others to potentially buy in because a) Lloris' price is down to 6.48 and b) he's home to Fulham.

David De Gea over Petr Cech - If you have the money (and bless you if you do) then DDG has been MUCH better over the second half of the season than the inconsistent Cech. DDG's Points Per Week graph is a wall of green since Week 15 where as Cech's is up and down. It'll cost you a bit more but you'll thank me for it later.
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