The Week Ahead: Fantasy EPL Player Picks Week 34

Why does he hate me so? - Jan Kruger

We're back to a week where everyone plays one match and we find Manchester United, Arsenal, and West Brom with attractive match-ups - at least on paper - as we look ahead to Match Week 34.

I know it is a lot to heap on the head of a 7 month old child but what the heck, he doesn't know any better at this point, so I'm going to blame the newness of parenthood for what has been a disastrous 2012-2013 fantasy season. Charlie was born just about the same time the season started and learning to adapt to being a parent and functioning with less sleep has clearly had a negative impact on my fantasy season. There are also less obvious ways in which being a new parent has created an impact that never would have occurred to me before they actually happened. For instance, we have more overnight visitors to entertain - mostly in the form of grandparents excited to see their new grandson. Throw in weekend activities with Charlie and the little things that make for a successful fantasy season - careful consideration of the Barn Door every weekend, etc., just haven't happened as frequently as necessary to be really competitive.

The thing that has fooled me up to this point in the process is that the most obvious artifact of my fantasy preparation - researching and then writing this column - has stayed more or less the same from last season to this one. I try to look back on what I've written and the overall quality of the recommendations hasn't changed that I've noticed. Every season there are a few times (maybe more) where I completely miss on estimating the status of an injury or a manager's rotation logic but that was true before this season and will continue on forever until someone gives me direct access to talk to Premier League managers one-on-one on Fridays. (Yes, I realize that's a pipe dream but it would help).

I've managed to compile 9 straight seasons of very credible performances up to this year and as far as I can tell the big difference is the little things this season. It all came home for me last night when, in a non-EPL-related incident, I completely missed switching up my Major League Soccer line-up in time for the two-match week for New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City. I knew it was coming. I had planned for it with my roster moves last week but I lost out because it was a busy day at work followed by me picking up Charlie at day care and being the only one home between then and his bedtime. By the time I saw Jeremy's tweet reminding everyone of the deadline, it had past and my roster forethought was undone.

If it only happens once all season, that won't be a big deal but what I've found thus far in my parenthood journey is that, at least while he is still this young, this will not be an isolated incident.

Oh, and can I please get a refund from Dimitar Bervatov? Really? Zero shots on target over two matches? That's just horrible. I suppose anyone who has played for both Spurs and Manchester United would be overjoyed to stick it to an Arsenal supporter like myself with that sort of fantasy performance but seriously? Was he even breathing while he was on the field? Are we sure?

OK, I think I've vented enough to make my picks from a good place and I do so with a strong bias toward Manchester United (based on the match-up), Arsenal (match-up plus desperation), and West Brom's attack (because Newcastle is a disaster at the back).

Forwards

  • Romelu Lukaku - I'm not reading too much into Lukaku being left out of the starting line-up against Arsenal way back when they played on the 6th of April. I'd expect him to start and play very well against a Newcastle team that has had trouble keeping anyone (other than Fulham - another reason for me to be angry at Berbs) off the score sheet in 2013.
  • Robin van Persie - He appears to be back after two goals in two matches this past match week and with Rooney playing deeper and Chicharito and Welbeck struggling to take advantage of their opportunities RvP seems to be the only choice. This becomes even more relevant with Gareth Bale (MCFC) and Luis Suarez (Chelsea) having difficult match-ups among the extremely expensive options.
  • Shane Long - It has been a long time since Shane Long's blistering (for him at least) start to the season but Newcastle managed to show Sunderland the path to 3 goals after they'd only scored 4 in the entire month of March so why not a return to the goals for Mr. Long? I'm not saying you should build your team around him but if you need a potentially productive enabler (he's listed at 6.98) then he's a strong bet.
  • Kei Kamara - An even cheaper enabler who gets a home match with bottom-of-the-table Reading.
  • Olivier Giroud - The Arsenal forward is a little more expensive that I'd like to see but he's the one forward that seems guaranteed a spot right now.

Midfielders

  • Philippe Coutinho - His match-up isn't ideal but he's been playing very well and his price isn't high enough that you should be expecting 15 to 20 points from him. My estimation is that the downside risk is small while the upside opportunity is substantial.
  • Andros Townsend - My concern with this pick is that picking him might mean that I force myself to watch QPR vs. Stoke to see how it turns out and while I like his potential (as a player and for this week), I don't know if I want to subject myself to a match that might conspire to end in the world's first negative aggregate score.
  • Shinji Kagawa - Michael Carrick is the one sure starter in United's midfield but he's scored his one goal for the season and is unlikely to have a repeat performance. This pick makes me nervous because Kagawa could easily be rotated but with United's match-up I feel compelled to discuss their midfielders even if this is hardly a ringing endorsement.
  • Marouane Fellaini - Because he's bound to get a brace after I dropped him in disgust after a mediocre-at-best two match effort last week. Similar logic for Pienaar who was even worse over the two matches.
  • Urby Emanuelson - For those looking for a real enabler in midfield he could be a great option coming off 10 points over two matches and still only costing 3.91.

Defenders

  • Phil Jones - He continues to get games at a very reasonable price.
  • Sebastien Bassong - Unless you want to take a risk on Steven Whittaker getting a second consecutive start, I'd favor SeaBass among Norwich defenders at home against a Reading team that has presumably thrown in the proverbial towel.
  • Winston Reid - With the inexpensive Reid back in the line-up and facing Wigan at Upton Park, there are all the makings of a solid bargain.
  • Laurent Koscielny - Hard to imagine him not continuing in the starting line-up and the price is right at 7.46 despite a reasonable two-match performance.

Goalkeepers

  • David De Gea - If you have the money to spend - hard to imagine United not bouncing back with another clean sheet after WHU put up two on them in mid-week.
  • Norwich Goalkeeper? - If Mark Bunn looks like he will get the call then he's a solid bargain at home against Wigan Reading after his price was gutted by the 3 goal/1 yellow card performance against Arsenal last weekend. If Ruddy is finally back from injury then his price is too high for consideration.
  • Asmir Begovic / Julio Cesar - Would you be surprised if this match ended in a nil-nil draw? I didn't think so. Neither keeper is expensive (5.75 and 5.47 respectively) so pick your favorite.
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