The Week Ahead: Fantasy EPL Player Picks Week 37

Will he rebound and ensure Newcastle stays up? - Chris Brunskill

Here we are headed into the penultimate weekend of the Premier League season. There are only a few items still up in the air meaning that only a few teams REALLY have anything to play for. This is important because it means that there will only be line-up predictability for a few teams. Oh, and some manager announced his retirement somewhere.

I have been on the road all week for my day job and the days have been pretty intense - not like the days when I have a chance to watch matches and participate in chats when I'm at home or at the office in Virginia. The pace of work has made it particularly difficult to start internalizing all of the big news that has surfaced and/or happened in the Premier League this week.

In the short term, the 2-2 draw between Spurs and Chelsea yesterday means that the race for 3rd and 4th is still on at the highest and most intense level. Chelsea are clearly in the pole position to secure one of the two spots with Arsenal the favorite to beat out Spurs for the other given the combination of lead in points, easy schedule, and superior goal differential. Still, the outcome of last week's matches means that all three teams will need to keep the pedal down and play their best players through this weekend for sure and likely for next weekend as well. This is important for fantasy managers as it gives them something solid to hold on to.

Toward the bottom of the table, the fact that Wigan are still within shouting distance of Newcastle and Norwich (and all three clubs have similar goal differentials) means that all three will also be sending out their best players this coming weekend for sure and, if Wigan aren't confirmed as relegated after their match with Arsenal, next weekend as well. Sunderland is on the fringe of this conversation as well but between their three point lead and superior goal difference, it would be extremely improbable if they were to really dip into the relegation fray.

As if that weren't enough drama to be floating around in my head with work intensity all around me, Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement. There are a lot of angles that you will read and hear related to this momentous event in the coming days and weeks. There will be football historians who will tell you about his place as one of the giants in the history of the game. There will be tactical experts who will tell you how he innovated with formation and was smart enough to be flexible with same based on the players he had in any given season or match. There will be managers and psychologists who will extol the virtues of his man management and ability to get the best out of his players. Finally, there will be business types who can talk about his success in the transfer window over the years and how he spent big but didn't often miss on a big signing or contributed heavily to the growth of Manchester United as a global brand. These things are all true and praise-worthy.

However, this is a fantasy EPL site and the first thing that comes to mind is the implications for players and teams heading into next season. With David Moyes strongly rumored to be Sir Alex's successor, my first thought is with the potential drop in value of Everton players who have fairly consistently punched above their weight under Moyes' leadership. Will Everton minus Moyes look more like Aston Villa minus Martin O'Neill? Or will they be more like Swansea who seem to keep chugging on with their system regardless of who is managing them and which players leave for more money elsewhere? The next set of implications applies to United's current roster where you have to think a fair number of veterans will be cast off including:

  • Scholes and Giggs riding off into the sunset with SAF seems fairly likely
  • Does Patrice Evra make way for either Alex Buttner or (surprised not to have seen this rumor yet) Leighton Baines?
  • Will Moyes go young at CB with Smalling and Evans taking over for Rio and Vidic as the regular starters?
  • Will the animosity between Wayne Rooney and David Moyes hasten Roonaldo's exit from Old Trafford and will that mean more time for Javier Hernandez/Danny Welbeck or will it just mean that space is opened up for a CRon return or Lewandowski acquisition?
  • Will Moyes, whose Everton teams have been strongly midfield-dominated finally spend money in central midfield and also give Shinji Kagawa a consistent run of starts?

Finally, can David Moyes - who has done a great job within his constraints - be the exception to the rule that says that mid-table managers in the Premier League rarely make the successful leap to a "big" club. If you can name one example of such success in the Premier League era, you know the league better than I do. The really successful managers - SAF, Wenger, Mourinho, Rafa, Roberto Mancini, and to a lesser extent Chelsea's others like Big Phil or Carlo Ancelloti - have come from other leagues. The few attempts that have seen mid-to-bottom of the table managers move up in profile and spending power - Mark Hughes at Manchester City, Big Sam at Newcastle, Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, etc. - have been gigantic failures (the jury is still out on Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool). If the transition from SAF to Moyes means that the current roster only functions at 80% of their current level then the implication for their fantasy value (especially compared to high prices held over from their years under SAF) could be bad news for managers wanting to buy United players.

The summer will unfold and many of these questions will be answered more definitively but we can certainly say that things have gotten MUCH more interesting heading into the 2013-14 season.

Oh, here are my player picks headed into Week 37 with a major emphasis on Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, Wigan, Newcastle and Norwich with a little bit of Manchester City given their match-up with already relegated Reading and their need to stay a little bit sharp for the FA Cup Final.

Forwards

  • Lukas Podolski - Don't love his recent form but he appears to be the guy to lead Arsenal's line against Wigan which seems appealing for the price.
  • Juan Mata - He seems to have woken up from his second half slumber just in time to secure Chelsea's place in the Champions League for next season.
  • Papiss Cisse - Feels like time for one of those crazy thunderbolt goals of his and the price isn't bad at all given where it has been at times.
  • Edin Dzeko - He seems likely to get a start as Mancini makes sure his best players get some rest ahead of the FA Cup Final. He's also likely auditioning for a summer transfer so he'll be highly motivated.
  • Emmanuel Adebayor - That K2 guy woke from the (seeming) dead to power Spurs point at Stamford Bridge yesterday - hard to imagine him not getting another start. Could we have the Kanu 2.0 thing wrong, is he really Mark Viduka 2.0 - showing off his best now that it's time to make money from a summer transfer?
  • Calum McManaman - The price has gone up but he's a nice, lower-priced alternative that has been producing if you can't afford guys from the list above.

Midfielders

  • Theo Walcott - He seems to have rediscovered his form and is worth the money.
  • Oscar - He's hot coming down the stretch which is bumming me out because I was hoping he'd be (relatively) cheap headed into next season.
  • Gareth Bale - Has he run out of steam or will he find some more magic for the last couple matches and do you have the b@lls to invest the money necessary to find out?
  • Samir Nasri - He has cooled somewhat but the price is reasonable and there's some reason to believe he'll start which is solid reasoning at this point in the season.
  • Yohan Cabaye - His price has dropped under 13 on the back of 6 straight weeks producing single digit points - will he rebound here or is he already mentally on the beach? I'm betting on the rebound with relegation a possibility.
  • James McArthur/James McCarthy - The Wigan fighting Mc's are apparently interested in keeping the Latics up and they have put on a late-season surge that makes both worthy of consideration. I'd throw Roger Espinosa into the mix if I were more confident he'd start.

Defenders

  • Michael Dawson - It is not my intention to spend a lot of money on defenders down the stretch and Dawson allows me to get in on some potential with Spurs trip to goal-shy Stoke without spending much.
  • Vincent Kompany - Like Oscar, he's staging a late season rally that will make me unhappy at the start of next season but for now, he's solid value.
  • NUFC Defenders - The prices of Magpies defenders went up a bit after the nil-nil draw with West Ham last weekend but none of them are terribly expensive either - I'd pick Stephen Taylor of the group - no need to invest more than necessary.
  • Ryan Bennett - I can't say I feel particularly good about Norwich playing against WBA (whose matches seem to contain goals both ways) but if you're looking for a likely starter on a team with something to play for who doesn't cost much then Bennett is an option. (Could I be any less enthusiastic about this recommendation? I'm not sure I could).
  • Eric Lichaj - With Matty Lawton a question mark, Lichaj could be a solid enabler if you need someone cheap but this is definitely a case of "check the team news tomorrow" before you make any plans based on it.

Goalkeepers

  • Robert Elliot - He's cheap and he's playing a QPR team that have quit to the extent that even their own manager is willing to talk about it.
  • Anders Lindegaard - With 9 starts to his credit and requiring one more to receive a winner's medal, you have to think he'll get the start against Swansea at 3.13 which is a great value.
  • The rest of the attractive keepers - Cech, Szczesny, and Lloris - are pretty expensive with Lloris being the most reasonable at 9.35 which is that high almost entirely based on this past week.
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