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The Week Ahead: Player Picks for Match Week 34

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Shhh! This guy may not be a superstar yet (or ever) but he's certainly been an above average Premier League player recently.  Just saying.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Shhh! This guy may not be a superstar yet (or ever) but he's certainly been an above average Premier League player recently. Just saying. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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For the first time in a while I didn't have a spectacular week in fantasy. It was certainly OK with RvP and my two Newcastle guys (Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse) carrying the majority of the load. What I will say is that despite the fantasy outcome, the week unfolded in a very entertaining way that made me extremely happy. What do I mean? Here are some examples:

  • TW14 - Arsenal won which always makes me happy and they did so with a strong contribution from Theo Walcott. Walcott drew the penalty on Bassong. He also scored a goal. Just as important as scoring the goal was HOW he scored it. When Theo scores it is usually due to him cutting in from way out on the right wing and beating the keeper to the far side with a shot that he's good at but has a high degree of difficulty. This time, he was in a fairly typical position when he took the shot but he got there running straight toward the keeper rather than cutting in and he went near side rather than to the far side. This represents some real progress for someone who has quietly been having a pretty good run of form as Arsenal have been winning matches over the last 10 weeks or so.
  • Old Man Scholes - An interesting thing happened on the way to Wigan beating Manchester United. Paul Scholes may have won Most Valuable Player (which I realize doesn't exist in the EPL) without playing a minute. They were terrible in his absence and the combination of Cleverly and Carrick weren't able to orchestrate the midfield against mediocre-at-best opposition. It is fascinating to wonder where the title race would be if Scholes hadn't decided to un-retire. It is also fascinating to speculate on whether United can afford to buy a replacement/supplement over the summer - surely at 200 years old or whatever he is Scholes can't be counted on to play all of next season. The fact that they were unprepared for this last summer leads one to believe that their finances aren't everything they seem.
  • No Pressure? - Oh yeah, that's what City looked like earlier in the season. You'll understand why I may have forgotten. Was it that Silva had a chance to rest for a little bit? Was it the fact that they have essentially conceded the title and the pressure is off? Regardless, with United's loss and a head-to-head match-up remaining it will be interesting to see if City plays well enough to give United a scare down the stretch or whether they'll wilt again now that the pressure could be seen as back on.
  • Spurs and Chelsea Sputter - I completely understand what is going on at Chelsea (fading stars, poor management, a mismatch between players and styles, etc.) but Spurs are a complete mystery to me. The names are by-and-large the same ones that had me terrified for the first half of the season. And unlike when Villa or Everton have challenged for a Top 4 spot into February and early March in recent years you look at Spurs roster and think that they are legitimate contenders. I've seen all sorts of theories
  • The Officiating - If ever there was an advertisement for video replay, it came from all directions over the last 10 days or so. City could rightly say that United should have dropped 5 points rather than 3 over their last two matches which could have a direct impact on the title race. Wigan could likewise say that they are "owed" a point from the Chelsea "loss". If Chelsea take those two extra points and secure a Champions League spot over Spurs or Newcastle United then then whichever of those clubs loses out has the right to be furious as well. And those are just the ones that I remembered off the top of my head that could have implications in the millions of dollars.
  • Newcastle - They just keep chugging along. Can anyone explain how it was this easy and (relatively) inexpensive to field a strong team while at the same time Liverpool spent a ton of money of players who are neither exceptional nor exceptional fits with each other?
OK, on to the picks:

As you all know, this week finds us with only 6 matches due to the FA Cup semi-finals taking place concurrently with the Premier League. The first set of decisions you have to make revolve around players you may be holding at a discount (e.g., Ben Arfa, Cisse) who aren't playing this coming weekend. Here's my quick logic without addressing specific cases:

  • How big is the discount?
  • How critical is the player to your roster?
  • What are your alternatives?
  • What is the impact of selling now and likely wanting the player back later without the discount?
  • And maybe most importantly: Where are you in the standings and what are your goals?
The reason I bolded that last part is that we're getting down to the end of the season and different managers may have different strategies. If you're leading a group or in a defensive posture you may have the luxury of keeping some players with a discount and waiting until they replay their matches in a couple of weeks. If you're chasing then you may want to throw caution to the wind and throw away your discounts as you look to close the gap.

With all of that in mind, here are my picks for the week:

Forwards
  • Wayne Rooney - At the top of the price range I choose him over van Persie because I'm sure Scholes will start and United will be motivated after conceding ground in the title race.
  • Carlos Tevez - He really wasn't great in City's big win but he seems likely to get another start and he's not at all expensive even after the goal.
  • Andreas Weimann - Great price and he's stocked with matches over the next couple of weeks
  • Grant Holt - Norwich always score and City still hasn't proven that they're any good on the road. Just saying.
Midfielders
  • Stephane Sessegnon - I like the combination of his price and potential value better than that of Seb Larsson or James McLean but I wouldn't argue with any of the three in midfield if you have the money.
  • Junior Hoilett - Yakubu got the points against Liverpool but he's now expensive as a result. If you're buying the notion that Swansea are fading and Rovers will fight tooth and nail to stay up then Hoilett is a solid option.
  • Akos Buzsaky - He got back on the scoresheet after a long dry spell. Despite the goal his price is still pretty low if you're looking for a bargain.
  • Keith Andrews - Tough to recommend anyone from Albion right now but Andrews' price has dropped which turns him from potential albatross into potential value pick.
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - Wenger doesn't seem particularly interested in starting him despite his obvious talents. Given Arsenal's recent run, who am I to criticize? However, if you're looking for a gamble The Ox at 3.89 at home to Wigan looks interesting. Just be ready for 15 minutes off the bench as a very real possibility.
  • Premium Midfielders - In my mind - Ashley Young > Antonio Valencia > David Silva > Theo Walcott. I know that is somewhat counter-intuitive but I'm still having a hard time trusting Walcott to have two strong matches in a row and at his current price, you can call me alarmed.
Defenders
  • Johan Djourou - There isn't a ton of value left at the back by this time of year. Witness Djourou making this list despite a string of questionable performances all season. He's here because he's relatively cheap and home to a relegation-threatened team. If you hit "buy" on him I wish you luck both with the match... and sleeping on Friday night.
  • Andre Santos - Similar to Djourou above but his price is higher and there is a chance Keiron Gibbs will be back which has to make everyone nervous. Here's hoping there's some substantial news on this front tomorrow (yeah, right).
  • Matt Kilgallon - I'm pretty sure I've never recommended him before and I'm equally sure I couldn't pick him out of a line-up but he is very likely to start at home against Wolves for a very reasonable price. Honestly, when he has started his output has been pretty solid other than this past weekend.
  • Rio Ferdinand - Not a lot of value to be found between the United and City defenders but for my money Rio is the best combination of price and potential value to be had from the likely starters.
Goalkeepers
  • Simon Mignolet - His price didn't drop as far as you would have liked it to after the drubbing over the weekend but you have to like his chances of rebounding with Wolves coming to visit (sorry Chris)
  • Wojceich Szczesny - He's expensive and he is very likely to have Djourou and Santos playing in front of him but with Arsenal's current form you still have to like his chances because of the recent form of...
  • Michel Vorm - The last 4 matches have been pretty rough so tread lightly here. Hard to know what to make of Swansea right this minute but with the prices attached to Hart and De Gea you might want to take a risk on Swansea getting their mojo back against Rovers at home.
  • Paul Robinson - He only costs 1.00 so he gives you lots of flexibility. This is a major risk but could pay off if Swansea really are sinking and it allows you to buy one more strong outfield player than your competitors.