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DasBoot's New Year Player Picks (Week 20)

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We've reached the halfway point of the season and everything is still up for grabs in the Barclays Premier League. It seems fitting somehow to kick off the new year with the beginning of the home stretch of the season, and we've got some enticing fixtures on hand to choose players from for your team.

Blog favorite? Chamakh has a real chance to stake his claim on the coveted title this weekend.
Blog favorite? Chamakh has a real chance to stake his claim on the coveted title this weekend.
Christopher Lee

Week 19 was an excellent week for each of the NMA editorial team, as Mo scored an incredible 143 points, Zach fell in right behind with 138 (even with a zero in his starting 11), and I moved up the rankings considerably with 125. Had I listened to Mo and captained Edin Dzeko instead of Luis Suarez, I would have tied him this week, but I can't complain.

Let's look ahead to the fixtures on New Year's Day:

Swansea City v. Manchester City

Arsenal v. Cardiff City

Crystal Palace v. Norwich City

Fulham v. West Ham United

Liverpool v. Hull City

Southampton v. Chelsea

Sunderland v. Aston Villa

Stoke City v. Everton

West Brom v. Newcastle

Manchester United v. Tottenham

The teams with the best match ups are Arsenal hosting Cardiff, Liverpool hoping to right the ship against Hull, Crystal Palace at home against Norwich, Man City traveling to Wales to take on Swansea and Everton facing an injury-plagued Stoke City side, though there are other opportunities for good fantasy performances throughout the fixtures.

Let's jump into the player picks, and bear in mind that Week 20 is a Blog Cup Week, so if you are still in the Cup you will most likely want to take sure starters rather than gambling on the potential of players who may not play.

Goalkeepers

Wojciech Szczesny - Arsenal have made it very difficult for attacking players visiting the Emirates this season, and the visit of a Cardiff City team still reeling from the questionable decision-making of owner Vincent Tan presents another strong opportunity for the league leaders to claim a clean sheet.

Joe Hart - After putting in a man-of-the-match performance against Crystal Palace in Week 19, the England #1 earned the praise of club boss Manuel Pellegrini, and looks set to be the undisputed starter for the remainder of the season. Swansea have been troubled by injuries and a general lack of form after impressing many last season.

Tim Howard - After his red card in Week 18 and subsequent suspension last week, Howard is back on the radar with a strong match against Stoke. His price has come back down to a reasonable 10.33 and the American has been a key member of one of the league's toughest defenses.

Julian Speroni - I've really been impressed with the Palace goalkeeper this season, and he makes my player picks this week after doing what very few keepers have been able to do this season: score positive points on the road against Manchester City. A home match against Norwich seems far less daunting.

Gambler's Pick: David Stockdale - You'll probably call me crazy after Fulham's second-half collapse saw Hull put 6 past Stockdale, but the keeper could hardly be blamed for many of them and still recorded 7 saves on the afternoon. A score of -6 points is actually pretty respectable when you consider the scoreline, and has brought his price down nicely for the home match against West Ham.

Defenders

Aleksandar Kolarov - If Pellegrini maintains his one-on, one-off rotation policy for the left fullback spot, we should see the Serbian return to the starting lineup for the trip to Swansea. With David Silva suspended, you can expect set pieces to be shared between Kolarov, Nasri and Yaya Toure. Add in the clean sheet potential and a big game could be on hand. The best news is that the City match is the early game so we'll see the lineup ahead of the deadline.

Laurent Koscielny - Prior to his injury, the Frenchman was putting up big numbers week after week, and was under my radar until I noticed one of our regular commenters picking him every week (H/T Baihaqi). Restored to the starting lineup, I'm expecting his double-figure performances to continue at home against Cardiff.

John Arne Riise - Fulham were dreadful in the second half against Hull, precipitating a drop in prices of many of the London side's players. A home match against West Ham provides a good opportunity for the Cottagers to rid themselves of the memory of their 6-0 defeat, and Riise strikes me as a player who could come good against the Hammers.

Leighton Baines - One of our favorite fantasy defenders of the past couple seasons returned from injury in Week 19, albeit only recording 7 points. The jury's still out for me on this one, especially with Baines' price remaining above 16, but if you have the funds this could be a good match for the left back to get on the score sheet.

Antolin Alcaraz - If you don't have the cash to splash on Baines, Alcaraz represents solid value in the Everton defense with Phil Jagielka out through injury. It remains to be seen whether the captain's absence is detrimental to the defensive stability of the Merseyside club, so take this recommendation with a grain of salt.

Phil Bardsley/Joel Ward/Mathieu Debuchy - Each of the 'phantom menaces' has a winnable match with the potential for a clean sheet in Week 20, and you couldn't be faulted for hanging on to any or all of them, especially if you have them at discount. I missed the boat on Bardsley, but will most likely be starting the other two, as dropping them to my bench has resulted in frustration every time I do it (case in point - Debuchy's 11 points I left on the bench in Week 19).

Gambler's Pick: Aly Cissokho - Not many of Brendan Rodgers' summer signings have worked out thus far, including on-loan Cissokho, but with the most successful of the bunch (Mamadou Sakho) missing out with a hamstring injury, I'd guess that Cissokho returns at left back for the home match against Hull, with Daniel Agger moving central. Certainly not a bad bench option at the least, considering his low price of 4.7 for the home match against Hull.

Midfielders

Samir Nasri - As mentioned above, the absence of David Silva means a bit of a shake up in the Man City midfield, and Nasri is almost always the beneficiary when the Spaniard misses out. I expect him to line up behind the main striker and to be on the majority of set pieces. We'll have the early lineup just in case the ineffective 4-4-2 formation with Negredo and Dzeko rears its ugly head, but the Frenchman is currently my top midfield pick of the week.

Theo Walcott - Quiet again in Week 19 against Newcastle, Walcott should have a much easier time against the Cardiff left back. I'm anticipating another big attacking performance from the mercurial winger, and wouldn't put it past him to get on the score sheet with a goal or two.

Yaya Toure - After getting a full game's rest at the weekend, Yaya Toure should be restored to the starting lineup and on direct free kicks. City haven't been their best on the road, but should still have too much for Swansea, and a rested Yaya Toure is a frightening prospect for any defense.

Ross Barkley - I made the mistake of dropping him before his price skyrocketed, but Barkley has been racking up the points in recent matches and shouldn't be ignored for the match against Stoke. Roberto Martinez seems to have found a permanent place for him in the starting lineup, but there is always the risk he gets rested to the bench with the return of Gareth Barry from suspension that could see Leon Osman move further forward after his assist last match.

Yannick Bolasie - A great shout by another of our commenters (Mehicoradio), Bolasie has put up good numbers since his return from suspension, and should retain his place in the starting lineup for Palace, as the injury to Cameron Jerome should see Tony Pulis continue with a 4-5-1 formation against Norwich.

Steven Gerrard - We'll have to keep an eye on the injury news on this one, but with Joe Allen set to miss out through injury Brendan Rodgers will be hopeful to have his captain available for selection on New Year's Day. Liverpool have missed his delivery from set pieces and if he returns he should pick up where he left off as one of the top fantasy midfielders in the game.

Yohan Cabaye - Another midfielder who was quiet in midweek, Cabaye should have plenty of opportunities against a struggling West Brom side who conceded three goals against West Ham. His retail price is a bit prohibitive, but he may be worth hanging onto if you have him at discount.

Gambler's Pick: Marc Albrighton - The diminutive winger has worked his way back into the starting lineup for Aston Villa and will look to use his pace and creativity to unlock the Sunderland defense on the counter attack. There are rumors that Christian Benteke may return to the lineup as well, so the midfielder could benefit from the Belgian's aerial prowess with some successful crosses.

Forwards

Olivier Giroud/Lukas Podolski - Arsene Wenger has acknowledged Giroud's need for a rest, but admitted nobody else in the squad fits the mold currently, suggesting another start is on the cards against Cardiff. Podolski didn't feature in midweek, but should take some part in Week 20. The only concern here is that one or both may feature from the bench, so if there's no solid news it may be best to invest in other positions for your Arsenal representation.

Luis Suarez - Back-to-back poor performances from Suarez were perhaps unexpected, but since he was facing two of the best teams in the league on the road, I think he can be forgiven. A home match against Hull should be the perfect chance for him to get back on track, especially if he can count on the passing of Steven Gerrard. If he wasn't your captain last week, you should strongly consider restoring the armband.

Dimitar Berbatov - The Bulgarian striker was just rounding into a good patch of form before picking up a groin injury in Week 17. If he looks set to recover in time, I like his chances to get on the score sheet at home against West Ham.

Loic Remy - He's been inconsistent since his blistering start to the season, but is always a threat, especially in away games which are more suited to his style of attack. West Brom have yet to look good on defense since Steve Clarke's sacking, so this may be another multi-goal game from Remy.

Marouane Chamakh - What started out as a joke is quickly growing into a reality here on the blog. Could Chamakh really become a favorite choice amongst fantasy managers? The Moroccan has an excellent opportunity to add to his burgeoning claims on BF status against Norwich.

Stephen Fletcher - Came on and made a huge difference in the Cardiff game. Should start against Aston Villa and will cause them problems, especially if Ron Vlaar misses out again. However, early team news has Villa's captain returning, so Fletcher may not have quite as much joy.

Robert Snodgrass - Crystal Palace have figured out their defensive duties thanks to Tony Pulis, but Snodgrass is capable of picking up the phantom points regardless of scoring a goal. If he does manage to breach the Eagles' defense, he'll almost surely bring in 20+.

Gambler's Pick: Rickie Lambert - If you don't remember his free kick goal against Chelsea last season, you'd do well to look it up as a reminder of the England hopeful's potential. Lambert hasn't been in the same form that earned him a call up to the national team earlier in the year, but with Dani Osvaldo ailing he should have the chance to lead the line again.

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I've yet to finalize a team, but I'll most likely be drawing from the pool of players above. I've currently got Lukaku, Giroud and Cabaye at discount in my team, but am considering dropping all of them to make room for some of the options above. I dropped out of the Blog Cup last round, so I might take a few risks and hope I can continue to climb up the overall rankings. Who are you considering for your Week 20 team? If you're still in the Blog Cup, are you playing it safe or taking some risks?