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Week 24 Player Picks: Let the Title Race Begin

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We're already on the verge of another game week after the midweek Premier League games, and it can't come soon enough for me after my downward slide continued in Week 23. 127 points would normally signal a fairly significant jump up the rankings, but I instead find myself mired in the 3,000s overall heading into week 24.

You need to get your act together in fantasy this week!
You need to get your act together in fantasy this week!
Richard Heathcote

While many of you benefitted from the extended deadline midweek and were able to adjust your teams upon the release of the starting lineups, my 2:00 meeting at work showed up 25 minutes early, so I was teased with rumored lineups before I had to abandon any hope of last-minute changes to my team. Of course, I can't complain, as without the deadline extension my team wouldn't have changed anyway, but it's the principle of the thing!

Anyway, I'm ready to start climbing up the table again, and I'm hopeful Week 24 will be the catalyst. Here's what's on tap:

Newcastle v. Sunderland

West Ham United v. Swansea City

Cardiff City v. Norwich City

Everton v. Aston Villa

Fulham v. Southampton

Hull City v. Tottenham Hotspur

Stoke City v. Manchester United

West Bromwich Albion v. Liverpool

Arsenal v. Crystal Palace

Manchester City v. Chelsea

Looking at the fixtures, there are a few that stand out in my mind for high points potential. That said, who would have predicted the 4-3 game between Villa and West Brom midweek? I'll personally be looking at players from Arsenal, Cardiff, Everton and Liverpool, with some possible investment from Man U, Newcastle, Tottenham and West Ham (!?!). Here are some of the players I think warrant investment for your teams this week:

Goalkeepers

Wojciech Szczesny - After conceding twice against Southampton midweek, the Pole's price is back down under 15. With the visit of low-scoring Crystal Palace, Szczesny comes in as the firm favorite among the premium keepers this week.

David Marshall - Cardiff haven't really looked any better under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer than when Malky Mackay was in charge, but they still have the strength of the crowd behind them for home games. Norwich have been more threatening of late, but the Bluebirds' keeper is capable of pulling off a number of saves and a clean sheet.

Hugo Lloris - City continued their destruction of the Spurs defense midweek, and Lloris' price has fallen sharply as a result. We all know Lloris' quality, and even in an away game he represents great value at just over 9.

Gambler's Pick: Gerhard Tremmel - Currently in my team at 1 after his 18 points remained on the bench midweek (thankfully I had Speroni), but making me very nervous. West Ham will be buoyed by their draw at Stamford Bridge, but have had a lot of trouble getting on the score sheet this season.

Defenders

Laurent Koscielny / Per Mertesacker - The Arsenal center backs have been extremely reliable all season, often putting up decent points without a clean sheet. Koscielny has been a higher phantom earner, so remains in my team at discount. If there is confirmation that either Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal will start, they represent a cheaper option for the Arsenal CS coverage.

Steven Caulker - The big man's production has fallen off recently, but as with Marshall, a home game against Norwich should represent an opportunity for him to get back on track. Easily capable of returns on both the attacking and defending side of the ball.

Jan Vertonghen / Kyle Walker - With Danny Rose possibly suspended for the trip to Hull, possibly-fit-again Vertonghen could be drafted into the starting lineup at left back and would represent excellent value. If Rose wins his red card appeal, or if there is news the Belgian defender isn't quite ready to return, Kyle Walker is a slightly more expensive, but still worthy option.

Jon Flanagan - Yet again, the Scouse lad showed up with a magnificent performance in a Merseyside derby. Having been withdrawn before the cutoff for clean sheet points, his price has remained affordable under 8. Can Liverpool's defense be trusted after their 4-0 victory over Everton? Flanagan could be worth the gamble against West Brom.

Razvan Rat / George McCartney - We'll have the starting lineups for the West Ham-Swansea match and the Newcastle-Sunderland match before the deadline, so we'll find out who will be filling in at left back for the injured Joey O'Brien. Despite sitting in the relegation zone, the Hammers are shockingly tied for the league lead in clean sheets and have a good opportunity for another against Swansea.

Edited: Rat has left West Ham, so McCartney seems likely this weekend. New loan signing Armero probably won't be ready to start just yet.

Leighton Baines / John Stones - If you held onto Baines for his disappointing 3 points in Week 23, you may be tempted to hang onto him for one more week as his Everton side are hosting Aston Villa. If you believe in the potential Everton clean sheet but are wary of spending nearly 20 units for Baines, the youngster Stones is good value under 6.

Gambler's Pick: Fabio - It's not clear whether he will be starting for Cardiff, but his recent transfer suggests the Welsh outfit are looking for a starting player at left back. While he never quite matched his brother's potential, the little Brazilian is still capable of strong attacking returns, and the clean sheet potential is there.

Midfielders

Santi Cazorla / Mesut Ozil - If you have Cazorla at discount, you won't be dropping him this week against Palace. If, like me, you don't have either of the above players at discount, Ozil is a measured risk at 12 and change after putting up double digits last week.

Ross Barkley - The exciting youngster returned ahead of schedule against Liverpool on Tuesday and looked very dangerous before Romelu Lukaku went off injured. Without the big Belgian in front of him, the onus will be on the England man to provide the attacking impetus for Everton.

Philippe Coutinho / Raheem Sterling - While both were overshadowed by the excellent performances from Suarez, Sturridge and Steven Gerrard midweek, both wide men for the Reds had strong games and are in fine form. Sterling is the cheaper option and should cause the West Brom defense fits with his pace, though we're all aware of Coutinho's ability to pick a pass, and when he scores again it should be a 20+ point week.

Hatem Ben Arfa - With Yohan Cabaye gone and Loic Remy suspended, Ben Arfa will once again be heavily relied on for the attacking spark. The Tyne-Wear derby is always a testy, high-paced affair that could suit HBA's pace and trickery, but the card risk is also high.

Christian Eriksen - After a quiet match against City, the Dane should be back to his best for the trip to Hull. Tim Sherwood's squad is beginning to return to full fitness, so there is the very slight risk of rotation, but I don't think he'll drop his best player after a loss last time out.

Adam Lallana - If you picked him up before his price rose over 18, Lallana is a great pick against Fulham. The England hopeful is in excellent form and should play a major role in any attacking returns for the Saints at Craven Cottage.

Gambler's Pick: Tomas Rosicky - With Mathieu Flamini missing through suspension and Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere out injured, there aren't many options for Arsene Wenger to choose from for the central midfield role alongside Mikel Arteta. Rosicky is a very cheap way into the Arsenal team and seems likeliest to start, though Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could also fill in.

Forwards

Luis Suarez / Daniel Sturridge - SAS are back in business, and business is good. 47 points between them on Tuesday, even with a missed penalty, shows their potency in front of goal. West Brom has been a bit of a problem team for Liverpool in the past few seasons, but it'll be hard to bet against either of these guys adding to their impressive scoring tally this weekend.

Olivier Giroud - Until Arsenal bring in another striker (and there are rumors of a loan move for Mirko Vucinic), the French forward is the main man to lead the line for Arsenal. He's not as exciting as Suarez, Aguero or Van Persie, but he's been consistent in front of goal this season and could add another goal or two against Crystal Palace.

Robin Van Persie / Wayne Rooney - As mentioned above, I missed the opportunity to grab RVP on Tuesday, so you can all thank me for the goal he scored. He never does anything when I pick him. That said, he's a very good option against Stoke, especially with the support of Juan Mata. If Rooney is ready to return to the starting lineup, he has to be under consideration for a place in your team, as he should flourish with RVP and Mata alongside him.

Kevin Mirallas - While Roberto Martinez may turn to Stephen Naismith to lead the line against Villa, he also has the option of fielding Mirallas as the striker with Aiden McGeady and Stephen Pienaar occupying the flank roles. Mirallas was Everton's most dangerous player in their heavy defeat to Liverpool, and should have plenty of opportunities against the Villa defense.

Jay Rodriguez - J-Rod has been a revelation this season, and could lead the line against Fulham if Rickie Lambert fails to recover in time with Sam Gallagher not having the best game against Arsenal. Whether he's up top or cutting in from the wing, the Saints striker will be a danger to the Fulham defense.

Frazier Campbell - There's a chance that Solskjaer opts to change things up and hand a start to new signing Kenwyne Jones, but even if that does happen Campbell should be in the starting lineup and will be a tricky proposition for the Norwich defense. A good bargain pick if you need the funds elsewhere.

Gambler's Pick: Andy Carroll - Speaking of bargains, big Andy's price has dropped below 3 units after a couple disappointing weeks after his return from injury. In front of the home fans against a depleted Swansea side could be the perfect opportunity for the gentle giant to get back to his best.

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I'm currently sitting on the following team, though it will definitely be changing before the deadline:

Tremmel, Baines, Collins, Koscielny, Ozil, Eriksen, Coutinho, Ben Arfa, Suarez, Aguero, Bony

Bench: Ox, Bertrand, Haidara, Speroni

I'm almost certain to include Ross Barkley in my lineup, but I haven't decided whether I'll go 3-5-2 or stick with 3-4-3. Aguero will also likely drop out unless there is confirmation he'll start this weekend, which seems unlikely. Rooney is his likely replacement.

How is your team coming together? Who do you think will be this week's top scorer? Let's discuss!