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Week 20 Fantasy Premier League Player Picks

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With 2015 officially coming to a close, let's look ahead to the new year and the first round of recommendations for the second half of the 2016 Premier League campaign.

Which Southampton team will show up this weekend? Can Mane and Long be counted on?
Which Southampton team will show up this weekend? Can Mane and Long be counted on?
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Week 20 Fixture List

West Ham United v. Liverpool

Arsenal v. Newcastle

Leicester City v. AFC Bournemouth

Manchester United v. Swansea City

Norwich City v. Southampton

Sunderland v. Aston Villa

West Bromwich Albion v. Stoke City

Watford FC v. Manchester City

Crystal Palace v. Chelsea

Everton v. Tottenham Hotspur

Best bets for 2+ goals: Arsenal, Leicester, Everton, Southampton, Sunderland

Best bets for a clean sheet: Arsenal, Stoke, Leicester, Man United, West Brom

Goalkeepers

Petr Cech - The Gunners are atop the table to begin 2016, and Cech has been a major reason for their success in the first half of the campaign. The record holder for clean sheets looks likely to earn another this weekend against a Newcastle side that have struggled badly away from home.

Jack Butland - The England youngster has been a revelation this season now that Asmir Begovic has left the Potters #1 spot to him. Tony Pulis will be facing his old team and will be looking to close up shop, but the Baggies look a far less dangerous proposition without Salomon Rondon and the exiled Saido Berahino in the side.

David De Gea - No wins in eight matches sees the Red Devils in a bit of a crisis as their chances at a title challenge are slowly slipping away. A home match against the hapless Swans offers Louis van Gaal a lifeline, and the Spanish keeper may put in a bit more effort with the transfer window opening to remind Real Madrid how much they wanted to bring him back to Spain over the summer.

Vito Mannone - The former Arsenal reserve appears to have prised the starting role at Sunderland away from Costel Pantilimon, and after a man-of-the-match performance against Liverpool (despite being on the losing side), it doesn't look like he's ready to give it up any time soon. The Black Cats face a relegation six-pointer against Villa, with both sides sure to go for all three points. Even without a clean sheet, expect Mannone to come up with a number of saves.

For the brave: Maarten Stekelenburg - The Saints are a bizarre team to predict this season. One week they're cruising to victory over high-flying Arsenal and the next they're unable to contain an injury-ravaged West Ham side. Norwich have been a better attacking side than many predicted, but if you think the good Saints will show up this weekend, you have to like the Dutch stopper as an alternative to the Cech bandwagon.

Defenders

Chris Smalling - Old Trafford has proven to be the most barren ground in the Premier League this season, with the Red Devils scoring 10 goals and conceding just 3 through their nine matches at home. With some semblance of a first-team quality back line in place, United have a good chance at keeping that strong defensive record intact, especially if their player of the season Smalling is on song against the Swans.

Gabriel Paulista - The Brazilian filled in for Laurent Koscielny against Bournemouth and put in one of his best performances to date, including scoring a goal. Arsene Wenger is likely to continue rotating his backline, though it seems likely it will be Per Mertesacker who is dropped for the match against the Magpies. His absence makes Gabriel an attractive short-term option for the attractive match-up.

Christian Fuchs - With Jeffrey Schlupp out through injury, the former Schalke defender has taken his chance in the left-back role for the Foxes. His attacking style of play adds to his fantasy value in addition to the much-improved defensive displays Leicester have turned in since he stepped in.

Ryan Shawcross - Mark Hughes has drastically changed the Stoke squad since taking over from his opponent this weekend, Tony Pulis, but has wisely decided to keep hold of the club captain. Since returning from injury, the former Red Devil has helped Stoke's defense keep plenty of clean sheets, and with low-scoring West Brom on tap he could prove to be a wise investment if you haven't already bought in.

Jonny Evans - Speaking of former Manchester United charges, Evans has revitalized his career at West Brom this season. He has been deployed as a holding midfielder of late, but could return to his preferred center back berth if Pulis decides to switch things up. Either way, he's been a fantasy star in the Fantrax format and could be useful in both the official FPL and Perfect XI games if the Baggies can keep the Potters at bay. With Stoke playing again in the League Cup on Tuesday, there could be a few starters who get a rest this time around.

Leighton Baines - The Everton fullback fell victim to rotation in Week 19, which wasn't entirely unexpected given he just returned from injury a few weeks ago. The England defender should be restored to the starting lineup for the visit of Tottenham, who may hand a much-needed rest to Harry Kane. Baines should be on set piece duty as well, so even if the Toffees fail to keep a clean sheet he should be able to deliver some strong attacking returns.

For the bold: Pablo Zabaleta - The Citizens face a tough trip to Vicarage Road, but we could see a long-anticipated return for an old fantasy favorite with Zabaleta. The Argentine has either been injured or behind Bacary Sagna on the depth chart for most of the season, but for anyone who's been playing FPL for at least a couple seasons, you know his quality can be the difference between a win and a loss on his day.

Midfielders

Riyad Mahrez - If Leicester had won both or even one of their last two fixtures, I'd say Mahrez would be in line for a rest against Bournemouth this weekend. However, with the Foxes losing top spot in the table, Claudio Ranieri can ill afford to take any risks. Expect the Algerian to be at his best against the Cherries, and even a strong captain option in the official game format.

Mesut Ozil - The other contender for captaincy has to be Ozil, who has been equally impressive as Mahrez this season. Injuries should prevent Wenger from resting the German, who is on course to smash the record for most assists in a Premier League season. Unless there's news of him missing out this week, he should be in your team.

Jason Puncheon - Another old fantasy favorite has piqued my interest this week. With Yohan Cabaye serving a one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation, Puncheon should be the successor for set piece and penalty duties, and will most likely be deployed in the hole behind Marouane Chamakh against Chelsea. When he was regularly taking free kicks, Puncheon was a much more attractive fantasy pick, and I like his chances for a big score regardless of the result this weekend.

Sadio Mane - The Senegalese attacker has been very, very quiet lately. That usually doesn't happen for very long, and he usually reminds us all that he's still around with a standout performance. Norwich beware.

Willian - Chelsea's one consistent performer this season, the Brazilian will be relied upon to create havoc for the Crystal Palace defense. The Eagles have been very strong defensively in open play, so a bit of set piece magic could be required if the Blues are going to get a result at Selhurst Park.

Jordan Veretout - As mentioned previously, the Villa-Sunderland match is of utmost importance in the survival race. Veretout has emerged as a favorite under Remi Garde and has been an under-the-radar fantasy pick for a few weeks now as he's assumed the role of set piece taker.

For the adventurous: Jordon Ibe - Liverpool will also be taking part in the League Cup semi-final on Tuesday, and after playing the last match of round 19 on Wednesday it seems likely that Jurgen Klopp will rotate some of his key players for the match against West Ham. Ibe was introduced late on in the victory over Sunderland midweek and will be eager to showcase his ability from the start in West London.

Forwards

Odion Ighalo - The highest-scoring player in England for all of 2015 will face a challenge against Man City to open the New Year, but the Hornets are buzzing and will be high on confidence despite their opposition. The Nigerian hasn't been intimidated by any opponent this season, and won't be afraid to give his all against the Citizens. Watch out Eliaquim Mangala.

Jamie Vardy - A few quiet matches most likely underscores Vardy's need for a rest, but as with Mahrez it's difficult to see him being left out of the starting lineup when all of Leicester's competition for the top of the table have winnable matches. If nothing else, the England striker has proven he can't be kept down, so I expect another high-octane performance.

Theo Walcott - Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling Olivier Giroud will start this weekend on the bench. It's been a while since we've seen Walcott leading the line, but it has proven very successful against slower defenses and I can see Fabricio Coloccini and Chancel Mbemba struggling to contain Theo if he's given room to run in behind them. With Ozil's vision that could spell disaster for the Magpies to begin 2016.

Romelu Lukaku - The big Belgian finally seems to be settled and full of confidence, and is keeping an otherwise inconsistent Everton side in the hunt for European football next season. Tottenham will prove difficult opponents to break down, but Big Rom is in the form of his life and it's hard to bet against him adding to his tally this weekend.

Shane Long - With Graziano Pelle out due to injury, the Irish international has stepped up and delivered. The hard-working striker can be a real pest for defenders to deal with, and his pace could see the Norwich defense stretched beyond its means a few times too many for their own good.

Rudy Gestede - With Jordan Ayew suspended, Remi Garde will be forced into a change up top. Gestede is a player in the Christian Benteke mold, and the new Villa boss may be wise to give last season's attacking tactics a try since little else is working for his side at the moment. The Benin international's aerial prowess could be even more influential if Sebastian Coates misses out after limping off against Liverpool on Wednesday.

For the daring: Andy Carroll - With a (not-so) fresh new hairstyle on show, Carroll downed Southampton last time out and will be eager to prove his worth when his former club comes to visit on Saturday. With the Hammers' injury concerns easing, Carroll could be the benefactor of service from the likes of Aaron Cresswell, Manuel Lanzini and even Dimitri Payet.

What are your thoughts on these picks? Have I missed any that you're considering for your team? Why are they in your thoughts? Share with everyone in the comments and let's get the conversation started!