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Staff Picks: Best EPL Fantasy Fixture, Week 26

With the Premier League season heading into its most crucial stage, the fantasy standings are as tight as the league table. Here's where we are looking to get a leg up on the competition.

A lot has changed since the last time these two faced off. Can Chelsea continue their unbeaten run?
A lot has changed since the last time these two faced off. Can Chelsea continue their unbeaten run?
Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Charles - Chelsea v. Newcastle

Greetings from the Hong Kong airport, as I make my way home from helping start a soccer academy in sunny Siem Reap, Cambodia to head back to the now frigid North Carolina winter. This is another tough week for me to see a clear cut choice among the contests. After a bit of consideration, I would offer Chelsea hosting Newcastle at Stamford Bridge as my selection.

Chelsea has improved defensively since Guus Hiddink was installed as manager till the end of the season. The drama has quietened down more than just a bit. Thibaut Courtois, is still a bargain in Fantrax 100. You may wish to consider Gary Cahill to your draft leagues, as Kurt Zouma was stretchered off Sunday, with a season threatening knee injury. Diego Costa has appeared to come alive, a bit of late and generally feasts off the weaker premiership squads. Branislav Ivanovic is always a threat to score from the back, as is, the captain, John Terry.

Early on, Newcastle played miserably on the road, and still they have 9 losses in 12 away contests with only 6 goals scored, a rate of .5 pg. I really don't fancy any Newcastle players in this contest, however, their lineup has been completely revamped during the recent transfer period. If I were to have to select just one, I might offer Jonjo Shelvey, the playmaker brought in from Swansea to deliver the goods in preventing relegation. One of Toon's recent heroes, Daryl Janmaat, has a leg injury of his own to consider and is also in jeopardy of missing this contest.

Zach - Everton v. West Bromwich Albion

Roberto Martinez's side have faced an up and down season, but as the last string of results have shown, when Everton are on their day they can be a force in any match. With back to back 3-0 victories on the trot, Everton have been rewarding fantasy managers on both the defensive and offensive side of play. Romelu Lukaku is having a particularly impressive season with 16 goals and 5 assists, placing him firmly in the race for the golden boot. Ross Barkley has also shown he has what it takes to step up his leading role in the side to more powerfully influence games. Defensively, the return of Phil Jagielka has been a huge boost. Everton should be poised to continue this fine run of form both offensively and defensively.

Conversely West Brom have been on quite a barren stretch, not having won in the league since Jan 2 against Stoke City. Worryingly this poor run has seen the Baggies drop points to the likes of Aston Villa (draw), Swansea and Newcastle (both losses). If Tony Pulis wants to avoid his side plunging into the relegation scrap, then something must be changed quickly. The question begs, how long can such a strong talent as Saido Berahino be left benched? The transfer saga is long over and with his side in trouble it is surely time to give the young English striker a run of starts. If nothing is changed, and quickly, Everton may easily have another 3-0 victory on their hands.

Simon - Manchester City v. Tottenham Hotspur

There are options throughout the fixtures this week and finding the best 11 for each format will be difficult. For my pick I'm going with one where the home team always wins, the home forward always scores but this time I think all the value and points are with the away side.

Sometimes you have to trust what you see with your eyes. I see one side in City with ever amounting injuries to keys players, others looking stale in sity colours right now. When the city spine has played in recent seasons they have been a true force. The spine Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, David Silva , Yaya Toure and of course Kun Aguero. Of those players Kompany and Silva are likely out of the fixture or not match fit if they play and whilst this may be unfair but Yaya looks mentally out of it in recent weeks to me. Kun of course is always on fire when fit.

In the summer City started to look to the future post Silva/Yaya but adding creative sparks KDB and Raheeem Sterling. KDB has been a very productive player but he is also out injured whilst Sterling is still looking to find himself at his new club where competition for a starting spot is a little tougher.

Meanwhile at White Hart Lane we may have the best Spurs side of Premier League history. An injury to Jan Vertonghen is the only known problem coming into this fixture. Their squad is extremely young and has little to no experience of a title race. Whilst that could add pressure late in the season right now the ignorance of youth is the perfect mindset. With the exception of Mr Aguero I think Spurs are better in every area at this moment. Confidence is key and assuming they handle the attention of the matchup and don't freeze, I really think they not only win but do so in the same style as Leicester last week.

So to the picks from the game. Unfortunately the recent form has taken Harry Kane, Deli Alli and Christian Eriksens prices very high for an away game at City in Fnatrax. I really want coverage from one of them but fitting them in will be my issue. Alli has seen his best work in away games and opens up the forward spots for me. However, I just don't see either City CB dealing with Kane this week. I think he scores at least once but at a price of 19-20m I will need more than that from him. In the official game Alli is super cheap and Kane is a possible captain option is you wish to go against Kun this week. In Togga you can do what you like.

Finally whilst I will likely not follow through with the idea, I may yet sell Kun in my Fantrax team. Home game, opponent he loves and bang in form it doesn't make sense. But Kun is against a very well drilled defence who can defend narrow and force city to use wide players to supply the main man without David Silva. Of those Sterling is out of form, as are the full backs plus again KDB is injured. This should mean limited supply the Aguero. Kun also has no game in week 27 and I hate taking a zero from anyone, let alone a player who could get injured once more at any moment of any day. The main reason I hesitate is the last time I had this great idea. That was the 2013/14 season with Kun punished me scoring 4 and 50 Yahoo points against the same opponent. I'm looking for opinions on this idea.

It's a bigger game for City than Spurs. One where they are being asked to perform without many of their stars against a superb fully fit opponent who have already beaten a much stronger City side 4-1 this season. I smell blood and bold fantasy points.

Roberto - Arsenal v. Leicester City

It's just incredible to see such a team surprise everyone like the Foxes have been doing all around the world, not just England. Following victory against Manchester City over the weekend at the Etihad, it's time to see if they can do that and get a win to be eight points above the Gunners and remain top of the table regardless of the result between Spurs-Manchester City. A big match has to be made by Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy for the league and surprising leaders and Alexis Sanchez and Oliver Giroud are the key men for the Gunners. After a 5-2 win for the Gunners last match, I'm expecting more attacking fireworks in this one.

Alex - Manchester City v. Tottenham Hotspur

Instinct was initially pointing me towards the crucial matchup between Arsenal and Leicester that will go a long ways in deciding who wins the league come season's end, but on second thought the rematch between Tottenham and Manchester City could be just as poignant and provide a more offensive end-to-end styled match.

Tottenham has climbed to second in the table (edging Arsenal on goal differential) while Manchester City sits just a point behind in fourth. The first meeting between these two yielded five goals as De Bruyne's opening goal was answered four-fold as the Spurs went on to a decisive 4-1 victory. This leg features City back over it's home ground at the Ethiad, but does so a star Belgian short against a Tottenham squad with the best away defensive record and goal differential in the league.

Without De Bruyne and in his waning months as manager (with the announcement that Pep Guardiola will takeover the club in the Summer), Manuel Pellegrini is seemingly caught between a rock and a hard place. Last weekend he threw out an unusual 4-4-2 against League tops Leicester with Fabian Delph and David Silva filling in at the wide positions while Sterling took a striking role next to Aguero. After suffering a crucial 3-1 defeat in that matchup, it's doubtful the same Starting XI goes again. Outside of Aguero, Silva, Otamendi and Hart; I'd stop short of calling any other player probable to go from the beginning. I'd consider Aguero and Silva strong fantasy plays nonetheless.

For the boys from White Hart Lane, things have been absolutely ablaze since the New Year winning six consecutive in all comps with just one loss since the New Year (to Leicester, which was avenged just seven days later). The trio of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have been spectacular combing for 26 goals and 14 assists on the season. It's yet to be seen if he'll feature frequently, but former Burnley fullback Kieran Trippier could be a sleeper fantasy candidate coming off the winning goal this past weekend.

Chris - Everton v. West Bromwich Albion

Most of this weekend's games look like close-low-scoring battles that could go either way, but I like Everton to win comfortably at Goodison Park over West Brom. After soiling the bed in a 2-1 home loss to Swansea, the Toffees have turned things around with consecutive 3-0 victories against Newcastle and at Stoke which has The Toffees boasting the third-highest goal tally on the season. Meanwhile, Albion has not won any of its last seven contests away from The Hawthorns and has managed more goals on the road this campaign than only Newcastle. Additionally, things look especially dire for the visitors who are mired in injury crisis with Jonny Evans, Callum McManaman and James Morrison likely continuing to miss out and questions surrounding the fitness of Chris Brunt, Craig Dawson, Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson.

So take your pick from Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka and the returning John Stones. Meanwhile, don't lament Leighton Baines apparently losing his starting job, but instead be glad to grab Brian Oviedo who has racked up the fantasy points at a cut rate price in his stead. Whomever starts between Tim Howard and Joel Robles should deliver a nice return in net, while the same should be the case among Aaron Lennon and Kevin Mirallas in midfield (plus it is also possible that Ramiro Funes Mori could start in defense), so check to see what it looks like Roberto Martinez is thinking closer to game time.

Gavin - Chelsea v. Newcastle

So, so much has changed since these two teams fought to a 2-2 draw back in September, when Steven McClaren had not yet earned a win as Magpies boss and the Blues were off to an uncharacteristically awful start. A quick look at the team sheet that day shows just how big a transformation each side has undergone in the past five months: Players not likely to play this weekend who were involved last time out: Krul, Mbemba, Coloccini, Mbabu, Anita, Colback, Ayoze, Begovic, Zouma, Pedro, Hazard, Remy. That Jose Mourinho fellow was still around, too. That's an entire team and manager, not to mention the subs involved included Falcao and Siem De Jong!

This weekend will be a drastically different story, with both sides much improved since September. Chelsea are undefeated under Guus Hiddink and have seen a return to form for the likes of Courtois, Fabregas and Costa, while Newcastle spent heavily (albeit wisely) in the transfer market in January to bring in the likes of Shelvey, Townsend, Saivet and Doumbia. I expect a much higher quality match, but think the London club will have too much quality for their Tyneside opponents. I'll be looking at the aforementioned Costa as an option, along with the ever-reliable Willian, though I am nervous about the prospects for a Chelsea clean sheet in the absence of Kurt Zouma. Prediction: 3-1 Chelsea victory.