After the FA Cup delivered just a little of its old magic in the dramatic 3rd round, we are back to business on the fantasy football front with the return of the Premier League.
This is the start of the phase in the season where hopefully your fantasy football experience and a few helpful pieces of advice from NMA and the community can see us overcome those casual managers. In addition to you hopefully still having most or all of your chips in FPL, we have a period where there are so many factors effecting your fantasy decisions that the more you put in the better the end result should be.
With this in mind, this week’s player pick post is structured a little differently.
David De Gea
Manchester United are a side built on what they do without the ball, and such sides always offer a fantasy manager potential clean sheet fantasy points regardless of fixture. Despite not having a settled back four, the Red Devils’ system of play is so fundamentally defense-focused that they have racked up the points (although having the world’s best keeper is a huge part of that).
This week though, the fixture looks a plumb one to bank on the Red Devils. Stoke have fired Mark Hughes, and lack a centre forward, and are low on confidence.
DDG is too expensive in Fantrax but is the obvious top keeper pick in Togga. In FPL he’s a contender for player of the season (based on value) and a great pick up.
Newcastle's form isn’t great, but they are facing a side who have scored just 5 in their last 7 games, scoring twice in a league game only twice all season.
Jones has improved under Jose, and it’s now rare to see him move out of position trying to win the ball back. He still needs a leader and communicator alongside him, but Jones is probably playing as well as any time in his career.
From a fantasy view, Jones’ aggressive approach rewards owners with bonus points in the FPL scoring system, and he is the only safe starter when fit.
Dawson is one of those fantasy players I have always enjoyed picking. Playing for a side that always had a clean sheet possibility whilst offering a constant threat at set pieces was always a good mix.
Stating the season under Tony Pulis, he provided 3 clean sheets in 5 games. It all went wrong from that point, but this week we have a typical fixture where he can do well.
Facing a Brighton side who struggle to score goals, the returning Dawson has a great clean sheet shout. With West Brom possibly having one of their rare days in which they have more possession than their opponents, he may even get a chance or two from the set pieces.
At 4.8m in FPL he offers a differential but one with proven history of offering value and he’s as cheap as ever in Fantrax.
In late autumn I tipped Alonso to take over as Chelsea top FPL scorer as Chelsea headed into a great fixture run. Typically, I didn’t follow my own advice until a couple game weeks ago, but he did follow my prediction and sits with 123 points against Hazard’s 95 and Morata’s 96.
Chelsea have 5 clean sheets in their last 6 at home but they face a Leicester side who have the pace and trickery to pinch a goal against the run of play.
The clean sheet is still possible, but we are going with Alonso based on his recent attacking prowess: 3 goals in his last 6 games and averaging over 2 shots on goal at the bridge. Meanwhile, he has yet to register an assist in a home league game this season. With his confidence at his highest point of the season that run can end.
At some point the young Brazilian is going to convert all those misses, all those moments of what could have been, and he is going to return a huge fanatsy points haul. Could be a brace, could be a brace and an assist, or he could net a hatty, but it’s going to happen at some point.
While this explosion could come when we least expect it, week 23 sees him playing a poor Saints team who have just sold their best defender. The match does fit the bill for potential for fun.
There was a time a few seasons back where McClean was a on his day a brilliant Yahoo fantasy football option, capable of those dream 20 point weeks whilst doing little newsworthy.
In game week 22, he rolled back the years: He played 90 minutes, scored a goal, and returned 20 Fantrax points.
True, it may be one of those freak one-offs, but it’s enough to believe he starts at home vs Brighton. His confidence must be high, and with Loftus-Cheek an injury doubt, McClean at 3.82m in Fantrax or 4.8m in FPL can be a one week shot.
Mo Salah / Sadio Mane
We will need to monitor Salah’s fitness ahead of what really will be a super Sunday game between Liverpool and Manchester City. It will be City's possession and pressing game against ‘Pool’s pressing and counter attack. Despite the wonderful football we have seen from City all season they do look a side that can be exploited on the counter if you have the weapons Liverpool have.
Before the sending off in the reverse fixture, I thought ‘Pool were getting the best of City despite the 1-0 score line. Both Mane and Salah in particular were getting in great goal scoring positions. Without the Mane red card, I wonder what the end result may have been.
Liverpool have shown in the last two seasons they are often at their best against the big clubs, so this may be the toughest remaining league fixture for Pep’s men.
Mane is a bargain in Fantrax, while Salah is a must have in FPL. One if not both of them will score this weekend.
Any time I have been given the picks post I have said Ritchie is overdue for his first goal of the season. He still is, so I’m still tipping this week to be that moment.
Now I will go one stage further: a Ritchie brace.
Hazard’s history from years past tells us he is better at home than on the road, so a home game against a side who have 2 clean sheets in 12 is one to consider.
He can always explode, but I would avoid in FPL at his cost (although I wouldn’t sell him if already in your squad). Buy in Togga if he starts, and consider in Fantrax.
Losing Phillipe Coutinho is a big blow; he was Liverpool’s best player in my view, the one player who could dictate a game. Salah and Mane are destroyers, Firmino links it all together, but Coutinho was the maestro who offered calm control and vision.
It will be Adam Lallana’s job now to be playmaker and supply the chances to the front three. Lallana was playing the best football of his career before his injury. While he is not Coutinho, he is a clever player who plays with his head up.
This week’s fixture isn’t going to tempt us in Togga, but in Fantrax he will set you back just 1m and that’s an amazing price.
He is worth consideration in FPL where a more tactical approach is beneficial. Klopp will be sure to ease him back, but he is now the club’s clear creative force (at least until the summer). At 7.3M we have a player likely to be first choice, and with the number of goals Klopp’s men produce, Lallana offers a real alternative to Mane/Salah and Firmino at a much cheaper price.
Jesse Lingard / Paul Pogba
After a bright attacking start to the season, Manchester United have regressed back to a side of grinders once again. It’s all very frustrating.
Jose Mourinho has always asked a lot of his players, but I don’t think that’s what is holding them back. The Red side of Manchester lacks flair in possession, too often looking for the safe sideways pass. The positions players are taking up are too often lacking aggression. Worse, we see two of the best young attacking talents in world football in Martial and Rashford appearing to sit in front of the full/wing backs in a protection role rather than causing continuous trouble in the opposition half.
The United players too often play without enough expression with the ball, continuing to play like a side who are overly worried about the cost of failure rather than then the prize of success.
Given the opposition, this could be the week we see the handbrake taken off the attacking players’ natural instincts. A rampant Red Devil showing could makes those not signing Lingard/Pogba regret the decision. There is no guarantee, but it’s hard not to think that may happen.
Sterling has been a revelation this season. Prior he comfortably sat In that most frustrating of places, a young English player of hype but little substance or consistency. He would have been pretty long odds to be Manchester City’s top goal scorer at this stage of the season, but that’s exactly what he is doing, ahead of both Kun Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.
Raheem will have a hostile reception on what will likely be a dark and wintry Sunday afternoon. After progressing so much this season, ‘Pool will be his biggest challenge. If he can perform this weekend, then he truly will be showing himself no longer a player of unrealized potential but one worth the price tag City payed for him.
If you don’t have him in FPL already, you will be in the minority and should be looking at how to change that decision.
Alexandre Lacazette / Alexis Sanchez
In my fixture of the week pick I tipped going with attackers in the Bournemouth/Arsenal game. Whom you pick should depend on the game format.
In Fantrax/Togga, Sanchez is the choice where his work ethic and pure greed on the ball will see him rack up the phantom points. There are plenty of transfer rumours and we should pay close attention to Friday’s press conference to see if he has picked up an injury.
In FPL, I like Lacazette this week. Watching the recent games, while Arsenal have their problems without the ball, they have still been pretty effective with it, and I think they could have been even better.
Ever since Arsenal sold Thiery Henry, they have lacked a forward with movement, speed and a quick mind to find space and angles. In Lacazette they have a player who can and does offer this, it’s just that Sanchez/Ozil & Co haven’t yet tuned in his wavelength. He made some fantastic runs off the ball in the 2-2 Chelsea game that were only visible live and missed by the TV coverage. At some point, the training ground moves will happen on the pitch. Bournemouth’s wide open defense is a great chance for that to happen, but I will want confirmation that Ozil is fit.
Jay Rodriguez / Salomon Rondon
Continuing my thought that West Brom will get a much needed win this weekend, I think both players offer value.
With McClean and Brunt expected to take the wide midfield roles, we can expect plenty of crosses into the box. Rondon in particular is very good in the air. He has had 15 attempts in his last four matches, scoring a goal and an assist over his last three.
JayRod has 11 shots in his last 4, netting 1 goal, and he seems to hold penalty duties.
Playing a packed defense at Wembley has often meant a poor fantasy points return, but he is still the most explosive fantasy player in the game.
No matter the options, no matter the theories against him, Harry will be my FPL captain.
Just a few of the options for week 23. Who strikes your fancy?