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Week 19 Fantrax Player Picks: A Puncher’s Chance

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With the festive period hitting full swing for the Boxing Day fixtures, it’s time to give yourself a puncher’s chance by narrowing the point of contact. What strategy is essential, and who should be in your corner for this midweek round of fixtures?

Jesse Lingard and teammates celebrate - Manchester United - Premier League
Might we see the Manchester United offense run rampant again?
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Were you burned by Sergio Aguero not starting in Manchester City’s shock loss to Crystal Palace? Or Romelu Lukaku going on compassionate leave and missing the Red Devils’ romp at Cardiff? Or perhaps Lucas Torreira’s late entry in Arsenal’s victory over Burnley?

Well, let’s do our best to bob and weave our way around such big punches in game-week 19, a.k.a. Boxing Day (plus one game the day after). There’s no guarantee of course, but if you play smart defensively rather than going for the kill and leaving yourself vulnerable for a knockout blow, chances are that you’ll come out the winner after the final bell.

Which players should you consider this week as you try to win round-by-round with each member in the roster you compile?

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PLAYERS FEATURING IN THE EARLY GAME

If you would normally take one or two players from the first game, this week you may want to up that to three or four, simply for safety’s sake. After all, as long as you select them between when line-ups are announced and the deadline, you can be sure the announced starters will feature for you, unlike the later games when uncertainty reigns. The early game is Fulham v. Wolverhampton, far from the most appealing undercard possible, but not a match-up of total Palookas either.

For the Cottagers, forward Aleksandar Mitrovic ($14.32) is averaging 11.6 ppg at home, while cheaper strike partner Aboubakar Kamara ($2.73) [M/F eligible] has notched double digit points in three of his past four games. Defender Tim Ream ($2.34) has averaged 4.4 ppg when playing at least 60 minutes. If you hate paying much for keepers, dirt cheap Sergio Rico ($1.75) has scored 3+ points in five of his past seven games.

On the visiting side, if you want to keep going with the “any offense playing Fulham” strategy, Wolves’ team-leading scorer Raul Jimenez ($14.71) is your man at forward! Of course, wing “defender” Matt Doherty ($13.64) [D/M eligible] is always worth a shout; he has four double-digit returns in his past five games. Keeper Rui Patricio ($9.16) has not been lighting the world on fire lately, but the Cottagers have scored only two goals total across their past five games, so if you expect yet another blank from the woeful last place side, the Portuguese international deserves strong consideration.

And as always, you might see some surprise starters whom you wouldn’t mind taking a punt on for peanuts!

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THOSE WHO RESTED IN WEEK 18 AND/OR EARLIER

Don’t hang your head, moaning about players who rested over the weekend. Take advantage now as they figure to return with a vengeance!

Manchester City Stars

Forward Sergio Aguero ($15.10) along with midfielders Riyad Mahrez ($11.79) and Kevin De Bruyne ($1.36) [KDB’s price tag is NOT A MISPRINT!] were out of the XI over the weekend, making second half substitute appearances (KDB still earning 13 points), leaving them extremely likely to get the call during the week at Leicester. A Manchester City team angry at coming off a loss is a team that nobody wants to face. Conversely, Gabriel Jesus and two among Leroy Sane / Raheem Sterling / Ilkay Gundogan / Bernardo Silva should probably expect to ride the pine, so you may want to stay away from them.

Kevin De Bruyne - Manchester City - Premier League
Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne were subs over the weekend. Does that mean they start mid-week?
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

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Jose Mourinho’s (Least) Favorite Player

A certain midfielder by the name of Paul Pogba ($14.03) appeared much more in print than on the pitch in the last weeks of Jose Mourinho’s reign of terror. Stall made the case in the Week 18 FPL Player Picks that a well-rested, motivated, youngish Pogba should expect starts in all four games over the festive period. The France World Cup winner kicked things off with an outstanding 19-point, 2-assist performance at Cardiff, so don’t hesitate to add him for this affair home to 19th place Huddersfield.

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Spurs’ Fifth Option

In recent seasons, the Spurs’ offense has been entirely about the Harry Kane / Dele Alli / Son Heung-Min / Christian Eriksen diamond. There are still only those four spots in Mauricio Pochettino’s offense, but last year’s winter transfer Lucas Moura ($9.45) [M/F eligible] has inserted himself into the mix (along with Erik Lamela, to a lesser extent), adding another dimension to the attack. Moura had started the prior three league games ahead of the weekend visit to Everton where he made only a brief cameo. Now a return to the XI would seem likely to spell one of the others (perhaps most likely Alli, who exited Goodison at halftime with a knock). At “home” (Wembley) hosting Bournemouth is a fairly attractive fixture, at least on the offensive end, as goals will be expected.

Of course, if you do already have Son Heung-Min ($13.15) in your team, you’re certainly not going to sell him now even though he is at risk of rest. The South Korea international has been absolutely on fire lately — scoring 16+ points in five of the past six games — and there’s definitely a case to be made for grabbing him, especially if you were able to pounce on the barndoor before his latest price rise. Just keep January’s AFC Asian Cup on your calendar so you dump him when he leaves for that extended international duty.

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“B” Players from Teams Looking Ahead to a Tougher Game Week 20

Jurgen Klopp may look to rotate on offense at home against Newcastle ahead of the weekend clash against Arsenal and GW-21 at Manchester City. It may be too risky to take a chance on Daniel Sturridge ($3.41) or Divock Origi ($1.56) unless you hear more concrete news, but brace hero Xherdan Shaqiri ($9.16) [M/F eligible] in Week 17 against Manchester United who did not feature in Week 18 would seem to have a very strong chance of starting Week 19.

Similarly, Unai Emery might like to rest some of his regulars at Brighton midweek ahead of the trip to Anfield looming at the weekend. There isn’t much cover at forward with Danny Welbeck out injured, but might midfielders Aaron Ramsey ($7.31) and/or Alex Iwobi ($6.63) [M/F eligible] nab a start? (Although at forward, I wouldn’t be totally shocked if Alexandre Lacazette ($13.06) started and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had to settle for a substitute appearance.) There may be a good bit of risk here, so keep an eye on team news if you’re thinking about making a play in this direction.

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A Suspension Return

Brighton defender Shane Duffy ($11.50) just finished serving a three-game red card ban, so now he should return as the Seagulls welcome Arsenal. That may sound like an uphill climb, but often that’s just what pays off for Fantrax defenders in the form of phantom points. Duffy has averaged 9.5 ppg against the four Big Six clubs he’s faced (Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City), and the high-octane Gunners should keep him plenty busy.

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INDISPENSABLE PLAYERS

The Big Six Sides

The Big Six sides tend to have depth, enabling rotation, but hey, they can’t rest everybody.

LIVERPOOL CENTRAL DEFENDERS

With Joe Gomez and Joel Matip both out injured, Jurgen Klopp can’t afford the luxury of resting central defenders Virgil van Dijk ($13.54) or Dejan Lovren ($3.80) in front of the Anfield faithful against Newcastle. VvD has averaged 10.8 ppg over his past eight games, while Lovren has put up 6.5 ppg for the season. Liverpool leads the league in keeping clean sheets, and the Magpies have scored just three times total across the past five games.

Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk - Liverpool - Premier League
An indispensable pair in central defense for Liverpool.
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

MANCHESTER UNITED ATTACKERS... AND SOME OTHER RED DEVIL CHAP

Romelu Lukaku is off again with compassionate leave. Manchester United is coming off a huge 5-1 win at Cardiff in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game as caretaker manager. The Red Devils now host a bad Huddersfield defense at what should be a packed and rockin’ Old Trafford. Anthony Martial ($11.60) [M/F eligible], Marcus Rashford ($11.21) [M/F eligible], and Jesse Lingard ($8.48) [M/F eligible] are all spring chickens. They should not have any problem suiting up again, and Solskjaer will certainly find it difficult to resist staying with the same line-up following such a rousing performance.

I especially love Lingard since he stepped up to take — and more importantly, converted — the penalty kick when others who could have gotten the call were bypassed (most notably Pogba and Martial). After his success, Lingard should expect to keep that role, which would be a huge boost to his fantasy value from here on out assuming he can keep knocking them into the net.

Keeper David De Gea ($7.41) is a bargain... if you consider his pedigree, along with the seemingly attractive fixture at Old Trafford welcoming a Huddersfield side that struggles to score. De Gea and the Manchester United defense have kept only two clean sheets this season, so I don’t blame you for staying away, but if you want to take a chance, you may be well rewarded. [Hat tip to David.]

THE TOTTENHAM TALISMAN

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (at least until December is over), Spurs forward Harry Kane ($22.12) played 75+ minutes in every league game last year from November 5 through December 26. This season, Mauricio Pochettino broke from that precedent, having Kane come in for only 16 minutes from the bench on December 8 against Leicester. Even so, I doubt that Poch will give Kane another breather until January. The Tottenham talisman has scored six goals and supplied two assists in the past eight games. With Spurs at Wembley against the defensively subpar Cherries, he has a good opportunity to keep that strong form going.

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The Smaller Sides

Smaller clubs generally don’t have the luxury to rest many players, aside from those who are particularly injury-prone or getting up in years. Thus, their stars tend to be virtually indispensable.

West Ham midfielders Felipe Anderson ($17.73) and Robert Snodgrass ($9.94) have taken over plenty of offensive responsibility with Marko Arnautovic, Anrdiy Yarmolenko and Manuel Lanzini out injured, which of course leaves Manuel Pellegrini little choice but to keep rolling with them. Anderson has five goals and one assist in his past eight games, while Snoddy boasts two goals and three helpers in his past five contests. Now the Hammers travel to a revitalized but still 16th place Southampton.

Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic ($15.98) is averaging 12.5 ppg at home, and is coming off converting a PK in the win at Manchester City. Now the Eagles welcome Cardiff who just allowed five goals to Manchester United... including a pen.

Burnley defender James Tarkowski ($13.15) is averaging 10.4 ppg at home this season, and the visit of Everton should keep the Clarets’ back line plenty busy for Tark to keep racking up the phantom points.

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OTHER CHEAP PUNTS

You don’t want to take any zeroes if you can avoid them. But if you do, you can shrug off suffering a nil score from a punt who costs around the bare minimum a whole lot easier than a star who gobbled up 15% or 20% of your budget, right?

Liverpool midfielder Fabinho ($2.14) has started the past three games, notching an assist in each of the past two and returning an average of 10.0 ppg in that pair. Klopp has plenty of options in midfield, so he may choose to give the Brazilian a rest. Hopefully Febinho will start and deliver yet another bravura performance. But if not, he won’t cost but a trifle.

Marco Silva rested Everton defender Yerry Mina ($1.75) yesterday, giving Kurt Zouma a rare start (at least since Mina’s recovery from injury). I’m not saying that the horror show 6-2 loss was entirely Zouma’s fault, but the goal that best illustrates the Toffees’ ineptitude during the catastrophic loss was Son Heung-Min’s opener that came from the howler between Zouma and keeper Jordan Pickford. It would be pretty unfathomable for Mina not to return immediately to Marco Silva’s XI. The game is away, but the Burnley offense obviously does not share anything close to Spurs’ firepower. In Mina’s case, the worry over getting a zero or thereabouts comes even if he does start as expected, since he’s delivered a -1, 0, and 2 points in three of his six starts. But he’s delivered 3, 6 and 8 points in his other three starts, so you can harbor hope for a nice ROI.

West Ham forward Andy Carroll ($1.36) hasn’t earned a start yet, but he’s averaging 3.5 ppg in four straight substitute appearances. One of these days it seems like he just has to crack Manuel Pellegrini’s XI, and hopefully that time is now! But even if not, he should still more than return value for you.

[Note: Player prices above are from the NMA standard (non-bench) league. YMMV.]

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What players are you looking to drop from, and add to, your Fantrax sides this week as you bob and weave in pre-Boxing Day strategy? Is there anybody not listed above who you feel deserves mention as well? Do you see any winter weather on the horizon that could affect any upcoming matches (both Wednesday and Thursday look fine at the moment). Let us know your thoughts in the comments!