As we look to reap rewards from the final game of the mightily congested festive period, we need to prioritize players who have:
- Heart: the desire to push on, to keep driving for those last three points before the break,
- Mind: the focus not to suffer a mental letdown, and
- Legs: the physical capacity to cash the cheques written by the heart and mind.
Which players have the best chance of delivering on that trifecta?
[Note: Player prices listed below are for the standard (11-man) NMA league; YMMV.]
Players Who Got Some Rest in Week 20
Arsenal attacker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ($18.68, M/F eligible) was removed midway through the second half of the debacle at Anfield in favor of Alexandre Lacazette. It would be difficult to imagine Unai Emery not starting the joint league-leading scorer in a London derby at home against Fulham as the Gunners desperately need to get their mojo back after getting crushed by Liverpool.
Leicester forward Jamie Vardy ($10.90) was also taken out with plenty of time left on the clock, and the Foxes paid dearly as James Maddison failed to convert a penalty that Vardy would have been in line to take. Leicester travels to Goodison Park, which is not ideal but hardly insurmountable either. The Toffees have failed to keep a clean sheet in their past seven tries (home & away).
Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson ($17.12) played only two minutes in the loss at Brighton, so he will be raring to go at home against Leicester. He’s averaging 10.9 ppg at Goodison, and while the Foxes’ defense can be tough to crack, Everton boasts a fairly strong offense, particularly at home.
Manchester City winger Leroy Sane ($15.22, M/F) made only a cameo at Southampton, while midfielder Kevin de Bruyne ($1.90) was rested entirely, meaning that they should be in line to start against Liverpool. The reverse fixture was 0-0, but it would be a surprise not to see any scoring this time around. Costing peanuts, KDB obviously is the more attractive purchase if you don’t already have him (and if you do have KDB at $1.98, shave his price before the deadline).
Newcastle defender Fabian Schar ($5.79) replaced Federico Fernandez at halftime following injury. Schar had scored 16, 13 and 12 points in his prior three starts, so if Fernandez remains out, Schar could prove a worthwhile fill-in home to Manchester United as he would be kept busy and should be able to rack up phantoms. Be sure to keep an eye on team news.
Players from Teams with the Most Recovery Time Between Week 20 & 21
Liverpool has the most recovery time of any team, with a sizable gap between Saturday and Thursday. Of course, the Reds travel to the Etihad, which is a very difficult place to play. That said, Liverpool’s low-priced assets may prove valuable, such as defender Dejan Lovren ($5.88) and midfielder Fabinho ($3.81). Lovren has averaged 8.5 ppg this season, while Fabinho has notched double digit scores in three of his past four games.
The next-most rest time comes for Manchester City (Sunday - Thursday) along with Brighton, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Watford and Wolves (Saturday - Wednesday). Manchester City, as mentioned, has a tough match-up against the rampaging top team in the league, so again budget options have more allure than the high-priced stars. In addition to the already mentioned KDB, Oleksandr Zinchenko ($2.08, D/M) scored 7 points at Southampton filling in for the suspended Fabian Delph and has averaged 8 ppg in his three games.
Bournemouth’s defense has been absolutely atrocious lately, so for the upcoming fixture at the Liberty Stadium, turn your attention to Watford forward Gerard Deulofeu ($6.14) who has two goals and two assists in the past four games. Midfielder Roberto Pereyra ($13.49) boasts four double-digit scores in his last five games, and fellow middie Abdoulaye Doucoure ($9.86) has three goals and a helper in his past six affairs.
Brighton defender Shane Duffy ($11.16) is averaging 9.9 ppg away, and the West Ham offense should be buzzing around him in London, offering the chance at plenty of phantoms. If you don’t have the cash to splash, Bernardo ($5.10) has been excellent value, averaging 5.9 ppg in all locales, but more tailored to home. Filling in for Mat Ryan who is away on Asia Cup duty for Australia, keeper David Button ($1.56) comes off a clean sheet win against Everton that returned 18 points, and he could be worth a punt even though a repeat of that performance is not expected.
David De Gea has only kept two clean sheets this season, and now he travels to St. James’ Park, offering hope for the Magpies’ offense. Newcastle midfielder Matt Ritchie ($8.82) has averaged 10 ppg over the past three games, and if anybody is going to crack the net, it will probably be forward Salomon Rondon ($7.96), who is averaging 7.9 ppg at home.
Wolves forward Raul Jimenez ($14.79) scored the winner at Spurs, and is averaging double digits as the Molineux welcomes a 14th place Crystal Palace side that has conceded nine goals in its past three away games (though only one to Chelsea on Sunday).
Players Who Were Embarrassed in Week 20 and Need to Respond
After the shambolic 3-1 “home” (Wembley) loss to Wolves in which every single player performed lethargically and sloppily in the second half (except Dele Alli who was removed early), Tottenham needs to respond at Cardiff. How will Mauricio Pochettino react? It is possible that he will shake up the XI, but I expect him to keep things going pretty much the same, turning to the offensive core of forward Harry Kane ($21.79), Son Heung-min ($13.84, M/F), Dele Alli ($9.77, M/F), and midfielder Christian Eriksen ($11.67), allowing them a chance at redemption. Alternately, of course, Poch may plug in Lucas Moura ($10.64, M/F) and/or midfielder Erik Lamela ($6.66), leaving the usual quartet of stars worrying a bit about being rested.
Even with the poor showing in game-week 20, Kane, Son, and Eriksen have been absolutely meteoric lately. In the past eight games, Kane has seven goals and two assists, Son has seven scores and three helpers, and Eriksen has chipped in with three goals and five assists. We should all keep an ear on Pochettino’s presser so we can gauge how his XI will look.
Some Other Shouts
If you didn’t grab Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba ($18.25) on the barn door after his 19 point performance in the first game after Jose Mourinho’s departure at Cardiff, or his 35 point explosion against Huddersfield, or his 32 point return versus Bournemouth, what are you waiting for? His price is only going to keep rising!
Attacker Marcus Rashford ($12.37, M/F) has been the Red Devils’ other standout performer in the brief Ole Gunnar Solksjaer era, notching 16, 9 and 19 points. However, he was withdrawn after 70 minutes with a knock, replaced by forward Romelu Lukaku ($9.86) who promptly scored a goal upon his return from compassionate leave. Whomever of the duo starts should be good value at Newcastle.
Apologies for the broken record, but West Ham forward Andy Caroll ($1.82) keeps offering the hope of starting, but generally providing good returns when he doesn’t. The big man earned 7 points after coming on for Lucas Perez at Burnley for the second half. At his price, you can’t ask for too much more.
Burnley keeper Tom Heaton ($1.56) didn’t rest in Week 20, but he has gotten an awful lot of slumber between the start of last season and the weekend victory over West Ham. Not only that, but he kept a clean sheet while making four saves in replacing Joe Hart, good for 18 points. Now the Clarets travel to Huddersfield, hardly the most imposing offense. There is not expected to be long-term value for Heaton, with first-choice Nick Pope ($1.00) looking to return in mid- to late-January, but if you are looking for a cheap plug-in now, don’t hesitate.
This week’s early game is Everton v. Leicester, so if you are considering players from that fixture, or just need a sure starter somewhere, be sure to join us in the NMA Pre-Deadline Chat for confirmed lineups in the countdown hour.
What strategy are you adopting in Fantrax as the festive period comes to a close? Which players are you bringing in for this week, and whom are you looking to move out? Please let us know in the comments below!