Whew! We’ve almost made it through the first round of the festive period’s compressed schedule and all the turbulent lineup unpredictability that comes along with it. All that’s left now is a typical-looking game week, with matches on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. A return to normalcy!
But wait — not so fast! Six EPL clubs have group-stage European tournament matches next week, so for them the double-time fixture tempo continues. Manchester City (CL), Manchester United (CL), Chelsea (Europa), and Arsenal (Europa) are already safe, so we can expect them to emphasize the league this weekend, at the expense of their upcoming mid-week lineups. This is particularly true for City and Chelsea, who will square off against each other in a crucial top-of-the-table skirmish.
But Liverpool’s CL match with Napoli is do or die; likewise Tottenham, who face mighty Barcelona in a CL game that could determine whether Spurs advance or crash out. Those two teams will need to field their strongest available lineups in their tournament matches, so this weekend some of the usual fantasy targets from those clubs could be benched or excused altogether.
Fortunately, Saturday’s early game is BOU v LIV, which kicks off at 12:30 GMT (07:30 ET). That means that before the Fantrax deadline, we should have confirmation of Liverpool’s lineup — a precious nugget of intelligence in this chaotic period of rest and rotation. Be sure to tune in to the NMA Pre-Deadline Chat thread for all the info you need to make your last-minute moves.
And now for the fixtures and picks.
- Bournemouth v Liverpool (early game)
- Arsenal v Huddersfield Town
- Burnley v Brighton
- Cardiff City v Southampton
- Manchester United v Fulham
- West Ham v Crystal Palace
- Chelsea v Manchester City
- Leicester v Tottenham
Joe Hart (BUR v BRI, $6.33): Hart has given up 5 goals in his last two games, and lost both. But he has also made a whopping 15 saves. The result? An average ppg over that period that essentially equals his price. He’s probably a safe bet to return value for the home tie with Brighton.
Neil Etheridge (CAR v SOU, $5.80): He’s averaging 5.75 ppg over his last four matches, with clean sheets in none. And this week he welcomes the Saints, who have only scored 13 goals all season (but are under new management, so YMMV).
Bernd Leno (ARS v HUD, $5.70): Leno’s average return is equal to his price even though he hasn’t kept a clean sheet since September 29. The league’s worst offense visits the Emirates on Saturday, so this could be the weekend that he finally logs another shutout.
Sead Kolasinac (ARS v HUD, $2.92): A couple of tough fixtures against Tottenham and United have limited his production over his last two outings, and he made a defending error that led to one of United’s goals. But the attacking side of his game should be on full display against Huddersfield, and his price is budget-friendly. And don’t worry too much about rotation. Rob Holding suffered a serious knee injury yesterday, and Nacho Monreal has been absent through injury for weeks even if he passes fit for Saturday. Unai Emery will have concerns at left back then, which means he probably won’t want to have a second-stringer filling Kolasinac’s spot on the left of midfield. (Eligible as D or M).
Leon Balogun (BRN v BRI, $2.13): He replaced Shane Duffy after the Irishman was shown the door for a head butt on Palace’s Patric Van Aanholt. Less than 30 seconds later he scored a goal with his first touch of the ball. Don’t expect him to score again this weekend, but at a price of $2, goals won’t be necessary for him to return value.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (WHU v CRY, $13.66): He has slowed his roll over the last couple of games, but on Saturday he’ll face a Hammers side that will be without Marko Arnautovic. That drastically improves his chances of adding clean sheet points to the phantoms he typically collects. (Eligible as D or M).
Yerry Mina (EVE v WAT, $1.28): His production hasn’t been great, but he could be useful if you need a budget-stretcher.
Dejan Lovren (BOU v LIV, $4.38): It’s probably time for Lovren to rotate in be ruled out with a concussion. Rotation looms as Jürgen Klopp will want to make sure his best players are rested and available for the critical Champions League match with Napoli on Tuesday, but we should see the confirmed lineup in the minutes before the deadline and be able to grab Lovren’s deputy (probably Joel Matip $3.42, but maybe even Alberto Moreno $1.28), who will be a cheap route into the ‘Pool defense.
Virgil van Dijk (BOU v LIV, $12.78) VVD is averaging nearly 11 ppg over his last 5 games. I like his prospects on both sides of the ball this weekend — if he is not rested.
Willy Boly (NEW v WOL, $13.01): He’s averaging 8 ppg over his last three games. Two of those matches were losses, and only one featured a clean sheet. This week his opponent is Newcastle; only two teams have scored fewer goals.
Lucas Digne (EVE v WAT, $14.51): Not much new to say here. Double-digits in 8 of his last 10 games. He’s a Fantrax beast.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ARS v HUD, $19.57): PEA came back down to Earth a little after his 30-point explosion against Tottenham. But he’s at home to Huddersfield on Saturday. Do you dare go without the league’s leading scorer for a fixture like that? (Eligible as M or F).
Pascal Gross (BUR v BRI, $6.20) Gross was the unfortunate victim of a tactical substitution after Duffy’s red card reduced Brighton to 10 men. It was a raw deal for Gross, but a good deal for fantasy owners who fancy his chances against Burnley this week. The German’s truncated 31-minute appearance limited his production to just a single point, which dropped his price even lower than it already was. He’s a bargain, and you should be thinking hard about adding him in. (Eligible as M or F).
Josh Murphy (CAR v SOU, $10.54): Southampton have but a single win on the season, and only three teams have conceded more goals. How the Saints will set up under new manager Ralph Hasenhüttl remains to be seen, but if anyone can exploit them this weekend it’s Murphy.
Sadio Mané (BOU v LIV, $15.59), Xherdan Shaqiri (BOU v LIV, $8.14): Mane’s fitness could determine which of these two starts. If these guys are in your thoughts, tune in for the Pre-Deadline Chat on Saturday morning to find out whom Klopp chooses.
Christian Eriksen (LEI v TOT, $12.34) Eriksen has amassed 37 points and 4 assists in the three games he has played since recovering from injury. He’s at a slight risk of rotation given the importance of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Barcelona, but he was withdrawn on the 79 minute mark yesterday, suggesting he is in Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the weekend.
Marcus Rashford (MUN v FUL, $7.71): With 7 goals in his last 8 games, no player in the Prem is hotter than Anthony Martial right now. Unfortunately, we don’t really know the seriousness of the “pre-injury” that saw him subbed off against Arsenal yesterday. Consequently, my choice of United attackers this week is Rashford. He seems to be the only Red Devil that Jose Mourinho can find kind words for, and he’ll welcome the league’s worst defense to Old Trafford on Saturday. I’m probably going to bring him in. (Eligible as M or F).
Robbie Brady (BRN v BRI, $2.65): I dropped him for the visit of Liverpool, but this week the visitors are Brighton. Given his price, you can hardly miss (even in the loss to ‘Pool he returned 5 points).
Robert Snodgrass (WHU v CRY, $6.50): Snoddy assisted two of his team’s three goals against Cardiff in a performance that netted 17 points for his Fantrax owners. And with Marko Arnautovic now unavailable for a month with a hamstring injury, Snoddy should inherit more of West Ham’s set piece opportunities. He needs to stop picking up yellow cards though. He has 6 already, including one he earned in the very next game he played after serving his suspension for accumulating his fifth.
Alexandre Lacazette (ARS v HUD, $15.04): Lacazette must feel a lot like Olivier Giroud lately. Relegated to the role of super-sub, it has been a month since he has put in a full shift. But Emery’s sparing use of Lacazette could auger well for the Frenchman this weekend, with Arsenal facing its fifth game in a span of two weeks across all competitions. Here’s the rub though: Lacazette’s gain could come at PEA’s expense. The Gabonese has played three full games over the last 10 days, so the visit of 17th place Huddersfield could be a perfect rotation opportunity. Follow team news to guide your choice between these two (or double up if they both look set to start).
Wilifried Zaha (WHU v CRY, $14.11): Zaha has posted double-digits in both of his last two games, and scored in neither. He could bag his long-awaited 4th goal of the season against the Hammers this weekend.
Mo Salah (BOU v LIV, $21.76): That Salah only came on as a super-sub against Burnley yesterday was a gut-punch for his fantasy owners. But his benching for that game, combined with his early exit from the game prior, means that he’s likely to start against Bournemouth. As much as Klopp would prefer to rest the Egyptian ahead of the Napoli match, the German gaffer cannot afford to risk losing ground to City in the Premier League campaign. As with other Reds, we’ll see Klopp’s squad sheet before the deadline. But even if Salah starts, look for him to get the hook if ‘Pool have a comfortable lead in the second half.
Lucas Pérez (WHU v CRY, $3.23): Pérez took the pitch on Tuesday to replace the wounded Arnautovic and promptly notched a brace (on his first two SOTs of the season, no less!). With many of the players ahead of him on the depth chart on the disabled list and Andy Carrol still building match fitness, the two-goal performance against Cardiff almost guarantees Pérez start against the Saints on Saturday. He’s just as likely to score as Chicharito, but at a fraction of the Mexican’s price.
Harry Kane (LEI v TOT, $24.11): His price has climbed to astronomical heights, but there’s a reason for that: He’s averaging nearly 19 ppg over his last 5 matches. He’ll need to keep up that kind of production in order to justify his price tag, but his record against Leicester is stellar: 13 goals in 8 appearances. And in the chaos of all this fixture congestion, here’s at least one reassuring thing we know — if he’s healthy he’s starting.
Florin Andone (BRN v BRI, $2.95): Andone has two goals in two games, and Glenn Murray’s injury means the Romanian will probably lead the line against the second-worst defense in the Prem (although Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are both expected to train tomorrow). At $2.95 all you really need from Andone is one SOT and he repays your investment.
Has the recent flurry of games left you as tired as some of the players surely are? Are you playing it safe with a squad of certain starters, or are you gambling on some big names who are at risk of being rested? Who is your #1 pick this week? Is there a blog favorite you feel should be avoided? Please come on in and share your thoughts in the comments below!