This bounty of games around the festive period is a wonderful gift for us EPL fans, but the chance for rest and rotation continues to give Ebeneezer Scrooge-style worry to us all. What can we do in an effort to keep coal out of our fantasy stockings?
Let’s start with where we are now. Liverpool and West Ham did not feature in GW18, West Ham will be extremely well-rested, whereas Liverpool traveled to Qatar for two Club World Cup games. Though Saturday’s final went 120’, most Reds should have recovered by Thursday. Otherwise, the 18 teams who featured in Week 18 enjoy a fair amount of rest time between GW18 and 19.
BIGGEST ROTATION WORRY
However, I think that the major rotation worry will come not so much from exhaustion following Week 18, but more from EPL managers who may want to give a star or two some rest during the GW19-20-21 smash.
The two greatest areas of concern right now should be:
- Teams with the shortest rest between GW19 & 20: Manchester City and Wolves are the two teams who play in GW19 on Friday then feature in GW20 on Sunday.
- Teams with short gaps covering GW18-20: Of the teams with the shortest rest between GW18 & 19 above, three of those — Manchester United, Tottenham and Watford — have three games in less than a week (Sunday-Thursday-Saturday).
- Teams with new managers: Everton’s Carlo Ancelotti and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta may have different ideas about who deserves to be in the XI than the preceding managers.
If you’ve got players such as Deli Alli, Kevin De Bruyne, and/or Raul Jimenez on an enormous discount in a league without bench cover, I’m not saying you should drop them. But I’m certainly not high on paying market prices for star players from any sides I’ve got serious question marks about this week. Instead, focus more on players with an extremely high probability of starting, and mix in a cheap lottery ticket or two. Players likely to rotate in and poach a rare start from big stars could pay off rather nicely.
And the joker in the deck: As we head into the coldest part of the year, keep one eye on the weather in case snow or ice threatens postponements. Remember: The ice doesn’t need to ruin the pitch; just icing the sidewalks outside a stadium can scare match officials into scratching a match. At this writing, the weather looks like it will cooperate through the Festive Period, but stay alert through all of January and February for any cold snaps that may appear, especially to the north and inland.
With that in mind, as you look to jettison some of your pricey, risky players, who can be mixed in to bring good cheer this week?
[NOTE: Tottenham v. Brighton is the first game and should have available XIs ahead of the Fantrax deadline.]
Liverpool’s Alisson returns, and his price is more than fair, but the match-up is tricky. West Ham also is back, but David Martin and Lucasz Fabianski are both injury doubts, and I don’t trust Roberto Jimenez. I’m generally not a fan of paying premium for keepers, so that doesn’t leave too many appealing options.
I thought Heaton would fare well in Week 18 at home against Southampton, but I was wrong. Danny Ings netted a brace in the Saints’ 3-1 victory, leaving Heaton with -1 point. This is a nice chance to rebound, again at home against a team that has scored the joint-fewest away goals (5) in the league. If not, then it’s probably the last time you’ll see me recommend Heaton for a long, long time.
Jordan Pickford ($3.86, Everton v. Burnley)
Pickford has been mostly horrible this season, but the England #1 has rediscovered his form the past three games, scoring 7, 12, and 11 points with 12 saves against only two goals conceded. Now he gets a home game at Goodison Park against a mediocre Clarets’ offense in what should be a defensive-minded tussle.
Alex McCarthy ($1.58, Southampton at Chelsea)
If you can’t bear spending money on a keeper, you have to take a risk... unless you’d prefer to pay $1.00 for a back-up keeper and take a certain zero, but that’s the easy way out! I expect Chelsea to score at home against Southampton, but the hope is that McCarthy will rack up enough saves to produce a positive outcome. He has only gone negative twice in eight appearances so far, so those odds at being on the right side of nil are pretty decent.
Fantasy favorite Diego Rico (a.k.a. this season’s closest approximation to last season’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Lucas Digne) is suspended for yellow card accumulation, but if you have him at a huge discount, he’s definitely worth holding onto.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka ($10.89, Manchester United v. Newcastle United)
Speaking of Lucas Digne and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, if you’ve got extra money in the bank because you’re shying away from high-priced risks in attack, why not go with a reliable big-money defender who can be valuable at this time of the year? After all, defenders offer a better assurance than attackers of not being rested. AWB isn’t quite as pricey as Digne, and he should be free to press forward at Old Trafford against a Magpies offense that offers little in the way of attacking spirit.
Frederic Guilbert ($10.59, Aston Villa v. Norwich)
Gilbert is probably an even safer pick than AWB, since Aston Villa doesn’t have quality back-ups like the Red Devils do. Guilbert has returned 7, 15, 7, 8 and 12 points in his past five starts, and the match-up could hardly be more appealing.
After returning 9, 9, 7 and 6 points in his previous four games, Kelly unexpectedly dropped a turd at Newcastle with a zero despite playing the whole game. Light a match, open the window and let the air clear out.
Antonio Rudiger ($1.00, Chelsea v. Southampton)
Since returning from injury, Rudiger has returned 4 points twice, and now Southampton comes to London.
Jack Grealish ($19.40, Aston Villa v. Norwich)
Hitting double digit points in nine of his past 11 games, with five goals and three assists in that stretch, Grealish is definitely in a purple patch of form. It’s tough to imagine things not staying Barney with the league’s joint-most porous defense coming to Villa Park. As for rest, Grealish got time off recently due to injury, and he’s young.
Wilfried Zaha ($13.86, Crystal Palace v. West Ham) [dual M/F eligibility]
Zaha has been strong lately with 16, 8 and 16 points in his past three games at Selhurst Park, scoring against Liverpool and Brighton. At home in a London derby against West Ham is what is commonly known as a favorable fixture, so expect more of the same.
Christian Pulisic ($12.47, Chelsea v. Southampton)
Willian is coming off his best game of the season with the brace at Spurs, but if you didn’t get him on the barn door before his price rose, it’s tough to stomach paying over 15 clams at retail now. Pulisic was rested over the weekend, his cost ticked down a bit, and he should be expected to get a recall for the favorable match-up with the 17th place Saints coming to Stamford Bridge.
John Fleck ($10.10, Sheffield United v. Watford)
Fleck returns from his one game suspension for yellow card accumulation as the most in-form attacking player for the Blades, with four goals and one assist in his past seven games. And now the last-place Hornets come to Bramall Lane.
Lucas Moura ($9.11, Tottenham v. Brighton)
Moura has been subbed off in the second half each of the past four games, so he should be fairly fresh. With Son suspended for three games, Jose Mourinho will need Moura to step up in attack. Christian Eriksen ($5.34) will be the odds on favorite to start in Son’s stead, which could pay off nicely, but he’s far from a 100% proposition this year, so your Spurs’ midfield depends on how much of a risk you’re willing to take... or how willing and able you are to tinker with your line-up in the window between when the XIs for the early game are announced and the deadline slams it shut.
Demarai Gray ($3.66), Denis Praet ($2.67) or Marc Albrighton ($1.58, Leicester v. Liverpool)
Harvey Barnes was removed with injury in the second half of Saturday’s loss at Manchester City. Keep an eye on team news; if Barnes cannot pass fit, Brendan Rogers’ next pick should provide value despite the tough fixture. (Forward Kelechi Iheanacho is another option, but against the high-flying Reds I would expect Rogers to stick with his more conservative one-striker formation.)
Paul Pogba ($2.18, Manchester United v. Newcastle United)
Returning from a lengthy injury layoff, Pogba came on for a 26-minute appearance from the bench, returning 6 points thanks to two SOTs. He will be pushing to return to the XI, and the match-up should certainly suit him. What more could you ask for $2.18?
Marcus Rashford ($21.38, Manchester United v. Newcastle)
Rashford disappointed scores of fantasy managers at Watford as Ben Foster stymied the Red Devils’ attack, but at least the damage in Fantrax wasn’t as bad as it was in FPL, as Rashford returned 9 points in the former format with his usual activity. It’s the giving season, so why not give him another chance? As for rotation, it’s certainly possible that Rashford sits with Mason Greenwood coming in, but following the unexpected loss, that puts even more pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to bring out his best XI.
Harry Kane ($14.85, Tottenham v. Brighton)
As with Moura, the rotation risk for Kane diminished an awful lot thanks to Son’s suspension. You’ve got to spend your money somewhere, and compared to other big-name forwards such as Jamie Vardy, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Tammy Abraham, and Raheem Sterling, Kane is actually considerably cheaper. Plus he’s at home against mediocre competition.
Joshua King ($7.82, Bournemouth v. Arsenal)
The Bournemouth offense has been atrocious lately, making this a reluctant pick. However, Arsenal’s defense has also been horrible, keeping only one clean sheet in its past 10 tries. On top of that, in the past two seasons King has scored 11 of his 15 goals at home, and the Gunners are tied with Norwich for the most penalties conceded this term (five). It’s far from guaranteed, but at his price, King has a nice chance to pay off.
Aaron Connolly ($7.72, Brighton at Tottenham)
Connolly enjoyed a breakout game earlier against Spurs, nabbing a brace from six shots (3 SOT). If you feel like going out on a limb and hoping for lightning to strike the same spot twice, you may just get lucky. It’s not exactly the same spot since it’s in London as mentioned, not at Brighton, but you know what I mean.
Lys Mousset ($6.33) or Oliver McBurnie ($4.95, Sheffield United v. Watford)
McBurnie scored the only goal in the win at Brighton at the weekend. Now he will push for another start over Lys Mousset, who would normally be expected to rotate back into the XI but has gone goalless in the past four tries after cracking the net four times from GW9-14. With last place Watford coming to town, it would seem wise to go with whomever Chris Wilder pegs to start up front for the Blades.
Callum Hudson-Odoi ($3.07) or Michy Batshuayi ($2.38, Chelsea v. Southampton)
You’ll want to be sure to check team news closer to the deadline before making a punt like this, but if Frank Lampard indicates he will give CHO or the Batsman a spot start in place of Tammy Abraham, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger given the magical combination of low price, home locale and subpar level of opposition.
How much of your teams are you re-packaging, and which are you leaving in the bag? Which players do you expect to be the biggest gift-givers to your Fantrax teams this week? Please let us know in the comments below!