This is it — the Game Week 31 blanks are upon us. Fully half of the EPL’s 20 teams have fixture conflicts, which means there are only five games on the slate for this scoring period. The fixtures are listed below, followed by my thoughts on Fantrax player selection.
Be aware that all of Saturday’s matches kick off simultaneously, so we should have confirmed lineups for 60% of this week’s matches ahead of the deadline. Join us in the Pre-Deadline Chat for all of that info and more.
Bournemouth vs Newcastle
Callum Wilson is back for Bournemouth, and just in time to help you flesh out your GW 31 squad. The striker has struggled with injuries and has started only three times since January 2, but he has scored in each of those appearances. The 18 points he tallied against Huddersfield has nudged his price up to $12.47, but that’s still excellent value in a week when your choices are limited by such a truncated fixture list.
At the back, Nathaniel Clyne ($3.47) faces a Newcastle attack that has managed only two goals in its last five games and hasn’t scored more than one goal on the road since November. Artur Boruc ($2.67) is an attractive option between the sticks for the same reasons.
Ryan Fraser ($18.61) and David Brooks ($12.66) are two other Cherries I usually eye when I’m considering Bournemouth assets.
But Brooks was subbed off with an ankle injury against Huddersfield and will be sidelined for a month, and at his price point there are others I like more than Fraser this week. (Ed. note: See comments section below regarding Brooks.)
As I mentioned above, Newcastle’s offense tends to struggle away from St. James’ Park. But if you fancy one of their attackers, my picks would be Matt Ritchie ($12.28) and/or Miguel Almirón ($2.54). The English left midfielder has a fairly safe fantasy floor and has put up double-digits even on the road. The same cannot be said for Salomón Rondón ($10.67) and Ayoze Pérez ($11.11). The addition of Miguel Almirón’s energy to the Geordie attack has been a shot in the arm for Newcastle. In the five games he’s played, he has racked up 5 SOTs, 4 accurate crosses, and 5 corners forced. Averaging 8.2 ppg for a price under $3, he’s unlikely to disappoint.
Fabian Schärr ($9.18) had been a hot fantasy commodity recently, but he picked up his 10th yellow card last time out so will now serve a 2-game suspension. He won’t be eligible again until April 6th. No other Newcastle defender appeals to me, and I’m avoiding Martin Dubravka ($7.51) as well.
Burnley vs Leicester
The fact that defenders James Tarkowski ($13.03) and Charlie Taylor ($12.22) are Burnley’s highest-priced Fantrax players ought to tell you something — this is not a team that is rife with fantasy talent.
But there is some wheat among all the chaff. Ashley Ba-Ba-Ba-Barnes ($11.23; hat-tip to Ken for the moniker) has 5 goals in his last 7 games, and often does his best work at home. Dwight McNeil is another solid choice, clocking in at $5.58 for an average return of nearly 7 ppg.
Burnley haven’t kept a clean sheet since the 0-0 deadlock with Watford on January 19th, and they’ve conceded nine goals in their last three games. None of their defensive assets interest me.
In contrast to Burnley, Leicester is brimming with enticing Fantrax attackers. Jamie Vardy ($11.45) makes an extremely compelling case for inclusion in your fantasy squad. He has scored in three straight games and boast five goals in his last five matches. Harvey Barnes is averaging over 6 ppg and costs only $3.16; and Youri Tielemans averages 8 ppg while costing only $2.48. At the high end of the price spectrum is James Maddison, who will set you back $16.32 but has posted double-digit returns in four of his last five appearances.
I don’t like any of the Leicester defenders, and it has been two months since Kasper Schmeichel ($4.90) scored more than 5 points. I’m taking a pass on all of them.
West Ham vs Huddersfield
Remember when Felipe Anderson was tearing up the Premier League? Seems like a long time ago now, and that’s because it has been. He hasn’t scored since December, and he has posted only one double-digit return in the 10 league games he has played in 2019. Until he reverses his ice-cold form, I can’t recommend him at a price of $16.44. Indeed, all of the West Ham attackers who started against Cardiff last week were poor.
The Hammers’ offense did become more dangerous after Marko Arnautovic ($9.55) replaced Anderson in the 2nd half. That fact, combined with a dismal showing from Javiér Hernández, augers well for the Austrian’s chances of making the S11 this weekend (and like Saturday’s other lineups, West Ham’s should become visible just before deadline time). If (big if) the injury-prone striker can get through 90 minutes of action without blowing a tire, he could be a good Fantrax play for the home match against the lowly Terriers. Manuel Lanzini has yet to hit his stride after returning from a long injury absence, but his talent is undeniable, the opposition is favorable, and he’ll only set you back $1.
It has been nine games since the Hammers last held an opponent scoreless, so a clean sheet is no sure thing even against Huddersfield’s lousy offense. That’s why I like Aaron Cresswell this week: He offers some attacking potential to cushion the blow of a lost clean sheet. Ryan Fredericks ($2.17) is another great choice — he has reclaimed the right-back slot after a long injury absence, and he managed 7 points last week despite the Hammers conceding two goals to Cardiff. That said, the Terriers haven’t yet scored an away goal in 2019, so Lukasz Fabianski ($10.73) is not an unreasonable GK option this week.
With my apologies to the Terriers fans in our community, I must admit that I can find no persuasive fantasy assets on Huddersfield’s roster. You should look elsewhere this week (and pretty much any other week).
Fulham vs Liverpool
Fulham have won only one of their last eleven across all competitions, and replacing Claudio Ranieri with Scott Parker has so far not been enough to arrest the slide. Their fortunes look unlikely to improve this week either, as they welcome title-contenders Liverpool to Craven Cottage. ‘Pool’s offense is the league’s second-best while Fulham’s is the third-worst, and ‘Pool’s defense is the league’s best while Fulham’s is (by far) the league’s worst. This is a comprehensive mismatch then, and as a result I’m off any and all Fulham assets this week.
That said, Liverpool’s form has dipped in the second half of the season. They’ve won only five of their ten league games in 2019, and they’ve scored only three goals in their five away games over that period. But they trail Manchester City by just one point in the race for the title, so the Reds cannot afford to drop points on Sunday. Mo Salah ($23.33) has now gone four straight league games without scoring, but he is one who can explode at any time. On the other hand, Sadio Mané has been red-hot, scoring eight goals in his last ten games. He’s averaging 12.3 ppg in 2019 versus Salah’s 9.8, and at $18.43 he’s almost $5 cheaper than his Egyptian teammate. Roberto Firmino is not as explosive as either Salah or Mané, but he notched a brace his last time out and comes in at just $12.72.
Pretty much any starting Liverpool defender looks a good bet this week. Andrew Robertson ($14.39), Virgil van Dijk ($14.27), and Trent Alexander-Arnold ($13.28) are the premium options, but Joel Matip is a compelling value at $5.46. On the other hand, I think $16.63 is too much to pay for Alisson, even this week against Fulham, but he would sure be nice to have at a long-term discount.
The huge caveat for Liverpool assets, of course, is tonight’s Champions League match with Bayern. Be sure to follow lineups and team news from that game, as players like Daniel Sturridge ($2.79), Xherdan Shaqiri ($7.57), and Dejan Lovren ($4.09) could be clever differentials if they look set to start on Sunday.
Everton vs Chelsea
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne, and Richarlison are Everton’s main Fantrax studs. But in their last ten games, Siggy and Digne have posted double-digits only three times, and Richarlison only twice. With none of them priced below $15, and with Chelsea this week’s opponent, I’m shying away from all three. In fact, I’m not in love with any Toffee assets this week. But regardless, make sure you avoid Kurt Zouma this week: He’s ineligible to face his parent club.
Before news surfaced that Gonzalo Higuain failed to travel with the squad for tomorrow’s Europa League match, I’d have called the Argentina international a no-brainer for the weekend: He’s averaging 9.5 ppg at a bargain price of just $3.54. But as it stands we’ll now have to await further news about his fitness for Sunday. Eden Hazard probably actually is a no-brainer, even with his hefty price of $22.71. Willian ($13.77) was a late sub last week against Wolves, but provided the assist for Hazard’s injury-time goal that salvaged a crucial point for Chelsea. My guess is that he starts from the opening whistle this time around.
Defensively, Emerson appears to have unseated Marcos Alonso as Maurizio Sarri’s preferred left back. He’s not exactly a stellar Fantrax performer, but he only costs a buck. On the other side of the back four is Cesár Azpilicueta ($13.28). His price is steep, but he has been a staple in Sarri’s league S11 and has put up two assists in his last three games. Kepa Arrizabalaga ($9.31) is by no means assured of a clean sheet at Goodison Park, but he’s among my top GK choices in a week when there are only 10 netminders to choose from.
As I mentioned, Chelsea play the second leg of their Europa League tie with Dynamo Kyiv Thursday, so their S11 for the weekend could be influenced by their lineup and injuries from that game. Follow team news.
Will you go all-in on players from this week’s limited EPL fixture menu, or will you hold some absent players with big discounts? Can Chelsea and Liverpool afford to field some of their marquee names in their midweek European tournaments and then rest them in league matches this weekend? Join us in the comments below to share your Fantrax team selection ideas for Blank Game Week 31.