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Week 31 FPL Player Picks: Glass Half Full / Empty

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With only five contests, 50% of the players are unavailable for fantasy Premier League selection. What strategy and which players will leave your team’s glass half full instead of half empty?

Mohamed Salah celebrates with Sadio Mane - Liverpool - UEFA Champions League - Premier League
For Fulham, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images,

With only half of the teams playing, leaving loads of stars out of the picture, strategy (or psych counseling) comes to the fore this week. While there may be limited options in terms of players available for selection, there are many possibilities when it comes to chip strategy and your game plan for the remainder of the season.

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A Wee Bit Regarding Chip Strategy

Darryl is slated to write an article delving into approaches to chip strategy soon, so be sure to give that a read when it publishes (and look for comments from community member Yewtee, who is a master on this topic). I don’t want to step on Darryl’s toes too much, so I’ll only make a fairly cursory mention of chip strategy options. You have up to four chips remaining: bench boost, triple captain, free hit, and second half wildcard. And there are only eight game weeks left to use them!

With only five fixtures this game week, it’s just crying out for you to use either your free hit or wildcard chip. The problem, however, is that the remaining schedule has not been finalized yet. Might it be better to play it safe and hold on to those chips? Good things come to those who wait, right? My approach is that if you have been planning ahead and can now get to 11 players who feature this week — even if you have to make one extra transfer and take a -4 hit — it’s probably better to do that. But if you have to make at least two extra transfers and take a -8 hit or worse to do so, or if you are worried about the starting status of a couple/few of your players through injury or selection concerns, that might shift the balance to where you will want to consider playing your free hit or wildcard chip.

Note: If you have elected to save both your free hit and 2nd half wildcard chips for later use, one thing to keep in mind is that when you make any transfer(s) this week, ideally you will want to keep your Manchester United and Wolverhampton players on your bench rather than selling them; those are the two sides that enjoy double game weeks in game-week 32 (next week!). If you are planning on using either the free hit or wildcard chip in GW32, though, then keeping those teams’ players will not be a priority.

Whichever strategic route you choose, let’s look at the players who can deliver a nice return in this weekend of limited fixtures.

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Loads of Love for Liverpool

Most of you are already stocked to the limit of three Liverpool players. If not, it’s time to get up to the max! The anybody-playing-Fulham strategy has worked divinely this season, and is a no-brainer when that opponent is the 2nd place team in the league, even when on the road. Some key factors to consider:

  • Fulham’s defense is abysmal on the road (a league-worst 2.27 gpg), but it’s also really bad at home, conceding 2.0 goals per game at Craven Cottage, which is also the worst mark. Liverpool’s offense is not nearly as lethal on the road (1.6 gpg) as at home (2.93 gpg), but you’re still looking at the 6th-best road attack in the league against the worst home defense.
  • Liverpool’s true strength on the road has been its defense, allowing a league-low 8 goals (0.53 gpg) on their travels. Meanwhile, Fulham have scored only 18 times (1.29 gpg) at Craven Cottage, tying for 4th-fewest at home.
  • Since taking over as caretaker manager for Fulham, Scott Parker has lost 2-1 home against Chelsea, and 3-1 on the road against Leicester. You could point to Fulham not having suffered a shutout under Parker, but the average of 1.0 gpg is basically on par with the overall mark for the season (28 goals in 30 games), and Liverpool boasts a much better defense (and team) than either the Blues or Foxes.
  • This season, when on the road facing lower-echelon teams, the Reds have won 1-0 at Huddersfield, 1-0 at Brighton, 2-0 at Crystal Palace, 3-1 at Burnley, and 4-0 at Bournemouth. Sum it all up, and you may be disappointed if it ends up 1-0 (or 2-1), but you have a fairly good chance of 2-0 or better... especially with the specter of goal difference deciding the league title.

On offense, you will want to have at least one among forward Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) and midfielders Mo Salah (£13.4m) and Sadio Mane (£9.9m). Mane is the recent standout enjoying a purple patch of form, having scored eight goals in as many games. In contrast, Salah has gone ice cold with only 1 goal in 10 games! However, the Egyptian superstar has chipped in with five fantasy assists in that time, while Mane has contributed none. Salah is also the team’s primary PK taker; Fulham ties for the third-most penalties conceded (6), and Liverpool ties for the fourth-most scored (5). Meanwhile, Firmino has scored seven of his eleven goals on the season in his past ten games. There simply isn’t a bad choice in the Reds’ offense. Can you fit them all?

No, no you can’t, not if you want cover from the Liverpool defense, where there also isn’t a poor pick from the stalwarts. Alisson (£6.0m) is the top keeper in the game with 143 points, 17 clear of next-best Ederson. Andrew Robertson (£6.9m) and Virgil Van Dijk (£6.6m) rank top-2 among defenders with 169 and 163 points, acres ahead of 3rd place Marcos Alonso’s 134 (and Alonso looks to have been bumped from Chelsea’s starting-XI). The more affordable Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.6m) is 5th at 123 points, but he has missed time with injury and rotation; TAA has actually been more effective on a points-per-minute basis (0.069 ppm) than either Robertson (0.068) or VVD (0.061).

Caveat: The Reds just played (and won) a big Champions League match against Bayern Munich. With a good amount of time to rest between Wednesday and Sunday (rather than playing Saturday), the game coming on the road instead of at Anfield, and the squad being in the midst of a brilliant battle for the league title, my hope is that Jurgen Klopp will need to turn to the regular stars again. But watch carefully for any hints that the manager will give 2nd-stringers a run-out against minnows Fulham at the expense of any of the big names.

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Bournemouth Bounty

Many fantasy managers loaded up on Bournemouth assets early in the season when the schedule was favorable, and that paid off handsomely. When the fixture list turned ugly, that was time to jump ship. But with their schedule returning to a friendly fashion, and Callum Wilson enjoying a return to fitness, it’s time to get back on the Cherry bandwagon.

Ryan Fraser celebrates with Callum Wilson - AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
This pair of Cherries is back to starring against favorable competition.
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
  • Bournemouth has scored only 11 goals on the road (0.73 gpg), while notching 26 at home (1.73 gpg).
  • In the first 12 games with a favorable schedule, forward Callum Wilson (£6.4m) averaged 6.0 ppg and midfielder Ryan Fraser (£6.2m) returned 5.83 ppg. From Weeks 13-29, those marks dropped to and 4.7 and 3.4, respectively. For Wilson, though, it probably had at least as much to do with the time he missed with injury as the schedule per se.
  • Newcastle has scored only ten goals (0.71 gpg) away from St. James’ Park this season, tying for third-fewest in the league. Meanwhile, five of Bournemouth’s eight clean sheets have come at Vitality Stadium.

Wilson and Fraser each scored a goal while adding an assist in the 2-0 win at Huddersfield last weekend, marking the entry to the favorable schedule. That was good for 11 and 13 point hauls, respectively. They both seem primed to enjoy a strong finish to the season, book-ending their seasons’ excellent starts. Elsewhere in the offense, midfielder David Brooks (£5.1m) has performed well regardless of the competition level, and amazingly has been as effective on a points-per-minute basis (0.057 ppm) as Fraser, so he offers a tempting bargain.

If you are looking for a keeper, dirt cheap Artur Boruc (£4.1m) has secured three clean sheets in his eight games since replacing Asmir Begovic. In defense, Charlie Daniels (£4.1m) is a proven performer in recent seasons with two-way appeal, and after riding pine much of this campaign, has reclaimed the starting job in the past two weeks.

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Fleet Foxes

Sure, Leicester is on the road, but when there are only five home teams, beggars can’t be choosers. Then again, is there really any panhandling going on when the top-half Foxes visit 17th-place Burnley, or will it be a simple case of fleecing?

  • Burnley has been known as a defensively sound team in recent seasons, but that’s far from the case this campaign. The Clarets have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of the past seven games, and results have gotten ugly lately, with seven goals shipped in the past two games.
  • Leicester has perked up since Brendan Rodgers replaced Claude Puel, with two victories and six goals scored in his three games.
  • Forward Jamie Vardy (£9.0m) is on fire with five goals in as many games, plus an assist in that time frame. If you’re worried about the locale, don’t be; seven of his twelve goals this season have come away from King Power Stadium.
Jamie Vardy bursts through to score his 100th club goal - Leicester City - Premier League
Jamie Vardy is the second-most popular forward addition this week, behind only Callum Wilson.
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The midfield has no shortage of fine choices. James Maddison (£6.7m) is the name everybody has come to know with five goals to his credit, but he’s been a disappointment in 2019, failing to score since Week 15. However, he does have two assists in the past three games. Winter transfer Youri Tielemans (£6.0m) has been better, with a goal and two helpers in the past trio of fixtures. If you’re looking for someone even cheaper, youngster Harvey Barnes (£5.5m) has chipped in with two assists in the past four contests.

There’s a reason that Ricardo Pereira (£5.4m) is the Foxes’ most popular choice with 15% of FPL managers selecting him. The rare Portuguese player who doesn’t play for Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolves, Pereira boasts two goals and six assists on the season, which is phenomenal for a defender. Unfortunately, he has been absolutely dreadful lately, scoring a total of 10 fantasy points in the past eight games. Leicester have failed to keep a single clean sheet since GW21, and the wing back’s offense has run bone dry. If you have Pereira already, you shouldn’t drop him, but it may take a little leap of faith to add him based on his poor form.

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Hammer Time... or Too Passé?

Any team at home hosting hapless Huddersfield would normally offer a grab bag of that squad’s players. But this is West Ham, which has been frustratingly inconsistent not only in terms of its overall team performance week to week, but also the XI selection and stars’ fantasy performance. Are we going to see the side that beat Newcastle 2-0 and tied Liverpool 1-1, or the one that lost at Cardiff 2-0 and at Wolves 3-0?

You may want to add Felipe Anderson, but think again; after getting off to a flying start, the Brazilian has been grounded with no goals and only one assist in the past 11 games. Michail Antonio has played just 32 minutes across the past two games. Robert Snodgrass has two assists in the past three games, but had no goals or assists in the previous nine. Manuel Lanzini has returned to the line-up lately, but he has yet to get on the score sheet. Samir Nasri has practically disappeared. Hobbled by injury (and sidelined with illness), Marko Arnautovic has not started any of the team’s last six games, including recently when we were led to believe that he was fully available. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has just a goal and an assist in his past eight games.

Put all of that together, and while the Hammers will be expected to have attacking joy given the locale and opposition, it’s still difficult to feel too confident about any specific West Ham attacker, so let’s turn to the other end. Sadly, the best West Ham option may be goalkeeper Lucasz Fabianski (£4.8m), who has 25 saves while conceding only 6 goals in the past half-dozen contests. If you do expect a clean sheet and want to get in on the Hammers’ defense, Declan Rice (£4.7m) is probably the way to go.

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Other Shouts

If you could select more than three players each from Liverpool, Bournemouth and Leicester, or if West Ham were in a better patch of form, this section could be left blank. But that’s not possible, so here we go! If you’re looking to round out your team, the pickings are a bit underwhelming, but don’t despair, they’re not even close to barren.

Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard (£10.9m) is the third-highest scorer in the game, but of course that comes with a major caveat: While the Belgian superstar averaged 7.4 ppg in his first 18 games, his production has plummeted to 4.9 ppg in the past 10. That said, he does have two double digit efforts in the past five games, so there’s still a decent chance at a big return. Unfortunately, on the road at Everton, there’s also a pretty good shot at disappointment.

Marcos Alonso and David Luiz have tallied the most points in the Blues’ defense. However, Alonso has lost his starting spot in favor of Emerson Palmieri, so Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.3m) has taken over the role of forward-bursting wing defender, notching three assists in the past five games, rendering him the most attractive pick in the Chelsea back line. With Everton having suffered clean sheets in three of its pasts five games, Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.4m) is not a bad pick in goal.

Everton defender Lucas Digne (£5.2m) has disappointed somewhat lately, failing to register a double digit return since Week 22 and even going negative twice in the that spell. However, the wing-back does boast two clean sheets plus an assist in the past three games; with this tilt coming at home, a repeat of the nil-nil draw in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge would not be a shocker.

As mentioned, the Toffees’ offense has been fairly AWOL recently, but they’re at Goodison Park, and the Chelsea defense is good but not great. Everton nicking a goal or two would also not be any sort of surprise, and if that happens, midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson (£7.3m) or Richarlison (£6.5m) will likely be at the center of things. Which one? Heck if I know — toss a coin, or just go with whomever you can afford.

Burnley forward Ashley Barnes (£5.7m) has scored five times plus an assist in the past seven games, netting in each of the past three home affairs. Where do the Clarets toil this weekend? At Turf Moor, naturally! I prefer Barnes to similarly-priced Newcastle front-man Salomon Rondon who doesn’t have an away goal or assist in his past four tries.

(Note: Statistics used in this article came via the official Premier League website, the official fantasy Premier League website, and www.soccerstats.com )

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What is your strategic approach for Week 31 and its blanks? Which players are you adding and dropping? Are you using a chip to cope with the disruption? Or are you preserving your chips, possibly taking a points hit? Does that leave your glass half full, or instead half empty? Be sure to share your thoughts and questions in the comments!

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