[NOTE: Everton v. Burnley kicks off the weekend early ON FRIDAY, so that game will have starting XI’s available before yet another early Fantrax deadline.]
I have a confession to make. I’m addicted to Game of Thrones as much as the next “Peak TV” aficionado, but as something of a miser, I don’t have HBO. Believe it or not, I watch GOT the old-fashioned way... via Netflix discs. That means I’m always a bit behind the times.
Normally it’s possible to avoid spoilers, but for this final season, such fortune is not in the cards. There are simply too many carrier pigeons diving down from every direction. While I’ve tried to stay in the dark, sadly I’m pretty sure of who emerged victorious in the Battle of Winterfell. It seems that I’ll need to do a Men in Black-style mind-wipe when the discs become available.
[ Editor’s Note: I hadn’t even heard of Winterfell until now, and I still don’t even know who fought, much less who won, so carrier pigeon coverage is inconsistent among us misers. — Jeff ]
In fantasy football, it’s a similar constant quest to avoid the big spoiler. Missing out on players who put up huge games — especially when you know you should have had them in your team — brings the same exasperated feeling. Especially toward the end of the season, after you’ve put in so much work to get to this point, with every game week you play taking on the emotional investment of an episode from your favorite TV show as it likewise nears the end. Every spoiler can bring a 10- or 20- point swing (or worse), smashing you down a handful of key spots in the standings.
Take game-week 36, for instance. Points were available for the taking, but that also means that they were there for the missing. In the NMA standard Fantrax league, seven fantasy teams scored 150+ points, and 26 sides notched 125+. There was a plethora of prime performers, but the player who really stood out was relegated Fulham keeper Sergio Rico, who returned 26 points on the cheap in the 1-0 victory over Cardiff. All of the week’s top five teams, and 14 of the best 20, held Rico; but outside of the top 20 (#21-#155), only 11 sides had him at keeper, making the eight-save hero a gigantic spoiler for those who missed out.
Grabbing the Cottagers’ keeper took a leap of faith, but the logic for doing so didn’t come from out of nowhere, as David sagely pegged Rico as one of only two keeper picks last week. Thankfully, I installed Rico in my side and enjoyed a 139 point outing, so unlike real life, there was no GOT-esque revelatory gut-ache for my fantasy squad.
Who might be the difference between live-action joy and a painful spoiler this week?
Unlike David last week, I see no shortage of solid options at keeper this time around. As a result, chances are slim to none for a 100% success rate at the position, so choose wisely!
David De Gea ($9.95, Manchester United at Huddersfield)
Yes, De Gea has been giving up some howlers recently, and the Red Devils haven’t kept a clean sheet in their past nine league games. Plus the game’s away from Old Trafford, and OGS has been advised to give Romero a run-out (you’ve been warned). But let’s focus on the positive, which is glaringly upbeat: last-place Huddersfield sits at the bottom of the table for a reason: The Terriers have scored only 20 goals, 10 (!) fewer than next-worst Cardiff. They have suffered clean sheets in 13 of their past 21 league games. Against “Big Six” opponents this season, Huddersfield has three goals total in eleven attempts. If De Gea can’t secure a clean sheet here, he really should be shipped back to Spain.
Jordan Pickford ($9.90, Everton v. Burnley)
I was high on Pickford before the season following his valiant World Cup effort. It may have taken a while, but the England star has finally rewarded my faith, producing seven clean sheets in the past nine games. Now the goal-shy Clarets come to Goodison Park, making another awfully likely.
Bernd Leno ($8.81, Arsenal v. Brighton)
It’s pretty much a repeat of the De Gea bit here. Leno (and the Gunner defense in general) have been shaky lately, but the Seagulls have scored a total of one goal in their past seven league games. If Leno can’t nab a clean sheet in this one, Unai Emery should probably give Petr Cech a recall.
Vicente Guaita ($6.27, Crystal Palace at Cardiff)
Guaita has delivered four double-digit efforts in his past six games. He’s averaging 9 ppg on the road, and the Bluebirds have failed to score in four of their past five tries. What’s not to like?
Tom Heaton ($4.77, Burnley at Everton)
After going negative four straight times, Heaton has rebounded with five consecutive 5+ point returns. And while the Toffees’ defense has been stout lately, the Everton attack has been rather muted, suffering two clean sheets in the past three games. I really wouldn’t be shocked to see nil-nil here.
Artur Boruc ($2.95, Bournemouth v. Tottenham)
Spurs have scored a grand total of one goal in their past three league games, two of them at home. They’re coming off a 1-0 loss in their new stadium to a very mediocre West Ham side, followed midweek by a 1-0 Champions League home loss courtesy of Ajax. Dealing with brutal fixture congestion along with injuries to Harry Kane and Erik Lamela, the Tottenham attack looks to be a miserable combination of exhausted and lackluster.
Meanwhile, Boruc averages 8.17 ppg at home where he has racked up 24 saves against only five concessions in six matches. He’s not a guaranteed payoff by any means, but if you’re looking to have as much money available as possible (without paying the $1.00 minimum and taking a guaranteed zero), Boruc could prove a savvy gamble along the lines of Rico last week. Alternately, if you feel like going double or nothing, you could always try Rico again. Me, I’m jumping off the bandwagon while the jumping’s good. After all, the woodwork came to Rico’s aid not once, but twice against Cardiff.
Issa Diop ($10.00, West Ham v. Southampton)
Everton’s Lucas Digne and Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka are great if you hold them at discount, but I can’t see paying retail for any defender at such exorbitant prices. However, I don’t mind going down the price range a bit and paying up for Issa Diop. Coming off a 22-point effort in the win at Tottenham, Diop has also been outstanding at home lately, with three double-digit returns in his past four tries at London Stadium. He should be plenty active with a pretty wide open Southampton side coming to town.
Aymeric Laporte, $10.00, Manchester City v. Leicester)
I could also see shelling out 10 clams for LaPorte, who has racked up 15 and 10 points in his past two appearances thanks to five tackles won, four interceptions, one blocked shot, and a pair of clean sheets. Another shutout will be far from assured, but the speedy Jamie Vardy should keep the Citizens’ central defender busy picking up phantom points.
Michail Antonio (D/M/F eligible, $9.59, West Ham v. Southampton)
Antonio’s defensive eligibility stands out this week, when several expensive attackers face tough match-ups, which could leave you extra money to spread around. (Notably, last week was a slam dunk to go with Liverpool’s Mo Salah and Sadio Mane home to Huddersfield, but this week the trip to Newcastle is not nearly as inviting.) Why not splash the cash on a “defender” who has been playing up front lately, with eight shots, four on target, two goals, and a robust average of 13.5 ppg in the past pair of games? Sure, Southampton’s feisty, but the Saints’ back line has been susceptible, having leaked eleven goals in the past five contests.
Oleksandr Zinchenko ($4.77, Manchester City v. Leicester)
Seemingly taking the regular starting spot at left wing-back over the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Danilo, and Fabian Delph, the young Mr. Zinchenko has notched 7, 7, and 14 points in the Citizens’ past three games. The production isn’t an aberration, as he’s averaged 8.08 ppg over all twelve of his appearances this season. Does that sound like grand value at under five clams? I thought so!
Dejan Lovren ($4.35, Liverpool at Newcastle)
If Lovren continues in place of Joel Matip, he’s an excellent bargain for the trip to St. James’ Park, having netted double-digit points in three of his past four starts. Unfortunately, that’s a mighty big if, so be sure to follow team news as the deadline approaches.
Martin Kelly ($2.59, Crystal Palace at Cardiff)
Kelly has started five straight games. He has earned 11, 8, and 5 points in the three times he’s earned a clean sheet this season, and another seems plenty likely at Cardiff.
Scott Dann ($2,12, Crystal Palace at Cardiff)
Why stop at one cheap Eagles’ defender when you can have two? Dann has scored double digits in three of his past five games, and two of those came without the clean sheet bonus. He loves racking up the phantoms, with nine blocked shots and five interceptions in the past five games.
Paul Pogba ($19.02, Manchester United at Huddersfield)
Pogba has been a dud lately, failing to crack the net and averaging only 5 ppg in his past three tilts. But in games when he has scored this season, the World Cup champion is averaging 22.22 ppg. If you think Pogba is going to get it over the line at Huddersfield, he’s well worth the outlay. Huddersfield has conceded the second-most goals in the Premiership, also tying for the second-most penalties given. So it’s safe to say that Pogba has a pretty good chance of scoring.
Bernardo Silva ($12.23, Manchester City v. Leicester)
With Kevin de Bruyne sidelined again, Bernardo has become Pep Guardiola’s security blanket in midfield. Bernardo’s home and away splits are balanced, unlike his fellow Manchester City counterparts in attack, so it’s not like there’s a built-in advantage at the Etihad. But since he’s averaging eleven ppg in his past six starts across all locales, Bernardo is good value wherever the Sky Blues play.
Diogo Jota (M/F eligible, $10.99, Wolves v. Fulham)
Jota is in high-flying form with two goals and a helper in the past two games, and now the league’s worst defense travels to the Molineux. Caveat: The Cottagers seem to have found form since being relegated, posting three straight clean-sheets in three straight wins, so YMMV.
Ryan Babel ($5.39, Fulham at Wolves)
Eclipsing Aleksandar Mitrovic, Babel has taken over as the Cottagers’ most vital offensive force, notching four goals and an assist over the past six games. Wolves struggle to keep clean sheets, so it will not be surprise me to see the winter transfer keep his form going.
Youri Tielemans ($4.61, Leicester at Manchester City)
It doesn’t seem wise to recommend anybody traveling to the Etihad, especially with the home side focused on winning the EPL crown. But Tielemans is averaging 8.08 ppg since coming over in January, and he has earned fewer than four points only once in his past ten games, making him a safe play at his budget price.
Raheem Sterling (M/F eligible, $19.34, Manchester City v. Leicester)
12 of Sterling’s 17 goals and 6 of his 10 assists have come at the Etihad. Correspondingly, the newly-crowned PFA Young Player of the Year is averaging nearly twice the production at home (15.33 ppg) as away (8.76 ppg) this season. After being fairly quiet recently with one assist and no goals in the past three games, Sterling will be more than ready to thrill the Manchester faithful.
Sergio Aguero ($17.93, Manchester City v. Leicester)
A la Sterling, 15 of Kun’s 20 goals and 5 of his 8 assists have come at home, while his home production (15.13 ppg) is actually more than double that on the road (7.44 ppg). Most glaringly, all three of his hattricks have come at the Etihad, so if Aguero is not in your team, you run the risk of him being the ultimate spoiler.
Wilfried Zaha (M/F eligible, $16.07, Crystal Palace at Cardiff)
Unlike most of the Manchester City attacking stars, it’s a different story for Crystal Palace. Amazingly, eight of Zaha’s nine goals and two of his three assists have come away from Selhurst Park. The Eagles’ star should be absolutely flying at Cardiff.
Raul Jimenez ($15.65, Wolves v. Fulham)
If you still subscribe to the anybody-playing-Fulham-and-especially-at-home strategy, don’t miss out on the Mexico star, the heart and soul of the Wolves’ offense with 13 goals and seven assists.
Romelu Lukaku ($10.26, Manchester United at Huddersfield)
We all know well the narrative surrounding the “Troll King”: He has not scored in ten games against “Big Six” sides, but he boasts 12 goals in 22 games against lesser competition this season. The big Belgian simply loves to bully weak teams, and Huddersfield falls safely in that category. Given the gimpy status of Marcus Rashford, turning to Lukaku makes even more sense.
Shane Long ($4.82, Southampton at West Ham)
After scoring just once in his first 19 games this season, Long has netted four times in his past five appearances, demoting Danny Ings to back-up status. I prefer large sample sizes to small ones, and Long’s recent surge seems fairly fluky (highlighted by the Premiership’s fastest-ever goal against Watford), so I can’t honestly say that I expect him to keep it going. But hey, I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. If you’re looking for a cheap forward, Long offers a more than reasonable chance of earning a beautiful ROI.
[REPEAT: Everton v. Burnley kicks off the weekend on FRIDAY, so that game will have starting XI’s available before yet another early Fantrax deadline. Don’t miss it!]
Which player are you most worried about being a spoiler if you leave him out of your side? Are you grabbing any Arsenal assets for the visit of Brighton, or instead staying away like I am, given Unai Emery’s constantly rotating XI amidst Europa League fixtures? Should I have recommended any Chelsea assets? Let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments below!