A year ago, many of us were out hopping from party to party, announcing a fresh decade by calling Ralph on the big white phone (overflowing a now former-friend’s toilet with champagne-fueled vomitus). Hitting the end of this December, only Liverpool fans will feel sad to say goodbye to 2020 as the rest of us joyously bid adieu to a horrible year.
But our celebration is turned on its head: Rather than donning our favored finery and gallivanting all night across town, we are under house arrest on our couches, leaving New Year’s Eve to be glammed by the televised (or streamed) likes of Pitbull, Ryan Seacrest, Anderson Cooper, Paddy McGuinness or your local variant. In other words, buy yer own poison and then spray chunks all over the home crapper!
As for our fantasy plans for GW-17, much if not all will depend on your chip strategy surrounding blank-laden GW-18 and DGW-19. On top of that though, we are all petrified of the possibility of more Covid-related game postponements (and keep a weather-eye out for freezing snow or ice!), so be sure to wait until close to the deadline before saving any moves.
Now on to the picks!
PLAN A - BUILDING AROUND TEAMS PLAYING IN GW-18
Many fantasy managers are planning on using neither their wildcard nor free hit chip in GW-18, but instead trying to get as close to a full starting-XI which they can of players from teams that play that week, before then chipping in GW-19. Ten squads feature in GW-18, so if you’re in that camp, you should have an eye on players from only those sides. If you have one free transfer, you may want to keep it to roll over for next week if you can, but if you are holding the maximum two free transfers, you’ll have to use one now or lose it.
All of us were tremendously spoiled, used to seeing a free-flowing and incredibly effective attack from Arsenal over the past two decades under Arsene Wenger, but the current Gunners’ offense has been sadly punch drunk. (My shocking observation watching the mid-December 1-0 Burnley victory at the Emirates was that the Gunners’ midfield didn’t have anybody near as good as the Clarets’ Dwight McNeil or Robbie Brady. Never mind Joe DiMaggio — Where have you gone Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas and especially Mesut Ozil?)
However, the other side of the pitch has actually been pretty solid, with four clean sheets and only one goal conceded on seven occasions. The Gunners travel to West Bromwich Albion in GW-17 followed by a home match-up with Crystal Palace in GW-18, and they’ll be favored to keep at least one clean sheet over that pair of fixtures, so don’t be shy about backing keeper Bernd Leno (£4.9m) and defenders Hector Bellerin (£5.1m) or Rob Holding (£4.4m) depending on your budget.
Fantasy managers have avoided rock-bottom Sheffield United like the plague, but it could be a savvy play to turn to the Blades now. After all, they’ve shown plenty of grit lately, particularly on the defensive end, allowing only one goal in each of the past three games. Their offense is still completely inept, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the defensive luck turn with a clean sheet or two in GW-17 at Crystal Palace and/or in GW-18 v. Newcastle, a couple of lethargic offenses. In that vein, keeper Aaron Ramsdale (£4.7m) and budget defender Ethan Empadu (£4.3m) or Jack Robinson (£4.3m) could prove a profitable punt. However, bear in mind that the schedule gets tricky thereafter: v. Tottenham, at Manchester United, at Manchester City, so don’t put more than one egg in the Blades’ basket.
The Wolves’ attack has sputtered badly since the injury to star forward Raul Jimenez, so I’d turn to other end for attack-minded defender Romain Saiss (£5.0m) as the team has a fairly favorable run of fixtures in the near future: at Brighton, v. Everton, v. West Brom.
Following a tough fixture run, things have eased up a bit for Tottenham starting in GW-16 (at least theoretically, since unfortunately the Fulham tilt was postponed). In GW-17 and GW-18, Spurs find themselves v. Leeds and at Aston Villa, so I wouldn’t feel shy about turning to the team’s superstars, forward Harry Kane (£11.0m) and midfielder Son Heung-Min (£9.7m). Otherwise wing defender Sergio Reguilon (£5.7m) is probably the best bet, bringing the promise of assists.
Manchester City and Newcastle players will deserve some consideration in GW-18 given their mouthwatering match-ups versus Brighton and at Sheffield respectively, but you won’t be nearly as excited to add them in GW-17 when they are at Chelsea and versus Leicester, respectively, so you may want to wait a week. Meanwhile, Aston Villa and Everton run the gauntlet with their fixtures over the near future, so I don’t know that I’d look to add their players with an eye to GW-18 if you don’t already have them.
If you have designs on investing in Brighton (at Manchester City) or Crystal Palace (at Arsenal) in GW-18, it’s your prerogative, which is about the nicest thing I can say about that.
PLAN B - BUILDING AROUND TEAMS WHICH PLAY TWICE IN GW-19
Many fantasy managers are planning on using neither wildcard nor free hit chip in GW-19, but instead loading up in advance with a full starting-XI of players from those teams and then chipping blank-week GW-18 (many 1st-half wildcards died to bring us this information).
If that is your strategy, and if you have only one free transfer, you may want to keep it to roll over for next week if you can; but if you are holding the maximum two free transfers, you’ll have to use one now or lose it. Here I’m looking at players from the 10 teams that play twice in GW-19.
Let’s be boring and start with Liverpool. The Reds don’t have the easiest set of upcoming fixtures (at Southampton in GW-17 and home v. Manchester United and Burnley in DGW-19), but as reigning league champions and current first place holders, they’re favored in all three. You know the usual suspects: midfielders Mohamed Salah (£12.6) and Sadio Mane (£11.9) plus defender Andrew Robertson (£7.3m); Robbo amazingly has almost double the points of similarly priced opposite wing defender Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Burnley may be mired in 16th place following a poor start, but the Clarets have returned to their usual defensive stoutness with five clean sheets in their past nine tries. As such, keeper Nick Pope (£5.4m) and defender Matthew Lowton (£4.4m) will be their most attractive options as the Clarets welcome Fulham in GW-17 followed by travels to West Ham and Liverpool in DGW-19.
And that’s pretty much it! Unfortunately, loads of land mines are out there.
Leeds has had an exciting post-promotion season, with standout fantasy performances from forward Patrick Bamford, defender Stuart Dallas, and keeper Illan Meslier, but the GW-17 match-up at Tottenham will be tough, so you may be better off waiting until GW-19 to add them. Likewise, West Ham has a difficult GW-17 tilt at Everton, but GW-19 (v. Burnley, v. West Brom) is much more attractive; even so, see below for a caveat regarding the Hammers.
A few of the teams have two or three difficult fixtures across GW-17 & DGW-19, so they may best be avoided unless you already have their players:
- Chelsea (v. Manchester City in GW17, at Fulham and at Leicester in DGW19)
- Fulham (at Burnley in GW17, v. Chelsea and v. Manchester United in DGW19)
- Southampton (v. Liverpool in GW17, at Leicester and at Leeds in DGW19)
The teams I would caution a bit about are those which have their pair of match-ups in quick succession, and thus likely will face the most rotation pressure:
- West Ham (January 16 v. Burnley, Jan. 19 v. West Brom)
- Leicester (Jan. 16 v. Southampton, Jan. 19 v. Chelsea)
- Man United (Jan. 17 at Liverpool, Jan. 20 at Fulham)
As for West Brom, the side’s poor quality makes it difficult to get excited about having two games anyway.
PLAN C - BUILDING PURELY FOR THE BEST TEAM IN GW-17
Last but not least, many fantasy managers are planning on playing a wildcard for GW-18 plus a free hit in GW-19 (or vice versa). In that case, you can focus entirely on making your best squad in GW-17, opening up a bevy of possibilities. Here are some players to consider purely for immediate benefit:
Tottenham is home against Leeds, featuring a wonderful match for the well-rested Spurs’ attack against a Peacocks defense that has conceded 30 times (!), second-most in the league. The usual suspects are forward Harry Kane (£11.0m) and attacking midfielder Son Heung-Min (£9.7m), either of whom offers an outstanding captain option.
Leicester travels to Newcastle, giving us tempting options like forward Jamie Vardy (£10.2m), attacking midfielder Harvey Barnes (£6.7m who has found the net on two straight occasions), and “defender” James Justin (£5.0m).
As mentioned in the Plan A section, Arsenal travels to West Brom. As mentioned in the Plan B section, Burnley is hosting Fulham. See above for their best selections.
I left Crystal Palace out of Plan A since they haven’t exactly lit up the scoresheet this season, but the Eagles will feel they have a chance at both ends of the pitch at home against woeful Blades. You wouldn’t be crazy to back dynamic and enigmatic midfielder Wilfred Zaha (£7.4m), the clear Palace leader with 11 goal involvements (8 goals, 3 assists) thus far. Next most is 4 from Andros Townsend (1 goal, 3 assists). Otherwise, keeper Vicente Guiata (£4.8m) could prove a nice differential; he has scored 45 points despite having only one clean sheet to his name, thanks to a tidy tally of 48 saves (including a PK stop last time out against Leicester).
As you approach GW-17 and look to ring in 2021 with a bang, what transfer decisions are you agonizing over? How do you feel about your chip strategy? Please share your ruminations with us in the comments!
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