When particularly painful game weeks occur — and yes, Week 28 was absolutely brutal — it is easy to get down in the dumps and lament our fantasy fortunes. However, as we all know, in life it’s important to take time to stop and smell the roses.
Yes, Liverpool sprouted as a stinking iris on Sunday, losing 3-0 at 19th place Watford in a shock result, and the fantasy fortunes of millions were uprooted. But how absolutely rosy was it that the Reds had put forth a 44-game unbeaten streak since last season, had gone through the first 27 games this campaign without a loss, and were riding a stretch of 18 straight victories? How beautiful and fragrant has the path we’ve strolled along with them been?
Every season, it seems that we are treated to a grand turn of events. Just take a moment to pause and recall so many magical memories from the past decade:
- 2010-11: Manchester United won its fourth EPL title in five seasons to cap yet another astounding stretch of brilliance under Sir Alex Ferguson. The Red Devils had grabbed three straight trophies from 2006-07 through 2008-09, and wasted no time recapturing the hardware after finishing second in 2009-10, barely missing out on that crown by ending just one point behind Chelsea.
- 2011-12: Under Roberto Mancini’s stewardship, Manchester City won its first EPL title ever and its first English league crown since 1967-68, memorably secured with a late winner from Sergio Aguero on the final game of the season against Queens Park Rangers. That capped off a mad Mancunian battle as City and United tied with the same number of points, as the Sky Blues took the tiebreaker thanks to a better goal differential. Chelsea finished in 6th place domestically but won the Champions League title, forcing 4th place Tottenham Hotspur to settle for a spot in the next season’s Europa League.
- 2012-13: Sir Alex won the league title in his final season managing Manchester United. Could there be a more perfect send-off for such a legend?
- 2013-14: Manchester City and Liverpool each scored 100+ goals, marking the first time two teams had accomplished that feat. Manuel Pellegrini and the Citizens, of course, won the title two points clear of the Reds with help from Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip late in the season against Chelsea.
- 2014-15: After previously winning the title with Chelsea in 2004-05 and 2005-06, Jose Mourinho brought the Blues another league crown in the second season of his second stretch with the team. What a triumphant return!
- 2015-16: Week after week, month after month, it seemed that everybody was constantly shaking their heads in wonderment and asking, “Can this really happen?” until finally the answer came in May with a resounding “Yes, and it just did!” that no Premiership fan will ever forget. After finishing in 14th place the prior season, Leicester City was the ultimate Cinderella story, winning the EPL for its first English league title ever. Claurio Ranieri was named Best FIFA Men’s Coach, while Riyad Mahrez took PFA Player of the Year honors as Jamie Vardy won FWA Footballer of the Year plaudits. Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil finished with 19 assists, the second most ever for a player in an EPL season.
- 2016-17: In another remarkable turnaround, new manager Antonio Conte led Chelsea to the league crown following the team’s 10th place finish the prior season. Meanwhile, Arsenal captured its third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, Arsene Wenger’s 7th title in the competition.
- 2017-18: Manchester City set new records for most points (100), most goals (106) and best differential (+79) as Pep Guardiola delivered a title to the Citizens in his second season in England. With 32 scores, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah outdueled fellow 30-goal man Harry Kane as part of a fantastic Golden Boot contest.
- 2018-19: In a battle for the ages as both teams finished on long win streaks, Manchester City nipped Liverpool for the title 98-97 in the points race, giving the EPL its first back-to-back champion since Manchester United won three straight from 2006-07 through 2008-09. Liverpool’s final tally was the most ever for a team that failed to capture the league crown. Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng, Sadio Mane, and Mo Salah shared the Golden Boot in a memorable race as Sergio Aguero was just one goal off the pace. Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds beat Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs in the Champions League final, the first time that two English teams had faced off for that honor since 2007-08.
Now what is still in store for 2019-20? Even though the Reds stumbled in their quest to go undefeated and match Arsenal’s legendary “Invincibles” team of 2003-04, Liverpool will almost certainly win its first EPL title ever and first league crown since 1989-90. In doing so, the Reds could still put themselves squarely in the discussion for consideration as the best English team ever if they finish with the most points ever recorded and/or take the treble by capturing the Champions League trophy.
On top of that, Kevin de Bruyne is well within reach of the record for most assists in a campaign; the brilliant Belgian playmaker boasts 16 assists already, and after blanking in Week 28 Manchester City has 11 more EPL games left to play in order for KDB to equal or surpass Thierry Henry’s record of 20 helpers in 2002-03. Furthermore, while we’re not going to see another shock title winner as with the Foxes in 2015-16, how amazing would it be if three non-”Big Six” sides (such as Leicester City, Wolverhampton and Sheffield United) secured Champions League spots to truly upend the “Big Six” hierarchy? That could realistically happen!
Simply put, how lucky have we been over the past decade not only as FPL and Fantrax fantasy managers, but also just as EPL fans? And how absolutely wonderful is this season?
GAME WEEK 29
Oh, did you realize it’s a (mini) double game week??? On Tuesday, March 3 the EPL announced that the Arsenal v. Manchester City game postponed in Week 28 would be played on Wednesday, March 11. On Wednesday, March 4 FPL announced that the game would be included at the tail end of Game-Week 29.
The situation now is completely unlike the only previous (mini) double game week FPL has had this season. West Ham United v. Liverpool, originally scheduled for Week 18, was postponed, leading many fantasy managers to shed all or most Hammers and Reds from their teams. The game ended up being rescheduled for mini-double Game-Week 24, allowing plenty of time for fantasy managers to add those players back into their teams if so desired. This time around, unfortunately, fantasy managers have been left scrambling with no advance notice between the postponed Week 28 game rescheduled for Week 29.
IS ARSENAL OR MANCHESTER CITY A BETTER BET FOR FANTASY SPOILS?
Let’s look at the two teams’ recent and upcoming schedule across all competitions with respect to fixture congestion:
Arsenal: v. Newcastle (February 16), at Olympiakos (Feb. 20), v. Everton (Feb. 23), v. Olympiakos (Feb. 27), at Portsmouth (March 2), v. West Ham United (Mar. 7), at Manchester City (Mar. 11), at Brighton & Hove Albion (Mar. 14). That’s EIGHT GAMES in under a month’s time!!!
Manchester City: v. West Ham (February 19), at Leicester City (Feb. 22), at Real Madrid (Feb. 26), at Aston Villa (March 1), at Sheffield Wednesday (March 4), at Manchester United (Mar. 8), v. Arsenal (Mar. 11), v. Burnley (Mar. 14), v. Real Madrid (Mar. 17). That’s NINE GAMES in under a month’s time!!!
Given the tremendous fixture congestion for Arsenal and Manchester City, combined with the infamous “Pep Roulette,” how certain can we be of any of the Gunners’ or Citizens’ stars getting two starts, or even two games (including a sub appearance), in their mini-double Game Week?
Of the two teams, Arsenal have much more of an incentive than Manchester City to focus on the rest of the EPL campaign. Manchester City faces a two-year ban from European competition (pending appeal of course), so it may not really matter where the Citizens finish in the EPL; instead the Sky Blues will have a laser focus on outside competitions, particularly on grabbing the elusive Champions League title. Meanwhile, the Gunners have been knocked out of Europa League and with respect to EPL focus will now be spurred on by only needing to reach the top five rather than a top four spot (again, depending on whether City’s appeal is successful) to secure Champions League participation next season. What does that mean for the likelihood of a team having its stars start, or at least feature, twice? I’d give the edge to Arsenal in that regard over Manchester City.
Now let’s look at the two fixtures in the mini-double. Which team has the more attractive pair of games?
Arsenal (10th place): v. West Ham United (16th), at Manchester City (2nd)
Manchester City (2nd place): at Manchester United (5th place), v. Arsenal (10th place)
West Ham is in 16th place, but is in good recent form, coming off an inspired 3-1 win over Southampton and a narrow 3-2 loss to league leaders Liverpool. The Hammers are also fighting to avoid relegation and David Moyes will be sure to field his best XI. Manchester City may focus more on the Manchester derby, so it is possible that Pep will field a weakened side for the clash with the Gunners. As the 2nd place team, Manchester City will theoretically be favored in both games, but faces two “Big Six” teams in the top half of the table. So which team has the better pair of fixtures in the game week? Again, I’d give the edge to Arsenal, but in this case only a slight one, it’s not nearly as clear cut.
There are up to four chips you may have available for use the rest of the season: bench boost, free hit, second half wildcard, and triple captain. With two high profile teams featuring twice, there is tremendous temptation to put a chip into play.
Of course, part of your strategy will depend on how many of the chips you have left. If you have all four left, there will be a feeling that time’s a-wastin’! After all, there are only 10 game weeks left in the season, and you can only play one chip at a time. Double game weeks are a great time to toss in one of your chips! If you only have two or three of your chips left, you can probably afford to hold off waiting for a more opportune game week on or around when more teams play twice and there is less worry regarding rest/rotation from key players.
There is, as always, tremendous uncertainty involving blank and double game weeks as we approach the Game Weeks in the 30s, but let’s run down whether or not it makes sense to use any of chips in the mini-double GW29.
BENCH BOOST CHIP: Ideally you want to use the bench boost chip when you can stock your team with a full complement of double game week teams. This week you can only get up to six players (three players each on Arsenal and Manchester City) featuring twice, and they will be in your XI. I don’t see any reason to put your bench boost chip into play now.
FREE HIT CHIP: If it turns out that there are two good double game weeks late in the season featuring a number of teams featuring twice, ideally you will want to use your free hit chip in the second-to-last such double game week. This double game week is only two teams, and Manchester City in particular carries a lot of worry with respect to rest/rotation. Instead of using it now, I think there’s a good chance for a better payoff later.
SECOND HALF WILDCARD CHIP: If it turns out that there are two good double game weeks late in the season featuring a number of teams featuring twice, ideally you will want to use your second half wildcard chip the game week before the final double game week, then in the final double game week you toss in your bench boost chip.
TRIPLE CAPTAIN CHIP: If you didn’t use your triple captain chip in DGW24 on one of Liverpool’s stars, I can see the logic of using it on someone such as Arsenal sniper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang now. Someone like Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, or Raheem Sterling will be more hazardous, as the Sky Blues’ stars will be more at risk of not getting two starts.
THE MAIN LANES
I see four main lanes that you can choose from, based on your team’s circumstances along with your personality and strategic style. (Obviously there are other options as well if you really enjoy drawing outside the lines.)
1. Hold pat, patience is a virtue. There are only two teams participating in the double game week. We haven’t had any time to prepare for it. Both teams face extreme fixture congestion, and Pep Guardiola is infamous for rotation on top of that. Game weeks further on in the season offer the probability of double game weeks featuring more teams (so you can get to a full XI of double game week players, not just six as with this mini-double game week) and hopefully with less fixture congestion. If you do not have a problem putting forth 11 starters, why not either hold pat or just use up your free transfer(s) to add one (or two) player(s) from Arsenal and/or Manchester City with a fairly high likelihood of starting twice?
2. Take a points penalty and add a couple/few double game players. If you are having trouble getting to a starting XI you feel good about, and if the only double game week players(s) you have are dealing with injury or rotation doubt such as Kevin de Bruyne or Sergio Aguero, why not take a fairly minimal -4 or -8 hit in hopes that it pays off?
3. Use your Free Hit chip and load up on the maximum alottment of six players from Arsenal & Man City. If your team is chasing others in your mini-leagues who can afford to play cautiously, and you tend to be more of a risk taker, why not throw caution to the wind and use your Free Hit chip? No time like the present, worry about the future later, right?
4. Play your Triple Captain chip on your best double game week player. Using your triple captain chip in a double game week is very appealing, and if you have all or a lot of your chips still left in your pocket, why not use the TC now? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is probably the stand-out option, but you may prefer somebody else.
Which option am I choosing? Personally, I haven’t definitively decided yet, but I’ll be either in camp #1 or perhaps #2. I am going to hold onto my three remaining chips (I used my triple captain chip in DGW24 on Mo Salah).
THE PLAYER PICKS
Without further ado, here we go:
- KEEPERS: If you’re looking for a double game keeper, it’s all about who you can afford. Manchester City’s expensive Ederson (£6.0m) has kept three clean sheets in his past four tries, while Arsenal’s more affordable Bernd Leno (£5.0m) has two clean sheets in his past three games, and has made 3+ saves to trigger the save bonus 16 times already this season.
- DEFENDERS: Among Man City defenders, Kyle Walker (£5.7m) and Nicolas Otamendi (£5.0m) seem to have the least rotation risk as each has each started the past four games. However, if you are truly prizing reliability, turn to Arsenal’s David Luiz (£5.7m) who has played the past 10 games, with four clean sheets and an assist in that time.
- MIDFIELDERS: In the engine room, the Sky Blues boast the big names. Kevin de Bruyne (£10.7m) is the best of the bunch, but is also an injury doubt, which could possibly ease rotation worry for the other midfielders. In that regard, there’s Raheem Sterling (£11.7m), Riyad Mahrez (£8.4m) and Bernardo Silva (£7.8m) who will be the main choices, and much will depend on your budget; I’d lean toward Mahrez who has not only been the most consistent of the bunch, but he’s also been productive both as a starter and as a sub. As for Arsenal, Nicolas Pepe (£9.2m) has played five of the past six games, with two goals and three assists in that time.
- FORWARDS: At forward, Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m) has played 90’ each of the three games following his red card suspension, and his 150 points are second best at the position behind only Leicester City’s fading Jamie Vardy. For City you may get lucky rolling the dice with Sergio Aguero (£11.9m) or Gabriel Jesus (£9.5m) but you might also crap out if each is limited to one start.
When considering single gamers, we have to look ahead to blank Game Week 31 which has every team sitting out except for AFC Bournemouth, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford FC, West Ham United, and Wolverhampton. (Of course, as we know, the schedule is not set in stone.) It may be prudent to save your free hit chip for use at that time! So it might not be absolutely necessary to avoid adding players from blank teams from Week 31 now, but if a team has tough fixtures in Weeks 29 & 30 on top of missing out in Week 31, their players are generally going to be off my radar. Which teams should we look at?
- LEICESTER CITY: The Foxes have sputtered lately, lowlighted by the 1-0 loss at Norwich City. A home match-up with Aston Villa should get the Foxes back on track. They will be aided by the return of forward Jamie Vardy (£9.8m) following injury, and that should help the fortunes of midfielder James Maddison (£7.5m) and defender Ricardo Pereira (£6.3m). Leicester travels to Watford in Week 30 followed by a blank in Week 31.
- LIVERPOOL: As for the Reds, much depends on whether you feel the Liverpudlians will react with a vengeance following the end of their quest for going undefeated all season, or if you think that they will be unable to rediscover their form. Liverpool had been playing down to the level of their competition in the prior three games, barely escaping with league wins at Norwich City and against West Ham while losing in Champions League at Atletico Madrid. In that context it wasn’t surprising per se that Liverpool didn’t win, or even lost, at Watford but the comprehensive scale of the defeat was shocking. With struggling Bournemouth headed to Anfield, I think that it’s worth holding onto their stars such as midfielders Mohamed Salah (£12.8m) and Sadio Mane (£12.4) along with defender Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.8m), but I don’t know that I’d look to add them now.
- EVERTON: The Toffees have two tough upcoming fixtures — at Chelsea, v. Liverpool — before blanking in Week 31. But I’m breaking the rules by recommending forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£6.4m) who just keeps producing with five goals and an assist in the past six games.
- MANCHESTER UNITED: Midfielder Bruno Fernandes (£8.3m) is obviously the stand-out performer for the Red Devils, notching two goals and assists each in the past three games and averaging 10 ppg in fantasy over that stretch. The Manchester derby is never the most attractive fixture, but United is home and Fernandes is on PK duty, so he has a good chance of keeping his purple patch of form going.
- SHEFFIELD UNITED: Following a blank in Week 28, it’s time to get the Blades back on our fantasy radars with a home fixture against Norwich City in Week 29 followed by a trip to Newcastle United in Week 30. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson (£5.2m) and defender George Baldock (£5.1m) are the best options.
- SOUTHAMPTON: The Saints also get Norwich and Newcastle, just in the reverse order and location as Sheffield. Forward Danny Ings (£7.2m) only has one goal in his last six games, and even more disappointingly has come off the bench twice in that stretch, but I am hopeful that he will become a regular in the XI he can find his form again. The defense is as liable to get a clean sheet as it is to give up 3 or 4 goals in any game, so I’m staying away from that side of the ball.
- WATFORD: Attacking midfielder Ismaila Sarr (£6.3m) came on the fantasy radar with two goals and three assists from Game Weeks 18 - 23, but then injury struck. He re-announced himself in his first start since, headlining the victory over Liverpool with a big brace plus an assist. Forward Troy Deeney (£6.2m) also had a strong game with a goal and a helper. The Hornets’ schedule doesn’t have too much in the way of landmines through Week 36: at Crystal Palace, v. Leicester City, at Burnley, v. Southampton, at Chelsea, v. Norwich City, v. Newcastle, at West Ham.
- WOLVES: Speaking of friendly fixture lists, look at who Wolves’ play through Week 32: v. Brighton, at West Ham, v. Bournemouth, at Aston Villa. Don’t be shy about grabbing goalkeeper Rui Patricio (£5.1m), defender Matt Doherty (£6.2m), or forwards Raul Jimenez (£8.0m) or Diogo Jota (£6.3m) who have all been outstanding lately.
[SOURCE NOTE: Statistics and other information used in this article came via Wikipedia, the official Premier League site, and the official fantasy Premier League site.]
How is your fantasy team looking as you approach Week 29? Answer the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments!
How many combined Arsenal and Manchester City players will you have in your FPL team for Week 29?
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None, it’s no biggie
Six, go big or go home!