Premier League Fantasy Football 2013-14: Top Player Picks for Gameweek 16
With weather this week that has dropped below freezing, we can rely on our cockles being warmed by a scorching hot programme of weekend English Premier League football.
This week saw all four English representatives qualify for the knockout round of Champions League fixtures, with Manchester United and Chelsea topping their respective groups.
Furthermore, with Wigan still being well-placed to join Spurs and Swansea as a triumvirate in the next round of the Europa League, a number of clubs will go into this weekend full of confidence.
It is a bonanza of cross-city, cross-country games. Southampton span the nation to travel to Newcastle United in the north-east. Crystal Palace swap south-east London for south-west as they head to Chelsea.
Beleaguered Manchester United, meanwhile, without a league win in four games, hope to get their season back on track as they head to the Midlands to take on Aston Villa.
Let's now take a look at which players have you saying "Ho ho ho" and which do not.
Fantasy football stats from Fantasy Premier League.
In: Luke Shaw
Opponent: Newcastle United (A)
Fantasy Price: £4.8 million
Fantasy points so far: 50
It is very conceivable that Southampton, briefly troubling the top four positions, are the second team of many football fans.
Not content with upsetting the natural order, Mauricio Pochettino's team also play an exciting brand of football.
Whilst those currently associated with the England national team appear to muddle along in a daze, as the "Royvolution" prepare to do battle in the humidity of Brazil at next year's World Cup, players like Southampton's Luke Shaw provide us with hope.
Thrust into the Southampton team last season, aged just 17, the lad from London took naturally to the unforgiving arena of the EPL, exuding natural ability, with his performances not dropping despite the midseason managerial changes.
Having already been capped at under-21 level, it looks inevitable that he will one day take the senior left-back mantle from Ashley Cole (or, as it currently stands, Leighton Baines).
Shaw has played the full 90 minutes of all but five of Southampton's 15 league games. In that time, he has formed an impressive troupe alongside Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Rui Fonte.
This weekend, they set off from the south coast and head to the opposite corner as they take on Newcastle United who, three points better off than the Saints, can also boast of being ahead of Manchester United.
In: Mathieu Debuchy
Club: Newcastle United
Opponent: Southampton (H)
Fantasy Price: £4.9 million
Fantasy points so far: 46
In the north-east, that utmost corner of England, reside a cluster of French footballers who have settled well in to la vie en rose at St James' Park.
One of them, Mathieu Debuchy, carries a particular pedigree. Signed from Lille in last season's January transfer window, the 28-year-old is approaching the one-year anniversary since he traded northern France for northern England.
In an impressive Lille team which featured Eden Hazard, Ludovic Obraniak, Moussa Sow and Gervinho, Debuchy contributed heavily to the French league and cup double that the side won in 2010/11.
His rampaging runs up the right wing, combining nullifying opponent attacks with setting up team-mates, thrust him into the spotlight: Following repeated call-ups to the national team, a transfer to the EPL looked inevitable.
This season, he has featured in all but one of the Magpies' games. In front of the domineering and agile Tim Krul, he is part of a solid defence which has conceded 21 goals in 15 games. Not the best defensive record, but he has contributed toward valuable clean sheets against Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea.
A steal at £4.9 million, he is competitively priced and is guaranteed to play when fit.
In: Kyle Walker
Opponent: Liverpool (H)
Fantasy Price: £6.1 million
Fantasy points so far: 61
To round off our triumvirate of in-form defenders, Kyle Walker is someone who, having played every minute thus far, can score you many points.
There was an interesting statistic emanating from Gameweek 13—those games which took place over Tuesday and Wednesday nights last week (Manchester United fans may have blocked it from their memories)—that revolved around Tottenham's right-back.
As Squawka depicts, Walker created more chances (six) than any other player. More than Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, more than Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and a lot more than Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa.
Fresh from being destroyed 6-0 by Man City, Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas appeared to be clinging on to his job two weeks ago. However, with his side having gained seven points from their last three games, he seems safe.
This rejuvenation has been aided by the rampaging Walker. Ever-present in defence, he has contributed to their seven clean sheets—he even scored a free-kick in the recent 2-2 draw with Manchester United.
Nosing ahead of Liverpool's Glen Johnson, Walker is currently winning the race to be England's first-choice right-back, and that confidence showed when he nullified Sunderland's wing attacks at the weekend.
Priced at £6.1 million, he is not the cheapest addition. But he is more cost-effective than his team-mate Jan Vertonghen (whom, as a side note, you should avoid, as he continues to be played out of position) and is only slightly more pricey than the swashbuckling Seamus Coleman, the point leader for defenders.
Out: Robin Van Persie
Club: Manchester United
Opponent: Aston Villa (A)
Fantasy Price: £13.7 million
Fantasy points so far: 66
As the most expensive player in fantasy football, investing in Robin van Persie is always a gamble.
Whilst he guarantees points—he has surpassed the 260-point mark in the last two seasons—he comes with a more sinister dark side. During his time at Arsenal, it was well-documented that he was plagued by injuries.
His tendency to accrue yellow cards (six last season, eight the season before) is also noteworthy.
United boss David Moyes admitted to ITV Sport before his side's 1-0 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk midweek that van Persie was left out of the side having played the full duration of United's loss to Newcastle the weekend before.
He had originally planned to bring the Dutchman off after 70 minutes but kept him on with his side needing a goal.
A trip to Aston Villa is not a daunting prospect, but van Persie is simply too costly and too beset with fitness issues to keep in your team.
Out: Petr Cech
Opponent: Crystal Palace (H)
Fantasy Price: £6.2 million
Fantasy points so far: 49
In the world of fantasy football, goalkeepers are an intriguing entity.
On the one hand, they have a limited window to accrue points for your team: Keep a clean sheet, save a penalty or—as Newcastle's Tim Krul displayed recently against Tottenham—submit a preternatural performance.
But, conversely, they can also hemorrhage valuable points. Concede one goal, just one goal, and that's the clean sheet bonus gone. Concede a penalty, and they risk acquiring a caution—Everton's Tim Howard picked up his fourth booking of the campaign at the weekend.
Chelsea's Petr Cech, usually a bastion of setting goalkeeper standards, has been symptomatic of his team's turbulent start to the season.
When Jose Mourinho returned in the summer, it was not meant to turn out this way; the Special One was decreed to preside over the Blues' return to title-winning ways. Fifteen games in, however, and they are five points behind leaders Arsenal.
With Chelsea having conceded 17 goals—two more than the 15 they conceded in the entirety of the title-winning 2004/05 campaign—Cech has kept just four clean sheets all season.
Having previously been so sturdy, repeatedly reliable and perennially infallible, the Czech goalkeeper has looked rusty. This was particularly evident during last weekend's 3-2 defeat by Stoke when his efforts could not stop Oussama Assaidi's late winner.
With 9.9 percent of participants plumping for the Chelsea stopper, your money can be spent elsewhere. You could save £1.3 million and select Norwich's John Ruddy, who has scored the same number of points (and who also has a favourable run of games approaching).
Out: Dimitar Berbatov
Opponent: Everton (A)
Fantasy Price: £7.0 million
Fantasy points so far: 41
Now at his third Premier League club, the enigmatic Bulgarian has not changed his playing style. Sultry and lethargic, he counters this with a ruthless eye for goal.
Signed by Fulham from Manchester United, where he had grown disillusioned with a lack of first-team chances, in August 2012, he ended four seasons with the champions in favour a prolonged run of opportunities in the capital.
With 15 league goals in his first campaign at Craven Cottage, Berbatov was a budget-friendly bargain in last season's fantasy football; his haul of 163 points helped many managers as the season culminated.
This season, though, things have not been as harmonious in West London. With Fulham slow to start as more and more results went against them, their new chairman Shahid Khan disposed of manager Martin Jol last week.
In his place comes Jol's countryman, and recently installed assistant manager, Rene Meulensteen. Despite Berbatov having worked with the latter during his years as a coach at Old Trafford, the striker began making noises of wanting a January transfer according to Darren Lewis of the Daily Mirror.
Despite this, Meulensteen looks set to continue using the player, a marquee addition in an otherwise modest squad.
Yes, Berbatov may have scored at the weekend: His nonchalant penalty helped Fulham defeat Aston Villa 2-0. But look at his muted celebrations. And in his 12 games, that was only his second goal of the campaign—are you prepared to wait another six games for him to score again?