Premier League Fantasy Football 2013-14: Top Player Picks for Game Week 17
It is less than seven days until Christmas but don't expect any generosity from your fantasy football adversaries.
The festive season is a chance for you to overindulge in the beautiful game and gorge on the English Premier League. With four games in 11 merry days, the next two weeks could make or break your fantasy football hopes and dreams.
With a palpable sense of festive goodwill in the air this week, White Hart Lane was seemingly immune to this cheer as Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy disposed of manager Andre Villas-Boas. Having unceremoniously exited the League Cup, avoid Spurs players who may be running low on confidence during this tumultuous time.
On the other side of north London, however, league leaders Arsenal looked in high spirits with bonhomie snowing down at their Christmas party.
Before hitting the town in fancy dress (Lukas Podolski shook off injury concerns to dress up as The Hulk, as reported by The Metro), their German maestro Mesut Ozil respected the tradition of new signings flexing their musical muscles as he and others performed a festive recital.
In addition, this week is a special week: It marks a momentous occasion, an occasion which very rarely comes around. Yes, this fantasy football game week, Christmas has come early as we are gifted two free transfers, rather than the customary one.
Let's now take a look at who can be your angel on top of the tree and who is a Christmas pudding.
Fantasy football stats from Fantasy Premier League.
In: Samir Nasri
Club: Manchester City
Opponent: Fulham (A)
Fantasy Price: £8.3 million
Fantasy points so far: 72
For a variety of reasons, Samir Nasri polarises opinion. Despite being heralded as one of the most deadly attacking midfielders in the EPL, his form can err on the mercurial side.
Nasri was a constant source of frustration for former City manager Roberto Mancini: In March this year, the Italian declared "he would like to give (Nasri) a punch" (as reported by Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail). Given their tempestuous relationship, one guesses he was only half-joking.
This season, however, Nasri has been magisterial. Having played a part in all 16 of City's league games, he has shown the guile and delicacy of touch which persuaded the Citizens to sign him in the summer of 2011 and which, ultimately, helped them win the league the following season.
Fresh from consigning former club Arsenal to the sword, as he and his City teammates ran riot in their 6-3 rout, the France international is playing with verve: Four goals, five assists and five clean sheets have placed him sixth in the highest-scoring midfield players.
If you are looking to parachute in a midfield replacement, you could alternatively opt for Nasri's former Arsenal colleague, Theo Walcott.
Sidelined from late September, he played the full 90 minutes on Saturday and marked the occasion by scoring two goals. Often deployed in a secondary striker position—occasionally as a frontman—he will score points.
In: Gary Hooper
Club: Norwich City
Opponent: Sunderland (A)
Fantasy Price: £6.1 million
Fantasy points so far: 72
Having been selected by 45 percent of fantasy football managers, the majority of teams up and down the land contain Luis Suarez. However, Gary Hooper could be your diamond in the rough, your wildcard selection who can provide a competitive advantage in mini-leagues.
Selected by just 0.9 percent of participants, he is not fashionable. Available at a mere £6.1 million, however, and having scored four goals in his last six games, he represents great value for money.
Arriving at Carrow Road during the Canaries' summer spending spree—he was joined by fellow recruits Leroy Fer, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Nathan Redmond and Martin Olsson—the former Celtic striker took a few months to acclimatise to life in Norfolk, not helped by a shin injury which prevented him from making his debut until September.
Having discovered his goal-scoring touch, the 25-year-old looks to be a real asset for Norwich. If this form continues, expect clamour for him to be included in Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad.
With Newcastle United's Loic Remy having not scored in four games, Southampton's Rickie Lambert without a goal in five games and Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov temperamental, Hooper represents an in-form alternative.
If you are in the market for a striker and you would prefer a more marquee signing but don't wish to break the bank, Manchester United's Danny Welbeck could be another to consider.
With teammate Robin van Persie ruled out until the new year, the England international deputised with aplomb during last weekend's game against Aston Villa, bagging a well-taken brace.
In: Peter Whittingham
Club: Cardiff City
Opponent: Liverpool (A)
Fantasy Price: £5.1 million
Fantasy points so far: 61
This is a player who flies under the radar.
Just outside the top 10 of highest-scoring midfielders, Peter Whittingham is level on points with Chelsea's Frank Lampard.
Having notched two goals and three assists, he has accrued more points than Manchester City's David Silva, Arsenal's Jack Wilshere and Manchester United's Antonio Valencia.
Yet he has only been selected by six percent of managers.
Still aged only 29, it is over 10 years since Whittingham made his debut—but having started his career at Aston Villa, his decision to drop down a division and join Cardiff has reaped dividends.
He has played every single minute of the club's 16 league games thus far. Of the four players who can boast this record—Chelsea's Ramires, Stoke's Steven N'Zonzi and Crystal Palace's Mile Jedinak complete the quadrant—Whittingham has scored the most points.
Deployed on the left of midfield, he is unspectacular yet reliable, as exemplified by the fact he has created 24 chances and can boast a 79 percent pass success rate.
The only caveat to transferring him in is that he and his colleagues travel to in-form Liverpool where they will try to do what many teams have tried, and failed, to do recently: Subdue Luis Suarez.
Out: Steven Caulker
Opponent: Liverpool (A)
Fantasy Price: £5.1 million
Fantasy points so far: 66
It is with a heavy heart that Steven Caulker is consigned to the 'Out' list. Since signing from Tottenham in the summer for £8 million, the England international has featured in every game, scoring two goals and played a pivotal in his team's five clean sheets.
Dominating duels with a commanding physicality, Caulker has been imperious. Spurs may even regret selling him—exemplified by having to deploy midfielder Etienne Capoue as a hapless centre-half in last weekend's 5-0 destruction at the hands of Liverpool.
However, it is the goal-hungry Scousers who force this case with Caulker: This weekend the Liver birds host the Bluebirds as Cardiff travel to Anfield.
Intoxicated on confidence, Liverpool also have the league's in-form, most feared player in their ranks: Luis Suarez. Having won their last three games, the Uruguayan striker has scored seven of his team's 14 goals as well as contributing six assists.
Playing with such a deadly eye for goal, he is not the only Liverpool player who is experiencing a peak in prowess: Jordan Henderson has superbly taken the mantle in Steven Gerrard's absence.
Playing in front of their insatiable home crowd, expect Liverpool to win this weekend. Caulker and co. will just get caught in the line of fire.
Justifying his place in the top 10 of highest-scoring defenders, he is cost-effective and a constant point-scorer. It may be wise to not sub him out completely but to instead place him on the bench as to minimise damage as Suarez runs riot.
Out: Hugo Lloris
Opponent: Southampton (A)
Fantasy Price: £5.9 million
Fantasy points so far: 68
Now that Andre Villas-Boas has departed White Hart Lane, the next few weeks will decide whether this decision was premature or prime.
Whilst this uncertainty reigns, you should avoid any Spurs players. Following a well-documented recruitment drive in the summer—where they spent over €110 million on seven non-British players—Villas-Boas' successor will similarly have to attempt to clarify the team's best XI.
Having arrived in North London in August 2012, not long after AVB was appointed coach, Lloris eventually displaced then-No.1 Brad Friedel to become the club's first-choice goalkeeper.
His maiden season saw him play 2430 minutes and score a modest 96 points in fantasy football. As way of comparison, Manchester United's David De Gea played 2610 minutes in his debut EPL season (2011/12) but scored 134 points.
This season, however, has seen him acquire 58 points thus far—partly because a faltering Tottenham defence has resulted in him making more saves, thus gaining bonus points.
In last weekend's disembowelment at the hands of Liverpool, there were no bonus points for the Spurs stopper: Having leaked five goals, he scored just one point. It would have been zero had he not made a string of saves.
As well as the 5-0 loss to Liverpool, Spurs also conceded six against Manchester City and three without reply to West Ham—14 goals in three games.
But here's the quandary: In their other 13 games, Tottenham had conceded just seven goals. Lloris had been pivotal in their seven clean sheets this season.
Despite this promise, the six percent of users who have selected Lloris should think otherwise. Against Liverpool, he flapped at too many shots (granted, his defence was cataclysmic) and should have done better with Jon Flanagan and Raheem Sterling's goals.
In: Jack Wilshere
Opponent: Chelsea (H)
Fantasy Price: £6.1 million
Fantasy points so far: 40
Jack Wilshere is a prodigal talent and one who has been bestowed with the hopes of the English nation, there is no doubting that.
This season, the 21-year-old has, operating across the trident of attacking midfield positions, racked up an 85 percent pass success as well as scoring two goals.
However, whilst he has been a vital cog of Arsenal's unforeseen yet unequivocal surge up the table, there are several flaws to his game, a dark under-belly acting as a nemesis to his impressive midfield displays.
During Manchester City's rampage last weekend, when they put on a tour de force to defeat Arsenal 6-3, this uglier side of Wilshere's temperament made an unwelcome appearance.
With his team 3-1 down, the Gunners' No.10 disagreed with the referee's decision to award City a goal kick and reacted by making an abusive gesture towards the home crowd. Missed by the officials, this petulance resulted in inevitable retrospective action as the FA charged the England international with misconduct.
Having reluctantly admitted to the charge, Wilshere has, however, contested the two-game ban, citing the fact that Liverpool's enfant terrible Luis Suarez received only a one-game suspension when he committed something similar in December 2011 (as reported by the BBC).
Whether the ban is reduced or not is a corollary matter. What is prevalent here is the fact that Wilshere will definitely miss this weekend's game against Chelsea. Of course, you could always put him on the bench but at £6.1 million, can you afford to risk such impetuous ill-discipline in future?