Premier League Fantasy Football 2013-14: Top Player Picks for Game Week 21
Following the sentimental romance of last weekend's FA Cup jamboree, fixations return to the Premier League and fantasy football.
Now past the halfway point of the season, this round of fixtures is a repeat of game week one, the opening day of the 2013/14 Premier League season.
It seems a lifetime ago now, but if we stretch our minds back to 17 August, the many unpredictable and dynamic mini-battles we now within our league seemed an unlikely prospect. It looked as if the status quo remained with or without Sir Alex Ferguson.
David Moyes, now constantly frustrated by his flagging Manchester United team, still had hope and optimism in his eyes, helped by a 4-1 win against Swansea City which saw the holders attain top spot.
This was, of course, until neighbours Manchester City defeated Newcastle United 4-0 two days later.
Arsenal, meanwhile, were beaten 3-1 at home by Aston Villa. Neither side dwelled on this victory. The Gunners are now top of the league, whilst Villa are in 11th, six points above the dropzone.
With such pedigree in mind, this game week looks set to be just as action-packed. Let's now take a look at the players who can be cutting-edge and those who can be edged out.
Fantasy football stats from Fantasy Premier League.
In: Clint Dempsey
Opponent: Sunderland (H)
Fantasy Price: £7.4 million
Fantasy points so far: 0
With Fulham mired in a relegation battle, now is the time when they require an edge, something that can reinvigorate a flagging, underperforming side and shake them from their malaise.
Cue Clint Dempsey. The swashbuckling, buccaneering, experienced American who is about to don his cape and head to Craven Cottage on loan, tasked with aiding the ailing team.
Having spent five years in west London, Fulham's prodigal son returns to where he was adored between 2007 and 2012 before moving to the north of the city to join Tottenham Hotspur.
Things did not quite go according to plan, though, and the Texan signed for MLS side Seattle Sounders in August 2013, scoring one goal in his nine appearances before the season ended in September.
Wanting to retain peak fitness to keep his chances high of being included in Jurgen Klinsmann's USA squad, Dempsey has agreed to join Rene Meulensteen's Fulham side for two months before the MLS restarts in April.
Available at £7.4 million, the 30-year-old is not a bargain signing. But he is a serial point-scorer in fantasy football, having scored 57 goals in the EPL, which includes 17 goals in his final season with the Lilywhites.
Having already made his second debut for Fulham—playing the full 90 minutes in their 1-1 draw in the FA Cup last weekend—he is match-fit and ready to hit the ground running. Exploit his pedigree whilst you can.
In: Danny Welbeck
Club: Manchester United
Opponent: Swansea City (H)
Fantasy Price: £7.2 million
Fantasy points so far: 69
To say that 2014 has not started off well for Manchester United is the understatement of, well, the year.
Having succumbed to three consecutive 2-1 defeats in the space of six days—firstly to Spurs in the league, then exiting the FA Cup courtesy of Swansea City and then losing the first leg of their League Cup semi-final to Sunderland.
They are now 11 points adrift of leaders Arsenal and out of the FA Cup, a trophy they have not won since 2004 (when inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo) with their League Cup fate looking bleak.
Ravaged by injuries, the embattled David Moyes has found himself bereft of depth in his squad.
This is particularly prevalent in the striking department where the talismanic Wayne Rooney and his Dutch counterpart Robin van Persie have missed the last few games, plagued by injuries.
This void has provided Danny Welbeck, often the bridesmaid, to carry the mantle of being his team's main man, charged with spearheading an underwhelming and disillusioned side.
He has performed admirably. The rangy 23-year-old has scored five goals in his last five games, contributing an assist. This is on a backdrop to United having lost their last three games in all competitions.
We know that Welbeck can score—he has, after all, bagged eight goals in 20 games for the England national team. He has struggled to transfer this prowess to his domestic side.
With Newcastle United's Loic Remy in insipid scoring firm—having scored in tow in eight, a tally unlikely to increase this weekend against Manchester City—Welbeck represents a cheaper alternative.
Having been selected by 6.6 percent of fantasy football participants, though, you should move quickly if you are to secure this competitive advantage.
In: Vlad Chiriches
Opponent: Crystal Palace (H)
Fantasy Price: £5.1 million
Fantasy points so far: 45
Tottenham have experienced mixed results from their well-documented summer spending spree.
Flush with the money received from Gareth Bale's world record transfer to Real Madrid, they brought in seven players at an outlay of over £100 million, twice breaking their transfer record.
Whilst Roberto Soldado is yet to fire on all cylinders, Nacer Chadli has struggled for fitness and Erik Lamela looks simply out of his depth, there is one import who looks like a shrewd acquisition.
Vlad Chiriches didn't make his EPL debut until October, but since then, he has gone from strength to strength, providing a fresh look to a shaky defence.
As Tottenham suffered heavy defeats in quick succession before Christmas, first 6-0 against Manchester City and then 5-0 against Liverpool (the latter of which resulted in the sacking of Spurs coach Andre Villas-Boas), the fact that Chiriches played no part in either game is a backward compliment.
Playing at the heart of the Spurs defence, he has formed a promising partnership with Michael Dawson.
Aged 24 and with this being his first season in the EPL, he is a rookie but with one goal and four clean sheets in 10 appearances, he has the ability.
Until recently, Southampton defenders were the cheap competitive advantage, their stutterings mean you should look elsewhere.
Out: Dejan Lovren
Opponent: West Brom (H)
Fantasy Price: £5.6 million
Fantasy points so far: 69
For the first half of November, Southampton were in third position. They were unbeaten at home and had stolen points from Manchester United and Liverpool.
Now, though, Mauricio Pochettino's side have dropped to ninth. Out of their last four home games, they have lost three: The St. Mary's faithful has not seen a league since November 9.
This downturn of form can, in part, be tracked back to when goalkeeper Artur Boruc—he who had not missed a game all season and had kept six clean sheets—broke his hand against Chelsea on 3 December.
Since then, his two deputies, Kelvin Davis and Paulo Gazzaniga, have kept just one clean sheet between them in the ensuing seven league games.
This disruption to an otherwise settled backline has subsequently resulted in Southampton defenders not being the cheap point-scorers they once were.
Dejan Lovren has been culpable to his. A player who I championed for inclusion back in game week nine and celebrated in the '5 Best EPL Players So Far' in mid-November, he has not scored more than two points in a game week since 23 November.
Fantasy football is all about being reactionary, and it is paramount that we react to the fact that Lovren is no longer a top 10 point-scoring defender. If you're looking for a leftfield but profitable alternative, West Brom's Gareth McAuley (at £5.4 million) is, along with Chiriches of Spurs, worth consideration.
Out: Martin Skrtel
Opponent: Stoke City (A)
Fantasy Price: £5.5 million
Fantasy points so far: 59
Liverpool are having an impressive season, that much is beyond doubt.
In fourth place, they were previously top of the table for Christmas Day and are still only six points off the summit, very much in touching distance.
Even if they do not end their wait for a league title—a drought which stretches back 24 years to 1990—the Anfield faithful will surely be delighted if manager Brendan Rodgers can deliver Champions League football.
The festive season was not kind to the Reds though. With their confidence as high as their league position, they were unfortunate to face consecutive away trips to Manchester City and Chelsea, both of whom inflicted 2-1 defeats.
A 2-0 win over Hull on New Years day, followed by a 2-0 win over Oldham in the FA Cup, has seen the Reds return to winning ways.
This weekend they travel to the Midlands to take on Stoke City.
Under Mark Hughes, the Potters are now playing a brand of football less associated with the rugged physicality that was synonymous with his predecessor Tony Pulis.
As the highest scoring Liverpool defender, Martin Skrtel is enjoying a fine season: Having missed only the two opening games, he has contributed two goals and four assists.
According to Squawka, he is also the EPL's fifth best passer (with a success of 92 percent) and also averages 14 defensive actions per game. Solid statistics for a solid player.
However, in their five EPL trips to the Britannia Stadium (since Stoke's promotion in 2008), Liverpool are yet to win. Even in the reverse of this fixture on the opening day, the Reds were fortunate to emerge victorious 1-0 in the comforting confines of Anfield.
Skrtel is one of the finest defenders in the league. Just don't expect him to earn you many points this weekend.
Out: Kevin Nolan
Club: West Ham
Opponent: Cardiff City (A)
Fantasy Price: £6.5 million
Fantasy points so far: 63
For many seasons now, Kevin Nolan has been a darling of fantasy football. Available at a knockdown price, he plays the full 90 minutes and consistently pops up with goals.
However, this season, as the Irons battle with the very probably reality of relegation certainty, Nolan has been unreliable, erratic and mercurial.
How, at times, the team from the Boleyn Ground would have looked to their captain, a veteran of over 300 EPL games, to provide a calm head in rocky waters.
Instead, they would have only seen a hothead who has been on the receiving end of a red card twice in his last four games, the second of which was in the 2-1 defeat against Fulham on New Year's Day.
In 19th place, there is only Sunderland and a single point difference cushioning West Ham from rock bottom. As high as 13th on October 7, their demise has been depressingly swift.
Last weekend's FA Cup tie against Championship side Nottingham Forest was meant to be a morale-booster. But even when resting a number of first-team players, being humiliated 5-0 was not the tonic that Sam Allardyce had in mind.
Without a victory since November 30—a run of seven league games—it is unsurprising that Allardyce, circling the plughole, is now the favourite to be the next manager handed his P45.
In his last two seasons, Nolan has scored 10 and 12 goals respectively. With only two goals thus far, a repeat looks unlikely. Suspended for the next four games, don't just bench Nolan but instead transfer him out.