Premier League Fantasy Football 2013-14: Top Player Picks for Game Week 22
For most people, this time of the year is special.
For the majority, the sheer volume of high-octane Premier League football on offer is something to savour. For most, it is a salivating prospect knowing that the Champions League and Europa League return in less than a month. Even domestic cup competitions keep the population entertained.
However, David Moyes may see it differently. He knows that with every game, comes a new wave of controversy: Who he should or shouldn't play, who he should or shouldn't buy, what he should or shouldn't say.
Following last weekend's 2-0 home win against Swansea, the Red Devils returned to winning ways after three consecutive defeats, which had spanned three separate competitions.
But with his finger plugged in the dyke, one gets the impression that unless severe measures are taken, there is a deluge building, which may result in United being washed out of contention for a Champions League qualifying place.
This weekend, his team travel to Chelsea, to the home of Jose Mourinho, who have not experienced a home defeat with the Portuguese manager at the helm.
Facing such a formidable record and with the chasing pack pulling away, Moyes and his injury-ravaged squad have a momentous task on their hands if they are to stay in touch with the chasing peloton.
Elsewhere, Southampton scale the country as they travel to Sunderland, Hull City voyage down the east coast to Norwich City, whilst Fulham hop on the District line as they take on Arsenal.
Having ditched Tony Pulis (and his robust tactics) in the summer, Stoke City head to his new club, Crystal Palace, as both teams look to secure valuable points.
In the week where Cristiano Ronaldo was named the world's best footballer, let's now take a look at three players who can be "Ballon Phwooooar" and three who are "Ballon Snore".
How did Theo do? Matchday 21
78 points (total to date: 1,203)
Fantasy football stats from Fantasy Premier League.
In: Eden Hazard
Opponent: Manchester United (H)
Fantasy Price: £10.5 million
Fantasy points so far: 133
If Eden Hazard is not in your fantasy football team, then he should be.
Yes, you would have to complete major surgery to accommodate his price tag and to shoehorn him in. And we're in that ephemeral period of "Wildcard season" (For the uninitiated, if you play the Wildcard, you can make unlimited transfers in one game week, without forfeiting points.)
With that in mind, now is the time you cut loose the dead wood, the players who have proven to be passengers for too long, and indulge in a luxury signing.
If you wish to remain in touching distance of adversaries in mini leagues, it is paramount you parachute the Chelsea attacking midfielder into your team.
At the moment, he is the EPL's Midas: Everything he touches turns to gold.
With nine goals, eight assists and eight clean sheets accrued this season, he has featured in every league game so far.
As Chelsea prepare to welcome Manchester United to Stamford Bridge this weekend, with the Red Devils nine points adrift of their hosts, it is make-or-break time for the embattled visitors.
Unfortunately for David Moyes's side, the 23-year-old Belgian is in irrepressible form. One cannot help but envisage yet another Hazard-inspired victory.
In: Adam Johnson
Opponent: Southampton (H)
Fantasy Price: £6.4 million
Fantasy points so far: 66
Anyone who saw the Black Cats dismantle Fulham 4-1 last weekend would have witnessed what a special player Adam Johnson can be.
Repeatedly jinking and slinking his way around the opposition's players, he bagged a deserved hat-trick.
For the first of his three goals—a sublime free kick which nestled in the very top corner with "postage stamp" accuracy—he jived and cajoled his way past a number of hapless Fulham players, cutting in from the right wing, before drawing the foul from Steve Sidwell on the edge of the area.
It was his second goal, the only one from open play (the third was a penalty), which exemplified Johnson's precocious skill. Receiving the ball from midfield, he was 35 yards out but turned and bolted, leaving his marker (the flat-footed John Arne Riise) spluttering in the dust emanating from his wake.
With Clint Dempsey making his second debut for Fulham, the game was meant to be about the Texan Tornado. Instead the Teeside Terror stole the show with three composed goals.
If he can keep his temperament, remain match fit and not let his confidence ebb, Johnson could prove to be a shrewd signing.
What's more, with Arsenal's Theo Walcott injured, the Sunderland winger has the added incentive of knowing there is a berth for a pacey winger in England's World Cup squad.
In: Jonas Gutierrez
Club: Norwich City
Opponent: Hull City (H)
Fantasy Price: £5.2 million
Fantasy points so far: 2
Granted, this is a left-field suggestion of a left-sided player. But, let's look at the facts.
At this point in the season, fantasy football participants need players who are unfancied, yet are unequivocally guaranteed to score you points. You need to steal an edge on your rivals to reel them in.
Jonas Gutierrez could provide that edge.
Since signing for Newcastle United in the summer of 2008, he has proved his ability. His six goals and 11 assists over the last three seasons do not justify the class with which he plays.
Having consistently made over 30 appearances before this season, he has found himself devoid of opportunities on Tyneside during this campaign, limited to just two outings.
And so with the transfer window in full flow, former boss Chris Hughton swooped to bring the winger to Norwich City.
Under his former manager, Gutierrez can rediscover his best form. Having been relegated in 2009, Hughton expertly steered Newcastle United back to the top flight, with Gutierrez instrumental.
What's more, as Hughton points out in this BBC article, the Argentinian knows the EPL well: "There won't be that settling-in period that you would have with some other players. That's important, particularly in January when you need players that can go straight into the squad".
Signed on loan for the remainder of the season, the 30-year-old will have a point to prove. Having been a vital part of Argentina's squad in the 2010 World Cup, a flurry at the end of the season may earn him a recall for this summer's sporting extravaganza.
Out: David Marshall
Club: Cardiff City
Opponent: Manchester City (A)
Fantasy Price: £4.7 million
Fantasy points so far: 71
Having attracted a surplus of interest and fixation in off-field matters—namely, the feud between owner Vincent Tan and then manager Malky Mackay—this has been a hectic introduction into the EPL for Cardiff City.
The installation of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager, long hailed as one of Europe's finest young and meticulous managers, is designed to revert attention back to on-pitch matters.
Last weekend's home game against West Ham (defeated in their previous five away games) should have been the perfect start. As the Irons returned to London with all three points following a 2-0 win, Solskjaer has much to ponder.
With the Bluebirds (who confusingly now play in red—another masterstroke by Tan) having lost their last three away games, now is not an ideal time for former Manchester United striker Solskjaer to take his side to his former cross-town rivals
In regards to dropping David Marshall, the writing was on the wall last week.
This season, West Ham have crafted their own niche as the Premier League's answer to the Spanish national team. Not for their all-conquering shock-and-awe brand of football, not even for breeding exciting, world-beating players.
Rather, because they have played with a "False Nine". Often bereft of strikers, they have perfected the 4-6-0 formation. This has subsided slightly after re-signing Carlton Cole (who was released in the summer) but still not enough to rescue them from the relegation places.
Yet they somehow managed to beat Cardiff, earning their first league win since November 30. The crocked Hammers striker Andy Carroll did return, providing a much-needed morale boost, but Marshall showed he is not up to standard.
Out: Jason Puncheon
Club: Crystal Palace
Opponent: Stoke City (H)
Fantasy Price: £4.9 million
Fantasy points so far: 48
Anybody who saw Jason Puncheon play against Manchester City during the festive season would have witnessed the guile and verve he can provide.
With the Eagles unfortunate to leave the Etihad empty-handed after inputting a fine attacking display, a 1-0 win to City was expected but not deserved.
A constant live wire, Puncheon shows no fear as he runs at defenders and looks to wreak havoc with his penchant for long-range shots and testing drives.
He has the pedigree for being a frugally-priced diamond in the rough: On-loan at Southampton last season, he surpassed the 110-point mark despite being valued at £4.7 million
However, it is with reluctance that he is included in this list (at £4.9 million and regularly playing 90 minutes, he could have a case to be included in the "In" list). The sole reason why he has wound up in this purgatory is so that we can re-live his woefully abject attempt of a penalty kick last weekend.
Playing a rejuvenated Spurs team, Palace traversed from south-east London up to the north-east of the capital as the hosts looked to bounce back from FA Cup misery.
It was in the eighth minute that the Eagles were, against the run of play, awarded a penalty. This was a chance for a potential cross-London upset, to take an early lead, for bragging rights to go to the south.
Up stepped Puncheon. Cool, calm, collected, he sauntered towards the ball—and skied it way, way over the bar. And potentially out of the ground. With your eyes peeking through your fingers, you can share Puncheon's pain and grimace at the "attempt" here.