Welcome to Week 26 of my player picks for the Yahoo Fantasy Premier League game. It's good to be back after a break for the FA Cup as we’re treated to a full set of Premier League fixtures over the weekend. Please note there is no early kick-off on Saturday so the deadline will fall at 14:00 GMT.
Since my last column you may have noticed that you can now view your Global Rank by accessing the web version of the Yahoo game, clicking the Friend's tab and scrolling down the page until you see the Global league. This key feature will be available on both the Android and IOS apps within the next few days [EDIT – it’s available now, just update your app]. I was extremely surprised to see AM FC positioned as high as 1929th place after a shocking three week run, but this has given me slim hopes that a top 500 finish is still a possibility with 13 weeks of the season still to go. The fight back starts now ...
Week 26 Fixtures
Aston Villa v Stoke
Chelsea v Burnley
Crystal Palace v Arsenal
Everton v Leicester City
Hull City v QPR
Man City v Newcastle
Southampton v Liverpool
Sunderland v West Brom
Swansea v Man Utd
Tottenham v West Ham
The Premier League's top two sides appear to have the pick of the fixtures for Week 26 with leaders Chelsea hosting Burnley and Manchester City entertaining Newcastle at the Etihad. City have been in poor form since the turn of the year but showed renewed fight at Stoke in Week 25, Sergio Aguero was back amongst the goals and Yaya Toure will be back on the pitch which should ensure a home victory. Everton will rightly be favourites to beat Leicester at Goodison Park, I reckon Tottenham can edge another derby as West Ham visit White Hart Lane and Ideye and Berahino can help improving West Brom defeat Sunderland.
Arsenal are playing well enough to sneak past a tough Crystal Palace side at Selhurst Park but I'm less confident of Manchester United's chances at Swansea despite the bookies having them odds-on for victory. Given the way Louis Van Gaal's squad are playing this run of fortuitous wins will surely end soon and it could well be this weekend. Southampton v Liverpool should be a cracker with the amount of attacking talent on show so we should get some goals, while Aston Villa V Stoke and Hull v QPR could both end as low scoring draws, so defensive players are worth considering.
With that in mind please click over to the next page to view my Week 26 player recommendations.
Tim Howard - Howard endured a horrible start to the campaign with a host of error strewn performances but the American has looked more like his old self since returning from injury and he must be considered, costing less than £5million for the home match with Leicester City.
Thibaut Courtois - The price is right, but the concern is Petr Cech. Courtois was benched for Chelsea's previous Premier League match with Everton and although the Belgian returned for the Champions League clash in Paris there is a chance Cech gets the nod here. We await Friday's team news.
Joe Hart - If neither of the options above tickle your fancy then you could spend a little more on Hart. As mentioned earlier Manchester City will have Toure back to provide solidity and drive to their midfield and that should be enough to ensure a comfortable victory over Newcastle, with a clean sheet a realistic possibility.
Branislav Ivanovic - Chelsea's Mr Reliable over the past six seasons has always offered defensive stability as well as a goal threat, and (while I can't back this up with stats) it seems his goals tend to come in gluts. Ivanovic has two in his last three games in all competitions and will get opportunities to make it three in four against Burnley. Plus Chelsea have a clean sheet opportunity.
Vincent Kompany - It's been far from Kompany's best season and the fantasy returns have been equally disappointing, but you cannot ignore a price tag of £6million when Manchester City are facing a winnable home game against Newcastle.
Kyle Walker - Perhaps a slightly controversial choice given his recent displays but Walker has all the tools to be an extremely handy fantasy player and has proved as much in seasons past. He'll face a test against opposite full-back Aaron Cresswell but can get forward to support the attack and is due a better fantasy score.
Patrick van Aanholt - Another nine points in Week 25 despite a 2-0 home defeat to QPR provides further evidence of van Aanholt's value this season. I've predicted another defeat for Sunderland but the full-back has proved repeatedly that he can remain productive no matter the result.
John Stones - Everton will have a decent chance of a clean sheet against Leicester and there is no more affordable way in to their defence than young Stones. The defender has returned from injury to shore up the back-line alongside Phil Jagielka and will be keen to continue his good form in an effort to force his way back in to Roy Hodgon's England squad.
Kurt Zouma - Jose Mourinho has been alternating between Gary Cahill and Zouma over the past month with Cahill getting the nod for the PSG match in mid-week. This should mean another start for Zouma against Burnley and he's a proper bargain with his price still down at the £5million mark.
Jores Okore - One of the few success stories of Aston Villa's season has been the return to form of Okore, with the central defender one of a handful reliable performers throughout this sorry campaign. The Dane has also become a solid fantasy point scorer with three double-digit returns in the past six weeks and he can continue with the defensive contributions against a tough Stoke side.
Paul McShane - The cheapest way to buy in to the potential Hull clean sheet at home to QPR. Steve has further details on McShane and other bargains in this week's Bargain Hunter column.
Philipp Wollscheid - A sub-£5million option with Stoke travelling to Villa. Wollscheid hasn't been setting the fantasy world on fire by any stretch of the imagination but he can fill a spot if you're looking to save money, and stranger things have happened than an away side keeping a clean sheet at Villa Park.
Eden Hazard - We said last month that Hazard would need to step up in the absence of Diego Costa and he certainly has done, with match winning goals, match winning performances and double-digit fantasy returns for the past four weeks in a row, making it an astonishing nine double-digits in his past ten PL appearances. The winger's price is high but a home match against Burnley feels like a "20 pointer". Cesc Fabregas is the obvious alternative if you can't afford Hazard.
Christian Eriksen - Two quiet fantasy matches in a row have brought Eriksen's cost down to an affordable level for the first time in a while and the Dane will be keen to get back amongst the goals to take some of the burden off Harry Kane as the Hammers visit White Hart Lane. Taking the majority of corners, free-kicks and shooting on sight, he's one of the best midfield options for Week 26.
Yaya Toure - How Manchester City have missed their midfield talisman, winning just once during his five week absence for the African Cup of Nations. Yaya has been back training for a week and will be keen to get back in to the swing of the things against Newcastle before the Champions League clash with former-club Barcelona on Tuesday night.
Kevin Mirallas - It's been an awful 2015 so far for Mirallas after a run of poor form and THAT penalty miss, but a home match with Leicester should offer the Belgian some respite and his price is very reasonable around the £7million mark. Mirallas would also be on free-kicks around the box if Leighton Baines is set to miss out through injury again.
Theo Walcott - Two goals in two PL starts since returning from his knee injury and I would expect to see Walcott given another chance to impress as Arsenal travel to Palace. The England man's pace can help stretch an Eagles side who are often difficult to break down at Selhurst Park and he remains one of the best finishers in the league.
Sadio Mane - Yet another powerful display from Mane against West Ham, pushed right up in support of Graziano Pelle, and he was unlucky not to grab at least one goal. The Senegal star's form has been good enough to keep Dusan Tadic out of the team and he remains the Saints' most potent attacking threat.
Juan Cuadrado - Chelsea's newest signing has been used sparingly since joining the club and was handed just a 10 minute cameo against PSG, but that should mean a start against Burnley and Cuadrado can be added to your fantasy team for just £3million.
Mousa Dembele - Mauricio Pochettino's decision to move Dembele in to the 'number ten' role over the past three matches has paid dividends with the midfielder playing a prominent part in the victories over West Brom and Arsenal. The Belgian was also impressive in defeat at Anfield, grabbing a goal, and is priced at a bargain £4.7million.
Philippe Coutinho - At this point in time the news regarding Raheem Sterling's injury is mixed, so if you're feeling in-form Liverpool can do some damage at Southampton then I'd be looking at Coutinho as your midfield option.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - Back from suspension, Sigurdsson owes his team matches for that stupid red card that led to a three match absence. The Icelander will back on set pieces and will be keen to help Swansea to do the double over Manchester United having scored the winner at Old Trafford back on the opening day of the season.
Angel Di Maria - Signs of life! ADM was back in the groove against Burnley, picking up an assist and returning 15 fantasy points, the first time he had exceeded double digits since Week 17 and the first time he had played a direct part in a Premier League goal since Week 12. Louis van Gaal will be expecting more of the same from the British record signing for the tricky trip to the Liberty Stadium.
Chris Brunt - The curveball selection of the week. Brunt has lost the West Brom captaincy to incoming Darren Fletcher but it appears to have lifted a weight off his shoulders and he's been superb over the past few matches. I have a hunch he'll do Sunderland some damage this weekend.
Victor Moses - The Stoke winger ran Manchester City ragged in the first of the Week 26 match-up before the Champions took control in the second half, and he should get further joy against Villa. Moses is another well-priced midfield option, costing just £7.6million.
Scott Sinclair - Granted an escape by Manchester City to join Villa on loan in January, Sinclair costs a measly £1million in the Yahoo format and will probably get minutes under Tim Sherwood who loves giving English players a chance. Stick him on your bench if you're especially short on funds.
Diego Costa - Back from suspension and ready to face Burnley after an 80 minute run out in the Champions League. Costa's price is up around £15million which will be out of the reach of some fantasy managers but if you can afford the Spaniard then fitting him in your team would appear to be a wise move given the fixture. I'm still to decide whether to bite the bullet and buy him back after selling for £5.8million last month.
Harry Kane - Two goals in the London derby at home to Chelsea, two goals in the London derby at home to Arsenal - would anyone bet against Kane adding another double against West Ham? I wouldn't, and for that reason I am seriously considering bringing the Tottenham striker in to my Week 26 team despite his £18.8million price tag.
Sergio Aguero - It took a month, but Aguero finally looked back to his usual self against Stoke, scoring twice, although he blew the chance of hat trick by handling the ball unnecessarily. City face Barcelona in the Champions League next Tuesday but Manuel Pellegrini can't risk falling further behind Chelsea and he'll want Aguero to remain "in the zone", so I can't see him resting the Argentine against Newcastle.
Alexis Sanchez - Back to fitness in Week 25, Sanchez was given further pitch time in the FA Cup and should be at near enough full pace for Arsenal's trip to Crystal Palace. £15million isn't a high price to pay for the top points scorer in season's Yahoo game and I'm expecting to see his name back on the score-sheet. If you can't stretch your budget that far but fancy an Gunners victory then Olivier Giroud can be snapped up for less than £10million.
Daniel Sturridge - How good has Sturridge looked since returning? Quick, sharp and dangerous in front of goal, the Liverpool striker looks ready to make up for lost time and is well priced for the potentially open and entertaining match up with Southampton.
Saido Berahino - Tony Pulis and his magic hat have already worked wonders to steer West Brom away from the drop zone and the emerging partnership between Berahino and Brown Ideye has Baggies fans feeling particularly positive. Picking between the two for the match at Sunderland is tricky, but I'm leaning towards Berahino due to the fact he's on penalty duty and with Wes Brown one of the clumsiest defenders on the planet.
Romelu Lukaku - A home fixture with Leicester should present plenty of chances for the Toffees and the Belgian striker certainly owes his manager a few more goals before the end of the season to start justifying that £28million outlay. Lukaku has a habit of trolling me whenever I pick him for my own team, but there's no denying he's a good option for Week 26.
Jermain Defoe - Despite Sunderland's struggles I still feel Defoe is worth looking at if you're trying to fill the third striker spot for as little cash as possible. The only issue is a nagging calf injury which kept the ex-Spurs man out of the FA Cup defeat at Bradford, so we'll provide an update on Friday.
Dame N'Doye - Not a bad debut. N'Doye grabbed an assist, a goal, hit three shots on target and returned 21 fantasy points in his first Hull appearance to help secure a massive win over Villa in Week 25. Steve Bruce will be hoping for more of the same as QPR visit the KC Stadium this weekend.
So those are the players I'm considering for my Week 26 Yahoo team. Please make sure you check back here tomorrow for Ben Dinnery's team and injury news column, where he'll run through all the fall-out from the midweek European matches ahead of Saturday's deadline.
My own team page currently looks like this ...
XI: Courtois, Cresswell, Okore, Zouma, Fabregas, Walcott, Yaya, Hazard, Sturridge, Kane, Aguero
Subs: Sinclair, Kelly, Blackett, Robles
The big decision faced is whether to go right back to a full priced Sanchez and Costa, or to go with alternatives such as Kane, Sturridge or Berahino in an attempt to do something a bit different. This decision is likely to be made on Friday night or Saturday morning and it will have an effect on the rest of my fantasy squad, with the likes of Howard, Kompany, Dembele, Mirallas and N'Doye all in my thoughts. Follow @nikarg and I'll tweet an updated line-up closer to the deadline.
How's your Week 26 team looking?