Welcome to Week 31 of my player picks for the Yahoo Fantasy game, as we prepare our fantasy teams for a return to Premier League action after the international break.
Before we get in to Week 31 I'll briefly revisit Week 30, which was a disappointing one for AM FC. Harry Kane was the hero of course, bagging a hat-trick and returning 36 points, while Sergio Aguero and Eden Hazard added handy contributions, but pretty much every other player I selected performed poorly. A weekly total of 96 points isn't a complete disaster, but it must've been a fair bit below average as I dropped out of the top 1000 overall. It's time to bounce back ...
Week 31 Fixtures
Arsenal v Liverpool
Burnley v Tottenham
Chelsea v Stoke
Crystal Palace v Man City
Everton v Southampton
Leicester City v West Ham
Man Utd v Aston Villa
Sunderland v Newcastle
Swansea v Hull City
West Brom v QPR
Aston Villa v QPR
Right away you will notice that Aston Villa and QPR have a double week. I'll begin by copying a section from my review of the last double week, for Tottenham and QPR in Week 28 ....
"When only two teams are playing two matches in one game-week I always advise readers to invest heavily in "double gamers". By taking this approach you give yourself two shots at success while also playing the averages. If a player averages six fantasy points per game then the chances are you wouldn't be interested in him in a regular week, but if he's playing twice this equates to the possibility of 12 points if he matches his regular contributions, and there's always a chance this is exceeded when a player has two bites at the cherry. This is why guaranteed starters such as Ryan Mason and Matt Phillips should've been high on your list of considerations for Week 28, especially with price tags below £6million."
That week I packed AM FC with eight double gamers - Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Yun Suk-young, Mason, Phillips, Christian Eriksen, Charlie Austin and Harry Kane - and was rewarded with a season high 181 points for the week. This strategy doesn't guarantee 100% success every time (Yun Suk-young scored zero in two games) but you're giving yourself the best opportunity of a weekly total closer to 200 than 100 points. Now, you certainly shouldn't dump all your best discounts this week considering Aston Villa and QPR are two of the less attractive fantasy teams, and with both facing very difficult opening fixtures. But you should definitely invest in some of the better fantasy performers with a track record of returning points even in defeat. And if you're looking to make up a large amount of ground on fantasy managers above you (as I am) then you have the option of taking some risks by picking up additional, less obvious double-gamers in the hope of a player springing a surprise (i.e. Ryan Mason and Steven Caulker in Week 28).
Aside from the two double-week teams there are some attractive single game fixtures with Manchester United at home to Villa, Chelsea at home to Stoke, Tottenham away at Burnley, Swansea hosting Hull and West Brom at home to QPR. In addition, Arsenal v Liverpool should be hugely entertaining, but it's difficult to predict which way the match will go so I'm likely to avoid both teams.
With that in mind, click over to the next page to view my Week 31 recommendations.
Thibaut Courtois - The safe option with Chelsea facing a home match against Stoke. If you're holding Courtois at a discount you should continue to do so with a Chelsea double-week on the horizon in Week 37. The same goes for the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa (if held around £6million), despite the fact neither player features in my column this week.
Boaz Myhill - An injury to Ben Foster has handed Myhill the number one shirt for the rest of the season, and the keeper performed well against Man City in Week 30 despite the 3-0 score-line. Home to QPR this week present an excellent clean sheet opportunity.
Kasper Schmeichel- Leicester look doomed, but they really aren't that bad! The league's bottom side have matched most of their opponents this season but often just come up short, usually due to a bit of bad luck. I actually fancy them to grab a draw at home to West Ham, so picking up Schmeichel for £1million could prove a smart, money-saving move.
Brad Guzan - Only for the brave, given Guzan's first match is at Old Trafford, but the Villa stopper is likely to make a fair few saves and then has QPR at home in the second match. Note: I recommend avoiding Rob Green.
Jores Okore / Ron Vlaar / Ciaran Clark - Argh, this is a frustrating one. Okore is an injury doubt after picking up a knee complaint on international duty with Denmark, while Vlaar remains a concern after a long spell on the sidelines. To add to the confusion, Clark is on nine yellow cards and would miss the second match if he picked up a yellow card against Manchester United. Therefore, it may be best to avoid all three men unless you're holding Okore at 1.00. [I'm aware this isn't really a pick recommendation, but I wanted to include the trio at the top of this section so all readers are aware of the situation before building their teams around any of them.]
Steven Caulker - Yes, he could be on the losing side for both matches, but Caulker has been averaging seven points per match this season which puts him on course for 14 points for the double week. The ex-Tottenham defender actually managed an impressive 24 points in the last double despite two defeats thanks to tackles, blocks and interceptions, and is the only viable option from the QPR defence.
Alan Hutton - If you're in agreement that the trio at the top of this section are too much of a risk then it will probably lead you to Hutton. The Scot hasn't been as productive since Tim Sherwood moved him to the left hand side of the defence, but he still feels like the safest and most reliable Villa defensive pick.
Gary Cahill - A horror show against Hull has seen Cahill's price drop to an all-time low £6.99million, which cannot be sniffed at. The Chelsea defender was rested for England's friendly with Italy on Tuesday - probably something agreed between Roy Hodgson and Jose Mourinho - so you can feel confident of another start against Stoke.
Gareth McAuley - The McAuley / Dawson red card mix-up eventually ended with the correct man (Dawson) being banned for one match retrospectively, which means McAuley is available for the home match with QPR. The Baggies defender's price has dropped to £7million because of the negative points picked up from the incorrectly awarded red card (fantasy games never mirror retrospective decisions) and that makes him a terrific option.
Phil Jones - Jones is the cheapest guaranteed starter if you fancy a Manchester United clean sheet against Aston Villa.
Aaron Cresswell - A match Away to Leicester presents a clean sheet chance for the Hammers and should offer Cresswell plenty of chances to get forward down the left flank.
Kyle Naughton - Since Naughton left London for Wales he has returned 14, 10, 3, 8, 11, 7, 6 and 9 fantasy points, which is pretty impressive. Swansea are at home to Hull in Week 31 and I would expect Naughton to hit double digits again.
Eric Dier - The cheapest way to cover a potential clean sheet for Spurs as they travel to Burnley, with Dier also offering a goal threat when pushing forward at set pieces.
Scott Sinclair - Tim Sherwood is a big fan of taking credit for anything and everything, so you can be sure he'll want to be able to say he was the man who reignited Sinclair's career. To be fair to Sherwood he has got Sinclair playing very well in the same wide attacking role he filled for Swansea, and because of the genuine goal threat offered he looks to be the pick of the double game midfielders at just £3.70million.
Matt Phillips - Steve has all the info you require regarding double-gamer Phillips in this week's Bargain Hunter column.
Eden Hazard - Most of the double-game options are pretty cheap and so you should have the funds to include a couple of premium single-gamers in your line-up. Hazard is the top option for midfield as Chelsea host Stoke, with the Belgian leading the way in fantasy points for the season.
Charles N'Zogbia - The enigmatic N'Zogbia became a forgotten man under Paul Lambert but has been thriving under Tim Sherwood, making many of us reminisce of his good old Wigan days where he was a fantasy star. At his current price, with two games, he should be high on your list of considerations.
Juan Mata - Points chasing? Perhaps, but Mata has been outstanding for the past three matches and will earn another start against Villa. If you picked the Spaniard up as his pre-updated price of £5million then you should feel very pleased without yourself, because he's still worth a look at his current £11million.
Fabian Delph - I'm a big fan of Delph; he's the sort of player I'd love to see at Spurs. Tough tackling, always driving forward at pace, capable of intelligent passing and packing a powerful shot, the midfielder has been fully deserving of an England call-up. He's not the most prolific fantasy points scorer, but this is a double week and he's guaranteed two starts (unless he gets injured or sent off of course.)
Joey Barton - Mr Marmite owes his team-mates big time after that stupid red card at Hull last month and is actually a handy fantasy contributor on his day, averaging 7 points per game. Provided he doesn't do anything stupid we should see him push past double-digits for the week.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - Swansea face Hull at home, they are playing well and Siggy will take up his attacking midfield role just behind Bafetimbi Gomis. The price is high, so the Icelander is the alternative premium single-game option to the more obvious Hazard pick.
James Morrison - I wanted to include a West Brom midfielder in this column for their home game against QPR and after studying the options I plumped for Morrison. The Scottish international is a good all-rounder, contributing defensive points and is capable of creating and scoring goals. This match presents a fine opportunity for him to improve on his current poor returns of one goal and one assist for the season.
Charlie Austin - Austin is the sixth highest points scorer in the entire Yahoo fantasy game, plays two matches and has repeatedly proved he can do well even in defeat (case in point: 39 points in the last double week). He should be in your Week 31 team.
Christian Benteke - Benteke is the Bargain Hunter's striker choice this week, so head on over there to read Steve's analysis.
Wayne Rooney - If you're intent on fielding a "non-double game" striker and you aren't locked in to a discount, then Rooney would be my choice. The England captain has been excellent since returning to a striking role and his £11million price-tag is very reasonable considering the home fixture against Villa.
Harry Kane - Just to be clear, there is no way you spend £21million on Kane in a double week when he is playing only one away fixture. However, there is also no way you sell him if you're holding him at a sub-£17million price given his form and the relatively easy run-in for Tottenham.
Alexis Sanchez - See Kane above.
Saido Berahino - After a rocky start to the relationship Berahino has been in good form under Tony Pulis, hitting five goals and picking up an assist during his past eight appearances. The striker was thought to be an injury doubt for the home match with QPR due to a foot injury, but reports today suggest he'll be fit to start.
Gabby Agbonlahor - You certainly don't need both Villa strikers, but if you don't fancy Benteke for any reason then you could go for Agbonlahor, with his pace likely to trouble both Man United and QPR's defence.
Bafetimbi Gomis - Unsurprisingly Gomis hasn't been able to match up to the levels of to his predecessor Wilfried Bony, but he's doing a decent job of leading the line and should get plenty of opportunities as Hull visit the Liberty Stadium.
So those are the players I'm considering for my Week 31 Yahoo team. Please make sure you check back here on Friday for Ben Dinnery's team and injury column where he'll run through all the important news ahead of Saturday's deadline.
My own team page currently looks like this ...
XI: Guzan, Cresswell, Okore, Caulker, Sinclair, Philips, N'Zogbia, Hazard, Aguero, Benteke, Austin
Subs: Mata, Olssen, Upson, Schwarzer
This was the team I saved 10 days ago so it needs some work. I'll be dumping Guzan and plan to find a way to include Hutton if possible. Mata will probably be moved from the bench to the starting XI but I'm yet to decide who drops out of my current midfield. The strike-force is likely to stay as it is, with Aguero held at £12million and Benteke and Austin both on penalty duty for their respective double-week teams. Follow me on @nikarg and I'll tweet my updated line-up on Friday evening.
How's your Week 31 team looking?