I could talk about two very pertinent topics to intro this week's rankings column. First, there is the nightmare that I experienced as a Tottenham fan over the weekend. Second, the sacking of Jose Mourinho is hot off the presses as they say, and the fallout from a fantasy perspective is very intriguing to say the least. Yes, these two talking points carry plenty of material and I can very easily rip off a few paragraphs on each with minimal effort.
But I really don't want to do that. I want to talk about Star Wars.
Whatever modicum of professionalism I can feign will simply have to be swept aside for the next two paragraphs. You see, I write this column just a couple of hours after having seen "The Force Awakens" in the theater. Do not worry, no spoilers here. You may wonder, "How has this jerk seen the film already?" - well, I have the luxury of picking the opportune time to be traveling and am currently in a country that released the film today. Not only did I get the jump on my fellow Americans back home by a good day and a half, I saw it in a theater that was not even half-full. I know some are already unfolding lawn chairs to claim a spot in line for the premiere in their local theater. All I can say is, even though it may sound like I am rubbing it in with my having already seen it with relative ease, this movie will be worth any amount of suffering you will endure between now and seeing the opening title scroll.
If you can believe it, I am able to tie in this film with sports...somehow. In a word - nostalgia. I think one of the major strengths that sports has to offer is the nostalgia factor. You earliest experiences as a spectator and becoming a fan of your favorite team are memories that you hold near and dear to you. I personally will never forget the 25-man roster of the 1989 Baltimore Orioles, the year I fell in love with baseball. Perhaps you were lucky enough to see your team find glory in those early years, making your allegiance to them all the stronger. That initial love affair takes a grip so tight to where you can spend decades watching that same team stink and you suffer along with it, because the nostalgia of what was good is rooted so deeply within you. That is what Star Wars is like, for anyone in my age bracket anyway. I was a tiny kid of three when I saw The Empire Strikes Back in the theater but I will never forget being there. Watching Luke Skywalker near the end twitch his new robotic limb is forever ingrained in my mind, and you just cannot shake a film of that magnitude when you are of that age. By the time Return of the Jedi came out, I was a movie-loving veteran of six years old, and I think I went to see it on the big screen four or five times in its initial run. Hey, I was six. The only age where Ewoks were actually enjoyable. So, if you were like me, or around the same age, I would imagine we shared the same eternal optimism when Episodes I-III were announced in the late 1990's. And, if you were like me, by the time Episode III was released, you had pretty much given up on ever being satisfied by the franchise. It was like a team you loved came under new ownership and all you could do was hope to live long enough to see another ownership change and better times. Well, J.J. Abrams is that new owner. His first action was to trade Jar-Jar Binks for a Wookie to be named later. The team you loved when you were so small you had to "climb" onto a couch when watching them on television is back. All is well again in the galaxy.
With that said, the timing of seeing the film could not have been better. Going back to the original talking points, my heart felt like it was frozen in carbonite after watching what my Spurs did last weekend. (Okay, I will cease with the Star Wars references henceforth) To add insult to injury, I picked yet another fantasy dud of a captain in Harry Kane, continuing my remarkably poor form in armband choices in FPL this season. I even lost a head-to-head match in another format where my opponent started two players that didn't even feature while I had two players that were on my bench because they were not starting in reality, Bafetimbi Gomis and Alexsandar Mitrovic. I lost by one point. So yeah, I needed a pick-me-up after that miserable weekend and all I can say is "Thank you, Mr. Abrams."
Meanwhile, The Special One has left the building. If you saw footage of Jose Mourinho leaving Stamford Bridge carrying what looked to be very heavy bags, that is because they are stuffed with cash. This move was a long time coming and though Chelsea have hit a low, there can only be optimism that things will improve for them, no matter who takes over and how he directs them. It kind of reminds me when George Lucas finally took a hike, "Go on, take the money and run".
Okay, it's clear there is no stopping me from wedging Star Wars geek speak into this intro, so let me do us both a favor and get straight to this week's fixtures...
Week 17 Fixtures
Chelsea v Sunderland
Everton v Leicester City
Manchester United v Norwich City
Southampton v Tottenham
Stoke City v Crystal Palace
West Bromwich Albion v AFC Bournemouth
Newcastle United v Aston Villa
Watford v Liverpool
Swansea City v West Ham United
Arsenal v Manchester City
We have no early Saturday kickoff this week, so though we see the Chelsea match at the top of the fixtures, the spotlight of the club sans Mourinho will have to be shared with several other games going on, including, for my money, the most intriguing battle of the week, Everton v Leicester City. We have the two top goal scorers in the league facing off against one another for the first time this season, with Romelu Lukaku and Jamie Vardy combining for 27 strikes so far. Wouldn't it be just like the Premier League for this to go 0-0? If it does, I will eat my plastic light saber. The next big match will have to wait for Monday night when Arsenal host Manchester City. Fixtures like this seem to always result in low overall gameweek scores. If you are like me, you have five players invested from your XI in this one match and it never works out where all five get returns. So you hold your breath and hope maybe three of the five come good. Four would be divine. When you look at the two matches I've highlighted, that is where the bulk of goals are coming from this season, so it makes the other eight games look a bit "meh". Last week, no club scored more than two goals. This week, we could be in for a flurry of clean sheets. I am not advising it, but this could turn out to be the week where playing four at the back makes for a better fantasy score.
What follows are my top picks at each position. It doesn't matter what format you play, these rankings will help you figure out how players at each position compare with one another, and can help you on transfer decisions in the FPL.com game, who to start or bench in draft leagues, and who is worth putting up the cash for in salary-based leagues. You will also see how I have begun to highlight prospects that are especially valuable in formats like Playtogga, Fantrax and DFS, so that they are given the credit they deserve. At the end of the day though, nothing gets the points flowing more than goals, assists and clean sheets. So without further ado, let's get cracking...
Jack Butland - Until further notice, unless Stoke are playing Arsenal or Leicester, I see no reason to not rank Butland as the top keeper. He is on a sizzling run of form. At home to Palace is a kind enough fixture to start him with confidence.
David de Gea - Yes, United still have a patchwork defense working in front of him, but the Red Devils home form cannot be ignored. They have coughed up a grand total of one goal at Old Trafford this season. Norwich will likely fail to add to that number.
Boaz Myhill - Bournemouth has showed some moxie in their attack in recent weeks, but the Pulis effect is tough to crack when playing the Baggies on their ground. Its a significant drop off from the top two picks this week, but still a solid play.
Thibault Courtois - Chelsea are not winning the league. They are not finishing Top 4. But, despite the loss to Leicester last gameweek, their defense is improving upon the first few months of the season. Home to Sunderland, I think they actually win and keep it clean.
Rob Elliot - I just know this pick will blow up in my face, but between what Newcastle have done in recent weeks and hosting bottom-dwelling Villa, I feel stronger about a clean sheet than I do versus the other 15 possible choices here. A plug and play for those in draft leagues.
Branislav Ivanovic - I got second-guessed by a fellow manager or two on ranking Ivanovic so high two weeks ago against Bournemouth but if you watched that match, he got forward a bunch and looked the attacking threat of old. Not many solid defenders look good for potential returns at both ends this weekend, but Ivanovic screams six points or better to me. UPDATE: While writing this column, news hits of Jose Mourinho's sacking. It does not change my ranking at all. In fact, I feel better about it.
Erik Pieters - Even the best defenders who get attacking points are hard to predict in a given week that they will be in the goals, but clean sheets are easier to foresee and Pieters is the best of the Stoke options in the strongest defense going right now.
Toby Alderweireld - Spurs had a wake-up call last week and it was from a nightmare. They travel to Southampton who aren't a good attacking side though a Tottenham clean sheet may be too much to ignore. Still, Toby is in fine fantasy form with his attacking potential.
Craig Dawson - Fresh off a goal last week, Dawson is more likely to earn clean sheet points this time around. Bonus points will come his way if the Baggies keep out the Cherries.
Glen Johnson - If you do not have or can get an Erik Pieters, Johnson will do. All in on the Stoke cleanie and GJ has the occasional assist in him when the Potters actually score. If you are looking to invest in the Potters defense for rock bottom prices, check out another prospect in this week's Bargain Hunter column.
Allan-Romero Nyom - 18 points over the last two gameweeks in the FPL game, Nyom cracks my ranks for the first time. At home to a Jekyll and Hyde Liverpool attack, I think the Hornets could grab their sixth home clean sheet here.
Daryl Janmaat - Janmaat is not the fantasy stud he was last season, but if he is ever going to get a mega-haul, then at home to Aston Villa is the time to do it.
Hector Bellerin - Always tough to predict a matchup like Arsenal v Manchester City, but I think the Gunners will win here. If it is tight, Bellerin can get a cleanie. If it is a goal-fest, Bellerin can possibly get some long-overdue attacking returns.
Aaron Cresswell - West Ham are the next test for the struggling Swans. Cresswell is another option this week with a shot at returns from one or both ends.
Riyad Mahrez - Mahrez has done enough in my book to merit no worse than a top 2 ranking in any given matchup every week. Its just a matter of whether I like his potential less or more than Mesut Ozil. This week, I prefer Mahrez.
Mesut Ozil - The Wizard of Oz-il has now scored or assisted in ten straight league games. This pick and next will need to be re-evaluated if Vincent Kompany is declared fit, but they wouldn't fall too far in the rankings regardless of Kompany's presence.
Aaron Ramsey - I was high on Ramsey by ranking him 4th last week and he served me well with a goal. He moves up one more spot as he enjoys life in a central role. If the Gunners score twice, I guarantee Ramsey has one of them.
Ross Barkley - If the pattern stays the same, Barkley is sure to get attacking returns against a Leicester side that usually concedes and minus Robert Huth. Since scoring in Week 10, Barkley went quiet for two weeks, then scored the next two weeks, then quiet for two weeks. Its time to score again.
Georginio Wijnaldum - When Newcastle actually get good results, Wijnaldum is the reason they find goals. I don't trust him every week but one cannot ignore he is the fourth highest scoring midfielder on the season. Home to Villa, he gets a boost in the ranks.
Philippe Coutinho - Jurgen Klopp is rotating players around, making it a headache for fantasy owners. A fit Coutinho has a spot nailed on in my view though, and is the Reds best goal threat against Watford.
Gerard Deulofeu - As an owner myself, it is painful to have witnessed two goals where the Spaniard could have or should have been awarded an assist. He got one last week and is consistently feeding Romelu Lukaku and company with excellent balls.
Cesc Fabregas - I can get some possibly deserved flak for ranking Fabregas here but my gut says Mourinho's sacking is going to make a player like Cesc go from overpriced dud to fantasy stud. Even though he didn't start last week, I am confident he will now that Mourinho is gone.
Kevin de Bruyne - It's a tough fixture for KdB but he got a bit of rest last week and is still a threat in any match to get returns. We need to wait another week or two to see if he or David Silva is the one to own but I feel better about KdB this week.
Andre Ayew - Even with the miserable form Swansea have been mired in for months now, Ayew has remained fantasy relevant. Last week, he got a chance to start up top giving him further appeal though I think Bafetimbi Gomis, who scored as a substitute, will return to the role.
Christian Eriksen - Typical Eriksen return last week as he assisted the goal by delivering a corner kick to Eric Dier. If Tottenham score at St. Mary's, and they should get at least one given the Saints defensive record, Eriksen will very likely be involved.
Jordan Henderson - It did not take long for Henderson to remind us of the fantasy potential he showed last season by scoring and assisting in his first start since returning from injury. He is looking like a nice differential for fantasy managers at a bargain price right now.
David Silva - It is only a matter of time until Silva is a weekly top 5 fantasy midfield option. His league form has yet to show since returning from injury and he has a tough matchup, but he is class and should not be ignored.
Sadio Mane - Two lines of thinking in giving Mane the last spot this week - 1) He is long overdue to get amongst the goals. 2) Spurs are vulnerable to conceding deep into matches. The stars may be aligning here.
Romelu Lukaku - I am too lazy to check the archives but I am pretty sure I have had Lukaku ranked first in the forwards for at least five weeks straight, including when Jamie Vardy was still active in his goal streak. I am not getting cute now as the two strikers face each other.
Jamie Vardy - Call me crazy but there looks to be goals in the Everton v Leicester match. If you have had Lukaku and Vardy in your front three in the FPL game for pretty much the entire season, you are holding a very nice ranking.
Odion Ighalo - Never question what Ighalo can do, because he does it every week. He nearly takes the number two spot for me, but I will give opponents Liverpool a bit of respect in perhaps keeping the Nigerian from scoring. Only a little bit though.
Troy Deeney - Deeney is the "little lamb" to Ighalo's "Mary" as the old nursery rhyme goes. Wherever Ighalo is, Deeney is sure to go too.
Olivier Giroud - Like with the Arsenal midfield rankings, I rank Giroud as if Vincent Kompany is not starting for Man City. But like the mids, Giroud would not drop very far regardless of Kompany's presence and makes for a solid play.
Diego Costa - You can take that bib off for good Diego, Mourinho has left the building. If Chelsea look sharp this week and Costa scores, I can see him being the biggest transfer in for fantasy managers next week.
Harry Kane - Kane has gone quiet in recent weeks and frustrated many a manager with his blank at home to Newcastle last weekend. Still, no other Premier League player has scored as many goals in the calendar year as Kane and Southampton are a vulnerable defense.
Sergio Aguero - It looks as of this writing that Aguero will be fit for the Arsenal clash. He is risky and not worth paying big money to bring in this week given the injury return and likely 60 minute shift if starting. Still, if you own him, you play him and this is where he falls in the ranks if you had a buffet-style choice of strikers this week.
Bojan - Stoke's attack is not consistent enough to rely on but Bojan is still top 10 in the FPL forward form guide and home to Palace will give him a chance to weave his way into some scoring chances.
Salomon Rondon - Rondon normally does not make the list because West Brom are not the type to score many if any goals week to week, but he assisted last week and is a menacing presence going up against the Cherries.
So there you have it. The best of the best to consider for Week 17. Be sure to check out the injury news around the league leading into your deadline here at Rotoworld. Luckily, with no international duty, domestic cup action or European competition during this week, the injury updates have been more about who is returning to action rather than who is set to miss time. Still, these boys train and accidents do happen. We will have it covered here if it does.
Good luck fellow managers, may your arrows be green and, for this weekend in particular, may the force be with you.