What a difference a new year makes.
Gameweek 20, the first round of Premier League action in 2016, played out in a way that would have been business as usual in the 2014-2015 season, but was completely off the script of this campaign, perhaps signaling a return to the "expected".
Chelsea looked like the defending title-holders that they are in their most convincing display this term with a 0-3 drubbing of Crystal Palace. Manchester United actually scored multiple goals, the first time since Thanksgiving, with Wayne Rooney of all people grabbing a game-winner in dramatic, cheeky fashion. Sergio Aguero scored his first league goal since before "Turkey Day" and cleaned up with three bonus points in a display we have been waiting for as City edged Watford. Suddenly, it appears our 100m FPL budget is actually worth spending again as the big guns are firing.
Meanwhile, those that had been dominating the first half of the season suddenly are blanking. Odion Ighalo was held without a goal for the first time since, you guessed it, before Thanksgiving while Leicester City, the darlings of the top flight, were held goalless for the third consecutive match. The combination of old giants waking up and budget heroes falling on hard times has ignited many an FPL wildcard just as the "2nd half Wildcard" comes into play. Perhaps it is a good time to cash in on the profits of the likes of Jamie Vardy. Only time will tell if Week 20 was a true turning of the tide or just a one-round aberration from what we have become accustomed to this season.
Well, at least one thing about Week 20 stayed the same...I was thoroughly disappointed with my FPL score, highlighted by the fact that despite Aguero finally coming good for me, I still managed to pick a bad captain (Ozil) and finish with a point total below the round average. I spent about 72 hours leading up to the Week 20 deadline weighing the decision I had to make between starting Gerard Deulofeu or Dele Alli. Take a guess at which one wound up on my bench. It was a tough call, so I thought. Everton entered the week with a very healthy attack that managed to score three at home against a usually stubborn Stoke defense the week prior, with Deulofeu having grabbed one of those goals, while Tottenham had less of an in-form attack but going against a Toffee defense that were getting beaten with regularity. The two factors seemed to cancel out for me, so in the end, I decided go with the one that is coming off a goal. Naturally, Alli gets the goal while Deulofeu doesn't even start.
Before Week 20 even began, as I often do, I was looking ahead at transfers for Week 21. I was already set to offload Deulofeu and I wanted to get Dimitri Payet back in my side. West Ham have a nice schedule in front of them and when I saw how they looked in the early kickoff against Liverpool in Week 20, I had the perfect "2 Free Transfer" plan in place - just enough cash to take Chris Smalling and Deulofeu out and replace with Aaron Cresswell and Payet. I did my part in checking on the transfers in & out after Saturday to make sure I could safely execute the move. Payet was at about 36% to rise and considering he only produced a one point cameo, I didn't think there would be a mad dash to acquire his services.
Wrong again, Fuzzy.
Payet went up .1m within about 36 hours of checking his transfer status, and I was priced out of the move I wanted to make. Time will tell how much this will hurt. If the season is any indication, it will be another devastating blow. I tell you, this season has been Shakespearean, comical and tragic all in one. If I make an early transfer, the new toy gets crocked in training. If I take precautions, I get priced out. It's not as if the players in my side are fantasy rubbish. They all have relevance and ownership. It just seems I have a knack for owning them during the periods when they flop. This is why I play fantasy sports rather than the stock market folks. Anyway, I genuinely like the look of my team heading into Week 21, so despite a disappointing Week 20, I am feeling optimistic. Let's look at the matches we have for this upcoming midweek round then...
Week 21 Fixtures
Aston Villa v Crystal Palace
AFC Bournemouth v West Ham United
Newcastle United v Manchester United
Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion
Manchester City v Everton
Southampton v Watford
Stoke City v Norwich City
Swansea City v Sunderland
Liverpool v Arsenal
Tottenham v Leicester City
The FA Cup third round has invaded the top flight over the weekend and, as of this writing, we still have clubs yet to play their match. One of those is Tottenham v Leicester City at White Hart Lane. The same exact fixture will commence just 72 hours later. If Leicester were smart, they would field a weak side in cup play and focus on a good league result. Despite a recent dry spell, they still have an opportunity for big things by the end of the season and advancing in the cup is only going to make things more challenging for them. Liverpool have an injury crisis at center back, perhaps creating a solid Arsenal attack all the more dangerous. City v Everton promises to have goals aplenty. Chelsea are in good shape to keep their momentum going with a home game against the Baggies. Swansea v Sunderland could be a huge difference-maker for both sides' second half of the season hopes.
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...
Thibaut Courtois - Chelsea have the momentum of their best performance of the season to build off of. I think they do it with a clean sheet at the Bridge against West Brom.
Jack Butland - Stoke were bound to hit a bump in defensive form after having a long, successful run. I like them to get back on track this week at home to a Norwich side that offers minimal threat.
Lukasz Fabianski - Swansea still have much to prove in their attack but they have been much-improved defensively outside of the two goals conceded last gameweek to United. Home to Sunderland, I think they have a good shot at a clean sheet.
Hugo Lloris - It will be a test of things to come for the second half of the season, but a solid Spurs defense has the opportunity to take advantage of a Foxes attack that has fallen on hard times. Extra incentive with the match in north London.
Petr Cech - Back to back clean sheets for the Gunners who hit the road to play a Liverpool side minus Coutinho means they are in good shape to make it three on the trot.
Wayne Hennessey- Prior to the drubbing at the hands of Chelsea, Palace had kept clean sheets in three of their previous four. They hit the road but against woeful last place Villa.
Branislav Ivanovic - I've been bullish on Ivanovic before the Chelsea uprising last week, and all he has done is rank second in the current FPL form guide. He may not be a good defender, but attacking and defending returns are looking to come his way.
Toby Alderwiereld - Fantasy's top scoring defender has a home game against a Leicester side in a goal rut. Picked up his third assist of the season last week along with the max bonus reward.
Hector Bellerin - We finally get a glimpse of Bellerin's attacking potential with his pair of assist in Arsenal's FA Cup win. Another solid candidate to get a haul from both ends of the pitch against a suspect Liverpool side.
Glen Johnson - Johnson has a share of the lead for assists among defenders on the season and Stoke have a good clean sheet shot with a home date against the Canaries.
Aaron Cresswell - Expect Cresswell to be among the top five choices at the position for most weeks over the next half dozen games or so. With Payet back, the Hammers are looking strong in attack and in defense. Chance for glory either way for the left back.
Ashley Wiliams - Maybe I was being too optimistic with backing Williams so highly last week at Old Trafford, but Swansea had a run of three cleanies before that and home to the Black Cats is a good environment to make it four out of five. Bonus point candidate as well.
Joel Ward - Ward is eclipsing Scott Dann in the form guide right now, thanks to three bonus points in his last five games. He scored in the Eagles FA Cup match, adding some attacking form to Palace's clean sheet potential against the lowly Villans.
Cesar Azpilicueta - If Ivanovic is too expensive for your taste, Azpilicueta will serve nicely. Not as much attacking threat as Ivan but still can pop up with the odd assist.
Laurent Koscielny - Coming off a 15 point monster haul, the last time Koscielny had a double-digit score, he did it in back to back weeks. No surprise if he repeats that feat.
Chris Smalling - Smalling hasn't been as dependable in fantasy as he was earlier in the season, but United still look to have a decent shot at a clean sheet on the road against a Jekyll and Hyde Newcastle attack.
Scott Dann - Dann takes dead ball kicks and he delivered a nifty through ball in what was perhaps Palace's best moment in the loss to Chelsea. Surely, he has a shot to come good against Aston Villa.
Yaya Toure - When he gets on a roll, there is no stopping this beast. Toure has scored in three of the past four league games and with Everton at home, the sky is the limit for the Sky Blue attack.
Kevin de Bruyne - Consider the top two picks at the position this week 1A and 1B. Yaya gets the edge for the actual form, but KdB plays further up and has shown to be just as lethal.
Mesut Ozil - Two blanks in his last three, Ozil is indeed human. Still a top three choice for his class and what looks to be a delicious matchup against a weakened Reds defense.
Aaron Ramsey - Consider the "2A and 2B" options behind the City duo. Ramsey should have plenty of opportunities to get forward inside the box as Arsenal look to spend the bulk of their match in the final third.
Oscar - Chelsea's attack is alive and well and Oscar looks to be the most dependable weapon in their midfield, but Willian will make the list as well. Oscar gets the edge as he looks to have spot kick duties to his name as well. UPDATE: Oscar picked up a toe injury in the FA Cup win against Scunthorpe. Hold off on buying him if you do not yet own him. Check in before the deadline to see if there is a timetable. With two rounds in the next 5 days, you may want to move him out for one of the cheaper prospects below.
Marko Arnautovic - Stoke's lone goal last week was a link up between Jon Walters and Joselu, helping perhaps two fantasy managers on the planet. I am not a huge Marko fan, but he should get his chance for another big day with a home tilt against Norwich.
Willian - Had the guts to rank Willian last week over the likes of Eden Hazard. Maybe we are only seeing a window of form that will soon close, but until he proves otherwise, he is a key in the Chelsea attack every week.
Dele Alli - With Tottenham news just released for their FA Cup match, I am not surprised to see Alli rested, and saving him from a possible eighth yellow card for the time being. He will be fresh and continue to get into good positions to help Spurs find the net.
Riyad Mahrez - While I do not feel great about Mahrez as an option this week in a tough matchup while suffering from a dip in form, he has done too much on the season to disrespect him by ranking him any lower than this.
Michail Antonio - When Manuel Lanzini and Victor Moses are both fit, I don't know who the odd man out will be, but my pick this week is Antonio, as I want to see Payet get one start under his belt before opting for him. It helps that Antonio has been a top 5 scorer at the position over the last five weeks.
Ross Barkley - City are showing that they are capable of a clean sheet without the presence of Vincent Kompany but I still think Everton have a goal or two in them. Barkley is their best midfield bet to be a part of it.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - Rotation is the name of the game with the Jacks these days, but with a brilliant headed goal against United last gameweek, I expect the Icelander to be safe to make the Week 21 XI and is a solid bet to get a haul against the Black Cats.
Sergio Aguero - He's back folks. Fresh off a brilliant performance in FA Cup play with a goal and an assist, Kun looks healthy and hungry once again. He looks a solid captaincy option.
Odion Ighalo - Ighalo blanked for the first time in ages last gameweek but I do not see him hitting a funk. If anything, he will make up for his blank with two this week against a Southampton defense that is usually more disappointing than impressive.
Diego Costa - Costa was one of many Blues that looked at the top of their game last matchday. His linkup play with Cesc Fabregas was so steady last season and the two look to be on the same page once again. UPDATE: Well, someone who had yet to play in FA Cup action was bound to get a knock. Costa picked one up and is now doubtful for Week 21. If you already own him, you may want to hold in the hopes he misses one match at the most and perhaps starts against West Brom but he is not worth risking as a new transfer into your squad.
Romelu Lukaku - Lukaku could not find the net against Spurs last time out but he did assist the Toffees only goal. He should be a handful for the Citizens but probably a ceiling of one goal or assist here.
Olivier Giroud - Yet another Gunner to consider in the match with Liverpool that looks to be bound for multiple goals. He may blank, he may get a brace, so I think the even money is that he finds the net once.
Harry Kane - About to play in cup action as I write this, I am going to assume Kane escapes his shift injury-free. Leicester has improved defensively in recent times but Kane will certainly get his share of looks and I think he grabs a goal here.
Troy Deeney - Ighalo's best friend, Deeney will likely keep the linkup between the two going, if not finding the net himself. (I said this exact line last week and see no reason to change a thing)
Bojan - Word on the street is that Bojan may be on the outs from the Britannia during the January window. Until then, get what you can from this nimble-footed maestro capable of slicing through an improving but not dominant Norwich defense.
Anthony Martial - I feel like I have to pick one of Martial or Rooney for their trip to St. James'. I opt for the former because I think he has more tricks up his sleeve.
Andy Carroll - I don't trust him on a weekly basis but I have visions of a classic Carroll header going in against the Cherries.
Jamie Vardy - As with Mahrez, there has just been too much good from Vardy on the season to totally write him off, but he barely makes the list with a tough matchup, coming back from an injury, and between he and Mahrez I would much rather have the latter in my side.
So there you have it. The best of the best to consider for Week 21. Again, we still have Chelsea and Tottenham with FA Cup results laying ahead of them, and possible injuries to consider as a result, so be sure to check back ahead of Tuesday's deadline with our injury report here at Rotoworld. It will be a quick turnaround for Week 22 as well, so check out the next rankings column here in a few days.
Good luck fellow managers, may your arrows be green.