Everyone is familiar with the phrase "Cinderella Story". In fact, as a sports enthusiast, it would be impossible for one not be aware of it, as it applies to any team or individual that achieves far beyond expectations. Bill Murray made the phrase something of legend in the film "Caddyshack" and when it comes to March Madness in college basketball, the phrase will be used on any occasion when a school from a small conference pulls off an upset or two.
I am here today to put forth the notion that we should do away with this expression or, at the very least, alter it. Frankly, I have never witnessed Cinderella do anything sports related. I suppose she ran away from the ball with only one slipper on, but other than that, I've never seen her sink a three-pointer at the buzzer or make her way to the Wimbledon final. So instead, I propose that we change this phrase to "Leicester Story".
For my money, what the Foxes are doing this season in the Premier League ranks as the biggest leap of expectations in all of sports, at least, gathered from what I have witnessed in my lifetime. A small basketball school can qualify for the Big Dance and pull off a few wins in a row. A team in MLB, NFL, NHL or NBA that no one gave a chance to succeed at least has a decent outside chance of doing so because the revenue is spread out enough or draft picks are dispersed in such a way that it creates a modicum of balance and a perennial loser can become a contender in any given season. Such is not the case with the Premier League. While there can be movement from one level to another, such as the rise of Swansea City in this decade, or champions are built over time, which it took Manchester City a while to do despite the abundance of cash at their disposal, the idea that a club like Leicester City can legitimately become champions would seem virtually impossible. And yet, that prospect is looking more and more real every day, especially coming off a very convincing win at The Etihad this past weekend.
At this point, the title is their's to lose. Five points clear of Tottenham and Arsenal, they play the latter this weekend. If they were to lose, they remain in the top spot. The following nine fixtures are about as kind as one could possible schedule after that. Six of them are at home with only three away from King Power Stadium. With the home games in caps, here is the schedule that will take them all the way through to Week 36 -
(NORWICH, WEST BROM, watford, NEWCASTLE, crystal palace, SOUTHAMPTON, sunderland, WEST HAM, SWANSEA)
The final three weeks could be a test for them, but as long as they play without feeling the pressure of the magnitude of this historic season, they may have a big enough cushion in the table where the can afford to lose a couple. Keep in mind, the Foxes were just promoted last season, spent a great deal of time of it in last place, barely escaping relegation, and the only clubs that have a lower payroll are the three sides that were promoted this season - Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City.
At this point, I am fully backing this "Leicester Story". Despite the fact that I am a Tottenham supporter and I am positively thrilled that my club is in 2nd position at this stage of the season, and I should feel optimistic enough that a title is, at least, not out of the question, I love a story like this in any sport. Yes, my top wish is to see a title for Tottenham, and the only way for that to happen is for Leicester to slip up along the way. But, if Spurs are not the ones crowned champions come May, then I truly hope Leicester can pull this thing off. It is an amazing story, and you can guarantee they will make a movie about it at some point in the future.
Well it is on to Week 26 then. A weekend of games that features something which has only occurred a handful of times in the history of the league. First, here are the fixtures...
Week 26 Fixtures
Sunderland v Manchester United
AFC Bournemouth v Stoke City
Crystal Palace v Watford
Everton v West Bromwich Albion
Norwich City v West Ham United
Swansea City v Southampton
Chelsea v Newcastle United
Arsenal v Leicester City
Aston Villa v Liverpool
Manchester City v Tottenham
Yes, so what I have come to learn, courtesy of a Twitter feed churning out Premier League stats all the time, is that this weekend marks only the fifth occasion since the top level of English football has been known as the Premier League that the top four sides are squaring off against one another in two of the games. In terms of fantasy, this could be a very lucrative weekend or an utter disaster. I have eight players in my FPL squad from among these four clubs and I plan on starting seven of them. As I write this, I suddenly realize it may be time to rethink my XI then. If the two games have goals in them, then everything should be alright. But, if both are played tight, like that Leicester v Man City result when they met the first time in December, then this could be a nightmare week. Many of you are likely in the same boat. So, at least we can take solace that if the ship goes down, we all go down together. Other matches of note, Southampton are gunning for their sixth clean sheet on the trot with a trip to South Wales while Stoke are looking to avoid going goalless for the fifth game straight. Manchester United's improving attack should surge along with a clash against the leaky backline of Sunderland and Aston Villa have quietly been securing points and could take advantage of a lethargic Liverpool side.
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 - Despite conceding a goal last week, Courtois still grabbed a bonus point. A sign of how well he is playing. Chelsea kept two cleanies prior to the 1-1 draw with Man United and I expect Chelsea to keep Newcastle out at the Bridge.
Fraser Forster - Five clean sheets on the trot, one which took place away to Arsenal. Forster has been a revelation for the Saints since his return in January and there is no reason to shy away despite another match away from home.
David de Gea - United's defense has been strong for most of the season and de Gea is the main reason why. They take on lowly Sunderland who may be distracted by some deservedly bad press regarding one of their players this week.
Artur Boruc - Stoke have failed to score in their last four so it is time to give the Bournemouth defense a boost in a home match.
Joel Robles - Tim Howard may be available again this weekend, but as has been the case with Leighton Baines, I cannot see Roberto Martinez messing with a defense that is getting it done right now. West Brom's attack is sputtering and they had a midweek cup replay to tire them.
Heurelho Gomes - Like Stoke, Palace had gone through a massive goal rut, but have recently snapped the negative streak. Still, I think the absence of Yannick Bolasie makes them susceptible to getting shut down by opposing defenses, in this case Watford.
Petr Cech - As much as I am praising Leicester, if I have to back one keeper playing in the two matches featuring the top four sides, I have to go with Cech. The Foxes are not that far removed from a dry spell in attack and Cech has been sharp with five clean sheets in the past seven.
Branislav Ivanovic - A positive fixture for a defender that has massive upside in both attacking and defending for fantasy points, Ivanovic has the #1 spot this week on lockdown.
Ryan Bertrand - Ride the hot hand of the Saints defense against Swansea. I like Bertrand because he is playing further up in a 5-3-2. Even in a traditional left back role, he is getting forward and delivering crosses.
Seamus Coleman - Coleman popped up with his first goal in league play this season and he nearly scored in their last cup game. He certainly offers a threat at both ends in a home game against the Baggies.
Virgil van Dijk - Same upside as Bertrand, but I almost always prefer the full back to the center back. Still, a header or bonus points could be in the cards along with the possible clean sheet.
Chariie Daniels - Daniels has been a fine budget defensive option on the season, bolstered by his status as the Cherries penalty taker. A clean sheet against a dormant Potters attack is a realistic outcome.
Scott Dann - It has not been going the Eagles way since the calendar flipped to 2016 but Dann still finds a way to be a solid play in fantasy.
Cesar Azpilicueta - Consider him "Ivanovic light". Great taste, less money. Gary Cahill replacing the injured Kurt Zouma might be a bit of a downgrade for the Blues defense, but I do not think a home game against the Magpies will feel that effect.
Chris Smalling - While the back four may be somewhat settled for the Red Devils at the moment, I still feel a trust factor with Smalling despite his lofty price tag.
Aaron Cresswell - West Ham's clean sheet prospects take a hit as they do not have an experienced right back to start against Norwich. However, the Canaries defense is so poor, I think Cresswell will find a way to put up a good score one way or another.
Hector Bellerin - Like Cech at the keeper position, I am only nominating one defender from the top four clubs playing this weekend. I think Arsenal have the best chance at a clean sheet among the four and Bellerin the best chance to offer attacking points if Leicester do score.
Patrick van Aanholt - While I am betting United keep Sunderland down, PvA could still pop up with attacking points in what I picture as a 1-3 final.
Leandro Bacuna - I added Bacuna to the ranks last week and he returned a clean sheet. Another could happen again for an improving Villa defense, but I am also intrigued by his attacking ability.
Dimitri Payet - Payet has been quiet in league play the past few weeks but a well placed free kick in the FA Cup midweek gave him an assist and he faces a dreadful Norwich defense.
Roberto Firmino - Firmino is in the best form of his short career with Liverpool, is playing farthest forward for them despite his midfield designation, and is up against the last place team in the league. Positive signs all around.
Ross Barkley - It seems to be all or nothing with Barkley, but this season has had more "alls" than last. At home against West Brom who have some injury issues in defense, it could be another giant haul for the bull dog.
Alexis Sanchez - Perhaps I am ranking Sanchez too high based on the lack of form and a fixture against the top side. Still, I believe in class and Alexis is capable of delivering on any occasion.
Cesc Fabregas - The post-Mourinho era has been kind to Fabregas, who is playing further up in the hole behind Diego Costa. The two are linking up like they did last season and he should have plenty of opportunity to create against Newcastle.
Mesut Ozil - Ozil really should have scored at least once against Southampton two gameweeks ago and he did indeed score last weekend. He is looking sharp. We know he can assist. If he is in goal scoring form too, then he has the chance to get something out of a tough fixture.
Christian Eriksen - Eriksen has been the architect of Tottenham's attack and has really found his form in the past month. Man City's defense certainly wasn't up to the task last weekend, I think Eriksen helps Spurs put at least one past them this time around.
Riyad Mahrez - What a season for Mahrez. He has virtually equaled the production of Eden Hazard from last season, and Hazard won Player of the Year. It is a tough matchup, but the threat is always there. Expect to not see him ranked this low again for a long time.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - It will be tough to break through the Southampton defense, but Swansea have two weapons that can find a goal in any game. I give the edge to Sigurdsson over Ayew, as I think a set piece goal is more likely than one from open play
Dele Alli - Five goals in his last six road games is a fantastic stat for Alli. He has every chance to produce again given what he has shown this season, but my gut says that road scoring form is due for a blank.
Michail Antonio - Slaven Bilic might have to be thankful for the injuries to Victor Moses and Manuel Lanzini many weeks ago that allowed Antonio a shot as a starter. He's been magnificent and is coming off a goal midweek in FA Cup action. Opponents Norwich make it all the more appealing.
Wayne Rooney - Congratulations Wayne, you've earned it. It took me a while to trust that the Rooney of old was back. After getting the #4 rank last week, he shoots to the top with a lovely fixture against the porous defense of Sunderland.
Diego Costa - Costa put in an impressive shift in the draw with Man United last weekend and got his rewards with the late equalizer. I think a brace is in store against the Magpies assuming Costa's mind is still in the right place.
Romelu Lukaku - After many fantasy managers gave up on him before last weekend, Lukaku reminded them that he is still a top striker in the league with another goal to his tally. Home to West Brom looks the right environment for one or two more.
Sergio Aguero - Aguero has a history of doing major damage to Tottenham. While that wasn't the case in the reverse fixture earlier in the season and though the Citizens are hurting with midfield creators, the history and class gives Kun his rightful place in the ranks.
Benik Afobe - Afobe blanked last week after having scored three games in a row. At home against a Stoke side that has conceded nine goals in their last three, you really have to like his chances of getting back on the score sheet.
Harry Kane - It wouldn't surprise for Kane to come away without attacking points in this fixture, but it wouldn't surprise if he scores either.
Enner Valencia - Valencia is enjoying a very good run of form and there is no reason to get off the bandwagon with the hapless Canaries defense on the docket.
Jamie Vardy - It is a tough fixture for Vardy, perhaps the toughest of the season. But, we are talking about the poster boy of the overachievers here. He could find a way to do something special here.
Odion Ighalo - With some established striker stars back in form like Rooney and Costa, Ighalo has begun to drop in the ranks. I still think he is superb value in the FPL game and a goal against Crystal Palace is a reasonable expectation.
Olivier Giroud - Not the best week for optimism for Giroud owners, but he is still the spearhead of a usually dangerous attack, so he squeaks in for the final spot in the forward ranks.
So there you have it. The best of the best to consider for Week 26. Be sure to check the latest injury reports that come out of the press conferences ahead of this weekend's matches here at Rotoworld. Should, for example, Roberto Martinez come out and announce that Tim Howard is not only fit but confirms the US international will start for Everton, we will have it covered. David Silva looks a doubt but has not been entirely ruled out as of yet, but we will have the latest on him as well.
Good luck fellow managers, may your arrows be green.