Casual fantasy managers - step aside. This is our game now.
Week 26 seems like a distant memory, as we wrap up a two-week layoff in league play heading into Week 27, with FA Cup and European competition wedged in between. Some highlights we may have forgotten from last round - Fraser Forster helped himself to his sixth clean sheet on the trot in the six matches he has started for Southampton since returning from injury. Philippe Coutinho took no time in re-entering fantasy managers' minds with a hat trick of assists in Liverpool's amazing 0-6 drubbing of Aston Villa in which 9 of 10 starting outfield players for the Reds either scored or assisted. Chelsea showed flashes of a defending title-holding side with a convincing 5-1 rout of Newcastle, where Pedro and Willian were among the top fantasy scorers on the week, and Wahbi Khazri continued to look the next great new player in the Premier League, scoring a goal and racking up the maximum three bonus points in the FPL game.
Well that was then, and this is now folks. Week 27 marks the point of the fantasy season that will separate the wheat from the chaff. Due to the Capital One Cup final between Liverpool and Manchester City, four clubs will have their matches postponed this week: the two already mentioned, along with their would-be opponents, Everton and Newcastle United. Now, the news of these four clubs having a blank in Week 27 is not sudden news, it has been established for weeks. Lucky for you, there are many managers who simply are not on top of the ball, as is indicated by transfers in the FPL game so far to the buildup to this Saturday's deadline that has seen Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Ross Barkley become three of the top nine most purchased midfielders of the week. Congratulations, new owners - that empty area below the name of your new toy is where the fixture would normally be. You just burned a transfer and several million pounds on a prospect with no prospects at all.
Yes, the fantasy manager with their ear close to the ground has been preparing for Week 27 and, after the results of FA Cup matches last weekend, are already making plans for Week 30, when twice as many clubs will be left out of the gameweek because of cup commitments, perhaps more. Eight clubs are confirmed out of the Week 30 round and, if Arsenal are able to win their cup replay with Hull City, that will add two more clubs to the list - the Gunners and their would-be opponents that week, West Brom. With Tottenham bowing out to Palace in the competition, the task of building a full XI for Week 30 is somewhat more obtainable without major surgery, but every transfer made in the FPL game at this point should be for players that have an uninterrupted schedule between now and Week 30 to make sure that gameweek one free of headache. So, if you don't own Dimitri Payet already, it would probably be wise to hold off on buying him now - his upcoming schedule for the next four weeks is Sunderland, Tottenham, away to Everton, then a Week 30 blank. The best clubs to look at for investment this week are Leicester City, who have a fantastic schedule ahead of them, Southampton, who are on a brilliant run of defensive form, and Spurs, who are firmly in the title race with a pretty good schedule ahead of them, save for the North London derby in Week 29.
The shrewd manager should have virtually all of their FPL "chips" still available as well. While the All Out Attack chip is one that has no real advantage down the stretch this season, the second half Wildcard, Triple Captain and Bench Boost chips can all be used to take advantage of the inevitable double gameweeks that will come from these postponed matches and, if played right, can turn a mediocre ranking today into one to be proud of when the season comes to a close. So yes, it is time to start feeling optimistic from this moment forth as you can bet, if you plan accordingly over the next couple of months, you should see a meteoric rise in your ranks.
So, let us waste no further time then, and begin to look at what is on tap with the eight matches taking place here in Week 27...
Week 27 Fixtures
West Ham United v Sunderland
Leicester City v Norwich City
Southampton v Chelsea
Stoke City v Aston Villa
Watford v AFC Bournemouth
West Bromwich Albion v Crystal Palace
Manchester United v Arsenal
Tottenham v Swansea City
The most intriguing match for me this week is Southampton v Chelsea. The Saints are on an amazing run of six straight clean sheets while the Blues are probably at the height of confidence this season, coming off a five goal barrage against the Magpies, then following it up with a knockout of Manchester City in the FA Cup and a decent result away to PSG in Champions League that sets them up for a realistic shot at advancing with the second leg tie at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United were able to advance in the domestic cup, but that should have been expected against Shrewsbury. However, they were embarrassed in a loss to Midtjylland in the Europa League and now have to try and find confidence against title-chasing Arsenal. This is a vital match for the Gunners title-winning aspirations, as they look to keep pace with Tottenham, who have a much easier matchup at home against Swansea City. West Ham v Sunderland should offer plenty of talking points as it will be a battle of perhaps the most influential summer signing in the league in Payet going against arguably the most influential addition in the winter window in Wahbi Khazri, who looks to have a very similar game to Payet. Crystal Palace has not won a league game since before Christmas, but with the return of Yannick Bolasie, it bodes well for their chances against West Brom, who are in free-fall mode, illuminated by their cup exit to Championship side, Reading.
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...
Hugo Lloris - Lloris had been sidelined for a stretch after getting a shoulder injury against Manchester City in Week 26, but he's passed fir for Tottenham's Europa second leg with Fiorentina, meaning we should expect to see him between the sticks for WK27 at home to Swansea.
Kasper Schmeichel - Leiceter's title hopes have been just as dependent on their defensive form since the festive period as it has with their attacking exploits during the first half of the season. Home to Norwich looks a good spot to have faith in Schmeichel.
Heurelho Gomes - Watford have only kept one cleanie in their past nine league games, but I feel they can get it done at home to the Cherries. Benik Afobe will be the key to it all. The young striker had a terrible performance against Palace last time out and, if he does that again, the Hornets can find an overdue clean sheet here.
Ben Foster - It is a tall order to keep Everton from finding the net, but that is exactly what Foster was able to do on the road in Week 27. Now, with the confined of The Hawthorns and Palace as the opponent, I think he could make it three cleanies in five since his return to the XI.
Jack Butland - Butland has dropped in the ranks with news that Ryan Shawcross will indeed not be in the squad this weekend. If it were any other opponent or on the road, I'd likely remove him entirely, but I still think he is a decent play at home against the league's bottom side.
Petr Cech - FPL's top scoring keeper on the season will have to get it done at Old Trafford, but with such an important spot for the Gunners to pick up points and a Red Devils side that will be without Wayne Rooney, Cech deserves to sneak into this week's GK rankings.
Toby Alderweireld - Swansea are inching their way back to midtable respectability but were kept out last time against the Saints. A trip to White Hart Lane will not make it easier for them, so why not back FPL's top defender this season with this week's top ranking.
Christian Fuchs - The Foxes should be expected to roll over the Canaries at King Power this weekend, so that is why Fuchs is getting his highest ranking to date. A clean sheet plus potential attacking points, whether assisting from a corner or a trademark deep throw-in, makes him a sound option.
Aaron Cresswell - Special thanks to a reader who pointed out my error in Cresswell's assist record. I still see a West Ham defender as a top three option this week and Cresswell is man I want to have. He does offer assist potential and a clean sheet is also possible for the left back.
Patrick van Aanholt - A match against Manchester United last gameweek didn't stop me from ranking PvA and the marauding Dutch wingback did not disappoint. I will happily back him again when Sunderland travel to take on the Hammers.
Scott Dann - When you watch Palace play, you almost forget that Dann is a center back. He gets involved in may dead ball chances for the Eagles, whether on the giving or receiving end, and is one of the best passers in the opponent's half I've seen from someone at his position in a long time. I'm expecting more magic from him against the Baggies.
Eric Dier - Dier got some much-deserved rest during the two week layoff in the league and will be in a good position to help Spurs to a clean sheet and carries that bit of threat on the attack as well.
Hector Bellerin - Not only is the face of the Red Devil attack out for this match, the face of the defensive line, Chris Smalling, looks to be out of contention as well. Not to mention, David de Gea might not be ready for this one and now there is word Anthony Martial is rules out. I would play an Arsenal defender this week without feeling to pessimistic about a chance for returns.
Ryan Bertrand - It will be a major achievement if Southampton can continue their clean sheet streak alive against Chelsea, but even if they cannot, I like Bertrand best among their defensive options because he is either playing out wide in their midfield or is still getting forward with crosses if at left back. This is a week where I trust him more than the more popular Virgil van Dijk.
Branislav Ivanovic - This may be a tough week for Ivanovic to get attacking points, but he is still a threat in that regard. Plus, there is always a shot for the Blues to keep the Saints from scoring themselves.
Robert Huth - Huth is top of the form chart in FPL. While that can be a misleading stat for a defender who cannot be counted upon for consistent returns in attack, I still feel he is a solid play as an additional Leicester option against lowly Norwich.
Charlie Daniels - Daniels failed to convert a penalty chance against West Ham in the FA Cup last weekend, which always brings in to question if he will keep his duties - a major attraction to his fantasy appeal. I happen to think he will keep it because it was more a fine save from Adrian than it was a poor take from Daniels.
Craig Dawson - Just added to the ranks on Friday, word has come out that Dawson is fit, which improves West Brom's chances of a clean sheet and it is not a tall task to keep out Palace. It will hinge on how sharp Yannick Bolasie is in his potential first start since returning from injury.
Riyad Mahrez - FPL's top scorer on the season at home to a side that has given up more goals than any other? (Norwich are level with Sunderland at 50 goals conceded) Yes, please! Mahrez looks an appealing captain option this week.
Dimitri Payet - Payet was bossing Blackburn in the FA Cup tie last weekend. While he failed to produce for a few weeks, he rose to the occasion in the latter stages against Norwich in Week 27 with a goal and an assist. There is a good chance he can do similar against the Black Cats and is another player worthy of armband consideration.
Christian Eriksen - Erisken has been key in Tottenham's positive form in league play for a while now and I expect him to play a part in at least one goal against the Swans, perhaps more.
Mesut Ozil - United are in a defensive crisis as well as a confidence crisis. Meanwhile, Ozil is looking just as dangerous to score these days as he is to grab a customary assist. He remains the Gunners most consistent fantasy producer.
Dele Alli - The scoring record for Alli on the road is phenomenal and should no longer be a secret. He was extremely unlucky not to be awarded another goal or two at the Lane against Palace in the FA Cup. I think he will maintain his consistent feisty threat against the Swans.
Wahbi Khazri - If you saw how Sunderland took it to Man United in Week 26, then you saw the major influence Khazri has in their attack. He is on virtually every set piece and can offer threat in open play as well. It's time for FPL managers to think about investing in him sooner rather than later.
Aaron Ramsey - As much as it seems only natural to make Alexis Sanchez the next option in fantasy for Arsenal attacking investment, its time to begin to face facts. He has not looked his best, and all six goals this season have come between Weeks 7-9. I'd rather trot Ramsey out as the midfield alternative to Ozil at this point in time.
Xherdan Shaqiri - I feel like Stoke needs to have an attacking investment option in the ranks with a home game against Villa. Though Arnautovic has been more consistent over the course of the season, he is coming back from a layoff. Ibrahim Afellay delivered last gameweek, but my hunch is Shaqiri is due on a club that seems to have a merry-go-round of players who deliver in a given week.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - If Swansea are going to scrape a goal at White Hart Lane, the money has to be on Sigurdsson. Extra incentive playing his former club where he wasn't given a great deal of pitch time and he is a free kick whiz so just a well-placed foul could set him up to cash in.
Michail Antonio - Payet has been back in the headlines for the Hammers, but I am not in any way giving up on the potential of Antonio, who deserves a place in Slaven Bilic's XI, despite the return of Victor Moses and Manuel Lanzini. Only drawback, he filled in at right back in the FA Cup win, which takes a hit to his fantasy appeal.
Yannick Bolasie - After an extended injury absence, Bolasie made his return in Palace's cup win over Tottenham with a substitution appearance. There is no question in Alan Pardew's mind that Bolasie is vital to the cause, so I expect him to start against the Baggies, though he may play a shortened shift and still have a bit of rust.
Jamie Vardy - Everyone is invited to a Vardy party this weekend as the Foxes host Norwich. One goal seems a minimum return for him, two would be about what one would expect. A fine captaincy option this week after a nice bit of rest for the hard-working Vardy only helps.
Harry Kane - Keep an eye on news leading up to the deadline, but Mauricio Pochettino expects Kane to be available against the Swans on Sunday, wearing a protective mask after a broken nose against Palace. Assuming he is a go, he is a strong play this week.
Odion Ighalo - I ranked Ighalo rather low last week and the call proved accurate as he came up empty. However, I don't think this season is a flash-in-the-pan situation, I think he is the real deal. Troy Deeney stole all the point last time around but I like Ighalo to find the score sheet once again at home to the Cherries.
Enner Valencia - By the time people have enough faith in Valencia to invest in him, it may prove to late and the well will run dry. Home to Sunderland this week though, I see no reason not to feel confident he will find returns once again, assuming he recovers from an ankle complaint, which reports indicate he very well should.
Troy Deeney - There was a long stretch of the season where Deeney was ranked not far behind Ighalo in the upper tier of the forward ranks. After a brace last week and a plus matchup this week, I rank Deeney as a Top 5 option at the position with confidence.
Diego Costa - One goal may be all one can realistically project for Costa against a stalwart Southampton defense, but Costa is by far in his best form of the season and has the class to crack the streak the Saints are on right now.
Salomon Rondon - Seems almost impossible to believe but a West Brom striker has scored in each of his last two starts. Granted, the most recent one basically consisted of scoring from one inch away with his chest, but hey, Rondon does carry a threat. I think the Baggies have a better than 50% chance of scoring on Palace and I think its about a 75% chance it is Rondon who delivers it.
Jermain Defoe - The striker options begin to fall off a cliff rather quickly this week, something to be expected when Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku are out of the picture. Defoe simply has a nose for goal though and I can see Khazri or van Aanholt setting up the veteran striker for an easy tap in against the Hammers.
Benik Afobe - The very positive start for Afobe's Bournemouth career took a bump in the road in the loss to Stoke last time out as he looked truly out of sorts. Still, he hasn't been one of the top goal-getters across all levels of English football for nothing. He should still be getting plenty of service to pull something out against Watford.
Oliver Giroud/Danny Welbeck - I know I am hedging my bet here. Honestly, I would not go out and invest in either option this week, but if you own one, most likely Giroud, this is where I would rank him. My gut tells me Welbeck could get the nod. Whoever does, certainly has a chance to score and whoever does not, certainly could find the net as a substitute, as Welbeck was able to do so dramatically against Leicester.
So there you have it. The best of the best to consider for Week 27. Be sure to check the latest injury reports that come out of the press conferences ahead of this weekend's matches here at Rotoworld. Liverpool and Tottenham still have a Europa match to play before the gameweek begins, but pay closer attention to Spurs, as they are the only one of the two to have a league game this weekend. Enner Valencia is anoter status to monitor. Should he be ruled out before the deadline, you may want to take a punt on Emmanuel Emenike, especially in draft and salary leagues.
Good luck this week fellow managers, and may your arrows be green.