The Premier League last weekend was quite the roller coaster adventure. Points aplenty and exciting matches, starting off with the back and forth battle of the North London derby. We consumed so much delicious football, the league decided that we needed to go on a bit of a diet. Yes, we are cutting our calories in half this weekend with only five fixtures on tap, while the other half of the league participate in the next round of the FA Cup.
That's right, if you are the proud owner of any players from Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Sunderland, Watford, West Brom or West Ham, you will have to look elsewhere for fantasy production. Hopefully, you are playing this game with an eye toward the future and saw this week coming. Eight of these clubs were known to have a blank this round for a couple of weeks now, while the Arsenal v West Brom match was added to the group when the Gunners got past Hull City in the FA Cup replay earlier this week. It would not be uncommon for managers of the FPL to take a 4 point hit this week, possibly an 8 pointer, but the savviest of managers have made transfers in recent weeks with thought of this round in mind and are ready to field a full XI without sacrificing points.
It gets even more complex in draft leagues. When managers had their draft at the start of the season, they knew there would be weeks like this, but obviously have no clue as to which clubs would be left out of the most truncated of all gameweeks. So, you will have some managers who conceivably have no players to put in their lineup while others have a full lineup playing head to head. Those who are very short on useable players this week will have to make some tough decisions on who they may consider dropping in order to add a player that will in all likelihood start. The problem is, the deeper the league, the harder that is to do. You may be holding on to someone like Pape Souare but the best pickup you can make off the free agent pile is Steven Taylor. Is it really worth dropping Souare for a player you probably do not want much to do with after this week and risk the likely chance that another manager will nab Souare for themselves next week?
Luck has always been a major factor in head-to-head leagues, most notably in that you have no control over who you will be up against in a given week and wind up losing to the highest scoring manager week after week. You could easily have the most points over the course of the season but still only be mid-table in your league because of it. One likes to think that over the course of 38 weeks, things tend to even themselves out. Still, luck comes into play involving the fallout of this gameweek. Eventually, the players you have missing out will play twice in one week, making your side very strong. But, what if the schedule plays out so that the week these blanks are being made up, you happen to be matched up against another manager with several double gameweek players, thereby nullifying any advantage you might be looking forward to that makes up for the lack of players you have for this round? I suppose when it comes to head-to-head leagues, one has to look at the schedule like it is a referee. Unfortunately, sometimes a result is not decided by the better team on the field, but by the decision of a third party.
I am going to be crossing my fingers in all formats this week, including FPL, where I am relying on the only 11 players in my squad to all start. One of those players is Matt Targett, who has not featured in Southampton's last two league games. I will be spending the rest of the week requesting Ronald Koeman to start the kid, and he should if you look at how the Saints have done when Targett plays. In the 10 games this season where Targett has played 85 minutes or more, the Saints have kept seven clean sheets. You may think to yourself, well that is a skewed statistic because those clean sheets came when Fraser Forster entered the side and the defense improved. But, three of the ten cleanies came earlier in the season when Maarten Stekelenburg was between the sticks. There is some reason to think Koeman will recall the youngster then, especially given the last two results when Targett did not play ended in a loss and draw.
So, as we hold our collective breaths on the hope we can put up respectable numbers given the challenges of playing this round, let us take a look at the fixtures we have on tap...
Week 30 Fixtures
Norwich City v Manchester City
AFC Bournemouth v Swansea City
Stoke City v Southampton
Aston Villa v Tottenham
Leicester City v Newcastle United
Remember a few weeks back when you had Tottenham playing Manchester City and Leicester City playing Arsenal in the same round, marking a rare occasion where the top four sides were facing off against each other in one weekend? Well, it appears to be the opposite of that this week. The three clubs in the top four that are playing this weekend are matched up against the bottom three clubs in the league. While the argument can be made that the clubs on the bottom might be a bit more of a challenge when they are at this stage of a relegation battle, one still has to feel pretty confident if their fantasy teams include multiple prospects from Leicester, Tottenham and Manchester City. Bournemouth and Swansea City seems it can go in any direction. They both look to be safe from the drop at this point, but neither have any obtainable goals other than how high of a mid-table finish they can make. Stoke City and Southampton are also close to each other in the table, but will feel they still perhaps have a crack at a Europa League spot, so three points for either side would be a gigantic result, while a loss would be a major blow to any designs on qualifying for Europe.
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...
Kasper Schmeichel - Of the three table-topping clubs playing this weekend, Leicester is the one with the advantage of playing at home. This should be an easy win against the Magpies, but the Foxes will concentrate first on keeping them out before a potential goal explosion.
Joe Hart - Norwich simply have very little attacking threat to offer, scoring just once in their last three matches and three times over their last six. The presence of Vincent Kompany helps Hart's clean sheet chances all the more.
Hugo Lloris - Lloris tucks in behind Hart because, while Villa are performing terribly, they seem to have a bit more threat in their attack than the Canaries, plus Spurs will have their center backs playing on just a few days rest, returning from a trip to Germany Thursday evening.
Fraser Forster - Forster gets the nod over Butland as he has been exceptional since his return from injury. He is only human though, the Saints have conceded in their past two contests, but I still think the visiting side has the slight edge on clean sheet chances.
Jack Butland - Butland is atop the FPL scorers at his position once again, now that Petr Cech is sidelined with injury. The battle between Butland and Forster should be the highlight of this match, as they have been two of England's very best this season. A 0-0 final shouldn't shock anyone. I'd put the duo's ranking as a virtual tie assuming Ryan Shawcross is announced fit to start for the Potters.
Toby Alderweireld - The top scoring defender playing the club bottom of the table? Yes, please! Toby scored his third goal of the season in the North London Derby and also sports three assists on the season to add to the possibility of a clean sheet.
Virgil van Dijk - VvD is also coming off a goal last week, lifting him to a top three option on the season. He will look for attacking returns and a clean sheet is possible as well against a Stoke side that can occasionally fall flat in attack.
Vincent Kompany - City's captain is a bonus point magnet when the Sky Blues keep a clean sheet. They have a very good chance of doing that against the Canaries.
Ryan Bertrand - With Jose Fonte suspended and the fullback situation murky for the Saints, Bertrand offers the next best option for the Saints as he has some attacking threat to match his clean sheet chances.
Charile Daniels - Is he the new Leighton Baines? I am probably ranking Daniels too low here, even with a spot in the top five. He has penalty duties but managed to score from open play last time out. He seems prime for returns from either attacking or defending as the Cherries host the Swans.
Christian Fuchs - Fuchs shares duties in taking corners and also has the art of the throw-in mastered. He has a good chance to return something pleasant for his owners this week with Leicester hosting a floundering Newcastle side.
Kyle Walker - Danny Rose is a slight doubt for Spurs as of this writing, but Walker is not a bad option from the right back spot. He tends to get a couple of crosses into dangerous areas and maybe once a match takes a shot himself.
Robert Huth - Huth was on attacking fire, scoring a brace several weeks back. He is a large man that can head goals in from set pieces but, if that doesn't come to pass, a clean sheet is still a good bet.
Nicolas Otamendi - Otamendi is the other City defender you can count on to start and he is a good option this week against a wilting Canaries attack.
Eric Dier - Being rested for midweek action in Germany, expect Dier to be fresh for the trip to Villa. A clean sheet for the out-of-position defender is a fair possibility, though a yellow card can also hit him for the tenth time.
Ashley Williams - Williams has been the man the past two weeks, scoring the game-winner against Arsenal before keeping a clean sheet and the maximum three bonus points against Norwich.
Riyad Mahrez - Mahrez scored just his second goal since Christmas last week, but he is still pretty reliable as he's chipped in four assists in that stretch. Home to a defensively vulnerable Newcastle side, the sky is the limit. The captaincy option this week from the midfield.
David Silva - Silva was back to his old creative self last week, grabbing two assists in the dismantling of Aston Villa. Expect the points to flow again against Norwich.
Christian Eriksen - The attacking midfield three can be a bit tough to predict for two of the spots on a weekly basis but Eriksen is the dependable one. He's all over set pieces and will likely play a part in at least one goal.
Yaya Toure - Toure, if in the mood, could bully the Canaries all day in the round's opening fixture. Capable from scoring inside or outside the box, he will be bombing his way forward in the center of the City attack.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - Siggy is climbing the ranks in the second half of this season, scoring a goal in six of Swansea's last 10 games. If the Swans get one past Bournemouth, he is the likeliest source.
Marko Arnautovic - If Stoke are in the mood to score, Arnautovic is the best bet to play a part in it. He has had some massive hauls this season and presents a solid play in a week short on options.
Matt Ritchie - It took about two-thirds of the season to play out, but Ritchie is finally putting up the attacking returns we were expecting from the promoted Cherries. A set piece wizard, he should have a chance or two to keep his form going.
Dele Alli - Alli has been playing through pain recently but has the luxury of sitting out Spurs midweek Europa clash. He is vital to the title race and should be starting this weekend in a tasty matchup against Villa. He may play less than 90 minutes, but he is still a great weapon in fantasy.
Andre Ayew - Sigurdsson has taken over Ayew as the Swansea midfielder to own, but in a week short on options, Ayew is worth a play. He is all or nothing though - in the last three games he has scored, he has also assisted. Otherwise, it is a quiet 2 point FPL return.
Josh King - King is coming off a match where he grabbed a goal and an assist, so the form and confidence is there right now. Makes for a great pickup if unowned in draft leagues for this week.
Georginio Wijnaldum - Maybe the Magpies will have some fight in them. If they do, Wijnaldum would be the most likely to contribute attacking returns. A consolation goal counts as much as any when playing fantasy.
Sadio Mane - Mane is quickly fading off fantasy radars as the season wears on for him. He is not even dependable to start in a given week. That said, I think the talent will shine through before this season is over and this is a week where many need to rely on him.
Marc Albrighton - He's no Mahrez, but Leicester could put a crooked number on the Magpies so Albrighton could get a taste. This is the week you want to use him.
Sergio Aguero - Aguero is three goals down for the Golden Boot this season and he has scored in every match at Carrow Road that he has played. So you have incentive and track record to make him the top striker option and a solid captain option as well.
Harry Kane - Kane has been much more effective from the goals department when Moussa Dembele is in the side, and we saw it again last week with a brilliant strike. A brace here would not surprise anyone.
Jamie Vardy - Another Vardy party could be in store here. With penalty duties, we could easily see him taking another one from the spot against a suspect Newcastle defense.
Benik Afobe - Afobe has settled pretty nicely in the top flight, scoring four goals since his acquisition. He will look for #5 against the Swans at Dean Court.
Wilfried Bony - City started two strikers last week and it would be great news for Bony owners if they do again. Even if he only subs on, it could be a half hour to do some damage against the sinking Canaries.
Graziano Pelle - Things really begin to get risky at the position this week here, but if Shane Long isn't ready to return, Pelle will likely get another crack in the starting XI. If he does and Shawcross is not 100% for Stoke, Pelle has a chance to do something.
Shinji Okazaki - I don't recall Okazaki making my rankings ever before, but it is that kind of week. The upside is that he has been starting regularly and the opponents are not very good, especially on the road.
So there you have it. The best of the best to consider for Week 30. Be sure to check out the latest injury news on Friday and before the deadlines lock on Saturday. Tottenham have a game against Borussia Dortmund tonight, so there could be a player from that side who could get injured. It may be a short week on the schedule but we will not be short on coverage as we get you prepared for Week 30.
Good luck this week fellow managers and may your arrows be green.