Whilst Jose Mourinho’s sacking has dominated the headlines this week it’s time to turn attention back to on pitch matters. The season is almost at the half way stage and we’re about to enter the hectic festive period. What does all of that mean from a Fantasy Football perspective?
This weekend is Gameweek 18 and with weeks 19, 20 and 21 to follow in pretty quick succession, this preview will combine all four sets of fixtures. The squad rotation of certain managers has already proved frustrating throughout December and with the added Boxing Day and New Years Day games to factor in, your mini leagues might look very different by January 3rd.
Here are five players who might be useful during this hectic schedule. My advice would be to look at the four weeks as a whole as there’s bound to be some rotation and even injuries to factor in – having a good bench has never been more important!
1) Harry Kane (Tottenham, Forward, £12.6m)
Kane has polarised opinion this season. Many are put off by his price tag and that was justified after a slow start to the season. Whether that was down to the World Cup or not can be debated all day but the fact is he has “blanked” only once in his last 7 league appearances. Even that was when he was rested to the bench against Leicester. Everton away is not an easy start to the festivities but home games against Bournemouth and Wolves followed by a trip to Cardiff look more like the type of games that Kane will thrive in.
One of the reasons I am promoting Kane as an option is that he has already had his rest. Pochettino revealed the England captain has been recovering from a cold this week but he still made an appearance from the bench in the cup tie at Arsenal. Even if he’s not captain material for week 18, he certainly is for 19, 20 and possibly 21. It’s probably coincidental but Kane’s record on Boxing Day is fantastic having netted in each of the last 3 seasons in the equivalent fixture. There are a lot of premium striking options but do they offer the stability of minutes that (I think) Kane does?
2) Eden Hazard (Chelsea, Midfield, £11m)
Sticking with premium options, Eden Hazard is next under the spotlight. After a very strong start to the season, the Belgian hadn’t scored for 8 weeks until he netted against Brighton last weekend. He followed that up with a goal from the bench against Bournemouth in the EFL Cup so he’s back in goalscoring form. Some niggly injuries have not helped but Hazard has 8 goals and 9 assists in the league and that really underlines why he should be on your radar.Embed from Getty Images
Chelsea start the festive programme with Leicester at home this weekend, followed by trips to Watford and Crystal Palace before bringing in the new year with Southampton visiting Stamford Bridge. A friendly looking set of fixtures and even is Hazard’s minutes are managed, he’s shown in various sub appearances that half an hour is all he needs to make an impact. Like Kane, his place is not under threat and that might be a telling factor.
3) Felipe Anderson (West Ham, Midfield, £7.4m)
Form is key and West Ham have become the mid-price favourites in recent weeks. Four wins in a row have catapulted the Hammers into the top half and their festive fixtures suggest there’s more joy ahead for Felipe Anderson and friends. Watford are the visitors this weekend before trips to Southampton and Burnley are topped off with a home game against Brighton. It’s a nice run for a team that is bang in form and FPL coverage appears vital.Embed from Getty Images
6 goals and 3 assists would suggest Anderson is the way to go, though if you can’t afford the Brazilian you could always consider Robert Snodgrass (£5.4m). We discussed his credentials last week and he has offered attacking returns in each of his last 4 games. FPL favourite Marko Arnautovic remains injured and with so many games in a short space of time it seems unlikely he will be back, which might secure Javier Hernandez’s place up front. At just £6.4m, that is also an avenue worth exploring.
4) Raheem Sterling (Man City, Midfield, £11.6m)
This was tougher than you might expect. It is barely worth saying that having Man City attacking players is a good idea, but in Pep’s world of rotation you’re running the risk of the 1 point sub appearance we all hate. So why am I putting Sterling forward?Embed from Getty Images
He’s had his rest. He has made two sub appearances this week which means, by my reckoning, he’s a guranteed starter against Crystal Palace on Saturday. 7 of his 9 goals have come at the Etihad and you’d be expecting more of the same this weekend. Leicester and Southampton away then follow and again, whilst they are not easy games there aren’t many games where you don’t expect City to win or at least score. They then finish this set of fixtures at home to Liverpool in the new year which I think we’re all looking forward to. The chances of any Man City outfield player starting all four games are slim to none but after his recent rest, I’m expecting him to start probably the first two and definitely the fourth one. It’s obviously impossible to predict but if you want Man City coverage, I’d say Sterling is the man. Sane has had midweek off which should also make him a safe bet for this weekend but after that you’re on your own. It’s a conundrum.
5) Paul Pogba (Man Utd, Midfield, £7.8m)
This is not a typo. Just a hunch, but I think Paul Pogba will be feeling pretty happy right now. From the outside looking in, I imagine a lot of the Man Utd players will be feeling a little relieved and assuming the new manager takes the shackles off, we might see a more attacking side in the coming weeks.Embed from Getty Images
A lot has been said about whether this group of players is good enough or whether they have been stifled by the manager. Now that Mourinho has been replaced I’m expecting a change of approach and as is so often the case, the players will all of a sudden be in better form. Of course it could just as easily get even worse but I don’t think the new manager will be playing for 0-0 somehow. Pogba has had somewhat of an enforced rest which means he should be well placed to get plenty of minutes in the hectic period, assuming he is recalled of course. Take your pick though – Martial, Rashford and even Lukaku will probably be chomping at the bit to restore their reputations under new management and with Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Newcastle providing the opposition, there’s every chance they’ll manage.
Just to explain a couple of omissions, Liverpool face Arsenal and Man City over these four games which will be tough to call and I think there are sides with better games. Arsenal players were closer to making the list but they’re running out of defenders and I imagine Aubameyang and Lacazette may share some starts if Emery sticks with one forward and two supporting players. It’s tricky and a not a risk I can take.
Remember, there’s a Friday night game this week so the deadline is 7pm Friday 21st December.
There is no change at the top of the OffsideRulePodcast league as Derek slightly extended his lead thanks to captain Sterling plus useful contributions from Sane, Mane and Jimenez.
That’s all for this week and indeed this year. I’ll be back in early 2019 with the next preview. Good luck with your teams and Merry Christmas!
You can follow Dave on Twitter @CM9798