Jeremy Spitzberg

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First XI: Week 20 Player Picks

Monday, December 30, 2013

Don't stop now, it's just getting good!

You're almost there!

You can do this!

If you can read this, you're too close.

Ok, maybe that last one doesn't belong. However, I feel like we need to start today's column with a little reassurance for the fantasy manager. The brave soul who has weathered deadline after deadline through this dark period. Not injury news, nor rotation worries, nor suspension threat will keep you from making your transfers, choosing your captain, and picking up your points.

A bit of house-keeping: as is the norm at this time of year, there is rotation needed to get through the sheer amount of news and the quick succession of gameweeks. To that end, I am taking care of the player picks for week 20. There is no truth to the rumour, however, that Neal will miss out on writing up the injuries and suspensions due to a niggling groin injury.

The fixture list for this round looks like this:

Swansea v Man City
Arsenal v Cardiff
Crystal Palace v Norwich
Fulham v West Ham
Liverpool v Hull
Southampton v Chelsea
Stoke v Everton
Sunderland v Aston Villa
West Brom v Newcastle
Man Utd v Tottenham

There's potential points from many of these matches with Arsenal and Liverpool at home to promoted sides, Manchester City at a wobbly Swansea, Everton at Stoke, and then a host of relegation six-pointers that could go any number of ways.

So let's assemble a team, and run the rule over the candidates for each spot, starting with the forwards.

1. Luis Suarez - Two consecutive 8-point returns. Not bad for a mere mortal striker, but a shocking fall from grace for Suarez. Of course those were probably two of the tougher away games on the schedule and now he faces Hull City. Despite Hull's big win against Fulham, and developing "tough to beat" reputation, they've been relying on their home form for points and have only one win and two draws on the road. Liverpool's attacking midfielders will come into our thoughts for this match too, especially Phillipe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling. Jordan Henderson was shifted out of his more attacking role and may again be needed to fill in deeper in midfield or on the flanks, decreasing his appeal for me.

2. Alvaro Negredo - It seems likely that Negredo will be restored to the starting XI after only coming off the bench against Crystal Palace. Indeed, with David Silva suspended, and Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic injured, we may see Negredo partner Edin Dzeko. So don't sell the Bosnian if you have him on the cheap from last week. They're equally priced now, so go with your heart and pick the one you think will shine.

3. Edin Dzeko - Just kidding. I love Manchester City's potential, but I'm probably not picking two strikers when they're on the road. Swansea have been shakey at times, but Manchester City can make hard work of things away from the Etihad.

3. Modibo Maiga - Just kidding? Nope. Maiga came into the match as a halftime substitute for Carlton Cole against West Brom and scored one and created another in quick succession. I would expect that he's earned a start against Fulham, who will be reeling from their loss to Hull, and who have allowed more goals at Craven Cottage than any other home side. He's also cheap as chips, which will help if you want to fill your bench with real players, or if you're looking to ship out the injured Mesut Ozil.

Other candidates for me would include Gabby Agbonlahor at Sunderland, as Villa's counter-attacking style works well on the road; Loic Remy at West Brom; Romelu Lukaku at Stoke, despite his habit of not scoring when we expect him to; Lukas Podolski, who was rested at the weekend and hosts Cardiff, Eden Hazard, who may be finding some consistency for Chelsea, and Marouane Chamahk hosting Norwich.

Moving into the midfield...

4. Ross Barkley - He's been a consistent performer, even when coming off the bench. That is my worry with him, as Everton have Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar available after being introduced from the bench at Southampton, and Gareth Barry back from suspension. Stoke continue to be a good home side, so this match has limited appeal, but someone is going to get points from Everton's midfield and it will most likely be Barkley.

5. Theo Walcott - A tough match for Arsenal against Newcastle, but Walcott's set-piece duty return an assist in addition to to two shots on target. Now he gets rudderless Cardiff at the Emirates. As he's just returned from an injury-layoff, and with Olivier Giroud in need of a rest and Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil injured... he's as nailed on a play as you can get. (Famous last words, right?)

6. Yannick Bolasie - Crystal Palace host Norwich, so their players are attractive. Perhaps surprisingly, there are several midfield options to choose from: Mile Jedinak has been a consistent point-getter, while Jason Puncheon and Barry Bannan provide creativity. However, I'm going for Bolasie as he's been more consistent over the last few matches than Puncheon, and better than Bannan. I couldn't argue with Jedinak, but Bolasie has the higher ceiling.

7. Yohan Cabaye - Cabaye didn't return many points at Arsenal, but that's too be expected. Travelling to West Brom should be a more favourable match-up, with the Baggies in relegation form. They shipped three to West Ham of all teams! Cabaye has been playing more advanced, with Cheik Tiote and Vurnon Anita holding down the center of the park, and that would bode well for Cabaye's potential. Hatem Ben Arfa may be pushing for a start, and he would be a cheaper, if riskier, option.

Other midfield options include Steven Pienaar, Christian Eriksen, who is in good form but travels to Manchester United, Adel Taarabt, rested at the weekend but maybe shut out of the team, Kevin Nolan at Fulham, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri who look set to feature against Swansea, and Ki Sung-Yueng who is suddenly Sunderland's talismanic player.

Now, the case for defence.

8. Joel Ward - Moved into midfield, and despite "the rules" this has been a bad thing for his fantasy value. He's just not getting the volume of tackles won. Palace are also not keeping clean sheets recently, but hosting Norwich is as good a time as any to get back into that habit. On current form, he may not be worth his market price, but he's in my team and I do expect the good returns to continue.

9. Vincent Kompany - Ward and Mathieu Debuchy are the top point-getters in defence, but Vincent Kompany is the form player in the category. He didn't score, but did keep a clean sheet this time. With Demichelis still out, and considering his importance to Manchester City and the way they play, I can't see him getting rested or rotated.

10. Mathieu Debuchy - See Ward, Joel above. Top fantasy player with a good matchup. What's not to love?

Not making the cut, but under consideration, are the other Manchester City defenders including Aleksander Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta; Arsenal defenders with Laurent Koscielny being the most consistent; and the cheap Aly Cissokho, who may be needed as Liverpool host Hull.

In net...

11. Joe Hart - Hart took a beating from Cameron Jerome but came out ahead as the Palace striker had to be taken off with an injured knee. Hart, and his broken face, continued on and made some great saves. There's a slight chance that Hart can't face Swansea, but it would show great faith in their keeper to let him play. And after what he's been through, he's due a little support.

Wojciech Szczęsny would be my pick of the premium keepers, while Tim Krul and Julian Speroni are good mid-priced options. David Stockdale Jussi Jääskeläinen and Thomas Sorensen are your budget options, but could get you a -6 as easily as a +9.

Good luck this week, and please let us know your picks in the comments.

Jeremy Spitzberg writes about fantasy soccer (football) and is a Rotoworld contributor. You can find him on Twitter @JSpitzberg.
Email :Jeremy Spitzberg

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