Happy December fantasy PL managers! You have to love this month among all the months in the Premier League season. No international breaks and an additional midweek round over the holidays makes for exciting times. It's the festive season, so if you are going to throw a party, why not make it a Vardy Party? (Claudio Ranieri not invited)
Yes, Jamie Vardy was the biggest storyline last week, and deservedly so, after breaking the PL record for consecutive games with scoring at least one goal. When looking at all the world-class talent to pass through this league over the 20 some odd years, it is almost impossible to believe Vardy is the man atop the mountain. The story is so incredible and inspiring, rumor has it that Hollywood wants to create a film that chronicles Vardy's meteoric rise. We are due for another inspirational sports film, aren't we? Let's just hope they can find someone not named Mark Wahlberg to play the role of Mr. Vardy. No offense Mark...sending good vibrations your way.
I have to say, when it comes to looking back at the Week 14 rankings, I deserve a nice little self-pat on the back. Naturally, when ranking dozens and dozens of players, no one is going to nail it completely. That would be a feat nearly as difficult as filling out a perfect March Madness NCAA bracket. Still, in general, if you followed last week's ranks and made some decisions based on them, you likely would have benefited and that makes me feel, well, fuzzy inside. 'Tis the season for giving they say, and my goal is to give you that extra bit of help in putting forth the best fantasy team you can. If personal performance can add any merit to my musings here, in two highly-competitive head to head leagues with other writers in the fantasy industry, I am currently sporting records of 11-3 (Playtogga) and 10-4 (Fantrax). Certainly I am on pace to lock up a Champions League spot, right? I won't anoint myself "The Special One" anytime soon though.
In the traditional FPL game, I am not happy with my current ranking - a six digit number rank leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It comes down to one major flaw this season - I have only placed the armband on a decent scoring player twice in fourteen tries. If one of those weeks was not the Aguero five goal affair, my ranking would be way worse than it already is. Maybe my armband skills are poor, I can accept that. Only two good picks in 14 though, that is almost hard to do. Had I given Leicester and Vardy the respect they have been deserving all along, I would be sitting so much prettier now. That said, I am in this mental trap where I feel the moment I finally cave in and captain Vardy, that will be the week he stops scoring. Surely, others can attest to that torture of the mind? Picking the right captain for me has been akin to one of those trap scenes in the series of Saw movies. Gruesome.
But, forever forward. I've been in six digit FPL ranking territory at this stage of the season in years past. There is time to finish strong and inside the top 10,000, which is where I want to be. Now, let's take a glimpse at this week's fixture list:
Week 15 Fixtures
Stoke City v Manchester City
Arsenal v Sunderland
Manchester United v West Ham United
Southampton v Aston Villa
Swansea City v Leicester City
Watford v Norwich City
West Bromwich Albion v Tottenham
Chelsea v AFC Bournemouth
Newcastle United v Liverpool
Everton v Crystal Palace
Just as we are ramping up for the busiest stretch of the PL calendar, it seems injuries are piling up everywhere and for me it is providing the major storyline heading into Week 15. As you will see below, I am bullish on Chelsea for the first time in ages, not just because of their improving form but given the match with Bournemouth, who may be starting a very inexperienced keeper, having their top two on the depth chart injured. Man City have the early match away to Stoke and with no Kompany, a questionable Aguero and David Silva perhaps still not 100% to start, it could provide the Potters a chance to find a good result. And then there is Arsenal. Poor Arsenal. If you read comments in social media this week, you would think the Gunners are the only club to be struck with injury problems. To be fair, they are experiencing their share right now and though they should easily dispatch the Black Cats at home, I have this image of Sam Allardyce grinning at the final whistle. I wouldn't bet money on it, but a draw wouldn't shock me. One fixture looks a certain lock - Liverpool will go berserk on Newcastle United for reasons explained throughout the rankings...
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...
Petr Cech - Arsenal are licking their injury wounds and the loss of Francis Coquelin may cost them a couple of clean sheets going forward, but the Gunners still look the most likely to keep out their opponent this weekend, hosting Sunderland.
David de Gea - West Ham showed that the loss of Payet hasn't ruined thier attacking abilities but they will be facing a much tougher atmosphere at Old Trafford.
Hugo Lloris - Lloris came up with a big save to keep a clean sheet against Chelsea last week. Despite hitting the road, he and the Spurs defense have a good chance to stifle West Brom.
Asmir Begovic - Back to back clean sheets for the Blues as they look to be making a defensive breakthrough. Opponents Bournemouth did well to score three late goals at home against Everton last week but I wouldn't expect a repeat at Stamford Bridge. *UPDATE: Thibault Courtois has now been declared fit and will likely regain the #1 job straight away. Now may be a good time to invest in FPL with his price down to 5.2 and Chelsea's defense improving. Time to say goodbye to Begovic.
Martin Stekelenburg - Had the rankings been compiled 24 hours ago, the Saints shot-stopper might be ranked a bit higher here. But they just shipped a half dozen to Liverpool in the Capital One Cup. Still, at home to lowly Villa is a perfect recipe to make amends quickly.
Virgil van Dijk - The casual fantasy PL manager may not even know how poor Southampton's defense did in midweek cup action and it could be to their benefit. VvD has been fantasy gold in all formats since his arrival and a home match with Aston Villa looks like money in the bank.
Ryan Bertrand - I really am picking on the Villans by going with two Saints at the top of the defensive ranks. But keep in mind it is more than just the clean sheet potential. Bertrand assisted the Saints goal in midweek and has been delivering quality crosses on a consistent basis.
Branislav Ivanovic - Remember this guy? Maybe I am jumping the gun too quickly, but Chelsea are looking competent defensively now and Ivanovic still carries an attacking threat that has made him one of the best fantasy scorers among defenders for years. At home to the Cherries who may have to turn to Ryan Allsop between the sticks could lead to a long overdue goal explosion from the Blues.
Hector Bellerin - Bellerin has been quiet lately but I still believe in his ability to grab a huge haul in most matchups with his blinding speed. Perhaps the loss of Alexis will see him push further up more often to help the attack. Clean sheet potential is there too.
Alberto Moreno - Hard to believe Brendan Rodgers opted for Joe Gomez over Moreno at the start of the season, seeing how productive the latter has been. The Reds are in fantastic road form facing a Newcastle side in terrible form on any ground.
Nacho Monreal - Doubling down on Arsenal defenders and would maybe recommend a third option if Laurent Koscielny were not injury flagged. Monreal has somewhat quietly surpassed Bellerin and Kos as the Gunners top FPL scorer on the season.
Toby Alderweireld - Danny Rose is in the conversation here too, with both carrying clean sheet potential. I just picture Spurs with a better chance of scoring at The Hawthorns from a set piece versus open play, and Toby has been finding good positioning in those situations.
Chris Smailing - As mentioned before, West Ham will not be simple to keep out with the loss of Payet. However, United are tough to break through on their own soil and Smalling has a knack for bonus points in FPL, collecting two in the Red Devils previous home clean sheet v West Brom.
Aleksandar Kolarov - FPL defender points leader on the season, coming off a goal. Why rank him so low? Something about the combination of playing away to Stoke and it being the early Saturday kickoff makes me think City stumbles somewhat this week.
Eden Hazard - Am I getting a bit mad with this ranking? Two weeks ago, I had him unranked for 3 or 4 weeks straight. Last week, I had him ranked 7th at his position despite a tough fixture away to Spurs. Now home to Bournemouth and possibly playing furthest forward as he did last week, I am seeing a monster breakthrough for last season's MVP.
Ross Barkley - Had him ranked #2 last week and he finished Top 5 in FPL with a healthy 13 pointer. Everton's attack doesn't seem to be slowing down during this kind run of fixtures. Palace aren't pushovers but they aren't exactly formidable either.
Sadio Mane - No question Mane has been disappointing over the last month or two for FPL managers, but he scored a goal in midweek and has home cooking against Aston Villa, who are now without Micah Richards. Could be the big game we have been waiting for from him.
Mesut Ozil - Ozil continues to produce, scoring a goal last week rather than the usual assist, but he is trending down a bit for me with the loss of Alexis and Cazorla. I would expect Sam Allardyce to try and park the bus here too. Doesn't mean Ozil cannot produce yet again, just tempering expectations a bit.
Roberto Firmino - You would be seeing the name Philippe Coutinho here but he is still an injury doubt as of this writing. Firmino seems to deliver all or nothing performances but when it comes to the Reds road form and the Newcastle defense, I am heavily leaning toward "all" here.
Gerard Deulofeu - Another Toffee midfielder to back this week as I have done for most of the past month. Deulofeu is providing some pretty passes and to see him feed Lukaku at home on Monday night for a score seems like it is written in the stars.
Kevin de Bruyne - Massive game from KdB last week, leading all mids in scoring across every format. Not out of the question for him to deliver another double digit day in fantasy, but it is a tricky matchup at the Britannia. Still, if you have him, start him with optimism.
Riyad Mahrez - Leicester continue to exceed expectations while opponents Swansea continue to under perform. Mahrez is a nightmare for defenders and the Swans haven't kept a clean sheet since Week 6. I'd rank Mahrez higher here but I feel a slight tinge of a Swansea upset in the cards.
Yannick Bolasie - I want to admit I failed to feature the best fantasy option from Palace's midfield for several weeks, backing Yohan Cabaye. Bolasie has been consistent, collecting three goals and an assist over the past four. They travel to Goodison, but Everton are not great defensively since losing Phil Jagielka.
Pedro - Chelsea players are returning to fantasy relevance slowly, but surely. He didn't get the end product last week against Spurs, but Pedro came close to scoring a couple of times. Facing Bournemouth next will feel like going from taking an exam at MIT to filling out a coloring book in kindergarten.
Andre Ayew - As bad as results have been for Swansea, Ayew to his credit has found a way to produce most weeks. They may not beat Leicester but the Foxes are always a strong bet to concede. No better player to back to get it than Ayew.
Yann M'Vila - M'Vila is ranked here every week and deservedly so for those playing in non-FPL formats. He is as consistent as it gets when stuffing categories of the non-scoring variety regardless of opponent.
Christian Eriksen - I lost count of how many free kicks and corners Eriksen had against Chelsea last week by about the 20th minute. Not the best of matchups, but if Tottenham score, he will very likely provide returns.
Romelu Lukaku - I am just going to stick with Lukaku atop the forward ranks, it has proven beneficial so far. His form will likely dip into a quiet spell again soon, given his Jekyll & Hyde reputation, but you have got to ride the hot hand for now.
Jamie Vardy - The nerve of me to rank Vardy 6th at the position last week, thinking United would give him the toughest test of his goal streak. He climbs back near the top where he belongs this week, looking to extend his record against the Swans.
Odion Ighalo - Ighalo made the top five in the ranks last week, and he returns the respect with the biggest point haul in FPL for forwards in Week 14. If it weren't for the Hollywood story of Vardy, Ighalo would be getting the attention he deserves. Home to Norwich, he just might score a couple this week.
Olivier Giroud - I think I would have Giroud a spot or two higher but Arsenal are not only facing injuries, the confidence has taken a hit as well. Still, Giroud is the best bet to score from their side and I think they will score one against an improving Sunderland defense.
Troy Deeney - If it ain't broke...The Ighalo and Deeney partnership up top has done nothing but flourish consistently week after week, which is why Watford are looking safest amongst the promoted clubs to stay up this season. They face Norwich at home this time around, plenty of reason to think the success will continue.
Christian Benteke - Plenty of optimism for Liverpool suddenly at the striker position as Daniel Sturridge bagged a brace midweek while Divock Origi showed he merits pitch time with a hat trick in the cup win over the Saints. However, Jurgen Klopp will likely turn back to Benteke for the league match this weekend, and Benteke versus a Newcastle defense is enticing to say the least.
Harry Kane - Perhaps I take the "away to West Brom" matchup for fantasy players a bit overboard and rank Kane a bit too low this week. It is just that those ranked higher have really strong matchups and are for the most part in very good form. Just goes to show how strong the forward position is at the moment. If you aren't starting three in your XI, you need to make a move.
Graziano Pelle - Some may be sleeping on Pelle as he served a suspension, but he should be back in the XI for Ronald Koeman against Aston Villa in a plus matchup. I wouldn't go out and buy him this week, there is a chance Shane Long earns another start after scoring last week, but if you've held Pelle, you have to start him given the potential in this fixture.
Sergio Aguero - If fitness weren't a question he would be ranked higher here. Still, reports suggest that he will be ready this weekend. I worry we will only see 60 minutes from him though. He can score a hat trick in half that time given the right matchup, but I am sticking to my guns regarding City's potential at Stoke on Saturday. UPDATE: Aguero has been ruled out for the weekend on Friday. Wilfried Bony will likely deputize and a fit Bony takes the same ranking spot as a Aguero who was a doubt here.
Bafetimbi Gomis - The last spot could be a total dud. Gomis has given way to Eder as a starter for Swansea the past couple of weeks, but the Eder experiment has not produced. Pure prediction here, but I think Gomis starts again and home to Leicester should provide a chance to right the ship that has steered so far off course.
So there you have it. The best of the best to consider for Week 15. Remember, there are many solid options who would have made the cut here if they were not injury flagged and their status in question. Heurelho Gomes for Watford at keeper, Laurent Koscielny at defender and Philippe Coutinho at midfield to name a few. Always check on injury reports Friday afternoons to get a better understanding of these and other players before making your final decisions.
Good luck fellow managers, and may your arrows be green.