This season has tested the patience of even the most grizzled of fantasy league managers.
It can be particularly disheartening when you come across tweets like this one after 14 weeks of agonising over your team...
Found a dead team, ranked 233rd - 2 transfers only this season (both #GW4)
Firmino (C) every week.
Play with 4-3-3https://t.co/ByOUoz1T5J— Andrey Arshivan (@arshifpl11) November 26, 2016
It seems that as soon as you sell a player who looks to have gone off the boil, he instantly torments you with a double-figure haul, prompting late night soul-searching and frantic efforts to get him back in. Sergio Aguero (MCI, 13.1) has done it twice already this season by himself, and we’re barely in December.
Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of the season? Do we just need to accept that it comes with the territory?
The search for consistency
In years gone by, fantasy managers would just captain the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie and get on with the business of managing their team. Everything changed last season when many managers realised all too late that captaining Vardy or Mahrez was actually the sensible thing to do all along.
While this season has seen the return of the usual suspects, most £10m+ players have offered little in the way of consistency of returns.
The welcome exception here is Diego Costa (CHE, 10.6), who continues to gleefully troll managers who neglected to bring him and his four yellow cards into their team (it’s now 53 points later, if you’re counting).
But of course we greedy FPL managers want more that mere consistency from our captain. We want that brace or hat-trick that turns our season around, and this is where we can’t rely on Costa, having scored two goals in just one match this season.
Eden Hazard (CHE, 10.3) is top of the pile here with a top return of 19 points in GW 11.
With a decent chunk of the season already gone, perhaps we can look at home and away form to offer us some guidance.
Eight of Aguero’s 10 goals have come away from home, for instance. Alexis Sanchez (ARS, 11.4) has registered more shots on target away from the Emirates, while most of Hazard’s double-figure hauls, including those 19 points, have come at home.
Outside of the captain contenders, there have been some green shoots of consistency here and there.
The Chelsea defence remain a safe bet dispute finally conceding a goal against Spurs last week.
We’re also starting to see some regular points from the unlikely source of Wilfried Zaha (CRY, 5.4).
Wilfried Zaha has had more successful take-ons (58) than any other player in Europe's top 5 leagues this season. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/47zM050Ub5— FourFourTweet (@FourFourTweet) November 28, 2016
The tenacious winger has come up with an assist for the last five Gameweeks in a row, and is beginning to attract interest after a nasty injury to one of the most popular players in FPL sparked a full-on fire sale...
As soon as THAT picture of Philippe Coutinho (LIV, 8.5)'s injury emerged, many fantasy managers were quick to offload the Liverpool playmaker and successfully avoided the inevitable price drop.
Philippe Coutinho In The PL This Season
33 Chances Created
5 GoalsNovember 28, 2016
If you still own the wily Brazialian, the good news is that it’s unlikely (or at least unprecedented) for him to drop further in price this Gameweek, so you can take in all the injury news and wait until Saturday morning to make your move. As a strategy, it’s not without merit, but you may regret losing that £0.3m in team value as the season drags on.
So, if you’re still looking for a Coutinho replacement, or just happen to be in the market for a good mid-priced midfielder, you have some appealing options.
Last week’s tip Gylfi Sigurdsson (SWA, 7.3) is the standout candidate after coming good against Crystal Palace with 10 points.
He took as many shots as Aguero last week (7) and Swansea’s fixtures are as good as it gets.
Elsewhere around that price bracket, a goal against Bournemouth sparked renewed interest in Theo Walcott (ARS 7.9) - and there’s nothing quite like the prospect of a new kitchen appliance to motivate a millionaire footballer.
He represents great long-term value for money at that price, but comes with a health warning, having registered just two goal attempts and created one chance in the last three Gameweeks.
Last week’s punt Pedro (CHE, 7.3) continues to impress, but has yet to see out the full 90 minutes - and recent comments from boss Antonio Conte could be a cause for concern.
Conte says Willian has been unlucky in recent weeks, but is an important player for the Blues and he counts on him a lot.— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) November 25, 2016
Elsewhere, with three plum home ties against Swansea, Hull and Burnley ahead, a shot-happy Christian Eriksen (TOT , 8.1) could fill his boots. Yaya Toure (MCI , 7.7) is looking a better pick with every 90 minutes played, but that Man City merry-go-round will you have nervously awaiting teamsheets every week.
If you feel you need to retain some Liverpool coverage, James Milner (LIV, 6.7) can always nick a penalty, Roberto Firmino (LIV, 8.8) is set to return on Sunday, and there’s plenty of choice elsewhere too - more on that later.
It’s time for some Christmas shopping!
Fixtures come thick and fast over the festive period and that brings plenty of squad rotation with it. You need to make sure you have at least two regular starters on your bench - you’ll need them.
We fantasy managers can’t get enough of our attacking defenders, and if you can rely on them to get you a few clean sheets too, then you’ve just struck FPL gold, my friend.
Marcos Alonso (CHE, 6.2) is the obvious candidate here, but a new prospect has now emerged, and he’s a whole lot cheaper too.
Cedric Soares (SOU, 4.9) seems to be the missing ingredient in that Southampton defence, and a pair of clean sheets against Liverpool and Everton since his return should see him safely on the teamsheet for the foreseeable future.
Just 1.7% owned, he has created 12 chances in this nine games so far, including three successful crosses against Everton.
He can really mop up those bonus points too, scoring 8 points in the eight full matches he’s played in.
With Southampton’s fixture schedule until GW 26 reading more or less as a list of teams who can’t score (Spurs aside), Soares could form the bedrock of your defence next three months. Not bad for £4.9.
Now, this player is so under-the-radar he’s practically underground, but something interesting happened with Jordan Henderson (LIV, 6.4) in Coutinho’s absence last week.
His average position shows him playing further up the pitch, and he created more chances (6), completed more passes (118) and had more touches in the opponent’s half (91) than any Premier League player that week.
There are good options like Fer (SWA, 5.1) and Snodgrass (HUL, 5.6) who are cheaper and enjoy relatively good fixtures, but if you’re seriously struggling in your mini-league and want someone that nobody else will have, the 1.7%-owned Liverpool captain certainly fits the bill.
If your budget can’t stretch to that, Emre Can (LIV, 4.9) could be a fantastic fifth midfielder - each of the last four gameweeks have seen him push further and further up the pitch, and registered four shots inside the box against Sunderland.
Being dropped from the Man City squad to face Burnley was the final straw for many of John Stones’ (MCI, 4.9) long-suffering owners - myself included.
Still owned by almost a quarter of FPL managers, there’s just nothing to recommend The Great White Hope of English Football anymore, especially when you can pick up the likes of the aforementioned Soares, McAuley (WBA, 4.8) and Keane (BUR, 4.8) for less.
“Oh, but have you seen how comfortable he is on the ball.”. Grrr...
Top of the League
After last week’s wobble, Micheàl Nevins and his MultipleScoregasams extended their lead at the top of the 500-strong Official Irish Examiner League (join code: 251768-521616).
An impressive return of 77 points, courtesy of McAuley, Sigurdsson, Sanchez, Austin and Aguero sent him 33 points clear of closest rival Damien Poyner.
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