The week in Fantasy Premier League: Daring to Zlatan, the African exodus and the Big Sam Factor

We don’t all get what we want for Christmas - just ask Alan Pardew.
The week in Fantasy Premier League: Daring to Zlatan, the African exodus and the Big Sam Factor

With just one win in his last 11 matches, his departure from Palace was hardly a massive shock in itself, but the timing meant that the new boss will hardly have his feet under the desk before facing a quick-fire schedule of Christmas fixtures.

So what does it mean for fantasy managers?

Well, it looks like Palace defenders are back on the menu! Chairman Steve Parish has pledged to "wind the dial back the other way" from Pardew's “expansive style of football”.

And with Big Sam Allardyce in charge, consider it done, Steve.

Fantasy managers can now look to bring in Scott Dann (CRY, 5.3) once that tricky GW19 trip to Arsenal is out of the way - the centre back ranks joint top for attempts on goal in the box (12) this season, and if he can add some clean sheets to his returns, you’re laughing.

So while it’s good news for Palace defenders, freewheeling attacking players like Wilfried Zaha (CRY, 5.8) are set to lose out - but then shouldn’t be picking him anyway, because...

The African Cup of Nations is on the way

After spending the season scampering from one player to another in search of that must-have player, it’s probably time we all just made our peace with the fact that players are swinging wildly in and out of form this season and just start planning for the medium-term.

Key to this will be planning for the upcoming African Cup of Nations, which takes place from January 14 to February 5.

FIFA rules state that players must be released by clubs on the morning of January 2, so it’s worth bearing this in mind when considering your next moves - and not just from the perspective of individual transfers, either.

Andre Ayew's West Ham comeback didn't last long - he's off on international duty.
Andre Ayew's West Ham comeback didn't last long - he's off on international duty.

For instance, Leicester face losing five of their squad, while both Sunderland and West Ham could see up to four depart. This could mean an easier ride for the teams they face over that GW20-24 period.

Other sides may be less impacted in terms of numbers, but the effect could still be significant once key players like the aforementioned Zaha, Sadio Mané (LIV, 9.4), Idrissa Gueye (EVE, 5.0) and Ahmed Elmohamady (HUL, 4.7) have left their gloves and snoods in England.

Teams like Man City, Spurs, West Brom and Swansea, on the other hand, won’t be affected at all.

There’s no need to go through all the names here, but a few selected Premier League absentees who may interest fantasy managers would include Riyad Mahrez (LEI, 9.0), Islam Slimani (LEI, 8.3), Eric Bailly (MUN, 5.3) and Sofiane Boufal (SOU, 6.8).

These absences can also open up spots for cut-price fringe players to fill in, but be very wary of these short-term punts - an early exit from the tournament could have that first-teamer back in no time, and you’ll be stuck with him stinking up your bench.

Christmas fixture rotation

Another factor that must be central to every canny FPL manager's thoughts right now is the threat of player rotation over the busy schedule of Christmas fixtures.

The certainty of widespread rotation during the festive period was largely debunked in Peter Blake’s excellent Mathematically Safe blog, but when it comes to Christmas match schedules, Chelsea very much got the PlayStation VR set while Liverpool and Southampton were regifted the novelty leg-warmers.

So just in case we actually needed another reason to buy a Chelsea player, the Christmas schedule has provided us with one - whilst players from Liverpool and its erstwhile feeder club are best avoided.

It’s also wise to bear in mind that players suspended this week probably won’t get much sympathy when they come knocking on the manager’s door complaining of fatigue...

… something that thousands of fickle Diego Costa (CHE, 10.7) owners failed to take into account when they sold him to bring in this week’s most sought-after player.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

After that six-week barren spell which saw the Swede the butt of many a funny Twitter meme in the FPL community, the goalscoring form of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (MUN 11.5) has become impossible to ignore.

Man United are slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with again and a possible role for Jesse Lingard (MUN 5.6) as a facilitator for the Swede all points to big returns for Zlatan during United’s kind run of upcoming fixtures.

Given their worldwide popularity, in-form Man United players tend to rise in price more quickly than others, and early adopters have enjoyed a significant swing in team value.

Big strikers had to make way for him of course, and that red suspension flag was enough to convince many to show Costa the door instead of the off-form Harry Kane (TOT, 11.2).

Every week seems to produce a significant new fork in the road for our FPL destinies, and time will tell on this one too - but I need a better reason than a one-game suspension to dump the top scoring and most consistent forward in the game.

The Ghost Ship Cup

I have to give a quick mention to a subject that has irked many seasoned FPL managers this past week - myself included, I must admit - and that has been the FPL Cup.

For those who don’t know or care, the teams to contest the FPL Cup this season were selected last week based on your GW17 score.

It turned out to be a pretty low-scoring week, with many of the recent big hitters like Kane, Eriksen, Hazard and Sanchez failing to score big, whereas popular GW1 picks like Ibrahimovic and Negredo racked up the points.

This has led to a disproportionate amount of inactive “ghost ship” teams qualifying - at the expense of many well-known fantasy veterans...

Winning the FPL Cup is almost as hard as winning the league itself, so this is one we’ll just have to brush off and put down to experience. I’ve certainly bigger fish to fry with my Triple Captain chip, that’s for damn sure.

QUICK TIP

Christmas is a time for reflection. So input your team ID into this fantastic website to get a full statistical rundown of your FPL season so far - if you can stomach seeing stats like how much points you’ve benched or how much your sub goalie has scored each week, that is!

BUY

As mentioned above, there’s a lot to recommend Zlatan Ibrahimovic (MUN, 11.5) this week.

Although he’s taking less shots than he used to, it’s quality more than quantity now with the Swede as he converts more than 40% of his shots into goals.

If you want Man United coverage but don’t fancy Zlatan’s pricetag, you could always wait for the impending return of a rejuvenated Henrikh Mkhitaryan (MUN, 8.9).

TRY

Theo Walcott (ARS, 7.9) endured a dramatic slump in form after the arrival of Walcott junior, but he seems to be hitting his stride again.

He’s starting to fire in those shots on goal again, four inside the box during his last two, and could make the difference for many FPL teams as Arsenal face a glorious run of fixtures until Chelsea in GW24.

GOODBYE

#SnodIsGod but it’s hard to be a believer in Robert Snodgrass (HUL, 5.6) with Hull facing a tough fixture list in such poor form.

We look forward to his Lazarus-like comeback around GW26.

Top of the League

After what was a pretty low-scoring Gameweek, there’s no change at the top of the Official Irish Examiner League (join code: 251768-521616) - the top two even scored the same 42 points. So Micheàl Nevins is still the man to beat - but that could all change in the space of a few days.

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