Putting aside the early match on Saturday between Sunderland and Liverpool, the main weekend slate has seven matches while the short slate on Sunday has a pair to choose from. Things are starting to settle a bit after the holiday season traffic jam while over the past few days the FA Cup took the stage. With an upcoming international break in two weeks and European play out of the picture until next month, it’s time to either lick wounds from the past few matches or try and keep momentum going when things start to slow down to one match a week.
One more thing; because of the limited amount of games in play, I will try to avoid the whole GPP vs. cash game tag until further notice. People are using lineups, for the most part, for both and there’s not a lot of delineation between the two when building lineups.
Everton vs. Manchester City: For City, it looks like the band’s all back together on Saturday. City’s Death Star is nearing being fully operational with the return of both Sergio Aguero ($10,300) and Edin Dzeko ($8,000) up top and Vincent Kompany in the back. Two things come to mind immediately—who needs Wilfried Bony, really, and the days of the 4-6-0 are over the boys in light blue—which will devalue some in this game.
It’s not likely that either Aguero or Dzeko will start for City Saturday morning, but as usual, keep an eye on the starting lineups. Aguero’s price tag is only going to rise, but betting 20% of your salary allotment on a substitute seems foolish. If he starts, lock and load Aguero against a really porous Everton defense. It looks like Stevan Jovetic ($8,500) will get the call up top from Manuel Pellegrini, but at that price tag in my opinion his usefulness is just about its boiling point. The upside in Jovetic is based on the matchup more than Jovetic’s specific skill set, which is more based to be in the kind of role that David Silva ($9,200) or Yaya Toure is used in—as the complimentary attacking midfielder/second striker. Add to the fact that Jovetic likely is out after 60 to 70 minutes, and I’ll be looking elsewhere.
City is a strong road favorite in this one, and with good reason. After not missing a beat over the holidays, mostly playing without a clear striker, the reigning champions are full of DFS options across the board. I’ll be going elsewhere for a keeper, but using Joe Hart ($5,400) has its merits. As bad as Everton has been defensively lately, the attack has been just a notch higher in the scheme of things. But with that salary, combined with Everton being a home, this looks like a 2-1, 3-1 City win, and without a clean sheet I probably will go elsewhere. The outside backs have their virtue as well; Pablo Zabaleta ($5,000) and Gael Clichy ($4,600) are not inexpensive, and Everton’s porous backline includes the pair of Leighton Baines ($5,600) and Seamus Coleman ($4,600). Everton should be up for this one, but I can’t see using either Baines or Coleman, and the former is carrying a hamstring injury and may not play. Zabaleta holds more weight for me because he puts himself in more chances inside his opponent’s area than Clichy.
With Toure out playing in the African Cup of Nations, Silva is the top play for both City, and overall at midfield with Eden Hazard close behind. Since returning from a knee injury in December, Silva has been nothing short of dynamic with four goals in five league matches. Alongside Silva rides Samir Nasri ($7,300) and Jesus Navas ($6,800) in the likely front four for City against the Toffees; both are not regular goalscorers and have lower ceilings than they should, but both are playmakers and the City attack puts them in consistent position to either put the ball on net, or set a teammate up to do so. Navas is the better play since he is more likely to get points from crosses, while Nasri consistently drifts to the center of the field and plays the ball on the ground.
The matchup for Everton is prohibitive, despite the talent that they can put out, to say the least. The return of Kompany, if he is fit enough to start, further solidifies the City defense. Everton’s front four are contrarian plays only; Romelu Lukaku ($6,900) has seen his price tag sink like a stone—but let’s see if it stays low for next week against West Brom, because Saturday could see him remain goalless in league play for a seventh straight game. Kevin Mirallas ($5,500), in my mind, is a better play than Lukaku. He has the speed and ability to create space from defenders that could see him cash in via a long-range effort or from a teammate’s through ball. But you come back to the matchup, and think other options around that salary are better plays. Same with Steven Naismith ($5,000) or whomever Roberto Martinez starts, and don’t get me started on Ross Barkley ($6,600).
Leicester City vs. Aston Villa: This one will likely not be a barnburner; City lost Riyad Mahrez and Jeff Schlupp to the ANC, while Villa’s attack is anemic. Leicester’s isn’t much better, and there’s a good reason why they stand dead last in the table. So our DFS options are few and far between, but both keepers are in play. Mark Schwarzer ($4,000) should be a popular play this weekend; the veteran signed from Chelsea walks straight into the starting lineup for Leicester, who are at home and are favorites despite being DFL (Google, if you must). So is Brad Guzan ($4,000), but Guzan is the contrarian option to Schwarzer. Someone could get a clean sheet in this one; hell, both could. But that lack of offense on both sides screams a possible draw of some form, so buyer beware.
If there was a really good play at outside back in this one, I’d scream it from the rooftops. Leicester’s Danny Simpson ($3,300) is a decent call, but he was a better option when at a minimum price tag. If you’re going defender from this one, target Villa’s Aly Cissokho ($4,100) and Alan Hutton ($4,000)—both as of late have had double digit outputs as wingbacks, but with Villa reverting to a four-man backline their upside is somewhat lowered.
I’m skipping over a wasteland in midfield, but one note: whoever starts for Leicester as their outside midfielders could have potential, but filling Mahrez and Schlupp’s collective boots will be difficult because of a lack of similarly skilled alternatives. Marc Albrighton ($4,000) had a potential tag put on him when he was a prospect at Villa, but hasn’t done much with it. Nigel Pearson could even use striker Jamie Vardy ($5,600) on the left for Leicester; he could do well, but it’s hard to roster Vardy when he’s going backward in the formation. Lead strikers Christian Benteke ($8,000) and Leonardo Ulloa ($5,900) are hit and miss, but Ulloa does have some lure because of the salary combined with goals in each of his two last home games.
Burnley vs. QPR: This one is much more DFS friendly despite, like the match before this, being between two teams fighting relegation. Burnley has shown some spunk as of late, battling back to draw both Manchester City and Newcastle United. They host QPR and are favorites; QPR have lost their last ten away league matches.
Burnley keeper Tom Heaton ($4,800) is a mid-value option with a home start and an uneven QPR attack, especially when on the road. However, with normal starting central defenders Jason Shackell and Kevin Long out, and with Charlie Austin ($9,200) in the opposition, I’d be thinking elsewhere for my goalkeeping needs. Austin’s goal parade has slowed a great deal as of late, failing to find the back of the net in QPR’s last three over league and cup outings.
Austin leads a small but very productive core of DFS options from this match that should be well known at this point of the season. Danny Ings ($7,400) and Ashley Barnes ($6,900) lead the Burnley attack, and while Barnes’ price tag has risen enough to exclude him from my possibilities Ings remains a strong option. Those two have been joined by George Boyd ($6,600), who despite being played out of position on the wing has played well of late and should be low owned. QPR’s Leroy Fer ($5,200) has been strong in short spurts and should be in consideration. Lastly, Burnley and DFS stalwart Kieran Trippier ($5,100) should be near the top of your list when it comes to defender. Trippier crosses as will, and if Burnley can hold QPR off the board or one of those crosses can be capitalized upon, 20+ points isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Chelsea vs. Newcastle United: As noted by many, many others—it is hard not seeing Chelsea, spurred on by Jose Mourinho’s disgust with a 5-3 loss at Spurs on New Year’s Day, wanting Magpie blood on this one, especially after Newcastle beat Chelsea in early December at St. James Park. Strap in, Newcastle—this could be a bumpy ride.
Newcastle, under interim manager John Carver, sat out several regulars in a FA Cup loss last weekend but should have some back ready to face the firing squad. If you’re interested in the low cost, ready to see a lot of action goalkeeping option, look no further than the now-healthy Tim Krul ($3,300). Price tag? Check. Road start against an offensively loaded team? Check. I won’t be going that route, but Krul will have some ownership out there. Daryl Janmaat ($4,000), Moussa Sissoko ($4,600) and Ayoze Perez ($7,200) are all strong options—just not on Saturday, folks. It’s time to avoid black and white this weekend. Even minimum cost right back Davide Santon ($2,000) probably is a no-go for me; it’s hard to get points from crosses when you never have the ball.
You know the cast Mourinho will use against Newcastle, short of a real surprise. It’s the same 11 than has played most of Chelsea’s games this season over league and European play; Thibaut Courtois ($5,500) remains the top option in net on the slate, both in price and likely output. It’s just a question of how much action Courtois will see that could limit his point total. Outside backs Branislav Ivanovic ($5,300) and Cesar Azpilicueta ($4,400) are strong options, but Ivanovic specifically has not had the offensive output he’s had in the past. Ivanovic scored twice in August and has not since, which has been surprising since the right back has had relative success scoring goals.
As per usual, the question is not whether to roster Chelsea midfielders; it’s who you choose that will determine your success on the day. Let’s breakdown the four likely options to choose from; as much of a fan in real life of Nemanja Matic that I am, his game simply does not equate to DFS goodness. First, Eden Hazard ($9,900) is not as costly as he and Angel di Maria were early in the season, but Hazard has consistently been best DFS midfield option through this season. If you can find value elsewhere in your lineup, using Hazard should be a clear option in your mind. Oscar ($7,400) is a step down in salary, but his consistent lack of scoring tempers my enthusiasm for the Brazilian. He’s an excellent player in the right spot in Chelsea’s formation, but has not scored since early November. The floor is there, but you are dependent on an assist to hit double digits with Oscar. Fellow Selecao member Willian ($5,600) is the low cost, boom or bust option. He scored in FA Cup play, but Willian has just scored once goal in 33 shots during league play.
That leaves us with Cesc Fabregas ($8,300); the Spaniard, despite his deep-lying position, consistently garners assists but fails to find the back of the net, like Oscar. However, those assists provide a really nice floor that gives the nod over Oscar. Against Newcastle, Fabregas should have plenty of opportunities from the run of play plus dead balls to add to his total.
At forward, Diego Costa ($10,500) has a positive matchup that he can use to his advantage that overcomes the top price tag across the board on Saturday’s slate. Using Costa, however, will unbalance the remainder of your squad, forcing you to go cheap elsewhere. Costa has three goals in Chelsea’s last five league games, and should have opportunities in this one. If you’re rostering Costa, the hope is that he gets multiple goals on the day because using him makes it difficult to also include guys like Silva or Hazard in your lineup.
Swansea City vs. West Ham United: Next, we have Swansea, a team somewhat in flux but at home, against West Ham, a team that has been inconsistent on the road this season. Swansea is without several starters for varying reasons (international commitments, injury and suspension), with the most glaring absence in the pair of defensive midfielders in front of the team’s back four defenders. This could allow West Ham the ability to attack Swansea, especially on the counterattack, more proficiently. Swansea are favorites at home, but I like West Ham’s options more.
Chief of which for the Hammers is Stewart Downing ($6,900); the midfielder has dipped a bit point production wise over the last three games, but this is a lot better of a matchup and that salary is easily useable alongside a top shelf midfielder like Silva or Hazard, or even as a Flex option if you want a safer option than a third striker. West Ham’s front two of Andy Carroll ($7,800) and Enner Valencia ($7,200) are tougher to endorse. Diafra Sakho and Downing seems to be the glue for West Ham going forward, and Carroll and Valencia as a partnership at forward has really not bore a lot of fruit. Individually, they should fit together well, as Carroll’s physical nature would be complimentary to Valencia’s speed. On current form, I’d rather choose Ings or Swansea’s Bafetimbi Gomis ($6,800) than either. I have more trust in Carroll than Valencia, but that’s not much in the overall equation.
Gomis leads the attack for Swansea in the absence of Bony (who is at the ANC with the Ivory Coast and may never play for the Swans again, if transfer talk actually becomes reality). He scored twice in the FA Cup against lesser opposition, but has done little in the Premiership, with one goal in 12 appearances/519 minutes of play. Gomis has talent, but against a strong West Ham defense he’ll likely need multiple chances to convert. A lot of that will fall to the creative midfielders behind Gomis, chief of which is Gylfi Sigurdsson ($8,400). The Icelandic playmaker is not cheap in the overall scheme of things, more expensive than Fabregas, Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli and Oscar—all of which I’d rather use on Saturday. Sigurdsson has two goals in Swansea’s last two league games, and has merit for inclusion in your lineup—but he is likely to encounter Alex Song a lot in this match, and West Ham know stopping Sigurdsson goes a long way to getting a positive result against Swansea. Both Wayne Routledge ($5,300) and Nathan Dyer ($4,900) scored in the same game as Gomis, but rarely find double digits DFS wise in league play. If he starts, a more interesting option would be West Ham’s Morgan Amalfitano ($5,300), who in limited playing time has done well.
Despite a home start, Lukasz Fabianski ($5,300) seems rather overpriced by a few hundred dollars, especially with the absences that Swansea has in its lineup. A strong home record as of late could see Swansea succeed, but if you’re paying up for a keeper I’d suggest Hart, Courtois or Hugo Lloris before Fabianski, and it wouldn’t be close. West Ham’s Adrian ($4,000) on the other hand is underpriced and could be a nice play with low ownership numbers. At the same price as the aforementioned Schwarzer or Guzan, Adrian has a much better team in front of him, plus Swansea’s attack without Bony is unproven in Premiership play.
Swansea’s defenders simply do not get forward enough for even thinking about using them, while the Hammers offer the pair of Aaron Cresswell ($4,800) and Carl Jenkinson ($4,700). The matchup is a lot better than West Ham saw over the holiday period (Chelsea, Arsenal) and their collective poor showings as of late have a good chance of stopping against Swansea.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Hull City: There’s no way to totally skip over this match, but there is a real lack of DFS options at the Hawthorns Saturday. Hull have won two of their last three but are without several starters, especially in midfield and defense. West Brom are home favorites, but have one just one of their last ten league matches and have five goals in their last six matches. Because of the expected low score, both Ben Foster ($4,600) and Allan McGregor ($4,100) are options in goal—but with the likely defensive tone in this one, one mistake and you’re likely looking at the 0-2 point range on either side. Because West Brom are at home, you have Foster, but I’d rather spend up or go with any of the three $4,000 options previously discussed.
Otherwise, it’s Ahmed Elmohamady ($5,800) when it comes to Hull’s starting 11. Elmohamady has been excellent as of late, and is pretty solid production wise from crosses alone. If he starts, Robbie Brady ($3,000) is an interesting punt play at your flex in order to spend up elsewhere in your lineup. For West Brom, it’s all a group of pick and hope—you’ll have miniscule ownership rates if you choose to go this way, for what it’s worth. Saido Berahino ($7,800) is overpriced for his league performance as of late; you’re not getting anything from his four goal FA Cup outing last weekend. If you choose to go WBA, Victor Anichebe ($5,000) and Stephane Sessegnon ($7,000) have somewhat more palatable salaries—but not by much.
Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur (12:30pm): In the late game of the batch, Spurs travel across town to face Palace at Selhurst Park in a match they really need to win in order to keep momentum in the league. Spurs are in fifth place and will look to leapfrog Southampton this weekend for the last Champions League spot. Palace has Alan Pardew’s managerial debut and the fight against relegation as the spotlight narratives in this one, but man for man Spurs have the talent and DFS edge. Whether Pardew can coach Palace up for this one is to be seen, but a Spurs stack could pay off nicely.
Start with Lloris ($5,200) in goal; if you’re spending up, the French keeper is certainly the contrarian option alongside Courtois and Hart. Palace’s attack is poor, failing to score in five of its last seven league matches and lacking a true lead forward for its 4-2-3-1 formation. I really like Spurs outside backs in this one; Kyle Walker ($4,200) is a near certainty at right back, while Danny Rose ($4,000) or Ben Davies ($3,700) vie for the left back spot. All three get forward when given the chance, and Spurs have a good shot at a clean sheet if they avoid playing down to their competition.
The Harry Kane ($10,200) train has hit full speed; that price tag is only less than Costa and the coming back from injury Aguero on the slate. In the form he’s in, Kane is hard is hard to pass over and is the second best option to Costa amongst forwards. For me, however, I’ll be looking towards midfield instead of Kane. Christian Eriksen ($8,100) is one of the top plays in midfield, and if they start Nacer Chadli ($7,200) and Andros Townsend ($5,500) both should see a lot of opportunities down the flanks.
Palace? Julian Speroni ($4,100) is at home and Palace, for all their issues, hasn’t given up a lot of goals except against top six teams over the last month. Problem is their losses against Southampton and Man City over the holidays mirror the kind of matchup Saturday provides. Wilfried Zaha ($4,000) is going to blow up in some game, and at that salary gives you relief for other spots. If he starts at forward like Palace’s FA Cup win, Glenn Murray ($3,000) is worth considering as a minimum punt play. Whoever starts up top for Palace, be it Murray, Dwight Gayle ($4,300), Fraizer Campbell ($5,000) or some combination thereof, will be low owned. It’s just tough to see who scores for Palace, if they do.