And so it begins, the barren fantasy wasteland known as Gameweek 29. Fantasy managers around the world are picking through scraps as forty percent of the league takes an FA Cup-induced EPL holiday. The majority won’t field starting X’s much less starting XI’s and those that do create vulnerabilities to the upcoming double gameweek bonanzas, whenever they begin. Oh what a week to be a dedicated FPL gaffer!
I am changing the format of the gameweek preview a bit this week. I am going to focus on in-depth fantasy advice rather than spend half the post waxing prophetically about gambling tips. The reason is two-fold. First, as an American, I am not at all privy to the myriad betting options available in Europe. Instead, I am stuck with standard game and over / under wagering options. So my advice, however good or bad, resonates with only a small part of the gambling community. Secondly, I am currently a bit insecure about my wagering decision making. Just tonight, I shied away from three winning college basketball bets due to lack of confidence. My father always told me that a gambler without confidence is a losing gambler, so I am taking a bit of a break from betting prognostications. Given how poorly my tips were last week I doubt anyone is too distraught by this decision!
Norwich City v Southampton
The Saints will be looking to rebound from a very disappointing home loss to QPR. Unfortunately, travelers to Carrow Road have not had an easy go of things. Norwich has lost just three games at home, all to elite teams (single goal losses to Chelsea and Manchester City; blow out by Liverpool). More impressive are their home victories over Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United as well as their draw against Tottenham which they controlled until Mr. Bale does what he does to even things up. Rickie Lambert and crew have their work cut out for them.
I wouldn’t plan for a ton of goals here. Both teams have been leaning towards defensive stability for the past few months and the Canaries are especially strict at home. An early breakthrough could change things, but I would not expect Lambert, Snodgrass, or any of the Saints midfield options to do much Saturday. Could be a good game for defenders on both sides however.
Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland
A game QPR absolutely must win if they have any shot at fending off relegation. Old ‘Arry’s troops have been bereft of attacking prowess, but Loïc Rémy has looked the part of a legitimate striker. He could be in the goals again this week, especially as the Black Cats defense managed to make even Fulham’s putrid offense look normal again last week. For Sunderland, Sessègnon looks a real threat out wide and could be a very valuable asset the next couple games. Fletcher is overpriced but could be in the points this week as well. I would shy away from any defenders here although chances are you don’t have a choice if any reside on your roster.
Reading v Aston Villa
Whew, these fixtures aren’t to be missed eh? Regular readers are well aware of my feelings on the Royals; I don’t think they are worth a s#%t. Of course, neither are the Villians, so this should be quite the peach! Fantasy managers don’t care about quality of play though, we care about points and I foresee points for Christian Benteke. I think the Belgian dominates here in a high scoring affair. As for Reading, le Fondre owners have to be salivating with Pogrebnyak suspended and a tasty home fixture at the offing. Same could be said for Kébé owners, presuming the latter is deemed fit to play of course.
West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City
The Brommies are a near certainty to finish in the top nine of the table this year, but I see them as no better than any of the teams after the top eight. They don’t defend all that well and really struggle to score when Romelu Lukaku isn’t on the pitch. Luckily for Steve Clarke, the other young, dynamic Belgian forward is eligible this week. I expect a goal at least from Mr. Lukaku. For the Swans, I would be surprised if Michu is shut out again. Last week’s fixture was surprisingly stale, but he remains the number one option for a solid if not quite elite attack. Other legitimate starters include Morrison, Hernández, and de Guzmán.
Newcastle United v Stoke City
As mentioned in the gameweek 29 team ratings, Newcastle’s attack has been up and down recently. They excelled against Reading, Chelsea, and Southampton but struggled against Villa, the Spurs, and Swansea. Which offense shows up this week against what remains a solid, if not elite, defense? Your guess is as good as mine.
I would have no qualms playing any of the non-Cisse attacking options for the Toons this week as all of Cabaye, Sissoko, Gouffran and even Ben Arfa have potential to score. I feel similarly about defenders on both sides. With that said, I wouldn’t be all that excited about starting them either. In a full gameweek I’d be looking for alternates; in the abomination that is this week, these are definite starters.
Liverpool v Tottenham
The one quality match of the weekend sees the absolutely scintillating Spurs travel to Anfield to face fully-fit Liverpool. I have no idea what to expect here as it’s not clear to me how these teams will tactically align. I see mismatches on both sides. For instance, Gareth Bale could absolutely crush an over-aggressive Glen Johnson should he play wide left (as I suspect). Similarly, I’m not sure Scott Parker is prepared for the non-stop threat of Luis Suárez. If he is given help, I suspect Sturridge will find himself more space than expected. It could be a thrilling match full of goals…or it could be a case of two elite defenses clamping down on solid attacks that rely too much on individual excellence. I’m not sure either side will score if their primary protagonists are kept in check. I can foresee a situation in which Suárez is essentially shadowed throughout the pitch and his mates are unable to crack the remaining Spurs backline. I can also see Downing focusing on helping his fullback and forcing Bale into long range efforts with little interference in front. Should be interesting to see how these tactical battles shakeout. I, for one, cannot wait to watch.
Fantasy owners should and will be starting any and all Spurs and Reds players owned. I suspect the majority of teams will have the armband on either the Welshman or Uruguayan come Saturday morning. However, I am a contrarian as I am a bit hesitant to captain Bale or Suárez here; I prefer Lukaku or Benteke in more scrumptious fixtures.
That’s it for this week. For most FPL managers, there is probably not a single lineup decision to be made this week save for captaincy choices. Transfers should also be interesting as owners balance fielding a full team against prepping for what could be monster double gameweeks in the near future. I will probably field ten or eleven, depending upon my desire to drop Guy Demel (it’s pretty strong). As always I will dictate that in my gameweek starting XI post coming later today.