Premier League Fantasy Football returns this weekend and it begins a stretch where some big names will be on duty at the African Cup of Nations. I will examine who could replace these players and benefit from the additional playing time as well as the general teams news and matchups to focus on to maximize your Draft Fantasy lineups.
Tottenham v West Brom
The Gameweek starts with a home game for Spurs and they have one of the hottest commodities in the fantasy world right now in Dele Alli and he should continue to produce. Kane and Eriksen are the other two prime options in attack as Dembélé seems to be favored over Son and Sissoko. Walker and Rose are always great picks it seems and you can add Lloris, Alderweireld and Vertonghen for this matchup. West Brom are a solid team and it they are to come up with anything at White Hart Lane then it will likely involve Phillips or Rondón, though it is tough to trust the Baggies for this one. Neither team is affected by the AFCON as Nyom is available.
Hull v Bournemouth
Hull are struggling to keep the goals out but have at least played some better football the last couple of games and they have been led, as always, by Snodgrass who should have some joy at home to a Cherries team missing Francis (suspended) and Aké. Up front, Hernandez could come back onto the fantasy radar as he is back from injury and will be needed with Mbokani and Elmohamady at the AFCON. I still expect this game to have goals at both ends so who could you place your trust in for Bournemouth? Wilson has been looking dangerous lately and is on pk duty so is your top pick along with the set piece taking Stanislas. Fraser could be a sleeper pick as he is popping up with goals and Afobe is still available for selection. Daniels really gets forward from defense and maybe A. Smith can re-establish himself now that Aké has been recalled to Chelsea.
Sunderland v Stoke
Sunderland are led as usual by Jermain Defoe but he should have Anichebe back at his side as he is expected to shrug off a minor injury. A decent home matchup brings van Aanholt into consideration but the defense takes a hit with the loss of Kone to the AFCON. Khazri has not had much of an impact this season but note he is also on AFCON duty. The competition also means that Stoke will be without Bony and Diouf so Walters and Crouch should get some time to lead the line with midfield help from Arnautovic, Allen and Shaqiri. I can see both teams scoring in this one but still low scoring, 1-1 anyone?
Swansea v Arsenal
Arsenal takes on Swansea with a red hot Giroud leading the line recently and should have Özil back in a midfield that contains fantasy stalwart Sánchez who got a rest during the FA Cup last weekend. Walcott is still a question mark so Iwobi and Oxlade-Chamberlain will compete for a spot in the midfield. With Elneny gone to the AFCON, Ramsey will likely be asked to drop into the central mid with Xhaka. The Gunners D have a decent shot at points with Bellerín expected to be fit, joining Koscielny, Mustafi and Monreal, along with Cech as solid plays. Swansea are led by their usual suspect in Sigurdsson but I would not stray too far from him until the new manager settles on his preferred lineup.
Burnley v Southampton
As you should know by now, Burnley are pretty good at home and Southampton, until the last few games, have a solid team defense so this should be a low scoring game. The Clarets do have a resurgent Gray leading the attack but it is a coin toss as to whether Vokes or Barnes will join him at this point. Heaton, Mee and Keane are the best defensive options. The Saints already have Austin out and now Boufal has been injured on AFCON duty so the offensive onus will fall to the likes of Redmond, Tadic, Long and Rodriguez. Van Dijk brings a goal threat from the backline but he is likely about to lose his preferred partner as Fonte has submitted a transfer request so Yoshida should continue to start.
Watford v Middlesbrough
Watford have a solid home matchup with a low scoring Middlesbrough side so here is an opportunity to back Gomes and yellow card machine Holebas. Offensively, Amrabat is off at the AFCON but really just Deeney and Capoue are worth starting, and if Deeney can't get on the board in this one, then it is probably time to consider giving him the boot from your fantasy team. Middlesbrough have a decent defense but I rarely back them on the road. In attack, Negredo is the central figure with Ramírez out, but de Roon is beginning to show signs of his potential.
West Ham v Crystal Palace
West Ham will be looking to bounce back from disappointing losses to both Manchester clubs with a win in a home matchup to struggling Crystal Palace. They will feel the loss of Ayew and Kouyate to the AFCON so the attack will be led by Payet (Update: Payet demanding transfer, out indefinitely) Antonio, Carroll and Lanzini, while Cresswell, Reid and Randolph are the top defensive picks. Palace have AFCON issues of their own as their top fantasy producer Zaha is away along with Sako. Benteke is nursing a shoulder injury but was training this week. Townsend will be relied upon to produce where Zaha was, only time will tell if he takes the opportunity.
Leicester v Chelsea
Leicester already have a top scalp recently at home when they blitzed Man City but they will have to do the same to league leading Chelsea without the services of some big names as they are the team hit the worst by AFCON participation with Mahrez, Slimani and Amartey absent. But the good news is that Vardy returns from his suspension and will look to wreak havoc on the Chelsea rearguard. Okazaki and Musa will get more minutes, as should Albrighton as his service will be needed. Chelsea are looking to start a new winning streak and will be led by the usual stars. Pedro is hot right now which could put Willian back on the bench. The only injury concern is for Alonso, which has led to the recall of Aké from his loan.
Everton v Man City
Everton will sorely miss the presence of Gueye (AFCON) in the centre of the pitch but it appears help could be on the way in the form of Schneiderlin from Man Utd, but the move is not yet completed. Lukaku, Barkley and Mirallas are the best options and due to pk duty Baines has seen his stock rise regardless of the matchup. City have a wealth of attacking options with Agüero back, newcomer Gabriel Jesus on board, and the majority of the squad healthy. I expect a strong lineup with Agüero, De Bruyne, Sterling and Silva all starting. This game could have goals.
Man Utd v Liverpool
The big game of the weekend is laden with fantasy stars but could be a tactical low scoring battle or a shootout. For Utd, Ibrahimovic missed the EFL Cup game due to illness but I would be shocked if he wasn't ready for this tilt. The big question is will Wayne Rooney start again in his attempt to set the Utd scoring record. If Carrick and Herrera continue in the central mid with Pogba in front then there is only room for two of Martial, Rooney, Mata and Mkhitaryan. Rashford should be on the bench after featuring in both Cup games. On defense, Rojo may not be ready so Smalling would continue to start. For Liverpool, the big loss is Mané to the AFCON, but Coutinho's timely return will lessen the blow. The Origi/Sturridge rotation is lessening both their values so stick with Firmino, Lallana and Coutinho for this big battle.
Remember to check in with the team news on Friday and watch for any last minute injury news as always. Also don't forget to pay particular attention to how the AFCON players are being replaced and who is benefiting from their absence this weekend. Fingers crossed the weather does not cause any postponements. Good luck to you all!
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