Fantasy Premier League Gameweek 21: Ride Alli's hot streak in EPL return
The following Fantasy Premier League advice is tailored toward players of Togga's Perfect XI. It's a weekly game in which every Premier League player is eligible to be selected into a 4-4-2 formation. There is no salary cap, no squad restrictions and you pick a fresh XI every week.
The festive period is behind us, the transfer window is open and a handful of marquee names have departed for Africa Cup of Nations hosted by Gabon. In the Premier League, managers are turning their attention back to the run-in for the title and FPL managers should be doing the same. With most of the absences for Gameweek 21 known already, this week's Perfect XI is about selecting the names with the best matchups and highest potential; slow and steady wins many a race, but likely not your fantasy league.
Selecting the Perfect XI each week isn't an easy task and even the best-laid plans can use a Plan B, so we've provided alternatives for each position. Those designated (d) are differentials–players we expect will be owned by fewer than 5% of FPL managers this week.
Thibaut Courtois (at Leicester)
Key Stats: Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani are two of the top three offense threats for Leicester City, accounting for 23 of the club's 70 shots on target (Mahrez 15, Slimani 8). Both are currently playing at AFCON, leaving a huge hole in Claudio Ranieri's squad. While Jamie Vardy will return from a three-match suspension, last season's surprise star has scored in just one of the Foxes last 16 EPL matches–notching an unexpected hat trick against Manchester City. Courtois and Chelsea have been more porous of late, allowing two goals in each of the last two, but he posted 11 clean sheets in the first half including the Gameweek 8 clash with Leicester.
Plan B: Tom Heaton (vs. Southampton); Hugo Lloris (vs. West Brom); Lee Grant (d; at Sunderland)
Heaton should be in the conversation every week moving forward, but particularly when the Clarets are at home. Sean Dyche's side has also allowed just 11 goals in 11 home tilts and faces a Southampton side that has scored only nine road goals in 10 games.
Danny Rose (vs. West Brom); Hector Bellerin (at Swansea); Cesar Azpilicueta (at Leicester); Winston Reid (d; vs. Crystal Palace)
Key Stats: Reid and the Hammers are conceding more than a goal and a half per home match. Despite the poor defensive record, Reid has posted the 10th best points per match, including a massive 18 points in the 1-0 away win against Crystal Palace in Gameweek 8. Wilfried Zaha (AFCON), Jason Puncheon (fatigue) and Christian Benteke (shoulder) are all unlikely to play, increasing Reid's chance of another clean sheet.
Plan B: George Friend (d; at Watford); Maya Yoshida (d; at Burnley); Marcos Alonso* (at Leicester); Charlie Daniels (d; at Hull)
Boro's Friend and Saints' Yoshida are both risky plays with massive upside. The risk is largely rooted in the unknown status of their playing time. Friend, who missed several matches with injury, has been competing with Fabio for playing time in Boro's back line. Yoshida deputizes for Southampton's captain, Fonte, and may become the regular starter if a rumored transfer to Manchester United materializes. Both have good fantasy match-ups and are quality differential plays this weekend if they start.
*Alonso faces a late fitness check on a muscle injury. Nathan Ake has been recalled from loan and could start this match in his place. If he does, he is worth starting in your fantasy team.
Dele Alli (vs. West Brom); Mesut Ozil (at Swansea); Junior Stanislas (d; at Hull); Robert Snodgrass (vs. Bournemouth)
Key Stats: It's no surprise to see Alli leading the midfield quartet. He has scored goals in four straight games, including doubles in three straight capped by a pair of headers in Spurs' win over Chelsea. Alli won't turn 21 until April but has already scored 10 goals in consecutive seasons and looks to be a fixture in the league for years to come. West Brom can be difficult to unlock, but Alli proved last time out he can crack any defense. Ride his hot streak as long as you can.
Plan B: Matt Phillips (d; at Tottenham); Willian (at Leicester); Nathan Redmond (d; at Burnley); Christian Eriksen (vs. West Brom)
Phillips is on fire. He has two goals and four assists in the Baggies' last four matches, including a midweek goal in the FA Cup. Go back farther and it's four goals and seven assists in his last 10 league matches, making him a quality start. Because of the opponent, he'll also be a differential play in one of the few weekends when his ownership will be this low.
*Dimitri Payet would have been a top selection at home against Crystal Palace, but given that he won't play until he changes his attitude about wanting a transfer, you can omit him for the foreseeable future.
Diego Costa (at Leicester); Olivier Giroud (at Swansea)
Key Stats: Giroud had not played more than 29 minutes in a league match this season before Gameweek 18. After being handed the start against West Brom, Giroud popped up to score the lone goal; he struck again against Palace and then struck late against Bournemouth and midweek against Preston to spare Arsenal an FA Cup replay. He's now played 90 minutes in three on the spin. Meanwhile Theo Walcott (calf) remains a doubt, further solidifying Giroud's hold on the striker role this weekend.
*UPDATE: According to reports on Friday, Diego Costa has been dropped by Antonio Conte this weekend and will not play. Opt for one of the choices below instead.*
Plan B: Callum Wilson (d; at Hull); Sergio Aguero (at Everton); Alexis Sanchez (at Swansea); Peter Crouch (d; at Sunderland)
Both Roberto Firmino and Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed the list for the first time. Both forwards are generally quality options and should be started in draft and salary-cap formats, but when you have the option of picking any forwards it's difficult to select one of this duo. When Liverpool and United met in Gameweek 8 it was a 0-0 draw; Firmino posted 10 points while Zlatan's three points marked his lowest return of the season.