Fantasy Premier League Gameweek 18: Man City stars are good Boxing Day bets

Friday December 23rd, 2016

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.

Boxing Day may be the best day of the soccer calendar. There are eight matches scheduled for December 26th–and one each on the 27th and 28th–beginning a run of 30 EPL matches in 10 days. While there is inevitably squad rotation during the festive period, Gameweek 18 kicksvoff on normal rest. Even though a number of title-chasing squads enjoying favorable fantasy matchups, there are several top FPL players on bottom-half teams who can provide key differential value for your fantasy XI. 

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 weekend.

Goalkeeper

Tom Heaton (vs. Middlesbrough)

Key Stats: After missing three matches through injury, Heaton has made 15 saves in the Carets' last three matches, including seven saves in the 2-1 loss to Tottenham at White Hart Lane. He also saved Mark Noble's penalty in Gameweek 16, before conceding on the rebound. Boro actually ranks dead last in shots on target (45), though it did score three last time out. Heaton remains good value for a clean sheet and has high upside.

Plan B: Thibaut Courtois (vs. Bournemouth); Petr Cech (vs. West Brom); Kasper Schmeichel (d; vs. Everton)

Schmeichel returned to Leicester's starting XI after a protracted injury absence and promptly recorded five saves. His Gameweek 17 tally marked his third straight five-save effort and he's recorded four or more saves in six straight appearances.

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Defenders

Hector Bellerin (vs. West Brom); Jose Holebas (d; vs. Crystal Palace); George Friend (d; at Burnley); Marcos Alonso (vs. Bournemouth)

Key Stats: Just four clubs in the EPL have allowed fewer goals than Middlesbrough (19) this season. Only seven defenders have scored more fantasy points per match than Friend, who has proved capable with the ball at his feet (16 successful take-ons) and provides FPL value in a number of defensive categories including interceptions, clearances and clean sheets while also chipping in with two assists.

Plan B: Cesar Azpilicueta (d; vs. Bournemouth); Nicolas Otamendi (at Hull City); Nathaniel Clyne (d; vs. Stoke City); Matteo Darmian (d; vs. Sunderland)

Matteo Darmian made eight interceptions against West Brom last weekend. He has 17 interceptions in his last four matches. Not coincidentally, he has recorded double-digit FPL scores in two of those matches, including a season-high 22 points in the win over West Brom. With Sunderland and Boro next up, this is the right time to invest. 

Quick note: If you're wondering why Nathan Ake didn't make Plan B despite three goals in his last six appearances, Bournemouth faces his parent club Chelsea this week and he is not eligible to play.

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Midfielders

David Silva (d; at Hull City); Kevin De Bruyne (at Hull City); Riyad Mahrez (d; vs. Everton); Adam Lallana (vs. Stoke City)

Key Stats: David Silva has played the full 90 in four League matches on the bounce. In those four matches he's scored a goal–his first of the season–and recorded two assists. Many of Silva's teammates are preferred by fantasy managers this year, but Silva has recorded at least 10 assists in five straight seasons, totaling 64 assists in five years. While his scoring fell from a career-high 12 goals in 2014-15 to just two in 2015-16, he has averaged better than five goals a season during his City career. The won't be a better chance to start him than against the 20th-place Tigers.

Plan B: Dimitri Payet (at Swansea); Michail Antonio (d; at Swansea); Wilfried Zaha (at Watford); Willian (d; vs. Bournemouth)

In the last four matches Swansea has conceded three or more goals three times, losing 5-0 to Spurs, 3-1 to West Brom and 3-0 to Boro. Bob Bradley's team has the second-worst goal differential (-17) and has allowed the most goals (38) in the EPL. While the Hammers have struggled this season, Dimitri Payet has been a star. He has scored two goals with seven assists and his 63 key passes are, by far, the most the EPL. Manchester City's De Bruyne (51) and Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (44) are second and third in key passes, respectively.

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Forwards

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (vs. Sunderland); Alexis Sanchez (vs. West Brom)

Key Stats: In his last five League matches, Ibrahimovic has recorded six shots on target, scoring with five of them. Sunderland has already allowed 100 shots on target this season, one of only three clubs to pass that milestone (Hull, Burnley). While the Black Cats did manage a clean sheet last week against Watford, that was just their second clean sheet of the year and they needed four saves from Jordan Pickford to pull it off.

Plan B: Michy Batshuayi (d; vs. Bournemouth); Raheem Sterling (d; at Hull City); Christian Benteke (d; at Watford); Andy Carroll (d; at Swansea)

Batshuayi has only played 77 minutes in the league this season, with those minutes spread across 10 substitute appearances. He'll almost certainly start in place of the suspended Diego Costa and is good value against the visiting Cherries. Batshuayi notched an assist Gameweek 1 and a goal Gameweek 2, but he hasn't recorded a tally in either column since. With a potential for 90 minutes on Monday he could double his playing time, goals and assists all in one fell swoop.

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