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 fantasy Premier League season is a long one. Injuries, rotation and poor form lead to diminished returns and wreck the best laid plans. Coming out of the international break–the last one until March!–savvy FPL managers will forgo risky plays and stick with players all but guaranteed minutes. Some big names will miss out on selection in this column as a result–Hector Bellerin (ankle injury), Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino (travel) among them. But it doesn't always take big names to get big returns.
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.
Jordan Pickford (d; vs. Hull City)
Key Stats: Picking a goalkeeper in a clash of relegation-battling sides is never the popular choice. But Sunderland's Pickford will face a number of shots in this match. Hull City averages 9.8 total shots per game away from home this season, with just 2.8 of those on target. But the Black Cats are poor defensively, allowing more shots on target than any club but Burnley. Pickford will have the opportunity to make plenty of saves and has a decent chance at keeping a clean sheet, as well.
Plan B: Tom Heaton (at West Brom); Lee Grant (d; vs. Bournemouth); Thibaut Courtois (at Middlesbrough)
Heaton has been, by some margin, the best fantasy goalkeeper this season. Many managers will likely start him at West Brom expecting a clean sheet to boost his FPL return. Unfortunately, Burnley is truly inept away from Turf Moor with just one goal scored and nine conceded in four matches. It's likely the Baggies score one, but it's unlikely they have enough offensive power to generate the shots necessary for Heaton to rack up points from saves.
Ryan Shawcross (d; vs. Bournemouth); Marcos Alonso (at Middlesbrough); Christian Fuchs (at Watford); Gareth McAuley (vs. Burnley)
Key Stats: Shawcross, McAuley and Fuchs are three of just 19 defenders to have played all 990 minutes this season and earn the nod here for consistent returns. Alonso has been ever-present in Antonio Conte's squad since Gameweek 5–playing the full 90 minutes in five on the bounce–and has the benefit of playing as a wingback. Only 10 defenders have created more chances than Alonso (10) this season, and each needed at least 300 minutes more of playing time to best him.
Plan B: Patrick van Aanholt (d; vs. Hull City); Michael Keane (at West Brom); Gary Cahill (d; at Middlesbrough); Charlie Daniels (d; at Stoke City)
Van Aanholt is alternatively a fantasy darling and maddeningly frustrating. He looks healthy coming out of the break and should be in the starting XI to face the Tigers. Both of van Aanholt's goals this season have come at home and his four shots on target trail only Watford's Jose Holebas among defenders. He's well worth a start this week.
Kevin De Bruyne (at Crystal Palace); Eden Hazard (at Middlesbrough); Ross Barkley (d; vs. Swansea City); Riyad Mahrez (d; at Watford)
Key Stats: It's not a stat, but if you're a high-flying Belgian attacking midfielder, this is a great week to produce. Both KDB and Hazard face opponents that lack a defensive midfielder capable of marking them out of their respective matches. The two have each accounted for 10 goals this season (De Bruyne two goals, eight assists; Hazard seven goals, three assists) and trail only Coutinho in total fantasy points and goals created (Coutinho five goals, seven assists). The Brazilian misses out in this space due only because of a Wednesday match in South America possibly limiting his EPL minutes this weekend.
Plan B: Joe Allen (vs. Bournemouth); Sadio Mane (at Southampton); Victor Moses (d; at Middlesbrough); Matt Phillips (d; vs. Burnley)
Phillips and the West Brom attack makes for sneaky-good differential plays this week considering the opposition. So does Moses. The Chelsea midfielder has played at least 81 minutes in each of the last five games, recording a goal and an assist in that stretch. Electric with the ball at his feet, he has recorded 16 successful take-ons in those matches. He's in line to torch Boro this weekend.
Romelu Lukaku (vs. Swansea City); Sergio Aguero (at Crystal Palace)
Key Stats: No position is hit harder by injury and potential international fatigue than forward. Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, Wayne Rooney, Salomon Rondon, Callum Wilson and Firmino are all concerns to start. Rather than roll the dice, pick known quantities. Aguero (eight goals) and Lukaku (seven) are second and third in scoring this season.
Plan B: Harry Kane (vs. West Ham); Jermain Defoe (d; vs. Hull City); Andre Gray (d; at West Brom); Daniel Sturridge (d; at Southampton), Memphis Depay (d; vs. Arsenal)
With Rooney possibly injured (and at the center of a semi-controversy for latenight drinking over the break), Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended and Anthony Martial having played just 50 minutes total over the last six league matches, there is an opening for Depay (and Marcus Rashford). The out-of-favor Dutch international hit a brace for his nation on Sunday, so he enters with some new-found confidence. He's a low risk target because United plays in the first match of the weekend–if he is left out by Mourinho you'll have a full slate of players to pick as a last-minute replacement.