Fantrax strategy: Navigating the Play Offs

So, you’re safely in the playoffs in your Fantrax league, or maybe you need one more win and your next match-up is against the zombie team who’s manager still is starting Ricardo Pereira and Sergio Aguero.  In other words, it’s time to start planning for your playoff run.  Planning your playoff squad can be tricky in a normal year, but in 2020 it’s more difficult because you’re also planning for the inevitable rotation with the highly compressed match schedule.  First, though, an overall strategy.  In my own squads I have gone bigger at the back since the restart.  Whereas normally (mid-season) I’d carry three or four defenders, I’ve gone to carrying five or six for the restart.  Defenders are a little more predicable in terms of rotation.  Diogo Jota looks tired, has been benched and is returning single digit points, while Willy Boly is steady as she goes. 

Anyway, that philosophy (defense-wins-championships) has informed some of my picks here for your playoff run.  My other strategy here is a basic one… I’m looking at strength of schedule (opponent) over the last two or three game-weeks, and predicting which players from teams with favorable match-ups may be sitting in your free-agent pool.

WAIVER WIRE/FREE AGENTS: GRAB AND STASH FOR THE PLAYOFFS

EVERTON

Anthony Gordon (M), Bernard (M), Yerry Mina (D), Djibril Sidibe (D): Everton play Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Bournemouth in game-weeks 36-38 respectively.  What we saw in game-week 33 gives us a hint for the future.  For example, in the Spurs match, Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti pulled Alex Iwobi (slight knock) at halftime for Anthony Gordon.  In 45 minutes, Gordon returned a whopping 8.5 points with a shot-on-target, two key passes, and an accurate cross.  This after Gordon’s game-week 32 start against Leicester City, which saw him return 15.5 points, aided by two key passes and an assist.  Get Gordon if you can. 

Bernard is a similar fantasy asset, meaning if he starts, he’s worth an add.  He’s got a high floor and can return double digits without an attacking return. 

Separately, when Mason Holgate came off injured early in the game-week 33 match against Spurs, Yerry Mina came on.  I take this as a sign that Mina has earned his spot back and that he’ll likely start the rest of the season (especially if the Holgate injury has any severity).  Mina was a consistent starter until he was injured just prior to the restart in June.  When he came on against Spurs, Mina improved the backline, and helped in the attack as well, finishing with two aerials won, two clearances and a key pass (totaling 6.5 points in 54 minutes of football – not bad).

 Djibril Sidibe is another defender who may be in your free-agent pool – and if he is, you need to grab him.  Sidibe had the starting role locked until he came up injured just prior to the re-restart.  He marked his return in the game-week 33 match against Spurs, coming on as a sub.  I expect Sidibe to return to his starting role and finish out the season as Everton’s right back.

SOUTHAMPTON

Kyle Walker-Peters (D), Che Adams (F): Southampton play Brighton, Bournemouth and Sheffield United to close-out the season (i.e. your playoff run).  But in game-week 35, they play Manchester United, which could see managers drop their assets to the free-agent pool.  Now… the secret MAY be out about Southampton after the Saints managed to blank Manchester City in game-week 33 in a 1-0 win.  But there still may be some assets available. 

First, a brain-teaser: If I told you a defender with “Kyle” and “Walker” in his name returned 18.5 points in a Southampton vs. Manchester City match, your mind might land on City’s Kyle Walker.  But, nay, you’d be wrong my friend if it were game-week 33.  Kyle Walker-Peters had a key-pass, six interceptions and six clearances against City.  Add-in a clean-sheet for an 18.5-point-return, and it looks like KPW is going to keep his spot in the side. 

Che Adams has likely earned himself some more starts after he scored against City.  It wasn’t…  how-do-you-say … a “traditional goal.”  He essentially punked City goalkeeper Ederson with a 40-yard looper after he saw the keeper way off his line.  Many of us drafted Adams in August thinking he was going to be a main-man for the Saints.  After six weeks of lack-luster performances, however, we were straight dropping back in to the free-agent pool (which is where you still might find him).  But he’s quietly got himself into form lately, lodging an assist and a goal since the restart.  Worth an add now to prepare for your playoff run.

ARSENAL

Emiliano Martinez (G), Cedric Soares (D), ANY Starting Attacking Midfielder, ANY Starting Forward: Arsenal play Aston Villa and Watford in game-weeks 37 and 38 respectively.  (They play Liverpool in game-week 36, though.)  The notoriously leaky Arsenal defense has returned three clean-sheets in their last four matches (the most recent, and most impressive, against Wolverhampton in game-week 33 – only the fourth away-side to win at the Molineaux this season). 

I wouldn’t say I’m “in love” with the Arsenal defense, but I am “in like” with them (passing them ‘do-you-like-me-back?’ notes in study-hall, and whatnot).  And the one I like the most is goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.  Martinez has kept three clean-sheets in his last three starts (his ONLY starts) after Bernd Leno was lost for the season to injury.  Martinez is essentially tied for most points by a GK since the restart – he’s also the fourth highest scoring Arsenal player since the restart.  If Arsenal stay with five at the back, I like Martinez’s chances of returning more clean-sheets and, for that reason, he’s a good pick-up for the last two game-weeks of the season. 

Also, is the long, national nightmare of Hector Bellerin finally over?  Too soon to tell since he started in game-week 34.  But if the bell has tolled for Bellerin, then Cedric Soares has the most to gain.  When Arsenal play five at the back, and Cedric starts, he gets forward… a lot.  It’s possible manager Mikel Arteta returns Bellerin to the starting line-up, but if Cedric starts, he’s worth an add for game-weeks 37 and 38.  

Finally, Arteta has been rotating his squad since the restart, but the good news is the players who rotate in have talent.  So keep an eye on their line-up announcements for game-weeks 37 and 38, and grab any forward or attacking midfielder who starts (or grab them now, hold, and drop if they don’t start).  Joseph Willock (M) and Bukayo Saka (F) (who sometimes rotate for each other) are two that come to mind (Alexandre Lacazette (F) is even a free-agent in one my leagues).

LIVERPOOL

Naby Keita (M), Neco Williams (D), Divok Origi (F), Takumi Minamino (F):

It’s difficult to tell if Liverpool are still pouring champagne over themselves after each match, or if they are easing into a quasi-pre-season mode preparing for a 2020-21 repeat, or if this is just classic foot-off-the-gas-pedal stuff (Exhibit A: conceding to Brighton in game-week 34).  I think they still WANT to win-out their 2019-20 campaign, and I think that means manager Jurgen Klopp will keep the strong line-ups coming… but not at the expense of risking an injury to a starter. 

So expect to see the likes of Naby Keita, Neco Williams, Divok Origi, Takumi Minamino grabbing the occasional start.  My top pick here is Keita, who usually returns decent points without attacking returns.  He assisted Mohamed Salah’s goal in game-week 34.  His downside is that he usually subs out around the 60th-70th minute (61st minute in game-week 34 to be exact), which limits his value a little.  

I also like Williams because he essentially slots into to the Trent Alexander-Arnold role to launch crosses into the box (key passes, ACNC’s and assists incoming).  But he may only see one (maybe two?) start(s) for the remainder of the season (he started game-week 34 but was pulled at halftime).  Origi and Minamino are forwards for the best team in the league.  If they start and you see them in your free-agent pool, you’re kind of obligated to grab and start them under some international law of fantasy draft football, probably. 

One more tidbit, Klopp is on record saying he’s unhappy players have to make five league appearances to get a champions medal.  Some players who are close are Curtis Jones (three appearances); the aforementioned Williams (four appearances) and Harvey Elliott (two appearances).  I bring this up because we could see a start or two out of these players with Klopp trying to get them to the requisite five appearances.

BRIGHTON

Lewis Dunk (D), Tariq Lamptey (D), and Leandro Trossard (M):  Brighton played Liverpool in game-week 34 and play Manchester City in game-week 35.  This means it may have started raining Brighton assets in your league as managers drop them in favor of players to help with last-ditch playoff efforts.  Lewis Dunk is a constant presence in the Brighton defense (pretty much rotation-proof). 

Even without a clean-sheet, he can get you 6-10 points.  But add-in said clean-sheet and now you’re looking at 10-16 points.  Oh, and he’s only netted against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal this season.  Dunk could be a defender-three for the last three game-weeks.  Also in the Brighton defense, Tariq Lamptey is the new kid on the block, but playing with confidence … so much confidence he tallied an assist in game-week 34 against Liverpool.  The right back came over to the Albion from Chelsea (who rated him very highly), and so far he hasn’t disappointed.  He’s recently had a string of starts (which looks to continue) where he’s helped earn two clean-sheets in the process.  He’s also got defender-three potential for the playoffs. 

Another Brighton asset to consider is Leandro Trossard, the mercurial midfielder who never really could make a starting spot his own this season, but who is coming on strong.  When he does start, he’s got loads of fantasy upside.  And he doesn’t need attacking returns to get you double-digits, plus he takes the occasional set-piece and corner – always valuable.  He scored against Liverpool in game-week 34, so the secret may be out.  He’s a must own if you see him drop to the waiver pool over the next couple game-weeks.

TRADE-IN TARGET

David Silva (M)

I almost drafted David “El Mago” Silva into my team last August because I was certain he would get end-of-season starts on his farewell tour with Manchester City.  Silva hasn’t had a great year fantasy-wise (based mostly on a lack of starts in that crowded City midfield).  This makes him a prime trade-in target, from a perhaps frustrated fantasy owner.  (Note: I wrote this before Silva’s 39.5 point return in game-week 34, so maybe his managers are a bit less frustrated now.)  

Anyway, why bring him in now when his starts are inconsistent at best?  Because this is Silva’s last year with the team, and he likely won’t be playing Champions League with the squad in August.  This means Silva’s last opportunity to play in a City jersey is this month, to close out the 2019-20 season.  Manager Pep Guardiola loves the guy, and Silva helped Manchester City lift the EPL trophy FOUR times in his 10 years with the team.  You don’t let a guy like that ride the bench for his last month with the team. 

I expect David Silva to start two of the last three matches of the season.  Combine this with the fact that City closes out the season against Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City and David Silva is a prime trade-in target.  P.S. Don’t forget Norwich City beat Manchester City earlier this season, handing the Cityzens a stinging (and frankly embarrassing) 3-2 away loss… the GW 38 rematch could be a bloody affair at the Etihad, with City running up the score against a relegated Norwich City for some payback and for the fun of it.

Written by guest writer @fplhazardous. An esteemed member of the draft community and competitor in the Draft Community League, make sure you check him out on Twitter!

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