Oscar Wilde once wrote that "everything popular is wrong"; a point echoed by the majority of my posts singing the praises of differentiation and uncovering the next sleeper. However, the selection of your star players is equally important and with just 7 weeks to go, now is a great time to assess who will shine the brightest. I am going to focus on midfielders today (and forwards tomorrow) given that the weekly value of defenders/keepers is driven too much by the form/fitness of the squad rather than an individual's ability/form.
Four double digit million players are available in the game, and it is here that our attention will be focused. I accept that an argument can be made for, say, James Milner over Andrei Arshavin but given the difference in price it seems illogical to compare those two types of player. In order to avoid too much text and to get into the numbers I have created a quick box score to summarise each player. This will be as below:
Name (Goals, Assists, Bonus Points, Points per Game, Points per Game in the last 6 weeks).
Cesc Fabregas (15 - 15 - 41 - 8.2 - 7.5) £12.0m
Warning: I have said before that my bias is shameful towards Kevin Davies but with Fabregas it may be worse. If there's one player in the league I struggle to be objective with it's the Catalonian wizard. While there's no sign of bromance just yet, I would say that it could be a man crush.
Okay now the disclaimer is out of the way I can continue to gush about how insanely good Fabregas has been this year and if it wasn't for Rooney's form it would be talked about as one of the best seasons ever in the Premier League. Fabregas has been instrumental in everything Arsenal have done and this has rolled over into fantasy success with Fabregas almost a lock to complete the triple crown among midfielders (most goals, assists and bonus points). His 15 goals are better than 13 teams' entire midfield have managed for the season (including Villa and City among others) while his bonus point tally is more than 50% higher than his nearest rival Lampard.
Enough with the past though, how is Fabregas going to finish the season? Much has been made of Arsenal's easy schedule, and while not impossible, it isn't a walkover. Trips to Birmingham (32), Tottenham (34) and Blackburn (37) are harder than they sound as all three sides concede 0.87 GPG or less. Aside from that though all opponents concede at least 1.25 GPG though my only concern is the lack of too many 'sure things' where you can foresee 3 or 4 Arsenal goals (Wolves at home is perhaps the best game here (1.93 GPG)).
Five road games versus 3 home games would alarm some but a look at the stats suggests otherwise. Ignoring yellow cards and defensive points, Fabregas has averaged 6.3 PPG at home and 6.1 PPG away from the Emirates. This goes against the general consensus that Arsenal (and Fabregas) can only dominate at home and have a tendency to get bossed around on their travels. Like Oscar mentioned above, everything popular (including opinions) are often wrong.
I don't have much more to say that hasn't already been said, and without wishing to spoil the next few paragraphs, I cannot see how Fabregas is not the best midfielder to own in the closing stages of the season.
Frank Lampard (12 - 11 - 26 - 6.6 - 5.7) £13.2m
Despite some shaky periods (one goal in the first 9 games) 'old faithful' has been just that contributing in three categories and delivering value for his owners. On a points per 90 minutes basis he is actually ahead of last year, where he was considered part of the holy trinity (with Gerrard (below) and the now departed Ronaldo).
I have two concerns about Lampard, both of which conspire to push him down slightly in my rankings. Firstly, and simply, is cost. 1.2m is alot of cash in fantasy football and can be the difference between your 4th defender playing for either Villa or Wolves. I therefore find it hard to justify this extra expense over Fabregas. Second is Chelsea's fixtures which are significantly harder than Arsenal's. Their next five games come against opponents who concede 1.1 GPG or less including particularly tough games @MNU (0.57 GPG), @Tot (0.64) and @Liv (0.86). Granted, Malouda and Drogba are playing well but I think the remainder of Chelsea's team is a bit underwhelming and could struggle to score multiple goals in a couple of these fixtures.
Lampard remains a top option and I do not suggest he is a must sell at this point, but if you think cash can be better used elsewhere then you might consider bringing in Fabregas instead.
Steven Gerrard (6 - 6 - 9 - 4.4 - 2.9) £12.4m
Gerrard has not enjoyed the best of seasons and is no longer the fantasy powerhouse he once was. After this week's game against Sunderland his fixtures get significantly harder with only West Ham (H) surrendering more than 1.5 GPG. I'm not totally writing him off and I'm sure he will have another bumper week before the season is out, but as with Lampard above, your money can be better spent elsewhere. I would keep him for one more week then either move to Fabregas or an even cheaper option like Arteta and use the extra cash to upgrade your strike force.
Andrei Arshavin (9 - 2 - 15 - 4.6 - 3.9) £10.2m
I predicted big things for Arshavin this year and thought he could finish in the top 5 of all players. Despite spells of brilliance he has flattered to deceive at times, not helped by his deployment as a loan striker for periods when Van Persie got injured. As noted with Fabregas above, Arsenal's fixtures are pretty good so Arshavin does still deserve some consideration and his lower ownership levels (11%) make him somewhat of a differentiator. Still he probably belongs in the range with Milner, Arteta and Valencia and so it is tough to recommend spending 10m+ on the little Russian right now.
Stay tuned tomorrow for my thoughts on how I rate the big three (Drogba, Rooney and Torres) from here on in. Thanks for reading and please post your thoughts below or @plfantasy.