In this weekâ€™s Fantasy Football Insider, JOE considers when is the best time to pull out the last-gasp tool available to all managers â€“ the wildcard.
Even though we at JOE are big fans of Giovanni Trapattoniâ€™s green army, the absence of Premier League football over the last two weeks or so of the international break left us a little dead inside.
With no Jeff Stelling and the lads to follow on Soccer Saturday, no Match of the Day on a Saturday night and no Super Sunday to keep us entertained, we were left with the paucity of the Commonwealth Games to provide our sporting fix, although in fairness, the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup was a welcome distraction.
With no Premier League football to speak of, most fantasy teams would have been left idle for the past fortnight, but many a manager may have been taking advantage of the break to pull out a wildcard in an attempt to re-energise their season.
One of the major rule changes in the Fantasy Premier League this season was the addition of an extra wildcard, meaning that managers can completely change their teams without penalty twice â€“ managers can use one wildcard at any time throughout the season and the other in a designated window that stretches from Gameweek 22 (January 4) until Gameweek 27 (12 February), designed with the January transfer window in mind.
It may have been worth exploring the option of the wildcard during the last fortnight for a couple of reasons - to stave off the boredom of no fantasy football activity and to attempt to save some money before the transfer prices inevitably rise once the action resumes.
The downside is, of course, that some players in your selection (e.g. Dirk Kuyt, Kevin Doyle) may have picked up injuries on international duty and force you into the market once more.
The option of the wildcard may not have been available to many, however, due to the fact that a good portion of managers have probably utilised it already due to the topsy-turvy nature of the season so far and the disappointing performances of some of the big teams and the big names.
Although Everton have turned their fortunes around somewhat in recent weeks, anyone with a heavy Toffees contingent at the start of the season would have been forced into a change of policy fairly swiftly. Ditto Liverpool.
As far as players are concerned, Wayne Rooney is a prime example of a big name who has flattered to deceive so far; Fernando Torres another. On the other hand, injuries have deprived many managers of the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Frank Lampard. Because of the high price of the players mentioned above, it often takes a number of transfers â€“ and points â€“ to turn your team around, making the wildcard a pretty attractive option.
Frank Lampard has spent more time on the sidelines than on the pitch this season
The temptation always remains to leave your wildcard until the final day of the season â€“ itâ€™s a great tool to use in the last week if you happen to be leading your league. Simply change your team to make it the exact same as your nearest challenger, making sure you get the exact same points on the final day and ensuring you win the league â€“ providing itâ€™s only a two horse race of course!
What to look out for this week
West Brom have been in decent form so far this season and in defeating Arsenal 3-2 at the Emirates, produced one of the shock results of the season so far. A true barometer of a promoted teamâ€™s worth, however, is how they perform at Old Trafford, which has been a far from happy hunting ground for some of the leagueâ€™s minnows over the last few seasons.
United have been indifferent so far this campaign, but have been as ruthless as ever at home, scoring three times in each of their three games at the Theatre of Dreams so far. With Wayne Rooney still out of sorts and potentially at odds with Sir Alex Ferguson, in-form Dimitar Berbatov (Â£9.3 million) and Nani (Â£8.6 million) are probably your best bets for big points.
Cesc Fabregas (Â£11.8 million) had been in outstanding form for Arsenal prior to the injury he picked up at Sunderland a few weeks back and he looks set to return to the Gunnersâ€™ line-up against Birmingham at the Emirates having been spared the rigours of international duty last week. Brumâ€™s feared rearguard looked a bit dodgy against Everton at St Andrews, so with that in mind, Marouane Chamakh (Â£8.3 million) might again be worth a try, considering that he is once again likely to plough a lone furrow up front.
Elsewhere, history has taught us not to underestimate Blackpool, so, despite the fact that they take on the might of Manchester City this weekend, weâ€™re going to refrain from recommending players from Roberto Manciniâ€™s star-studded squad.
On paper, there are very few stand-out fixtures and there seems to be plenty of potential for draws this weekend in games such as Bolton v Stoke City, Fulham v Tottenham, Aston Villa v Chelsea and Blackburn v Sunderland. Â Individually, in-form players such as Rafael van der Vaart (Â£7.8 million), Matthew Etherington (Â£5.9 million) and as usual, Darren Bent (Â£8.6 million) are definitely worth considering.
JOEâ€™s Fantasy Football Picks
Top Dollar: Dimitar Berbatov (Â£9.3 million). Weâ€™re convinced that Wayne Rooney will come good eventually, but until he does, his strike partner Dimitar Berbatov will have bear the goalscoring burden for Manchester United and having not featured during the international break, he should be fit and raring to go against West Brom this weekend.
Mid Range: Johan Elmander (Â£5.8 million). We werenâ€™t convinced by the Swedeâ€™s impressive start to the season, but he has maintained his good form and has netted four goals, provided two assists and accrued eight bonus points so far. Against Stoke at the Reebok, Elmander could well be among the points on Saturday.
Bargain Basement: Ahmed Elmohamady (Â£4.7 million). After the Chelsea trio of Ashley Cole, Alex and John Terry, Sunderlandâ€™s Elmohamady is the highest scoring defender in the fantasy league. The Egyptian has yet to score this season, but has provided an assist, five bonus points and three clean sheets so far. Â Â
Irish pick: Seamus Coleman (Â£4.4 million). Colemanâ€™s inclusion in Evertonâ€™s starting line-up has coincided with the Toffeesâ€™ first two clean sheets of the season. Everton looked to have recovered some sort of form against Birmingham last time out and come up against a Liverpool side in their worst run of form in years this weekend. Even if Everton donâ€™t keep a clean sheet, Colemanâ€™s attacking instincts make him a decent bet for an assist.
Captainâ€™s pick: Dimitar Berbatov (Â£9.3 million). United normally make short work of lower league opposition at Old Trafford and the Bulgarian has been flying so far this season.