If the fantasy football season was a 400m race then we’re just coming around the final bend into the home straight.
Nine gameweeks to go means there is still almost a quarter of the season left – plenty of time to make a charge up your mini-leagues.
Do you still have a couple of chips in your back pocket ready for a strong finish or have you gone out fast and find yourself grimly hanging on to try to hold off the chasing pack?
A lot of fantasy managers are thinking about playing their second wildcard in gameweek 30 or gameweek 31, which requires an in-depth look at the fixture list and a bit of long-term planning. That is my buzz phrase on the Fantasy 606 podcast, much to the amusement of Chris Sutton and Statman Dave.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester, Liverpool and Wolves are teams that leap out at you straight away as having pretty favourable run-ins, so that’s not a bad place to start. Don’t feel left out if you’ve not got a wildcard to play because these considerations all apply to any transfers you’re going to make in the coming weeks.
Tottenham have a double gameweek looming in week 32 with a trip to Everton and a home game against Southampton, so it’s well worth having Harry Kane in your squad for a start, but be aware they have no fixture in gameweek 33, along with Manchester City, Southampton and Fulham, so make sure you don’t leave yourself short for that one.
Squad rotation is the biggest concern in trying to get this right – yep, Pep roulette just got riskier – particularly with those clubs still involved in European football. It will be very interesting to see the Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea line-ups this weekend going into the first legs of their Champions League quarter-finals.
If you can hold off on the wildcard until gameweek 31 then it does just give you the extra week to get a handle on what Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel are thinking in terms of team selection.
My biggest headache at the moment is whether to keep three Manchester City players in my squad – currently Ruben Dias, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin de Bruyne.
The potential rewards are obvious when all three are involved but with City 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League, surely the Champions League will now take priority. I’m leaning towards taking Gundogan out and replacing him with Jack Grealish or James Maddison if they can prove their fitness after the international break. Both are playing for good teams with plenty still to play for this season and you can be confident they’ll start every game.
The Chelsea defence is another obvious port of call, having conceded just two goals in 14 games under Tuchel. Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is probably the safest way in and he’s still relatively cheap at £5.2m. Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen also provide excellent value at £4.7m and both have been regular starters.
Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Marcos Alonso are the more exciting picks in terms of attacking potential but there’s also that added rotation risk with the full-backs.
As for Liverpool, Arsenal and Wolves it’s whether we trust their players are going to deliver in these seemingly favourable fixtures when the evidence so far this season makes us doubt it.
Mohamed Salah is the obvious case in point with just four goals, no assists and three bonus points from his past 15 appearances, yet he’s still the fourth-highest scoring player in the game and if Liverpool click then he’s almost certainly going to cash in.
If you can’t afford both then De Bruyne or Salah is a really interesting dilemma for fantasy managers for the run-in. Personally I would go with De Bruyne but maybe add Diogo Jota to your squad as your Liverpool asset or consider Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has been showing signs of better form even though it wasn’t enough to convince Gareth Southgate to pick him for England.
If you want to dip into the Wolves squad then Pedro Neto is an obvious choice as their top point-scorer, although they’ve only managed 28 goals in 29 Premier League games, which might put you off. Defensively they’re sound, so maybe Conor Coady, Romain Saiss or Nelson Semedo could be a safer bet.
And why not consider Martin Odegaard or Alexandre Lacazette at Arsenal rather than the more popular picks of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Bukayo Saka? Odegaard costs just £6m and seems to have quickly established himself as a creative link in the team. Lacazette is £8.2m and has scored three goals in his past four Premier League games.
Alistair Bruce-Ball presents the Fantasy 606 podcast alongside Premier League winner Chris Sutton and Statman Dave. The latest episode previewing gameweek 30 is available now on BBC Sounds.