By AVI CREDITOR
It's an odd week in the Barclays Premier League. John Terry and Wayne Bridge will be sharing the same pitch at Stamford Bridge, there are two relegation battles (Burnley-Portsmouth, Bolton-Wolves) and Tottenham hosts Everton in an intriguing match. Other than that, it's a slate of vanilla matches and mismatches.
Fortunately, your fantasy lineups don't have to suffer, but you'll have to work harder than normal to field a high-scoring squad. With Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia, Edwin Van der Sar, Richard Dunne, Carlos Cuellar, James Milner, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Brad Friedel, Carlton Cole and Stephen Hunt, among others, all without league games this week, you'll likely be working the transfer market to fill a couple of holes.
That's why we're here. On to this week's picks:
CAPTAIN OF THE WEEK
Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal, £12.0
It's a tough call this week, but out of all the big scorers in action, Fabregas has the best matchup.
Arsenal's captain broke a four-game scoring drought with his injury-time penalty kick against Sunderland in Week 27, and in doing so nailed down his eighth game of double-digit fantasy points this season. Only Rooney and Chelsea's Didier Drogba can match Fabregas in that regard.
While Drogba and Chelsea's big guns are coming off an exhausting Champions League battle with Inter Milan and have a date with the dangerous Manchester City, Fabregas gets a so-so Stoke City side that just played 120 minutes on Wednesday.
Despite the revolving door of injured Arsenal starters around him and the will-he-go-or-won't-he rumors that persist about a potential move to Barcelona, Fabregas has remained a constant for the Gunners.
In the 23 games he's played, he's secured the maximum of three bonus points 11 times. He's averaging more than one goal or assist per game (12 goals, 13 assists) and feasts on weaker competition. With Arsenal's schedule from here on out (more on this in a little), Fabregas could be poised for an unheard-of fantasy run for the remainder of the season.
Other candidates: Chelsea's Drogba and Frank Lampard, Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt (vs. Blackburn).
BEST TRANSFER BUYS (Guys who can get you production at a good price. I'm not necessarily telling you to sub out stars for them, but if you have a tight budget or are looking for a less-popular player with a good matchup, look no further.)
Brian Jensen, Burnley £4.1
If you think that Burnley will be able to shut out Portsmouth at home, and I do, then it's not unreasonable to put your faith in Jensen as a one-week replacement for Friedel, Van der Sar or the injured Petr Cech in order to free up some salary.
Gael Clichy, Arsenal, £6.2
Clichy, in addition to the other healthy Arsenal defenders, is a strong pickup for this week and beyond. Arsenal might not give up a goal until April, based on the schedule. The Gunners don't face a team in the top half of the table, aside from 10th-place Birmingham, until they play Tottenham on April 10. Look it up. And get ready for a steady dose of recommendations for Arsene Wenger's players.
Emiliano Insua, Liverpool, £6.2
For a team whose struggles have been highlighted thoroughly, Liverpool's defense is having a strong season. Insua leads the charge for a unit that has seven clean sheets in its last nine games. He's also managed five assists from the back and has the seventh-most fantasy points among defenders.
Martin Skrtel, Liverpool, £5.6
Like Arsenal, Liverpool has a favorable schedule for the remainder of the season. Ten of the team's final 12 games are against teams currently ninth or worse in the table. Skrtel was fantastic last week against Manchester City, securing three bonus points along with the clean sheet. He's a solid play at Anfield against Blackburn and a cheaper alternative to Jamie Carragher (£6.4). UPDATE 2/25: Of course, Skrtel suffers a foot injury Thursday in Europa League play. Pick up Carragher. If you want a less-popular option, then Daniel Agger at £6.3 is your man.
Michael Dawson, Tottenham, £5.0
Dawson has quietly tallied at least five fantasy points in seven of his last 10 games, and Spurs haven't yielded a goal in their last five matches at White Hart Lane. He's not an offensive force by any means, but he did score against Everton on Dec. 6.
Yossi Benayoun, Liverpool, £7.5
The price is great for a player with his high-scoring ability, though it remains to be seen how much playing time he gets as he comes back from injury. Picking him up is undoubtedly a risk, but if you're trailing in your table and want to make up ground by playing someone that other teams don't have on their rosters, the Israeli presents a large-payoff possibility.
Steven Pienaar, Everton, £6.2
The Toffees are one of the Premier League's hottest teams, and the cornrowed South African is one of the big reasons why. He set up the winner against Manchester United, always seems to be involved in the team's goal-scoring chances and can be had at the right price. Because he's always in the action he attracts bonus points.
Charles N'Zogbia, Wigan, £6.1
Tied for the second-most bonus points and sixth-most overall points among midfielders, N'Zogbia is one of the better buys on the market and has a decent matchup at Birmingham. He scored against the Blues earlier this season and perhaps can reprise that role in bringing Wigan out of its offensive slump (three goals in its last six games).
Lee Bowyer, Birmingham, £5.1
Like N'Zogbia, Bowyer is a good buy because of his low-cost/high-output potential. He was the man of the match the last time Birmingham faced Wigan and is coming off a decent performance against Fulham.
Bobby Zamora, Fulham, £5.7
Zamora has scored in his last two games, and he tallied a goal against Sunderland in their first meeting this season. He has scored one fewer fantasy point than Nicolas Anelka, who costs £3.9 more to have in your lineup. UPDATE 2/26: Zamora injured his Achilles' heel in Europa League play on Thursday and is doubtful for the match against Sunderland. If you can stretch your budget a bit, Wigan's Hugo Rodallega (£6.6) makes for a good play against Birmingham.
Kevin Doyle, Wolves, £5.4
Doyle certainly makes for a sneaky play this week. He looked extremely dangerous last week against Chelsea, has been in good form over his last few games and faces a Bolton team with a depleted defense and all-around confidence.
SLEEPERS (Guys at an even bigger discount that can still produce based on their opponent.)
Marcus Hahnemann, Wolves, £4.0
Bolton hasn't scored a goal in its last five league matches. You would think that a home date with Wolves would be the time to break that drought. I don't, Stuart Holden's recent inclusion in the lineup not withstanding. A clean sheet for Wolves means at least six points for the American keeper (barring any cautions).
Aaron Hughes, Fulham, £4.7
The Cottagers' defense is playing well and gets a beat-up Sunderland that has been shut out three times in its last five games. While the Black Cats are dangerous because of Darren Bent, one would think that Fulham would zero in on shutting down the England World Cup hopeful and force the offense to come from somewhere else.
Jody Craddock, Wolves, £4.3
Aside from being a productive defender throughout the season, Craddock has a great matchup (see: Marcus Hahnemann), and he scored one of his four goals this season against Bolton in their first meeting.
Mikael Silvestre, Arsenal, £4.3
If you're desperate, try riding the coattails of Thomas Vermaelen & Co. with another Arsenal defender. Silvestre played the full 90 at left back in a shutout of Sunderland, and if he's in the lineup Saturday against Stoke he makes for a decent play.
Daniel Fox, Burnley, £4.0
It's more about the matchup and price than it is the player in this situation. Fox debuted with Burnley three games ago with a goal and an assist but has been quiet since then. The potential for Fox to strike again is nice, and Burnley should have no problem defending its home turf against Portsmouth.
Lucas, Liverpool, £4.9
Don't expect major numbers here, as Lucas hasn't scored and has just one assist on the season. The real value is the extra point he can get you with a clean sheet and any bonus points, which he has managed to secure four times. You could do worse for a fourth or fifth midfielder.
Zoltan Gera, Fulham, £4.7
Gera made his first Premier League appearance in three matches last week, returning with an assist and three bonus points. He has a favorable matchup with struggling Sunderland and can give you good value at a cheap price.
Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal £4.6
Ramsey has shown well despite spotty playing time, managing three goals and three assists while playing the full 90 just four times. He's worth the risk as your final midfielder because of Arsenal's injury woes at the position. He scored against Stoke in the teams' earlier meeting.
Matthew Jarvis, Wolves, £4.4
Not to keep kicking a team while it's down, but Bolton is just in miserable form. Jarvis, meanwhile, has a goal and an assist in his last four games. If you're strapped for cash, Jarvis might be able to help you.
Steven Fletcher, Burnley, £5.3
With two goals in his last four games, Fletcher now has seven on the season. Burnley welcomes last-place and much-distracted Portsmouth to Turf Moor, and Fletcher should have his share of chances to put one past David James.
Cameron Jerome, Birmingham, £4.7
Take a flyer on Jerome if you've only got a few pounds to spend on a striker. He's gone five games without scoring a goal, but he has five on the season, plus a favorable home fixture with Wigan.
LAST WEEK'S PICKS
Wayne Rooney (15×2=30 points)
–Valencia (16)—-Duff(8)—-A. Johnson(3)—-Hunt(2)–
KEEP IN MIND: Injury news often breaks close to kickoff, well after this column is published. Any late-breaking injury items will be added to this post (as I did last week with the Lampard and Carlos Tevez situations), so bookmark it or re-visit it prior to when the games begin.
Soccer By Ives standings (Top 10)
1. AC Vols………………………..1654
2. the unholy passion………1628
3. The Jackson 4………………1627
4. AdiosAde, HolaSlvrWr…..1609
6. Big Apple FC…………………1589
8. aston villains…………………1572
9. Preening Narcissists……1567
10. Maple Gooners……………1564
Who do you think will score the big points in Week 28? What's your lineup looking like?
Share your thoughts below.