The end of the season tends to be a funny thing. For those of you at the tops of your private leagues, you are in an excellent position. You can look at players and match-ups and choose the strongest group you can afford and hope for the best in good conscience. For those of us trying to make up ground (I'm about 100 points behind fellow-blogger Jeremy in 2nd place in our group) the task isn't so easy.
Last week, for instance, my first instinct was to go with Solano - he's been hot, the match-up was a good one for him, and he wasn't terribly expensive. In fact, I had him in my squad for the majority of the week. As the deadline approached, I realized that to make up the gap, I had to go high-risk/high-reward. On the report that Amiobi and Shearer were likely out, I went with Luque who scored recently and has something to prove going into an off-season of uncertainty. Solano had a nice match, Amiobi recovered from having his teeth knocked out, Luque sat - not good times.
In honor of such situations, I'm going to make two sets of recommendations. One will be the traditional "best players available" recommendations and are generally intended for those looking to keep leads over friends, related to side bets (ahem, not that these things ever happen), or win private or public leagues. The second set will be for the rest of us who are trying to make up ground and should be taken in the spirit they are intended - high risk, high reward. They have the potential to turn out great but may yield you nothing instead. Here goes...
For the Leaders...
This may reek of my Arsenal bias but they need the points and they do have Sunderland this week...
There aren't too many surprises here to be honest. I'm sure most of you have K2 (that's Adebayor to you) at a pretty cheap price and you should probably stick with him. Henry and Rooney are probably the best two candidates to partner him if you can scrape together the money. Rooney has a tough one against Chelsea but he's a big game guy and he follows that up with a home match vs. what is sure to be an exhausted Boro squad. The streaky option up top is Luis Boa Morte, he generally scores in bunches and it looks like he's hitting a hot patch - never a bad thing with Sunderland on the schedule.
This is the weekend to go old school. Arsenal look to be without Hleb and Reyes meaning that Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires are very likely to start and play most if not all the time in both matches this week. They're also relatively cheap (both under $9). Throw in an injury to Gilberto and you may want to go with Diaby as well who is extremely cheap (under $4). As far as non-Arsenal midfielders go, Malbranque, Ronaldo, and Lampard are the three best bets in my eyes. Ronaldo and Lamps because, well, they're Ronaldo and Lamps and Malbranque because of Sunderland being on the schedule.
More Arsenal here with Eboue and Clichy being affordable and almost guaranteed to play given that there are few options for Arsenal at right back and Cole is unlikely to start in his first match back and unlikely to go the full 90 in either match even if he does feature at some point. Wayne Bridge is another good, affordable bet here due to match-ups and his propensity for going forward.
Niemi, Niemi, Niemi - he's cheap and he's been great since his return to the Fulham line-up. It's sort of the perfect situation for a fantasy keeper - the Cottagers are bad enough on defense that Niemi gets a lot of save chances but not SO BAD that he let's in too many goals. Even when he doesn't get a win/clean-sheet, he tends to get a lot of points off of saves. When he gets a win/clean-sheet, he's huge.
Swinging for the Fences...
Where the "safe" strategy features a lot of Arsenal and Fulham players (all of whom are very likely to start both team games while both teams face Sunderland), the high-risk strategy focuses on Boro.
It looks like JFH and Viduka are injured to at least some extent so it is likely that UEFA Cup hero Maccarone will get a lot of playing time over the three matches Boro has this week. He's obviously hot and as a bonus, he's dirt cheap ($6.56). Yakubu is also likely to get some PT in the absence of Boro's other strikers but he hasn't been what you'd call hot lately so I'm not particularly inclined to take that risk despite previous years' late season heroics from the Yak. The other part of the strategy is to take strikers who have quality but aren't necessarily facing the best match-ups and hoping they overcome those match-ups - Bellamy, Drogba, and Samaras come quickly to mind. Or take a flyer on someone like Brian McBride who hasn't been great lately but has good match-ups and isn't too terribly expensive.
I've been a big Stewart Downing fan since his arrival in Boro's starting XI. Boro are scheduled for three matches this week (and three tough ones at that) and while I'm sure he won't play in all three - the chance that he'll play in most/all of two should be sufficiently interesting to make him worth the risk. Slightly less attractive but in the same boat are his teammates Rochemback and Morrison. The only other non-obvious choice that is appealing to me in any way is Joey Barton who is due for a decent match or two.
This is a tough one - certainly Ashley Cole represents a huge risk but I can't see him getting THAT much time combined in Arsenal's two matches. The best I think you can expect is 1 start and 1 substitute appearance. Upside of 20 points if he has a great game in the start and a clean sheet in the substitute appearance. Parnaby from Boro isn't a bad bet given their injuries in the back and his 3-game status - not really who you think of when you think fantasy defenders but he's solid (but a bit pricey). Outside of those two, you might want to be a little conservative here because you don't want to lose points on really bad risks.
Either take a risk blowing budget on one of the old standards (Champions League hero Lehmann comes to mind) or go all out on the notion that Schwartzer is hurt and Jones gets three starts for Boro.
Good Luck as the season winds to a close...