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Gameweek 18 Sleepers XI: Fantrax EPL

We look to the waiver wire and free agent pool each week to highlight some under-the-radar players who could be a short-term or even long-term solution for your Fantrax EPL fantasy teams. Our Sleepers XI provides fantasy managers with a full squad of differential picks, and some high upside options to plug in if they are in the starting lineup. Don't sleep on these underappreciated gems as you put together your roster for Gameweek 18!

An Aston Villa banner is displayed on the pitch before kickoff.

We'll be focusing on players that will bring us not only attacking returns or clean sheets, but also those players that score Ghost Points in the sophisticated and statistics based Fantrax Scoring System!

Fantasy EPL Gameweek 18 Sleepers XI

For this article, we use the % rostered from Fantrax. Our only rule is that each player we highlight is required to be rostered in 60% of leagues or less at the time of writing. Therefore there's a good chance some of these players will be free agents in your Fantrax Draft League! As always, we'll take form, fixtures, projected points, and a healthy dose of intuition into account to make our selections. Additionally, I've included the rostership percentage from the "Big 3" -- the twenty 12-team divisions that comprise the ultra-competitive DraftPL Community League and International Genie League, as well as the eight equally competitive 10-team divisions in the Discord Super League -- to provide some additional context for who is likely to be available and where you might want to follow the wisdom of the crowd.

Gameweek 17 would have been the first triple-digit score of the season for the Sleepers XI if not for the abandoned Bournemouth-Luton fixture, with four of the starting eleven coming from those two teams. Even without those additional points, a score of 74.75 points for the week continued the positive scoring trend of late, with Amadou Onana (20), Alex Moreno (15.5), Benoit Badiashile (14.5) and Jordan Pickford (12) all offering double-digit scores. That tally takes the season total up to 1143, bumping the weekly average up to 67.25 points. The season target of 75 is not out of the question, but of course navigating the congested festive period will pose a challenge to continuing the upward trajectory.

The Sleepers XI table below includes a full team of Starters, as well as 5 Reserves -- high-upside players with some question marks around whether or not they'll start in Gameweek 18. Keep an eye out when lineups drop and pick them up if you see them starting and need to fill a spot on your roster. Read on below for the rationale behind each of the Starter selections.

Dean Henderson (G, Crystal Palace v. Brighton)

With the injury to de facto number one Sam Johnstone prior to last week's match, Henderson was thrust into action for his first Premier League minutes of the season against Man City. Despite Roy Hodgson suggesting the former Manchester United keeper may not be fully match fit, he put in a stellar performance between the posts to keep the Eagles in the match to make their dramatic comeback. Johnstone will likely remain sidelined for at least a few more weeks, giving Henderson the chance to stake a claim on the starting role moving forward. Prior to the match against Arsenal in GW17, Brighton had scored in each of their Premier League matches this season, so don't bank on a clean sheet, but with Henderson making 7 saves against City, you have to like his odds of ending up in the black this week whatever the result.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka (D, Manchester United @ West Ham)

Diogo Dalot got the Gabriel Martinelli treatment at the end of the Liverpool match in GW17, sent off for two bookable offenses in the same sequence of play. It's a harsh sentence for the Portuguese fullback, but offers Wan-Bissaka an opportunity to break back into the first team after being relatively frozen out since Luke Shaw returned to fitness. AWB will be tasked with dealing with the in-form Lucas Paqueta, with his prowess in one-on-one defending situations potentially affording him the chance to rack up some tackles and interceptions from which to build. The Hammers have been inconsistent opponents, so it remains to be seen which version will show up, but the Red Devils will no doubt be full of confidence following their spirited defensive display at Anfield. Wan-Bissaka hasn't been the best when he's played in terms of picking up ghost points (he's averaging a decent 7.7 ghost points per start this season), so think of him as a guaranteed starter with a low floor and high ceiling when considering whether you should draft him into your side.

Emerson Royal (D, Tottenham Hotspur v. Everton)

Another defender who looks set to get a rare start due to a suspension, Royal should come in for Destiny Udogie this weekend after the Italian picked up his fifth booking of the season against Nottingham Forest. The Brazilian defender has been called upon all across the back line this season, and it remains to be seen whether Ange Postecoglou will run him out in central defense or at left back, with Ben Davies the other candidate to fill either role. Royal is a similar type of fantasy asset to the aforementioned AWB, in that he's unlikely to do a whole lot of ghosting (particularly from CB) but can pop up with a goal contribution and/or clean sheet to provide a match-winning performance. The Toffees have been in excellent form, but will face a true test coming up against a Spurs side that has gotten back to winning ways in their last few matches. Everton were also in action mid-week, so will have had less time to recover than their opponents. I wouldn't be surprised to see Spurs collect a third consecutive victory and a clean sheet isn't out of the question, either.

Ezri Konsa (D, Aston Villa v. Sheffield United)

If we've learned anything so far this season, it's that Aston Villa are extremely difficult to contend with when they play at Villa Park. Add in that their opponents are the league's lowest scorers (just 12 from 17 EPL matches) and you could be forgiven for picking up one of their lower-rostered center backs in hopes of a clean sheet. With doubts over the fitness of Pau Torres, Konsa should be next in your thinking (Diego Carlos would be lucky to get double digits even with a clean sheet and could be replaced in the starting lineup by Matty Cash). It has to be said that these center backs are not scoring well in fantasy terms and would generally be players to avoid in favor of those who are capable of scoring well even when they concede. However, there are few great options likely to be available this week, so if you're in need of a guaranteed starter with the most favorable match-up of the weekend, you could certainly do worse.

Timothy Castagne (D, Fulham v. Burnley)

I originally had Kenny Tete lined up here, but with the Dutch defender playing the full match in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday I'm making an educated guess that Castagne will return to the starting lineup against Burnley. Marco Silva put out a very strong side for the league cup match, however, and it could be argued that it's his preferred XI (with the exception of the suspended Raul Jimenez), so Tete could keep his place. As you'll see, I've got him in the Reserves this week. Ideally, you'll have the opportunity to plug in whichever of the two gets the nod. In fact, it wouldn't be the worst strategy to pick up both if your league allows live lineup changes and they're both available. There will be enough other matches for you to find a suitable replacement for whichever of the two is benched. The Cottagers suffered a blip in the 3-0 defeat against Newcastle last week, but a lot of that can be attributed to going a man down in the first half. Prior to that, they had been in excellent form. A home fixture against struggling Burnley should be a good opportunity for them to get back on track.

Jacob Ramsey (M, Aston Villa v. Sheffield United)

If you're a member of one of the "Big 3" leagues (DPL Community League, International Genie League and/or Discord Super League), it's a near certainty that your window to pick up Ramsey has passed. However, the England youngster may still be available in home leagues following his long-term injury and recurrence earlier in the season. Ramsey returned to the starting lineup against Brentford and managed nearly the full 90 minutes, racking up a respectable 8.5 points. With Boubacar Kamara suspended for the next three matches due to the straight red card he was shown for violent conduct against the Bees, Emery will likely keep John McGinn in a central position alongside the returning Douglas Luiz, leaving the left midfield spot available for Ramsey to occupy again. The 22 year-old was brilliant under Emery at the back half of the 22/23 season, and if he can rediscover that same form, he'll be a set-and-forget fixture in your squad.

Lewis Cook (M, Bournemouth @ Nottingham Forest)

Cook has become a bit of a fantasy darling among the more active leagues in the past month or so, as he's taken a fair share of set pieces for the Cherries in the absence of Alex Scott. Scott returned to the bench for Bournemouth's last match and a return to the starting lineup may be imminent, but Cook should keep his place and subsequent set piece duties for this week's match against Forest at the least. If you're buying in on Cook now, you may want to try flipping him for another fantasy asset after this gameweek, particularly if he scores well (a "sell high" situation). Bournemouth were a little out of sorts against Luton and are set to face a Nottingham Forest side who have just made a managerial switch, so it's difficult to know how this one will shake out. That said, Cook has shown that he can provide a solid floor of points with the potential to explode. He's definitely worth a shot as a short-term play even if he does lose some of his value upon Scott's return to the side.

Lewis Miley (M, Newcastle @ Luton)

It's been a long time since I can recall seeing a player as young as Miley with the composure to play in central midfield in the Premier League. The 17 year-old has not looked at all out of place in the starting lineup for a very strong Newcastle outfit and even notched his first Premier League goal in the win over Fulham in GW17. The youngster had been benched in favor of a midfield three of Bruno Guimaraes, Joelinton and Sean Longstaff, but with an injury to Joelinton he should be straight back into the XI for the trip to Luton. Even in matches where he hasn't scored a goal, Miley has scored decently well and will likely be called upon to get into similarly advanced positions as he did against the Cottagers last weekend.

Sean Longstaff (M, Newcastle @ Luton)

It's very rare that I double up on players from the same team and position, but at this time of the season I'm prioritizing players who are likely to start and there aren't a ton of options to like in midfield this week. Longstaff is a player whose role I think is often misunderstood. Despite the perception that he's a tried-and-true holding midfielder, the local lad is far more of a box-to-box player and will contribute key passes and shots on target more frequently than you might expect. The Hatters have proven to be pretty stubborn at Kenilworth Road, but it's tended to be that they're more potent from an attacking standpoint at home than tidy at the back. They have offered up close to 10 points on average to opposition midfielders (data you can find in our Fantasy Toolkit, discounted now for the holidays), so Longstaff could be a good short-term pick-up ahead of a tough schedule for the Magpies to kick off the new year.

Jean-Philippe Mateta (F, Crystal Palace v. Brighton)

Shockingly, we're nearly halfway through the Premier League season and Brighton still have not kept a clean sheet. So, it stands to reason that buying in on attacking players facing the Seagulls can be a viable strategy. Until very recently, Mateta has been firmly in the camp of forwards to avoid picking up, but the Frenchman has taken his opportunity in the team by the horns, delivering two goals and an assist across the last two matches against Liverpool and Man City. Admittedly, this test could end up being a case of a stoppable force meeting a movable object and both Mateta and Brighton's defense failing to come up with the goods. However, as has so often been the case this season, finding a starting forward with a favorable fixture and form on his side is a real rarity. If you're rostering City and/or Brentford forwards through their blank this week, Mateta may be the stopgap solution you need to hold you over until they return.

Lyle Foster (F, Burnley @ Fulham)

Gameweek 17 offered some good news for fantasy managers and fans of the game in general with the surprise return to action for Foster, who had been away on compassionate leave to take care of some mental health challenges. The South African striker was a key player for the Clarets before stepping away, scoring three goals and providing two assists for a team that has struggled for goals. There's no guarantee that he's ready to step back into the starting lineup just yet, but the 45-minute appearance against Everton was a good sign that he'll be there soon if not this weekend. Given the team's current place in the relegation zone, I'd say it's more likely than not that we see Foster deployed from the start against Fulham and potentially replaced midway through the second half if he's not quite up to full match sharpness. Burnley have a tough schedule over the festive period, but if you're in need of cover this week and a FWD3/4 for your squad moving forward, Foster can do a job and should be in the starting lineup most weeks.

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