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 21!
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 21 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 20, which seems like an eon ago now, continued the rich vein of form for the Sleepers XI selections with a score of 86.75 points. Some extreme defensive disappointments (a backline of Branthwaite, Gusto and Toffolo combined for a grand total of -2 points) were outweighed by excellent displays from Ross Barkley (19.5), Keane Lewis-Potter (17.5), Luis Sinisterra (11) and Moises Caicedo (10). The season tally now sits at 1397.75 points, just shy of the 70 point per week mark.
Looking ahead, Gameweek 21 is a marathon spanning from Friday, January 12 all the way to Monday, January 22. Half the teams will not have a fixture this weekend, with the remainder of them having next weekend off for a mini Winter break. That means there's a huge amount of time for things to change between the start and end of the gameweek, and also means accurate team news will be in short supply -- particularly now that the Luton - Burnley match has been moved up to Friday to accommodate an FA Cup replay for the Hatters. All this is to say that this is going to be one of the most difficult weeks of the season to predict starters and, in the event of your league not allowing lineup changes after the deadline, you may want to load up on players from teams who have fixtures this weekend to hopefully mitigate any potential training injuries or mystery illnesses that crop up.
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 21. 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.
Djordje Petrovic (G, Chelsea v. Fulham)
When Robert Sanchez was subbed off due to an injury in the match against Everton on December 10, not many people knew a whole lot about Petrovic. The Serbian shot-stopper joined the Blues from MLS side New England Revolution over the summer and has taken his opportunity well, recording a clean sheet in his first Premier League start and winning three of his four matches so far. He's also made four saves in each of his last three EPL matches, which bodes well for positive points as Chelsea look to get back to winning ways against fellow Carabao Cup semi-final losers Fulham this weekend.
Dara O'Shea (D, Burnley v. Luton)
As we've touched on multiple times over the course of the first half of this season, finding defenders in the free agent pool who are likely to score well is proving to be a real challenge. O'Shea is about as close to that qualification as you're likely to get most weeks if he hasn't already been snapped up. The Irish defender frequently builds a foundation of points from multiple sources, giving him a decent enough floor that you're not likely to be too worried about a negative score unless Burnley are on the wrong end of a blowout. His ghost points per start average is an impressive 8.7. Outside of the 5-2 loss to Spurs (where O'Shea still managed a positive score) and the 4-1 defeat against Chelsea (which he didn't start), the Clarets haven't conceded more than 3 goals in a match this season. Stranger things have happened, but that seems unlikely to change against Luton on Friday. And he'll have plenty of crosses to contend with. Kick your week off right with some points on the board. Honorable mention to Jordan Beyer in the Reserves, who is another solid option if he's fit. With this being the earliest fixture, he could be worth a pre-kickoff stash in the event he does make the starting lineup.
Harry Toffolo (D, Nottingham Forest @ Brentford)
Despite the non-start in the Sleepers XI squad last time out, I'm giving Toffolo another chance. For starters, he's got less competition for the left back role now that Ola Aina has joined up with the Nigeria camp for AFCON. Beyond that, we've seen the Forest fullback showcase considerable upside this season. While it's unclear whether he will continue to have a share of set piece duties under Nuno Espirito Santo, we have seen Toffolo score a goal and notch two assists already this season. Brentford will be welcoming back star striker Ivan Toney, so there's potentially cause for concern around Forest keeping a clean sheet, but you know better than to just chase a clean sheet at this point, right?
Konstantinos Mavropanos (D, West Ham @ Sheffield United)
West Ham fans may be wondering why the Winter break couldn't have come a little sooner with the news that Lucas Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen both picked up injuries in the FA Cup. The pair are set to be out for at least a couple weeks, and while Mavropanos was also subbed off in that match, it doesn't appear to be as serious an injury. The Hammers aren't in action until the 21st, which ideally will allow the Greek center back adequate time to recover from a blow to the ribs. Despite being depleted in attack, West Ham have been excellent in defense since their embarrassing 5-0 loss against Fulham on December 10. In fact, David Moyes' men have kept three straight Premier League clean sheets against the likes of Arsenal, Brighton and Man United. Keep an eye on team news for any hints that Mavropanos is set to shake off the knock; if not, you could consider taking a punt on Kurt Zouma instead, though it must be said that he's been far from a convincing fantasy asset this season.
Facundo Buonanotte (M, Brighton v. Wolves)
With Brighton's injury crisis, Buonanotte was finally given more than 70 minutes in a Premier League match in GW20 and came through with a double-digit score despite the game against West Ham ending in a scoreless draw. The youngster should keep his place after a promising display that included four key passes to set up shots for his teammates. The Seagulls have suffered a bit of a dip in form of late but they have a very favorable run of fixtures up to their match against Man City in GW29, so now is a good time to bring in their attacking assets if it looks like they'll get a run in the team. It's worth mentioning that this is the final match of this epic gameweek, so replacement options will be thin on the ground if the Argentine midfielder doesn't retain his place after all.
Gustavo Hamer (M, Sheffield United v. West Ham)
A poor run of form toward the end of Paul Heckingbottom's tenure in charge of the Blades saw a pretty significant percentage of fantasy managers jump ship on Sheffield United players like Hamer (including yours truly). Now that Chris Wilder is back in the managerial hot seat, the diminutive midfielder is beginning to show signs of the scoring potential those managers who bought in on him were expecting all along. The former Coventry City dynamo has delivered double-digit scores in three of his last four outings in the Premier League and will relish the opportunity to continue his recent hot form against a notably weakened Hammers side. The Brazilian has taken nearly 60% of the Blades' set pieces this season and seems to be cementing himself as the go-to creator from dead ball situations under Wilder.
Harvey Elliott (M, Liverpool @ Bournemouth)
After spending a significant portion of last season in Liverpool's starting lineup, Elliott has found minutes hard to come by following the summer spending spree that brought in midfielders Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister, Ryan Gravenberch and Wataru Endo. Now that Endo and Mohamed Salah have left to join up with their respective nations for the midseason international tournaments and with question marks over Szoboszlai's availability, there is finally an opening for Elliott to stake his claim for more playing time, either in central midfield or on the right wing. With further absences for Liverpool's other set piece takers (TAA, Robertson and Tsimikas are all set to miss this one), Elliott may also have a large share of corners and free kicks against the Cherries. There's a lot of potential upside here, at least in the short term. If he plays well, he could get an extended run in the team as well.
Pablo Fornals (M, West Ham @ Sheffield United)
In addition to the aforementioned absences for Lucas Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen, West Ham are also contending with an injury setback for Michail Antonio. With Mohammed Kudus at AFCON and even some rumors that Said Benrahma is pushing for a transfer out of the club, David Moyes doesn't have many attacking players to choose from this gameweek. Fornals has been relegated to a bit-part role this season, so we've almost exclusively seen 0-3 point performances from the bench. The Spaniard earned only his second start of the season last time out against Brighton, only putting up 4 points in 90 minutes (including a point for the clean sheet). That's obviously not a promising sign, but with more of the attacking onus on him, he can be a player that comes up with big scores. There is, of course, the possibility of another anemic attacking display from the Hammers, but even with Sheffield United improving under Wilder, they are still the best team to target with midfielders this week according to our Fixture Difficulty Tracker (available as part of our Fantasy Toolkit), having allowed 11.5 points per match on average against midfielders at Bramall Lane this season.
Tom Cairney (M, Fulham @ Chelsea)
Fulham's captain Cairney hasn't always been a regular starter over the past few seasons (I'm sensing a theme developing here), but appears to have overtaken Harrison Reed in Marco Silva's preferred XI lately. The Scottish midfielder has offered solid fantasy value for anyone who managed to pick him up when he first appeared in the starting lineup against Wolves in late November. Cairney has averaged more than 10 points per game across 8 Premier League matches since then, but still remains fairly available. Despite playing in a deeper lying midfield position, Cairney has shown plenty of attacking output lately, with a goal and three assists to his name in this recent spell in the side. His playmaking prowess will be needed to help get the better of Fulham's West London neighbors.
Danny Welbeck (F, Brighton v. Wolves)
As with Buonanotte, take the fact that Brighton and Wolves play in the final fixture of the gameweek into account here, but there are plenty of reasons to believe Welbeck will get the start. Evan Ferguson has been the subject of some constructive criticism from Roberto de Zerbi lately, with suggestions that the teenager's game isn't quite at the level his manager would like just yet. Welbeck has been the go-to striker in the Premier League since his return from injury, and with Ferguson starting in the FA Cup it's a fairly safe assumption that the trend will continue. Even if Welbeck isn't on the scoresheet this week, you should be considering bringing him in for the fixture run I mentioned previously. He's not the best fantasy asset in terms of delivering ghost points, but he is a capable goalscorer and should score a few goals at least over the coming two months.
Wilson Odobert (F, Burnley v. Luton)
Vincent Kompany and Burnley were the subject of a few good-natured memes over the summer given their heavy investment into wingers in the transfer market. That stockpiling has worked in their favor, though, with Odobert proving a capable stand-in for the injury-stricken Luca Koleosho. Both teenage wide men offer similar qualities; quick, strong dribblers who can drive to the touchline and deliver a killer ball. Where Odobert has the advantage, however, is his shooting ability. Koleosho often came under scrutiny for his lack of end product, but Odobert provided two goals and an assist in the month of December. The Clarets will need that sort of production to continue if they're going to beat the drop, starting with a "6 pointer" matchup v Luton Town this GW. So we should see Kompany continue to call on the Frenchman. Odobert is averaging 10.6 points per start, placing him in similar company with the likes of Diogo Jota, Callum Wilson, Moussa Diaby, Joao Pedro and Anthony Elanga. Not bad for a forward you can potentially pick up from the free agent pool!
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