Fantasy football moves on to gameweek 18 and tactically this is when the season starts to get really interesting.
There are only six Premier League fixtures in this gameweek and then a bumper 16 fixtures in gameweek 19, depending on any further postponements and rearrangements.
This could be the time to be bold and unleash a couple of the Fantasy Premier League chips at your disposal, say a Free Hit in either gameweek 18 or 19, or possibly the Bench Boost or Triple Captain in gameweek 19.
Alternatively, you might be able to steer your ship through these waters without feeling the need to use the chips and keeping them in your back pocket for similar blank gameweeks and double gameweeks later in the season.
It all depends on how your squad is set up right now.
Personally, having been building towards setting my squad up for gameweek 19, I only have four players who look like probable starters in gameweek 18 – Ruben Dias and Kevin de Bruyne at home to Brighton, Bruno Fernandes away at Burnley and Harry Kane away at Aston Villa. That means I am going for the Free Hit in gameweek 18.
Manchester City pair Kevin de Bruyne (centre) and Ruben Dias (right) could go big against Brighton
For those managers new to the game, this means I can make an unlimited number of transfers at no cost to my overall points score, as long as I remain within my budget, and then at the start of gameweek 19 my team and bank balance revert to exactly what they were before.
So I will keep Dias, De Bruyne, Fernandes and Kane and try to surround them with other players who I think could go big in gameweek 18.
A lot of managers have focused on Arsenal here given their recent upturn in form and the fact they have a home fixture against Crystal Palace, who have not kept a clean sheet away from home in the Premier League this season.
Alexandre Lacazette would get the nod over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for me at the moment, partly due to form but he’s also £3m cheaper at £8.3m, and there’s some great value to be had in the Arsenal midfield with Bukayo Saka at £5.3m and Emile Smith Rowe, who has averaged six points a week over the past three gameweeks, at just £4.4m.
Kieran Tierney is an obvious target after he racked up a mammoth 18 points in the 4-0 win against West Brom but Rob Holding, who has started the past seven Premier League games in the heart of defence, comes in at almost £1m cheaper.
And there is always that question of trying to find the “differentials”, those players owned by fewer managers who can give you the jump on your rivals when they come good for you. A lot of the Free Hit teams I have seen on social media have been looking pretty similar so let’s see if we can identify a few players who could give you that extra edge.
Ilkay Gundogan is certainly one – three goals in the past four gameweeks for a total of 33 points, he costs just £5.4m and always flies under the radar with everyone dazzled by De Bruyne, but you could also argue Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden are decent differential picks as they have relatively low ownership.
As strange as it sounds, Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Aguero could also be great differentials, both on their way back from injury, but it will be worth listening to Pep Guardiola’s thoughts on their progress and taking Manchester City’s FA Cup line-up into consideration.
Paul Pogba’s return to form could make him an option for fantasy managers
Paul Pogba at £7.7m is another potential differential with so many managers owning both Fernandes and Marcus Rashford at Manchester United. He’s been looking more like the majestic Pogba of old in the past couple of games, contributing an assist by winning the penalty against Aston Villa and he always has that potential to score the odd cracker like he did at West Ham.
Other names that spring to mind are young Fabio Silva at Wolves, who are at home to Everton in gameweek 18, or you could take a punt on Eberechi Eze for Crystal Palace’s trip to Arsenal, while a purchase from the Sheffield United or Newcastle backlines could be worth your while for what has the look of a low-scoring fixture between those sides.
Remember if you’re on a Free Hit then these transfers are for one gameweek only. They don’t need to figure in your long-term plan, but don’t forget to strengthen your bench as well with it if you can to cover any eventualities.
I have to admit I’m opting for a little more caution in my Free Hit selection as I’m protecting a lead over my great rivals Chris Sutton and Statman Dave on the Fantasy 606 podcast, but judging by Dave’s Free Hit team that he announced in the latest episode we are thinking along very different lines!