Quest For 100

On October 31, 2016 I celebrated my 5th anniversary of living plant based. It’s been an amazing journey, which has featured extreme highs and success, but more recently had featured lows, dominating my life. While I haven’t been 100% PD (Protective Diet) compliant, I still follow the basic principles laid out by Dr. John McDougall; no meat, no dairy and no added oil. This was the basis ofgoing plant based I followed when I made the decision to change my lifestyle after reading his book.. The benefits for me have been nothing short of incredible. Yet what works for me, might not benefit others the same.

The last 12-18 months I found my plant based lifestyle trending the wrong way. It was a cheat day here, 5 pounds there, another few pounds there but didn’t worry much about it. Then it became, “damn, why are my pants so tight?” only to realize I have returned to being a vegan junkie, forgetting the basics of plant based, whole foods, while favoring processed or fast food (no meat and dairy) as a quick fix to my hunger. Looking in the mirror I can see where that has lead me.

Now at 200 pounds, I have gained by near 20 pounds over the last 2 years or so. I realized that 175 pounds was nice, it was just not possible to maintain. It was 180-185 pounds that seemed ideal. Running and lifting weights played into a slim and more muscular me, but little by little the running and weights fell by the wayside. The results, again can be seen in the mirror.

Thankfully there are many inspiration people around me, some I work with others I know from running. Through discussion with them, I realize if I continue to do nothing, my health and lack of activity will continue to suffer. With the help of two co-workers I have decided to get that positive mindset and work towards a goal.

Goals, since starting this lifestyle have helped me benefit, achieving small victories along the way before crossing the finish line. Yet, this lifestyle isn’t a race, there is no finish line, as I continue to learn every day, thanks to wonderful people like Julie Marie and Jerry Christensen, who promote a healthy, active “protective” lifestyle. I’ve also got a co-worker, Aaron, who just underwent surgery, but is back running, exercising and improving his health. He’s got bold plans to run every race that Brazen Racing offers (15 in all), in order to labelled a “Brazen Streaker” and be guaranteed his personal number for every race.

Down south in Merced, I met Ofie at the Razorback Endurance Race a few years back and we have became friends, seeing other from time to time at different races, but this woman is amazingly fit. From rock climbing and cycling to running and paddle boarding, there isn’t an activity she doesn’t do! Finally my American River running partner, Brian, while we have only run those two races together, without him and his support I don’t believe I could have finished. Always a positive outlook on life and during our races, he has spurred me to our latest challenge, which will be termed “crazy” by many.

Just 3 years ago, April 19, 2015 I ran my first ultra marathon on Mt. Diablo. It was also the first time I experienced a “runner’s high” that left me with the desire to run even longer distances. While I was sore and left barely able to walk, I was yearning for something more. The following two years I participated in the American River 50 Mile Endurance Race from Folsom to Auburn, finishing 13:52 the first year and improving my time by :12 minutes the following year. This year, due to my schedule, the unavailability of my running partner and a lack of drive (but not desire) I missed the AR50. We also missed the Razorback Endurance Race, which took place last weekend but we look forward to our goal.

Next year, nearly 48 weeks away I will run my first 100 mile race. Now 48 weeks seems to be a long time, one in which you could easily say, “I’ll start next week” only to find out you are less than a few months away from race day and you have yet to train. That won’t happen this time around. Once the sign up rolls around, I will commit, in order to have that goal on paper.

While I don’t have a full training schedule built, the first 12 weeks will set the tone for the rest of the training. During this time I will build a proper base on which to run, the goal, getting up to 90 minutes of running as soon as possible. The running schedule will have me running 4 times a week for the first 12 weeks. Just like when I started running it will be short, :30 minute runs as I build up to :90 minutes before moving on to a longer duration or distance. Even now I know I could run a 3-6 miles with no problems, but don’t want to do too much, too soon and cause an injury or other setback.

As with all activity, fuel becomes very important. While I already follow a plant based lifestyle, it will be a Protective Diet, where I feed my hunger. Julie has an amazing array or foods, which taste good and are simple to create. Last night, I got started a day early by making Shanghai Cucumbers and Spicy Asian Noodle Salad. Clean, simple and full of flavor! No more grabbing food while at work or when on the run at a fast food restaurant. Some advanced planning and constant set up will help me achieve my goals.

In conjunction with the running and eating, I am plan on getting back into the Stronglifts 5×5 program to build lean music and lose fat. I found this by mistake a few years back, but the results were proven, lifting weight I never thought possible! The feeling of strength is unparalleled!

I have also starting IF or intermittent fasting using James Clears’ beginner’s guide. This is not the first time I have experimented with IF, learning about it back in April, 2013 (Read IF). Basically you have a “feeding window” of 8 hours, in which you consume all your calories. The next 16 hours you go without food. My feeding windows is between 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM. I know this goes against what a Protective Diet teaches, but I have found the results to be beneficial in my training, especially when it comes to the running. “Interesting enough I could feel a big difference when I ran 4 miles. It felt better to run on an “empty” stomach rather than one that had food in from lunch or breakfast” (Read IF-fy).

While the race director hasn’t set a 2018 date for the Razorback Endurance Race, it appears it will take place the end of May, as some runners voiced concerned about a potential conflict with the AR50. As soon as a tentative date is set, I will be able to update my training plan.

Approximately 24 weeks into training, I am planning on picking a 50k or 50 mile race to see where I stand before starting the 100 mile training. Thankfully I have an awesome trainer, Michael, who acted as my AR50 pacer last year, who pushed me over the finish line in record time. He has been contacted to provide input and feedback to my training plan. Currently, he’s in the midst of his own, personal training as he looks forward to the Tahoe 100 on July 14. He is a valuable resource of information and strategy as I look ahead to what the future holds.

It’s all in the mindset. Having already achieved some amazing feats, I am excited at the prospects and what the future holds. No more excuses! It’s time to test the limits and see just how far I can push my body. Running 100 miles will be unlike any else I have ever attempted. With a positive attitude, strong conviction and support of others, nothing will prevent me from crossing that finish line.

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Sucking or Conserving

Appreciate those friends and co-workers who can relate to the increase in PG&E prices over the course of the last few months. Last week I wrote, PG&E Thieves: Energy Costs, showcasing my struggles over the last few months with my PG&E bill. I just can’t justify the numbers in my mind. I am guilty of running the gas fireplace during December and January, but I don’t knock it off to “combat the cold, damp weather this winter” as PG&E spokesman, Donald Cutler says in a SF Chronicle article. Instead of heating unnecessary rooms downstairs I made the assumption it would be more cost efficient to heat the living room and kitchen with the fireplace. Unfortunately that decision cost me $67.51 in December and $78.52 in January. Prior to those two month, the gas portion of my bill averaged less than $10/month.

The numbers aren’t justified, as I have been a tight ass when it comes to our electricity consumption over the 7 days and the results haven’t equated to the sort of savings I expected. January and February were the highest energy use months since August, 2016. The 1265 kWh in August was attributed to the air conditioning running on a regular basis. I accept those totals, although still very hard to swallow. The first two months of the year were 1255 kWh and 1228 kWh, which were both an increase of nearly 25% over December and 41% over November!

The aver kWh per day averaged 41.8 kWh from January 13 to February 13. Over the past 7 days we have used 242 kWh or an average of 26.8 kWh/day. A sharp decrease when compared to the last billing cycle. As it stands right now, our energy allowance is 358 kWh/month, which leaves 116 kWh before we see the Tier 1 price increase to Tier 2 and we pay $0.24/kWh, an increase of $0.6/kWh.

“Cutler encouraged customers to go online to take advantage of the tools the utility provider offers to help customers better understand and manage their electricity and gas usage.” Let me say, I have been to the web site more in the last week than in the last 14 years I have lived in NoCal. I have used some of their tools, but many are “common sense” items to help save a certain dollar amount over the course of the year. It’s quite possible I have “vampire devices” sucking the life out of my electric bill. I invested in a Kill-A-Watt Meter to help provide estimates for electrical items around the house.

One item I can do without, the 1100 watt microwave. What an evil device, not only for electricity but potential health issues. As I have been monitoring my meter each day, I took a picture of my hourly usage at 2.953, while the microwave was on! I turned it off and the meter read a more reasonable 1.505 kWh. It comes as no surprise the microwave increases the daily bill. Thankfully it’s only used in short spurts.

I am still chasing down unknown spikes in the bill from last Friday and Saturday, between 10:00PM and 10:50PM and 1100PM and 1159PM on successive days. What caused these spikes, I still don’t know. My best bet is a pump of some sort clicking on the freezer in the garage or the refrigerator. Without connecting an energy monitor up to the electrical panel, I probably will never know the root cause of these spikes. A Sense Labs, Inc energy meter is on my list to add to the home in order to decrease usage even further. Not sure if that’s even possible but will continue to make the effort.

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PG&E Thieves: Energy Costs

What he hell is happening to our energy costs? Expectations when I purchased a new home were to experience decreased energy costs thanks in part to energy efficiency built into the home. April, 2016 was our first full month in a new #dontbuydenova home, located in the Emerson Ranch development in Oakley, California. Prior to our new home purchase we had been renting for three years in an older section of Oakley. The rental unit was a two-story, 2190 sq. feet, built in 1990. Not energy efficient by any means and our utility bill reflected that. Trying to cool the upstairs master bedroom was a task that made the downstairs uncomfortably cold and $400+ energy bills were all too common.

Our first home, located less than half a mile away was a two-story, 1419 sq. feet built in 1989. No energy efficient upgrades were added to the home at the time of purchase in 2003. The dual pane windows had been compromised, door seals were leaking, insulation was insufficient and the HVAC was over 20 years old. Much like the rent, it was a task to cool the master bedroom, located upstairs on the west side of the home. Starting about 2pm until the sun went down, the sun would cook the master bedroom. Air conditioning was a necessary evil. The addition of a whole house fan helped, but didn’t cool the home as expected.

March, 2016 was exciting, as we were finally moving into a new home. My expectations were to see decreased energy bills thanks in part to the dual zone central heat and air conditioning, dual pane vinyl windows and energy efficient insulation. The first few months, I saw a great improvement in our energy bills. The 27-day billing cycle from March 19 to April 14 was $336.37. Still, by my standards energy usage was high.

The following cycle was more of what I expected. Based on a 30-day billing cycle, April 15 to May 14, we used 1027 kWh. This was the final billing cycle based on a 4-tier usage system. The first two weeks were billed at  $0.18-$0.19/kWh, The next 10 days were billed at tier 2 and tier 3 prices ($0.22-$0.25/kWh). It wasn’t until June 8, just 7 days from the end of our billing cycle, when we hit tier 4, $0.39-$0.40/kWh. For the billing cycle I paid $254.95; $6.95 for gas and $248 for electric. It came as no surprise when the summer months hit, as the air conditioner was running regularly. June and July saw bills of $320 and $340 for electric. The highest to date.

The upward trend reversed in August and slide to $162 and $159 for electric in September and October, the lowest since we lived in the Emerson Ranch development. Electricity usage hit a hit of 1265 kWh in July, our tier 1 allowance is 358 kWh, based on “similar homes” as PG&E claims. The image to the right explains just what comparable homes are. Aside from being single family dwellings, having natural gas heat and all within 2.2 miles, there are no more comparisons. Our house is 2298 sq. feet, we are being compared to homes that are 974 sq feet larger, yet those homes are using nearly half as much gas/electric as we are. Using December 14 to January 12, we used 1255 kWh. The comparaable home used 693 kWh. How the hell does that make sense? It doesn’t! I was under the assumption our home was “energy efficient” but “efficient similar homes” used 390 kWh. Still 32 kWh over what we are allowed, but I don’t see either of these homes as “comparable.”

Gas usage doesn’t concern me as much as the electricity. With new homes no longer having wood burning fireplaces, we must burn natural gas. Cleaner than wood burning, our gas fireplace, located in the living room, right off the kitchen can be run and warm up the downstairs nicely with the help of the ceiling fan to move the warm air through the rooms. Unfortunately, it’s probably cheaper to run the heat, as the gas bill was averaging less than $10 a month. Gas usage hit 45 therms in November, costing $67.51, December peaked at 54 therms or $78.52. This was about the time I started questioning the bill and how the hell our combined usage is costing me over $400 a month when similar homes are at half of what we pay.

I feel we do a fair job of conserving electricity. With my son at school from 8am until 3pm, my wife is the only one occupant in the home with usually just a television on. Based on this CNET article, “TV manufacturers have done a good-enough job of managing TV power that the operating cost became negligible.” No surprise when you look at the bar graphs and energy usage increases when my son and I get home. With that said, lights are turned off in rooms that are vacant, televisions aren’t left running if no one is watching. I did fall into the habit of starting the dishwasher after cleaning up dinner dishes, this is no longer the case. It’s now being run in the morning when full and cat dishes are being washed by hand to help decrease the number of times I start the dishwasher. The Simple Dollar estimates, “a dishwasher unit uses somewhere around 1.5 kWh on average to run a load of dishes, excluding the costs of the incoming water.” For me that averages between $0.27 and $0.62 per load or $1.35 to $3.10 if I do five full loads a week. Needless to say I am looking to cut back on usage.

The other appliances that could increase overall electricity use are the washer and dryer. “If you wash clothes in a top-loading machine, using hot water, a detergent that costs $0.50 per load, and dry in an electric dryer, it costs about $1.52 per load” reports Money Crashers. I know my wife and I are both guilty of running the dryer cycle twice on some loads, such as comforters or heavy clothes, like jeans. I do attempt to wash in cold water as much as possible, but typical usage should not increase my bill to the levels we are seeing currently.

As for the heat, it’s rarely on. When it is, its run for a short duration and then turned off, at which time the upstairs and easily maintain 68-70 degress and be quite comfortable. Not surprisingly, downstairs is a bit cooler from 64-66 degrees on a typical day. When the heat is run downstairs, we never set it above 68 degrees. So even though PG&E and the news media claim a colder winter, we have not increased heater usage this winter.

Starting this week I am keeping track of just what electrical devices are running between 3pm-11pm in order to pinpoint just where we this spike in usage is coming from. Based on last night, in which we made a better effort to use minimal lighting I don’t see many other areas to cut back on.  In order to start at our 358 kWh allowance, we would need to average 11.9 kWh during a 30-day billing cycle. Not sure I know too many families in a similar home that could do that. I must go back to mid-November to see days in which we used 11.57 to 12.60 kWh, 3 days out of a five day stretch. There has not been another period since we moved in where our usage had been so low. I believe this is due to the fact my wife and son were out of town as the overall usage is down for the week, except on my days off and periods between 3pm and 9pm.

I have started looking at home energy monitors, while a relatively new product there are a few potential solutions if I can’t pinpoint the excessive usage problem I currently face. Sense and Curb both installed into your electrical panel by a licensed electrician. These units then monitor electrical signatures of difference items that use electricity in the house. The data collected is then displayed on a mobile device using a Wi-Fi connection. Both units are quite pricey; Sense, $299 and Curb, $299, this price does not include installation, which for most of us isn’t DIY. Not quite sure what the answer to my power issue is, but I do know we are being robbed blind by PG&E. I plan on doing my due diligence to get to the bottom of my bill, but in the meantime I want to hear from others and their bills. I want to find comparable homes.

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Premier League: GW21 Retrospect

With GW21 in the books I recorded my third highest score of the year, 67 points. Not all that impressive given the fact I made the decision to play my wild card (WC) ahead of this week’s fixtures. Although this decision was made late, I missed out on major moves in terms of prices increases, which would have benefited me going forward. Between GW20 and GW21 my value dropped from 103.1m to 101.6m! I was a bit shocked by this movement, but decided to stick with the decision to WC.

It had been some time since my squad played well and rewarded me with a good (above average, 60 points) week. I was coming off two red arrows, five out of the last seven. Something was missing, along with consistency and I spent the better part of the week mulling over stats, formations, input from community managers and pundits before deciding on my squad. The squad I decided upon made sense…to me at least and moving forward looked strong on paper, injuries  and DGWs aside.

A few days prior to kickoff I posted Wild Card: Hold or Activate. I then followed through for the rest of the season putting together a strength of schedule, indicating potentially good match ups. From there I began looking forward with possible transfers from GW21 to GW28.

This week debuted my newly built squad built to be played as a 3-5-2, which was a change in formation from the 3-4-3 I had been playing since the season began. The decision that facilitated this was the fact that many of the third forwards would be a budget buy in the 6.8m to 6.2m price range. On paper, there are some good options; Rondon, Negredo, Gray, Origi, Llorente, just to name a few but their underlying stats and consistency leave a bit to be desired. My thought process was to spend as little as possible for a third forward, using that savings to upgrade my defense and midfield. Diomande at 4.5 for Hull, a full time starter is who I decided upon. He’s only got 2 goals on the season, but played well in GW21, I don’t expect to use him, so it’s a good budget buy.

Up front 22.9m of pure striking power and consistency over the last 10 games; Costa and Ibrahimovic. Unfortunately I missed the late Friday news that Costa was not going to start against Leicester, followed by the China rumors or else I would have offloaded him for Giroud, Defoe or Kane (in that order). So my 3-5-2 ended up being a 4-5-1 as Diomande was my third sub. Still Ibrahimovic rewarded me with a goal and 7 points. Now the Costa watch is on for this week.

In the midfield the only player I temporarily retained was Rodriguez with the intention of moving him for GW26. Southampton still looking for goals and while J-Rod didn’t start, he saw 23 minutes of action. Not what I was hoping for. Probably would have been better off with Lallana, but didn’t like the Man U match up. I also rolled the dice with Eriksen and Alli, both returned’ 10 and 12 points respectively as Spurs rolled to a 4-0 victory. Too bad it was Kane as the big winner with the hat trick. Stanislas was my budget midfielder with a good match up and now on pens, which he finished to score 7 points. He too will be short lived as I am already planning his transfer as well. Finally, Ozil, who returned to the starting lineup for the Gunners after an illness. He’s got some excellent numbers and feel he will play an important role going forward for Arsenal and their bid at the championship. He did return an assist and CS in 78 minutes.

Defensively I set up with Rose, Daniels and Azpilicueta as my starting three with Friend and Yoshida my two budget defenders on the bench. This week was particularly tough as I selected Daniels ahead of Friend because of the match up with Hull. Bournemouth then gave up 3 goals to Hull City, while Friend and Boro kept a clean sheet versus Watford. Not quite sure all is right with Southampton, as their defense is a shambles, yet I held out hope they would turn things around and start providing clean sheets. Burnley away looked good, but a late free kick from Barton killed any hope of a CS for Yoshida.

As for the starters, Rose looked sharp down the left side all game long and feel this was a great selection, he picked up an assist and 6 points. As mentioned, Daniels was my second starter against Hull but that didn’t work out, just a single point. Finally, the decision was Alonso or Azpilicueta as my starter and final defender. The rumors of Ake being recalled to Chelsea because of a potential long term injury to Alonso saw me select Azpilicueta. Usually I would be happy with a CS and 6 point return, but the 21 Alonso returned was excellent!

In goal, I made the change from Courtois to Heaton, solely based on budget and save points. Heaton is now just 1 point off Courtois for 1.0m less.  I retained the services of Jakupovic, who took his starting job back for Hull. He looked sharp in goal, conceding just a spot kick. I have two possible weeks upcoming to play him, based on match up. Not yet decided if I will stick with Heaton or go with a rotation for those two weeks.

Overall, 67 points and green arrows all around. I am finally back to 946k and moving up. Hopefully this is the start of a positive change for the new year. I need to string toward a few good weeks to get back to winning ways. As mentioned before I have the next 7 weeks transfers planned out, the Costa concern could be addressed this week as I had not planned on making any transfers and banking one for my transfer in GW26. GW26 is also looking it might be the best opportunity to play by AOA chip as all players have good match up except Ibrahimovic who faces Spurs. The only possible move will be held in check until we received further news on Costa, his injury and potential move to China. If that happens I probably won’t move any of my Spurs players and opt to pick up Giroud as Arsenal face Burnley (H) and Watford (H).

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Wild Card: Hold or Activate

A pundit or footy manager can collect and crunch all the data they would like as it relates to players, their past activity, current form and upcoming fixtures. In the end, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to playing your wild card (WC). This year I activated my WC during GW4, scored just 56 points and left 17 points on the bench. Not one of my better scores, but did start a run of three green arrows, which took me to 29k at the end of GW6. In the 4 years I have been participating in fantasy football, this has been my best global ranking to date. Since that time, my squad, scoring and transfers have been another story as I have struggled mightily on and off the pitch in order to bring consistency to my squad.

We are just a week into 2017 as GW21 looms on the horizon as teams square off in the EFL Cup this weekend, it has allowed me to crunch numbers, read articles and bounce ideas off other FPL managers. If I were truly serious about activating my WC for GW21 I would have done it at the conclusion of GW20 in order to take advantage of the price increases in players like Alli and Eriksen, potentially I could have picked up 0.5m if I would have pulled the trigger instead of pussyfooting around the idea of using the damn thing. The other side of the coin, wait until the league cup games conclude to see if there are any further injuries to deal with. That COULD have been accomplished even if I had played my WC last Saturday or Sunday. In a way I lost out but still hold the card, begging the question, “Do I activate my WC?”

I have spent the better part of 2 days, while at work building a spreadsheet covering the next 8 game weeks, adding player names to round out my squad of 15 players. Initially I started with the team you see to the right. Recent transfers have not paid off. GW15 I took a -12 point hit for Sanchez, Courtois, Lovren and Iheanacho. Over the next 4 weeks I added Jones, Carroll, Ibrahimovic and Rodriguez. Nearly half of my team I picked up based on recent form or speculation, as with Jones, Cedric and Rodriguez. This was also the second time I have had the big Swede on my squad, as I moved him in GW6 for Aguero. Capoue and McAuley are currently the longest tenured players on my squad since GW4. There has been quite a bit of activity over 20 weeks, spending -48 points in added transfers. Now, based on another manager who exchanged points for profit. Ibrahim M on FFG said,”…with a team value of 107.4m…I’ve also managed to get a good position (I intend to stop taking point hits around GW28! Currently I’ve made 48 transfers in 20 GWs) and just use the value built to get a great side.” 107.4m compared to my 103.0m, Ibrahim has capitalized on the early transfers in order to add value to his squad.

As we start the new year my squad is well off the pace I set last year, when I finished in the top 75k with 2170 points, best returns I have had. This year I wanted to average 60 points a week and was once pace through GW6 before the wheels fell of dropping me from 29k to 1.1m! Scores of 24, 33 and 26 from GW7 to GW9 saw the majority of that change, nearly 750k. Although I did play a few cards properly as my team value has gone from 101.6 to 103.1 (high of 103.6 in GW17). In the last 14 weeks I have recorded 10 red arrows, that alone tells the story. So the choice for me is the play my WC for GW21.

After reviewing my squad I started playing with transfers of players I wanted to bring in. There would be a total of 13 new players being introduced, oddly enough none of players I have tentatively plan have been on my squad in the previous 20 weeks. Again, we talk about consistent returns both defensive and offensive, neither of which I have had until I picked up Courtois on the tail end of Chelsea’s winning streak. The spreadsheet is broken down by position, primarily using the FDR or Fixture Difficulty Ranking. Current form also played into my decisions taking into account the budget I have to work with. The individual charts are displayed below for each position.

GOALIES: While I didn’t want to give up Courtois, as he’s reliable between the sticks and a great option for CS, his price point (5.9m) is just too high. The obvious choice became Heaton, just 5 fewer points than Courtois, but 1.0m cheaper. Before his injury, Pickford at 3.9 was to the backup option, but with his return not slated until February I could hold Jakupovic at 3.9 (who doesn’t play) or look for a budget keeper for a possible rotation depending on fixtures

OPTIONS – Grant/Randolph/Forster/Hennessey/Foster: I started the season with Foster and did a fine job before WBA ran into problems keeping CS, which saw him transferred out in favor of Courtois. As a backup, Forster and Foster priced themselves out contention, however Foster does have two excellent match ups, Sunderland (H) and Bournemouth (H) over the next 8 weeks. Only Spurs in GW21 is a cause for concern.

Hennessey isn’t really a consideration due to Big Sam taking control at Palace. Things can only improve defensive for them, but outside of Spurs in GW28, Palace has a nice run of games on which to build. That left Randolph, who finalized his transfer to West Ham and has planted himself as the starter for the Hammers. While their defense hasn’t been overly impressive this year, Randolph has put together a few good games, 2 CS since taking the starting jog in GW12 and 5 save points over the last 4 weeks. Randolph does have one bonus going for him, his fixtures fits better with Heaton than Grant.

DEFENDERS: Defenders were added based on form and upcoming fixtures, just like the goalies. Now that we are 20 weeks in, there is more clarity when it comes to teams with the best potential to put up a CS. Chelsea tops that list, as three of the top five defenders (total points) are Blues. Regardless of fixtures Alonso is a given. Based on his play this season and returns, Daniels (88 points) will become a cornerstone of my newly formed defense, although not the only Cherries player with potential for returns. Finally Baines, who combines staunch defense with an offensive presence to round out my starting defense.

OPTIONS – See chart: I have listed a total of 10 defenders from which to build, looking for starters, who are budget buys but still see 90 minutes. One of the more popular selections this year has been Amat at 4.1, but his returns and the play of Swansea hasn’t been impressive but does allow a manager to save a few million. Currently I have Brunt and Friend rounding out my defensive five. Brunt, returned from injury and started playing 90 minutes during GW10. Currently has 2 goals and 3 assists but more importantly is playing OOP for West Brom as a midfielder (much like Dier did last year for Spurs). McAuley had been my defender of choice for WBA (4 goals), but Brunt provides a better return on investment moving forward.

Lovren is an interesting option, while a Liverpool fan, their over the next 8 weeks is a mix of good and bad. Three great match ups with Swansea (H), Hull (A) and Burnley (H) intermixed with Man U (A), Chelsea (H), Spurs (H) and Arsenal (H). At 5.0m it could be budget better spent elsewhere than using him sparingly over the next 8 weeks. After GW29, now that’s another article. I was high on Jones after reading  few articles and seeing him getting 90 minutes and CS, but he missed out on the Boro game, which was a cause for concern. Yet over the holiday period, rest was required. I still believe he’s the best Man U option heading forward. There were also thought of doubling up on Bournemouth defenders selecting Ake along with Daniels, 5 good fixtures over the next 8 weeks with Hull tantalizing in GW21. Not sure I want to limit my bench options as I still hold on Bench Boost chip. Reid, Pieters and a Southampton defender round out my list. Originally I started with Cedric, as he was tapped by a pundit site going forward. But limited action over the holiday period and now a head injury has me rethinking the S’hampton option but four of the next five weeks are favorable for the Saints.

MIDFIELDERS: The midfield has been a virtual mess this season! Seemingly I was always a step behind the big scorers, most notably Hazard and Sanchez. Many armbands have been handed out at this position as well, with very little return. While I would love to have Arsenal coverage, outside of Sanchez there are no players that impress me. In order to upgrade my entire squad I have made the decision to “dump the chumps” and go without Hazard and Sanchez. While I would like to say that decision will span the remainder of the season, we will have to wait and see what happens.

It probably comes as no surprise that I am leaping on the Spurs bandwagon with Alli and Eriksen. Not a big supporter of doubling up, especially in the midfield. It’s a bit of a stretch, especially with the run both players are experiencing, but their upcoming looks favorable outside of Man City and Liverpool through GW28. It’s been talked about all season to have Liverpool coverage. Of course the week I pick up Coutinho, he goes out injured, hasn’t returned since. I didn’t see much consistency in the group, but Liverpool is the highest scoring team in the EPL, so coverage seems to be a logical move. With Mane gone to AFCON and Firmino a bit out of my price range I will start Lallana as my third. At 7.7m he’s cheaper than the aforementioned players and just 7 points behind Mane in total score (113 compared to 105). The fourth starter is slated to be Phillips of WBA. I have watched him for many weeks, but with Hazard and Sanchez on the books, I could not fit him into a fourth or fifth midfield spot due to budget constraints. As my differential I selected Stanislas with an ownership of just 1.2%.  Bournemouth has a great short term schedule; Hull (A), Watford (H), Crystal Palace (H).

OPTIONS – See chart: Five other players at varying price points make the short list of potential players to make my squad. Cabaye and Puncheon head the list. With Zaha gone to AFCON, the focus will most likely shift in order to feed Benteke the ball. Cabaye ends up ahead of Puncheon by virtue of dead ball situation and on penalties. Schedule looks favorable and Big Sam will hopefully make a difference not only on defense but up front. Allen/Adam of Stoke were included, even though I have been running with Allen since GW9 as my fourth midfielder, at time productive but just just 1 goal and 1 assist in the last 10 games. Adam not better, but his form is a bit stronger in recent games.  Their schedule is a fixed bag through GW28. De Roon was purely a budget selection, at 4.4m he’s been a starter since GW4 and has returned 2 goals, 2 assists. Not my top Boro midfielder, but the only one who fit in my budget. Finally, I look back at Antonio at West Ham, a player I picked up for GW4 and held for 5 weeks but after just 2 weeks he fell flat, as did the Hammers. His overall stats aren’t impressive, but West Ham looks to be turning things around offensively.

FORWARDS: The only players remaining after the axe, Costa and Ibrahimovic. No real big surprise here, underlying stats are excellent, both players are in form and usually get a full 90 minutes, not pulled 10 minutes before full time. Costa has been the more consistent of the two forwards, returning in all but 3 games this season. Ibrahimovic returned for a second stint with my squad, when I dropped him during GW6. A model of consistency since GW11, returning in all but one game. Regardless of schedule difficulty these players will start every game.

OPTIONS – See chart: The third forward is still up in the air, even though Defoe is the current selection. Amazing to see what he has done for Sunderland, as poorly as they have been, he’s score 11 or the team’s 19 goals and assisted in 3 others! If Sunderland scores, chances are Defoe was it. Yet Sunderland has a mixed schedule, having to face Spurs, Man City as well as Southampton and Everton. Currently, Negredo sits as my third starter based on the FDR (see below). Underlying stats are not impressive, just 5 goals and 4 assists on the season with just a brace in the last 7 weeks. He is currently seen as a short term buy for the next 3 weeks. Rondon and Gray are both budget options that fit in into my squad. Outside of Spurs in GW21, Rondon appears to have some better fixtures especially home to Sunderland and Bournemouth. Gray faces Hull, Swansea and Sunderland. Origi is a question mark with Sturridge back in the starting XI for L’pool. Three tasty fixtures; Swansea, Hull and Burnley but I don’t see him playing 90 minutes or seeing much action.

The higher budget options are Aguero, Lukaku and Benteke. After reading an article from a well respected manager, I had a fleeting through to follow his potential lead and bring in Aguero to partner with Costa and Ibrahimovic. Aguero is such a dynamic player, more so than counterparts but Pep seems to have happened this year and Aguero isn’t enjoying as much success as he had last year. That would also mean cheaper options in the midfield, something I am not willing to run with at this time. Benteke could be labeled more as a sinking ship than a good buy right now. While carrying a shoulder knock, he hasn’t returned in his last 5 games and with Zaha at AFCON, service could be slim. Yet Puncheon, Townsend and Cabaye might be the answer under the newly appoint manger, Big Sam. Jury is still out. but fixtures looking inviting from GW23-27. Lukaku hasn’t shown much consistency this year going goalless in his first 3 weeks and then another no return between GW11-14. Not listed on my spreadsheet, Giroud. At 8.6m I can’t budget him in without take a hit in the midfield. So along with Aguero and Benteke, it’s a nice to have a wish list, but these aren’t realistic options.

In conclusion, I should of pulled the trigger immediately after GW20 in order to take advantage of the price increases over this 2 week period. I didn’t and to date, I haven’t gained any increase in my budget. Over the last 10 days or so, some of the players included above have been mentioned in different footie articles I have read. Not that will amount to anything, but it’s good to know I am on the same page as some of the pundits I follow.

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