In fantasy soccer, the starting lineup means everything

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We're now through 15 matchweeks of the Premier League season, and if you have an ESPN fantasy team, the good news is that you don't have any work to do this weekend. It's a double matchweek, so your team is locked following the midweek round of games.

The bad news is, you might wish you could make changes after a wild couple of days.

The games were entertaining - particularly Manchester United's 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Wednesday, a sloppy but exciting back-and-forth affair. In fact, this was the first round of fixtures in which all 20 teams scored a goal since Nov. 2010.

But the craziest thing about this week, from a fantasy perspective, was the number of changes managers made to their starting lineups, and the big names left out.

Raheem Sterling was on the bench for Manchester City's 2-1 win at Watford, as were Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for Liverpool's 3-1 win at Burnley. The same goes for Dele Alli as Tottenham topped Southampton 3-1, and for Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba in that draw with Arsenal.

All these players were healthy. Firmino even scored a goal off the bench, and Salah picked up an assist. But you never want a player who doesn't start in your fantasy lineup, if you can help it.

Even if a substitute happens to get a goal or assist, he will rarely post a big fantasy score, because he won't have enough time to accumulate many peripheral points in categories like passes completed.

Firmino finished with only 15.1 points on Wednesday, despite getting 10 points for his goal. He came on in the 66th minute, and completed just 16 passes.

Salah finished with only 13.7 points, which was actually quite good considering he came on in the 65th minute and had just an assist. He managed to have two shots on goal and three chances created in a short amount of time.

Still, both players were outscored by teammate Naby Keita, despite Keita not having a goal or assist. Keita started the game and finished with 15.5 points, thanks to six shots, with four on target, and 55 passes completed.

As for the other players mentioned above? Alli came on in the 79th minute, and finished with just 2.9 points. Lukaku and Pogba came on in the 63rd and 75th minutes, respectively, and finished with 1.1 and 2.7 points. And Sterling didn't even get off the bench at all.

It sounds simple, but it bears repeating after a round of fixtures like this: Don't forget to check those starting lineups when they're released an hour before kickoff -- especially during December and early January, when the schedule is jam-packed and managers will rest star players. Your vigilance could make all the difference when it comes to winning your fantasy matchup.

Of course, that won't help you this coming weekend. For better or worse, you're stuck with your picks from the past two days.

The same general rule applies, though, when building your fantasy team at the start of a double matchweek. As I suggested earlier this week, try to pick players likely to start in both games, to maximize your points potential.

I'm pretty happy with my choice of Eden Hazard as my Tier 1 midfielder and captain this week. He finished with 21.4 points on Wednesday, despite Chelsea losing 2-1 at Wolves.

Hazard didn't score a goal, but picked up an assist, took five shots, and had six chances created. And I'm very confident he will play this weekend given that Chelsea have a very important game, hosting Manchester City.

Sure, Manchester City will be hard to score a goal against. But Hazard has proven he can deliver a big score without a goal. And he remains the league leader in fantasy points, with over 40 more than any other player, despite not scoring a goal since early October.

I'm less thrilled with my choice of teammate Marcos Alonso as my Tier 1 defender. Alonso finished with just 6.6 points on Wednesday, while the player I nearly picked instead, Virgil van Dijk, finished with 25.0 -- thanks to an assist, 10 clearances and 90 passes completed.

Van Dijk is up to 10th overall in fantasy points on the season, and is now less than a point behind Alonso at the top of the defender rankings, and in much better form. However, van Dijk has started in every game so far this season, and Jurgen Klopp just demonstrated that he's not afraid to rest important players.

I wouldn't be surprised if van Dijk gets a breather against Bournemouth on Saturday, ahead of Liverpool's crucial Champions League game against Napoli the following Tuesday. I'm more confident Alonso will start against Manchester City, but he has a lot of ground to make up to match van Dijk, even if the latter sits out the second game.

Of course, you can't plan for everything. I picked Shane Duffy as my Tier 2 defender this week, and he decided to headbutt Patrick van Aanholt in the first half of Brighton's game against Crystal Palace on Tuesday, for which he was given a straight red card.

Not only did Duffy finish with minus-0.9 points, but he will be suspended for Saturday's game against Burnley, meaning I have a mountain to climb to win my fantasy matchup this week.

You can try to predict who will start twice in a double matchweek. But you can't predict stupidity like that.