The festive period has come early for fantasy managers, with a full slate of midweek matches for us. That means that the deadline to set your line-up is Tuesday, December 03, at 4:00am (note that your local time may vary).
Picking teams is a bit difficult this week and there will certainly be rotation with the matches coming 72 hours after the last ones, and the fact that all but one of the matches are on Wednesday despite the Tuesday deadline, means that we’re going into that rotation pretty blind.
With that in mind, let's look at the tastier fixtures, and try to assemble a first XI that will probably become my starting XI.
The choice match-ups, in my mind, are:
Fulham v Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool v Norwich City
Arsenal v Hull City
Southampton v Aston Villa
Sunderland v Chelsea
So, out of that lot (though we can’t ignore in-form players from the other matches), whom to pick?
1. Luis Suarez - Probably my captain. He hit two hat-tricks against Norwich last year, and on current form, I’m not betting on him falling too far short of that mark this time. True, the entire Liverpool side looked out of sorts against Hull City, but back at Anfield I expect them to restore normal service.
2. Olivier Giroud - He’s played a ton of matches for Arsenal so far this season, and with the Gunners getting players like Theo Walcott back, he might be rested. That likelihood, however, seems pretty rremote, so I’m picking the Frenchman to start and to score against Hull City. Now you all know the new rules, that we don’t pick for or against Hull. The wisdom of that was of course underlined against Liverpool. But at the Emirates, missing Curtis Davies, I’m likely to fall into the same trap once again.
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3. Juan Mata - Speaking of the rules… I hate picking midfielders who are listed in the fantasy game as forwards, and I hate picking players whom I don’t think are sure starters. But Mata was the key man against Southampton the other day, and as he’s relatively well-rested, I would suspect that he can start again against Sunderland. Oscar is likely out injured, and Frank Lampard could be more of a rotation risk, so Mata gets the start and will be on set-pieces here.
It’s hard to ignore Wayne Rooney’s form at the moment, but unless you have him below his cheaper 25 price-tag, it’s hard to fit him into a team. Yes, he’s playing his old team (see Ramsey, Aaron at Cardiff) but that team is an in-form Everton and I’m likely to stay away from the match altogether.
I’m also avoiding Manchester City on the road until they prove that they can bring some portion of their home form with them on their travels. So no Sergio Aguero, or Alvaro Negredo for me, but I wouldn’t argue with you starting them against a West Brom side who have shipped goals to Aston Villa and Newcastle, and will be without Youssef Mulumbu in the midfield.
Ricky Lambert, rested against Chelsea, could be a good pick against Aston Villa.
4. Mesut Ozil - Between him and Aaron Ramsey you did well if you had them in your fantasy team despite their being on the road against a resilient Cardiff, and having not returned many fantasy points over the last week or so. Now they get Hull City at home, and certainly one or both should be in your lineup again this weekend. I’m promoting Ozil from my bench and hoping for another good day from the German.
5. Phillipe Coutinho - Coutinho was rested against Hull CIty (and given 25 minutes to do f’ all but keep Ozil on my substitutes bench), but should be fine to start against Norwich. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do against Norwich and how he combines with Luis Suarez in Daniel Sturridge’s absence.
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6. Steven Gerrard - I’m also likely to stick with Gerrard after his goal at the weekend. Set-piece duty ensures a steady return of points and the matchup is too sweet to bench or sell him.
7. Yohan Cabaye - Similarly, Cabaye is a week-in-week-out producer. At Swansea City isn’t the best of match-ups so I’m a bit on the fence here, but leaning towards keeping him. Ramsey, or Frank Lampard are possible replacements in the premium category, and I’m sure to look at Adam Lallana as well.
8. Mathieu Debuchy - Match-up proof, and returning value even at his current price. What’s not to love?
9. John Flanagan - Wavering here as well. The match-up promises points, but there is competition for his spot and Liverpool haven’t kept many (any?) clean sheets recently. Like Debuchy, he has a tendency to pop-up in forward positions, but he hasn’t been able to capitalize on that yet. Bryan Oviedo will likely be on my bench, but after last weekend’s 26 point haul, maybe I keep him in the line-up despite his playing Manchester United.
10. Kyle Walker - THis may be a bit of an over-reaction to his goal at the weekend, but other than that match against Manchester City, he’s been producing good returns and clearly he’s on some share of the set piece duty. Jan Vertonghen is another route into the Spurs defence, and he doesn’t have an error costing his side a goal in his debit column.
Arsenal and Chelsea defenders are all on the radar here as well, assuming we can pick the ones that start. Gibbs or Monreal? Sagna? Cole or Azpilicueta? The Southampton back-line seems more settled, so that might be a way to go this midweek instead.
11. Paulo Gazzaniga - I’ll likely cover Southampton’s defence by picking Gazza here. He’s only a buck after coming on for Artur Boruc against Chelsea and giving up goals. Now with Boruc likely out for a month or more, Gazza is a good play this week, and will be an excellent bench player - replacing Robbie Elliot - going forward.
Hugo Lloris is cheap after two horror-shows against the Manchester clubs, but he may be a barn door purchase for me. Petr Cech is the premium pick, but money is needed elsewhere.