Uncertainty. Other than drinking too much the night before the match week starts and leaving changes half-made on your computer, uncertainty is the fantasy manager's worst enemy. Sometimes uncertainty comes in the form of rotation policies (we're looking at you Mourinho). Sometimes uncertainty comes in the form of a team that delivers incredibly uneven performances week-to-week (looking at you this time Pellegrini). 'tis the season for colds and flu as well and there have already been and will continue to be surprise absences as illnesses come up out of nowhere between Friday press conferences and Saturday/Sunday/Monday kickoffs. Finally, it can come in the form of the dreaded "late fitness check" and the uncertainty around the probability of both a player and his likely substitute getting the start and significant playing generally required to make a fantasy impact.
I bring up the topic of uncertainty at this time of year because the amount of uncertainty that fantasy managers face spikes for the next six weeks or so. Between fixture congestion and some players starting to tire significantly after playing many or all of their club's matches so far the holiday season is full of unpleasant surprises from managers who give exactly zero forewarning that a player may be rested. For those relatively new to Premier League fantasy games, my recommendation for coping through this season of uncertainty is as follows: 1) relax, there isn't much you can do to eliminate the occasional surprise; and 2) make sure your bench isn't entirely populated with cheap players with no chance of playing. It isn't unreasonable to expect that one or two of your starters in any given week is going to miss out so make sure there are at least SOME points available on your bench so you're not taking zeroes. In previous seasons, players of the Yahoo game didn't have this option and had to put up with taking a zero when surprises came out of nowhere. Do yourself a favor and take advantage of the new rules to make sure this doesn't happen again.
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Aston Villa v Man Utd - What a mess the champions are. Robin van Persie, perhaps rushed back from injury, has now been ruled out for a month which may see United buried by the time he returns given the number of fixtures that will take place before he's back. To make matters worse, United faces doubts over Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Chris Smalling, and Marouane Fellaini. Fellaini's form this season aside, that's a lot of talent that may not be available for a road match that United would have been counting on for three points. Fantasy managers may want to invest big in Wayne Rooney because he appears to be United's only real hope. Adnan Januzaj may also get a chance to step up and help spur the attack.
Cardiff City v West Brom - Cardiff has been tough at home but don't score very much while the Baggies have been scoring goals and giving them up at high volume. Hard to know exactly how this one may work out but I like Peter Wittingham as a under-the-radar option for your fantasy midfield.
Chelsea v Crystal Palace - It says rather definitively that Gary Cahill will be rested for Chelsea meaning the most likely defensive grouping is Azpilicueta, Terry, Luiz, Ivanovic. Managers will be tempted to dive in on Chelsea's defense (and Cech) given the difference in reputation between the Blues and their newly promoted opposition. Before you invest too much money in that proposition, please remember that Chelsea have kept only four clean sheets in the Premier League thus far this season and Tony Pulis has Crystal Palace playing much better over the past few weeks and brings a healthy squad to Stamford Bridge.
Everton v Fulham - The only significant new absence from this match is James McCarthy who has never realized the fantasy promise he showed early in his career at Wigan. Part of the issue has been his role which has been less of an attacking one at Everton. Leighton Baines is still about 10 days from returning meaning he'll probably play one of the fixtures around Christmas but not before then. Overall, the real question with this match is how much you believe in the impact Rene Meulensteen has had on Fulham in a short time and how that dampens Everton's chances of a big fantasy match. My inclination is to invest fairly heavily in this one. Fulham may be playing better but the team is still low on talent and with Hangeland still out you have to wonder who they expect to match up physically with Romelu Lukaku.
Hull City v Stoke - Asmir Begovic is a doubt if you were considering betting on the Stoke defense on the road (although I'm not sure why you would, Hull City haven't been that bad at home). Not too much else of note here. Feels like a Robby Brady penalty sort of a weekend.
Man City v Arsenal - The big match of the weekend features two relatively healthy squads with Matija Nastasic the only definite absence. Bacary Sagna is uncertain for Arsenal thereby undermining whatever value he and Carl Jenkinson might have had away to a team that scores for fun at home. Your investments in this match will depend entirely on whether you think Arsenal can slow down City's recent home form. If you think they can, then this is probably a bad match to invest fantasy resources in. If you think City will continue scoring seemingly at will then you may want to invest in two or three City attackers.
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Newcastle v Southampton - Two clubs who have been up and down as they attempt to maintain great early-season runs up the table. Newcastle will be missing their creative force in Yohan Cabaye who is suspended for accumulation while Southampton will be missing a bunch of first teamers including Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama - the spine of their midfield. Seems to me like a good weekend to consider Hatem Ben Arfa who may get both a start and more opportunity on the ball in the absence of Cabaye and so many key Saints defenders.
Norwich v Swansea - Swansea is getting at least somewhat more healthy with Michu, Ben Davies and Angel Rangel all likely to start in a match that the Swans will want to win if they hope to be a top half team. Given Michu's diminished results this season, I'm not willing to jump in even if the opposition isn't spectacular.
Tottenham v Liverpool - Steven Gerrard is the big absence here alongside longer-term absentee Daniel Sturridge. Luis Suarez is still Luis Suarez but you have to wonder if Liverpool can put together a credible attack with Suarez and Coutinho the only two attackers who can claim to have been in strong form.
West Ham v Sunderland - There are likely some fantasy points in this match-up of struggling teams somewhere (Ravel Morrison maybe?) but you'd be hard pressed to identify any one absence on either side that is of any particular interest to fantasy managers.