As Jeremy and Nik have discussed elsewhere on the site, Sunderland, West Brom, and the Manchesters - United and City - are all off from Premier League duties this weekend due to Capital One Cup duties. Who would have guessed that it would be City and Sunderland rather than City and United that would be causing the schedule disruption? It would have been fun to add another Manchester Derby to the fixture list to give the new managers some additional opportunity to build up some animosity (or at least pretend to in the press) but instead we lose out on a Premier League derby this weekend and gain what should be a blow-out Cup final between serious favorites City and happy-to-be-there Sunderland.
I know it doesn't have anything to do with the Premier League or Premier League fantasy but a Sunderland win would be quite remarkable. I can't say I have the same sort of strong negative feelings about Manchester City that I do about Manchester United (because of how good they've been) or Chelsea (because of the money and the inherent un-likeability of Mourinho and Terry) but wouldn't it be funny though if Manchester City lost a second cup final in two years to a team that was about to be relegated? Would that trigger another massive summer spending spree? With many of the "big" teams seemingly linked to high profile defenders in January, a failure to win over Sunderland could drive prices for those in the consideration set at left back and center back by Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Manchester United, and City even higher. Last summer's crazy forward market could easily become this summer's crazy market for the men at the back.
Again, I don't have anything against City so I'm not rooting against them per se but the above scenario and the perceived vulnerability it would create in the perception of City's position in the European elite would be much more fun than "City and their riches continue their unfettered path to world dominance" as far as storylines go.
With that daydream out of the way, on to this weekend's team news and all it implies for your fantasy team:
Hull City v Newcastle - Can Newcastle really afford to be missing players? I'll grant you that they haven't gotten much from Hatem Ben Arfa this season but with both he and Santon out again this weekend and the Magpies traveling to the almost entirely healthy and available Hull City, it looks like is set up to be a tough weekend. With Loic Remy back, Newcastle weren't as disasterous last weekend but it was Villa so I'd suspect that any investing you want to do in this match should be done on Hull City.
Everton v West Ham - This is the weekend for big forwards as Andy Carroll and Romelu Lukaku return from suspension and injury respectively. West Ham have been playing very well in recent weeks as key players have come back into the line-up which makes the option of John Stones (subbing for an injured Phil Jagielka) less attractive than it would have been in, say, December but at 5.27 it is worth thinking about as you look to add strength elsewhere or bring in a sub for someone like Vincent Kompany who won't be playing this weekend.
Stoke v Arsenal - Mesut Ozil returns after a hip injury (*cough* enforced rest because he's been poor *cough*) while Nacho Monreal and Keiran Gibbs are both doubts. Thomas Vermaelen will get the call if both defenders are unable to make it. Honestly, all I saw in the bit about defenders is "stay away, there's too much uncertainty". Not much of interest on the Stoke City front really - you can check the full details but none of it should impact your fantasy selections.
Southampton v Liverpool - Not much injury-related nwes here but a fascinating match-up between two of the more interesting clubs in the league this season. Liverpool have been great at home but only so-so on the road while Southampton have gone from great early-season story to disappointing winter and settled on "above average team that can get a result on any given Saturday/Sunday and feature 4 England Internationals". Given the attacking talent on hand and Liverpool's rotten defense, this one could have a lot of goals in it.
Fulham v Chelsea - The only definitive news of note here (and I'm stretching) is that new signing Kostas Mitroglou still isn't ready and definitely won't play. Elsewhere, there are half statements about rotation to the Chelsea squad after their trip to Istambul in mid-week but nothing that you'd want to hang your hat on. It seems wise to invest on the sure things if you're buying Chelsea players - Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic seem likely while it wouldn't be shocking to see just about any of the attacking players get a rest. I predict a bunch of frustrated fantasy managers this weekend when Chelsea's line-up is announced.
Aston Villa v Norwich - The fantasy-related excitement here is that Ryan Bertrand is back and available (and playing at home against a team that Villa might be able to get a clean sheet against) after missing out with a virus last weekend. Not much else here that looks likely to move markets in the fantasy universe.
Swansea v Crystal Palace - Jonjo Shelvey and Michu are out again for Swansea while Palace are fully healthy and available. It should be a very interesting contrast in styles with Swansea's passing game going against the blunt instrument that is Tony Pulis' Stoke Crystal Palace. This one is hard to get a handle on for fantasy purposes because so much will depend on who dictates the pace of the match. I'd bet on there being a lot of phantom defending points on both sides if I had to bet on anything here.
Tottenham v Cardiff City - Nothing particularly interesting to report from an injury point of view. I'd be all over investing in Spurs players if I knew for a fact that Christen Erikson was going to be in the starting line-up. Given his excellence over the last few months, this would seem to be something of a no-brainer but he didn't even make it in off of the bench in last weekend's embarrassinng loss to Norwich and after seeing what he did in the Europa Cup match yesterday, there's just no excuse for that. You'd hope that Tim Sherwood has learned his lesson but I would have thought he'd have learned it before then so clearly common sense isn't really at play here. Call me cautiously optimistic that Spurs will win big and be a great fanasty investment this weekend.