The Week Ahead: Fantasy EPL Player Picks for Match Week 18

Sure, the dome looks good but can he bounce back? - Jasper Juinen

Everything you need to prepare your Fantasy Premier League team for Match Week 18 - the official beginning of the incredibly busy holiday season. How much Manchester City is too much against Reading? How much should you believe in Arsenal after they crushed Reading? All this and more...

I've spent the days since Monday talking myself in and out of Arsenal as both a supporter and fantasy manager. They looked like their old selves against Reading. The passing was pretty. TW14 and the Ox used their speed to create spaces for more technical players like Cazorla, Podolski, and Arteta and Wilshere seemed to continue the process of shaking off the rust that was inevitably accumulated a) due to his injury and b) due to the fact that he was a young and maturing player when that injury happened - he wasn't the fully baked superstar his absence allowed us to fantasize a little bit about.

The one thing that I keep coming back to. It was Reading. And even for Reading, they played like they wanted to be somewhere, anywhere, else. I don't know if there was a report that John Terry was in Reading and they were worried as to what their wives and girlfriends might be up to while they played their match. Maybe they got a little full of themselves after scoring some goals against United. Maybe Arsenal just matches up really well against them in a way they don't against say Bradford. I don't know the reason for Reading's suckitude but what keeps me from going all in on Arsenal even if there are some reasonable possibilities to explain the improvement (different formation + improving form) is that it seemed it was as much about Reading being poor as Arsenal (re)finding a higher level of performance.

Arsenal's match-up at Wigan who are missing a ton of first teamers - especially on defense - means that it is still not a terrible idea to go in at least a little bit. The rest of the logic above leads me straight to Manchester City and their home match-up with Reading. City are more talented than Arsenal and they also seem to be finding a more fluid attacking rhythm. Seems like a recipe to dive right on in. Reading have been scoring against even strong opposition so I wouldn't spend big on the City defense but the attack should be very attractive.

Here is the full set of recommendations for your Match Week 18 enjoyment and edification:

Forwards

Carlos Tevez / Sergio Aguero - You have to hope that Roberto Mancini has learned his lesson on rotating his forwards. If he plays Tevez and Aguero, City win. If he doesn't, their record isn't nearly as good. With every point precious and both players presumably well-rested you have to hope Mancini does the right thing for at least the first 60 minutes.

Lukas Podolski - Starting to show signs of life and not incredibly expensive for the trip to Wigan.

Demba Ba - If the potential of Roberto Mancini not figuring out what your humble blogger has figured out makes you nervous - which would be totally reasonable - then Ba is a premium alternative with a great home match-up with QPR on tap. He has been the one bright/consistent spot for Newcastle this season.

Juan Mata / Fernando Torres - Chelsea at home vs. Aston Villa looks really tantalizing. What makes it slightly less so in my eyes are the following: 1) Chelsea has only beaten crappy opposition recently; 2) Aston Villa, while falling into that "crappy" category early in the season have been undefeated over their last 5 matches (2 wins and 3 draws); 3) Over those five matches - which included Arsenal and Liverpool - Villa have conceded exactly 2 goals total. This isn't to say Villa have gone from bad to exceptional or Chelsea from exceptional to bad. It is to say that Chelsea are merely good-at-best right now and Villa are no worse than "not bad". A long way of saying "don't overvalue expensive Chelsea attackers" as you consider them.

Carlton Cole - When key cogs in the Everton machine have been missing they have reverted pretty severely. This seems like an opportunity for the reasonably priced Cole and his fellow Hammers to pick up some points against a team that is riding high in the standings.

Luis Suarez - A mediocre performance last weekend but another enticing match-up as Fulham come to town. He's a bit pricey but still likely better value than Rooney/RvP.

Midfielders

Gareth Bale - Stoke is a hard team to pick against but with the news that Bale should be returning to the line-up this weekend he has to be considered a strong value having produced at the same rate as RvP for nearly 9 less in cost.

Gaston Ramirez - With Adam Lallana still out, Ramirez seems poised to pick up some serious opportunity against struggling Sunderland at home. The price isn't too tragic to find out either.

Theo Walcott - Will he continue as the proverbial "false 9" that saw Arsenal score five with Theo a key cog? Will he revert to playing on the right where he CAN be effective but can also be invisible? Surely he won't be rotated. The answers to the above hold the key to Walcott's value. I'd keep him if you have him at BD prices. Not sure I'd be in at 17.91. I'd be more likely to go in for Ox if you're buying at retail and hope Wenger keeps the successful starting line-up together for the weekend.

Tom Cleverley - There isn't a great deal of value to be had with Manchester United these days. With Cleverley and Carrick seeming to have secured starting spots (at the very least until Anderson is healthy) Cleverley could be a solid value play. Oh, and yes, I'm completely done trying to figure out what happened to Antonio Valencia or recommending him for a fantasy comeback.

Raheem Sterling - He isn't the super-bargain of early in the season but he's still playing pretty high up the pitch and his ratio of production to price is friendly as well. Throw in Fulham as the opponent and this looks pretty solid even if we'd all rather have him in the 2s.

Defenders

Phil Jones / Nikica Vidic - Jones started last weekend while Vidic only came off the bench but you wouldn't be shocked to see that reverse for the upcoming weekend. With both inexpensive there's great potential value if you figure out who will start. Check in tomorrow and hope SAF tells us.

Michael Dawson - AVB seems to really want to play Dawson (or anyone really) ahead of William Gallas and with Dawson announced as fit for the weekend, he's a great potential deal at 4.62 at home against goal-shy Stoke. If you have the money, you'd rather think about Jan Vertonghen but it's a LOT of extra money we're talking about.

Sebastian Bassong - After not scoring for the first time in a couple of matches, his price is back down to a reasonable level. Six weeks ago the match-up would have looked disastrous for the Canaries and SeaBass but Norwich are flying high and the Baggies have stopped scoring. Not a bad bet at all.

Kolo Toure - My view is that he weakens City's defense and devalues other players rather than being a great bargain himself but I feel obligated to point out a potential starter for a top 2 team priced under 3.00 and playing at home against rotten opposition. Such are the things that bargains can be made of (but not last weekend).

Aleksander Kolarov - With Samir Nasri listed as out until after Christmas there's a better than even chance that Kolarov starts in a midfield role which would justify the 10+ price - at least potentially.

Goalkeepers

Hugo Lloris - Even if you don't have him at a super cheap price there's reason to believe he will be a value play this weekend at home against Stoke.

Mark Bunn - Tough to go with a relative unknown on the road but his price is right and the opposition is struggling.

Tim Krul - He's been having a rough year along with his Newcastle mates but somehow his price hasn't dropped nearly as low as you'd like it to given the performances. Still, if you're ever going to take a risk on him, this would be the week.

Pepe Reina - Fulham have scored exactly 4 goals over the last 6 matches including putting up zeroes in three of those six matches. That is enough to convince me that Reina might be ripe for a bounce back after last weekend's disaster against Villa.

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