Will he or won't he? Play I mean - Stu Forster
With two lousy teams (Sunderland and Reading) playing twice and the rest being fairly evenly matched, what's a fantasy manager to do? We'll tell you. Here. Now.
With no specific word out of the Sunderland camp that I can find on the fortunes of Steven Fletcher, the entire week is a bit of a mess. Why is one player so important? Because this is an unusual week in the Premier League with two poor teams (both in reality and fantasy) - Sunderland and Reading - playing twice and a lot of parity in the other match-ups. Honestly, who knows what to make of fading West Brom traveling to the Emirates to face fading-even-faster Arsenal?
Wigan vs. QPR? I could spin any number of narratives that would represent a realistic outcome there.
Swansea vs. Norwich in a battle of last season's surprise packages that are both rounding into very nice form - albeit with drastically different styles - as they prepare to meet. Could go just about any way.
The Manchester Derby? Tell me you know what's going to happen here.
I could keep going all day with match-ups that provide no clear advantage, no match-up of one team that is unquestionably good and in form against another that is unquestionably poor and struggling for even the best of their poor form.
What this all means to me is that you take everyone at face value as you evaluate players this weekend. Most weeks we look for situations where players are likely to outplay their average points won per match. This week, my advice is to look at the points/match statistic as a pretty realistic guide to what you should expect assuming that the player you're looking at is likely to start (or start both matches in the case of Reading and Sunderland).
Back to Steven Fletcher. He is important for the following reasons. His health holds the keys to: one of the two best bets for the week to make owners happy across two matches (Fletcher is one and Nicky Shorey is the other); the potential bargain of the week (Conor WIckham is nice and cheap and if he's starting twice could be a great bargain even if he only gets a smattering of SOTs across the two matches); and Reading Clean Sheets (Without Fletcher, Reading have to look good for at least one CS). Oh, he also holds the key to a reasonable amount of your budget and a forward spot. So that's why the not-very-forthcoming injury news from Sunderland is so important.
By the way, there is a very real possibility that Fletcher won't be ready for the weekend but that he will return for the mid-week match with Reading which would just suck all the way around. Both Fletcher and Wickham would lose value. Reading's clean sheet potential against Sunderland would be diminished. Fantasy managers selecting either Black Cat striker would likely lose lots of hair as starting line-ups get announced. Not good times ahead.
With that in mind, here are my recommendations for Match Week 16 in the Premier League:
Steven Fletcher/Conor Wickham - See above and only if one is the clear starter for both matches.
Peter Odemwingie - Anyone remember West Brom whipping/shocking Arsenal a couple of seasons back before a) West Brom got good and b) Arsenal continued to crumble? I know I do and I specifically remember Odemwingie giving them fits. Just saying.
Adam Le Fondre - If you're looking for a more certain option than Fletcher/Wickham in the "two game forward" category then Le Fondre seems likely to produce his price across two matches with the potential to do more.
Rickie Lambert - Southampton is playing better and they get a home date with Reading. Don't get too caught up in Reading's two matches, this is still a bottom team on the road - we aren't expecting miracles.
Aroune Kone - If you can't tell, I'm favoring the home teams here. Kone hasn't been consistent but he has had his moments so if you can't afford a surer thing (Defoe, RvP, etc.), he's not a bad bet.
Christian Benteke - Price isn't bad, he's at home and he's playing Stoke which seems likely to be good for at least some SOTs.
Carlton Cole - Last week Jeremy hit gold with Cole but his price still isn't crazy and Liverpool are likely to be weakened in the absence of Luis Suarez so you could see a good day for the Hammers developing.
Michu - Continues to play forward while listed as a midfielder and bang home the goals.
Moussa Dembele - With Gareth Bale out and Gylfi Sigurdsson too expensive as a replacement the Belgian is a solid bet to produce value this weekend.
Stephane Sessegnon - Is there a more frustrating player in the Premier League to try to figure out that's not named Fernando Torres? He shows great flashes of talent but then goes for what seems like ages without doing a damn thing. He seems to be trending up recently which, combined with two matches, seems like good reason to take the risk.
Craig Gardner - Another one who goes in spurts but with a goal last weekend he could be at the start of a hot streak which would make him a good two-match investment. The downside is that if you believe my discussion of average points/match in the intro neither Sunderland midfielder should be expected to reach their price even if they hit their average twice over the two matches. Consider the possibility that both are solidly overpriced.
Gael Bigirimana - His price is still fairly low and it is uncertain as to whether Newcastle's injury crisis will continue so he could represent some solid value going against a Fulham team that has been fading FAST.
Jobi McAnuff - Unlike his Sunderland counterparts who likely have more upside, Jobi is the grinder's play - he rarely goes into double digits but he is rarely a no-show either.
Nicky Shorey - He's been killing it and this time he gets two cracks at it which justifies his price.
Piscu - In order to afford Shorey you may want an enabler with a chance of a Clean Sheet and home to QPR sounds like a solid opportunity for a cheap one of those.
Phil Bardsley - The Sunderland defense doesn't offer much in the way of value (or even raw points) but Bardsley appears to be the strongest combination of a reasonable price and a potential to return that price over two matches.
Guy Demel - Inexpensive and playing a Suarez-less Liverpool at Upton Park. Seems like a reasonable combination.
Eric Lichaj - Another enabler-with-potential playing at home to beatable/clean sheet-able opposition. I don't love it but there isn't a lot to love with all of the big boys leaking goals recently.
Adam Federici - Of the two-gamers, @Southampton and @Sunderland seems like the option to pick. That Federici is cheap coming off United's 4 goal outburst makes it an even easier choice.
Simon Mignolet - Two home matches against Reading and a recently mis-firing Chelsea means there's reason to talk yourself into this one as well even if the price is higher. It all depends on whether you think Chelsea will "get healthy" against Sunderland over the weekend.
Brad Guzan - I'm sticking with my guy American GK Named Brad, Part Deux. Granted, I have him in the low 2s vs. his current price but it's been working and he has Stoke at Villa Park which makes me feel good that the scoreline won't be high and that a win is a reasonable expectation.