First, let's take a look at the fixtures, where we don't have to worry about David Moyes' vague comments as Man United visit Hull in the early match, and we'll finish up with what is sure to be a cracking encounter between league leaders Liverpool (I'll never tire of typing that) and intimidating title challengers Man City:
Chelsea v. Swansea City
Newcastle v. Stoke City
Norwich v. Fulham
Tottenham v. West Brom
West Ham v. Arsenal
Manchester City v. Liverpool
I've pinpointed the following teams for selection on Thursday: Chelsea, Everton, Newcastle, Norwich, Tottenham, Arsenal. As you can see, nearly all the home teams have an advantage in my mind, with Arsenal the only away team with a truly standout fixture. You'd be wise to keep your discounted attacking players from Liverpool and both Manchester squads, however. Now, on to the player picks:
Wojciech Szczesny - After the heavy defeat to Man City, the Polish keeper's price plummeted to a reasonable 10.25. If you picked him up before his price shot back above 13 thanks to the clean sheet against Chelsea, he's a fantastic option for the week against a troubled West Ham side. Even at retail he'd be my top recommendation unless you hold the next pick at discount.
Tim Krul - Newcastle have been very consistent so far this season, and with the visit of a Stoke side who can't seem to get it together on their travels, the Magpies have another chance at a clean sheet and victory. Krul has been coming up big with a lot of saves, so even if Stoke manage to score he may put up decent numbers. Beware the 1 shot, 1 goal trap, though.
Hugo Lloris - Spurs haven't looked quite the team we expected them to be based on last season and their transfer activity before the start of this campaign, but with the confirmation that Tim Sherwood will take over as full-time manager, the London side could begin to gel and return to the strong defensive performances that characterized the beginning of the season.
Julian Speroni - I'll feature an out of left-field pick for each position in my breakdown, and this is my risky pick of goalkeepers for this round. Crystal Palace have been very good defensively outside of the Newcastle match, and Aston Villa have sorely missed the impact of an in-form Christian Benteke. If you're brave, Speroni could deliver the goods.
Kyle Walker - Aside from my risky pick, the Spurs right back is my only new inclusion from my defender picks for Week 17. Despite giving up two goals, Tottenham were a much improved team against Southampton, and with West Brom still reeling after the dismissal of Steve Clarke, Spurs have a good shot at claiming another three points against the Baggies. Walker is expensive, but has been taking a good portion of kicks and contributing with solid phantom points, so he should be in your thoughts if you can afford him.
Mathieu Debuchy - Not much more needs to be said than what has already been talked about for Debuchy. He continually delivers solid points, with or without a clean sheet. Against Stoke could be a physical match (and we know the Frenchman is card-prone), but I still feel like the potential is too high to ignore.
Joel Ward - See Debuchy above, but remove the card risk. Who would have thought that a Crystal Palace player would be the top fantasy defender in the league half way through the season? If you have Ward at a discount, hang onto him and enjoy the steady stream of points.
Phil Jones - I touted Jones' versatility last week, but time may be running out on his guaranteed starting status in the United lineup. With Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic both nearing returns, Jones may spend some time on the bench over the coming fixtures. He should still start in Week 18, though, and represents good value against Hull, even on the road.
Martin Olsson - Much to my delight, the Norwich left-back continued a strong run of fantasy performances in Week 17, contributing 11 points to my team and making me seriously consider rolling out a 4-4-2 for a second week running. Fulham looked dangerous at times against Man City, but that was at home and against a City side that hasn't kept a clean sheet on the road in a long time. Olsson remains a strong option as Norwich have a good shot at a second straight clean sheet.
Martin Skrtel - It would take a truly bold soul to choose a Liverpool defender at the Etihad, especially one who seems more likely to put the ball in his own net than the opponent's. And yet, Ninja Skrtel makes my player picks. For whatever reason, he seems to love scoring against City, and I wouldn't put it past him doing it again in what should be a high-scoring affair in Manchester.
Theo Walcott - I never thought on Saturday that I would be ecstatic over my choice to put Philippe Coutinho in my starting eleven, but considering Walcott was my other option I'm a very happy man. After disappointing with a yellow card and pretty much nothing else against Chelsea, you couldn't be faulted for dumping the winger from your side in disgust. However, I think he'll get back to his mercurial best at home against West Ham. With his price back down in the 14s, he's my top midfield pick this week.
Yohan Cabaye - At the heart of the majority of Newcastle's attacking moves, Cabaye will be crucial to unlocking the Stoke defense. One slight caveat to note is that Cheikh Tiote is suspended, which could force a change in formation that pushes Cabaye slightly deeper to accommodate Shola Ameobi, who could potentially take penalties ahead of the Frenchman as well. I still think Cabaye should be a high priority to get into your team, however.
Seamus Coleman - If only he was listed properly as a defender, he would be a lock in just about every team. Alas, he is in that awful fantasy conundrum of playing behind his listed position. The Irishman is in insatiable form with three goals in his last five matches, and should have plenty more opportunities against Sunderland.
Oscar - Surprisingly given a bench role against Arsenal, the Brazilian should be set to come back into the starting lineup for the match against Swansea. However, the word 'should' needs to be taken into consideration here. Jose Mourinho has a full squad to choose from and could opt to further encourage Oscar's recovery from injury. Given Chelsea's other attacking options, I think Oscar is the safest bet if you think the Blues will get back to scoring after their blank against Arsenal.
David Silva - I'm hoping against hope that Liverpool can pull off the victory against City, but regardless of the result there should be a bevy of attacking points to go around. Silva should have been more involved against Fulham, but the selection of Dzeko and Negredo up front limited his impact before Manuel Pellegrini finally realized what everyone else knew (the strikers are too similar to play well together) and removed the Bosnian. I don't think we'll see the 4-4-2 rolled out again, so Silva should be deployed in the hole behind Alvaro Negredo and will get his chances against an admittedly leaky Liverpool defense.
Ross Barkley - The English youngster further staked his claim on a spot in the national team squad for the World Cup with a fantastic display against Swansea and would be higher in my recommendations this week but for a frustratingly vague sentence from Fantasy Football Scout mentioning Roberto Martinez may rest him to prevent him from picking up his fifth booking of the season before the suspension criterion changes to 10 yellows. I'll still likely take the risk and hope he can build on his form from the last match.
Barry Bannan - Yet another Crystal Palace player makes my left-field selection for Week 18, and it's a case of a player taking on his former club, coupled with the absence of Marouane Chamakh through suspension, that has piqued my interest. Bannan has taken many of the phantom points away from Mile Jedinak since cementing his starting role in Week 10, taking the majority of set pieces. With Chamakh out, he may even get a chance in the hole behind Cameron Jerome, and could be a strong differential if you're looking to take a different route this week.
Luis Suarez - If anyone is going to be able to outscore Man City at home, it's going to be Luis Suarez. With both teams challenging for the top spot heading into the second half of the season, I fully expect goals from both sides in this match, and Suarez doesn't seem likely to miss out on the action. I'll be keeping him as captain after learning my lesson twice already this season.
Wayne Rooney/Chicharito - We'll have to take a look at the team news to see who is starting for United against Hull, but if we get news that Welbeck is out then either one of these options should have a chance at delivering solid attacking returns. That said, Hull have been a difficult side to break down on home turf, so the goals could be hard to come by.
Romelu Lukaku/Kevin Mirallas - The Belgian duo didn't deliver what we were expecting from them in the Swansea match, with Lukaku delivering a particularly awful -1. Mirallas put up an acceptable 9 points without scoring or assisting and would seem to be the better choice again this week, though his inability to complete 90 minutes with only one game in a week has me questioning his ability to play long enough to contribute in a second match in four days, especially with Steven Naismith offering an alternative option after Stephen Pienaar looks to have shaken off the knock he picked up in Wales. Lukaku has been frustratingly inconsistent all season, but he's bound to get back on track sometime soon. If you're up for a gamble, this is the one you should take.
Emmanuel Adebayor - After being frozen out all season by AVB, K2 returned to the starting lineup to make his former manager pay with a brace against Southampton. This is a trend the Togolese striker has been following for a few seasons now, and the warning you should take heed of is that he doesn't seem to follow up on the one spectacular match with anything of note afterwards. That said, if you managed to grab him under 5 (or even under 8), he's a very good cheap option who could get on the score sheet again to make Tim Sherwood look even better for placing faith in him.
Gary Hooper/Robert Snodgrass - Norwich are still hovering closer to the relegation zone than the top half of the table, but they have improved recently, especially with former Celtic striker Hooper finding his form. With the injury load lightening, Hooper should have plenty of supply from the likes of Nathan Redmond and Snodgrass, who would be amongst my top picks this week if he was listed as a midfielder. Since he is not, he may be too expensive a risk to take for a precious forward slot in your team, but strikers who take kicks are a rare commodity in the league and his potential shouldn't be overlooked.
Olivier Giroud - He may be due a rest, especially with the return to fitness of Lukas Podolski, but if Giroud does start you have to like his chances against West Ham, who looked very poor against Man United at the weekend. Another risky choice, but one that could pay off handsomely. Make sure you have a guaranteed starter as a bench option if you go this route.
Loic Remy - I probably shouldn't recommend him again this week after his goose egg in the 3-0 victory over Palace (seriously, how does this happen?), but Remy has played better with Shola Ameobi in the side and should have a fair number of scoring chances if his strike partner does indeed return to the starting eleven.
Juan Mata - I'm not quite sure just what the little Spaniard has done to convince Jose Mourinho he's not worthy of an automatic spot in the starting eleven, but there's no denying his quality. If he starts against Swansea, he should be heavily involved in the attacking play and could even take his share of set pieces if Lampard gets a rest. This is a gamble for sure, but if you have the funds for a strong bench, why not give it a shot?
I'm hoping for a continuation of my good fortunes from the weekend, where I climbed back up the rankings slightly with a solid 141 points. Here's where my team currently stands:
Szczesny, Ward, P. Jones, Debuchy, M. Olsson, Silva, Cabaye, Walcott, Barkley, Adebayor, Suarez (c)
Bench: Giroud, Henderson, Oviedo, Gazzaniga
I'm still wavering between Giroud, Lukaku and Remy for my third striker spot, and I may opt to pull whoever I decide on into the starting eleven, most likely at the expense of Phil Jones, though Barkley or Adebayor could also make way. I'm happy with the remainder of the team, though, and am unlikely to make any further changes.
How is your team shaping up? Have you settled on a final lineup or are you still figuring things out? And finally: