Late Fitness Check: Fantasy EPL Injury and Suspension Analysis

It looks like he'll be back this weekend and the stakes couldn't be bigger - Paul Gilham

The big news is that Spurs will risk Gareth Bale in their critical match against Manchester City this weekend. The results, and his ongoing health, will be critical to both fantasy managers and the league alike.

The very top and the very bottom of the table seem pretty much settled with Manchester United the champions-to-be and Manchester City almost certainly locked into second place. At the bottom QPR and Reading seem bound for relegation barring a miraculous flourish to close the season. That leaves only two really interesting races (unless you get excited by who will finish first in the city of Liverpool or which teams will be playing in the Europa League next season). The two races are to avoid the final relegation spot and to avoid being the one of Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs that is left out of the Champions League picture.

The race for the 3rd and 4th Champions League places will be fascinating every weekend between now and the end of the season but this week is particularly interesting with Tottenham hosting Manchester City and Chelsea traveling to Anfield. Both contests represent a very real opportunity, like Arsenal's midweek draw with Everton, for the Champions League chasers to drop points. Overlaying this race to the finish is the health of Gareth Bale who may well be THE critical figure in this most interesting of late-season dramas. This week's team news from White Hart Lane finds Andres Villas-Boas confident that Bale will be ready to go this weekend.

Spurs vs. Manchester City - Beyond the Bale headline, there is a lot of additional good news for Spurs. The returns of Jermain Defoe (very likely) and Aaron Lennon (reported as likely but hasn't trained yet which makes me wonder) will boost their attack significantly. Their defense will also be excited to read that David Silva and Sergio Aguero are both doubtful which could put City at a significant disadvantage. I'm still unlikely to invest heavily in this match given the unpredictability of the outcome and the high costs associated with the players but if you disagree with that strategy then this news will certainly influence how you invest in this match.

Fulham vs. Arsenal - Steve Sidwell is back for Fulham meaning that it is unlikely that Eyong Enoh will continue as an extremely inexpensive enabler. For Arsenal, Wojciech Szczesny will replace the injured Lukasz Fabianski for certain but the rest of the news is pure speculation on Tomas Rosicky (fitness check), Lukas Podolski, and Nacho Monreal (both "hoping for a recall"). Not much actionable there.

Norwich vs. Reading - Not much of use here as the big decision - Mark Bunn vs. John Ruddy - has yet to be made (or at least it hasn't been announced).

QPR vs. Stoke - Bobby Zamora is out suspended but beyond that there aren't any news items likely to move the needle for fantasy managers. Matthew Etherington isn't certain enough to be of much interest despite his much-reduced price.

Sunderland vs. Everton - The news seems to imply that both teams are likely to name unchanged line-ups from their most recent matches. The one possible change that will frustrate fantasy managers looking for a bargain is Leon Osman potentially (but not definitely) returning for Ross Barkley who has a price of 1.08. Unless you need to take a risk to enable other things, I'd read between the lines and assume that Osman will be back.

Swansea vs. Southampton - The interesting news here is that Neil Taylor may be ready to return after a long injury layoff. He was having a nice fantasy season before getting injured and his price has dropped significantly to a bargain 5.93 during his absence. You might want to play this conservative since the team news makes it sound like Michael Laudrup will do likewise but Taylor is certainly one to watch for the Barn Door.

West Brom vs. Newcastle - There are lots of words here but none that are likely to change fantasy teams. The important thing to note is that Newcastle's defense - missing Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, and Cheik Tiote from the spine - continues to be depleted.

West Ham vs. Wigan - Mark Noble is an interesting, low-priced option coming off of his injury layoff and a substitute appearance in mid-week. His price has dropped to 6.68 which, considering his production, the fact that he takes penalties, and the opposition could make for an interesting bargain.

Liverpool vs. Chelsea - A lot of flux in the back for Chelsea with Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole training again but not definite to return. The Team News speculates about rotation with two-goal scorer John Terry joining Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres in returning to the bench but like I said, this is pure speculation. The important message in Chelsea's news is that Ryan Bertrand isn't necessarily a definite starter which is a bad thing for those who have him cheap. Not much of interest from the Liverpool side of the coin.

Manchester United vs. Aston Villa - Not much of note here other than making it official that Ashley Young is out for the rest of the season. Gabby Agbonlahor has had a nice resurgence and looks like he'll return from injury but at Old Trafford isn't the place you want to pay over 11 for him.

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