With a tricky slate of fixtures in Week 12, we may finally start seeing some major differentiation in team selections between managers, whether they're near the top or, like me, trying to make up some ground. You can't afford to include players in your side who either won't play significant minutes or even at all, so let's dive into the team news fixture by fixture to rule out who we can and highlight some great potential options:
As this is the early match, we'll thankfully have the starting lineups available to us before the deadline. While Roberto Martinez has a clean bill of health to choose from for his Everton side, we have a lot to watch for on the red half of Merseyside. What we know for sure is that Jose Enrique is set to miss out again and may need surgery to repair damage to his knee. What is less certain is whether Daniel Sturridge will be available after playing injured for England's meaningless friendly against Germany midweek. The striker has been playing through the pain of a fairly serious dead leg for about a month now, and the international break would have been the ideal time to give him a rest. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, so it may be up to a travel-weary Luis Suarez to lead the line on his own against Everton.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Steven Gerrard
No news is good news for Mauricio Pochettino's men, as Southampton will likely start with an unchanged lineup at the Emirates. The only possible change is the inclusion of Pablo Osvaldo, who has recovered from injury over the break. The league leaders will have to do without Mathieu Flamini as the Frenchman is suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season. Aaron Ramsey is likely to shift deeper in central midfield to fill in. A lot of buzz has been building about the return of fantasy favorite Theo Walcott, though Arsene Wenger has admitted he will ease him back into the action. Avoid him for this week, but keep an eye on his performance to decide whether to draft him into your team for Week 13.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Olivier Giroud
Fulham - Swansea
Sascha Riether serves the second of a three-match ban for violent conduct, though the possible return of Brede Hangeland could help strengthen what has been a porous Fulham defense this season. Michu remains out through injury for Michael Laudrup's side, but Michel Vorm will return from his one-game suspension to help bolster Swansea's defense.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Jonjo Shelvey
Steve Bruce has claimed he expects potential Blog Favorite Robbie Brady to 'be available,' though just what that means is uncertain. Hopefully we'll get confirmation before the deadline, but if not he's definitely a risk coming off of a hernia operation. Another potential return from injury for the Tigers is goalkeeper Allan McGregor, which puts a big question mark over bargain keeper pick of the week Steve Harper. For Crystal Palace, Jerome Thomas is struggling with a hamstring complaint and may be the only change made from their last match. Jason Puncheon may get the chance to start in his place.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Joel Ward
The major news that everyone should be aware of by now is that Mathieu Debuchy is suspended for yellow-card accumulation. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa will likely deputize at right back in his compatriot's absence. Jonas Gutierrez offers another option in defense after returning to the squad after being away for personal issues. Ricky van Wolfswinkel is the only absence of note for Norwich, though Chris Hughton may again elect to leave club captain Sebastien Bassong on the sidelines.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Yohan Cabaye
Mark Hughes could be set to name an unchanged 11 against Sunderland, with Wilson Palacios and Stephen Ireland having both recovered from minor injuries over the break. Gus Poyet could follow suit with the Black Cats after an impressive win over Manchester City last time out. Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena remain on the sidelines through suspension after both received three-match bans for straight red cards.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Marko Arnautovic
West Ham - Chelsea
Sam Allardyce may have a defensive crisis on his hands with Winston Reid still definitely out and question marks over Razvan Rat, James Collins and Joey O'Brien, though the latter duo are reportedly close to returns to action after missing international duty through injury. With Andy Carroll and Ricardo Vaz Te long-term absentees for the Hammers, it's likely the infamous 4-6-0 formation will be rolled out once more against Chelsea. Jose Mourinho has concerns over Ashley Cole, so Cesar Azpilicueta could be drafted in to replace him. With Fernando Torres still struggling with a muscle problem in his leg, Samuel Eto'o will likely lead the line again.
Fantasy Player To Watch: John Terry
Manchester City - Tottenham
Two of City's most influential players in Vincent Kompany and David Silva remain out for the visit of Spurs, with Martin Demichelis and James Milner potential replacements, respectively. Jesus Navas could provide an alternative to the English winger if Pellegrini opts for more pace in his side, though Milner's defensive capabilities leads me to think he'll be included from the start to deal with the attacking threat of Jan Vertonghen. Christian Eriksen is one of the casualties of the international break, having picked up an ankle injury that could keep him out until the new year. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Erik Lamela, Lewis Holtby and Aaron Lennon will all be vying to join the starting lineup at the Etihad.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Yaya Toure
Aron Gunnarson has recovered from a knock picked up on international duty for Iceland and could return to the starting lineup for Cardiff, who have an otherwise clean bill of health barring long-term absentees. Michael Carrick is out for Manchester United, while Phil Jones and Rafael are doubts, with the Brazilian slightly more likely to make it back in time for the match Sunday. Robin van Persie was able to make use of the international break to help improve his fitness and recover from groin and toe injuries, so he should be reinstated to the starting lineup for David Moyes' men.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Robin van Persie
West Brom - Aston Villa
It's always tricky to know what to do about Monday matches, especially if there are minor concerns over some players. While most managers seem to be leaning toward Steve Clarke's men in this match, Aston Villa have a number of players who may be in line for a return to fitness and a run in the team this week. Most notable among them is Christian Benteke, but Andreas Weimann, Brad Guzan and Antonio Luna will all be crucial to Villa's chances. Billy Jones is likely to remain out for West Brom, meaning Steven Reid could represent good value, at least as a bench option. The other news of note is that Boaz Myhill has recovered from an injury and is ready to start between the sticks again in Week 12.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Morgan Amalfitano
So there you have it. Are you planning on going against the grain or sticking with some common picks this week? I've got some ground to make up, so I've opted for a few unorthodox selections. My saved team is as follows:
Krul, Ward, Rafael, Pieters, Amalfitano, Lampard, Cabaye(c), Ozil, Suarez, Remy, RVP
Bench: S. Reid, Obertan, Kelly, Harper
I opted to drop Coutinho at a minor discount for this week (he was on my bench) to bring RVP into my lineup in place of Eden Hazard. I'm hoping for a big fantasy day from the Dutchman, though I'd be happy to see another 3-2 win for Cardiff if RVP can contribute with a brace or similar points.
How is your team shaping up? Let's talk about all those last-minute selection headaches as we build up towards the return of our beloved Premier League!