I'm going to take a little bit different approach with this write-up and try to highlight the teams with the best upcoming schedules for the remainder of the calendar year, in addition to a brief analysis of the Week 13 match ups. First, let's take a look at the best teams to invest in throughout December, where a lack of involvement in other competitions contributes heavily to the majority of my selections:
Liverpool - The Reds remain strong candidates throughout the early part of the month, with matches against Hull, Norwich and West Ham up next before things get tricky to close out the year with matches against Tottenham, Man City and Chelsea. Nearly all of us have Suarez at this point, but Brendan Rodgers' squad warrants some extra investment over the next three weeks.
Obvious Pick: Luis Suarez | Under-the-Radar Pick: Jon Flanagan
Aston Villa - Paul Lambert's side have been solid on their travels so far this season, which bodes well for their upcoming fixtures, especially now that the majority of their best players are coming back to full fitness. A home match against Man United aside, Villa look favorable for fantasy investment over the next month, with matches against Sunderland, Fulham, Stoke and Crystal Palace on the horizon. Even the away match at Southampton could prove to be a surprising result if the team can remain healthy and build on the momentum gained from their come-from-behind draw against West Brom.
Obvious Pick: Christian Benteke | Under-the-Radar Pick: Gabby Agbonlahor
Crystal Palace - I know what you're thinking, but the Eagles have a real opportunity to get their season up and running heading into 2014. With Tony Pulis taking the helm, you can expect the London side to shore up defensively. The new boss has a former Stoke player to call on in Cameron Jerome who could claim the starting role from the utterly ineffective Marouane Chamakh, so if they can build their attack as well, Palace have a real chance to pick up points against Norwich, West Ham, Cardiff, and maybe even Newcastle and Aston Villa before the year is out.
Obvious Pick: Joel Ward | Under-the-Radar Pick: Cameron Jerome
Manchester United - David Moyes' men are seemingly on the opposite trajectory of bitter rivals Liverpool, with difficult fixtures against Tottenham and Everton coming up before the match ups become more favorable. United arguably have the best League schedule in December with games against Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Ham, Hull and Norwich. However, rotation could become an issue with Champions League and Capital One Cup games interspersed with League matches.
Obvious Pick: Wayne Rooney | Under-the-Radar Pick: Marouane Fellaini
Newcastle - Don't look now, but Alan Pardew's men are just two points outside the Top 4, and will be brimming with confidence after shaking off a lethargic start to the season to claim a solid points tally heading into the final month of 2013. The form of Loic Remy, Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy and Tim Krul has propelled them forward in recent weeks, and they have a strong chance of continuing their solid fantasy output with matches against West Brom, Swansea, Crystal Palace and Stoke coming down the pipeline.
Obvious Pick: Mathieu Debuchy | Under-the-Radar Pick: Yoan Gouffran
Now that we've got an idea of who we should be looking at for the remainder of 2013, let's take a closer look at the fixtures in Week 13.
Aston Villa v. Sunderland
Coming off a promising second-half performance in the Midlands Derby last weekend, Villa will be eager to build on the positive result, as well as the return to fitness of Gabby Agbonlahor and Andy Weimann, who have been critical to the form of star striker Christian Benteke. Sunderland have been better recently, but not enough to convince me they'll be able to get a result from this match. Verdict: Invest in Villa attackers. Guzan is also a solid option.
We've seen time and time again that Cardiff at home is no easy prospect, no matter the team that comes calling. So what happens when the league leaders travel to Wales this weekend? I think Giroud, Ozil, Ramsey and company will still have a bit too much for the Bluebirds, but I do think it'll be a close affair with both sides on the score sheet. Verdict: Keep your discounts on your Gunners, but be wary of investing too heavily.
Everton v. Stoke
This is a tough one to call. It feels like another match where Lukaku goes missing, and Everton will sorely miss the impact of Leighton Baines, but Stoke is still Stoke and I expect the Merseyside outfit to claim the three points in a low-scoring match. Verdict: Trust your gut on Lukaku if you have him at discount. Additional investment is not advised.
Norwich v. Crystal Palace
Norwich have had a roller-coaster start to the season, and I expect it to continue in Week 13. With fresh injury worries over Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington, Chris Hughton's men look a bit toothless heading into this match. Combine that with the 'new manager effect' at Crystal Palace and I think Tony Pulis' men could claim a vital second victory in a row this weekend, though a scoreless draw could also be on the cards. Verdict: Avoid investing in attacking players from either side, though defenders could represent solid value.
West Ham v. Fulham
This clash could decide the next manager to be sacked this season. Both Martin Jol and Sam Allardyce have played some tremendously negative football so far this season, but I wouldn't be surprised to see both managers go for it with their jobs on the line this weekend. A high-scoring game is my gut feeling, but I can't pick a clear winner so I'll most likely be avoiding this match altogether. Verdict: Invest in a player if you have a hunch, but there are better fixtures this week.
Newcastle v. West Brom
As mentioned above, Newcastle have been in fine form of late, and I expect it to continue against the Baggies, though it should be a slightly more difficult encounter when they take on Steve Clarke's men this weekend. Consistent fantasy producers seem like your best bet as I expect this to be a narrow home victory with goals from each team. Verdict: Phantom point earners like Debuchy and Cabaye warrant investment. Others are questionable.
Tottenham v. Manchester United
This could be the match of the weekend. With both teams coming off disappointing (if not devastating) results in Week 12, I expect a wide open contest with lots of potential for attacking returns, and see no fewer than four goals scored in this fixture. Spurs will really need to go for it in this one after their thrashing at the Etihad, and I think they'll have enough to claim at least a point at home against the champions. Verdict: Invest in attackers from both side. Avoid defenders.
Hull City v. Liverpool
Steve Bruce's side hasn't looked right since losing Robbie Brady to his hernia injury and operation, and with the creative midfielder still not fully recovered, things look dire against high-flying Liverpool. Luis Suarez has been in blistering form, but don't pass up the opportunity to capitalize on Liverpool's other players here. One note of caution is that Liverpool haven't performed particularly well on the road so far this season, but I still expect a fairly one-sided match with a victory for the Reds. Verdict: Keep Suarez (duh); invest in attack and defense from Liverpool.
Chelsea v. Southampton
This one is much tougher to call this time around than it would have been in seasons past. Chelsea haven't looked like the team we know they're capable of being and Southampton have been punching above their weight for some time. Still, Chelsea at home under Jose Mourinho is a daunting task, and I don't think Mauricio Pocchetino's men will be able to kill off The Special One's incredible unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge. A narrow win for the Blues is my prediction, though I think the Saints could pull off a draw. Verdict: Stay away unless you want to keep a discount or have a strong hunch.
I got burned last weekend by thinking Tottenham's defense was better then City's home form. I won't be making that mistake again. Swansea aren't the team they were last season, and Sergio Aguero and company seem capable of making anything happen in front of their home fans. I don't think we'll see another 6-0, but a heavy defeat isn't out of the realm of possibility. Verdict: Invest in City players from all positions.
I hope we've got another enthralling week of matches on the way, and hopefully I can improve upon my current ranking in the 3,000s. My current team as it stands is below, though I am sure it will change before the weekend:
Pantilimon, Ward, Flanagan, Debuchy, Demichelis, Cabaye, Lampard, Coutinho, Aguero, Benteke, Suarez (c)
Bench: Ozil, Sinclair, Kelly, Harper
As you can see, I'm experimenting with a 4-3-3 formation, though I'll be keeping an eye on the team news to see if Flanagan is set to continue at left back in Enrique's absence. I'm also toying with the idea of dropping Lampard, though I'm unsure who I will replace him with. Captaincy will either go to Suarez or Aguero, though I haven't decided just yet.
Who are you looking at for Week 13 and beyond? Let's chat!