Strategy will be a polarizing issue this week: Do you invest in players from these teams or look elsewhere? Arguments can easily be made for both cases: The top teams are at the top for a reason, so choosing the best performing players could continue to pay off. Conversely, with the table so tight we could be in for more hard-fought, low-scoring matches like the Arsenal-Everton game in Week 15 which, while entertaining, didn't offer as much in the way of fantasy points (with the exception of the goalscorers) as we've come to expect from the top players from each side.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the fixtures that will be on display at the weekend to see if we can come any closer to making a decision of what to do:
Manchester City v. Arsenal
Manchester City is the best team in the league in front of their own fans, while Arsenal is simply the best team in the league this season. Both sides have a fantastic array of attacking talent on hand, and with defenses that can at times be questionable, heavy investment in attacking players like Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud could prove to be a winning strategy in a match that could be a goalfest.
Verdict: This is a real toss-up, but I'd lean towards including your discounted attacking players from both sides in your starting eleven.
Like Manchester City, Premier League newcomers Cardiff have been a nightmare to play against when they have the support of their fans rallying behind them. Following an uninspired performance against Crystal Palace in Week 15, I expect them to get back on track at home, though Steve Clarke's men will be looking to avenge their own disappointing defeat against Norwich at the weekend. It should be a testy affair, but I expect a home win for the Welsh outfit.
Verdict: Keep Caulker at discount; consider attacking players from Cardiff (Whittingham, Campbell & Mutch).
Chelsea v. Crystal Palace
We'll have to keep an eye on the lineup in the Champions League match tonight for an indication of who will start at the weekend for the Blues, but the information we glean from the midweek match should inform our team selection for the weekend. The Eagles have been great since parting ways with Ian Holloway, tightening up their defense and even beginning to score some goals in the past few weeks, but I don't anticipate them keeping Jose Mourinho's side from taking the three points at home.
Verdict: Invest in Chelsea attackers and defenders. Ward may be a consideration at discount.
Everton v. Fulham
Roberto Martinez has proven time and again this season that he was an excellent choice to replace David Moyes, and last weekend's performance against Arsenal proves he's got his team playing the type of football that results in European football at season's end. Despite Fulham's uptick in form since the arrival of new boss Rene Meulensteen (I'm really enjoying getting to type that name every post), I don't think they will have enough to take down the Toffees.
Verdict: Invest heavily in Everton attackers and defenders. Avoid Fulham defenders, especially.
Two of the surprise teams of the season to date take each other on in Week 16, with both sides competing for the European spots heading into the new year. This should be a tight contest, with both teams high on confidence after taking points off of the Manchester clubs at the weekend. While this should be an exciting match to watch, there are better matches from which to build your Week 16 team.
Verdict: Consistent phantom-point earners like Debuchy (if fit) and Lallana should be your only considerations here.
West Ham v. Sunderland
Despite the calamitous, own-goal filled loss to Liverpool, West Ham have actually been an improved team of late. They still sorely miss Winston Reid at the back, but James Collins has been doing everything in his power to pick up the slack. Sunderland have been much improved of late as well, nearly claiming a point against Tottenham in Week 15. Big Sam's team have a much better defensive record at home, and I expect it to continue despite the pick up in the Black Cats' scoring potential since the return of Stephen Fletcher.
Verdict: This could be a 0-0 or 1-0 result. Invest in defenders from your favored side. I like West Ham in this one.
The Tigers surprisingly have one of the best home records in the league this season and will look to maintain that statistic with the visit of Mark Hughes' Stoke side, who have proven in recent weeks that they can score goals against top sides (looking at you, Chelsea). With Curtis Davies back in the side, the Tigers should be staunch enough to keep out the Potters, barring another 90th minute wonder strike from Oussama Assaidi.
Verdict: Invest in Hull defenders. MacGregor is also a solid cheap keeper option.
In seasons past, this would have been an easy one and we would have loaded up on United attackers like Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. However, Manchester United continues to struggle under the tutelage of David Moyes, and Aston Villa don't appear to be a relegation side so far, despite their star striker Christian Benteke having gone cold after the first few weeks of the season. Paul Lambert's men have been better on the road than at home, though, so United could keep their tenuous hopes of a Top 4 finish alive if they carry on from their Champions League victory midweek.
Verdict: United is quickly becoming this season's Bolton. Don't bet on or against them in this one. Look elsewhere unless you have a strong hunch or have Wayne Rooney at discount.
Norwich v. Swansea
Chris Hughton's side shocked and disappointed many fantasy managers (myself included) with their 2-0 victory over West Brom in Week 15, with Leroy Fer, Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond providing solid attacking returns and John Ruddy making up for the Liverpool debacle with a bevy of saves and a clean sheet to claim the weekly top scorer mantle. Swansea, on the other hand, looked poor against Hull City on Monday, despite the return of fantasy favorite Michu. Exactly which iteration of each side we're treated to on Sunday is up in the air.
Verdict: Redmond and Michu are solid bets, but don't expect a clean sheet from either side.
Tottenham v. Liverpool
This has historically been a fairly even match up, even more so over recent seasons where a healthy rivalry has developed between these two sides due to their interest in the same transfer targets and European aspirations. Liverpool have been in fine form to this point of the season, but now face three of their toughest fixtures away to Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City over the course of their next four matches. Missing Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard, Jose Enrique and potentially Jordan Henderson as well makes a difficult fixture even more challenging, so it will be up to Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho to carry the attack for the Reds. Andre Villas-Boas still seems to be finding his best side, but Spurs have gotten back to winning ways recently and will be looking to push back into the conversation for the Top Four.
Verdict: Hang onto Suarez (you needed convincing, right?) and Coutinho at discount. Consider Spurs attackers if you know who will start. Avoid defenders from both sides.
I'm planning on avoiding the big name players from Arsenal, Man City and Spurs, but am hanging onto Coutinho and Suarez from Liverpool. The remainder of my team will likely be made up from the home teams with the best chances of picking up a victory, including Everton, Chelsea, West Ham and Hull. I'll likely venture away from a player or two depending on Champions League results and Team News later in the week, but my current team is as follows:
Jaaskelainen, Oviedo, C. Davies, Debuchy, Barkley, Oscar, Lampard, Coutinho, Deulofeu, Suarez, Hazard
Bench: Ravel, Ward, Kelly, Gazzaniga
So, which strategy will you go with this week? Let's chat!