Talk about ugly reading. The injury list at PhysioRoom.com is LONG and it doesn't yet include any knocks that might happen for Chelsea, Spurs, and Newcastle on their Europa League adventures tomorrow. It also doesn't include the inevitable doubt at this time of year over rotation and general fatigue (as opposed to actual physical injury). I can see the Barn Door Live chat containing a lot of manager angst this weekend. Fear not though, we'll do our best to take you through it all in an orderly manner so that you end up happy with your team.
First, a note on the Manchester Derby. Recent momentum would have you believe that the big match on Monday at Old Trafford will be a barn burner. Manchester United are rolling to the title and City have started showing signs of the sort of life that got them that same honor last season. In situations like this, my best advice is to be very cautious. I don't KNOW what is going to happen. I've seen goal totals from recent derbies that would lead you to believe that this will be a goalfest with United getting the win. If you believe that then it probably isn't a bad idea to stay away from defenders on both sides and invest in the attackers. If you're not suitably impressed by that sort of analysis then I'd just stay away which is my general rule when teams very close in the standings play each other. I generally stick with my longer term keepers but stay away from making new investments in that match.
Elsewhere, the Spurs vs. Everton match looks similar to me in that Spurs are probably a little better on talent and they're playing at home but Everton are in slightly better form. Not a place to make new investments.
If you're looking for the places to make investments then I'd look at:
Chelsea vs. Sunderland: Sunderland's general rottenness trumps Chelsea's fixture congestion in my book.
Liverpool vs. West Ham: The Hammers' big attacking threat over recent matches - Andy Carroll - isn't eligible to play against his parent club (which may be the most useful thing he's done for Liverpool since moving there) which should put the Reds in the driver's seat in this home match.
Arsenal @ West Brom: The Gunners seem bound and determined to make it an interesting race for 3rd and 4th with Chelsea and Spurs and their performances seem to be on the rise (as they have historically been after all chances for trophies have been squandered). West Brom, on the other hand, only have 11 points in the league since the calendar turned to 2013. Not exactly lighting it up, are they?
Trap Match: I have a bad feeling for managers who are going to get sucked in to Southampton on the backs of big wins over Chelsea and Liverpool. Before you get too excited take a look at how they've done against their fellow relegation strugglers (like this weekend's opponent Reading). Counting backwards from those two big wins we have a nil-nil away draw with Norwich, a 2-1 home loss to QPR, a 4-2 away loss to Newcastle, and a 2-2 away draw with Wigan before you find a 1-0 away win against Aston Villa. I'm not saying that it is necessarily going to be a disappointment but they've shown frequently this year that they can get up for the big matches and punch way above their weight but they can't back that up when the other minnows come to town.
With that little bit of schedule analysis out of the way, here are my picks for the upcoming weekend (again, with the caveat that Europa Cup matches and Friday Team News still lie in our future):
Eden Hazard - I'm going to go on the assumption that Hazard will be playing this league match regardless of what happens with the starting line-up in the Europa Cup. He's picked up where Juan Mata left off in the first half of the season and seems to be the better forward option among Chelsea's attackers.
Demba Ba - With Mata struggling (at least from a fantasy point of view - he's still a very good player), it isn't too big a stretch to think that you might want both Hazard and Ba in your line-up.
Luis Suarez - Yes, a third expensive option but even without scoring last weekend he earned more fantasy points than most of my goalscorers. Imagine if he actually gets a goal this weekend against a weak West Ham team with little to play for at this point in the season.
Jon Walters - Yes, he had a bit of an ugly spell there earlier in the season but if you need an enabler then a guy like Walters with a decent long term track record at home against Aston Villa isn't a bad bet at all.
Papiss Cisse/Yoan Gouffran - This is a bit of a coin flip with Gouffran being significantly cheaper but Cisse having the better record even if he's no where near his standard from last season. I'd pick Cisse over Gouffran if you have the money this week at home against Fulham.
Olivier Giroud - I don't have faith in Gervinho (even at a discount) - especially with Theo Walcott potentially returning to the line-up - so if you're in for one of Arsenal's forwards in a match against an opponent who hasn't been getting many clean sheets, I'd make Giroud your guy.
Callum McManaman - He didn't do much (OK, he didn't do anything) with his start last weekend but he's still your only real starting option for under 3 if you desperately need the money elsewhere and remember this is Wigan's time of year when they save Premier League survival. I don't recommend this highly but if you're in a spot then it's worth thinking about.
Philippe Coutinho - I'm sure you've seen the stats all over the place this week that Coutinho is one goal shy of Stuart Downing's 3 goals and 3 assists in the league despite having played 16 fewer matches. Somehow, his price is still only 10.89 so if you haven't jumped on the bandwagon then I'd suggest you get on board.
Theo Walcott - This one is entirely dependent on the Friday Team News but PhysioRoom.com are reporting that he'll be back by the weekend so I'm going to assume he'll play and replace Gervinho. His points to price ratio is pretty strong right now so there is some potential value here.
Yohan Cabaye - With Gareth Bale's price back in the stratosphere and at least some question about Theo Walcott starting I'd be ready to snap up Cabaye as your "premium" midfielder. As a bonus his price is down slightly coming off of an off week.
Jermaine Jenas - He's had two good matches in his last three and his price isn't out of this world. Call him Coutinho Jr. for the combination of low price and effective performances (and no, I'm not comparing the two in the real world - just for fantasy potential this weekend). If you didn't get on the bandwagon early, there's still time and he'll help you afford others.
Jordi Gomez - Gomez isn't bad when he gets a start but the hesitancy here is that he doesn't start consistently (he's started 10 and come off the bench in 14 this season). This is purely a recommendation based on my sense that Wigan will continue to surge ahead of a schedule that gets tougher starting with Week 33 when they face Manchester City and also includes late-season matches against Spurs, Swansea and at Arsenal.
Sylvain Marveaux - With the manager talking up his importance over the upcoming stretch, he's an enabler in midfield worth considering. It's a risk for sure because he's always an injury waiting to happen but it could pay off as he's been solid when he's gotten a chance to start.
Marc Wilson/Ryan Shotton - Take your pick between the two as affordable ways to get in on a potential Stoke clean sheet against Villa. Neither have a ton of really high end upside but the price isn't bad.
Ryan Bertrand - He looks like a very reasonable option filling in for Ashley Cole at a price of 5.01. With ACole and Cahill both out it may signal a Chelsea defense too weakened to keep the clean sheet but with Sunderland struggling to score goals and Steven Fletcher out, I like the risk/reward proposition here.
Paul Scharner - A frequent name in the recommendations column in recent weeks and still his price hasn't gone up too much despite extremely solid (but definitely not spectacular) fantasy outputs.
Chris Samba - If you're taking the other side of the QPR/Wigan tussle based on the fact that the Rs are at home and even more desperate than Wigan then Samba is a solid value choice.
Lukasz Fabianski - The meaningless Reading goal last weekend prevented Fabianski's price from climbing too high which makes him a very affordable option at 6.17. There's a slight risk that he'll lose his spot but I have to think he and the team have played well enough for him to keep it.
Joel Robles - Still reasonably affordable and playing against QPR - I am getting worried about the number of Wigan recommendations though. Please be judicious, they're still Wigan.
Julio Cesar - As with the defenders, you sort of have to choose which of two bad sides you think is better. Cesar is a) a better keeper and b) cheaper than Robles but I'm not sure I can say I feel better about him given the team around him.
Tim Krul - He's back for the Magpies Europa Cup match and assuming all goes well he should be back for their match at the weekend as well. At 4.48 the only real worry is the rate at which Newcastle have been shipping goals. Fulham on the road might be a tonic for that though.