Injuries and suspensions have fantasy managers poring over each and every possible rotation risk as we enter a period of games which will effectively make or break most seasons.
Get it right and Christmas could be the cornerstone to a strong finish, but get it wrong and it will effectively end all your hopes of success.
Games come fast and plentiful so use the next few weeks wisely. Prepare your squad to cope with the demands of a hectic Festive fixture period. Consider options, back-up and try to maintain a strong bench. At no other point throughout the course of a season does it become more apparent. Prevention is key in helping to minimise the damage caused by unexpected player absences, illness, suspensions and injury.
Do the work and reap the rewards. Ho Ho Ho.
Stoke City – vs – Manchester City
Peter Crouch will miss between 2-4 weeks after tweaking his hamstring during the opening exchanges of Tuesday nights’ Capital One quarter final win over Sheffield Wednesday. Peter Odemwingie is suffering from a similar problem. Glen Johnson is expected to be fine after he was replaced by Phil Bardsley as a precaution, although the former Black Cat remains on standby. Ryan Shawcross is available having sat out of the match after collecting two yellow cards at the Stadium of Light - he should return to partner Philipp Wollscheid. Marc Muniesa has recovered from a muscular problem but Shay Given [knee] remains a long-term absentee.
Manuel Pellegrini has struggled to manage an ever-growing injury list all season, which has seen 37 players pass through the treatment room since the opening day. The latest additions include Yaya Toure and Patrick Roberts while Sergio Aguero is still struggling with heel pain and won’t be considered. Fernando and Jesus Navas come back into the reckoning having recovered from knocks. Wilfried Bony is expected to lead the City attack with Demichelis and Otamendi partnered in the heart of defence. Kompany and Zabaleta could be another 2-weeks and Mangala begins a one match ban. Joe Hart is back after missing the last two games with a hamstring issue and the fit-again David Silva should link up with Kevin de Bruyne.
Southampton – vs – Aston Villa
Southampton will be looking to bounce straight back following Wednesdays’ drubbing in the cup by Liverpool. The Saints started brightly enough – scoring within 40 seconds – but lacked concentration as Sturridge and Origi ran rampant. Koeman made five changes for the game but the Dutchman may revert back to the side which started at The Etihad. Jose Fonte [gashed knee] trained on Friday and should OK. Graziano Pelle is available following his suspension which could see Shane Long drop deeper despite his goal last weekend.
Jack Grealish has been banished from the first team squad following his post-Everton antics and Remi Garde is in no mood to forgive the youngster just yet. Micah Richards is a doubt. The Villa skipper injured his knee against Watford and the defender has been unable to take part in training – he faces a late test. Joleon Lescott is being readied and Jores Okore could be in line for his first start since May with Ciaran Clark suspended. Gabby Agbonlahor [calf] has re-joined the group and will be considered but Tiago Ilori and Jose Crespo are still unavailable [fitness].
Swansea City – vs – Leicester City
A strange occurrence at Swansea as Garry Monk confirmed defender Franck Tabanou would be out for a “few weeks” after suffering a thigh injury in training. The Jacks had been able boast a clean bill of health for nearly a month. Jonjo Shelvey is back after his suspension but following a solid performance at Anfield changes may be kept to a minimum. Gylfi Sigurdsson was recalled in the absence of the England international.
An ankle injury will keep Ritchie de Laet out for up-to a month. The Leicester defender was injured in training on Wednesday and Danny Simpson looks nailed to keep the right-back spot for the remainder of the year. Matty James stepped up his recovery from a long-term knee injury [ruptured ACL] on Wednesday night. The midfielder played an hour for the development side and is targeting a first team return in January. Jamie Vardy will become the first top flight player since 1930s to score in twelve consecutive games after equalling Ruud van Nistelrooys’ record against Manchester United in game week fourteen.
Watford – vs – Norwich City
Heurelho Gomes will be given every chance after the veteran goalkeeper was stretchered off at Villa Park. The 34-year-old was given the all-clear following a clash with teammate Craig Cathcart [suspected concussion] but missed a few days of training due to a stiff neck. A late decision will be made by the medical team. Quique Flores confirmed that Valon Behrami will miss out again due to a knee injury while Sebastian Prodl [calf] is training but won’t be considered. Adlene Guedioura has a minor niggle but should be fine. Joel Ekstrand is closing in on his return. "Every day we monitor his recuperation. We have to manage his situation.”
Alex Tettey will try to force his way into the thinking of Alex Neil, but after an excellent performance at home to Arsenal, the Scotsman could keep faith in the majority of the players who started that game. One potential switch may involve Nathan Redmond and Wes Hoolahan. Of the 10-games Hoolahan has started this campaign, only three have been away from Carrow Road while five of Redmonds’ 8-starts have been at away grounds. Matty Jarvis [knee ligaments] is hoping to be back before the turn of the year.
Arsenal – vs – Sunderland
Theo Walcott "might be back" on Saturday but Laurent Koscielny is better placed and "could play." Kieran Gibbs has recovered from a minor calf strain and will be added to the Arsenal squad. Wenger confirms Alexis Sanchez suffered a hamstring tear at Norwich and the Chilean is expected to miss up-to a month. Santi Cazorla could be out until March "it is possible, but we won't know until he has seen the specialist." Aaron Ramsey will play in a more central role "It is a good opportunity for him." Coquelin, Welbeck and Rosicky remain out until 2016 but Jack Wilshere is close although he may struggle to feature before Christmas.
Sunderland will be looking to make it three wins on the bounce but the Black Cats face a tough challenge at The Emirates. Sam Allardyce has hinted that enforced changes could alter his formation. Jermain Defoe and Seb Larsson will sit this one out due to respective hamstring and knee injuries. Defoe could be back for the visit of Watford in game week sixteen but Larsson is a concern having met with a specialist in Spain this week to assess his knee ligament injury. Jack Rodwell has returned to training but lacks fitness and won’t be considered. Duncan Watmore looks primed for a start following his impressive display from the bench against Stoke, but the youngster will face stiff competition from the fit-again Fabio Borini. In midfield Jordi Gomez, Adam Johnson, Ola Toivonen and Jeremain Lens will fight it out for a place in the starting line-up.
West Brom – vs – Tottenham
Claudio Yacob will miss out through suspension [five yellow cards] but Chris Brunt will return to the squad following his one game ban. "There are one or two knocks and niggles which need to be assessed," confirmed Tony Pulis. Jonny Evans is one of those who will be checked. The former Man United defender is “still feeling his foot a little bit, but we're hoping he'll be OK.” Ben Foster remains on the sidelines but the goalkeeper is close to a return.
Ryan Mason has not recovered sufficiently from the ankle injury which forced him off last Sunday. The injury is not thought to be serious and the Tottenham midfielder could be back in training late next week. Nacer Chadli and Nabil Bentaleb are very close to re-joining the main group but neither will be considered until their fitness levels improve. Dele Alli looks set to return to the starting line-up having missed the draw with Chelsea through suspension.
Manchester United – vs – West Ham United
Marcos Rojo is ruled out after dislocating his shoulder in training. An exact time frame on his recovery is not yet known as he may require surgery. As a guide the Argentine could miss up-to a month without going under the knife, however, you could double that [at least] if Rojo has the operation. Wayne Rooney is also out. He suffered a “nasty” ankle injury at the King Power which is “more serious than we thought." Jesse Lingard returns to pressure Juan Mata but Phil Jones and Ander Herrera are still not ready. Louis van Gaal is likely to stick with the same 3-5-2 formation which dominated possession [69%] against Leicester. Paddy McNair, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind are the defensive three while Memphis Depay could support Anthony Martial in attack.
Diafra Sakho will have thigh surgery on Saturday and the 25-year-old will be missing for around 3-months. Enner Valencia is “progressing well” from a high ankle sprain and is hoping to be back before Christmas. Nikica Jelavic is itching for his chance having spent most of the season on the bench while Andy Carroll is another option. Mark Noble and James Collins return to the West Ham squad after completing their respective bans.
Chelsea – vs – AFC Bournemouth
Despite the early optimism, John Terry will miss out having failed to recover from the ankle sprain he picked up in Tel Aviv. Gary Cahill will continue to partner Kurt Zouma in the heart of defence. No Ramires or Radamel Falcao either, as the pair struggle to overcome muscular problems. Thibaut Courtois is available for the visit of Bournemouth and Mourinho hinted that the goalkeeper could be in line for an instant recall. Loic Remy is available after missing the draw at Spurs to attend the birth of his child. Nemanja Matic will be considered despite a double fracture of the nose. “He has a mask, he feels comfortable and he's ready," said Mourinho. Diego Costa has been "very good" in training but "I cannot say" whether he will start on Saturday.
Eddie Howe refuses to be drawn on his sides’ goalkeeping crisis but he did reveal that Adam Federici will miss out due to an ankle ligament strain. Artur Boruc [knee] also remains a major doubt. The Poland international is rumoured to need surgery to remedy a niggling knee complaint but he could delay going under the knife. Ryan Allsop is lined up for his first Premier League start while youngster Jordan Holmes has been recalled from his recent loan spell at Weymouth. Marc Pugh is still not fit as he continues to struggle with an Achilles problem but the midfielder is running outside. “Hopefully he is not too far away." Steve Cook could make way for Adam Smith who grabbed his first ever top flight goal during the comeback against Everton. Harry Arter - who tweaked his hamstring in the same game – is a doubt due to illness and injury. Lee Tomlin [groin] and Tokelo Rantie [personal] should be added to the Cherries’ squad.
Newcastle United – vs – Liverpool
Newcastle recalled defender Mike Williamson from his loan spell at Wolves after Jamal Lascelles picked up a hamstring injury. However, the defender [who was surplus to requirements at the start of the campaign] is now a major doubt himself due to a muscular problem. Fabricio Coloccini must prove his credentials during his side’s hour of need. A groin problem will keep Cheick Tiote out which means Vernon Anita and Jack Colback will occupy holding roles in midfield. Mitrovic was an unused substitute at Selhurst Park last weekend as Papiss Cisse made a rare start, but following an embarrassing [5-1] defeat, Steve McClaren is expected to make wholesale changes.
Jürgen Klopp insists Liverpool will take no risks with the fitness of Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian playmaker stepped up his recovery from a minor hamstring pull but complained of discomfort in training and is expected to miss the trip to St James’ Park. Daniel Sturridge grabbed 2-goals on his [latest] comeback on Wednesday to help secure a Capital One semi-final berth while forgotten forward Origi grabbed a hat-trick. However, Firmino and Benteke were unused substitutes on the night and the pair are favourites to lead the attack. Lucas is available after completing a one match ban.
Everton – vs – Crystal Palace
Leighton Baines made his long awaited return at The Riverside [Middlesboro] on Tuesday but Roberto Martinez will see how the left-back reacts before deciding on his involvement. The Spaniard suggested that the 30-year-old would need more time before he is ready to complete 90-minutes. Brendon Galloway should keep his place and the Toffees boss has no qualms about playing the defender. “He was a young man when he played last season - now he is a player who can play against anyone." James McCarthy is a major doubt following a hip flexor problem at Bournemouth. Tyias Browning will be out until 2016 having undergone [knee] surgery while Bryan Oviedo and Steven Pienaar both lack fitness.
Alan Pardew confirmed that Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh [both hamstring] will be available for the trip to Goodison Park. However, Wilfried Zaha is suspended [five yellows] and his obvious replacement - Bakary Sako – is still recovering from a hamstring strain. Other from the bench include – Mile Jedinak, Patrick Bamford and Chung-Yong Lee.