First XI: Early Week 17 Picks

Jeremy Spitzberg
Football Tipster Matt Nesbitt has finally accepted that Leicester are not going to blow up. He's tipped a win among his penultimate PL Predictions

All the good stuff is in with the picks this week, so we'll forgo the usual preamble and kick on.

1. Luis Suarez - I'll just repeat what I wrote last week in this space: "Set, captain, and forget".

2. Wayne Rooney - I'm not enough of a tactician to understand why David Moyes chose to play Wayne Rooney as an attacking midfielder rather than at forward. The experiment worked, however, and that has to give fantasy managers pause. Is Danny Welbeck the way to go as the Red Devil's host a flailing West Ham United? One swallow doesn't make a spring, as they say, so I'm willing to give Wayne Rooney another chance in my line-up. He did have an assist against Villa and will be on set-piece duty. Also, I don't see it as a long-term change. Shinji Kagawa will be back and Rooney wants to play up front. And an unhappy Rooney can destabalize the whole club - the last thing Moyes needs at this point in his Manchester United tenure.

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Gary Hooper - There are a few good options for the third striker. Doubling up on Manchester United with Danny Welbeck has to be considered. As does keeping faith with Romelu Lukaku. The big Belgian has assisted in each of his last three matches, even if he hasn't scored, and Swansea can be obliging at home. Alvaro Negredo will have to score for Manchester City now that Sergio Aguero is out for a month. There's also Jay Rodriguez, who has scored three in four, and the Saints are hosting a battered, and at this point, manager-less Spurs.

However, I'm going with Gary Hooper. Norwich are in a nice run of matches. Last week I went with Nathan Redmond against Swansea, and he did okay. But it was Hooper, scoring his third goal in four matches (4 in 6), that caught the eye. This week, Norwich are away to Sunderland. Sunderland can play at home on their day. Ask Manchester City. And Norwich can be dire on the road. This is a relegation six-pointer, and I figure there will be goals in it. And on current form, Hooper will be involved.

Theo Walcott - Welcome back, TW14! Two goals, on set pieces, and almost thirty fantasy points against the team that to that point had allowed two goals at home all season! Picking Walcott may be an issue for fantasy managers who are already committed to both Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, but as I don't have the latter, and am happy to put the former on my bench if need be... well, I'm very excited for the TW14 era to resume. Even at home against Chelsea. It will be a difficult match, but we've just seen Walcott shine in the most difficult matchup. And Chelsea's defence isn't water-tight against the likes of Crystal Palace these days (I'm not bitter, as I didn't go overboard and only picked Petr Cech last weekend).

Phillipe Coutinho - Not stellar, but steady. Or at least he was. Coutinho was earning between 8 and 12 fantasy points week in, and week out. But on the week when his team thrashed Spurs 0-5, he only earned 4 fantasy points. He did have chances, however, and Spurs' defence was set in up a way that favoured the running of Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, rather than Phillipe's precise passing. I'm not going to panic, especially with Cardiff City visiting Anfield next. I'm sure Cardiff will be much tougher to break down, and Liverpool will need their playmaker. Check back next week to see if my theory holds.

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Mesut Ozil - I'm such an idiot. After having kept Ozil on the bench for a month, I finally promote him to the starting XI at Manchester City. Unsurprisingly, he turned in his most anonymous performance in a month, and I really should have gone with Ross Barkley instead. Now he gets Chelsea at the Emirates. I'm willing to roll the dice with him one more time, though to be honest, I'm mulling the options. If I can make the money work, the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Nathan Redmond, or Samir Nasri might get in ahead of the German.

David Silva - It was a bit of wait-and-see with Silva as even though Manchester City were at home, they were facing Arsenal. Silva scored the winning goal, but also picked up a yellow card. Now without Sergio Aguero for a month, City will need Silva to step up his play-making and chip in with goals as well, if he can. This week, City are at Fulham. We've all been burned by City on the road against lesser opposition, but I'm likely to not learn from history. At least, I'm likely to believe the City have turned the corner, and I'll expect Silva to play a big part in the match.

Joel Ward - Maybe I can learn from history. After leaving 20-pt scorers Bryan Oviedo and Mathieu Debuchy on the bench over the last two game-weeks, I decided to roll the bones and start Ward against Chelsea. As Matthew Berry writes, "Don't get cute. Play your studs."

Ward rewarded me (see what I did there?), despite playing on the left, with an assist, four fouls won, and five tackles won, for 16 fantasy points. I think his playing on the left to cover for Dean Moxey's injury was a blessing as he wasn't matched up against Eden Hazard all day.

Home against Newcastle United is next, and while I don't expect that kind of performance every week from Ward, his every week performance hasn't been too far off that standard. Joel Ward for England!?!?

Bryan Oviedo - Leighton Baines could be back this week, so just in case I'll need to have a starting defender on the bench. But I'm happy to ride Oviedo as long as I can. I'll be stashing him at around 2 on the bench when Baines returns just in case Moyes comes sniffing around his old left-back in the transfer window.

Mathieu Debuchy - Another solid outing from Debuchy. If he were a midfielder, his 141 points would put him behind only Ramsey, Gerrard, Toure, and Lallana for the season. As it is, he's behind only Kyle Walker and Joel Ward on points. Nothing good happens when I sell or bench him, so I'm not even considering it.

David de Gea - Manchester United have kept consecutive clean sheets last week in the Champions and Premier Leagues. West Ham United will travel to United having scored five goals on the road all season - the worst in the league after Sunderland's amazingly incompetent total of two road goals! This is now a David Moyes team, so I expect them to prioritize a clean sheet, and so De Gea is the clear, if more expensive, pick of the week.

On the bench, I picked up Marc Albrighton and Vincent Kompany. I'm interested to see if Albrighton can earn a regular spot for Villa. If he can, he'll be great value at under 3. Kompany was another barn door pick, but as his price didn't increase, I may wait and see on him. However, I do expect that he'll be a great replacement for Oviedo when the time comes.