This article is part of our The Armband series.
We made it. By the end of this gameweek it'll officially be the half point of the 2017/18 season. Unfortunately, Manchester City already (almost) have things locked up. But I guess that's why fantasy Premier League exists.
After some disappointing results the previous week, Gameweek 18 was back to normal with all of the top clubs walking away with wins. Outside of my top captain (Alexis Sanchez) and my top differential (Xherdan Shaqiri) not finding the score sheet, everything went to plan. Those who went all in on Crystal Palace and West Ham had even better results. Wait, someone did that?
But while things went great and the average points reached 52 (most since GW12), that probably won't be the case with fixture overload an issue in the coming week. Arsenal, West Ham, Leicester, Man City, Chelsea, Bournemouth and Man United all had midweek matches for the League Cup. Sure, there were some roster changes, but for guys like Gabriel Jesus and Shinji Okazaki, who played 120 minutes Tuesday, making the starting XI is unlikely this gameweek. The Gunners have the worst of it with a dreaded three matches in seven days. Throw in more matches on Boxing Day and there's no question lineups will look different.
Per usual, the first team under the microscope is Man City at home against Bournemouth. With Jesus unlikely to start, Sergio Aguero should be set for a full match up front. He hasn't been as sharp in his last four starts (only one goal), but he's still been plenty active with 18 shots. Kevin De Bruyne has become the easiest City player to trust with a goal or assist in his last five starts. If you prefer upside, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane may be more useful. Sterling is the preferred choice, leading with 11 goals and three assists this season. The Cherries have been stout defensively but have been outscored 5-0 in their last two, leaving defenders like Nicolas Otamendi a possibility for captain, as well.
As for the rest, no other matchup stands out above the rest. Arsenal host Liverpool on Friday, but there's no telling how it will play out. The Reds have scored 14 goals in their last four matches against the Gunners, though it will be hard to bank on that with how Arsenal have dominated at the Emirates this season (24 out of a possible 27 points). That being the case, Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil are both worth a look for the home side and the same goes for the big four at Liverpool. Mohamed Salah is the most consistent with a goal or assist in 12 of his last 14 starts, with Philippe Coutinho the upside play because the last five times he scored, he either added another assist or another goal.
Some will be more keen to back the other three big clubs, albeit all on the road. According to the numbers, Man United have the best matchup with a trip to Leicester. The Foxes played 120 minutes against City on Tuesday and gave up three home goals to Crystal Palace in league play before that. The return of Paul Pogba from a three-match ban is relevant, and he'll be a sneaky captain pick with three goals and seven assists in his eight starts this season. He should also be fairly rested despite playing Wednesday. Romelu Lukaku will be the favorite of the bunch having scored in three of the last four, but he hasn't had more than two shots on goal since September. While he's getting at least one good chance per match, his upside is limited even in a good spot.
Tottenham's trip to Burnley looks good from the outside, but the Clarets have allowed just three goals at home this season. With Spurs having scored just three goals in their last five on the road, they're not the team I'm backing. Harry Kane is always on the list for the armband, but since his early season run on the road, he has just five shots on goal in his last five away from home.
Two weeks ago, Chelsea would've been much easier to back at Goodison Park, but Everton have turned things around and taken points from their last five matches. One of those includes the 1-1 draw in the Merseyside derby. There is plenty of reason to doubt those performances, though it's not like Chelsea are consistent themselves, losing 1-0 at West Ham a little more than a week ago. Alvaro Morata is dealing with a back problem and may not start, while Eden Hazard has been quiet in recent matches, which means it could be his time. Still, he has just one shot on goal in his last four starts, which is on the heels of his brace against Newcastle. Willian would've been a sneaky pick, but I don't think he'll make the starting XI after starting (and scoring) Wednesday.
After Watford's recent loss when they allowed four goals to Huddersfield, it could be worthwhile to back Brighton at home. That said, giving the armband to Pascal Gross or Glenn Murray may not prove to be much fun. Southampton (v. Huddersfield), Stoke (v. West Brom), Swansea (v. Crystal Palace) and West Ham (v. Newcastle) are all in good spots, but finding a captain in that bunch is difficult.
I liked Shaqiri in a similar spot last week and he failed to perform, yet he at least managed six shots and four chances created. In a good spot to turn things around against the Baggies, Shaqiri is still on my radar. Other than that, no one stands out unless Charlie Austin returns to the starting XI; he has 10 shots on goal in his last five appearances with at least 10 minutes played.