There haven't been any games in the Spanish top flight since Dec. 23, but La Liga finally gets back underway on Thursday!
The schedule this week is a little quirky. Real Madrid and Villarreal will play twice because their matchup in the last round was postponed due to Real Madrid's participation in the Club World Cup -- which they won.
This means you'll probably want to stack your fantasy team with plenty of Real Madrid and/or Villarreal players this week. After all, an extra game means an extra opportunity to accumulate points. It makes perfect sense, right?
Well, no. At least, not at Tier 1 forward. Lionel Messi has been so good this season that I'd rather have him for just one game, than either Real Madrid's Karim Benzema or Villarreal's Gerard Moreno for two contests.
Messi is averaging 28-plus fantasy points per game, and nobody else is putting up as many as 17 fantasy points per game. What's more, Benzema and Moreno have two of the three lowest averages in this tier -- at 11.8 and 9.6 points per game, respectively. Double those totals, and even Benzema is still well behind Messi's average for a single match.
Look, I wouldn't blame you if you took a chance on Benzema. Real Madrid is a solid favorite in both of their games, playing at 18th-place Villarreal on Thursday, and then hosting 15th-place Real Sociedad on Sunday. Still, Benzema has only scored six league goals this season, and only one in his past six games if you include the Champions League. He's also 31 years old, and manager Santi Solari may choose to rotate him out of the starting lineup for one of these games, given the short turnaround.
Messi has scored 15 league goals and, by the way, he also leads the league in assists with 10. Barcelona has been made a pretty heavy favorite by the bookmakers, despite playing at seventh-place Getafe. I'm going with Messi, and will make him my captain as well.
Picking Messi doesn't mean I won't try to take advantage of the extra game this week. In fact, I'm still planning to have three Real Madrid players on my team.
Let's start at Tier 1 midfielder, where I'll be going with Gareth Bale. Teammate Toni Kroos is actually averaging more points on a per-game basis, but Bale has a much bigger upside. True, Bale has only has four goals in 14 La Liga appearances so far this season, but has scored three times in five Champions League appearances. He also is fresh off a hat trick in the Club World Cup semifinals against Kashima Antlers. As long as Bale starts on Thursday, he will be in my lineup.
Sergio Ramos is currently No. 5-overall in fantasy points, averaging nearly two points more per game than any other defender. He remains on penalty kicks, and scored a goal from open play in the Club World Cup final against Al Ain. Ramos will be my Tier 1 defender.
The riskiest proposition is going with Thibaut Courtois at goalkeeper. He's nowhere near the top of the list at his position in terms of points per game, and goalkeeper is the one spot where you can routinely finish with negative points. However, Courtois has posted a clean sheet in each of his last three league games, and seven of his last 11 matches across all competitions.
Real Sociedad and Villarreal are both in the midst of very disappointing seasons, having only scored 18 and 17 goals, respectively. As such, Courtois could deliver a very big fantasy point total this week. Sure, he also could do serious damage to your score if he has two poor games -- but I don't think that's likely, given the opponents he's facing.
If one of Real Madrid's games were against another top team, I'd probably play it safe and choose someone else. However, in this case, I think Courtois is worth the risk.
Cristhian Stuani, Girona (Tier 2 forward): Stuani is tied for second in the league with 11 goals, along with Luis Suarez. Girona is playing away from home, but will visit Levante, a side which has conceded 32 goals in 17 games. Only Huesca (34) has conceded more -- and 19 of those goals have come when playing at home.
Giovani Lo Celso, Real Betis (Tier 2 midfielder): Lo Celso didn't score in Real Betis' most-recent game, but he had scored goals in four of their previous five league games. He also took their most recent penalty kick, although he failed to convert it. Regardless, he will be up against the worst defensive team in the league -- Huesca, as mentioned above.
Cristian Tello, Real Betis (Tier 3 midfielder): Tello has only started four league games this season, yet has already accumulated one goal and five assists -- including an assist in Real Betis' most-recent game and a goal in the game prior to that. He's averaging 14.3 fantasy points as a starter, and will be in my lineup if he starts against Huesca.
Bernardo Espinosa, Girona (Tier 2 defender): Bernardo continues to lead the league in clearances. He now has 130 -- a good 20 more than any other player. He also delivered his first goal of the season in Girona's 1-1 draw with Getafe last matchweek, nearly adding a second goal in that game, as well.