ROUND 26: FANTASY EPL REVIEW
An efficient round in the Premier League was marked by two events – the outstanding debut for Arsenal’s new boys, and Chelsea’s humiliating defeat at Watford. Let’s start from the beginning. Manchester City’s visit to struggling Burnley was supposed to be a routine one. However, as The Clarets have shown plenty of times this season, they will never give up. The Citizens dominated for 70 minutes, yet managed to score only once – a screaming curler by Danilo. During the second half, Raheem Sterling had a blooper reel miss that saw him substituted. After the 70th minute, Burnley decided it was time to take some risks. Opportunities for goals were exchanged until in the 82nd minute, when a seemingly harmless cross by Lowton was met by a running Gudmundsson, and the score was suddenly even. The final outcome (1-1) doesn’t hurt City too much, but it could do wonders for Burnley’s shaken confidence.
In the afternoon matches, Manchester United defeated Huddersfield 2-0 in the only clean sheet of the round. Pogba was benched as a result of his poor performance in the previous contest, with youngster McTominay taking his place. Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty, but scored on the rebound. Lukaku was the other executor. Bournemouth notched another victory, moving all the way up to 9th. Stoke’s new signing Papa Ndiaye had a great debut, but was outplayed by Bournemouth’s Joshua King, who came in for the injured Cook in the 13th minute and scored the equalizer in the 70th. Frenchman Lys Mousset scored his first ever EPL goal, and it turned out to be the game-winner. Murray, Izquierdo and Gross scored the three goals for Brighton in the home win over West Ham, its first win in the last six Premier League matches. Swansea made it four games without a loss by drawing to Leicester on the road, while Southampton used an excellent ending to the first half and a free kick by Ward-Prowse to ensure a road victory in West Bromwich.
Then came the London derby between Arsenal and Everton. The Gunners looked like a new team on the pitch and showed how good they can be when healthy and happy. Ramsey was the man of the match with a hat-trick. Aubameyang scored a goal on his debut, and the assist came from Mkhitaryan. All in all, it was a day of new hope for Arsenal fans.
We saw two draws on Sunday. Diame’s goal was canceled out by Milivojevic’s penalty in the 1-1 tie between Crystal Palace and Newcastle. Liverpool was at the center of one more entertaining contest, this time against Tottenham. Controversy was not lacking in this one, as The Spurs were given two weak penalties in the closing moments. Kane missed the first, but converted the second one (in the 95th minute) to save a point. Salah was once again the man of the match, scoring both Liverpool goals, the second one of which was a memorable, highlight-reel individual effort. Wanyama’s long-range missile that tied the game was not much worse. Just another day for Jurgen Klopp, who didn’t want to make comments about the refereeing at the end of the contest, saying he would get the largest fine in football history if he were to speak his mind.
Conte’s critics enjoyed Monday, as the Italian had to stand and watch his team suffer a 4-1 defeat in Watford. Two bookings in five minutes for Bakayoko meant the Londoners would have to finish the match with 10 men. The Eagles took the lead through a Deeney penalty kick. The Blues did show resilience and were rewarded when Hazard evened the scoring in the 82nd minute. The joy didn’t last long, as Janmaat, Deulofeu and Pereyra all found the net in a 7-minute span to give Watford the three points. Willian had to be replaced in the 34th minute, whereas Giroud failed to make an impact in his debut, after coming on in the second half as a substitute.
ROUND 26 HIGHEST FANTASY SCORERS
Goalkeepers: Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield), Loris Karius (Liverpool) and David de Gea (Manchester United).
Defenders: Danilo (Manchester City), Federico Fernandez (Swansea), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), Daryl Janmaat (Watford).
Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Arsenal), Pascal Gross (Brighton), Gerard Deulofeu (Watford), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Mario Lemina (Southampton), Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford).
Forwards: Lys Mousset (Bournemouth), Javier Hernandez (West Ham).
ROUND 27: FANTASY EPL PREVIEW
Tottenham vs. Arsenal
– Manchester United, Liverpool, and now Arsenal on the schedule for Tottenham. This is always an exciting match to watch. If The Spurs win, The Gunners will fall seven points behind in the race for 4th place. If the opposite happens, then Arsenal will catch its city rival and be only one point behind. Wenger won the first matchup this season, so Pochettino will be looking for revenge. With a Champions League game against Juventus coming up on Tuesday, there will a lot of pressure brewing in the air at Wembley. I see this finishing as a draw in which both teams score. There are no injury concerns on Tottenham’s side. Cech, Monreal and Welbeck are questionable for Arsenal. Monreal will likely start, whereas Cech’s situation will need to be closely monitored until right before kick-off.
Everton vs. Crystal Palace
– Everton was crushed by Arsenal and looked like a lower-level team. With Roy Hodgson at the helm, Crystal Palace will be playing not to lose, rather than to win, until the end of the season. Including the fact that Everton is the home team, those facts suggest we’re looking at a tied final result. Some changes are to expected in Everton’s starting lineup. Tosun instead of Niasse is one. Calvert-Lewin in the starting eleven is another one. And then perhaps Sigurdsson and Tom Davies start as well. Kelly got replaced by Mamadou Sakho after getting hurt versus Newcastle, and Sakho will now start this match. Zaha is out for at least a month with a knee injury.
Stoke vs. Brighton
– This is a duel of two teams that will be jostling for survival until the last round. Brighton created some breathing room with last weekend’s win. It’s time for Stoke to do the same now. Crouch started over Diouf in The Potters’ loss to Bournemouth, but things should go back to normal on Saturday. There’s potential for a clean sheet for Butland and Stoke’s defenders.
Swansea vs. Burnley
– Despite the absence of a true striker in its starting lineup, Swansea keeps getting results. After victories over Liverpool and Arsenal, and a draw in Leicester, Burnley’s visit (hasn’t won in 9 games), this will be seen as an easier matchup. Trust me, it won’t be. Knowing Burnley’s character, Swansea will have a tough time subduing them. Andre Ayew is healthy, and he could see playing time (if not start) alongside his brother Jordan. Bony’s injury opens the door for Abraham to see some playing time as well. The plethora of injuries won’t allow Dyche to make changes to his side even if he wanted to.
West Ham vs. Watford
– Watford has been the most unpredictable team this season. Deulofeu’s arrival could prove vital for their European ambitions, as he’s the perfect complement for Richarlison. Michail Antonio’s return is a much-needed boost for an injury-plagued West Ham midfield, while Javier Hernandez is showing just how valuable he can be when given the opportunity. I predict a high-scoring encounter.
Manchester City vs. Leicester
– With Mahrez suspended and Okazaki injured, it’ll be up to Iheanacho to come in and step up against his old team. I doubt that the team will allow it to happen. After a frustrating draw at Burnley, City will be firing on all cylinders. I expect at least four goals in Schmeichel’s net, and a great day for all of City’s usual suspects. Laporte will likely get a start ahead of Stones and Kompany.
Huddersfield vs. Bournemouth
– Bournemouth hasn’t lost in seven consecutive contests. Huddersfield has lost its last five EPL games and hasn’t won since mid-December. Both Schindler and Depoitre are questionable for The Terriers, meaning Mounie could start. The form alone makes Bournemouth the favorite on paper. Joshua King, Callum Wilson and Stanislas are the players to own from this matchup.
Newcastle vs. Manchester United
– During the Alan Shearer days, these affairs were always tense, yet The Red Devils seemed to always find a way to come out on top. Nowadays, Newcastle is a team trying to hang on for dear life, while United is still chasing trophies. With Benitez and Mourinho facing off, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another tight battle. However, the usual ending will likely repeat itself. Alexis Sanchez could go on a scoring streak now, as every next game will raise his self-confidence. Also, look for Pogba to be on the pitch when the first whistle blows.
Southampton vs. Liverpool
– This is a matchup with an interesting background story since The Reds have used Southampton as their feeding ground for the past few years. What do I mean by that? Clyne, Lallana, Mane, and now Van Dijk — all former Southampton who joined Liverpool’s ranks. Therefore, this should be yet another breathtaking fixture involving Klopp’s lads. With Joe Gomez questionable, Alexander-Arnold could be in line for another start. I also expect Matip to get the starting nod over Lovren. Van Dijk will be extra motivated, so pay close attention to Liverpool’s corner kicks. Ward-Prowse is beginning to show why he has been heralded as one England’s best youth prospects. Don’t hesitate to add him if he’s still available in your fantasy leagues.
Chelsea vs. West Bromwich
– Chelsea will win. If there were a time and place to start a Chelsea player, this is it. Alonso, Christensen, Pedro, and Barkley are all questionable to play, Morata is doubtful and Bakayoko is suspended. What that means is that Azpilicueta will likely join Rudiger and Cahill as a central defender, with Zappacosta and Moses taking the wings. Drinkwater should replace Bakayoko, Cesc Fabregas will be back in the starting eleven, and Giroud should get his first Chelsea start.