FPL Fixtures Analysis Gameweek 21
Welcome to FPL Fixtures Analysis Gameweek 21. After an extended writing break due to the congested schedule, it looks like we can all get back to business as normal. And to kick off said business, we have to look at the best (and worst) schedules coming up. This obviously isn’t completely cut and dry, we are now in the middle of the transfer window – so teams that look a certain way now could certainly improve their lot with a few savvy moves in the coming weeks. And we also have the Africa Cup of Nations depleting several rosters of key players. I’m not sure if AFCON or the MLS gives a bigger middle finger to the norms of global football, but Africa calling up all of their best players in the middle of the season always strikes me as a truly crap thing to do. I’m sure nobody is too broken up about Elmohamady getting called up, but taking out Mahrez, Slimani and Mane from the league is bound to at least affect a few FPL squads, not to mention affect how more than a few fixtures shake out.
Truly, no matter how you look at it, this is a turbulent time in the league. And for that reason it’s often one of the favorite phases of the league for fans everywhere. Unless you’re one of those people who already had 3 Chelsea players… and also owned Nathan Ake, then maybe having your next transfer dictated to you is a bummer. When doing this article, we always look at the next 3 matches as part of a set of good or bad fixtures, so just keep in mind that these picks might be a little more fluid than normal depending on how these clubs choose to spend in this window. And with all of that being said to completely negate my personal responsibility for any bad picks I might make, let’s commence with the advice.
The Tracker in full…
Top 3 Best Bets
#1) Arsenal – SWA (A), BUR (H), WAT (H)
Even if Arsenal sold 50% of their roster, this would still be an amazing run of fixtures for them. And who knows, they might sell 50% of their roster because Arsene Wenger treats player contracts like they will be paid out of his personal retirement budget. And we’re also in the latest drama saga of Alexis Sanchez being not happy with the club…except this year there’s Chinese money floating around out there that could seriously change the way his next contract gets negotiated – which in turn, could affect how much effort he puts into playing. Arsenal are maybe just a player or two away from being the best team in the league – but in their own special way, they’re also in the position of losing out and having to scrap for that 4th spot in the table by year’s end.
But let’s assume that they keep the key players they need to keep, and this roster remains stable and prosperous: in that scenario, this set of fixtures is an easy 9 points. Swansea just got themselves a rare win in their last match – but that was against 17th place Crystal Palace, and I guess somebody will think that counts for something. I do not. Burnley have 2 wins in their last 5 matches, but those were against Sunderland and Middlesbrough. But in their last 5 matches they’ve also played against bigger clubs: Man City, Tottenham and West Ham (meh, WHU are bigger than Sunderland and Middlesbrough). All of those games resulted in losses for Burnley, and they won’t have the goods to topple Arsenal either. Finally, Watford are quietly going through a serious downturn in quality – you have to go back six matches to their last win (Dec. 10 vs Everton). In the five games since their last win, they’ve been shutout 3 times and have only put through 2 total goals. Even with Arsenal seemingly willing to always spot their opponents at least a goal to keep things interesting, this game shouldn’t be an issue for them either. Like I said, if they maintain their status quo here, 9 easy points.
#2) Chelsea – LEI (A), HUL (H), LIV (A)
The league leaders finally saw their epic run come to an end in their last match, and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. But in no way does this diminish their chances of starting a new streak and maintaining peak fantasy value in all facets of the game. If you look at this run of fixtures and think that they’re primed for attacking points, you’d be correct. And if you look at this same set of fixtures and think that defence is going to yield points, you’d also be correct. This Chelsea squad is superb top to bottom, and there isn’t a bad move to be made when owning their players – Nathan Ake now withstanding, of course.
It should also be noted that Chelsea aren’t losing any players to AFCON, and their next opponent, Leicester, are tied for a league-high 3 players getting called up. Leicester are losing Mahrez, Slimani and Amartey. Now you may not think that losing a player like Amartey is a big deal (and in FPL terms you’d be correct), but he’s a nailed on midfielder for Leicester and they’ll now be forced to make some serious wholesale changes to the way they operate. And when you have to make major changes, playing a team like Chelsea isn’t a great way to test out a new formula. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Chelsea notch 3+ goals against a team in flux like this.
Hull City are losing 2 players to AFCON, and what can we say? That might be an improvement. When a team is in last place though, you typically don’t worry about how they’ll play against the team in first place. This game is going to be an absolute thrashing for Hull. And finally, we have Liverpool to consider. They are losing Sadio Mane to AFCON, but they have enough coverage to compensate. I guess it just depends on which Liverpool shows up to the match. Will it be the Liverpool team that recorded a shutout against Man City? Or will it be the Liverpool that conceded 2 to Sunderland in the following match? I put it at a 50/50 shot that Chelsea get a win outright. But the worst I see them doing is getting a draw, hard to see a loss there.
#3) Manchester United – LIV (H), STK (A), HUL (H)
Maybe you all aren’t familiar with Al Davis in the UK. Al Davis was the owner of the Oakland/LA Raiders before he died. Towards the end of his life, he became a caricature of himself, almost a walking skeleton with slicked hair. But that’s neither here nor there. Al Davis gave one of the most famous football quotes/philosophies that endures to this day: “Just win baby”. And I kind of think that’s the mode that Man Utd are in right now. United, kind of like the Raiders of yore, aren’t the most balanced or complete team in the league right now. They don’t have the top-to-bottom polish that Chelsea have. They don’t have that stable midfield full of nailed-on starters like Arsenal or Liverpool. But they have found a way to just win, baby.
Now, I begrudgingly admit all of this. In the States, we were all indoctrinated early on in our discovery of the Premiership that choosing Man Utd as your club meant that you were a front-running, bandwagoning tool of a football fan. And by no means am I a Jose Mourinho fan, but we’ve been through all of that. But somehow, someway, Man United are winning games, and credit must be given where it’s due. Whether scoring goals late or finally subbing on Juan Mata, United have found a way to win. And their 6 game win streak is a testament to that.
Now will they struggle against Liverpool on Sunday? Like I said above, it depends on which Liverpool team shows up, but I think most would agree we’re going to get goals on both sides in that match. As for Stoke, they’ve got a bit of an inferiority complex as of late. They do well against smaller clubs, but when the big boys come around, they fold up like a cheap lawn chair. Just look at their recent losses to Liverpool and Chelsea; they were outscored by a total of 8-3 combined in those matches, whereas they pretty well held their own against clubs of lesser stature. And finally, Hull coming to town should be an easy victory for United. It’s hard to see anything but an easy 3 points there.
3 Teams To Avoid
#1) Hull City – BOU (H), CHE (A), MUN (A)
Fair warning: Hull are going to be taking this spot for the foreseeable future. I know that we just focus on the next three matches here, but you can see for yourself what’s on the horizon for this club. Normally, just having to play Chelsea and United in back to back away matches would be trouble enough – but then to have to follow that up with Liverpool and Arsenal too? What kind of state of mind must those Hull players be in right now? They are already in last place. They have no buffer points to fall back on to try to survive this stretch of schedule. And in all reality, if they don’t get some wins soon, they’ll be looking at relegation before February is even closed out. It’s a tough spot to be sure, and as soon as the mood sours for good with this club, they’ll be a weekly favorite to lose.
#2) Swansea – ARS (H), LIV (A), SOU (H)
You have to tip your hat to the Swans for getting the win last week. But like I said, if the 19th place team beats the 17th place team, it doesn’t count for anything in my book. Sure, they gutted out a slim win against Crystal Palace, but this schedule has nothing good for them. A new coach is in place for Swansea, and that might cause an uptick in effort from players looking to garner favor – but what are they really going to do? This team is poorly assembled, and it’s not got the talent (outside of Sigurdsson) to play at the level of the league they’re in. I don’t know, if I’m being generous, I can give them a chance at a point in the Southampton game, but that’s about it.
#3) Leicester – CHE (H), SOU (A), BUR (A)
I hate to keep picking on Leicester this week, but I just think that they’re losing to much to AFCON to be a viable team this month. And it’s not like they were exactly tearing up the league this year before they lost these players. The Chelsea game isn’t going to go well for them, just too much change against the best opponent the league has to offer. And Leicester have had nothing to offer fans when they travel to play away this year. Even the simplest of games get mucked up when the Foxes have to travel, and I can’t even give them the nod to draw against Burnley right now. Especially if you’re best player is gone? It’s even that much more difficult. 0 points for Leicester over the next 3 matches, that’s what I’m thinking.
One Week Punt
West Ham – CRY (H)
It seems like West Ham often occupy a spot here on this article – but in all fairness, the only thing you’d use West Ham for is when you’re in a pinch trying to rotate out a player for just a short time. Nobody on West Ham is worth a look as a long term option, not even Payet (in my personal opinion). But for a one week shout against a lesser club? Yeah, that could do the trick for a differential.
And really, this pick has more to do with their opponent, Crystal Palace, than it has to do with West Ham. Palace haven’t won a road game since September 24th (a 3-2 game that saw them take down the juggernauts that are Sunderland). So really, when a team proves that they can’t compete on the road, taking their opposition on a lark isn’t really that risky. Again, as a one week differential that you might need as an edge for your Cup match, West Ham might be just what you need. As for a long term option, you’ll have to look elsewhere.