FPL Fixtures Analysis Gameweek 34
Welcome to FPL Fixtures Analysis Gameweek 34. We’re finally coming down to the end of the season. And I have to admit, it’s been a pretty good year to this point. With only 5-6 games remaining for most teams, we still don’t know who the winner of the league will be. We don’t yet have a definitive Top 4. And the relegation battle still includes 6-7 candidates. All in all, there’s a reason to still watch every weekend, and that’s always a plus. Also, with a few exceptions, mostly every team is still playing for something – and being motivated to play until the very last game makes picking a fantasy squad just a bit easier.
The only problem with getting on towards the end of the year, at least from a fixtures standpoint, is the inevitable congestion in the schedule. Some teams will play in a DGW and absolutely crush it. And other teams might treat a DGW like the MLS does and completely rotate the squad. It’s hard to predict how a team will set their lineups in these cases, and for that I’m glad that I’m not the tips writer. If you told me to find a set of players that are ‘rotation proof’, I’d probably fail miserably. But…I only put one team with a DGW into my Best Bets, so I might fail miserably anyway.
The Tracker in full…
Top 3 Best Bets
#1) Manchester United – BUR (A), MCI (A), SWA (H), ARS (A)
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In your mind, before you select your Man United players (because we all know you will), put an asterisk next to those picks. The upside is obvious: four games in three weeks with two of the games coming against Burnley and Swansea. The asterisk will simply serve to remind you that three of those four games are going to be on the road – and that’s just a tough ask for anybody.
There is a bit of good news here though, and that’s the fact that Man United haven’t actually lost on the road since October 23 (away to Chelsea). For as up and down as United have been this year, they’ve been remarkably good at gutting out results on the road. They really haven’t had to go up against the likes of City and Arsenal in that span since the Chelsea loss, but fair play to them for doing what’s necessary against the teams they should beat. Also, after avenging the Chelsea loss over the weekend, dare we say that United might be coming into a bit of good form? Well, maybe that specific lineup they put out is in good form, but good luck seeing the same XI from United on a week to week basis.
There’s a lot to like about United going into this series of games. Injuries to Rooney, Mata, Jones and Smalling will actually help in picking a more consistent side. And for all of the defensive rotation they’ve been subject to, United have somehow become the second-best defence in the league. They’ve allowed 24 goals on the year which only trails Tottenham for the league lead.
I know, right? Completely surprised me too.
There will always be those frustrating elements about United (or any Mourinho coached team) that can completely sink your fantasy squad though. Ibra wasn’t a starter this past weekend, and United still won against Chelsea. Somehow Fellaini is now a 90-minute starter whilst Mkhitaryan rides the pine for long stretches. That’s neither here nor there – the fact remains that United have found some form with some strange combinations, and their record on the road suggests that they’ll continue having success during this stretch.
#2) Bournemouth – MID (H), SUN (A), STK (H)
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Sure, they don’t have a DGW in either this week or GW36 – but this schedule is still pretty good. People are probably down on Bournemouth right now after disappointing outings in their last couple of matches, but you have to put those matches into context. Bournemouth got handled by Chelsea and Tottenham in back to back games. Fact is, most teams would get handled under those same conditions, so I can forgive them that.
This really is the Bingo Bango pick of the week though. Two home games out of their next three matches? Bingo. Sunderland in their schedule? Bango. And it’s not like Stoke are even much of a worry yet. Stoke may have gotten over on Hull City last weekend, but they were still losers in the previous four matches prior to that. So they have a lot to do to prove they’re a club to be feared for a team like Bournemouth. And Bournemouth should be going into that Stoke game with some positive momentum after playing the bottom two teams in the table.
If the goal to avoid relegation is 40 points on the year (at least that’s what Football Manager is constantly telling me), Bournemouth will be keen to hit that mark as soon as possible. They’re currently on 35 points and have only 5 games remaining in their season. And as everybody knows, it really doesn’t get any easier than playing Middlesbrough and Sunderland, so I’d expect them to throw out all the stops to secure those points as soon as possible.
#3) Chelsea – SOU (H), EVE (A), MID (H)
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In a surprise and welcome twist, the title race is now back on. Whereas Chelsea used to have such a commanding lead in the table that we worried that they wouldn’t have any motivation to play hard late in the year, they’re now in that precarious position of having just a four point lead over Tottenham, and both teams have just 6 games remaining. So the title really is up for grabs again, and Chelsea will need to do everything possible to maintain their advantage.
And that really is good news for fantasy managers who need motivated players. The two home games that Chelsea have here should be wins. Southampton still haven’t gotten back to the levels they played at when Gabbiadini was fully fit, and Middlesbrough are the Pepsi to Sunderland’s Coca Cola. I’d like to be an optimist here to think that Everton would beat Chelsea, but that’s being a bit too speculative. Chelsea are better than Everton, and if they play their best game, they will secure the result.
Chelsea really have some work to do to maintain the image of being the best overall team in the Premier League. They’re now ranked 3rd in both offence and defence, and unlike Tottenham, they’re now prone to stumble in spots you’d really expect them to simply dominate. But it’s still too early to panic for this club. They’re professionals and this isn’t their first rodeo. I’m expecting them to bounce back in a big way and push this title race all the way to the end.
Notes on the other DGW teams
I’m sure many people would disagree with my list above seeing as it only has one team that has a DGW in the coming weeks. But like I’ve said so many times, this is a fixtures article, not a tips article. Having four difficult games instead of just three doesn’t make things better for a team given the criteria I’m supposed to work with. So just to be sure that I’m being thorough, here’s a bit on every team that has a DGW coming up, along with the reasons why I left them out of the ‘Best Bets’ list.
Arsenal – LEI (H), TOT (A), MUN (H) & SOU (A) – DGW36
If we paired up the Leicester and Southampton games with just one of their other matches, things would’ve looked better for Arsenal. But having to go up against the 1st and 2nd best defences in the league in back to back games is going to be tough. Also, the last time period that we can really say Arsenal were in good form was probably January – they haven’t had back to back wins since defeating Swansea and Burnley on the 14th and 22nd of that month. They’ve shown a bit of brilliance in patches this Spring, but they remain a disjointed mess. And as such, I can’t advocate them being a good buy based on the fixtures they have coming up.
Crystal Palace – LIV (A) & TOT (H), BUR (H), MCI (A) – DGW34
Palace very nearly made my list this week as having a good shot at getting some points from this stretch. They’re coming off wins over Chelsea and Arsenal in recent weeks and look to be finding another gear. But if we’re being honest, outside of the Burnley game, Palace are going to be facing three teams in the current Top 4, and what can we really expect from any club under such circumstances? Regardless of how you feel about potential minutes or scoring chances for this team, this would still be a horrendous schedule for any club to have. Simply compacting the games into a DGW doesn’t make it any more appealing.
Middlesbrough – BOU (A) & SUN (H), MCI (H), CHE (A) – DGW34
I’m a bit tired of beating up on Middlesbrough. They’re just not any good, are they? They have the absolute worst scoring record in the league, and unless Sunderland allow them 5 goals (it could happen), they’ll probably end the year that way. This team is in no way equipped to play City and Chelsea in back to back weeks – and the fact that they have a DGW this week doesn’t make any part of this schedule more appealing. They might draw with Sunderland as their silver lining, and both clubs probably deserve as much.
Southampton – CHE (A), HUL (H), LIV (A) & ARS (H) – DGW36
Southy also nearly made my cut this week seeing as how they just now got their main striker back – and if their brief history with him holds true, they’ll play better when he’s up to full match fitness. The Chelsea game will probably not go well for Southampton. Chelsea will be looking to immediately correct what went wrong in Manchester. But there will be some scoring chances in the Hull and Liverpool games. And Arsenal at home is probably a 50/50 shot at a result. Again, all of this depending on whether or not Gabbiadini stays fit.