By Stuart Thomson
It’s been a funny week in EPL. With gameweeks 30 and 31 crammed into 5 days, there have been shock results, controversial comments and some great FPL performances. As the season draws ever closer to its conclusion, the pressure mounts for EPL managers. For fantasy managers it’s no different with every transfer, captaincy choice or drop having the potential to create a difference in your league—good or bad.
Looking ahead to week 32, there’s another full card of fixtures—some more tempting than others.
Bournemouth vs. Chelsea
After a shock defeat at home to Crystal Palace in week 30, Chelsea will look to build upon their midweek win over Manchester City and prevent their lead at the top from slipping further as they come up against a Bournemouth side that should now be safe from relegation. Having conceded 2 or more goals in 60% of their games this season, Bournemouth could struggle against Chelsea’s dynamic offense. Costa (£10.6m) and Hazard (£10.2m) are the standout FPL performers for Chelsea, but at £6.9m Fabregas provides a great value option with 2 goals and 2 assists in his previous 4 starts. He is a bit of a gamble after largely being used as a substitute this season, but his recent involvement in the first 11 means he’s worth a look.
Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal
After Palace’s shock defeat of Chelsea, which saw both Zaha (£5.7m) and Benteke (£7.1m) provide a goal and assist each, FPL managers have been clamoring to get in the 2 Palace stars but—with their horrendous run of fixtures until the end of the season—you should temper your expectations of both. You don’t necessarily need to start that now though. On paper, this should be tough for Palace but Arsenal have conceded in 6 of their last 8 games in the league and are missing both their first-choice goalkeeper and centre-back. The talented duo of Zaha and Benteke could cause them further problems.
For Arsenal, the only player I really trust is Sanchez, although after 2 consecutive blanks maybe that’s not the best idea. Despite Ozil turning in a goal and assist against West Ham, I wouldn’t count on him for regular returns and the others all have a lot of making up to do before I’d feel comfortable picking any of them again.
Everton vs. Leicester
Jamie Vardy (£10m) continued his strong run of form since Ranieri’s departure with a goal in both of Leicester’s games and is once again becoming a strong attacking option. I would favor him over Lukaku (£10.4m) in this tie, given Lukaku’s blanks in the previous 2 games. In fairness, Lukaku doesn’t usually go on too dry a dry streak, but I expect Leicester to continue their strong form here.
Manchester City vs. Hull
Manchester City have been surprisingly restrained at home this season, exemplified by their top scorer Aguero scoring only 4 of his 15 goals at the Etihad. Hull, however, have the worst defensive record in the league when playing away from home, conceding an average 2.3 goals per game. This should be the perfect opportunity for £12.7m Aguero to boost his goal tally. Selected by 21% of teams, his ownership is far lower than Lukaku (£10.4m, 45%), Costa (£10.6m, 33.3%) and Ibrahimovic (£11.4m, 28%) and could be a difference maker.
Middlesbrough vs. Burnley
Yet to win on the road this season, Burnley have the worst away record in the league. 2nd bottom overall Middlesbrough have scored 1 or less in 25 of their 30 games. I wouldn’t look at this game for attacking options, but defensive options from either side could be useful this week, despite Middlesbrough’s heavy midweek defeat to Hull.
Tottenham vs. Watford
Unbeaten at home this season, Spurs face Watford in what should be a largely one-sided affair. With Harry Kane still missing through injury, the Spurs midfield provides strong options as Alli (£9m), Eriksen (£8.8m) and Son (£7m) see more attacking opportunities.
Troy Deeney got a goal and assist against West Brom in midweek and, at £6.9m, he is the standout budget striker based on current form. However, with 5 of his 8 remaining fixtures against teams in the top 7 he may not get too many more opportunities to put up big numbers. Deeney will find his chances limited against a Spurs defense that has conceded only 8 goals at home this season, and is unlikely to make as big an impact as he has in previous weeks.
Stoke vs. Liverpool
Following Mane’s injury in a heated Merseyside Derby on Saturday, over 400,000 FPL managers have transferred him out, with most opting for Coutinho (now £8.4m) as a replacement. After his match-winning performance last week, Coutinho is a good option in midfield and followed up Saturday’s goal and assist with another goal midweek. At £8.5m, Firmino is also always a good shout and could see a more advanced role with both Mane and Sturridge sidelined. At £6.2m, Origi is a good budget option if he can get regular game time, having scored in Liverpool’s previous two outings.
Quick aside, I’ve seen a few teams this week that have both Coutinho and Firmino. I don’t usually like doubling up on one position from the same team, but this is a super-ballsy move and could pay off big. In reality, it won’t pay off big on a regular basis as the Liverpool midfield is packed with talent and too many hungry mouths to feed, but given their other injuries this is the best time for such a selection.
Sunderland vs. Manchester United
After 2 home draws, Manchester United need to get back to winning ways if they want to seriously push for a Champions League place. Cue bottom-of-the-league Sunderland. Without a win in their last 6, Sunderland look destined to face the drop and under-pressure manager David Moyes won’t be relishing the visit of his old team.
Despite boasting an impressive stat-line, Ibrahimovic hasn’t inspired Manchester United to greatness this year but I expect him to put in a decent shift on Sunday. If ever there was a game for him to strut about like a superstar against mediocre opposition, this would be it.
West Ham vs. Swansea
With 2 of the worst defenses in the league going head to head, this tie could be a goal-fest. With Llorente out for Swansea, the ever-dependable Sigurdsson (£7.8m) is the only real viable option for Swansea. West Ham have their top scorer Antonio (£6.8m) back, while Lanzini (£6.5m) has also been impressive of late. Upfront, Carroll at £6.3m may be the most likely source of goals if he can get the service from midfield.
West Brom vs. Southampton
With neither side being particularly strong in attack or weak in defense, this game doesn’t look like a thriller. Additionally, the absence of Austin and Gabbiadini leaves Southampton without two of their most dangerous attacking options. With this in mind, West Brom defender McAuley (£5.3m) could be a decent option here given his attacking prowess.
Stu’s Gripe of the Week
After Manchester United drew with Everton in midweek, manager Jose Mourinho commented that he expects more from some players. Rightly so, if they’re playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world they should be able to perform at the level required for that and shouldn’t be above criticism. In particular, Mourinho said Luke Shaw still has a lot to learn if he wants to fulfill his potential, as he has talent but not a football brain.
This led to widespread criticism of Mourinho for being too harsh on his players, with pundits saying young players must be encouraged and sometimes just need an arm around their shoulder. Okay, fair enough, young players should be encouraged, absolutely. But let’s talk about the player he mentioned.
Luke Shaw is 21 years old. He’s been playing in the Premier League for 5 years. He’s played for England. He signed for Manchester United for £27m. He gets paid £70k per week. For that sort of money, he has to be willing to listen, learn and improve.
Mourinho commented that too much money is given to young players and they don’t have to work as hard to make a good living. That is spot on. So many young players get lazy and never reach their true potential. Luke Shaw wasn’t bought as a finished article; he was bought as a player with potential. Now, he’s getting the chance to learn and develop under one of the best managers in the world and should be taking all the criticism, feedback and advice that he can.