FPL Preview – Week 34

Image: Jamie Vardy of Leicester; photo courtesy of www.dailystar.co.uk

By Stuart Thomson

This week’s Premier League fixtures don’t look to provide too much scope for big point scores as top teams mostly face each other, while the bottom teams square off amongst themselves to try and climb the table and gain an advantage over their relegation rivals. With few strong favorites and so much at stake for many teams, this week may not yield the highest fantasy returns, but it does bring double gameweeks for Man Utd, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace. If you can get the right players from these teams, this would provide a massive boost as the season draws closer to its conclusion.

Arsenal vs Leicester

Arsenal returned to winning ways against Middlesbrough and Sanchez (£11.6m) finally got back on the scoresheet with a well-placed freekick. This provided some optimism that he can continue to produce ahead of Arsenal’s double gameweeks in weeks 36 and 37. Aside from this goal though, he wasn’t at his best and his current wide role in the team is still limiting his fantasy value. Elsewhere, Oxlade-Chamberlain (£5.8m) looked dangerous on the wing and could pose a threat if Leicester open up and attack, but with only 1 start in the last 4 games, he’s a high risk option.

With Arsenal conceding 12 goals in their last 6 PL games, targeting opposition attackers isn’t a bad move. Add into the mix that this week Arsenal face an improved Leicester side—and an in-form Jamie Vardy— and I’m totally on board. Vardy (£10m) has 6 goals and 3 assists in his last 7 PL games. His pace, movement and work rate will trouble Arsenal’s defense and he should be able to find some opportunities here.

Bournemouth vs Middlesbrough

After a thrashing from Spurs last week, Bournemouth will relish the visit of 2nd bottom Middlesbrough, as they aim to secure Premier League survival. Josh King (£6m) will look to add to his impressive goal tally of 13 for the season. Registered in FPL as a midfielder, King has been deployed mainly as a striker recently and provides an excellent value option for your midfield.

6 points from safety, Middlesbrough have the chance to gain a bit of ground this week with 2 fixtures against bottom 5 teams. If they want to turn things around at all, they need to win these games. Moreover, they need to start scoring. Defensively they’ve been great, conceding only 39 goals all season; a record only beaten by 5 teams in the league. At the other end though, they’ve only scored a paltry 23; the worst offensive record in the league. Leading the line for Middlesbrough, Avaloq Negredo (£6.2m) has been transferred in by around 60,000 managers this week ahead of their double gameweek. Having scored 2 in his last 3 appearances, he looks to be in okay form but in total has only scored 8 all season. I’d be cautious about bringing him in with the prospect of having to replace him after this week as Boro’s schedule gets trickier.

Fun fact, Middlesbrough’s leading scorer this season—Negredo—has scored more than 20 league goals in a season only once in his career. Loaned-out Jordan Rhodes has achieved this feat in 4 of the last 6 seasons, albeit at a lower level. It’s all well and good having a solid defense, but you can’t win if you can’t score, and Boro desperately need goals. Middlesbrough may well now be regretting that decision to let Rhodes go out on loan.

Burnley vs Man Utd

Man Utd start their double gameweek away to Burnley, before taking on Man City. Burnley have lost only 1 of their last 8 home games and have the motivation of securing Premier League survival. Against the attacking potential of Man Utd however, I don’t fancy any defensive assets for Burnley this week and their attacking options are not really the most appealing, even for more favorable fixtures.

The omission of Ibrahimovic (£11.4m) from Man Utd’s 2-0 victory over Chelsea has cast some doubt among fantasy managers over his future involvement in the side. While this uncertainty is less than ideal approaching a double gameweek, I’m not too concerned moving forward. This may have been more a case of Mourinho giving a middle finger to Chelsea to show he could get the better of his old team without his best player. That said, if you don’t already have Ibra, I’d be reluctant to get him in if it means a points hit for the transfer or having to sacrifice another top striker such as Kane or Lukaku.

Chelsea vs Southampton

After slipping up to Man Utd, Chelsea are now only 4 points clear of 2nd placed Spurs and will be looking to get their title bid back on track against Southampton. Last week’s defeat was the first time that Chelsea have failed to score in the last 12 games but normal service should resume against the Saints, and Chelsea will be looking to their big-hitters Hazard (£10.5m) and Costa (£10.3m). Out-of-sorts Diego Costa hasn’t found the net in the last 5 games—his longest dry streak of the season— but this run has to end soon and I would expect him to find his form against a defense that conceded 3 last week against Man City.

Southampton welcomed back Gabbiadini (£6.5m) last week, who struggled to make an impact in the defeat to City. After scoring 4 in his first 3 league games for Southampton before getting injured, he will be aiming to recapture his previous form. With 2 double gameweeks still to come for Southampton, if Gabbiadini can produce against Chelsea, he could be a strong option moving forward despite some difficult fixtures.

Hull vs Watford

Hull welcome Watford who are now essentially safe from relegation. Hull, on the other hand, sit 2 points clear of the drop-zone and will have added impetus to push for the win. Unbeaten in their last 5 home games, Hull will need to continue this form to ensure safety. I’ve highlighted Grosicki (£5.5m) in previous weeks—and despite his sporadic form—Hull will look to him to provide some creativity. Opposite Grosicki, Markovic (£5.2m) has generally looked lively and been more involved than Grosicki but hasn’t provided the same level of output, with only 1 assist since his January transfer to Hull compared to Grosicki’s 5.

This game is the kindest game that Watford have until the end of the season, with 4 fixtures against top 7 teams. As such, this is the last game where any Watford players are viable fantasy options. Top scorer Deeney (£6.9m) has managed to score against both Arsenal and Man Utd this season, but has struggled to get consistent returns. M’Baye Niang (£5.9m) looked lively against Swansea last week and could find more opportunity against a Hull defense that has conceded in the last 9 games. If you do have to take any Watford players this week, try not to keep them around too long as it should be a tough ride until the end of the season.

Liverpool vs Crystal Palace

Still not safe from relegation, this week will determine how we should really feel about Palace with tough fixtures away to Liverpool and then Spurs. Palace have lost only 1 game in the last 7, beating the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea in that period and keeping 4 clean sheets in the process. Coming up against the 2 top scoring teams in the league though, I would only be interested in their attacking assets now. Benteke (£7.2m) has scored 3 in 4 games and will travel to Anfield looking to show his former club what they’re missing. Townsend (£5.8m) and Zaha (£6m) have also been in a rich vein of form, providing 3 assists and a goal in their last 3 and 4 games respectively.

For Liverpool, Roberto Firmino (£8.6m) scored again last week to seal the win over West Brom. He’s now bagged either a goal or an assist in the last 5 games and is Liverpool’s form player coming into a potentially difficult match with Palace. Coutinho (£8.5m) as always will be dangerous and has 3 goals and an assist in the last 4 games.

Swansea vs Stoke

A 1-0 defeat to Watford last week saw no Swansea players yield any useful returns for FPL. Llorente (£6.2m) returned for Swansea but couldn’t provide a spark to inspire his team. Despite heavy involvement in the game, Sigurdsson (£7.5m) also struggled again and has now gone 5 games without any goals or assists; his worst run of the season. If Swansea are to have any chance of avoiding relegation, these 2 players really need to improve.

Stoke easily overcame Hull at home, with Shaqiri £6m and Arnautovic £7.1m both bagging a goal and assist to gain 13 and 12 points respectively. Both players will have the opportunity to build on this performance against struggling Swansea, before 2 other favorable fixtures against West Ham and Bournemouth.

West Ham vs Everton

West Ham have scored in 9 of their last 10 games; Everton have scored in 14 of their last 15. I don’t know exactly what these numbers mean, but I do expect goals in this one. Everton’s Lukaku (£10.5m) is on 24 goals for the season—his most impressive tally yet—with 5 games still to play. On the other hand, West Ham are without a top striker and have relied on goals from across the team. Playmaker Snodgrass (£5.6m) has now notched back-to-back assists for West Ham and looks like to be finding his feet, while Andre Ayew (£7.1m) scored against Sunderland to get his 4th goal in the last 8 matches. So there is some promise here for West Ham but there are probably better options elsewhere in a similar price bracket, especially given their tough remaining fixtures.

Crystal Palace vs Tottenham

The second fixture in Palace’s tough double gameweek sees the visit of Spurs, who will look to keep up their momentum after gaining ground on Chelsea with their 2nd consecutive 4-0 win. Kane (£11.5m) marked his return with a goal and assist, while Son (£7.3m), Alli (£9.2m) and Eriksen (£8.8m) all provided attacking returns. Frankly, Spurs are fantastic and if you want to take 3 attacking players from them, go for it. If you want to put their names in a hat and pull out your captain, fair enough. Just now, that sort of tactic will probably hit more than it misses.

Man City vs Man Utd

Man City are the 2nd opponents for Man Utd this week and their attacking prowess means owners of Man Utd defenders shouldn’t get too excited by the double gameweek. City have scored 6 in their last 2 games and Agüero (£12.8m) has scored in his last 5 outings. Despite the wealth of talent available for both sides, this game could essentially boil down to Agüero vs Ibrahimovic, especially for FPL purposes. At their prices, it’s unlikely you’ll have both players, and Ibra has the higher ownership of the 2—selected by 31% of FPL managers compared to 22% for Agüero. Personally, I’d take Agüero in this fixture and for the rest of the season afterwards.

Middlesbrough vs Sunderland

It’s bottom against 2nd bottom for this Tees-Wear derby, with both sides desperate for a win as they battle relegation.

Against West Ham last week, Sunderland finally managed to score again after 7 consecutive games without a goal. This goalless streak coincided with the dip in form of their talismanic striker Jermain Defoe (£7.6m), who hasn’t scored in the last 8 games. Defoe has scored 14 of Sunderland’s 26 league goals—their next highest scorer has scored 3—so a return to his previous form is vital if Sunderland want to stay up.

If anything—and only because of Middlebrough’s double gameweek—I’d be okay with defensive options from Middlesbrough this week. After that, I want nothing more to do with Boro players for the rest of the season. Goalkeeper Victor Valdes looks set to miss the first of Middlesbrough’s 2 games and so should probably be avoided or replaced. Other budget options such as Boruc of Bournemouth (£4.5m) or Sunderland’s Pickford (£4.1m) could be useful replacements with both facing 4 bottom half teams in their next 4 fixtures. Even when these players are conceding goals they’re still picking up extra points for saves and both teams will need to tighten up defensively in their bid to avoid relegation.

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