Week 26 Premier League Schedule
Saturday, February 13
Sunday, February 14
Best bets for 2+ goals: Tottenham, West Ham, Leicester City
Best bets for a clean sheet: Watford FC, Leicester City, Stoke City, West Ham
Jack Butland - After a wonderful first half of the season and accolades abound, Butland has left us wanting in the New Year allowing fifteen goals in seven outings with just one clean sheet – though it was against Arsenal. That said, Butland still leads the Premier League in both saves (he has 89, Cech has 88, Gomes is next with 83) and possibly an even more telling stat in saves on shots inside the box (where he leads Cech 57 to 51). Butland has only allowed multiple goals against Everton, Manchester United, Leicester and @ West Brom; of which all are top Premier League offenses outside of West Brom. Possibly most important of all however is the opponent, League bottom Aston Villa who has scored the fewest goals in the Premier League by four, sport a -26 goal differential and already without top offensive threat Jordan Ayew due to suspension have their next top threat in Agbonlahor (who frankly isn’t all that impressive in the first place) in doubt as well.
Kasper Schmeichel - Since the New Year Leicester has kept five clean sheets while only once giving up multiple goals (to Arsenal while down a man after the Danny Simpson red card). Enter a Norwich side with its head above the relegation line based solely on goal differential while losing five of their last six, taking just one point during the span. The Leicester hold on the Premier League has shrunk to just two points over Tottenham and Arsenal, this appears to be a week neither will gain any more ground.
Hugo Lloris - Tottenham sports the thirds best home defense in the Premier League allowing just nine goals in thirteen matches. Coming into town is Swansea who sports the second worst offense in the league with just twenty-four goals on the season. This is simply a 1 + 1 = 2 scenario.
Fraser Forster - I feel obligated to mention the incredible run Forster is on since returning from injury. Since his comeback against Watford on January 13th, Forster has kept six consecutive clean sheets while making sixteen saves (a stat largely bolstered by the goalkeeping performance of the year in making ten saves away at Arsenal) – an extremely impressive run. That said, he hosts a Chelsea side that looks to have finally found its legs having gone undefeated in the Premier League since mid-December (a run of ten matches) within which they have scored twenty goals (an impressive two goals per match). This past Sunday they scored five goals against Manchester City in the FA Cup. Granted, it was Manchester City’s B…hold that…C squad; but five goals contributed by Hazard (one goals, two assists), Costa (one goal), Willian (one goal), Cahill (one goal) and Traore (one goal, assisted by Oscar who also had a penalty saved) will still go a long way towards the confidence and swagger most important to this Chelsea offense – as the raw talent is not in question.
For the Brave: Ben Foster - The two teams with the worst offensive current form square off. In the past six match days each team has totaled just four goals apiece, not good. Thankfully West Brom has gotten their goalkeeper Foster back for the past four games where they’ve salvaged five points including a win and clean sheet at Everton last time out. In that six-game span, Crystal Palace has paired their bad offense with poor defense conceding thirteen goals leading to just one point from a possible eighteen, very not good. Furthering the praise for Foster, in those four games he’s allowed just one goal while totaling an extremely impressive eighteen saves. Eighteen saves in four matches, that nine points a match without even picking up any additional defensive bonus stats. New Palace striker Adebayor got on the score sheet last out, and along with the return of Cabaye and Bolaise could spell a resurgence of the Eagles offense.
Sam Byram - Young Byram has been starting of late at right-back for West Ham of late and looks like he may have secured the role. Byram has played a more forward role through much of his short career, so he could become one of the more offensively prominent defenders if he can replicate his form from the lower leagues. The home match-up against Sunderland is obviously beneficial as well.
Erik Pieters - Offensively, Pieters has lacked much contribution and despite a litany of crosses has recorded just one assist on the season. He is actually a very talented defender however averaging 2.4 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game over his last five matches. Alongside goal keeper Jack Butland, Pieters and the Stoke defense stand a strong chance of picking up defensive bonuses against the depleted Aston Villa attack.
Scott Dann - Dann now has recorded five goals on the season, quite the impressive total and two of which have come in his three February Premier League matches. The match-up with West Brom, with an attack that has been poor but posses potential, is hard to interpret from a defensive bonus standpoint.
For the Bold: Nathan Ake -The Chelsea loanee has nailed down the left-back role for Watford and done so quite successfully as the club looks to firmly be in place to stay within the Premier League another season and can attribute much of this to the ability of their defense. Ake is averaging an impressive 3.4 tackles and 3.2 interceptions per game this season, both of which lead Watford.
Xherdan Shaqiri - I've ridden the Swiss midfielder, called the 'Alpine Messi' by some, through highs and lows; but my high opinion of the former Bayern Munich wing remains. Historically, playing time ad injuries have been the biggest hindrances on Shaqiri's career. But, when healthy he's creative and electric, best shown by his hat-trick for his native Switzerland in the 2014 World Cup.
Yohan Cabaye - The French midfielder that led Crystal Palace through a great first half of the season is back. Cabaye effects the game in every way: securing possession, winning tackles, interceptions, making key passes, and last (but not nearly least) scoring goals. The Frenchman has five goals on the season and is designated for free kick, corners and penalties.
Dimitri Payet - With seven goals and five assists on eighteen starts this season, Payet has been an invaluable addition to the Hammers attack and will look to continue his spectacular recent form as his side hosts the worst defense in the Premier League in Sunderland.
Dele Alli - By this point, Alli is encroaching on prodigy status. The nineteen year old has seven goals and five assists on the season, and bottom half side Swansea coming to town is a match-up prime for him to add to those totals.
Riyad Mahrez - Mahrez has been in-and-out of the lineup a little more of late and defense has taken more of the forefront for Leicester thus far into the Premier League season, but with a league fourth fourteen goals and second ten assists should not be forgotten in a plus match-up against a Norwich side fighting just to stay in the Premier League another season.
For the Daring: Darren Fletcher - With a goal last weekend in the FA Cup (The Baggies only goal as they flamed out with a 3-1 defeat to mid-table Championship side Reading), Fletcher continues a clandestine offensive theme. Among the midfielders on playing Saturday, just two have created multiple ‘Big Chances’ over the past six weeks: Willian and Fletcher. During a great three game stint right around the New Year, Fletcher tallied a goal against Newcastle (on five shots) and an assist in North London against Chelsea. He is yet to directly contribute to a goal in the EPL since the assist against Chelsea, but the promise is there best showcased by his five shots (two on target) against Swansea at the beginning of the month. Fletcher isn’t a play for the feint of heart, but he could bag you a surprise goal at cheap against a Crystal Palace D that's been particularly weak of late.
Jamie Vardy - Everyone knows how good Vardy has been, the heroic story of how he climbed from factory worker to Premier League star – if you haven’t, you are either new to this or daft and need to look him up – so I won’t spill too many stats outside of over the last four games he has four goals on twelve shots (eight on goal) and that he’s in the lead in ‘Big Chances’ in that time with six (tied with Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero, three more than Diego Costa). It’s time, and I’m undoubtedly late to this party, to recognize the elite level of striking Vardy is playing at this season; and a Norwich side coming to visit who’s allowed the most goals in the Premier League with fifty (including an incredulous eighteen over their last six) and has taken just one point from their last six matches won’t be in contention to slow him down.
Diego Costa - I don't know if people will get wise and fade the Chelsea striker against the 'impenetrable force' Fraser Forster, but I hope so. Costa, complete with black mask and all, has returned to the podium as a super villain rather than the mediocre villainy he showcased through most of the season. Starting on Boxing Day against Watford, Costa is on a run of seven goals, three assists in just eight Premier League matches. Even traveling to to Paris to face PSG couldn't slow Costa as he assisted the all-important away goal and looked threatening throughout. He tacked another goal in the FA Cup against Man City this past weekend to further cement the wonderful form the Spaniard finds himself in.
Harry Kane - Kane has now risen to second in goals scored this season with sixteen. His Tottenham side have a favorable match-up against Swansea he will look to exploit.
Alexis Sanchez - Before coming to Arsenal, Sanchez spent three seasons playing for Barcelona within which he totaled forty-two goals and twenty-seven assists across La Liga and Champions League. Those are some BIG numbers. In the critical win over Leicester before the break, Sanchez had five crosses, foul fouls drawn and six shots. Usually I avoid targeting offensive players traveling to Old Trafford, but a more open-play favoring style for United combined with an inconceivable number of injuries could end up leaking a few goals Arsenal's way and the Chilean workhorse is due for a big performance.
For the Adventurous: Emmanuel Adebayor - The new Crystal Palace striker got on the score sheet last time out, so maybe he gets the Eagles attack on track. Once upon a time, the striker from Togo had a double-digit goals and assists season while at Tottenham (contributing to a total of twenty-eight goals that season). He’s thirty-one now, but a player with a past club history made up of Manchester City, Real Madrid (yes Real Madrid bought him from City, that’s how hyped he was at one time) and Tottenham (where he twice hit double-digit goals) has the potential to be a prolific presence. I was going to write a blurb about him in the forward section, but I’ll just shift him to the "other forwards" section and let this stand for itself. Mame Biram Diouf and Saido Berahino are also interesting options for those feeling extra adventurous.
Who are you considering for your teams this week? Did I miss anyone? Anyone you disagree with? Share your thoughts in the comments as we approach the Week 27 deadline!