Wednesday's remaining fixture list for Game Week 24:
Watford v. Chelsea
The story of the week so far is Leicester City, which failed to convert several good opportunities in the first half (particularly from Riyad Mahrez, though his dribbling was enjoyably mesmerizing) but held on to first place with a tidy 2-0 win over visiting Liverpool. A second half brace from Jamie Vardy did the trick, including a beauty of a floater from outside the box which caught keeper Simon Mignolet creeping a bit too far out of his net. Who was rewarded by keeping faith with Vardy, who now has three goals in two games following a seven game goalless spell, and who was burned as Roberto Firmino failed to keep his strong run going? As well, the Tigers defense keeps rolling with a fifth clean sheet out of their past six games, giving continued smiles to fantasy owners of Kasper Schmeichel, Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan and Danny Simpson.
Meanwhile, Manchester City remained three points from the top of the table with a nail-biting 1-0 victory at Sunderland. Following a sublime outside of the foot finish from (who else?) Sergio Aguero, the home side threatened constantly but lacked the finishing quality to equalize. Aguero owners heaved big sighs of relief when he shrugged off an injury following an ugly challenge from Billy Jones during the goal strike follow-through. Kevin De Bruyne was sorely missed, while fantasy owners of Raheem Sterling and Aleksandar Kolarov were surely shouting at the top of their lungs seeing the pair of stars left out of Manuel Pellegrini's starting 11 and merely used as substitutes. (Of course, they can comfort themselves in knowing now that Pellegrini will be leaving himself out in the not too distant future.)
After facing a total of two shots in his prior three games, Fraser Forster turned in a jaw-dropping performance with 10 saves from the disbelieving likes of Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott as part of Southampton's fourth straight clean sheet. Matt Targett owners were disappointed to see him out of the starting line-up, but Ryan Bertrand, Jose Fonte, Cedric Soares and Virgil Van Dijk kept on keeping on. Relative to Forster, a comparatively bored Petr Cech was called on for a mere three saves in the nil-nil contest as Charlie Austin was unable to make it onto the pitch and attempt to repeat his heroics of the prior game week.
As the Gunners slipped into fourth place, Tottenham rose to third with a comfortable 3-0 win at Norwich. Following last week's wonder goal, Dele Alli had to settle for a simpler tap-in this time around while also drawing a penalty kick for Harry Kane who notched a brace, leaving him with 14 tallies in his past 15 games after scoring only once in his first nine appearances. Filling in for injured Jan Vertonghen, Kevin Wimmer delivered with a clean sheet at a bargain basement price.
Manchester United remained in fifth place with a resounding, crowd-pleasing 3-0 victory at Old Trafford over Stoke City, netting a trio of goals for only the second time in its past 15 games. There was undoubtedly plenty of investment in David De Gea, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling, but if you went with Red Devils Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and/or Wayne Rooney, you surely benefited from considerably less company. Martial's lovely goal was definitely one to write home about, no matter where you're from. The injury absences of Ryan Shawcross along with his expected replacement Marc Wilson surely played a part, but the rest of the line-up may have been even more of a factor. LVG is well known for relying on players out of their normal positions, particularly utilizing midfielders as defenders, but a striker-laden line-up featuring Marco Arnautovic, Peter Crouch, Bojan Krkic and Jonathan Walters from normally defensive-minded Stoke stood out as an extremely curious decision from skipper Mark Hughes.
Following a Jordan Ayew first half red card, West Ham powered to an inevitable 2-0 victory over visiting Aston Villa, although Villain fans have good cause to decry a seemingly obvious uncalled penalty which could have put them up early and changed the course of the game completely. While Dimitri Payet was quieter than his owners would have preferred, the more affordable Michail Antonio and Enner Valencia continued their fine form with a goal and assist, respectively. Having recovered from recent injury (again), James Tompkins manned right back as those counting on newcomer Sam Byram were let down by the pre-game announcement of his absence due to an injury of his own.
The dreaded game time fitness test from Yohan Cabaye turned sour as the Crystal Palace playmaker failed even to be fit for the bench. With Yannick Bolasie already out and correspondingly lacking much in the way of offensive punch, the home side had to rely on defender Scott Dann for its only goal. Thereafter, the Palace back line faltered yet again as visiting Bournemouth used a Marc Pugh strike to equalize before the winner from Benik Afobe who scored for the third straight game, putting his name right next to the dictionary definition of impact winter transfer.
It looked like a Gylfi Sigurdsson goal would hold up for Swansea, but Salomon Rondon equalized in injury time, ruining things for fantasy investors hoping for clean sheets at the Hawthorns. Then again, goals were well in order amidst a wide open affair featuring 35 shots (11 on target) combined as Siggy and Darren Fletcher peppered the opposing nets seemingly at will.
As things stand currently, today's games feature four teams all in the lower half of the table. Of course, Watford could jump as high as 7th place with a victory, while if Everton can turn things around with a rare win (amidst its Everest-high mountain of draws) the Toffees would eke into the top half at 10th. Otherwise, Chelsea aims to continue its improved fortunes under Guus Hiddink as the Blues have not lost in seven straight games (three wins and four draws), while Newcastle would steer clear of the relegation zone if the Magpies prove able to nab all three points.
Most of the action came yesterday for me and it sure seems that many of you were also glad to have a loaded line-up going Tuesday since plenty of points were there for the taking. Even so, I've got some interest in today's pair of games, fantasy-wise as well as fan-wise. I'm sitting on 63 points in Official BPL Fantasy with Leighton Baines remaining, 131 points in Fantrax with Baines and Branislav Ivanovic yet to go and 172.75 in Togga Perfect XI with Baines again waiting in the wings. Let's just say a barrage from Baines would do me rather nicely.
There's surely no shortage of high hopes going with a plethora of fantasy-quality players featuring today. How are your teams doing so far? Who are you relying on today and how do you expect the games to turn out? Join in the discussion!