International breaks are always a challenge to deal with, but the first break of the season is particularly problematic. With the dust still settling from the transfer window and managers still experimenting to identify their best squad, it’s still a bit of a guessing game when it comes time to pick a starting lineup. Add that to late returns and unreported injuries and you may find yourself cheering just to have a full lineup of starters.
We’re getting a better idea of who the early season form teams and players will be, though, so let’s check the schedule and who has caught my eye heading into week 4.
Week 4 Premier League Schedule
Man United - Man City
Arsenal - Southampton
Bournemouth - West Brom
Burnley - Hull City
Middlesbrough - Crystal Palace
Stoke City - Tottenham
West Ham - Watford FC
Liverpool - Leicester City
Swansea City - Chelsea
Sunderland - Everton
Ben Foster - West Brom have exceeded expectations so far, with the usual strong defensive focus we’ve come to associate with a Tony Pulis side. Even away from home, I like Foster’s chances for a clean sheet against goal-shy Bournemouth.
Thibaut Courtois - Chelsea are allowing fewer shots on target per game so far this season than they have in any of the past three seasons by a wide margin, and that was with the same core as last season. With reinforcements arriving in David Luiz and Marcos Alonso, there will be increased competition for starting spots. Courtois should feel safe between the sticks against Swansea.
Tom Heaton - Despite allowing three goals against Chelsea in week 3, Burnley have a solid defensive setup, with Heaton at the core. A low-scoring encounter looks likely against Hull City, and I slightly favor the Clarets at home.
Leighton Baines - Ronald Koeman and his new signings are settling in nicely on Merseyside, and the back line is looking much improved from last season. Baines is on the verge of entering back into fantasy elite territory, and the match against David Moyes’ Sunderland on Monday starts a good run of fixtures for the Toffees.
Arthur Masuaku - West Ham have had their injury struggles up front, but have looked strong in defense. New signing Masuaku has been an able deputy for the injured Aaron Cresswell, and will be eager to join the attack and provide crosses for new man Simone Zaza.
Curtis Davies - The center back was a fantasy favorite the last time Hull were in the Premier League, and he’s quickly reminded us why that was the case. He does everything - blocked shots, interceptions, tackles - and has the potential bonus of a clean sheet this week against Burnley.
Laurent Koscielny - Arsenal look very strong after the close of the transfer window with the arrival of Shkodran Mustafi. Koscielny will be relieved to have a more reliable, experienced defender alongside him after sharing time with Rob Holding. Southampton present an attacking threat, but the improved defense for the Gunners gives Koscielny a good chance to rack up the points.
Brendan Galloway - The former Everton youngster acquitted himself well in his opening match for West Brom, and represents a low-cost way into the strong Albion defense.
Alexis Sanchez - The Chilean was back to his best in the 3-1 victory over Watford, and as we’ve come to learn over the past couple seasons, he tends to hit a patch of form and run with it for at least a few games. The first name on my team sheet this week.
Eden Hazard - A close second behind Sanchez this week, Eden Hazard is revitalized in Antonio Conte’s system. With the defensive responsibilities removed, Hazard is playing the dazzling attacking football he’s known for, and he’ll be a handful for Kyle Naughton.
Raheem Sterling - Speaking of revitalized players, the former Liverpool youngster is thriving for the first time at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. With Sergio Aguero suspended for the Manchester Derby, expect even more of the attacking focus to go through Sterling.
Dimitri Payet - Slaven Bilic has announced that Payet is finally ready to start a match. We’re all well aware of how easily the Frenchman can change a game, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities at home against Watford.
Yannick Bolasie - Ross Barkley may be the more popular pick, but I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll start to see why Everton were willing to spend so much on Bolasie over the next few weeks. The lower price point doesn’t hurt, either.
Diego Costa - Who would have guessed that Aguero would be suspended for violent conduct before Costa this season? If you’re willing to risk the Spaniard not picking up a red card this week, he’s the prime replacement for Kun.
Romelu Lukaku - I’ve focused on Everton’s strong upcoming run of fixtures, and would like to think Lukaku’s form will coincide with it. However, the Belgian hasn’t earned the Troll nickname for no reason. I usually avoid Monday games, but may be tempted to take a chance and hope for the best.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic - He’s human after all! A blank against Hull in Week 3 burned a lot of managers, but Zlatan has been at his best over the international break, trolling Manchester City’s new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo by sending him training gear ahead of their match. He’ll need to back up his trash talk if he wants to avoid embarrassment.
Harry Kane - There’s been plenty of talk about Kane’s inability to score in August in the Premier League. The good news is August is over, and Kane’s set to face bottom-of-the-table Stoke City, who have conceded 6 goals in their opening 3 fixtures. I expect Kane to score his first of the season this weekend.
Simone Zaza - I would be remiss not to include at least one deadline day signing in my picks this week, and West Ham’s new striker gets my vote. On loan from Juventus, the Italian international should thrive with the service of Payet, Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini behind him. A debut goal isn’t out of the question.
How are your teams coming together? Who have I missed? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!