Ben Davies’ mysterious absence last weekend sent the fantasy community bonkers, myself included. There was absolutely no mention of the ankle knock that had happened during Champions League play way back on the preceding WEDNESDAY, as if the mighty Mauricio Pocchetino needed the smallest of advantages in being able to institute a super top secret back-line formation... at home... against Swansea.
Even as a Spurs fan, I couldn’t help but feel, at least a little bit, that Pocchetino got what he deserved with a nil-nil draw. Let’s hope for a lack of Bill Belicheck-esque shenanigans this time around, as not only Davies but also several other defenders should — or at least could — return to action this extended weekend following injury.
Dark arts practitioners rejoice, it’s the team with the cursed new stadium of 2016/17 welcoming the team with the voodoo-laden temporary home turf of 2017/18! Will it be a happy home for Hammers, or Wembley want-away for Spurs?
The Hammers’ James Collins, Manuel Lanzini and Pedro Obiang are out with injury. The (unimposing) back line seems set, so the questions come on offense. Has Marko Arnautovic returned to favor after his ill-advised red card suspension? Will Andre Ayew force his way back into the starting XI, or does Slaven Bilic prefer him as a high-energy sub? Does Andy Carroll continue his partnership with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, or will he instead move to the bench?
For Spurs, Davies should return to the XI as left wing back. However, will Kieran Trippier remain on the right, or will Serge Aurier get his first Premier League start?
Son Heung-Min earned his second start of the season last weekend. However, given the drab scoreline against Swansea, along with Son’s complete lack of production so far, it would be no surprise to see him back on the bench.
Burnley v. Huddersfield Town
Burnley have only two noteworthy injury notes: Nick Pope should continue at keeper for the injured Tom Heaton, and Jeff Hendrick has proven himself fit to play after featuring midweek in the Carabao Cup. After Chris Wood was isolated up front at Liverpool, Sam Vokes will look to join him as he did in the previous home tilt against Crystal Palace, which could push Scott Arfield back to the bench.
Steve Mounier, Colin Quaner and Danny Williams are out injured, while Laurent Depoitre and Rajiv van La Parra are questionable, so the Huddersfield offense could be rather toothless.
Everton v. Bournemouth
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s midweek brace could earn him a start up front, which would likely displace Tom Davies who contributed an assist.
Defender Steve Cook has passed fit and will look to start, likely in place of Simon Francis. Otherwise, Jordon Ibe’s strong performance last weekend will threaten Ryan Fraser’s spot in midfield.
Manchester City v. Crystal Palace
In news that you’ve absolutely never heard before, Vincent Kompany has recovered from injury and could feature, putting into question the preferred back line. The last time he played (GW3 at Bournemouth), he was joined by Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo. Since then, it has been Otamendi, John Stones, Mendy and Kyle Walker who have started each of two games. As the co-stingiest team in the league, Manchester City will of course be expected to return a clean sheet at home against a team that has yet to score.
Similarly for Palace, Mamadou Sakho has returned to fitness and will start for the first time this season, leaving new-ish boss Roy Hodgson’s favored back line a bit of a mystery. Given the imposing visit to the Etihad, it would not be a shock to see plenty of defenders deployed, particularly given that attacking midfielder Wilfried Zaha is still out.
Following an ugly saga of injury and transfer strife, Southampton’s Virgil Van Dyk has passed fit and could start for the first time this season. If he does, the match-up is tailor made for his return. Given the imposing figure cut by Romelu Lukaku, VVD would likely push Maya Yoshida to the bench, since it’s difficult to imagine that the Saints just paid so much coin for Wesley Hoedt to be a back-up.
Paul Pogba remains sidelined for the visitors, while defender Luke Shaw has passed fit but is unlikely to start. Much of the Red Devils’ line-up seems set, but that leaves uncertainty outside of the seven players (David De Dea, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Nemenja Matic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lukaku) who have started all five league fixtures thus far.
Stoke City is normally a tough nut to crack at home, but the pressure will be on the Potters who will be missing defenders Kurt Zouma (loan), Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron (injury), with Kevin Wimmer doubtful on top of that. Wiley veteran Glen Johnson and/or energetic youngster Josh Tymon could make their first start(s) of the season.
Chelsea have their own issues in back as a second defender (and Chelsea’s third player overall) saw red. Like Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, David Luiz earned a 3-match ban, and he serves his 1st this week. Antonio Rudiger will likely return to the starting line-up after being on the bench against Arsenal.
The Diego Costa saga is finally over, with terms agreed for a return to Atletico Madrid. In other news for the Blues offense, Eden Hazard is raring to go for his first Premier League start of the season after starting midweek in Carabao Cup action. Of course, Antonio Conte could prefer to utilize him again off the bench and save him for the upcoming Champions League fixture. Otherwise, Pedro has recovered from injury while Danny Drinkwater remains out, so the midfield looks to be in flux.
Swansea City v. Watford
Wilfried Bony started for Swans Tuesday in Carabao Cup action and could earn his first Premier League start of the season, possibly displacing either Jordan Ayew or Tammy Abraham.
Watford defender Miguel Britos finishes his three game suspension, while Kiko Fermenia returns after missing last weekend’s game with injury. The Hornets have seven defenders who have started at least one game this season, and none who have started every time, so it may be a futile effort predicting the entire back line, especially with changes begging following the drubbing by Manchester City.
Leicester City v. Liverpool
Christian Fuchs is ready to go for the home side following injury and should slot back into the starting XI, Ben Chilwell being likely to return to the bench. Matty James and Robert Huth remain out.
The musical chairs nature of the Liverpool defense looks to continue as Dejan Lovren is expected to miss out again, as could newer injury concern Joel Matip, who is the only defender who has started more than thrice, having started all five times. In midfield, Sadio Mane serves out the final game of his suspension. Up front, Daniel Sturridge started (against Burnley) for only the second time this season, but the offense’s ineffectual performance could see him go back to the bench, which would seem to be welcome news for Roberto Firmino owners as the Brazilian seemed lost last weekend with Sturridge leading the line.
Brighton v. Newcastle
One-name defender Bruno returns for Brighton after missing out last weekend due to injury, but otherwise the line-up will be expected to stay the same. Goalkeeper Tim Krul is newly eligible to face his former club and would be an interesting option instead of Mat Ryan, but he may have to wait. Izzy Brown looks ready following injury, but has not featured since the opener against Manchester City and also will likely be on the bench for this one.
Aleksandar Mitrovic finishes off his three-game suspension for Newcastle, but with the Magpies following a poor start by miraculously climbing up to — wait for it — FOURTH PLACE, why change if it’s not broken?
Arsenal v. West Bromwich Albion
Coming off a 0-0 draw at Chelsea with star scorer Alexis Sanchez barely featuring and playmaker Mesut Ozil sitting out due to injury, it will be interesting to see how Arsene Wenger crafts his starting line-up with both available and Danny Welbeck newly hurt.
Chris Brunt and Nacer Chadli are questionable for West Brom, but if both are healthy Brunt would seem the more likely starter since Chadli has not featured yet this season. With Jonny Evans having returned recently, and with Gareth McAuley passing fit this week, Ahmed Hegazi will be worried about keeping his starting spot in central defense. McAuley, of course, continues the theme of the (possibly) returning defender alongside the likes of Cook, Davies, Fermenia, Fuchs, Kompany, Sakho and Van Dijk.
How are your teams looking? What are the big decisions you’re pondering in the last hours and minutes? Are you expecting nice returns from any of the returning defenders or other players mentioned above? Please be sure to include any late-breaking news in the comments!