It’s always an interesting time toward the beginning of the season, particularly when the international break allows for even more anguish when thinking about what direction to go with your fantasy teams. On top of that, four of the top teams will have a mind toward the rapidly upcoming Champions League group stage start.
The main question now is whether to trust this season — in a small sample size of only four games — or to bank more on the full 2017-18 campaign. Should we trust our eyes, or our memories? What is real, and what is a mirage?
With all of that in mind, which fixtures look appetizing to our fantasy squads, and which instead will be difficult to mine for success? I’ll highlight a few tricky fixtures that you will likely be better off taking a pass on, along with a couple of more welcoming match-ups you should go ahead and shoot for.
Every Premier League fan will be watching this one, and rightly so. But as is often the case, the best match-ups are the trickiest to navigate from a fantasy perspective. You’re probably going to get a tough, close battle, but if that’s the case, will there be goals or clean sheets? And what if instead there is a blowout? Which team would be favored in that respect?
Liverpool is in 1st place with a commanding +8 goal differential, while Spurs are in fifth with a solid +5 mark. But Liverpool travel away from Anfield, while Spurs are at “home.” Last season, the two were fairly evenly matched, with Tottenham nipping ‘Pool for third even though the Reds’ differential was better.
The past four of these fixtures vividly illustrate the difficulty of predicting the outcome (and thus the expected fantasy spoils): a 3-0 Reds win in August 2014, a 0-0 draw in October 2015, a 1-1 draw in August 2016, and a 4-1 Spurs win in October 2017. Too much is up in the air, so I recommend taking a pass.
On the surface, this looks like a ho-hum affair, with the 18th place side welcoming the 9th. If you look at last season’s table, it’s 10th against 6th. Both point to a fairly even match-up that could go any which way.
Of course, Arsenal was absolutely brutal on the road last season. Under Unai Emery, things have been mixed, with a 3-2 loss at Chelsea and a 3-2 victory at Cardiff, which would point to a wide open affair. Meanwhile, Newcastle have lost 2-1 welcoming “Big Six” members Chelsea and Tottenham.
Those signs could point to investment in the Gunners’ offense, and many will be tempted to go with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. But is Arsenal as good as the Blues or Spurs? I don’t think so, and I reckon I’m not alone in that sentiment. And should Arsenal end up in the goals, might they instead come from midfielders Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil, or Henrikh Mkhitaryan, or perhaps even defenders Hector Bellerin, Skhodran Mustafi or Nacho Monreal? Emery is beginning to put his stamp on things, but the ultimate blueprint hasn’t quite revealed itself yet, with plenty still to be sorted out surrounding the optimal XI, formation and style.
I expect the home side to play with grit and determination, but it’s also tough to consider Newcastle players for fantasy success at either end; the Magpies have scored only three goals so car, while keeping just one clean sheet, which was against meek Cardiff. But despite Newcastle’s lack of offensive firepower, it’s difficult to feel too optimistic about Gunners’ defenders, since they haven’t kept a clean sheet yet, having conceded the 5th most goals in the Prem.
Looking at the historical ledger, Newcastle won this fixture 2-1 in April, and the Gunners have scored more than one goal only once in their past six league trips to St. James’ Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Magpies were able to win a low-scoring affair, or keep it to a 1-1 draw. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Arsenal won 3-2 or 2-1. I think counting on either team to keep a clean sheet is folly, but the same can be said for banking on an offensive explosion from either side.
Watford is the darling of the Premier League, exploding for a perfect start with four wins and a +6 differential. Meanwhile, Manchester United has struggled, sitting in 10th place with -1 mark. But last season the Red Devils finished in 2nd, while Watford was way back in 14th. This fixture epitomizes the quandary in searching for the truth between last season and this season. Is Watford for real? It’s too soon to say. Is United doomed? Again, too early. We just don't know yet.
The Hornets have only kept one clean sheet so far, making it difficult to trust their defense to return that important bonus. As for the Watford offense, the team has scored at least two goals in every game so far, which is outstanding. But with six different players having cracked the net, can you count on the one or two you pick doing so? And what if Jose Mourinho is able to get the vaunted Red Devils’ defense back to form with the extra week of training?
Romelu Lukaku bullied Burnley for a brace as he loves to do when facing lesser sides, but what if Watford is really an elite squad after all? And even if United can find joy, is this one where Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba or Alexis Sanchez will shine instead? Too many question marks! In fact, you could say this game is a likely trip up:
SHOOT (GO FOR IT)
The Citizens may not be sitting in their customary 1st place, but they still boast the most goals in the league (11) and tie for allowing 2nd fewest. Plus they are at home, where they have notched eight of those scores.
Meanwhile, Fulham was recently promoted, having been away from the Premier League since 2013-14. After several years outside of the top tier, venturing to the Etihad will be extremely daunting. Away from Craven Cottage, Fulham drew 2-2 at Brighton and lost 3-1 at Tottenham. They’re not at all ready for the challenge of visiting the Sky Blues. As for the fantasy prospects for Manchester City, the only worry as usual is rotation, but load up on all of the Citizens you expect to start.
Chelsea v. Cardiff
Much like Manchester City, we’re looking at a top team at home against a promoted side. While Fulham at least has shown some signs of life, the same cannot be said for Cardiff, which has only scored twice so far.
Much of Cardiff’s success at keeping its goals-against down is due to two penalty saves from Neil Etheridge, with Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson and Newcastle’s Kenedy failing to convert. If the same scenario occurs here, you won’t expect Eden Hazard to miss.
No matter whom you have on Chelsea, you’re not sitting them. Unlike Manchester City, the worry isn’t rotation. Instead it’s who will be in Maurizio Sarri’s preferred XI between Pedro and Willian in midfield, and Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud at forward. But the line-up is otherwise rather set. You’ve got to roll with Hazard, and you won’t want to stop there, so keep going with Mateo Kovacic, Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger, and/or Kepa Arrizabalaga. I’m not a fantasy fan of defensive midfielders N’Golo Kante or Jorginho, but if you are, this week you might look like a genius.
What are your early thoughts on the upcoming game-week 5? Which match-ups — and teams — are you targeting for fantasy success? Which are you avoiding? Are there any other fixtures you think should have been mentioned above? Let us know in the comments!