There are now 28 game weeks of the Premier League season in the books, which by simple mathematics means that there are only 10 left. What questions need pondering for our fantasy teams to make that final push to glory?
1. Will Liverpool and Manchester City Enjoy a Tight EPL Title Race?
Last season, Manchester City cruised to the Premier League title, and was able to rest and rotate players at will toward the end of the campaign. In a similar vein, Liverpool were able to focus more on the Champions League final.
This time around, the table is quite different, as it is shaping up to be an absolutely epic race for the precious domestic trophy. Right now Liverpool sits a single point up on Manchester City, while the Citizens boast the advantage in the potential goal differential tie-breaker. If the Premiership title race remains tight, both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will be pressured to trot out their top players regularly, which would be advantageous for fantasy managers relying on those stars. On the other hand, if one of the teams falters and allows the other to create separation, both teams could rest and rotate more, which would dent fantasy prospects, particularly on the offensive end.
Fantasy managers with the likes of Mo Salah (50% FPL ownership rate at the moment), Sergio Aguero (33%), Sadio Mane (22%), Roberto Firmino (18%), Raheem Sterling (11%), and Leroy Sane (10%) will certainly have a keen eye on how the title fight shakes out. Are you worried that one team will pull away, or do you expect the battle to stay close?
2. How Will EPL Teams Fare in the Champions League?
As mentioned above, as the only EPL team to make it to the Champions League semifinals (or final) last season, Liverpool’s focus veered away from domestic affairs at the tail end of that campaign. This time around, all four Premier League teams have made it to the Round of 16. Manchester City and Tottenham both won their first legs and are favored to pass through to the quarterfinals, while Liverpool drew and Manchester United lost, leaving tougher tasks in the second leg away to Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively.
The deeper any EPL team goes in the Champions League, the more the temptation for domestic rotation will ramp up. As for the current favorites to progress, along with the Manchester City stars mentioned in Question #1, Tottenham’s Harry Kane (13%), Son Heung-min (26%), and Christian Eriksen (7%) could be impacted.
But for the teams that get knocked out, FPL fantasy managers will breathe a sigh of relief. The side most likely to exit in the Round of 16 is Manchester United. Getting some rest and being able to focus on the Premiership would likely improve the fantasy fortunes of Paul Pogba (45%), Marcus Rashford (38%), David De Gea (17%), et al., particularly also taking into consideration the Red Devils’ current injury crisis. Just how many — and which — teams do you expect to progress to the UCL quarterfinals, and then how far beyond will they go? Do you think Manchester City and Liverpool will stay close in the race for the EPL title AND make it deep in Champions League?
3. Can Any Team Get a Firm Grasp on the 4th Place Spot?
As things stand, while far from challenging for the title, Tottenham sits in 3rd place. Meanwhile, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are in a tough-and-tumble battle for the vital 4th spot that means Champions League participation next season.
Fans of any of those teams would love for their side to take a strong hold on that 4th place position. But fantasy managers with players from all of those teams would instead prefer the competition to remain up in the air, forcing Ole Gunner Solskjaer, Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri to keep trotting out the stars. That would be a boon for fantasy managers carrying Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (25%) and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (26%) or Alexandre Lacazette (11%).
And two sub-questions:
- 3A. If Manchester United finishes in the top 4, will that be enough for caretaker manager Solskjaer to get the full-time job at Old Trafford, or would the Red Devils’ brass still look elsewhere?
- 3B. After suffering successive defeats, might Tottenham continue its poor form and actually be drawn into the 4th place fight, making it even more interesting for Premier League fans, but more complicated for fantasy managers with Spurs’ assets, given Question #2?
Just how are you expecting the top four race to pan out, and are you factoring this into your fantasy team selection matrix?
4. Will Arsenal or Chelsea Win Europa League?
Another consideration when it comes to Champions League, of course, is Europa League, as this year’s winner of the latter competition secures participation in the former next season. Arsenal and Chelsea have both advanced to the Round of 16, facing Rennes and Dynamo Kiev, respectively. Earlier in the Europa League competition, the Gunners’ and Blues’ line-ups were largely filled with second teamers, but as they have progressed, the balance has shifted toward the top tier players.
Fantasy managers featuring Arsenal and Chelsea stars will selfishly root for Rennes and Dynamo Kiev to dispatch the Gunners and Blues, which would allow their big-name players to focus on the fight for 4th place at home. But if Arsenal and/or Chelsea fall far behind Manchester United while continuing to advance in Europa League, Unai Emery and/or Maurizio Sarri will be tempted to rest their big guns in the Premiership in an effort to win the Europa League trophy. While the competition is not nearly as daunting as Champions League, Europa League is far from a cake walk, with teams including Benfica, Inter Milan, Napoli, Red Bull Leipzig, Sevilla, Valencia, and Villareal also in the running.
How do you expect the Europa League competition AND the domestic race for 4th place to combine for Chelsea and Arsenal? Are you more concerned about Europa League or Champions League with respect to the fantasy Premier League finish?
5. Can Chelsea Somehow Gel, or is This Sarri Side Destined to Implode?
It has been a truly strange season for Chelsea under new manager Maurizio Sarri, who has put forth bizarre line-ups (frequently featuring Eden Hazard in the “False 9” role, and also almost always starting three players whose best role is defensive midfield) all the while openly questioning the team’s motivation. Recently things have grown even more tempestuous. FIFA has handed down a two-window acquisition ban (Initially Summer 2019 and January 2020, but likely to be delayed, and perhaps mitigated, by appeal). Now we have questions surrounding Sarri’s hold on the team as goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted out for Willy Caballero prior to penalty kicks in the Carabao Cup final loss to Manchester City. All this comes under the cloud of their one true superstar, Eden Hazard, constantly being linked with an exit to Real Madrid.
Will the players be able to pull together the locker room, and can Sarri come up with a formula for success on the pitch? Or will this season end in a spectacular bomb, ruining things for all involved? (Including fantasy managers, of course.) Even more so, given the impending transfer ban, Chelsea will not want to lose Hazard. But if the Blues fail to make Champions League for the second consecutive season and give yet another manager the axe in short order, how can their Belgian star possibly be happy staying in London?
After losing out on the Carabao Cup trophy, Chelsea forged a big result against Spurs, winning 2-0 at Stamford Bridge with Caballero starting over Kepa. Does that portend a strong finish, or will inconsistency return and doom the Blues?
6. Is Leicester Set to Flourish After Sacking Claude Puel?
We have witnessed the new manager bump from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United and Ralph Hasenhuttl at Southampton, as both teams have flourished following the reigns of Jose Mourinho and Mark Hughes, respectively. On the other hand, we have also seen no change in fortune after Jan Siewert took over from David Wagner at Huddersfield and Claudio Ranieri replaced Slavisa Jokanovic at Fulham; both teams seem destined to suffer relegation.
Puel was fired largely due to a disastrous final set of six results, with five defeats and one draw. But that came against a fairly daunting schedule which included the visit of Manchester United along with trips to Wolves, Liverpool and Spurs. Match-ups look considerably rosier over the next 7 contests: at Watford, v. Fulham, at Burnley, v. Bournemouth, at Huddersfield, v. Newcastle, and at West Ham. (Then the final three turn brutal: v. Arsenal, at Manchester City, and v, Chelsea).
Now Brendan Rodgers, a manager with a proven Premier League pedigree at Swansea and Liverpool, takes charge at Leicester. The Foxes beat Brighton 2-1 Tuesday with Rodgers looking on from the stands. With Roberto Pereira the only Leicester player selected by more than 5% of FPL managers, is the team a good shout for a differential chance or two from the likes of Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, or Demarai Gray? Or does Rodgers need time to put his stamp on the organization?
7. How Many Teams Will be Involved in the Relegation Battle?
Motivation is something that fantasy managers look for in teams, as that filters down to their players. Every team involved in the relegation battle will have plenty of motivation; some will rise to the challenge, while others will fold under the pressure. But just how many teams are there who will be stuck in that muck, fighting it out?
Right now, the three teams from 16th through 18th place (Brighton, Southampton, and Cardiff) are separated by only two points. That’s a pretty small number of teams. If we look further, the gap between the 13th and 18th spots is six points. Should Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Burnley be worried about getting pulled back into the relegation scrap, or do they seem fairly safe?
8. Who Will Win the Golden Boot?
Every top sniper in the Premier League wants to win the Golden Boot trophy, whether for the first time or to add to an already impressive collection. Right now it’s shaping up to be an absolutely fantastic finish, with Sergio Aguero (18 goals) closely followed by Mohamed Salah (17), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (16), Harry Kane (15), and Sadio Mane (14).
If one of those players can pull away and create some distance in the goal scoring race, fantasy managers featuring that star will find themselves beaming with a beautifully auric glow. Who can forget the end of season bonanza in 2016-17 for Harry Kane, who scored 10 goals with 3 assists in the final seven games? Is there one player who seems poised to go on a tear and finish with a rash of scores in these last 10 fixtures?
9. Which Winter Transfer is Set to Bring the Biggest Impact?
Last year, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was fantasy gold after coming from Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal, scoring 10 goals with 4 assists in the final 13 games. There is no shortage of intriguing January transfers on the offensive end this season, headlined by Chelsea’s Gonzalo Higuaín, Crystal Palace’s Michy Batshuayi, Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron, Cardiff’s Oumar Niasse, Fulham’s Ryan Babel, Leicester’s Youri Tielemans, and Arsenal’s Denis Suarez.
Now that there have been a few game-weeks to see how they have all settled in so far, have you changed your opinion on whether any of those players can replicate PEA’s immediate impact, or even come close? Have you revitalized your fantasy team by taking a flyer on any of the newcomers, or is it better to stick with a more tried-and-true tack?
10. Just How Messy Will the Schedule End Up?
With no snow days this winter, scheduling has been relatively simple so far, but from here on out, everything gets much more complicated due to past, present and future fixtures in outside competitions. A flurry of blanks and double game weeks will test the blood pressure of even the most seasoned fantasy managers, as we agonize over which teams and players to prioritize, how to plan ahead, and when to utilize our chips.
Each having played only 27 games, Chelsea and Brighton are the only two teams with a game in hand. At the moment, we’re officially looking at a schedule featuring the following game weeks with more or fewer than the standard 10 games:
- Week 31: 5 games (blanks from Arsenal, Brighton, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton, Tottenham, Watford, and Wolves)
- Week 32: 11 games (double game week for Manchester United and Wolves)
- Week 33: 9 games (blanks from Manchester United and Wolves)
- Week 35: 11 games (double game week for Manchester City and Manchester United)
But that’s just what we have officially now. The schedule still simply doesn’t add up, so clearly there are yet to be more wrenches tossed into the tool box. Not only is planning already tricky, it is even more difficult since much remains to be finalized. Do you have a decent handle on the best strategy for your team, or are there too many unknowns?
Which of the above questions are most intertwined with the key players on your fantasy teams, and how do you expect those answers to shake out? What other queries and concerns do you have? Please share your thoughts in the coments below!