The English Premier League returns to action tomorrow after a two-week layoff for international competition. In addition to the usual ankles, knees, knocks, etc that we always worry about when our fantasy players trade their club jerseys for the shirts of their countries, this season we also have to fret over Covid-19 bubble-breaking, as merely being in contact with someone who tests positive can be enough to take stars out of action.
Let’s dive in to the latest team news to see who’s in and who’s out.
Saturday 17 October
Everton vs Liverpool
Note: this is the early game, so check the comments for confirmed lineups about 45 minutes before the Fantrax deadline.
Pitting the defending EPL champs Liverpool against currently undefeated table-toppers Everton, this edition of the Merseyside Derby should be a cracker. The Toffees and the Reds are respectively joint-first and joint-second for goals-scored, Everton is steamrolling teams for fun, and ‘Pool is coming off a humiliating 2-7 thrashing by Aston Villa. Prepare to be entertained.
Everton outs/doubts: Jonjoe Kenny and Jarrad Branthwaite are unavailable, both carrying ankle injuries. Mason Holgate is sidelined with a toe injury, and Jean Philippe-Gbamin remains out of action as he recovers from Achilles surgery.
Liverpool outs/doubts: Naby Keita is unavailable after testing positive for Covid-19, but Sadio Mané and Thiago Alcantara should be available after completing periods of self-isolation. Konstaninos Tsimikas (thigh) is a doubt. Alisson is out with a shoulder injury (probably leaving Adrian to deputize again!), and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will miss with a knee injury.
Chelsea vs Southampton
There could be fireworks in this one too. Frank Lampard’s side may finally debut Hakim Ziyech and complete the long-awaited return of Christian Pulisic. But Chelsea’s defense is sketchy, and Edouard Mendy’s thigh injury means we could see the error-prone Kepa Arrizabalaga back between the sticks. Danny Ings — one of the most lethal strikers in the Prem — will be waiting to pounce on any mistakes the embattled Spanish netminder makes.
Chelsea outs/doubts: Lampard has ruled out Edouard Mendy (thigh) and Thiago Silva (travel fatigue), but Christian Pulisic and Ben Chilwell have passed fit. Hakim Ziyech is also fit, but Lampard says he will only make the bench. Billy Gilmour underwent knee surgery recently and will be sidelined for months.
Southampton outs/doubts: Stuart Armstrong is in quarantine for Covid-19 and will miss out. Moussa Djenepo has a hamstring problem, and Salisu continues to build match fitness.
Manchester City vs Arsenal
Trounced by Leicester before tying with newly-promoted Leeds, Manchester City sport a .500 record, are in 14th place (though with a game in hand), and have a negative goal differential. To say that City are off to an uncharacteristically poor start would be an understatement.
On the other hand, the Gunners have enjoyed an excellent start to the season, accumulating a 3-1 record to sit in fourth place. They also won the Community Shield and have advanced to the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup.
It’s always fun to watch Mikel Arteta face off against his former mentor (kind of like Ken and Padawan). You can be sure that Pep Guardiola will look to avenge the defeat he was handed the last time these two men squared off back in July, when Arsenal eliminated City in the FA Cup semifinals on their way to winning that trophy.
Manchester City outs/doubts: Sergio Aguero, Ilkay Gundogan, Oleksandr Zinchenko, and Jesus are all building fitness, but Gundogan seems the only one in with a chance to start this weekend (though Aguero is reported to be “in the squad”). Raheem Sterling withdrew from the English national squad, but Pep did not name-check him in his press conference. He did rule out Kevin De Bruyne for tomorrow though, and there are rumors circulating that he could be sidelined for several games (possibly opening a Gareth-Bale-sized hole in many fantasy rosters).
Arsenal outs/doubts: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a minor doubt after tweaking his ankle. Reiss Nelson is struggling with a hamstring issue. Kieran Tierney is in isolation for SARS-Cov-2 exposure and will miss out. Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel Martinelli, and Calum Chambers all remain unavailable through injury.
Newcastle vs Manchester United
The Magpies have taken seven points from four games and occupy a spot in the top half of the table. Buoyed by star-man Allan Saint-Maximin’s recent re-signing, Steve Bruce will fancy his side’s chances to take points from a struggling Mancunian side this weekend.
The Red Devils’ only EPL victory in this campaign was fortuitous; they were thoroughly outclassed by Brighton before a penalty-kick goal in the tenth minute of extra time gifted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all three points. Prior to that they were beaten handily by Crystal Palace, and two weeks ago they were embarrassed 1-6 by Tottenham (Newcastle tied Spurs back in September, BTW). OGS needs to find a winning formula quickly, or he could soon be watching EPL games from his couch.
Newcastle outs/doubts: Allan Saint-Maximin has been carrying an ankle injury and was subbed off early against Burnley, but he expects to play this weekend. Jamal Lewis picked up an Achilles issue while on international duty and is now a doubt. Ciaran Clark (thigh), Paul Dummet (match fitness), Jamaal Lascelles (hamstring), and DeAndre Yedlin (knock) are all doubts. Martin Dubravka, Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle, and Mathew Longstaff are long-term absentees.
Manchester United outs/doubts: Anthony Martial will serve the first of a three-game ban after being sent off against Tottenham. Edinson Cavani is in isolation per government guidelines, having arrived in England from France after his signing. Harry Maguire is a doubt with a knock, and Phil Jones remains sidelined with a knee injury.
Sunday 18 October
Sheffield United vs Fulham
The Blades are winless after four games and sit tied with this weekend’s visitors for joint-bottom on points. Worse, they’ve scored only one goal while allowing six. Consequently, this match is massive for Chris Wilder, and his attacking options will be boosted by the record signing of Rhian Brewster. Surplus to requirements at Liverpool, the 20-year-old is now set to become a regular in Wilder’s S11.
And what better fixture for the youngster to open his account than a home match against magnanimous Fulham? Many of us picked the Cottagers for an immediate return to the Championship, and so far they’ve done nothing to prove us wrong. Like Sheffield, they’ve taken zero points from four games, but they’ve given up almost twice as many goals. Though this fixture could be called the “Battle in the Basement”, it’s hard to see this match ending with anything other than Sheffield’s first victory.
Sheffield United outs/doubts: John Egan looks set to miss out as he must self-isolate due to a Covid-19 contact. John Fleck is struggling with a back issue. Oliver Burke has a knock. David McGoldrick picked up an abductor issue on international duty and is a doubt. Lys Mousset and Jack O’Connell are long-term absentees.
Fulham outs/doubts: Harrison Reed and Mario Lemina are doubts with knocks.
Crystal Palace vs Brighton
It’ll be Eagles vs. Seagulls when these two east London sides take the pitch on Sunday in the latest edition of the M23 derby. The Eagles began the season in soaring fashion, with victories over Southampton and Manchester United. But their last two outings brought them back down to earth, as both ended in defeat (including a 0-4 humbling at Stamford Bridge before the break).
The Seagulls have so far failed to take flight, taking points from just one of their four games. Though his improved offense has been entertaining to watch, Graham Potter will have to sort out a defense that has conceded 10 goals if he wants to stay above the relegation zone.
Crystal Palace outs/doubts: Wayne Hennessey and James McCarthy suffered hamstring injuries while on international duty and are doubtful. Gary Cahill (knee), James Tomkins (thigh), Patrick Van Aanholt (shoulder), and Conor Wickham have returned to training after recovering from their respective injuries, but all remain short of match fitness. Jeffrey Schlupp is a doubt with a muscle issue.
Brighton outs/doubts: Tariq Lamptey is a doubt with a hamstring issue, and Davy Propper hopes to recover from an Achilles injury in time to feature. Aaron Connolly’s status is uncertain after he picked up a knock over the break, and José Izquierdo remains short of match fitness. Alireza Jahanbakhsh suffered a hamstring injury on international duty and will not feature.
Tottenham vs West Ham
Spurs are currently positioned 6th, having picked up seven points from four games this season. Fresh off a 6-1 drubbing of Manchester United, and unbeaten in their last seven across all competitions, they’ll look to continue their run of form against their neighbors to the south.
The Hammers are also enjoying a run of form, beating Wolves 4-0 before knocking top-of-the-table Everton out of the Carabao Cup and handing Leicester its only league defeat of the season. But they’ve managed only one win from their last six meetings with Spurs, so history will not be on their side on Sunday.
Tottenham outs/doubts: Taphet Tanganga and Giovanni Lo Celso will both miss out. Eric Dier picked up a hamstring injury on international duty and is a doubt. Gareth Bale has returned to training after recovering from a knee injury and is available.
West Ham outs/doubts: Ryan Fredericks is a doubt with a hamstring injury. Arthur Masuaku injured his knee on international duty and may not be available.
Leicester vs Aston Villa
Leicester had been chewing up the opposition before West Ham put a blemish on their perfect record last time out. But also on a roll are the Villans, who are undefeated after three games and sit in second place, ahead of the third-place Foxes on goal differential. This game will tell us a lot about Villa. Has the summer somehow transformed them into a force to be reckoned with, or have they only been riding a rogue wave that will soon crash onto the shore?
Leicester outs/doubts: Jamie Vardy has a calf injury and Johnny Evans picked up an abdominal issue. Demarai Gray is recovering from a stomach bug, while James Maddison is a doubt with a calf strain and Daniel Amartey has a hamstring injury. Dennis Praet is struggling with an unspecified issue, and Ricardo Pereira and Wilfred Ndidi remain unavailable.
Aston Villa outs/doubts: Tom Heaton is building fitness after his knee injury, but this weekend probably comes too soon. Kortney Hause is a doubt with a muscle issue. Bjorn Engels will miss out with a thigh injury, and Wesley is a long-term absentee.
Monday 19 October
West Brom vs Burnley
Another clash of winless teams, this one pits #17 against #18. Not many will be surprised to find the Baggies dangling just a single point above the drop zone, but the Clarets finished last season in the top half of the table. Is it too early to call this match a relegation-zone six-pointer?
West Brom outs/doubts: Hal Robson-Kanu broke his arm against Southampton on 4 October and will now be unavailable for about a month. Callum Robinson must self-isolate after a Covid-19 contact. Kenneth Zohore is building fitness as he recovers from a long-term calf injury.
Burnley outs/doubts: Kevin Long (cut), Matthew Lowton (knock), Ben Mee (thigh), and Jay Rodriguez (ankle) and Johan Berg Gudmundsson (groin) are all doubts. Jack Cork remains unavailable as he continues his recovery from ankle surgery.
Leeds United vs Wolves
I have to admit that in spite of his reputation as a tactical wizard, I was skeptical of “El Loco” Bielsa’s prospects for success in the Premier League. Newly-promoted teams just generally do not do well when they try to maintain the same open, attacking style of play that won them entrance to the top-flight. But they’ve suffered defeat only once so far despite having played the league’s two best teams already, and they are currently positioned in 8th place. They’re tied on points with Tottenham and Chelsea, and are ahead of both Manchester United and Manchester City. Their courageous play is winning them many admirers, including a formerly-skeptical David Brian.
One can draw parallels to Nuno Espírito Santo, who fearlessly guided his newly-promoted Wolves to a 7th place finish back in 2018-19. This campaign has so far proven more difficult for him though, with wins against Sheffield United and Fulham sandwiching losses to Manchester City and West Ham. “O Substituto” will hope he can begin building momentum ahead of a stretch of matches that will feature Leicester, Arsenal, and Liverpool within a four-match period beginning in GW-8.
Leeds United outs/doubts: Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente picked up knocks on international duty and may not be ready to feature. Pablo Hernandez (groin) and Kiko Casilla (ankle) are also doubts. Adam Forshaw has been out for months recovering from hip surgery.
Wolves outs/doubts: Fernando Marcal is a doubt with a calf issue. Jonny is a long-term absentee with an ACL injury.
Were any of your fantasy assets victims of the international break? (KDB sitting out probably means yes for most of us, especially in Fantrax where his ridiculously low price was a no-brainer). Were you forced to use a Wildcard this week? Which of this round’s fixtures offer the most promise, and which are you avoiding? Any breaking team news to share? Please join us in the comments to let us know!
And be here in the count-down hour to debate last-minute transfers and to see confirmed Everton & Liverpool lineups ahead of the Fantrax deadline.