This year’s Christmas isn’t the most wonderful time we are familiar with, thanks to a certain virus doing the rounds. Still, in the spirit of making the most of what we have, the Premier league festive fixtures will continue with and without fans within grounds.
Let’s take a look to what we can enjoy:
[ Unusual for the schedulers, we have a marquee match in the early time slot, which gives the Fantrax managers among us two whole confirmed lineups before their deadline on Saturday. That might even be enough to get some West Coast Americans out of bed (or keep them up until their 3:30 am) to poach a plum differential or two. ]
United have won all six of their away league games, each time spotting the opposition a goal or two before turning the tables. Ole’s men have just made things hard for themselves too often this season. After a slow start there are signs the Red Devils attack is starting to click; both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial look sharper than at any point, plus Bruno is Bruno.
Meanwhile Leicester’s movement and pace will cause the super slow duo of Lindelof and Maguire fits, especially if Jamie Vardy is confirmed fit.
Both sides are as capable of fantastic performances as they are of horror shows, and in United’s case, they can be both during the same game.
Prediction - Anything is possible but I will go with a score draw.
Aston Villa v Crystal Palace
I’m still waiting for the old Roy Hodgson two banks of four solid defensive system to appear. At this point, the Eagles are giving up plenty of chances but looking more likely to score at the other end than we often see. Wilfred Zaha seems to be happy, and on his day is just the player to shine in this fixture.
Villa is playing some great football at times, with Jack Grealish consistently looking a better and better player month by month. Ollie Watkins’ luck surely must change soon; how has he not rewarded his owners in the recent weeks?
Prediction - An open game for me, perhaps a score draw
Scott Parker is slowly doing a decent job developing his slow-starting Fulham men. They were the whipping boys in the early weeks but now look a well organized side that is becoming a handful.
The Saints are a fantastically organized team where every player knows and understands his role. With Danny Ings out, I will give a tip of the hat to the old and wise eyes of Ken who touted Theo Walcott a few weeks back. Theo is an old favorite of mine from his Arsenal days, but I had him down as very past it. Watching him back at Southampton, he looks to be having a final flourish to his top level career. With Ings out, Theo will play the forward role, making runs with Che Adams. I’m still unlikely to go with him, but he is surprisingly in my thoughts.
Prediction - Score draw again.
Arsenal v Chelsea
We have two sides struggling to different degrees at this stage. Arsenal looked really good during the FA Cup run in the summer but appear to have fallen off a cliff this season. I’m not sure quite what has happened to see such an sudden downturn. Arteta got the support he requested in the summer transfer window and is now under heavy pressure. Normally the worst possible opponent for him would be Chelsea.
The blues though have been hit with injuries, so I’m not sure Frank Lampard has found a system that suits all the players at his disposal. James and Chilwell may or may not be out; if missing it’s a big blow. Without them against West Ham, the side looked pretty flat to me. Up top, the form (or lack thereof) of Timo Werner is bad timing. He looks short of confidence and desperately needs a goal; maybe he’ll be gifted a PK to lift his spirits.
Prediction - This should be an away win, but the missing players for Chelsea changes that somewhat. Looks a 1-0, 0-0 or 0-1 game to me.
Manchester City v Newcastle
Should be a banker home win. KDB and Raheem Sterling were rested midweek, and worst of all for Magpies fans was the sight of a certain Kun Agureo warming the bench. He loves a Newcastle massacre, and that’s what I expect despite this City side looking to be declining. Karl Darlow will be severely tested.
Prediction - Home win by 3 goals.
Sheffield United v Everton
Last year I’d fancy the battlers of Sheffield to pinch at least a point here. This season they just can’t get going at all. They also can’t seem to stop the opposition getting chance after chance. Everton was blanked in a League Cup loss on Wednesday, with Richarlison going out early after a head bang. How the Toffees respond may effect their legs and minds in this one.
Prediction - Narrow away win.
Leeds v Burnley
Leeds’ attacking play is relentless and at times ridiculous. Watching the 6-2 smashing at arch-rivals United, you could expect it to knock the stuffing out of them; we will see.
Sean Dyche is an excellent manager, and his Burnley side is now starting to show normal form after a terrible start to the season. Goals for Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood against Wolves will raise their confidence, and they can both be a handful with chests pumped out.
I don’t know what to expect in this one. The flowing attacking play of Leeds could be stifled by a tough Burnley set up, or they could rack up the goals again. It does seem to be a tricky time to play Burnley, and I wonder if they may offer some value in the double that many people don’t expect.
Prediction - Score draw
West Ham v Brighton
The Hammers have surprised a few this season, sitting on more points than the fixture list suggested they would after 14 games. Brighton meanwhile play well at times but couldn’t beat Sheffield and can’t keep clean sheets. All West Ham players are worth a look this week, but we have a couple of riskier options in Bowen and Benrahma I like the most. Benrahma is a player I have been patiently waiting to see break into the 1st team. Greedy and selfish at times, shooting on site, confident and ambitious, he is the stereotype fantasy football player. The benching at Chelsea looks a tactical move by Moyes, so Benrahma is likely to be my Fantrax gamble this week; if James is fit I may even add him in FPL.
Prediction - West Ham home win with a Benrahma haul.
Liverpool v West Brom
Klopp’s men are flexing their muscles. Jose may have thought his Spurs team should have beat them, but Liverpool won the fixture late. That was followed by the 7-0 blitz of Palace that raised eyebrows. Even without VVD, and with the huge injury list this season, the Reds go into Christmas top of the pile.
West Brom will improve under Big Sam, but he needs time to install his approach. He will also need backing in the January transfer window. Until we see his impact on the matchday performances, the Baggies should still be opposed.
For many FPL managers, the Captain’s armband will go on the most obvious captain pick all season: a white-hot Mohamed Salah. If you don’t have him, then Andrew Robertson, Sadio Mane or an early pick up of TAA would be a good shout.
Prediction - Not 7-0 but I would think 3- or 4-0.
Wolves v Tottenham
Spurs have done a Spurs in the last two weeks. When talked up as a contender for the title, suddenly it has been two defeats and a draw in the last three. Typical Spurs.
Wolves have three defeats in four, but they did beat Chelsea in game-week 13. Minus Doherty, Jonny and Jimenez from last season’s consistent team, and with Traore off form, they are a very different Wolves side now.
Prediction - Any result is possible, but with both teams needing to stop their negative runs, I see it being low risk and low scoring. Maybe 1-0 Jose, Kane a poacher’s effort.
A key point to consider
With rotation in mind, be aware that six sides (Palace, Leicester, Chelsea, Villa, Everton and Man City) play their game week 16 fixtures on the 28th, giving them just a two day turnover between games. Certainly owners of the likes of Jamie Vardy, Ben Chilwell (already injured), Timo Werner, Jack Grealish, DCL, and KDB will cast anxious eyes when the team sheets come out. Even starters may have minutes managed.
Game-week 15’s focus will be on the City coverage. Neither KDB or Raheem Sterling played a part in City’s 4-1 League Cup win over Arsenal on Tuesday evening, so we can reasonably expect them to start against Newcastle. But should Pep find himself well ahead after an hour, we shouldn’t be surprised to see see him save stars for the game on the 28th against Everton. John Stones is finally finding form and seems first choice. Both Dias and Laporte prefer to play the left hand center-back role, while Stones is the best of the trio playing from the back. He looks the safest City defender to select looking at just this game week.
Game-week 15 then is straightforward in my mind. The challenge follows the 11am (UK time) Boxing Day cut off. At that stage, it’s wildcard time for me with an eye on the game-week 18 blank -> game-week 19 double. Hopefully over this weekend you can help me discuss planning ahead.
Finally we wish all our readers a happy / merry Christmas. Open a bottle or can of something nice and please join us in NMA’s virtual FPL & Fantrax Pub to chat with us in the below.