It’s an eight-game weekend, which means it’s a cheap excuse to share the theme song opening of a classic 1970s/‘80s dramedy which clearly existed as a way to one-up — or actually two-up — The Brady Bunch, which only had a meager collection of six kids.
Let’s run down a half dozen talking points for the fantasy weekend:
1. Is Tottenham Going to be Able to Summon Any Offense?
After Son Heung-Min’s injury put him on the shelf alongside Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur had one hand tied behind its back, offering a built-in excuse for the offensive slow-down seen in the pair of games since as the team was held scoreless at home by RB Leipzig and then managed just an own goal from Chelsea at Old Trafford. However, Jose Mourinho’s perplexing decision to tie both hands together behind their back by sitting Dele Alli on the bench against the Blues made the team’s scoring prospects even more daunting. Spurs fans have become accustomed in recent seasons to an imposing attacking diamond featuring Kane, Son, Alli and Christian Eriksen; it was a complete makeover as none in that quartet started against Chelsea; instead it was comprised of Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso.
With another tough fixture this weekend looming, this time at home to Wolves, will Mou again adopt an overly defensive approach and doom the hopes for good returns from Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn et al.? Or might he throw caution to the wind and actually put out his best assemblage of attackers from the remaining options to give hope for an attractive brand of football and possible fantasy spoils?
2. Shall Liverpool Stumble, or Keep the Magic Alive?
The Reds have enjoyed a truly magical season, but recently have really had to pull the rabbit out of the hat as they haven’t quite looked like world beaters. In their past three games across all competitions, Liverpool eked out victory over last place Norwich City 1-0 requiring a second half goal, lost 1-0 away to Atletico Madrid, and then unexpectedly found themselves down 2-1 in the second half at home against relegation level West Ham United, requiring a lot of luck with a late pair of scores in order to bring sweet relief for the Anfield faithful.
Now the quest for immortality continues with a trip to 19th place Watford. On paper it looks like a major mismatch, and Sadio Mane’s return to fitness has restored the attacking line to full force. But underappreciated captain and influential midfielder Jordan Henderson is out injured, and we’ve seen the Reds play down to the level of their competition with surprising regularity lately. Can the Reds — and their fantasy stars — get back to form and dominate as would normally be expected, or are we in store for another sluggish effort following the theme of recent weeks?
3. Can Any Team Stake a Claim to the #5 Spot?
Manchester City’s ban from European competition covering the next two seasons (pending appeal of course) opened the Champions League and Europa League races each up to an additional team from the Premier League. That means that the fifth spot in the table should bring an EPL squad a precious slot in Europe’s premier club competition.
Right now Chelsea is #4 with 44 points, while there are four teams jockeying for #5 with between 39 and 41 points (Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield United, and Wolverhampton), with another three sides in hailing distance at 36 or 37 points (Everton, Burnley and Arsenal). The full complement of three points from any of those teams who are playing this weekend will really get the momentum going; which will oblige?
4. Will We See Any Recently Benched Players Return to the XI?
Some highly-selected players have been put on the bench recently do the dismay of fantasy managers. Not counting Sheffield United defender John Lundstram (selected by 40% of FPL managers) whose team is blank this week, there are a few others — Crystal Palace defender Martin Kelly (21%), Wolverhampton midfielder Adama Traore (21%), and Bournemouth defender Diego Rico (11%) — who did not start in Week 27, and in Kelly’s case, a couple of games prior to that as well. (The aforementioned Dele Alli is at 5%.) Will any of them be called upon for a return to the XI, or will they all continue to frustrate managers who haven’t been able to swap them out for more sure starters?
5. How Secure Do You Feel about Your Chip Strategy?
Patient fantasy managers are holding onto their remaining chips, awaiting a hopeful bonanza of double game weeks to come. However, circumstances have tempted many managers to toss a dearly held chip into play in Week 28. Whether you did or did not play any of your remaining chips, are you confident that you made the right decision, or do you have doubt that your strategy will pay off?
6. Is it Possible for VAR to Have a Rare Weekend Without Controversy?
EPL VAR has simply been a joke in its inaugural season. Those of us who had witnessed VAR’s introduction in World Cup and Champions League have been blindsided by the Premiership’s farcical utilization of the technology. There are two basic elements that I think the fans, players, and managers want:
- Get the call right.
- Be consistent.
On those counts, EPL VAR is 0 for 2. World Cup and Champions League were not perfect — nothing is — but generally speaking they did the job admirably well. They got the call right the vast majority of the time, and they were reasonably consistent. When it comes the EPL VAR, though, it has reached the point where I’m actually more shocked when they get a call correct than when they blow it. In terms of consistency, end judgment is completely all over the place, leaving observers in the stands or at home absolutely no idea what ruling to expect.
The tipping point of absurdity may have come in the past two weeks, both times involving Chelsea. In Week 26, Manchester United’s Harry Maguire kicked out at Michy Batshuayi in the first half, and the ref chose not to punish the Red Devils’ defender. In an identical situation not too long ago, Spurs’ Son Heung-Min was given a red card by VAR for kicking out at Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger. Naturally, everybody expected the same fate for Maguire. However, miraculously VAR punted, choosing no punishment for Maguire. Adding insult to injury, instead of being off the pitch, Maguire later scored the capping goal in Manchester United’s victory.
In Week 27, Tottenham’s Giovani Lo Celso made a careless, vicious “ankle breaker” tackle on Cesar Azpilicueta early in the second half, which the ref surprisingly did not deem worthy of even a yellow card, let a lone a red card. Watching the replay made it obvious to all but the most biased fans that it was clearly worthy of dismissal. However, VAR inexplicably punted, opting not to punish Lo Celso. After the fact, the EPL admitted error from VAR.
Will we see more of the same lunacy in Week 28 from EPL VAR, as it perhaps turns irrevocably toward revolt? Or is it possible that the worst is behind us now that the Premiership has finally copped to having a problem and that the league will somehow get things fixed?
Norwich City v. Leicester City (XIs available prior to Fantrax deadline)
Brighton & Hove Albion v. Crystal Palace (early game)
AFC Bournemouth v. Chelsea
Newcastle v. Burnley
West Ham v. Southampton
Watford FC v. Liverpool (late game)
Everton v. Manchester United
Tottenham v. Wolves
Which games are you watching? Join us in the comments below as the action unfolds live!