The Best XI definitely enjoyed admiring its toys on Boxing Day, as Week 18’s team produced a return of six goals, two assists, and two clean sheets, with the only dark lining being the play of its goalkeeper.
Speaking of him, Tim Howard did not allow any goals versus Sunderland, but that’s because he was shown a straight red card after 23 minutes for a foul in the penalty area. The American will now be suspended for three matches.
Similarly, defender Seamus Coleman's favorable clean sheet bid was undone when Sunderland converted the aforementioned Howard penalty from the spot, the only goal the Toffees conceded on the day. Conversely, Branislav Ivanovic posted a second consecutive clean sheet as Chelsea prevailed 1-0 over Swansea City, but Sabastien Bassong’s seven clearances and four tackles were not enough to prevent Fulham from scoring twice in a home loss.
Moving up the pitch, Yaya Toure could not extend his goal-scoring streak to three games versus Liverpool, but his midfield comrades more than picked up the slack. Both Theo Walcott and Jay Rodriguez netted road braces, with the latter also picking up an assist. Then, Yoan Gouffran also scored in his team’s winning display, allowing the midfield to carry the Boxing Day squad.
Up front, after Romelu Lukaku’s Everton side went down to 10 men, the striker was needed more in defensive areas, which hindered his service. Despite the tactical shift, Lukaku still mustered five shot attempts (two on goal), but as the Best XI captain, he probably would have fared better against a poor Sunderland defense if his side had been at full-strength. Nevertheless, Wayne Rooney provided a goal and an assist at Hull City, providing some return from the striking trio, since Luis Suarez was held scoreless for just the fourth time in 13 games this season, while also receiving a late yellow card as Liverpool fell to Manchester City.
After Boxing Day’s full-slate of games, the Premiership now turns around in quick succession for another complete set of fixtures spread across Saturday and Sunday. As such, teams will be coming off either just one or two day’s rest, making squad rotations highly likely. If that doesn’t test managers’ flexibility enough, another all-inclusive set of matches awaits on New Year’s Day.
It’s an awesome period for supporters watching all the action, but the amount of games over such a tight schedule complicates the decisions of both fantasy and reality managers. Being so, be sure to monitor the latest team and injury news ahead of selecting your side.
Looking at the fixtures, Saturday sees second-place Manchester City welcome Crystal Palace in a game the hosts figure to dominate, while their cross-town rivals United head to Norwich City in another uneven pairing.
Sunday features four top-ten matches. League leaders Arsenal travel north to sixth-place Newcastle, while Chelsea versus Liverpool matches third against fourth. Then, Everton-Southampton pits teams with contrasting Boxing Day experiences, as the Toffees' unbeaten streak was broken, while the Saints stopped their winless run. Rounding out the day, eighth-positioned Tottenham greet tenth Stoke City.
Clearly, there are plenty of considerations to take into account this gameweek, but to help pinpoint potential difference-makers, here’s Week 19’s Best XI.
Joe Hart (Manchester City) – After losing his No. 1 position for a few weeks, Hart is back as City’s first-choice keeper. He’s managed four saves in both of his last two outings, but may not need to duplicate that average versus Crystal Palace this weekend, when a clean sheet is a very reasonable expectation at home.
Kyle Walker (Tottenham) – Two Boxing Day red cards for Stoke City will force manager Mark Hughes to change his side at White Hart Lane on Sunday. With the Potters averaging less than a goal per road game this season, Walker should like the matchup and is always a threat offensively as well.
John Terry (Chelsea) – Consecutive clean sheets for Chelsea should encourage manager Jose Mourinho to continue to deploy defensive tactics no matter where his team plays. The Blues host Liverpool this weekend, so if Terry and his cast of companions can hold Luis Suarez as bay, they could make it a trio of scoreless outings in a row.
Curtis Davies (Hull City) – The Tigers will feel they were unlucky to not earn a result after opening up an early lead against Man United on Boxing Day. As such, they’ll look to avenge their loss versus lowly Fulham this weekend. Davies and Hull City have been resilient at home this season, while the Cottagers have just eight away goals, so playing at the KC Stadium could aid Davies’ prospects.
Jonas Olssen (West Brom) – The Baggies have allowed just one goal in each of their last three games, so they’ll be eager to keep a clean defensive performance at last this weekend. Fortunately, West Brom plays second-last West Ham, and although just three points currently separate the teams, neither side is known for their scoring prowess, making Olssen a decent selection.
Christian Eriken (Tottenham) – The Danish starlet recently came back from over a month-long injury absence and scored his team’s only goal from a beautiful free-kick on Boxing Day. Facing a Stoke City side fresh off conceding five goals, Eriksen’s young legs could help break down the Potters’ second-worst road defense come Sunday.
David Silva (Manchester City) – The straw the stirs City’s drink, Silva often finds space between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines to fuel his team offensively. Given the Spaniard’s home game against Crystal Palace, he very well could add to his total of two goals and two assists over his last five games across all competitions.
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal) – The technically gifted Cazorla conducted many of Arsenal’s attacking moves against West Ham on Boxing Day and by taking eight shots (two on goal), he posed a threat to score as well. With a difficult road game versus Newcastle, it’s likely Cazorla will be included in the Gunners’ starting lineup once again to provide his usual creative influence, which could ideally result in an assist or goal, if not both.
Wayne Rooney (C) (Manchester United) – With one goal and four assists over his last three games, Rooney is on top form and taking advantage of Robin van Persie (thigh) being sidelined. Along with the Dutch striker, Danny Welbeck (knee) has been banged-up of late, so Rooney should continue to be the Red Devils’ most likely scorer. Since only one team has allowed more goals than Norwich City thus far, Rooney stands a great chance to contribute to the scoresheet, earning his this week's captain designation.
Edin Dzeko (Manchester City) – With Alvaro Negredo expected to be rested, Dzeko should be handed a starting opportunity Saturday versus Crystal Palace. Although the Bosnian has started just six league games this season, he's still scored nine goals in 20 appearances for City across all competitions. He's a productive striker when utilized and this weekend's matchup should allow him to prove just that.
Loic Remy (Newcastle) – The Frenchman has been linked to Arsenal in the past and Sunday’s game gives Remy the stage to demonstrate his ability to the Gunners first-hand. The striker scored two goals on Boxing Day, but could have made it a hat-trick had he not missed a penalty-kick. Also, Remy plays more freely at St. James’ Park, evidenced by his 34 attempts through eight home games this season.
Walker – Terry – Davies – Olssen
Eriksen – Silva – Cazorla
Rooney (C) – Dzeko – Remy