After an outstanding return on Boxing Day, the Best XI faltered a bit from the quick turnaround of games this weekend. With one inexplicable selection and late breaking injury news on last week’s captain, the Best XI fielded just nine players. On the bright side, none of those nine players fell victim to their respective clubs rotating lineups and in total, the side amassed five clean sheets and one goal.
At goalkeeper, Joe Hart overcame a nasty gash just below his eye to make four saves and keep a clean sheet for Manchester City.
Admittedly, Kyle Walker marked the Best XI’s most embarrassing selection of this season. The left-back was suspended for his team’s 3-0 win over Stoke City for previously compiling his fifth yellow card. Yikes.
John Terry’s Chelsea side indeed held Luis Suarez to just one shot on goal, but it was defender Martin Skrtel that broke the deadlock with a third-minute score. The Englishman was also shown a yellow card later in the match. Fortunately, Curtis Davies earned his sixth clean sheet of the season in his team’s rout of Fulham, because Jonas Olssen’s three-man West Brom defense conceded three times versus West Ham.
Last week’s trio of creative midfielders was fairly tame offensively, but still managed to make fantasy contributions defensively. David Silva and Santi Cazorla both picked up clean sheet points, with the former also being shown his fifth yellow card, ruling him out this gameweek. Then, Christian Eriksen led Tottenham with six shot attempts (three on goal) in a clean sheet effort.
Up top, last week’s captain, Wayne Rooney, suffered a groin injury that caused him to be a late omission from Manchester United’s team to play Norwich City. However, Edin Dzeko took advantage of a rare starting opportunity by scoring the only goal in Man City’s win, while Loic Remy surprisingly did not attempt a single shot during his match against Arsenal
To summarize, last week’s side can be applauded for its defensive totals, but two selections proved costly, especially given the lack of offensive firepower.
Moving on, the Premier League will ring in 2014 with all 20 teams playing on New Year’s Day. Manchester United v. Tottenham and Southampton-Chelsea headline matchups in the top half, while the London Derby of Fulham against West Ham and Aston Villa at Sunderland feature two matchups of teams struggling mightily at the moment.
The busy holiday period is nearly over, but managers will have weekend FA Cup Third Round ties to consider for their squad selections this week. After that, teams will deservedly have until the weekend of January 11 to rest up for the continuation of Premiership play.
Additionally, since we’re now halfway into the season, the occurrence of return fixtures begins this gameweek. Being so, looking up results between opponents from earlier this season could help in the decision making process.
With the stage set, let’s look ahead to the New Year with this week’s Best XI.
Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal) – With 59 saves and eight clean sheet performances through 19 games, Szczesny has been fantasy’s best keeper thus far. The Pole has a favorable home matchup versus manager-less Cardiff City this week, and Arsenal have held the Bluebirds scoreless in their last three meetings.
Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) – As City eyes the league summit, they travel to Wales to face Swansea City this week. The Swans are winless in their last five, while City has won 10-of-11 across all competitions. Along with that, the Citizens have three straight clean sheets against Swansea and Kompany has scored twice in his last three games.
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) – The Frenchman returned last weekend from a knee gash to string together a clean sheet at Newcastle. When healthy, he’s a virtual lock to start in Arsenal’s defense. His opponent, Cardiff City, enters Wednesday’s contest tied for the league-low in away goals, with just five through nine games.
Leighton Baines (Everton) – Even though Baines recently missed a number of weeks due to injury, Everton have maintained the league’s best defensive record. The left-back reclaimed his starting position in last weekend’s win and with keeper Tim Howard back for their clash at Stoke City, Baines holds a good chance at a clean sheet.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal) – As anticipated, Walcott has returned from an abdominal injury to make Arsenal’s right attacking position his own, tallying four goals and three assists over his past seven matches. The speed merchant should torment a Cardiff City defense that has leaked eight goals over their last three outings. He’d be a fine captain selection for most teams.
Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle) – Prior to being held without a goal versus Arsenal, Cabaye had scored in his last three matches. His team has recorded two or more goals in five of their last six games against this week’s opponents West Brom, who have gone nine matches without a win.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) – With teammate Joe Allen ruled out, Gerrard could be recalled for Liverpool’s New Year’s Day tie against Hull City. The Kop legend has been aiming at Wednesday for his return from a hamstring injury and after participating in training this week, it appears Gerrard will be good to go. The midfielder scored the Reds’ only goal in their previous encounter with Hull this season and could energize his team after consecutive tough losses.
Samir Nasri (Manchester City) – In light of David Silva’s aforementioned suspension, Nasri figures to assume the instrumental No. 10 role in City’s high-powered attack versus Swansea City. The Frenchman netted a brace against the Swans on December 1, so he’ll hope for similar luck exactly one month later.
Romelu Lukaku (Everton) – After scoring against Stoke City in Everton’s 4-0 triumph in late November, Lukaku will look to lead another goal-happy Toffee performance come Wednesday. The Belgian has the sort of physique to handle Stoke’s physical defensive play, which has proved ineffective of late, evidenced by them shipping eight goals in their last couple games. Also, Stoke will once again be without keeper Asmir Begovic (finger), who needed to make eight saves to prevent things from getting further out-of-hand in the two clubs’ previous matchup.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) – Yes, Rooney’s captain selection last week screwed the Best XI, but we won’t hold a grudge heading into the New Year. The Englishman is expected to play when United host Tottenham, who Rooney scored a double against earlier this term. Spurs’ new manager Tim Sherwood has installed an all-out-attack philosophy, so look for Rooney to catch them vulnerable at Old Trafford.
Luis Suarez (C) (Liverpool) – Following consecutive scoreless away games against Manchester City and Chelsea, Suarez will be thankful for a home pairing with Hull City this week. Liverpool have scored at least three goals in their last six league matches at Anfield, where Suarez has produced at least one goal in every game he’s played there this season. For added motivation, Liverpool dropped their reverse fixture 3-1 at Hull, so look for Suarez to be on the prowl Wednesday, earning him this week’s captain selection.
Kompany – Koscielny – Baines
Walcott – Cabaye – Gerrard – Nasri
Lukaku – Rooney – Suarez (C)