Following Week 23 of Premier League action, we now have a new league leader in Manchester City, who dismantled Tottenham for the second time this season on Wednesday. While the Citizens should enjoy their top positioning, they’ll face a stiff test against Chelsea come Monday. Jose Mourinho’s club suffered a disappointing scoreless draw at home Wednesday, a game that featured two Best XI selections from the Blues.
On that note, let’s review how the Best XI fared over the latest slate of fixtures.
At goalkeeper, Chelsea's Petr Cech needed to make just one save in order to preserve his ninth clean sheet of this season.
Across the back, Patrice Evra led Manchester United in both tackles (six) and interceptions (four), as the Red Devils blanked Cardiff City. Like Evra, Sunderland's Phil Bardsley was part of a scoreless defensive effort; however, after receiving a yellow card in the first-half, Bardsley was prevented from earning clean sheet points because he was substituted at halftime due to injury. Rounding out the group, Leandro Bacuna contributed a goal to Aston Villa's 4-3 win over West Brom, but as the scoreline suggests, he could have fared better defensively.
In the midfield, both Eden Hazard and Juan Mata earned clean sheets, with the latter also providing an assist in his Manchester United debut. Then, while Everton's Kevin Mirallas was shown a yellow card, Santi Cazorla continued his strong form by netting Arsenal's second goal during their 2-2 draw at Southampton.
Up front, captain Sergio Aguero found the scoresheet once again, but an injury limited the Argentine to just one half of play and a yellow card also hurt his stock. Speaking of injuries, Romelu Lukaku was stretchered off 25 minutes into Tuesday's Merseyside Derby with ankle damage that will keep him sidelined in the coming weeks. While the final member of last week's strike force actually played a full 90 minutes, Swansea City's Wilfried Bony also received a yellow card.
In all, the side tallied three goals, one assist, four clean sheets, four yellow cards, and three injuries, making for a busy overall performance.
Looking ahead to Week 24 of the Premiership, the aforementioned Chelsea at Manchester City tie certainly headlines the coming fixtures. However, with the match likely to be tightly contested, it may be best to look elsewhere for fantasy purposes.
Arsenal hosting Crystal Palace seems like a matchup to exploit, although the Gunners’ midfield is quite banged-up at the moment.
Other fine prospects likely include Liverpool against West Brom, Southampton at Fulham, and perhaps Manchester United versus Stoke City; however, it may be premature to invest full trust in the Red Devils.
While those matchups look capable of producing plenty of fantasy points, the Tyne-Wear Derby of Newcastle versus Sunderland should be a joy to watch from a spectator perspective.
Now that the stage has been set, let’s unveil gameweek 24’s potential fantasy studs.
Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal) – Currently leading the league with 10 clean sheets, Szczesny eyes a very favorable matchup versus Crystal Palace on Sunday. No team has scored fewer goals than Palace this season and no team has allowed fewer goals at home than Arsenal. After a four-save clean sheet in October, Szczesny could hold the Eagles scoreless once again this weekend.
Kyle Walker (Tottenham) – Coming off a poor defensive effort at home, Walker and Tottenham travel to Hull City this weekend in search of their sixth straight road win. Hull have not scored in their last four games and Walker’s team will do their best to keep the Tigers in their misery.
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal) – The towering Mertesacker faces the league’s worst attack this weekend, when Crystal Palace head to Arsenal. The Gunners have posted a clean sheet in six of their last seven home outings and Mertesacker’s height usually poses a threat to score off a corner kick.
Patrice Evra (Manchester United) – The Frenchman produced a clean sheet for the Best XI during the midweek and he earns another selection this time around. While playing at Stoke City in cup competition during December, Evra scored a goal in United’s 2-0 win. The Potters have not scored for three games and even though their offense fares better at home, Evra still holds a decent shot at another clean sheet.
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – Although he hasn’t scored since the beginning of December, Ozil continues to pull the strings in Arsenal’s midfield. The German picked up an assist in the Gunners’ midweek draw at Southampton and his technique should help counter the physical defense of Crystal Palace this weekend. All of Ozil’s goals for Arsenal have come at home, where the Gunners will look to build their streak to five consecutive games of two or more goals on Sunday.
Adam Lallana (Southampton) – A revelation this season, Lallana scored his sixth goal Tuesday against Arsenal. This weekend, he could very well follow that effort up with another shining performance at Fulham. The Cottagers’ defense has allowed 10 more goals than any other unit this season, so Lallana could play the beneficiary on Saturday.
Adam Johnson (Sunderland) – After a terrible start to the campaign, Sunderland have now only lost twice in their last 13 matches across all competitions. As such, the Black Cats enter this weekend’s derby versus Newcastle full of confidence. A player that epitomizes Sunderland’s resurgence is Adam Johnson, who has scored in three straight league games. With Newcastle selling Yohan Cabaye, a key cog in the heart of the park, Johnson should find the ball at his feet more often.
Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle) – Cabaye’s countryman and former teammate, Ben Arfa becomes a more important figure offensively for Newcastle. One of the league’s more gifted dribblers, Ben Arfa averages over two shot attempts per game and is at his best in the final third. He notched an assist in the first Tyne-Wear Derby of this season and will be needed in similar fashion this weekend at home.
Robin van Persie (Manchester United) – The Dutchman returned this week from a thigh injury to score just six minutes into Man United’s win over Cardiff City. This weekend, van Persie will face Stoke City, who he has scored nine goals in eight matches against. Further, with Wayne Rooney and new-boy Juan Mata boosting United’s attack, van Persie’s service should be stellar.
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) – Don’t look now, but Benteke is rounding into the kind of form that propelled him into one of fantasy’s best strikers last season. The Belgian has scored in three consecutive ties and bagged a brace at Everton a year ago. Bettering Benteke’s odds of scoring is the fact that the Toffees’ defense will likely be without two starting defenders in Sylvain Distin and Seamus Coleman.
Daniel Sturridge (C) (Liverpool) – Sturridge and strike partner Luis Suarez have been dynamite together this season, combining for 36 goals already. While Suarez is always a good selection, Sturridge has been hotter of late, evidenced by goals in five straight contests. The Englishman scored earlier this season versus West Brom, who is fresh off conceding four goals during the week. With that in mind, Sturridge is this week’s captain.
Walker – Mertesacker – Evra
Ozil – Lallana – Johnson – Ben Arfa
van Persie – Benteke – Sturridge (C)