If this season's title race has proven to be unpredictable to date, then last's week's run of fixtures certainly proved to be symbolic of just that when considering fantasy implications.
Heavy rainstorms in north England prevented both Everton and Manchester City from hosting matches against seemingly inferior opponents, which altered the top of the table now that each team possesses a game in hand.
Unfortunately, those respective matches being postposed provided no consolation for fantasy owners in terms of performance in gameweek 26. That especially held true for the Best XI, which featured a combined four players from Everton and City.
Reviewing last week's side, goalkeeper Tim Howard was neglected of a clear clean sheet opportunity versus the league's worst offensive side, Crystal Palace.
Compounding Howard's misfortune, this season's top defender, Seamus Coleman was also deprived of a favorable outing, as was Manchester City's Vincent Kompany, who missed out on a home game against Sunderland.
On the bright side, Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic continued his strong form by scoring the Blues' only goal in their 1-1 draw with West Brom. The Serbian's goal gave him two goals, two clean sheets, and one assist over his last three games.
Across the midfield, the only casualty was City's David Silva. However, besides him, the remaining three players produced similarly disappointing results. While Kevin Nolan's West Ham side notched a clean sheet, Eden Hazard failed to score for Chelsea, and Christian Eriksen fell victim to squad selection, since he did not feature in a 4-0 Tottenham onslaught at Newcastle.
Up front, three shot attempts couldn't muster a goal from Aston Villa's in-form striker Christian Benteke, which was mimicked by a whopping eight shots somehow keeping Liverpool's Luis Suarez scoreless.
Thankfully, Suarez's strike partner and last week’s captain, Daniel Sturridge, continued his stunning form by registering a goal and an assist versus Fulham. That triumph gave the Englishman at least one score in his last eight competitions, a streak that was snapped in Liverpool's FA Cup loss at Arsenal last Sunday.
Looking toward to greener pastures, gameweek 27 should offer a more conventional grouping of Premiership competition.
While Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Swansea City will be coming off midweek European ties, the remaining 16 sides should be well rested for the weekend's slate of games.
However, one caveat is that Chelsea and Manchester United have Champions League matches next week and likewise, Tottenham and Swansea City will play out their continental fate at that time as well.
Now that the recent and upcoming schedules have finally been sorted out, let's turn our attention to Week 27 in England's top-flight.
Headlining this weekend is Saturday's early game of Everton at Chelsea, which pits first versus sixth. After the Toffees prevailed 1-0 in the initial meeting of this season back in September, their counterparts face a tricky contest ahead of midweek action.
Other than that top-heavy pairing, West Brom hosting Fulham marks the closest matchup in terms of point differential, although the relegation fate of each team currently hangs in the balance.
Since few games this weekend feature teams of similar fortunes, that could enable a number of matchups to yield significant fantasy returns.
Leading the expectedly lopsided matchups is Manchester City hosting Stoke City. Similarly, Arsenal welcome Sunderland and Liverpool play Swansea City at Anfield.
The remaining fixtures consist of multiple underdog or out-of-form home teams facing superior opponents, but putting faith in road teams is often a bet to hedge.
With the stage set, it's time to dive into this week's Best XI.
Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal) – After unacceptably being shown a straight red card during the first half of Arsenal’s frustrating midweek loss to defending European Champions Bayern Munich, Szczesny should be eager to put together a redemptive display this weekend against Sunderland. The Gunners will likely be without Kieran Gibbs (hamstring), so they may prove vulnerable along the left side of defense, but not enough to discard a manageable clean sheet opportunity for Szczesny.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) – Man City’s most consistent selection in defense, Zabaleta goes against Stoke City at home this weekend. The Potters are currently tied for the league’s worst road record and have found the goal just once in their past seven visits to City. Also perhaps working in Zabaleta’s favor is the fact he scored versus Stoke in the corresponding fixture last season.
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal) – Through 13 home games this season, Arsenal have remarkably only conceded six goals. That impressive record includes a clean sheet in eight of the Gunners’ last nine matches at the Emirates Stadium. On that note, Mertesacker leads all defenders with 12 scoreless outings this season, making him Arsenal’s best fantasy option in that area. This weekend, the towering German faces a Sunderland side that has scored just once in its past five league visits to Arsenal.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) – As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Ivanovic has been superb in recent weeks, so why not keep him in another Best XI? Sure, the Serbian faces an Everton side aiming at European football next season, but the Toffees have won just one of their last six road games in the league. Conversely, in its past six home Premiership outings, Ivanovic’s Chelsea outfit has locked-up four clean sheets while allowing only two goals. Further, Everton are expected to hand a Premiership debut to January loanee Lacina Traore, which may prove to be a tall task for even the 6-8 striker.
Kyle Walker (Tottenham) – Despite not traveling for his team’s midweek match in the Ukraine, Walker is still expected to play Sunday against Norwich City, a side that has failed to win in 10 of its last 11 in the Prem. Spurs blanked the Canaries in September and actually fare better away from home, with 14 goals conceded in 13 attempts. Also coming into play is that Norwich have failed to score in three of its past four league games, while Tottenham have compiled two straight league clean sheets. As such, Walker will eye the trifecta this weekend.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) – In spite of occupying more of a holding role in Liverpool’s midfield this season, “Stevie G” has still accumulated seven goals and nine assists in league play. In fact, over the past eight competitions Gerrard has been healthy for, the Anfield legend has scored five times and dished out three helpers. On Sunday, he’ll attempt to dissect a spotty Swansea City defense.
Paulinho (Tottenham) – Road warriors Tottenham head to Norwich City this weekend in a match where something has to give. The Canaries have kept opponents scoreless in three straight home games, while Spurs have hit at least two goals in six of their last seven away ties. Coming off a 4-0 win on the road last gameweek, the scales tilt in Tottenham’s favor for Sunday’s game. With that in mind, summer-signing Paulinho makes his way into this week’s team. The Brazilian has pushed forward from his midfield station to score in two of Spurs’ past three league games and both of their most recent away games.
David Silva (Manchester City) – Although weather prevented him from earning points for last week’s Best XI, Silva still earns another selection this time around. The Spaniard’s side has tallied four wins by the score of 3-0 in its past five home league games against Stoke City. Coming off a scoreless midweek Champions League loss at the Etihad Stadium, look for Silva to lead City’s offensive charge come Saturday.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) – Trying to secure its first road win in four tries, Manchester United head to Crystal Palace this weekend in a match that is no longer a sure thing for the Red Devils. While Tony Pulis’ club defends admirably, United’s attack at least has some gifted playmakers and Rooney is probably the best example of such a person. He scored in the two teams’ meeting earlier this season, so Saturday’s tie could be when Rooney records his first goal of 2014.
Daniel Sturridge (C) (Liverpool) – Liverpool have finished with at least three goals in all but two of its last 10 Premiership showings at Anfield, so Sturridge’s selection is a no-brainer this Sunday versus Swansea City. The striker scored against the Swans previously this season, as well as once last season, and Swansea’s defense could be playing on heavy legs following midweek European action. If that’s not enough justification for his inclusion, Sturridge has bagged a goal in seven straight league appearances, which allows him to keep the captain’s badge this week.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool) – Make it two weeks in a row that the Best XI trots out Liverpool’s pesky starting forward tandem. A favorable home matchup and the rarity that Suarez has not scored in his past four competitive fixtures paint a picture for the Uruguayan to finally hit his stride once again this weekend. His opponent Swansea City seems doomed to extend its winless away streak to eight games.
Zabaleta – Mertesacker – Ivanovic – Walker
Gerrard – Paulinho – Silva
Rooney – Sturridge (C) - Suarez