Gameweek 27 of the Premiership thankfully went on as scheduled, unlike the previous weekend, when weather impacted numerous sides.
Chelsea scored a stoppage time goal to remain on top of the league, while each of the Blues’ chief competitors, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Liverpool, kept pace by winning as well. Among those top four teams, last week’s Best XI featured eight players.
In goal, Wojciech Szczesny lost his clean sheet bid in the 81st minute, when a shot from outside the box put Sunderland on the board.
Defensively, Pablo Zabaleta was part of a Manchester City unit that held Stoke City scoreless, while Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic produced in defense for the third week in a row. The Serbian kept a clean sheet against Everton, which gives him one goal, one assist, and two clean sheets over his past trio of league matches.
To finish the group, North London rivals Per Mertesacker and Kyle Walker both fell short. Mertesacker’s Arsenal team allowed a late goal and Walker unexpectedly was not included in Tottenham’s squad due to a slight injury.
Looking at the midfield, despite his strong form, Steven Gerrard couldn’t score in Liverpool’s 4-3 shootout with Swansea City and neither could Paulinho, whose Tottenham side were stumped at Norwich City. In fact, Spurs managed just three shots, with none on goal, in a 1-0 loss. That scoreline also prevailed in Manchester City’s match against Stoke City, a game in which David Silva earned clean sheet points.
Up front, Wayne Rooney struck for his first goal of the calendar year in Manchester United’s win at Crystal Palace. Then, as the Best XI’s captain for the second straight week, Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge came up big once again by tallying two goals and an assist. That return brought Sturridge’s scoring streak to a remarkable eight consecutive league games.
While Sturridge is bagging the goals for Liverpool, his Reds teammate Luis Suarez has now gone a surprising five matches across all competitions without scoring. Fortunately, the Uruguayan did provide an assist in last weekend’s game.
To tally, Week 27’s team accumulated three goals, two assists, and three clean sheets.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s action, Chelsea, Manchester United, Swansea City, and Tottenham will be coming off midweek European matches. However, Manchester United will be one of four teams that take a break from Premiership competition this weekend.
Desperately in need of rests to right their respective ships, both Manchester United and West Brom will be afforded a week off before they play each other next Saturday.
Meanwhile, United’s noisy neighbors, Manchester City, will travel to Wembley in search of silverware against Sunderland in the Capital One Cup final.
With those absentees in mind, the abbreviated fixture list for this weekend makes fantasy decisions more difficult.
One matchup that seems exploitable is leaders Chelsea traveling across West London aiming to take advantage of last place Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Other ties featuring teams of contrasting table positions are Tottenham hosting Norwich City and Arsenal at Stoke City; however, it’s worth mentioning that the Gunners have not won at the Brittania Stadium in over four years.
Highlighting the remaining contests is ninth-place Southampton welcoming fourth-place Liverpool, while Aston Villa-Norwich City pits two teams tied on 28 points.
Given those considerations, let’s explore this weekend’s potential fantasy match-winners.
Petr Cech (Chelsea) – With some sharpening in defense, Chelsea has allowed only four goals in its last 15 competitive fixtures. Cech has also kept a clean sheet in six of his past eight league games. Against bottom-positioned Fulham this weekend, Cech will likely have to maintain his focus to avoid conceding a meaningless goal, but the odds are in his favor.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) – The Serbian has done everything over the past three weeks to encourage yet another Best XI selection this time around. Further, with a tasty pairing against Fulham, a team Chelsea have blanked in six of its past eight meetings, Ivanovic occupies a defensive role once again.
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) – Spurs’ leader in defense, Vertonghen’s team hosts a Cardiff City side that has failed to score in seven of its last nine away league games. Also, the visitors have not scored against Tottenham the past four times the two clubs have met. Those stats certainly support Vertonghen’s clean sheet prospects.
Bacary Sagna (Arsenal) – With Arsenal firmly in the title race, Saturday’s trip to Stoke City will certainly test their resolve. The Gunners have won just one of their past six trips to play the Potters, so Sagna’s side should definitely be focused defensively. The Frenchman will be in search of his 11th clean sheet this season.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – A shoo-in to this week’s team, Hazard goes versus a Fulham defense that has not only allowed 11 more goals than any other team, but has also conceded at least three times in its past three home games. Currently ranking second among top-flight midfielders with 12 goals, Hazard could add to his team-leading tally on Saturday.
Adam Lallana (Southampton) – Currently enjoying a breakout season, Lallana sports seven goals and five assists. This weekend Southampton hosts Liverpool. For as good as Liverpool’s attack has been, its defense has been just as bad of late. The Reds have allowed at least two goals in eight of their last 10 away ties. As such, Lallana should be blessed with some scoring opportunities.
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool) – At just 19 years old, Sterling has been stellar for Liverpool recently. The midfielder has five goals and three assists to his name this season and his team has scored at least three goals in its past trio of league games. This weekend, he’ll attack a Southampton defense fresh off leaking three goals to West Ham last time out.
Leonardo Bacuna (Aston Villa) – Bacuna is a player that is primarily deployed at right-back, but is good enough going forward to sometimes play in the hole behind a lone striker. No matter where he lines up this weekend, the Dutchman holds a favorable opportunity because Aston Villa hosts Norwich City. Only Fulham have allowed more away goals than the Canaries this season.
Nikica Jelavic (Hull City) – Since joining the Tigers during January’s transfer window, all the Croatian has done is score three times in six appearances. That total includes a brace last weekend. The big man is slated to play Newcastle in Week 28 and the Magpies have allowed 10 goals over their past four showings.
Daniel Sturridge (C) (Liverpool) – When someone has found the back of the net at least once in eight consecutive games, it’s probably a good idea to have that player in your team. Sturridge can’t stop scoring, but a tough away match at Southampton should test his talents. Nonetheless, Sturridge deserves a selection and earns the captain’s armband by a narrow margin over Hazard.
Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham) – Manager Tim Sherwood has resurrected Adebayor’s season, as the striker has netted eight times in 12 appearances this term. That total includes three goals over his past three league games, but does not include the former Togo international’s brace in the Europa League on Thursday. With 19th place Cardiff City making the trip to White Hart Lane, Adebayor will be on goal alert come Sunday.
Ivanovic – Vertonghen – Sagna
Hazard – Lallana – Sterling – Bacuna
Jelavic – Sturridge (C) - Adebayor