With four teams not featuring in the Premier League last weekend, fantasy owners were forced to make roster decisions with a limited pool of players. This week, that pool shrinks even more, with only half of the top-flight’s 20 teams scheduled to play.
Before previewing Week 29 of the Premiership in-depth, let’s recap last week’s Best XI to freshen up on some notable recent occurrences around the league.
At goalkeeper, Petr Cech made two saves, but unfortunately allowed a meaningless second-half goal during Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Fulham.
That goal thwarted a fourth-straight selection for Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, who was joined in last week’s unit by Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen and Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna. While Vertonghen posted a clean sheet against Cardiff City, Sagna’s scoreless bid was undone with by a 76th minute penalty kick that allowed Stoke City to win.
Looking at the midfield, Eden Hazard assisted two of Chelsea’s three goals in the West London Derby. That win kept the Blues in first-place, but with Arsenal losing, Liverpool jumped into second position with a win over Southampton.
That game saw Saints midfielder Adam Lallana hit the woodwork with a shot, but thankfully Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling scored as a second-half substitute to justify his Best XI inclusion.
Occupying the final midfield position was Leonardo Bacuna, who netted in Aston Villa’s 4-1 triumph over Norwich City.
Two goals and two assists in the middle of the park helped compensate for a sub-par showing from last week’s strikers.
Hull City’s Nikica Jelavic picked up a yellow card in a 4-1 loss to Newcastle, while Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge’s eight game scoring streak was snapped at Southampton. Salvaging some value though was Tottenham’s Emmanuel Adebayor, who set up Spurs’ only goal versus Cardiff City.
Of last week’s 11 players, only six will be in action this weekend, evidencing the abridged match list for fantasy’s 29th week. This unusual circumstance comes in light of FA Cup games for a number of teams. Another situation to consider is the international friendlies that took place during this week, which could see players return to their clubs a bit injured or fatigued.
With that in mind, owners will have to use their transfers wisely, especially since many of the teams not playing this weekend will have two contests in upcoming gameweeks. For more on the fluctuating fixtures, check out Rotowire’s recent Schedule Analysis article.
Looking at this weekend's slate, Saturday begins with Manchester United traveling to West Brom in a game featuring two teams that did not play last weekend. The Baggies went to Old Trafford and won earlier this season, but have gone winless in six straight home games versus United across all competitions.
Elsewhere, a relegation zone battle pits 19th-place Cardiff City against last-place Fulham. While the Bluebirds have failed to score in their past four league matches, Fulham has conceded at least two goals in seven of its last eight Premier League games.
The weekend’s most uneven pairing in terms of points is Southampton at Crystal Palace, a matchup that favors the away side considering the Saints have won each of their past three meetings with Crystal Palace by a score of 2-0.
With just two points separating the teams, another tight tie is Norwich City versus Stoke City. The last four times they’ve met, the final score has been 1-0, so goals may be hard to come by Saturday.
The final game is another London Derby for Chelsea, who welcome Tottenham in a match of first versus fifth. The Blues are unbeaten in their previous six competitive meetings against Spurs, who remarkably haven't won at Stamford Bridge in 24 years.
So after examining the storylines factoring into this weekend’s five matches, here are some players that could boost squads in Week 29, which figures to produce some wacky fantasy scores.
John Ruddy (Norwich City) - As previously mentioned, when Norwich City and Stoke City get together, clean sheets are usually involved. The Canaries blanked the Potters earlier this season and could replicate that result at home, where Norwich fares far better. Ruddy has posted four straight home clean sheets, while Stoke has failed to score in six of its last eight games on the road. Further, the Potters will be without top scorer Charlie Adam due to suspension.
Dejan Lovren (Southampton) - The Croatian was handed his first start last week after returning from an ankle injury, but compared to playing Liverpool then, this Saturday's tie with Crystal Palace is markedly more favorable. Southampton have shutout the Eagles on three straight occasions and with Lovren back in the heart of defense, the Saints could extend that streak to four even though this weekend's match is away from home.
John Terry (Chelsea) - No longer in the English national team setup, Terry's fresh legs should help him this weekend against Tottenham. The 33-year-old scored versus Spurs in the prior meeting this season and with a clean sheet in Chelsea's past three home games, Terry could provide a vintage display.
Patrice Evra (Manchester United) - Evra started for France this week, but was withdrawn at half-time, which should allow him to play as usual for his club this weekend. His opponent on Saturday, West Brom, are barely averaging one goal per game, so Evra and United should like their chances of stringing together a third consecutive clean sheet in league competition.
Juan Mata (Manchester United) – Since joining Man United, Mata has dished out three assists in five games. The Spaniard couldn't crack his national team's rotation, so he'll be ready to play Saturday. The Red Devils have scored two goals in three of their past five games, so perhaps Mata can record his first goal for his new club this weekend.
Adam Lallana (Southampton) – Breaking into the England team this season, Lallana featured as a second half substitute this week and assisted the Three Lions’ only goal. He also tallied an assist earlier this season against Crystal Palace, who Southampton play on Saturday. The Saints have scored two goals in three straight meetings against Crystal Palace, so Lallana holds a nice opportunity to add to his season totals of seven goals and five assists.
Eden Hazard (C) (Chelsea) – After two assists for the Best XI last week, Hazard earns another selection in yet another London Derby. Chelsea hosts Tottenham, who could be without both of its fullbacks this weekend because of injury. As such, the league leaders’ top scorer and assister should be in attack mode, which earns him this week's captain's armband.
Steve Sidwell (Fulham) - The Cottagers' best player this season, Sidwell will be relied upon to help stave off a last place finish as Fulham head to Cardiff City this weekend. The midfielder leads his team with six scores on the campaign and besides Fulham, Cardiff have allowed the most goals thus far. With that in mind, Saturday's game should feature goals, with Sidwell being a solid candidate to find the scoresheet.
Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City) – With five goals on the season, the Englishman leads Cardiff City in that category thus far. This weekend, his side faces Fulham’s league-worst defense in a game that both sides will be pressing to win. Campell is also averaging a career-best 1.5 shot attempts per game.
Robin van Persie (Manchester United) – The Dutchman overcame an illness to feature for his country this week, which should allow him to lead United’s line when they visit The Hawthorns. Van Persie has scored in two of his three games against West Brom over the past two seasons, and the Baggies have conceded at least two goals each of the last six times they’ve hosted the defending champions.
Rickie Lambert (Southampton) - With experience playing against Crystal Palace in England's second-tier, Lambert should be quite familiar with his opponent this weekend. The striker has recorded three goals in his past two games against Palace and currently leads Southampton in assists (seven), while ranking second in goals (eight).
Lovren - Terry - Evra
Mata - Lallana - Hazard (C) - Sidwell
Campbell - van Persie - Lambert