With Week 31 of the Premiership featuring a total of 15 matches, there was always bound to be plenty of talking points.
To begin, Arsenal entered Saturday aiming to close the gap on first place, but those aspirations were quickly shattered after falling behind three goals to Chelsea just 17 minutes into the London derby. The Gunners were dismantled 6-0 on the day and further bowed out of the title race by dropping two points via a stoppage time own goal versus Swansea City on Tuesday.
Conversely, both Manchester City and Liverpool took advantage of playing twice during the time span. City delivered a 5-0 hiding to lowly Fulham before making a mockery of neighbors Manchester United with a 3-0 derby victory, while Liverpool won a 6-3 shootout over Cardiff City at the weekend and beat Sunderland 2-1 during the week.
Simon Mignolet manned the goal for Liverpool's games and was also chosen as last week's Best XI goalkeeper. However, the Belgian somewhat surprisingly squandered two favorable matchups, conceding four goals in total. Further, Mignolet failed to record a single save against Cardiff City, but thankfully stopped three shots in the Sunderland match to salvage at least some points.
Looking at the other members of last week's team, defender Joleon Lescott notched a clean sheet in Manchester City's lopsided 5-0 win over Fulham on Saturday, but was an unused substitute for the Citizens' 3-0 defeat of Manchester United during the week.
Joining Lescott was Arsenal's Per Mertesacker, who experienced a nightmare stretch of four days. After embarrassingly shipping six goals on Saturday at Chelsea, the German conceded two more Tuesday versus Swansea City.
While the aforementioned selections floundered, Winston Reid's goose egg sapped more value. The West Ham defender was benched for Saturday's loss to Manchester United and was not named to Wednesday's team to face Hull City.
In the midfield, Manchester City's David Silva drew a penalty-kick versus Fulham, hit the woodwork against Manchester United, and earned clean sheet points for both games he played this week.
Continuing the trend of disappointments, Morgan Schneiderlin wasn't included in Southampton's 18-man squad to face Tottenham on Sunday. Also left out of action was Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj, who couldn't get off the bench against West Ham and wasn't part of the Red Devils' team versus Manchester City.
Then, in one of the weekend's more remarkable scenes, Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain avoided being sent off 15 minutes into Saturday's game against Chelsea because the match referee mistook him for teammate Kieran Gibbs, who received the straight red card Oxlade-Chamberlain earned for a handball in the penalty area.
Following that confusing episode, Oxlade-Chamberlain was taken off at half-time Saturday and played just 57 minutes during the week versus Swansea City.
With painful production (or lack thereof) elsewhere, last week's striker selections helped prevent a disastrous showing.
Shane Long scored in one of Hull City's two games during the period, while Liverpool's high-powered combo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge carried the team.
Sturridge found the net in both of Liverpool's Week 31 outings and also contributed an assist, while Luis Suarez registered a hat trick to go with an assist in Saturday's game, justifying his captain selection.
Moving on from last week's uncharacteristic performance, let's preview this weekend's action in hopes of a rebound effort for the Best XI.
Unlike the previous loaded schedule, Week 32 returns to the standard fixture list, with all 20 teams playing; however, the 10 matches will unfold from Saturday to Monday.
Starting the Saturday schedule is Manchester United hosting Aston Villa. With the Red Devils losing 10 games for the first time in the Premier League era, manager David Moyes is on an increasingly short leash and will be desperate for a win. Fortunately, recent history works in Moyes’ favor, as Man United have won 10 of their last 11 home matches against Villa in all competitions.
Then, four matches feature opposing teams with at-most four points of separation in the standings. Those matches are: Newcastle (46 points) at Southampton (45), Stoke City (37) vs. Hull City (33), Swansea City (30) against Norwich City (32), and West Brom (28) vs. Cardiff City (25).
In the weekend’s most uneven pairing, league leaders Chelsea travel to 17th place Crystal Palace. The Blues will be wary to keep their top position, but the matchup could afford manager Jose Mourinho to rest some players ahead of next week’s Champions League quarterfinal tie versus Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
Finishing off Saturday is one last chance for Arsenal to impact the title race, as the Gunners host a Manchester City side in sensational form. The teams’ previous meeting this season produced nine goals, so the Emirates Stadium holds potential for offensive fireworks.
On Sunday, last place Fulham welcome Everton, with the Toffees looking to hold onto their Europa League qualifying spot.
That coveted position is being pursued by sixth-place Tottenham, who head to Anfield this weekend to play a Liverpool team with its sights on winning the league.
The final game of Week 32 pits Sunderland against West Ham, two teams that played to a scoreless draw earlier in the campaign.
With that said, it’s time to unveil the Best XI team for the latest round of the Premier League.
Petr Cech (Chelsea) – Last weekend’s blanking of Arsenal put Cech in sole possession of the league-lead for clean sheets with 14. The long-serving Stamford Bridge No. 1 will test his talents against the Premiership’s lowest scoring team, Crystal Palace, this Saturday. Coupled with Palace’s unmatched scoring futility is the fact that Chelsea have conceded the fewest league goals this season.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) – Along with Cech, Chelsea’s right-back embodies a top fantasy option in Week 32. As mentioned, Crystal Palace don't present much of a threat going forward. In fact, Palace have failed to score in five of their last seven league matches. Further, Tony Pulis’ club have not scored from open play in its past five games, so Ivanovic and Chelsea’s league-best away defense should hardly be troubled.
Seamus Coleman (Everton) – With teammate Phil Jagielka nearing a return from injury, Everton could trot out its first-choice defensive unit at Fulham on Sunday. The Cottagers are reeling from a 5-0 debacle last time out and should face a similarly stiff test against Everton this weekend. As the Toffees’ second-leading scorer with six goals, Coleman is not your average defender, so in an ideal scenario, he’ll record a clean sheet to go with either a goal or an assist.
Dejan Lovren (Southampton) – Although Southampton have allowed at least two goals in six of their past seven home league matches, this time could prove different. The Saints take on a Newcastle side without top scorer Loic Remy. Also, Newcastle have failed to score in four of their last six road games. With that in mind, Lovren and Southampton’s top-half defense stands a decent clean sheet chance.
Yaya Toure (Manchester City) – In already such an accomplished career, the 2013-14 season has proven to be Toure’s best. The 30-year-old’s combined four goals during Week 31 saw him displace Chelsea’s Eden Hazard for the league-lead for goals from a midfielder with 17 this season. After scoring a penalty kick against Arsenal earlier this season, Toure earns a Best XI selection this week.
David Silva (Manchester City) – Silva also scored versus Arsenal back in December and the Spaniard leads Manchester City’s potent attack with eight assists this term. Although the Citizens will be on the road this weekend, they have scored at least twice in six of their past seven outings away from the Etihad Stadium. Against an Arsenal midfield still without core players like Aaron Ramsey (thigh) and Jack Wilshere (ankle), not to mention Mesut Ozil (hamstring) and Theo Walcott (knee), Silva and City should control the center of the park.
Kevin Mirallas (Everton) – With seven assists, including two last weekend, Mirallas has taken hold of Everton’s team-lead in the category. Although he was rested for the Toffees’ midweek game, Mirallas figures to return to his wide position versus a Fulham side that have allowed at least two goals in nine of its past 11 league outings. The Belgian scored against Fulham earlier this season and with Everton notching at least twice in its past three tries, Mirallas may find the scoresheet again this time around.
Michu (Swansea City) – One of last season’s absolute revelations with 18 goals, Michu’s second Premier League campaign has been gone to the waste side due to injury. However, the attacking midfielder made his first start since December this week, so he should be in the first-team to face Norwich City this weekend. The Canaries have allowed more away goals than any team not named Fulham this season, so perhaps Michu can remind fantasy owners of his scoring prowess with a strong showing toward the end of the season.
Romelu Lukaku (Everton) – Lukaku has scored one goal in four out of five games across all competitions since returning from a month-long absence due to injury. That includes his past two Premiership outings, which could easily be extended to three with a favorable matchup against Fulham’s league-worst defense this Sunday. At only 20 years old, Lukaku has 12 goals in 23 total appearances for Everton, making for a scary thought of him rejoining Chelsea after his loan spell expires at the end of the season.
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) – In 15 home matches, Liverpool have already accumulated an outstanding 44 goals. Thus, any opponent entering Anfield is vulnerable defensively, but especially Tottenham, who leaked five goals to the Reds in the reverse fixture early this season. With 20 goals on the campaign, Sturridge has just about doubled his previous season-high and could add to his tally on Sunday.
Luis Suarez (C) (Liverpool) – The only player to score more league goals than Sturridge this season is his Liverpool partner Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan boasts 28, which has Liverpool in hot pursuit of the league title. Amazingly, the Reds have scored at least twice in their past 12 home Premier League matches. As such, Spurs manager Tim Sherwood’s attacking philosophy may be best kept for another ground, but nonetheless, Suarez earns this week’s captain’s armband.
Ivanovic – Coleman – Lovren
Toure – Silva – Mirallas – Michu
Lukaku – Sturridge – Suarez (C)