A couple driving factors behind success in fantasy Premiership leagues are goals scored and clean sheets. To the delight of fantasy owners, Week 33 of England's top-flight brought an abundance of each, as six teams managed at least three goals, while six teams prevented their opponents from scoring.
When looking at the latest Best XI, last week's squad produced three goals, three assists, and one clean sheet.
At goalkeeper, Brad Guzan's Aston Villa team allowed two second-half goals to lowly Fulham, but fortunately Guzan impressed with six saves to prevent further damage.
In defense, Liverpool's Martin Skrtel saw his clean sheet bid undone in first-half stoppage time, when opponents West Ham scored their only goal. Likewise, Tottenham's Danny Rose also conceded one goal in a winning effort.
Unlike his partners in defense, Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta helped hold Stoke City scoreless, earning him clean sheet points.
Azpilicueta's teammate Eden Hazard was not included in Chelsea's starting side for just the second time this season, which limited his fantasy contributions to 31 minutes as a second-half substitute.
Yaya Toure, Hazard's chief competition for fantasy's best midfielder, was shown his second yellow card in as many weeks, but extended his position-leading goal haul by tallying a third minute penalty-kick versus Southampton.
Elsehwere, Leandro Bacuna went scoreless despite leading Aston Villa with three shots (two on goal), while Christian Eriksen turned in a man-of-the-match performance by notching one goal and two assists in Tottenham's 5-1 romping of Sunderland.
At forward, Edin Dzeko continued to pay dividends as Manchester City's sole striker. The Bosnian scored in first-half stoppage time before making way for teammate Alvaro Negredo in the 65th minute of City's 4-1 win.
A fellow Manchester striker, Wayne Rooney's bruised toe disappointingly caused him to miss out on Manchester United's 4-0 beating of Newcastle.
Last week's captain finished out the team, but despite peppering six shots (two on goal), Luis Suarez only made a fantasy impact through drawing Liverpool's first of two penalty-kicks, both of which were converted by midfielder Steven Gerrard.
Moving on, Week 34 of Premier League action brings an extended list of fixtures, as 11 games are slated to be included in the round.
Everton, Crystal Palace, Manchester City, and Sunderland each play twice, while both Manchester United and Hull City get the week off.
In another scheduling consideration, Arsenal will travel to Wembley for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final before taking on fellow Londoners West Ham come Tuesday.
Headlining the weekend is Sunday's colossal tie of Manchester City at Liverpool. In a match of first versus third, Anfield should play host to some serious developments in the title race.
In other tight matchups, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa meet with both teams tied on 34 points, while Fulham and Norwich City embark on a relegation zone tussle following Norwich dismissing manager Chris Hughton last weekend.
Another closely contested game could be tenth-place Stoke City welcoming ninth-place Newcastle with six points of separation between the sides.
While those matches should prove testing to all involved, the majority of Week 34's fixtures pit teams with contrasting positions in the standings.
Contests like Southampton-Cardiff City, Sunderland-Everton, West Brom-Tottenham, Swansea City-Chelsea, and Arsenal-West Ham all feature opposing teams between 22 and 39 points apart in the table.
Similarly, Wednesday's additional happenings of Everton vs. Crystal Palace and Sunderland at Manchester City are massively lopsided from a points perspective.
With a preview of Week 34 now complete, it's time to unveil the Best XI.
Artur Boruc (Southampton) – At home against Newcastle two weekends ago, Boruc made just two saves to earn his 11th clean sheet in 25 starts this season, although he was held out of last weekend's match due to a back injury. While the back may still be bothering him, Boruc is expected to pass fit, which would allow him to face the league’s second-worst team, Cardiff City. The Bluebirds have scored just 11 times through 16 away matches this season and have gone 13 straight away league games without a win.
Leighton Baines (Everton) – With six straight Premiership victories, Baines’ Everton setup rivals Merseyside neighbors Liverpool for the league’s hottest team. Over that span, Baines has come up with three clean sheets, two assists, and one goal. In Week 34, Baines is gifted with two sensational matchups. First, he plays at a Sunderland side currently tied for the fewest home goals. Then, he returns to Goodison Park on Wednesday to face a Crystal Palace team that not only has scored the fewest road goals, but also the fewest total goals.
Seamus Coleman (Everton) – Boasting the same mouth-watering prospects as Baines this week, Coleman joins his Everton teammate in the Best XI defense. Saturday’s opponent Sunderland have not scored in six of their past seven league games, while Coleman earned a clean sheet in this season’s prior meeting against Wednesday’s opponent Crystal Palace. As an added bonus, Coleman leads all defenders with six goals this season.
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City) – Two teams presently moving in opposite directions, Stoke City have won three of their past four league games, while Newcastle have lost three of their past four league games. As such, this weekend’s encounter favors Stoke City, particularly with the game being held at the Britannia Stadium. Further, Newcastle have failed to score in three consecutive games and have gone scoreless in five of their past seven away matches in the league.
Yaya Toure (C) (Manchester City) – Fantasy’s highest-scoring midfielder, Toure is obviously a great selection nearly every week. However, with two games this time around, starting Toure is a must. Sure, he has a tough match at Anfield, but considering Man City and Liverpool are by far the league’s two highest-scoring teams, Sunday’s offering could result in a shoot-out. Then, a midweek home match with Sunderland could allow Toure to score against the Black Cats for the second time this season. Two ripe goal opportunities earns Toure this week’s captain’s armband.
Samir Nasri (Manchester City) – While it’s very tempting to choose Nasri’s (and Toure’s) midfield comrade David Silva, the Spaniard’s lingering ankle issue could result in him being rested for Wednesday’s match versus Sunderland, especially given how back-and-forth Sunday’s clash with Liverpool should be. As a result, Nasri gets the nod with two starts in mind for this gameweek. The Frenchman has been in good form recently, which is evidenced by one goal and two assists over his past four league games.
Adam Lallana (Southampton) – In a tragic scene from last weekend, Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez suffered a torn ACL that will rule him out for the remainder of this season, as well as this summer’s World Cup. With Rodriguez leading Southampton in goals, the Saints will need others to step up. Judging by his nine goals and six assists, Lallana seems up to the task, starting this Saturday versus a Cardiff City side that has allowed at least three goals in three straight games, including to Crystal Palace’s league-worst attack last weekend.
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) – A player who knows a thing or two about injuries, Ramsey made his first appearance since Boxing Day last weekend at Everton. After suffering a thigh injury at West Ham, Ramsey will have the opportunity to avenge his spell on the sidelined against the Hammers this Tuesday. Prior to his extended absence, Ramsey was arguably the Premier League’s best overall performer, as he had already accumulated eight goals and six assists through 19 appearances. Now, with teammate Mathieu Flamini suspended and other Arsenal midfielders still on the mend, Ramsey should start for the Gunners, who need to finish the season strong to keep hold of a Champions League place for next season.
Romelu Lukaku (Everton) – In stunning form of late, Lukaku has found the net in five of his last seven games for Everton. Thus, with two games in Week 34, both against inferior foes, Lukaku should make a fantasy splash. Everton have scored at least three goals in four consecutive league games, while Sunderland have allowed at least two goals in six of their past seven Premiership ties. Those statistics paint a very favorable picture for Saturday’s meeting, while returning home for Wednesday’s contest with Crystal Palace also bodes well for Lukaku.
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) – Due to a reoccurring hamstring injury, Aguero has not played in the Premier League since January 29, when he bagged his 15th goal of the season. City’s second-leading scorer, Aguero is expected to return for Sunday’s monumental showdown with Liverpool. Although he has played in only 17 games this season, Aguero remarkably still ranks tied for fourth in goals. So if he doesn’t score at Anfield, he very well could at home against Sunderland’s lackluster defense during the week.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool) – If Liverpool are to maintain their first-place position, Suarez will need to solidify his expected Player of the Year standing with a signature performance come Sunday against Manchester City. The Citizens’ defense has proven to be more vulnerable on the road, while Suarez’s team has scored at least twice in 13 consecutive league matches at Anfield. Put simply, it’s hard to imagine the Premiership’s top two offensive teams playing without the league’s top scorer factoring into the outcome.
Baines – Coleman – Shawcross
Toure (C) – Nasri – Lallana – Ramsey
Lukaku – Aguero - Suarez