Entering the most recent round of fantasy Premier League, it seemed as if both Manchester City and Everton were the squads to pluck players from given their double gameweeks. However, in unpredictable fashion, City escaped with just one point, while Everton faltered during their Wednesday game-in-hand by losing at Goodison Park to seemingly toothless Crystal Palace.
Those results set the stage for some shake-ups at the top of the league, as Liverpool’s dramatic win over City put them in the driver’s seat to claim the title. Also, Arsenal jumped Everton for the valued fourth-place Champions League qualifying position.
Last week’s Best XI also dropped a few possible points, although the couple aforementioned dual set of games helped compensate a bit.
At goalkeeper, a risky Artur Boruc selection fell flat, as the Southampton No. 1’s back injury caused him to miss out on his side’s 1-0 loss to Cardiff City.
The Everton full-back duo of Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman both earned clean sheets in the Toffees’ 1-0 win at the weekend over Sunderland, a game that saw Coleman earn a yellow card. Then, in Everton’s second match of the round, they shockingly conceded three goals at home to lowly Crystal Palace. While Baines received a yellow card during the action, he also picked up an assist.
Elsewhere, Ryan Shawcross’ healthy total of 14 clearances led Stoke City to a clean sheet victory over Newcastle.
Last week’s captain Yaya Toure fell victim to a bout of bad luck. Scheduled for two games, a groin injury forced Toure to pull out of Manchester City’s match at Liverpool after merely 18 minutes. As such, Toure was unavailable for the Citizens’ midweek tie versus Sunderland.
Toure’s teammate, Samir Nasri went scoreless in the Liverpool loss, but notched an 88th minute goal against Sunderland to salvage a point for City.
With Southampton grounded, Adam Lallana failed to make a fantasy impact; however, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey notched an assist during his second-half cameo versus West Ham.
Despite playing twice, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku couldn’t muster a goal from a pair of favorable matchups versus Sunderland and Crystal Palace.
Returning from injury, Sergio Aguero featured as a second-half substitute against Liverpool before playing 57 starter’s minutes and recording an assist in Man City’s midweek game.
Fantasy’s top performer on this season, Luis Suarez added another assist over the weekend, although he was also shown a yellow card.
To tally, Week 34’s outfit produced just one goal to go with four assists, and three clean sheets.
Peaking at this weekend’s schedule, all 20 teams play as normal.
To the delight of fantasy owners, of the 10 matches, a remarkable eight games pit teams with at least 13 points of separation in the standings, including five ties with opposing teams a minimum of 30 points apart. Thus, there is an abundance of uneven matchups to exploit this week.
Tottenham host Fulham in Saturday’s opening contest as the Cottagers look to miraculously climb out of the relegation zone.
Then, West Ham versus Crystal Palace involves two teams with three points between them.
Losers of five of their last six, Newcastle welcome a Swansea City side reeling from four losses over the same span.
On the fringe of being lopsided matchups, Cardiff City (29 points) play Stoke City (43) and Southampton (48) head to Aston Villa (34).
Moving up the spectrum of disparity, league leaders Liverpool (77 points) travel to Norwich City (32 points), second-place Chelsea (75) play host to last-place Sunderland (26), and Arsenal (67) visit Hull City (36) in games spanning from Saturday to Sunday.
Also taking place Sunday is the other fairly even match of the weekend, which involves former Everton boss David Moyes making his first trip to Goodison Park as Manchester United's manager.
In Monday's game, Manchester City face West Brom with 38 points of separation in standings.
Now, with the pairing's previewed, here's this week's Best XI side.
Asmir Begovic (Stoke City) - With two clean sheets in his past three games, Begovic now boasts nine scoreless performances in 29 showings. Along with that, he's averaging over three saves per game. This weekend, he and Stoke City travel to play 19th-place Cardiff City, a team that ranks in the bottom four in both total goals and home goals.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) - In 16 homes games this season, Man City have conceded only 12 goals, boosting Zabaleta's stock at the Etihad Stadium. Further, while the left-back ranks second for defenders with five assists this term, four of them have come at home, where the Citizens play West Brom on Monday. With the Baggies not known for their offense, Zabaleta makes this week's defense.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) - The Serbian's squad has made Stamford Bridge a fortress lately, as they've posted six straight clean sheets at home in Premiership play. Oddly, Chelsea allowed three goals to this week's opponent Sunderland in the prior meeting this season. However, with the Blues right in the thick of the title race, manager Jose Mourinho will demand security in defense and only three teams have scored fewer goals than Sunderland thus far.
Martin Skrtel (Liverpool) - A goal versus Manchester City last weekend catapulted Skrtel into the league-lead for defenders with seven this season. While that's another reason to pick Skrtel, playing the league's worst offensive team in Norwich City this weekend is the primary reason for the rugged center-back's selection. The Canaries have gone scoreless in three straight games.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) - With 13 goals and 10 assists on the season, Gerrard has put up his best Premier League number since the 2008-2009 campaign. While most of his goals have come from the penalty spot this year, Sunday's matchup could allow him to drift into more advanced positions. That's because Liverpool has bagged five goals the past three times they've faced Norwich, making Gerrard a fine selection.
David Silva (Manchester City) - With midfield mate Yaya Toure sidelined, Man City will probably rely more on Silva in attack in the coming games. The Spanish international has posted two goals and one assist during his past three league outings and with City averaging over three goals per game at home, Silva should be active against West Brom on Monday.
Kevin Mirallas (Everton) - The Belgian has been in sparkling form recently, evidenced by a haul of two goals and three assists during his past four games, including Wednesday versus Crystal Palace. Of Mirallas' seven league goals this season, six have come at home. From a team perspective, Everton have scored at least two goals in seven of their past eight home games. So playing Manchester United at home this weekend, Everton should find the scoresheet, with Mirallas posing a viable threat.
Willian (Chelsea) - In a crowded Chelsea midfield that usually trots out a different combination of attackers, Willian has been a mainstay of late. The Brazilian scored in the Blues' most recent home game and figures to start against Sunderland at the weekend. The Black Cats have conceded at least two goals in their past five road games, while Chelsea have scored at least twice in 19 of their past 22 league games at Stamford Bridge.
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) - With a start under his belt during the week, Aguero should be trusted with a heavier workload in City's upcoming match versus West Brom. The Argentine scored in the earlier fixture this season and since City need to win all of their remaining games for a shot at the title, Aguero should be frequently utilized up front.
Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham) - Playing the league's worst defense (by a comfortable margin) this weekend, Adebayor should be on the end of numerous scoring chances versus Fulham. While the Cottagers will do everything to keep their hopes of staying up alive, Tottenham playing at home makes them the favorites in another London Derby. Spurs have scored eight goals across their last two league games, with Adebayor going for a brace the last time he played at White Hart Lane.
Luis Suarez (C) (Liverpool) - In his previous meeting against Norwich City this season, Suarez went ballistic, registering four goals and one assist. In fact, in five career matches versus the Canaries, Suarez has tormented them to the tune of 11 goals. With numbers like those, Suarez is a no-brainer at captain this week.
Zabaleta - Ivanovic - Skrtel
Gerrard - Silva - Mirallas - Willian
Aguero - Adebayor - Suarez (C)