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EPL Best XI: Top Picks for Gameweek 36

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire. He supports Arsenal FC, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Knicks, while specializing in those respective sports in his coverage for the site.

In the last few weeks of the Premiership season, usually most teams have little to play for besides sorting out their respective positions in the final standings.

Last week, both Chelsea and Sunderland entered Saturday's match with contrasting motivations to secure all three points. The Blues sat just two points off the title pace, while Sunderland needed a win to keep their hopes of avoiding relegation alive.

Ultimately, Sunderland stunned Chelsea by a score of 2-1, virtually eliminating the Blues from championship contention, while handing manager Jose Mourinho his first ever loss in a league game at Stamford Bridge.

That result set that stage for Liverpool to extend their league lead to five points with three games remaining following a 3-2 road win at Norwich City.

In another notable occurrence, Everton downed Manchester United 2-0 in David Moyes' first appearance at Goodison Park since become the Red Devils' boss ahead of this season. As it turns out, Sunday's loss would be Moyes' final game in charge of United, with the club sacking him this week on the heels of a sensationally poor campaign.

Elsewhere, Cardiff City took a step toward staving off relegation by securing a point in Saturday's 1-1 draw versus Stoke City.

That match featured last week's Best XI goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who produced three saves and was only beaten by a penalty kick.

In defense, Pablo Zabaleta headed in a third minute goal in Manchester City’s 3-1 win over West Brom.

Meanwhile, as previously mentioned, Branislav Ivanovic's Chelsea side faltered by allowing two goals, the same total Liverpool conceded to Norwich City in a game that Martin Skrtel was shown a yellow card.

While Skrtel's teammate Steven Gerrard had an uneventful day anchoring Liverpool’s midfield, Man City's David Silva needed a stretcher to be withdrawn after 70 minutes with an ankle injury.

Also suffering an injury over the weekend was Everton's Kevin Mirallas. Although a slight groin tear will sideline the Belgian for the remainder of this season, Mirallas scored from a clinical finish and kept a clean sheet in the Toffees' aforementioned win over Man United.

Last week's final midfield selection, Willian assisted Chelsea’s only goal versus Sunderland.

Up front for the Best XI, Sergio Aguero registered an early goal for Man City, while former Citizen Emmanuel Adebayor's four shot attempts couldn't yield a goal in Tottenham's 3-1 victory over Fulham.

Last but not certainly not least, captain Luis Suarez continued his assault of Norwich City by bagging his 30th goal of the season Sunday. With three matches left, Suarez is currently one score shy of tying the Premier League record for goals in a 38-game season.

Highlighting the usual 10-game slate this weekend is Sunday's top-two tie of Chelsea at Liverpool.

However, heading to Anfield after last weekend's home blunder, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has hinted he may deploy a weaker side to ensure his best players are fresh for Wednesday's Champions League semifinal second leg against Atletico Madrid.

If Blues owner Roman Abramovich lets Mourinho do so, Liverpool could be gifted with watered-down matchup to further propel their title quest.

In other top-10 action, Southampton (eighth) host Everton (fifth), Tottenham (sixth) travel to Stoke City (tenth), and Arsenal (fourth) welcome Newcastle (ninth).

A massive match at the other end of the table, 18th-place Cardiff City visit last-place Sunderland with one point separating the presently relegation-bound sides.

Just two points ahead of Cardiff is Norwich City, an outfit that will serve as Ryan Giggs' first opponent as player-manager of Manchester United this Saturday at Old Trafford.

Hull City at Fulham also includes some relegation implications, while Swansea City-Aston Villa and West Brom-West Ham pit four teams occupying the five spots between 13th and 17th position.

Rounding out this week's fixture preview, as Liverpool's primary competitor for the title, Manchester City plays at a red-hot Crystal Palace side on Sunday.

With only three fantasy Premiership gameweeks to go, here's the 36th edition of the Best XI:

Formation: 3-4-3

Goalkeeper:
David de Gea
(Manchester United) - With a clean sheet in their past three home games versus Norwich City, Man United shouldn't be troubled much in defense this weekend against the Canaries. To add to that point, Norwich are currently tied for last in total goals (28), while sporting the league's fewest away goals (11). De Gea produced four saves in a 1-0 win versus Norwich earlier this season and will take aim at another clean sheet this time around.

Defenders:
Per Mertesacker
(Arsenal) - A top defender in fantasy leagues this season, only two players have recorded more clean sheets than Mertesacker's 14 thus far. One of those scoreless outings came at the expense of Newcastle back in December and considering the Magpies have failed to score in five of their last six road league games, Mertesacker could add to his haul at the Emirates Stadium again this week.

Ashley Williams (Swansea City) - Eight clean sheets in 32 appearances this season project Williams for one clean sheet every four outings. If that somehow holds perfect to form, Williams' last clean sheet came three games ago, so Saturday's match against Aston Villa should produce another scoreless outing for the defender. While it'd be goofy to rely on that trend, the Villians have been blanked two games in-a-row and scored just one goal in each their three games before then. Also, Swansea City tend to dominate possession, which could even further limit Villa's chances at scoring.

Glen Johnson (Liverpool) - This selection comes with the expectation that Chelsea fields a less potent lineup in Sunday's encounter. Should that prove true, the Blues' midfield could feature numerous players more renowned for their ball-winning ability than goal-scoring prowess. Even if Jose Mourinho includes some of his better attackers, Chelsea has scored more than one goal just twice over their past six league showings.

Midfielders:
Aaron Ramsey
(Arsenal) - An absolute stud when fit this season, Ramsey notched both a goal and an assist in his first league start since Boxing Day last Sunday. The all-action midfielder's ability to patrol from box-to-box opens up Arsenal's attack, which should produce heavy fire this weekend versus Newcastle. Losers of five straight, the Magpies are in terrible form, especially in defense, as they've shipped 14 goals over that span.

Juan Mata (Manchester United) - With club legend Ryan Giggs temporarily at the helm, morale around Old Trafford should be much improved Saturday, potentially boosting a United attack that has scored only 22 times in 16 homes games this season. Filling the No. 10 role in the Red Devils' attack will likely be Mata, who boasts three goals and an assist over his past three outings. Mata should also enjoy taking on a Norwich City defense ranked second-last in away goals conceded (40).

Lewis Holtby (Fulham) - Forced out of last weekend's match against his parent club Tottenham, Holtby figures to reclaim his starting position at home versus Hull City this Saturday. The Tigers have won just three times on the road, so in an effort to avoid the drop zone, Fulham would be wise to capitalize on a huge opportunity for three points at Craven Cottage. Tied for Fulham's team-lead with three assists, Holtby is also averaging nearly two shot attempts per game. His offensive influence will be required more than ever Saturday.

Samir Nasri (Manchester City) - Fellow midfielders Yaya Toure and David Silva have been battling injuries recently, forcing City to require more from Nasri in the final third. In response, Nasri has scored twice in his past four games. While Sunday's match at Crystal Palace may have seemed a sure thing a couple months ago, Tony Pulis' club has won five straight, making City's road trip a tricky one. Nonetheless, a high-powered attack like the Citizens' should be able to crack Palace's defense, with Nasri representing a prime candidate.

Forwards:
Olivier Giroud
(Arsenal) - As some of Arsenal's more creative midfielders have returned from injuries in recent weeks, Giroud has seen much better service in front of goal. A score at home two weeks ago and strike of the post with a shot last week evidence Giroud's increasingly confident play of late, an encouraging sign as Arsenal look to keep hold of a Champions League place for next season. Since joining the Gunners, the Frenchman has tallied three goals in three games against Newcastle, including the lone goal in Arsenal's 1-0 win earlier this term.

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) - Following a rocky relationship with recently-relieved gaffer David Moyes, Man United's leading scorer (15) and assister (10) should enjoy playing for long-time mate Ryan Giggs much more to close this season. Rooney claimed a brace in his most recent home league game and could very well find the scoresheet against Norwich City's bottom-four defense this weekend.

Luis Suarez (C) (Liverpool) - By now, Suarez should be a mainstay in fantasy sides. All the man has done this season is lead the league in goals (30) and assists (12) despite being suspended for Liverpool's first five games. The Reds have gone for at least two goals in 14 straight league games at Anfield, where Suarez could set the Premiership record for single-season goals this weekend against rivals Chelsea. While the Blues could deploy a defensive lineup to throw a wrench in Liverpool's trophy pursuit, that doesn't prevent Suarez from earning another Best XI captain's designation.

de Gea

Mertesacker - Williams - Johnson

Ramsey - Mata - Holtby - Nasri

Giroud - Rooney - Suarez (C)