As only a few games remained for each team, Week 36 of Premier League action continued this season’s unpredictable title race.
However, that wasn’t really the case until first-half stoppage time Sunday at Anfield, where an untimely slip from Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard gift-wrapped a goal to a Chelsea side blatantly disinterested in scoring.
Manager Jose Mourinho doubled his luck as the Blues scored again in second-half stoppage time, seeing Chelsea crawl to a 2-0 win that closed the gap on first-place Liverpool to two points.
With a game-in-hand, that result greatly benefited Manchester City. Should both Liverpool and City win each of their remaining matches, the Eastlands outfit figures to hoist the title with a superior goal difference.
However, that’s no certainty, since the Citizens travel to an Everton team desperate to make a last-ditch effort at fourth place this weekend.
Before jumping into a more in-depth preview of Week 37’s fixtures, let’s look back at how last week’s Best XI fared.
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea blanked Norwich City for the second time this season, making two saves in Saturday's 4-0 victory. In defense, Per Mertesacker added another clean sheet to his resume as Arsenal held Newcastle scoreless in a 3-0 win.
Then, although Swansea City conceded one goal, center-half Ashley Williams was colossal in defense, registering 12 clearances versus Aston Villa, while Glen Johnson's fantasy stock fell victim to Liverpool's surprising 2-0 defeat. Across the midfield, Aaron Ramsey put together a tireless shift in 74 minutes for Arsenal, landing a clean sheet versus an imploding Newcastle side.
At Old Trafford, Juan Mata was introduced at the 60-minute mark and dazzled in his second-half cameo, scoring a pair of goals by the 73rd minute for Man United.
Elsewhere, Lewis Holtby made a brief return to the Fulham lineup before being withdrawn at half-time of the Cottagers' 2-2 draw with Hull City and Samir Nasri provided an assist to go with a clean sheet in Manchester City's 2-0 win at in-form Crystal Palace.
At striker, a lively Olivier Giroud headed a second-half goal on Monday to score for the fourth time in four career matches against Newcastle.
Like Giroud, Wayne Rooney appeared re-invigorated playing under the tutelage Ryan Giggs. The Englishman attempted a team-best seven shots (four on goal) and bagged an early brace to start the scoring for Man United in Giggs' convincing managerial debut.
Lastly, captain Luis Suarez's pursuit of the Premiership's single-season goal record was put on hold despite firing five shots versus Chelsea's defensive setup.
In all, last week’s squad produced nicely with five goals, four clean sheets, and one assist.
Now, eyeing the second-to-last gameweek of Premiership play, 13 matches are slated to take place, with Manchester United v. Hull City, Manchester City v. Aston Villa, and Sunderland v. West Brom representing the make-up games before next weekend’s Sunday finale.
As previously mentioned, Saturday’s tie of Manchester City at Everton features the most high-profile fantasy performers. However, over their past six meetings, City have won twice, Everton have won three times (all at Goodison Park), and there has been one draw, so this weekend’s game is quite difficult to project.
Fortunately for City players, a tasty home date in the midweek with Aston Villa makes them strong fantasy prospects even if the Everton match clouds expectations a bit.
City’s neighbors at Manchester United figure to enjoy a double-gameweek as well, especially considering both their games against inferior competitors Sunderland and Hull City are at home.
Although it won’t happen, Hull City and Aston Villa could travel together for their aforementioned midweek games in Manchester, since the Tigers and Villains will duke it out in Birmingham on Saturday.
Leaving Manchester on Saturday, Sunderland will return home for a crucial survival quest on Wednesday against West Brom, a team that heads to Arsenal over the weekend.
Elsewhere in London, Upton Park will stage a derby of West Ham versus Tottenham, while Chelsea welcomes relegation-bound Norwich City coming off this week’s disappointing Champions League semifinal exit.
The only teams below Norwich also play on the road Saturday, with 19th-place Fulham visiting Stoke City and last-place Cardiff City hoping to take advantage of Newcastle’s six straight losses.
One position ahead of Newcastle is Southampton, who ventures to Wales for a match at Swansea City.
Last but most definitely not least, Liverpool aims for a huge rebound versus Crystal Palace to maintain hold of first-place on Monday.
With all 13 matches now highlighted, it’s time for Week 37’s Best XI.
David de Gea (Manchester United) – On the heels of last week’s home clean sheet, de Gea keeps his place in goal for the Best XI with two games at Old Trafford this time around. First up is Sunderland, who Man United have held scoreless in six of their last eight home meetings. Then, on Tuesday, de Gea faces a Hull City offense averaging fewer than one goal per game on the road this season.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) – Another player with a pair of games, Zabaleta starts by going against an Everton side that started three 20-year-olds (Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, and Gerard Deulofeu) in an attack that failed to score last week. Nonetheless, a clean sheet is probably a lofty expectation for Zabaleta at Goodison Park. However, Wednesday’s home match with Aston Villa appears a ripe opportunity. The Villains have scored just once over their last three showings and City concedes fewer than once per home game.
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) - A rock in the middle of Arsenal's defense, Koscielny connected with the end of a free-kick to score his second goal of the season on Monday. That was complemented by a clean sheet effort, bringing the Frenchman level for the league-lead in the category for defenders. While being tied for the best defensive record at home, Arsenal have also allowed just one goal over their past three league games. As such, Sunday's match against West Brom marks a decent clean sheet opportunity.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) - The Serbian went for a goal and an assist at home versus Norwich City last season, so history favors him this weekend. Also, the Canaries have gone three games in-a-row without scoring on the road, while Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in six of seven recent home league games. Given those factoids, Ivanovic is a defender to include in fantasy teams this week.
Yaya Toure (Manchester City) – Back from injury last weekend, Toure celebrated by mixing a goal with an assist. Those exploits bring his season total to 19 scores and six helpers, which includes a goal against Aston Villa and an assist versus Everton. With those sides being Toure’s two opponents this week, the Ivorian carries confidence into a couple of matches that could propel City toward the title.
Juan Mata (Manchester United) – Following two goals in just 30 minutes of play last weekend, Mata figures to start for Ryan Giggs in United’s two home games this week. The Red Devils have accounted for four goals in three of their past four league encounters, so Mata should find chances a-plenty against Sunderland’s fourth-worst defense and a Hull City side that struggles mightily on the road.
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) - At the heart of an Arsenal attack that has scored three goals in three consecutive games, Ozil is coming off a goal and an assist Monday versus Newcastle. All of the German's six goals as a Gunner have come at the Emirates Stadium, where Arsenal host West Brom this weekend. The North London side has scored at least two goals the past four times they've hosted the Baggies.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) - The PFA's Young Player of the Year, Hazard returned from a calf injury for Chelsea's Champions League loss on Wednesday. However, the Belgian should find much more room to operate against Norwich City, the team he opened his current campaign of 14 Premiership goals against. The Canaries have allowed the most away goals this season and the Blues have scored at least three goals in five straight games against them at Stamford Bridge.
Connor Wickham (Sunderland) – Sunderland have scored at least two goals in three straight Premiership games and Wickham has been the focal point of each occasion, exploding for five goals over that span. Impressively, three of those came against Manchester City and Chelsea, the league’s best defenses. With two matches this gameweek – at Manchester United and home versus West Brom – the 21-year-old should be targeted as Sunderland hopes to avoid the drop.
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) – Although City have only one Premier League win at Goodison Park, the urgency that comes along with likely being three wins away from a championship should have them on their A-game. Also, they’ve scored at least twice in eight of their past 10 league road trips, so someone like Aguero should be active. The Argentine scored against Everton prior this season and twice versus Wednesday’s opponent Aston Villa at home last season.
Wayne Rooney (C) (Manchester United) – Rooney joins teammates de Gea and Mata as each of the United trio makes the Best XI for a consecutive week. Like Mata, the Englishman added two to his goal total last week, so he’s in good form entering a double-gameweek. Rooney did not play in either of Man U’s cup losses to Sunderland earlier this season, but does have two goals in his past four games against the Black Cats. Additionally, he notched a goal and an assist versus Hull City in December, so two fantastic matchups earn Rooney the captain’s armband this week.
Zabaleta – Koscielny – Ivanovic
Toure – Mata – Ozil – Hazard
Wickham – Aguero – Rooney (C)