Hive FPL - Game Week 21 Match Previews & Key Stats
After the break for the World Cup and a hectic Christmas/New Year period, the dust is beginning to settle and the form and fitness of players is becoming more apparent.
Still, this game week throws up some tricky encounters to call with big matches at both ends of the table so FPL managers will need to use all their skills and analysis to squeeze as many points as possible from this round of games.
2 clubs who would have had much loftier ambitions at the start of season meet in this lunch time clash. A win for either manager would certainly help to take some of the pressure off with expectations currently outweighing results.
For their part, Chelsea have done fairly well on their last couple of visits to Anfield coming away with 4 points and they'll be keen to avenge the 2 cup final defeats that they suffered at the hands of the Reds last season. Both those games finished nil - nil and required penalties to separate the 2 sides. Will we get another cagey affair like that or might we see something more akin to the 5 -3 thriller that was played out here in 2020?
You'd certainly be a brave man to back defenders from either side albeit that both teams did keep a clean sheet in their last match. For Liverpool, that was the first time they achieved a shut out in 8 matches while for Chelsea they achieved the same feat for the first time in 5 games.
Darwin Nunez (FWD) is expected to be fit again having missed the last 2 games. The Uruguayan is ranked first for threat on the ICT over the last 5 game weeks but is still struggling to convert chances into points. Given the number of injuries and suspensions they've suffered, Chelsea may hand a debut to big money signing Mykhailo Mudryk (MID) despite the fact that he hasn't played competitive football in 2 months.
2 promoted sides fighting hard to avoid dropping back down to the Championship. For Bournemouth, results have nose dived since Gary O'Neil was given the managers job on a permanent basis and defeat today could see them slip back into the bottom 3. Defence was never a strong point but worryingly for the Cherries, they've failed to score in all 4 league matches since the World Cup.
Forest meanwhile are showing signs of good form and perhaps most importantly Steve Cooper now seems to know his best XI having been inundated with new signings over the summer. However, Forest has struggled away from home with just a solitary victory on the road all season.
Player wise Serge Aurier (DEF) is in fine form having delivered 26 points from his last 3 matches and with Forest having a relatively favourable runs of games to come he may be a decent alternative to fellow full-back Nico Williams albeit a slightly more expensive one.
It looked as though Leicester had turned a corner in October after a dreadful start to the season but they've now lost 4 on the bounce and sit just 2 points clear of relegation. The good news for the Foxes and for FPL managers is that James Maddison (MID) is back in training and could feature in this match.
Maddison's return would certainly boolster an attack that has struggled to look threatening of late but defensive issues for Leicester remain and they come up against a Brighton side that is looking very good in the final third at this moment in time.
Indeed, there are plenty of attacking options for managers to consider including the very reasonably priced Evan Ferguson (FWD) who at £4.6 million has form that is comparable to both Kane and Haaland at this point in time. Meanwhile Japan star Kaoru Mitoma (MID), is ranked 6th for threat for midfielders over the last 5 games and again is a very cheap option. Finally Solly March (MID) who is enjoying being played in a more advanced position just can't stop scoring worldy goals at the moment. The underlying stats don't really back up his incredible point scoring of late but sometimes you've just got to go with the feeling that when a player's hot, they're hot!
Bottom placed Southampton face a reinvigorated Villa who know that a win could push them into the top half of the league. The Saints have been an incredibly difficult team to predict this season and every time you think that they are about to go into free fall they tend to put in a result that keeps them hanging on. Of course, it's the cup competitions where they appear to be saving their best performances so Nathan Jones may be tempted to utter the old adage that every game is a cup final from here out to get his team winning in the league too.
Captain James Ward-Prowse (MID) has been the stand out performer of late with 4 goals in his last 4 games, having not hit the back of the net since the opening minutes of the Saint's first game of the season.
Villa certainly look like a better collective under Unai Emery than they ever did under Steven Gerrard. Emi Buendía (MID) is one player who has certainly benefited from the change and has delivered a couple of big game weeks recently having failed to score more than 3 points in 15 of the his 16 appearances prior to the win at Spurs.
Odds are that the manager that loses this match will be looking for a new job by the end of the weekend. Expectations are always high at West Ham and following their excellent performances last year it was always going to be tough 2nd act. Still, just 15 points from 19 games and without a win in their last 5 puts Moyes right on the edge regardless of prior achievements.
For Frank Lampard and his players it bit be something of a relief to be playing away from home following the scenes at Goodison Park after their defeat to bottom side Southampton. The character of the manager and players is being severly tested with the problems both on and off the pitch. Will this prove the final straw?
There's not much to like about any of the current players on either team but managers might be tempted to go for new West Ham signing Danny Ings (FWD) who has scored a goal every 134 mins of Premier League football he's played this season despite only appearing in 42% of Villa's starting XI's. David Moyes commented that he wanted to sign a forward who knows how to score in this league and in Ings he's got just that. The 7 career goals that he's scored against Everton is more than vs any other club.
With the teams above them all playing on Sunday, Newcastle have the chance to put some pressure on the 2 Manchester clubs and Arsenal at the top of the league. Since returning to action, the Magpies have been solid if not spectacular with their last gasp winner against Fulham the only goal they've scored in their last 3 league matches.
Of course that goal came courtesy of a link up between Callum Wilson (FWD) and Alexander Isak (FWD) and if those 2 along with Allan Saint-Maximin (MID) can regain fitness then there's no reason to suspect that Newcastle won't return to being a goal scoring force once again.
Palace meanwhile got their own late goal to steal a point from United in midweek, a result that benefits their guests today. However, that was the Eagles first league goal since returning from the World Cup and the fact that they face the meanest defence in the league in this game shouldn't provide them with much hope of reversing that poor record.
Sunday begins with struggling Leeds hosting the form side of the Premier League. No team has won more points since the league resumed than Brentford and a win in this fixture would push them into the the European spots.
Despite his off-field issues, Ivan Toney (FWD) is currently the in-form striker in the Premier League with goals in his last 4 appearances in the league. Away from Toney and if you're looking for a slightly left-field pick would be
Ethan Pinnock (DEF) who has started the last 10 matches for Tomas Franks. As well as recording 4 clean sheets in that time, Pinnock is currently the most threatening defender in the league since it resumed and while the big centre back is yet to score this season, you feel it is just a matter of time before he influences things at that end of the pitch too in a team so adept from set pieces.
For Leeds, performances haven't equalled points and sitting just above the relegation zone they need a win today to avoid losing the Elland Road faithful. Rodrigo (MID) continues to look like the best buy for them although the cup form of Wilfried Gnonto (FWD) and the return to fitness of Patrick Bamford (FWD) are both worth monitoring. Either could become feasible picks and/or push Rodrigo back into the midfield.
At half-time against Spurs it looked like City's defence of their title was about to capitulate once and for all. However, a Riyad Mahrez (MID) inspired 2nd half saw City roar back to life and Pep Guardiola will be hoping to carry that momentum through he rest of the season. The Algerian scored 17 points v Spurs but his form extends to a longer period than that with goal contributions in his last 4 game weeks.
Wolves have certainly improved of late with 7 points from their last 4 games pulling them out of the relegation zone. There main concern continues to be hitting the back of the net with just 12 goals all season having scored more than once in just a single league match against fellow strugglers Everton.
City have only been stopped from scoring once in the league this season and that was back in October against Liverpool. Despite not being at their best, the array of attacking talent suggests that Wolves will need to carry a goal threat themselves if they are to get anything out of this match. Expected goals of 0.31 in the reverse fixture earlier in the season suggest that they may struggle to do that.
The biggest match of the weekend sees top placed Arsenal host 3rd placed United. United are the only team to have inflicted a league defeat on the Gunners this season in a match where Arteta and his side showed a degree of naivety in opening up and going for 3 points. You would imagine that this game will follow a similar pattern with United defending in numbers and looking for opportunities to transition at pace.
The loss of Casimero (MID) is a major blow for United's hopes. The Brazilian has had an immediate impact in an area of the pitch that the Red Devils have been struggling in for several seasons. Equally United are hardly a free flowing football team under Ten Hag with their 30 goals scored this season the fewest of the top 9 sides in the league. Much will depend on the form of Marcus Rashford (MID) who is the top ranked midfielder on the ICT as far as threat is concerned since the resumption of the league and Bruno Fernandes (MID) whose creativity is behind only Martin Ødegaard (MID) on the same scale. Between them, the pair have been directly involved in 7 out of the last 10 goals United have scored in the league.
Since switching off for the last half an hour against Brighton, Arsenal's defence has been water tight and they survived the almost inevitable 2nd half come back attempt from Spurs in their last fixture with Aaron Ramsdale (GK) in particular putting in a fine display to maintain the early 2 goal cushion his side had won.
The front 4 of Nketiah, Saka, Martinelli and Ødegaard are all viable picks for FPL managers in terms of their underlying stats but it is the later who is putting up the most impressive numbers at the moment with Ødegaard's form 2nd only to Solly March.
United haven't won at the Emirates since 2017 and in a sign of just how much transition has taken place at both clubs during that period, only 3 of the players who started that match are likely to be involved in this fixture. For Arsenal, Granit Xhaka is the only survivor of that squad while for United only De Gea is a sure starter with fitness doubts still surrounding Antony Martial
Both these teams will be looking to rebound following defeats. For Spurs, they can at least cling to the fact that they have a very good record against Fulham particularly in matches at Craven Cottage. You have to go all the way back to 2008 for the last time Spurs suffered defeat in the league away at Fulham having won their last 6 Premier League visits to West London. Unsurprisingly, Harry Kane (FWD) has been one of the main protagonists in that fine form with 7 goals in his last 6 appearances v Fulham.
The return to fitness of Dejan Kulusevski (MID) will certainly be something for FPL managers to monitor. He returned a goal involvement every 90 mins during the 2nd half of last season and despite his injury problems this year is still averaging one every 125mins this term.
Fulham will feel slightly aggrieved not to have gotten something from the game at Newcastle and to keep up their fine form this winter that has seen them win 12 points out of the last 15 available. Goal scoring has not proved to be a problem for the Cottagers so far this season but it's the improvement in their defence that has really caught the eye in recent games conceeding just 3 goals in their last 6 matches in all competitions.
The resurgance of Willian (MID) who looked like he was finished at the top level when he left Arsenal a couple of seasons ago has been one of the driving factors behind Fulham's recent success. The Brazilian has registered 3 goal involvements in the last 4 game weeks and has 6 goal involvements in previous matches v Spurs.