As the final weeks of the season run down, our fixture ticker shrinks. Our look at the upcoming schedules over the final five Gameweeks reveals three top sides with fixtures to boost their ambitions, while hope springs eternal at the bottom end of the table:
After seeing off Southampton at the weekend, Manuel Pellegrini’s men turn their attentions to a title-chase six-pointer at Anfield as the first part of their double Gameweek. With home fixtures against Sunderland, West Brom, Aston Villa and West Ham following that, and only a trip to Everton looking particularly daunting, the blue half of Manchester looks a very enticing Fantasy prospect indeed. The only question is which of the multitude of viable options fit your squad and budget best.
A recent run of five consecutive clean sheets highlights the upturn in defensive resolve shown by Vincent Kompany’s backline. The Belgian himself probably doesn’t quite represent the best value since Martin Demichelis has shown himself more amenable to the bonus point system, whilst Pablo Zabaleta is the only full-back with security of starts, leaving Aleksandar Kolarov to remain a real punt on the other flank. In midfield, Yaya Toure is expected to shake off a knock sustained against the Saints, whilst Pellegrini revealed yesterday that David Silva is carrying a slight ankle knock and has been sitting out training sessions to manage the problem. That perhaps adds to the appeal of Samir Nasri, who is both cheaper and has outscored the Spaniard over the last four weeks.
In attack, Sergio Aguero is widely expected to return for the crucial Liverpool showdown, though how much of the double Gameweek he plays is anyone’s guess, as his manager will be keen to ensure he doesn’t break down yet again. At just 7.2, Edin Dzeko presents a much cheaper option, and one in good form, with four goals and two assists in his last four starts. There is just a shadow of doubt over his game time in light of Aguero’s imminent return – it remains to be seen whether Pellegrini will pair the two up top and go on the offensive or continue with his recent move to a lone forward system for the run-in.
Humbled by a rampant and tactically astute Everton, Arsene Wenger’s side are low on morale right now. A season that so recently looked capable of bringing a Premier League title is now in danger of seeing them crash out of the Champions League places too. Fortunately for the Gunners, their run-in could scarcely be kinder, with home games against West Ham, Newcastle and West Brom, plus trips to Hull and Norwich.
These fixtures bring the Arsenal defence back into consideration, particularly with the imminent return of Laurent Koscielny to shore up a back-line that has looked porous in his absence. Alternatively, Bacary Sagna is cheaper and fully fit, while Wojciech Szczesny looks a good option between the sticks. In midfield, early-season sensation Aaron Ramsey climbed off the bench against Everton and looked spritely enough; if he can return to the form that made him such a Fantasy essential, he has the potential to shake up the Fantasy landscape for a second time. It’s hard to recommend any of the other Arsenal midfield though; beset by injuries and bereft of goalscoring form, Santi Cazorla seems too expensive for a punt, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain blows too hot and cold for most tastes. Olivier Giroud has just one goal in six starts to suggest that his form has dried up again, while any allure around the obvious talent of Lukas Podolski is surely tainted by a lack of guaranteed game-time.
Tim Sherwood’s team went into last night’s game against Sunderland with a cloud of media speculation concerning the feisty manager’s future hanging over their heads. But if there was any gloom in the dressing room, it didn’t affect their performance as Spurs blew the Wearsiders away in a show of creative power. The remaining schedule suggests that Tottenham can finish the season on a high – trips to West Brom and West Ham, allied with home games against Fulham and Aston Villa make Sherwood’s side a good-looking prospect for points at both ends of the pitch, despite a lack of double Gameweeks.
The appeal of Spurs’ defence is hard to gauge – injuries to key personnel have taken their toll and they haven’t kept a clean sheet in six weeks. These fixtures could be profitable, though, and with Younes Kaboul and Vlad Chiriches now seemingly preferred at centre-back in the absence of Jan Vertonghen, a cut-price entry into a defensive gambit presents itself. In midfield, it’s hard to look past Christian Eriksen; his second double figure haul in three weeks brings him firmly onto Fantasy radars. Emmanuel Adebayor, the main beneficiary of the Dane’s creative verve, also scored big against Sunderland; his fourth double figure haul since being rejuvenated by Sherwood gives Fantasy managers a pair of ready-made, mid-price differentials – both are still owned by less than 5% and could be poised to deal further damage from this point on.
Well beaten by Chelsea to end a run of five games undefeated, Mark Hughes’ Stoke are still primed to end the season in the top half. The fixtures fall in the Potters’ favour, with visits of Newcastle and Fulham as well as trips to Cardiff and West Brom. In their last five home games, including Arsenal and Man United, the Potters have conceded just three goals, suggesting that the budget services of Marc Wilson could be profitable if they get the rub of the green. In midfield, Charlie Adam has been assigned to bench-duties in each of the last two since returning from suspension, though Marko Arnautovic has been steadily impressing as he grows into his first Premier League season and, at 5.1, may yet prove to be a solid budget enabler.
The writing looks on the wall for the Wearsiders. Despite briefly turning around Paolo Di Canio’s dispirited team, Gus Poyet’s best efforts look destined to end in relegation. With two double Gameweeks to come, though, investment in Sunderland could still be profitable. Vito Mannone has delivered – incredibly for a goalkeeper – six double-figure scores, while Marcos Alonso and Phil Bardsley are now utilised as wing-backs in a 3-5-2. Bardsley needs to navigate next weekend’s clash with Everton without picking up a yellow or he’s set to topple off the Suspension Tightrope and head for a two-match ban. Adam Johnson is a persistent threat when given game time and his central role against Spurs perhaps bodes well, whilst Ki Sung-Yeung may offer some upside for his bargain-basement price. Fabio Borini has been moved to the middle since the switch to 3-5-2 and is first in line for spot-kicks but allocating one of our three forward slots to a Sunderland striker with three goals to his name all season seems a very risky tactic.
A win away at Aston Villa lifted the Cottagers off the bottom of the table to offer a glimmer of hope for survival. Their coming fixtures afford further reason for optimism, most notably in the form of home games against Norwich, Hull and Crystal Palace. If Felix Magath can continue to wring performances out of his squad, such fixtures contain some hope for Fantasy managers in search of differentials. Those home games could offer clean sheets; both David Stockdale and Fernando Amorebieta are priced to tempt a punt. In midfield, Lewis Holtby has been growing keenly into his playmaking role with returns in four of his last five games, while the 4.9-priced Ashkan Dejagah has served up three goals since the arrival of his former Wolfsburg manager.