In the first of a two-part series, we assess the options on offer among the three teams set to play twice in Double Gameweek 34.
We start with an analysis of the defences, scanning the likeliest sources of points both in terms of clean sheets and attacking returns.
Manchester United approach their double in fine defensive form, with five shut-outs in their last eight league matches.
Jose Mourinho’s side also boast the second most resilient rearguard in the Premier League, conceding just 24 times in 31 fixtures ahead of back-to-back trips to Burnley and Manchester City.
In spite of that promising record, United’s involvement in Europe could ultimately dictate how we view their prospects.
If, as expected, they proceed past Anderlecht and clinch a place in the last four of the Europa League tonight, there’s a fear that Mourinho’s recent rotation policy could continue to blight our plans.
Having served up attacking or defensive points in eight of his nine league matches, Antonio Valencia – whose 16% FPL ownership is more than any Double Gameweek defender – has the potential to emerge as the star performer.
Yet the Ecuadorian has started just one of the last three Gameweeks, with Mourinho citing fatigue as a major factor.
With United looking to grab a place in next year’s Champions League via Europa League success, can the Red Devils’ boss be trusted to hand Valencia back-to-back league starts as the schedule intensifies?
Wins in both Double Gameweek 34 matches would enable United to climb above their neighbours into fourth spot, so there’s still plenty to play for in the league.
While Valencia has the greatest upside, goalkeeper David de Gea, along with Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo, could perhaps be more secure picks.
De Gea has started all but one league match this term, while injuries to the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have limited Mourinho’s options in the heart of defence, lessening the prospect of rotation.
On the downside, Bailly has no attacking returns to his name, while Rojo has found the net on just one occasion.
The trip to Turf Moor seems the likeliest source of defensive points, but it’s worth noting that Burnley have scored in all but one of the last 11 in front of their own fans – only Spurs have kept them out over that run.
Elsewhere, Middlesbrough have the most appealing pair of matches among the Double Gameweek contingent, travelling to Bournemouth on Saturday afternoon prior to a midweek showdown with Sunderland at the Riverside.
Earlier this afternoon, Steve Agnew ruled Victor Valdes out of the trip to Bournemouth, with Brad Guzan set to deputise again. It remains uncertain whether the Spaniard will miss both matches, though, which diminishes the appeal of either stopper for the pair of matches.
Ben Gibson – having played every minute of the season so far – is the most reliable in terms of pitch time. Priced at 5.0, he’s the costliest option amongst the Middlesbrough contingent and has been snapped up by almost 42,000 FPL managers already.
Elsewhere, George Friend has yet to start under the new manager, while Fabio da Silva – the only Boro defender to create more than ten chances for team-mates this term – remains a doubt, having limped off early against the Gunners due to a knee problem.
The on-loan Calum Chambers missed six matches with a foot injury prior to Monday’s clash with his parent club but, having stepped up his fitness, could also come into contention.
Crystal Palace have a harder task on hand, with a trip to Liverpool preceding a midweek visit from high-flying Spurs.
Although the Eagles have four clean sheets in seven, only one of those shut-outs has arrived in the last four Gameweeks.
To make matters worse for Big Sam, he’s without the influential Mamadou Sakho for the Anfield clash as the on-loan centre-half cannot face his parent club.
Having returned to action with a sub appearance off the bench against Leicester last time out, Patrick van Aanholt will now be pushing for a starting berth at the expense of Jeffrey Schlupp.
The Dutchman has already struck four times this term and, with six goals to his name in the previous campaign, offers the strongest prospect of points at either end of the pitch. Joel Ward looks nailed-on under Big Sam but, coming in at 4.8 to Van Aanholt’s 4.9, offers less value and has a single assist accrued this season.
Meanwhile, Martin Kelly has started each of the last three but looks no more than a budget enabler. At a similar price, keeper Wayne Hennessey could still profit from save points between the posts.
The Top Targets
Ben Gibson – with Valdes sidelined for at least the first match, Gibson offers the safest route into the Middlesbrough defence for a pair of favourable fixtures. A goal and assist isn’t overly convincing, though his total of 13 bonus points is more than any defensive team-mate – 11 of those arrived when his side have earned a clean sheet.
Eric Bailly – like Gibson, the Ivorian’s propensity for picking up bonus points could be vital – his tally of 13 is more than any defensive team-mate. With Mourinho heaping praise on both Bailly and Rojo due to the injury situation at centre-half, the summer signing’s security of starts seals the deal for us.
Wayne Hennessey – having started every league match since Gameweek 12, the Welshman offers a hassle-free route into Big Sam’s backline and can expected to be kept busy, at the very least, in a tough pair of fixtures. Owned by 3%, Hennessey has served up 16 save points in 23 league outings this term.
Antonio Valencia – supplier of more successful crosses than any FPL defender in 2016/17, the Ecuadorian has a goal and three assists in his last nine Gameweek appearances. If he can avoid rotation, Valencia’s penchant for points at both ends of the pitch could make him a canny acquisition.
Patrick van Aanholt – how much faith can we place in a defence that faces in-form Liverpool and Spurs, both with everything still to play for? Owned by just 3%, van Aanholt still offers a chance of attacking points regardless – he sits third for total attempts (29) and joint-top with Marcos Alonso for shots on target among FPL defenders, with 12 apiece.
Calum Chambers – with Fabio forced off on Monday and Antonio Barragan failing to convince, a fit-again Chambers could return to the Boro starting XI. An average of 3.5 points per match – identical to the popular Gibson – illustrates the 4.3-priced loanee’s potential value if handed consecutive starts.