The insanity of the Christmas schedule might be behind us, but the New Year fixtures are coming thick and fast.
The Fantasy buzzkill that is the FA Cup and the looming spectre of European duties mean that rotation will continue to be a factor as we assess the top-flight clubs with the strongest and weakest runs of league matches over the coming weeks.
Our primary focus will be on the next six Gameweeks, which takes us up to the return of the Champions League and Europa League towards the end of February.
It also takes in the curious case of Gameweek 26, which will span two weekends (and a Monday night) from February 8 to 17.
We’ll be using our Season Ticker to help – Members using this tool can sort by difficulty and teams that rotate well, filter home and away fixtures, and separate attack and defence.
Next seven: tot | MUN | wol/whu | SOU | nor | WHU
On the face of it, any schedule that starts with a trip to Spurs and a visit from Manchester United looks more tricky than strong.
But this is Liverpool we’re talking about; a team that’s about as fixture-proof as they come and with a consistency that is notably absent in the DNA of those other two members of the ‘big six’ at present.
Tottenham have kept just two clean sheets all season – joint-last with Norwich – although they are much more effective at home. They’ve conceded 10 goals in 10 matches on their own turf (as opposed to 20 on the road) and both their shut-outs have come in front of their own fans, even if the last one was five Gameweeks ago.
Stopping Liverpool from scoring has been beyond every side so far this season, however, and Spurs look ill-equipped to buck that trend.
Scoring against a side with five straight clean sheets in the bank might also be a struggle, particularly with Harry Kane (£11.0m) out.
As for United, the notion that they are at their best away from home on the counter-attack has taken a bit of a battering from defeats at Watford and Arsenal, with a Gameweek 20 win at Burnley more an indication of the Clarets’ wretched form than anything else.
And then there’s the fact that Liverpool have a double Gameweek 24 – away at Wolves and West Ham – before a tasty trio of matches against Southampton, Norwich and the Hammers again.
Wolves away will surely be the toughest test of that run, although Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have won just four of their ten matches at Molineux this season, while West Ham are difficult to gauge from one (admittedly resounding) win under new man David Moyes.
But Southampton and Norwich are the league’s worst teams for goals conceded (38 and 41 respectively), so it’s small wonder that Liverpool triple-ups are the current Fantasy order of the day.
Next six: BHA | whu | NEW | wat | CRY | ars
Merseyside as a whole could be the place for Fantasy joy over the next six Gameweeks if Carlo Ancelotti can keep Everton on the right track.
The Toffees have lost just once in six matches – a 2-1 defeat at Manchester City in Gameweek 21 – and the figures from that run are encouraging.
Only two teams conceded fewer goals than the five they let in, although they did ride their luck as the 87 attempts they allowed was the fourth-worst total in the league. At the other end, the 80 attempts they had put them in the top six – ahead of the likes of Leicester City (79).
Everton will host three of the least dynamic away sides in Newcastle (nine goals), Brighton (10) and Crystal Palace (also 10), while the former pair are in the top six for away goals conceded.
Palace (60) and Newcastle (61) are also in the lower reaches of the goal attempts chart over the last six Gameweeks.
The Toffees’ three trips are less encouraging, with ‘new manager bounce’ a wildcard factor when it comes to West Ham and Arsenal.
There’s little doubt as to the improvement of Watford under Nigel Pearson, however, so those tempted by the form of Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£5.9m) – joint-top for goals scored (five) over the last six Gameweeks – might wish to reserve their optimism for those choice Goodison Park fixtures.
Speaking of which…
Next six: bou| TOT | avl | EVE |bha | mun
If you haven’t seen the transformation in the Hornets since Pearson took charge five Gameweeks ago, please extract your head from the sand.
His first match, away at Liverpool, was a free pass. Since then, Watford have won three and drawn one and by the time the next six fixtures are done, they could be out of the relegation zone.
Over the last four Gameweeks, only the uber-hot Danny Ings (£6.7m) has scored more goals among forwards than Troy Deeney (£6.2m), who has three, while his partner up front, Gerard Deulofeu (£6.1m), has chipped in with a couple.
The pair are owned by a total of just 3.5% of Fantasy Premier League managers and the in-form midfielder Ismaïla Sarr (£6.2m), who has two goals and two assists during that period, by only 0.8%.
There’s not a single Watford player in the current top 30 for Gameweek 22 transfers-in, which is almost criminal when you also factor in the side’s defensive improvement under Pearson. Only Liverpool can top their totals for clean sheets and goals conceded (both two) over the last four games.
Admittedly, three of those matches were at home, and Watford will now have to travel to Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Brighton and Manchester United.
But Villa and Bournemouth are fourth-worst for goals conceded at home this season, with 14. Dean Smith’s side have also lost two of their last three at Villa Park by a combined score of 3-7, while the Cherries are in free-fall wherever they play, having lost eight of their last ten matches.
Brighton have been rather more solid on their own pitch, although they’ve won just one of their last five at home, and United’s issues against sides unwilling to allow them space behind are well documented.
Of the home fixtures, Everton are in a good place at present, but Spurs have hit the wall on their last two away days, drawing with Norwich and losing to Southampton.
No Watford player currently enjoys more than 3.2% FPL ownership. That surely needs to change.
Next six: WAT | nor | BHA | AVL | shu | bur
Everything you’re about to read should be done with the following three words never far away: but it’s Bournemouth.
The Cherries have a great schedule, but it’s Bournemouth. A Bournemouth, as mentioned above, who have won just two of their last ten matches.
During that spell, they’ve matched Aston Villa for most goals conceded (19) and are also joint-worst for clean sheets, with one.
Even the thrill vacuum that is Crystal Palace have scored more goals (nine) than the paltry six they’ve scored and they’re bottom for chances created (64), attempts on target (25), shot accuracy (26.9%) and goal conversion rate (6.5%).
Their next six matches are incredibly inviting.
But it’s Bournemouth.
And as we should ignore them, remember this is Bournemouth, so they’ll probably turn that woeful form around and fool us all.
Brighton’s next six (eve | AVL | bou | whu | WAT | shu) look great on paper, but the side’s away form needs to be factored in.
Graham Potter’s men sit seventh in the league based on home results and 16th for away days.
They should prosper against Aston Villa at the Amex – no side has conceded more goals on the road than the 23 shipped by the Villains – but the other visitors, Watford, are not likely to be anywhere near as accommodating.
Two Brighton players currently reside in the top 30 for Gameweek 22 purchases: Lewis Dunk (£4.8m) and Mat Ryan (£4.8m).
The former has as many attacking returns – two goals and three assists – as clean sheets to his name this season, while the latter is second among keeper for bonus points (11) and third for saves (75).
Other than that pair, investment in Brighton assets should be tempered by caution over their issues on the road.
Conversely, Leicester City (SOU | bur | WHU | CHE | wol |MCI) will play four of their next six games at home.
They’ve bounced back from defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City with wins against West Ham and Newcastle and should have a fit and fresh Jamie Vardy (£10.1m) back in the fold as well.
But those home matches might not be quite so straightforward as they first appear.
Southampton have finally found some defensive steel over the last four Gameweeks, joint-second (with Watford) for both clean sheets and goals conceded behind the all-conquering Liverpool.
West Ham under Moyes are hard to analyse after just one game, while Chelsea and Man City will test the theory that the Foxes struggle in the biggest match-ups – in five attempts this season, Leicester have earned just a single point against fellow top five teams.
Next six: mun | BOU | tot | new | LIV | wol
No doubt Canaries coach Daniel Farke can provide any number of reasons why his side are five points adrift at the bottom of the table.
But the plain facts are that they’ve conceded the most goals (41) and scored only 22, which is the fourth-worst record in the league.
Away from home, they’ve found the net just five times in 10 attempts. That’s far from ideal when four of their next six fixtures are on the road and three of their four strikers have injury issues.
Norwich are actually more solid defensively on their travels – the 16 goals they’ve conceded puts them firmly in mid-table – although they’ll struggle to blunt Spurs and Manchester United, who are both in the top four for goals scored at home.
Some Fantasy managers seem oblivious to all of this when it comes to midfielder Todd Cantwell (£4.9m), who is just outside the top 10 for Gameweek 22 purchases, presumably on the back of two double-digit hauls over Christmas.
He might be fixture-proof. He’s scored against Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal, after all. But all bar one of his six goals this season have come at Carrow Road.
In short, Cantwell aside if you insist, avoid.
Next six: che | LEI | mun | ARS | sou | BOU
The Clarets have been admirably consistent over the last eight Gameweeks.
They’ve scored only four times, which is joint-worst with Bournemouth, and conceded 16 goals, which only Aston Villa can top (by one), on their way to six defeats in eight matches.
Even more worryingly, Burnley can’t do it home or away at present, with four of those losses coming at Turf Moor – hardly ideal preparation for visits from Leicester and Arsenal.
Sean Dyche’s side have at least upped their game against teams as bad as they’ve been. Their last four victories have all come at the expense of fellow strugglers, so a trip to Southampton and a visit from Bournemouth could halt their current slide.
But there are four games to come before then.
Next six: NEW | sou | LIV | mun | LEI | NOR
Wolves are already closing in on 40 matches for the season and things are not about to let up.
A visit from Newcastle and a trip to Southampton is a kindly start to a nasty run involving three of the top five and then Norwich.
That last game would be no problem for a side as accomplished as Wolves if that fixture didn’t come three days after the first leg of their Europa League Round of 32 tie, which means rotation looks guaranteed.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are also still in the FA Cup, with a replay at Manchester United taking place in the midweek between the Newcastle and Southampton matches.
Should they advance at Old Trafford, they’ll be handed a fourth-round tie just days after Gameweek 24’s Thursday night fixture with Liverpool before they head back to United in the league the following Saturday evening.
And if fatigue doesn’t bother you, form might do. Wolves have won just two of their last six as their early start to the season and the heavy Christmas schedule seem to have conspired to work against them.
Crystal Palace (ARS | mci | SOU | SHU | eve | NEW) have a mixed bag of fixtures to come, but the fact that four of the next six are at Selhurst Park is not entirely good news.
The Eagles do have an excellent defensive record at home – the nine goals they’ve conceded is a league-leading figure and their four clean sheets is second only to Watford.
But the visitors to come in this run will include a seemingly resurgent Arsenal, away day specialists Sheffield United and a Southampton side that has only failed to score on the road once all season, and that was way back in Gameweek 1.
Palace have also been toothless in front their own fans. The nine goals they’ve managed in 10 home games is the league’s worst figure, while their 83 chances created is second only to Bournemouth’s abject total of 66.
Tricky trips to Manchester City and Everton round out a prickly schedule during which defensive returns remain feasible, but the likes of the 11.2%-owned Wilfried Zaha (£6.8m) look entirely expendable – even if he shakes off his latest knock.
AND THEN THERE WERE TWO…
West Ham and Southampton could easily troll our Season Ticker.
The Hammers are currently rated as the team with the fifth-best schedule over the next five matches, helped by the fact that they’ll actually play six times thanks to double Gameweek 24.
But that double involves Leicester at home and Liverpool away.
They’ll also entertain Everton and Brighton and travel to Sheffield United and Manchester City.
David Moyes started with a bang and a 4-0 home win. But that was Bournemouth, who are currently everyone’s ideal partners for a honeymoon period.
How long the new manager can extend that period remains to be seen.
As for the Saints, the Ticker doesn’t seem to like this schedule: lei | WOL | cry | liv | BUR | AVL.
But Southampton have won three of their last four matches, including an impressive 2-0 victory at Chelsea and a battling 1-0 defeat of Spurs at St Mary’s.
Only Liverpool, with zero, have conceded fewer goals than the two they’ve allowed during that spell, while in Danny Ings they have FPL’s most deadly striker.
Based on their current form, only those trips to Leicester and Liverpool look like a stretch Ralf Hasenhuttl’s improving side.
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