A period of limbo in which we were waiting on confirmation of the Blank Gameweek 31 line-up finally came to an end in midweek.
The results of the FA Cup fifth round dictated which Premier League matches would survive in the final set of fixtures before the international break, with full details available here.
We’ve also had a Double Gameweek 29 announcement over the last week, of course, so we’re due a frisk of the fixture list to see which teams have the strongest and weakest runs of league matches over the coming weeks.
The Season Ticker has been updated since Wednesday night to reflect the latest developments and now looks as follows:
Our primary focus will be on a five-Gameweek lookahead here, which takes us up to Gameweek 33.
It is perhaps wise to stop at this point because of the fact that the results of the FA Cup quarter-finals will partially dictate what happens in Gameweek 34, regarding postponements and rescheduling.
Fantasy managers will be adopting different chip strategies over the coming weeks, with some of us deploying the Free Hit in Gameweek 31 and others steadily building towards the Blank Gameweek or even ignoring it.
The article will take a slightly different format with that in mind, as we split the clubs into those with a blank and those without one.
CLUBS WITH A LEAGUE FIXTURE IN GAMEWEEK 31
Wolverhampton Wanderers (BHA | whu | BOU | avl | ARS) sit top of our Season Ticker over the coming five Gameweeks and face four teams in the bottom six next.
Their first opponents, Brighton, are woefully out of sorts and are the only Premier League club winless in 2020.
Albion, West Ham United and Aston Villa, indeed, are all in the relegation zone for form when clubs are filtered by their last six matches.
Wolves’ next four opponents haven’t kept a single clean sheet between them in their last six league fixtures, meanwhile.
Villa, West Ham and Bournemouth are in the bottom three for shots in the box conceded over the period studied, meanwhile.
With the visit of Eddie Howe’s side falling in Blank Gameweek 31, the likes of Raul Jimenez (£8.0m), Diogo Jota (£6.3m) and Matt Doherty (£6.2m) will likely be popular options regardless of chip strategy.
There is one other issue to take into account, though: Nuno Espirito’s Santo side have a two-legged UEFA Europa League tie against Olympiacos sandwiched in between Gameweeks 29-31
Runaway leaders Liverpool (BOU | eve | CRY | mci | AVL) may have suffered a blip by their own high standards but they will likely remain heavily backed by those FPL managers using their Free Hit chip in Gameweek 31, ‘dead-ending’ towards it, or otherwise.
Away trips to Everton and Manchester City don’t bode well regarding their clean sheet prospects, however: the Toffees and Pep Guardiola’s troops are third and second respectively for league goals scored since Gameweek 19 (the point at which Carlo Ancelotti took charge at Goodison Park).
The good news is that Everton haven’t particularly been watertight at the other end, having kept just one clean sheet this calendar year.
Bournemouth and Villa, as we discussed with Wolves, are two of the most obliging defences in the top flight, meanwhile.
That Gameweek 33 fixture against Villa falls bang in the middle of a possible two-legged Champions League quarter-final (should Liverpool make it past Atletico Madrid, of course), so, given that the league title could have been wrapped up at the Etihad a week earlier, there is the possible risk of rotation in that plum home fixture.
For the other six clubs still with a Premier League game in Blank Gameweek 31, the fixtures are a bit of a mixed bag – which is one of the downsides to stockpiling assets ahead of that round of matches.
Burnley (TOT | mci | WAT | cry | SHU) have a trip to the Etihad to come before their Gameweek 31 clash with Watford, for example, although there is the prospect of City rotating for that encounter given that it is sandwiched between Double Gameweek 29 and the Champions League clash with Real Madrid.
Tottenham Hotspur (bur | MUN | WHU | shu| EVE) have one of the better Gameweek 31 fixtures but some tricky games around it, with even a trip to Burnley looking far from straightforward given how in-form the Clarets are.
West Ham United (ars | WOL | tot| CHE | new) likely won’t be considered by many until the fixture swing in Gameweek 33, while Crystal Palace (WAT | bou | liv | BUR| lei) unquestionably have the toughest Gameweek 31 match and probably won’t be featuring prominently in many Free Hit squads on that weekend.
Bournemouth (liv | CRY | wol | NEW | mun) face six of the top seven in their run-in, meanwhile.
Fresh off the back of their win over Liverpool, Watford (cry | LEI| bur | SOU | che) have a slightly easier ride until Gameweek 36 but their Gameweek 31 match, which is when many of us could do with a favourable fixture for the likes of Ismaila Sarr (£6.3m), comes against a Burnley side that has kept clean sheets in four of their last five matches.
Of course, the question of player and team motivation in the run-in is one that needs to be posed in conjunction with any subjective assessment of a fixture’s difficulty on paper.
CLUBS WITH A BLANK IN GAMEWEEK 31
Even before the Double Gameweek 29 announcement, those FPL managers who are adopting the ‘Free Hit in Gameweek 31’ approach would have been eyeing up Arsenal (WHU + mci | bha | blank | NOR| wol) assets.
Fixtures against West Ham, Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich City either side of Blank Gameweek 31 see the Gunners riding high in our Season Ticker.
Albion and the Hammers haven’t kept a clean sheet between them in their last six matches, although Norwich have shown uncharacteristic solidity and recorded three shut-outs in that time.
Brighton are bottom of the home form table over their last games at the Amex, while West Ham and Norwich are in the relegation zone based on away form over the same timeframe.
In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m), Arsenal boast the most clinical forward in the division when players are filtered by their last six matches: 38.5% of his shots have found the back of the net in that time.
Even a trip to Manchester City oughtn’t to be too off-putting from an offensive perspective, given that Aymeric Laporte (£6.3m) will be sidelined: Guardiola’s side had been on a run of just two clean sheets in 13 matches before Laporte’s recovery and subsequently kept three in a row with him in the starting XI.
Manchester City‘s run (mun + ARS | BUR | blank | LIV | sou) is less appealing and their really mouth-watering sequence of matches doesn’t begin until Gameweek 33, upon which they face six successive sides in the bottom half of the table.
Quite what the Citizens will have to play for by that stage, and whether the Champions League and FA Cup have assumed first and second priority at the point, is another question.
The relatively subdued response to the Double Gameweek 29 announcement hints at the less-than-straightforward nature of their two fixtures over the next week, with Arsenal and United conceding at a goal per game or less over the last six matches.
Only four sides have allowed more big chances than the Gunners in that time, though, to provide owners of Kevin De Bruyne (£10.7m) and co with some encouragement.
There could be an adverse knock-on effect from that tough double-header, though, with the Gameweek 30 visit of Burnley now perhaps looking at risk of some rotation given that Real Madrid visit the Etihad three days afterwards.
Those managers adopting a ‘Free Hit in Gameweek 31’ strategy may consider a number of other teams with positive fixtures around that Blank Gameweek, although the clubs in question are in indifferent form.
Chelsea (EVE | avl | blank | whu | WAT), Newcastle United (sou | SHU | blank | bou | WHU) and Leicester City (AVL | wat | blank | eve | CRY) all have favourable matches to some extent, with Frank Lampard and Brendan Rodgers’ sides facing a quartet of matches against teams in the bottom half.
Both Chelsea and Leicester face Aston Villa, Everton and West Ham in that run, with those three sides not registering a single clean sheet between them in the last six Gameweeks.
Southampton (NEW | nor | blank | wat | MCI) and Sheffield United‘s (NOR | new | blank | TOT | bur) clean sheet prospects look good before Gameweek 31, with Norwich and Newcastle in the bottom two for goals scored when clubs are filtered by their last six, eight, ten and 12 matches.
Looking at what we normally dub ‘The Weak’ in this recurring article, there are two clubs in particular – Aston Villa (lei | CHE | blank | WOL | liv) and Brighton & Hove Albion (wol | ARS | blank | MUN | nor) – whose indifferent form is coupled with some awful-looking fixtures.
Manchester United’s (MCI | tot | blank | bha | BOU) next two testing fixtures precede a blank but their run thereafter is one of the best in the division, with six games in a row (FA Cup permitting) against sides in the bottom half.
Five of those six opponents are in the bottom seven for goals conceded over their last half-dozen matches.
Norwich City‘s (shu | SOU | blank | ars | BHA) record on the road is particularly awful this season (they are bottom of the away table and have scored just six times in 14 matches on their travels) and that, coupled with the Gameweek 31 blank, should ensure short-term interest is limited despite their upturn in performances, with there being only one game at Carrow Road over the next four Gameweeks.
Which finally brings us to Everton (che | LIV | blank | LEI | tot), the ultimate ‘form versus fixtures’ side.
The Toffees face three of the top four around their Blank Gameweek 31, although Chelsea and Leicester have kept just one clean sheet between them over their last six matches and Liverpool suddenly look fallible at the back.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£6.4m) has already scored against Arsenal and Manchester United in the last two Gameweeks, underscoring the point we made recently about the ‘big six’ not necessarily being teams to be feared any more.
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