The Premier League’s return is only a fortnight away but top-flight football will bare little resemblance to what went before, with staggered kick-off times, behind-closed-doors matches and the possibility of neutral venues being used for certain fixtures.
Another proposed change is to the number of substitutes permitted, to help clubs cope with the quick turnaround in matches over the summer.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) approved a FIFA-backed motion in May, which allows teams to make five changes per game – something we’ve already seen in the Bundesliga and elsewhere.
The Premier League clubs have yet to vote on this at the time of writing, with chief executive Richard Masters saying recently:
The IFAB laws have changed, extra dispensation is possible and the Bundesliga decided to go to five substitutes.
Our clubs will make that decision in the next few weeks on whether they want to or not. There are mixed views out there and we will come to a conclusion in the coming weeks.
The prospect of half of the outfielders being hauled off in any given fixture should provide Fantasy managers with an added challenge, then, if that motion carries.
Even if the Premier League sides vote against the amendment, some teams will be playing twice a week for the next two months.
Manchester City, for example, have ten league fixtures and potentially two FA Cup ties to negotiate before the end of July, all of which take place within a 39-day period.
Rotation could be rife both during games and between them, so which players stand the best chance of not only starting matches but finishing them?
We’ll look at the season data so far to assess which assets have been the most secure starters and which look to be more at risk of managed pitch-time.
This article covers the first five teams alphabetically, from Arsenal to Burnley, with subsequent parts to follow.
Naturally, all of this analysis comes with the caveat that we are entering into unknown territory, so the managers in question may have contrasting ideas as to how best to handle fixture congestion after a three-month break.
Since Mikel Arteta took charge in Gameweek 19, five players have started every match in which they have been available.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.1m) is among that number, with the Gabonese forward only having missed out in Gameweeks 23 and 24 due to suspension.
Arteta has kept a fairly solid spine: goalkeeper Bernd Leno (£5.0m), centre-back David Luiz (£5.7m) and number ten Mesut Ozil (£7.3m) are all ever-presents, while midfield general Granit Xhaka (£5.1m) only missed out in Gameweek 20 because of illness.
Ozil has been withdrawn in eight of his ten appearances under his current boss, though.
Alexandre Lacazette (£9.4m) and Nicolas Pepe (£9.3m) haven’t quite been as nailed, although the latter did make the team in the three league fixtures before the enforced hiatus and had been showing signs of form.
Lacazette, meanwhile, was demoted to the bench in Gameweeks 26-29 as Eddie Nketiah (£4.4m) was handed a chance to impress.
The full-back areas look undetermined based on the evidence so far, with Bukayo Saka (£4.7m) now facing a challenge from the fit-again Kieran Tierney (£5.3m) and Sead Kolasinac (£5.2m) on the left.
Cedric Soares (£4.8m), whose appearances in the above table all came for Southampton, will also be available for selection for the first time under Arteta, perhaps putting Hector Bellerin (£5.5m) under pressure at right-back.
The talismanic Jack Grealish (£6.4m) unsurprisingly looks the safest route into the Aston Villa side and, let’s be honest, perhaps the only Villan who has an overwhelming case for inclusion in our squads for the opening Double Gameweek.
Only a calf strain spoiled his ever-present record, with that injury forcing his one and only substitution of the season.
The fact that the midfielder played every minute of his side’s games in December, when fixture congestion was at its worst, also bodes well for the restart.
Mbwana Samatta‘s (£5.8m) name doesn’t appear on that list but while the injured Wesley (£5.4m) remains on the sidelines, it’s probably safe to assume that the January signing will play more minutes than not up top.
John McGinn (£5.4m) is another name to mention, too, and a noteworthy differential based on his early-season goal threat.
The Scotland international had played every minute of Villa’s Premier League campaign until an injury forced him off in Gameweek 18 and seems raring to go for the resumption, having been on the cusp of a return before COVID-19 brought sport to a standstill.
Tyrone Mings (£4.4m) has been the mainstay of a suspect defence as other centre-halves have dipped in and out of the side, with Dean Smith’s recent return to a back four further narrowing the first-team opportunities for that group of stoppers.
Frederic Guilbert (£4.4m) and Matt Targett (£4.4m) have been the main full-back pairing, meanwhile, although Guilbert in particular has been a rotation risk when the fixtures have piled up.
Targett’s only absence since making his first start of the season in Gameweek 7 was injury-enforced, interestingly.
McGinn and Grealish aside, the centre of midfield and out wide look like the biggest areas at risk of rotation and in-game substitutions based on Smith’s chopping and changing so far – although few Fantasy managers will be interested in the personnel in those positions anyway.
The return to fitness of several of Eddie Howe’s squad, including David Brooks (£6.2m), should make second-guessing the Bournemouth boss all the more difficult when play resumes in June.
Aaron Ramsdale (£4.5m) and Nathan Ake (£4.8m) have been nailed picks when fit, with Steve Cook (£5.0m) generally preferred alongside the Dutchman – although he did serve bench duty in Gameweeks 25 and 26.
The versatile Adam Smith (£4.3m) has been a permanent fixture in the side since recovering from injury in Gameweek 22 but Diego Rico‘s (£4.2m) recent loss of a first-team place underscores the uncertainty elsewhere, with Howe having several options available to him at full-back.
Callum Wilson (£7.4m) ought to be the safest route into the Bournemouth attack, with his two benchings coming soon after a return from a hamstring strain, although it should be noted that both he and teammate Jefferson Lerma (£4.8m) are one caution away from a two-match ban.
Out wide looks a particularly vulnerable area.
Harry Wilson (£5.8m) has been hauled off in all bar two of his 19 starts and is the second-most-substituted player in the Premier League this season.
All of this has been while alternative wide options such as Brooks, Junior Stanislas (£5.9m) and Arnaut Danjuma (£5.8m) have (mostly) been unavailable, too, and that trio of wingers could be further denting his pitch-time come mid-June.
Add in Ryan Fraser (£6.8m), who started seven of Bournemouth’s eight matches before the suspension of play, and Joshua King (£6.1m), who played down the left earlier in the campaign, and it will be difficult to confidently call who will be a regular pick on the flanks on a game-to-game basis.
We saw plenty of rotation when Bournemouth last encountered fixture congestion, too, with even regulars like Philip Billing (£5.0m) warming the bench on occasion.
We’ve learned the hard way not to trust Graham Potter, who has rotated on an infuriatingly frequent basis throughout the campaign.
If this were a Manchester City or a Liverpool, then perhaps the risk would be worth it – but the Seagulls are winless in 2020 and not particularly blessed with great fixtures for the final quarter of the campaign.
There are few regulars: Mathew Ryan (£4.7m) is the only ever-present, although only illness and suspension has stopped Lewis Dunk (£4.5m) from boasting a simlar record.
Dan Burn‘s (£4.5m) unbroken run of starts was only halted by injury, meanwhile, with the gargantuan defender having quickly regained his place in the starting XI after recovering from a broken collarbone.
Davy Propper (£4.8m) has only had one unenforced absence in the middle of the park and has not been substituted once, while Aaron Mooy (£4.8m) has started in every game when fit from Gameweek 13 onwards.
Elsewhere, rotation risk abounds.
Even Neal Maupay (£5.7m), a starter in 23 of Albion’s 29 games, was benched twice in the congested winter period and dropped out of the side more recently in Gameweeks 25 and 26.
One of the most settled sides in the division, especially when on form, Sean Dyche has mostly eschewed the opportunity to rotate even when the games have stacked up.
Nick Pope (£4.9m), James Tarkowski (£5.2m), Ben Mee (£5.0m), Dwight McNeil (£6.1m), Ashley Westwood (£5.5m) and Jack Cork (£4.9m) have started every match in which they have been fit and available for selection, with the first four indeed ever-presents.
Westwood is another player who is one booking away from a two-match ban, however.
Charlie Taylor (£4.3m) has held the left-back spot since Gameweek 18, while Phil Bardsley (£4.3m) has also been in pole position on the right flank since the late-autumn despite sporadically dropping out through injury and illness.
Chris Wood (£6.1m) and Ashley Barnes (£6.1m) started the season as the Clarets’ first-choice front two and the New Zealander has largely been a secure pick up top.
Barnes, if fit for the resumption, seems less nailed – a problematic groin injury saw Dyche handle him carefully in December and it remains to be seen if surgery has solved that niggling issue.
Jay Rodriguez (£5.7m), then, could enjoy plenty of minutes in the run-in.
The wide-right position is about the only other area of note, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson‘s (£5.9m) possible return from injury jeopardising AC Milan target Jeff Hendrick‘s (£5.4m) starts.
Nominated for ‘Best in Fantasy Football – Editorial’ at the Football Content Awards 2020
VOTE FOR FANTASY FOOTBALL SCOUT BY
Premier League Restart
Best players by club
Arsenal | Aston Villa | Bournemouth | Brighton and Hove Albion | Burnley | Chelsea | Crystal Palace | Everton | Leicester City | Liverpool | Manchester City | Manchester United | Newcastle United | Norwich City | Sheffield United | Southampton | Tottenham Hotspur | Watford | West Ham United | Wolves