Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton, Leicester City and Liverpool fall under the spotlight as we continue our series of articles looking at which players stand the best chance of regular starts in the season run-in.
Even if the Premier League sides vote against a proposal to allow up to five substitutions per match, some teams will be playing twice a week for the next two months and rotation could be widespread.
Earlier in the week, we looked at the season data for Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Brighton and Burnley to assess which Fantasy Premier League assets have been the most secure starters and which look to be more at risk of managed pitch-time.
We now turn our attention to the next five top-flight teams as we work down the list alphabetically.
Motivation may be a factor for a number of the teams below the closer we get to the climax of 2019/20, with Crystal Palace and Everton comfortably mid-table, Leicester looking likely to seal a Champions League spot and Liverpool only a win or two away from an elusive Premier League crown.
The possibility of a few end-of-season dead rubbers taking place exists, then, and it could be that a number of the managers of the teams below will look to any “meaningless” fixtures to experiment with system and personnel.
Until then, all we can do is assess the data we have to hand, ready our benches and keep our fingers crossed.
With the likes of Tammy Abraham (£7.5m), Mateo Kovacic (£5.3m), Christian Pulisic (£6.9m), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£6.3m) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (£5.2m) all likely to be back in contention after injury when the Premier League resumes, trying to anticipate Frank Lampard’s starting XI from week to week will be an almighty task.
Cesar Azpilicueta (£5.9m) has made the most starts of any Chelsea player this season and indeed was the only one of the Blues’ squad who started all six matches between Gameweeks 24 and 29.
Even then, with the form of Reece James (£5.1m) and Marcos Alonso (£6.2m) at full-back and wing-back and the wealth of centre-half options at Lampard’s disposal, there would have to be a modicum of concern about the long-serving Spaniard.
Elsewhere in defence, Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.4m) had wrestled his place back from Willy Caballero (£4.8m) just before play was halted in March and Antonio Rudiger (£6.0m) had started 12 of Chelsea’s last 13 games after returning from injury.
Further forward appears to be even more of a crapshoot.
The Blues’ squad is a bloated one and there are only a handful of spaces to go round for the 15+ players vying for a place in midfield and attack.
Abraham and Mason Mount (£6.2m) have been Lampard’s go-to guys for much of the season.
The former started every single match he was available for between Gameweeks 3 and 25 (although he was substituted in 14 of those 22 starts), before a troublesome ankle problem curtailed his involvement.
Mount has appeared in every single Chelsea league match this season, meanwhile, with all bar four of his 29 appearances coming from the start.
Mount was only benched once for Chelsea’s tightly packed-in fixtures from Gameweeks 14-21 and both he and Abraham were regularly flogged twice a week when the Blues were in UEFA Champions League action.
Willian (£7.0m) had been a regular too but three benchings in five Gameweeks shortly before the current break is something to note, as is his uncertain future: the Brazilian’s contract expires at the end of the season.
Rotation has also been common in the middle of the park but the penalty-taking – and currently suspended – Jorginho (£4.9m) has started more often than not.
It remains to be seen if N’Golo Kante (£5.0m) plays much of a part in the run-in, so Jorginho could potentially have one fewer positional rival (if Kante can be considered that given the different skill-sets) in the midfield axis.
Where Chelsea can give team news writers headaches, Crystal Palace are a more predictable beast.
A lot of Roy Hodgson’s personnel changes this season have been enforced, with the Eagles enduring a wretched run of injuries, particularly in defence.
Joel Ward (£4.3m), Patrick van Aanholt (£5.6m), Gary Cahill (£4.4m) and Vicente Guaita (£5.0m), all of whom have suffered fitness issues this season, appear to be the first choices in their respective positions, although the second centre-half spot is up for grabs now that James Tomkins (£5.0m) and Mamadou Sakho (£5.0m) are back to challenge current incumbent Scott Dann (£4.3m).
Tomkins was a constant starter from Gameweeks 9-26, so perhaps has the edge.
All of that doesn’t bode well for popular budget FPL defender Martin Kelly (£4.1m), although he remains, as always, only a Ward injury away from a recall.
Wilfried Zaha (£6.7m) is one of the first names on the teamsheet and Jordan Ayew (£5.2m) is seemingly not far behind him, with Hodgson moving the Ghanaian forward wide-right to accommodate first Cenk Tosun (£5.7m) and then Christian Benteke (£5.7m) up front from Gameweek 23 onwards.
Central midfield is perhaps tougher to call, with hitherto regular Luka Milivojevic (£6.7m) only among the substitutes shortly before the suspension of play as Hodgson stuck with a settled, winning side despite the Serb’s return from illness.
James McArthur (£5.2m) looks secure, at least, with the only match he has failed to start in 2019/20 enforced due to fitness issues.
Carlo Ancelotti has frequently tinkered with his Everton side since taking charge in Gameweek 19, although the goalkeeper and front two have been immovables to date.
Jordan Pickford (£5.2m) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£6.5m) have been ever-present starters under their new manager, while Richarlison (£8.3m) would likely have followed suit had he not missed two games through suspension in January.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (£7.3m), whose form has been patchy at best either side of Marco Silva’s dismissal, has also been handed a start on all nine occasions that he has been available for selection – although how many of those owed much to the Toffees’ dearth of available central midfield options, with the likes of Andre Gomes (£5.2m) then injured, is another question.
Few players escaped the Ancelotti rotation over the busy December and January period, with Lucas Digne (£5.7m), Djibril Sidibe (£5.0m) and Seamus Coleman (£5.3m) among the players who have tasted bench duty at least once under the new regime.
Centre-half rotation has also been commonplace, with Mason Holgate (£4.3m) the mainstay at the back, although even he was handed a shock benching in Gameweek 26.
An injury to Yerry Mina (£5.3m) should at least ensure Holgate’s place for the time being.
The wide-midfield positions look like no-go areas, although few Fantasy managers will be interested in Everton’s underwhelming stock of wingers anyway.
Brendan Rodgers has favoured a settled spine this season, with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (£5.4m) and centre-half Jonny Evans (£5.3m) both ever-presents.
James Maddison (£7.5m) and Caglar Soyuncu (£4.9m) have only been benched once, both in the same match against West Ham United in December.
It’s perhaps still worth noting the circumstances of that Gameweek 20 fixture, as Rodgers had named a severely weakened team with the matches piling up – although it seems less likely that the Foxes will have to contest two matches in the space of 48 hours this summer, as they did over Christmas.
The festive period was also when Jamie Vardy (£9.7m) began to run into trouble.
Handed paternity leave in Gameweek 20, Vardy has suffered calf and glute problems this calendar year and has only started six of Leicester’s nine league games in 2020.
He indeed was only a substitute in the Gameweek 29 win over Aston Villa, although still emerged from the bench to rack up an 11-point haul.
Three months without competitive football may have given Vardy ample time to fully recover from whatever was affecting him but it will be interesting to monitor how Rodgers handles his star striker, with the Foxes likely to be playing twice a week in league and cup until the end of 2019/20.
Compatriots Dennis Praet (£5.3m) and Youri Tielemans (£6.1m) may very well share game-time based on what we have seen in 2020 (five starts apiece), while we can surely expect more of the same for Ayoze Perez (£6.2m), even if five alterations per game aren’t allowed: the Leicester midfielder is the most-substituted player in the Premier League this season, having been taken off in 18 of his 21 starts.
Harvey Barnes (£6.2m) is not far behind him, having been withdrawn on 16 occasions.
December was not a happy time for the Foxes’ wide-men, with rotation frequent, although Barnes was at that point not in the sort of form that we have seen in 2020.
One other issue worthy of note is Ricardo Pereira‘s (£6.3m) knee injury, which is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of 2019/20.
James Justin (£4.7m), then, looks poised to continue at right-back and provide a cut-price route into the Leicester defence.
Liverpool have been up there with Burnley in terms of having a settled side this season.
Virgil van Dijk (£6.5m) is an ever-present, as he was in 2018/19, while Alisson (£6.2m) and Georginio Wijnaldum (£5.4m) have started every match that they have been fit and available for.
Joe Gomez (£5.3m) has started every game bar one from Gameweek 16 onwards, meanwhile, with even that absence enforced by injury.
It’s a relatively serene picture, selection-wise, until we look at December.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.8m) and Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) were benched for the first and only time this season in that month, while the front three of Sadio Mane (£12.5m), Roberto Firmino (£9.5m) and Mohamed Salah (£12.7m) were also handed one rest apiece in Gameweeks 15-16.
Salah and Mane’s other absences from the starting XI this season were fitness-related, while Firmino was named as a substitute in Gameweek 5 after a late return from international duty.
The reason we highlight December, of course, is that Liverpool are about to embark on a similar run of nine league fixtures in the space of 35 days – albeit without the distractions of domestic, European and global cup competitions.
Klopp will surely go full strength until the league title is in the bag, which may take only one or two matches, but what happens next is anyone’s guess.
A record points total is well within the Reds’ grasp but, even if the champions-elect do go all-out to achieve that, Klopp’s track record in busy periods does suggest some minute-management could be in the offing at the very least.
Nominated for ‘Best in Fantasy Football – Editorial’ at the Football Content Awards 2020
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