The publication of the fixture list for the Premier League restart has begun, with the matches confirmed so far falling in the same order as originally intended before the suspension of play in March.
Aston Villa v Sheffield United and Manchester City v Arsenal, the two games postponed from Gameweek 28, will get us underway on June 17 before the outstanding fixtures from Gameweeks 30-32 take place.
We can now start analysing the fixture list in more detail and we begin our two-part ‘frisk’ with a look at those teams with a favourable run of games.
Those sides with less appealing fixtures will be scrutinised separately.
Previously we had studied the remaining 92 matches as a block but we will now focus more intently on the next four rounds of matches, with similar lookaheads to follow as the season progresses.
It should be said that only the first three ‘match rounds’ (which will correspond to Gameweeks in Fantasy Premier League) have so far been confirmed, although, given that the order of games has followed exactly as originally scheduled, we’re operating under the assumption that the postponed fixtures from Gameweeks 33-38 will follow suit.
We’ll keep you posted when we get confirmation but the caveat remains that no fixtures beyond July 2 have been officially signed off.
With those provisos ringing in your ears, and on the expectation that Gameweek 33’s matches will be next up, we would anticipate the Season Ticker to look as follows:
Next four: mci+bha | sou | NOR | wol
Arsenal’s opener away at Manchester City is off-putting but we can perhaps just look at that fixture as a bonus, given that they have another favourable fixture in their confirmed Double Gameweek anyway.
Brighton and Hove Albion have gained fewer points than any Premier League team this calendar year and are the only top-flight team who are winless in 2020, although have drawn six of their nine matches.
Whether form is even relevant after a three-month break is another question but we have to base our evaluation of the fixture list on something, and Graham Potter’s side were most definitely labouring before coronavirus stopped play.
Southampton, Arsenal’s opponents after Albion, were another team to be running on fumes before the hiatus.
Comfortably nestled in mid-table, the Saints lost four of their last five matches and are perhaps tentatively looking over their shoulder at the seven-point gap between themselves and the bottom three.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side also have the worst home record in the division in 2019/20, conceding 31 goals in their 15 games at St Mary’s (nine of which came in Gameweek 10, of course).
After three away matches, Arsenal will return to the Emirates for a plum home fixture against Norwich City.
While Southampton possess the league’s worst home record, the Canaries are the Premier League’s poorest travellers.
It remains to be seen if the lack of crowds renders home advantage meaningless but Daniel Farke’s troops have lost 11 of their 15 games on the road, including five of their last six.
Norwich have improved defensively of late, no doubt thanks to the injury crisis at centre-half easing, but they may have to go for broke at some stage to pick up points – which could play into Arsenal’s hands.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.1m) has 12 goals in 15 games against bottom-half teams this season.
Arsenal’s match against Wolves signals a bit of a fixture swing in the wrong direction, however, with Leicester, Spurs and Liverpool to come after that.
Next four: whu | BOU | avl | ARS
Wolves arguably have the most attractive set of games over the next three Gameweeks, as they face three of the bottom five.
West Ham, Bournemouth and Villa have a grand total of one clean sheet between them in 2020 (that arrived in the Hammers’ 4-0 win over Eddie Howe’s troops) and, as a result, are the three clubs who have conceded the highest number of goals this calendar year – a whopping 57 between them in a combined 27 games.
Bournemouth and Villa are in the bottom two for form over their last ten games.
Those Fantasy managers who didn’t touch their teams after play stopped in Gameweek 29 may already be in a good position regarding Wolves assets, especially if they were building towards what would have been a Blank Gameweek 31 (Nuno Espirito Santo’s side had an unaffected fixture in that round of matches).
Raul Jimenez (£8.1m) will likely be in demand, then, while Diogo Jota (£6.4m) had also been showing signs of form just before coronavirus stopped play with double-digit hauls in Gameweeks 27 and 28.
Next four: avl | MCI | whu | WAT
Like Wolves, Chelsea take on Aston Villa and West Ham United in their next four games.
Watford are also among their opponents and the Hornets have kept just two clean sheets on their travels all season, although they have tightened up considerably – and posed more of a goal threat – since Nigel Pearson took the reigns.
Sheffield United, Norwich City and Crystal Palace are to come beyond the next four matches, with those three sides in the bottom five for goals scored in 2020.
The visit of Manchester City is the main obstacle in the short term.
Next four: SOU | EVE | ars | BHA
Norwich City’s remaining home fixtures (Southampton, Everton, Brighton, West Ham and Burnley) are a dream and three of those matches take place soon after the restart.
The Canaries do have trickier tests against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City to fulfil but their budget-friendly assets are at least benchable for those tougher games.
Norwich have been better on their own patch than away from home in this campaign and there’ll be hope that Teemu Pukki (£6.5m) and Todd Cantwell (£4.7m) can replicate their early-season form when football resumes in June, with Pukki likely to be among the most ‘nailed’ forwards in the division.
Four clean sheets and only seven goals conceded in their last seven league games hinted at an improvement at the back, too, with Farke handed the rare luxury of having actual centre-halves to choose from.
Next four: SHU | AVL | bou | WHU
Let’s ignore the fact that Newcastle are a generally woeful attacking unit and concentrate instead on their decent defence, which has kept a respectable nine clean sheet so far this season.
Six of their shut-outs have arrived on home soil, while no side has conceded fewer goals on their own turf than Steve Bruce’s troops.
The Magpies will be in action at St James Park in three of their next four games.
Granted, we are uncertain as to how beneficial home advantage will be in the ‘new normal’.
But the next four fixtures, regardless of venue, should offer hope of a further clean sheet or two, with the likes of Jamaal Lascelles (£4.3m) and Federico Fernandez (£4.6m) attractively priced: Villa, Bournemouth and Sheffield United are all in the bottom seven for goals scored in 2020.
Next four: wat | BHA | eve | CRY
Four clubs in the bottom half of the table are up next for Leicester City, whose form had been patchy before their 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa in March.
Jamie Vardy (£9.7m) certainly thrives on facing the also-rans: he has 20 attacking returns in 12 matches against bottom-half teams this season, more than any other player.
While Nigel Pearson and Carlo Ancelotti have improved the attacking output at Watford and Everton, the Foxes do also face Brighton and Palace, who sit in the bottom five for goals scored in 2020.
The attack-minded James Justin (£4.7m) could be a cost-effective route into that Leicester defence, with Ricardo Pereira (£6.3m) expected to miss the rest of the season.
Manchester United (tot | SHU | bha | BOU) will be a permanent presence in these Frisking the Fixtures articles until the end of 2019/20.
They have arguably the best run of games as a block, with six meetings against bottom-half sides and only one match against a traditonal ‘big six’ outfit.
Their first two matches after the resumption could be their trickiest tests, however.
Spurs were not in the best of form prior to the break in play but will welcome a host of players back from injury in time for the United game, including Harry Kane (£10.8m), Son Heung-min (£9.7m) and Steven Bergwijn (£7.4m).
Sheffield United have been a pain the backside all season, meanwhile, with only Liverpool having conceded fewer goals.
Many Fantasy managers will be going big on the Red Devils when football resumes – it’s probably just a matter of when, not if.
We have to mention the three other teams with a Double Gameweek in mid-June, simply because many of us will be stocking up on Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Manchester City assets ahead of the restart.
Sheffield United (avl + new | mun | TOT | bur) arguably have the most-appealing double-header to start with.
From an attacking point of view, no side has conceded more goals (56) or kept fewer clean sheets (four) than Aston Villa this season.
At the other end of the pitch, no club has found the back of the net on fewer occasions than Newcastle United (25).
Matches against Manchester United and Spurs follow thereafter, though, so any heavy investment in Chris Wilder’s side may be a temporary one.
Manchester City (ARS + BUR | che | LIV | sou) have a similar issue, with a Double Gameweek swiftly followed by trickier games against Chelsea and Liverpool.
Pep Guardiola’s side run-in is superb on paper, however: their final six games are against sides currently in the bottom half.
Rotation could be a significant issue given that City may well have 12 league and cup fixtures to negotiate within a 39-day period but it was ever thus and many of us will be willing to take the risk for the potential rewards on offer, especially in the early Double Gameweek.
Had Aston Villa (SHU + CHE | new | WOL | liv) not had a Double Gameweek to start with, we may have taken a dimmer view of their assets.
Only Crystal Palace have more meetings with clubs currently in the top half between now and the conclusion of 2019/20.
No side has more home fixtures remaining, it has to be said, but whether that advantage is partly negated by the lack of spectators is open to debate.
Defensively suspect as mentioned above, any Fantasy interest may centre around the likes of Jack Grealish (£6.4m) and John McGinn (£5.4m).
A trip to Newcastle United after their double at least acts as a buffer before the fixtures turn really bad.
Burnley (mci | WAT | cry | SHU) warrant a passing mention but a trip to Manchester City in their first game back stops them from appearing higher up this article.
Only Liverpool (12) have kept more clean sheets than the Clarets (11) this season, however, and subsequent matches against Watford, Palace and Sheffield United ought to present Sean Dyche’s side with a decent chance of adding to that tally – those three sides are in the bottom six for goals scored this season, even if Nigel Pearson has improved the Hornets offensively since his appointment.
Finally, we must acknowledge Liverpool (eve | CRY | mci | AVL).
Where some of their fixtures will take place is still uncertain, with neutral venues being suggested.
A Merseyside derby and a clash with Manchester City in the next three Gameweeks are no easy tests, although the Toffees have kept just one clean sheet this calendar year and many of us will consider the Reds’ Fantasy assets as fixture-proof anyway – at least, until the title is in the bag.
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