With the October international break over, we take our regular frisk of the Premier League fixture list from a Fantasy perspective.
In this feature, we assess the top-flight clubs with the strongest and weakest runs of league matches over the coming weeks.
Just exactly what constitutes an “easy” fixture is up for debate at present given what we have witnessed in the opening month of 2020/21.
West Ham United have just put seven goals past the much-fancied Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers without reply; Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United have all been thrashed at least once; last season’s whipping boys Aston Villa are one of just two clubs who are still unbeaten; much like Keith Mandemant, we could go on.
While we wait for some semblance of normality to return, we live in hope that our Season Ticker can still be a good gauge of teams to target and avoid from a fixture schedule perspective.
Although our primary focus will be on a six-Gameweek lookahead in this article, we will scrutinise the longer-term prospects where relevant.
Next six: BHA | ful | wol |LEE | bur | NEW
Top of our Season Ticker over the next six Gameweeks and beyond, Crystal Palace begin a decent-looking sequence of matches with the M23 derby this weekend.
The three newly-promoted sides then face the Eagles between now Gameweek 11, along with Burnley and Newcastle.
That could be particularly significant as all ten of Palace’s clean sheets last season came in matches against teams who finished 10th or below – a stat we’ve repeatedly bashed you over the head with but a relevant one all the same.
The Eagles aren’t renowned for their goalscoring exploits but Wilfried Zaha (£7.2m) et al do face some accommodating defences in the medium term.
Overlooking Wolves, who themselves were thumped by West Ham in Gameweek 3, Palace’s other six opponents from Gameweeks 5-11 have kept just three clean sheets between them so far in 2020/21.
West Brom, Fulham, Brighton, Leeds and Burnley are in the bottom seven for goals conceded, too.
At the other end of the pitch, this would have been a great run of games for budget FPL defender Tyrick Mitchell (£4.1m) – but with Patrick van Aanholt (£5.4m) almost back from injury, his time at left-back may be coming to an end.
Next six: WHU| bur | BHA | wba | MCI | che
While a triple-header against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal from Gameweeks 9-11 looks off-putting on paper, Spurs have one of the more appealing runs of matches before the November international break.
Jose Mourinho’s troops face four clubs in Gameweeks 5-8 who are currently ranked 10th or below, with Burnley, Brighton and West Brom registering only one clean sheet between them so far in 2020/21.
Those three teams have shipped a combined 31 goals in 11 league matches to date.
Probably the Lilywhites’ biggest test of the next four Gameweeks comes this weekend, with West Ham revitalised and looking defensively solid since their move to a wing-back system in Gameweek 2.
It’s difficult to second-guess where any clean sheets are coming from in this topsy-turvy campaign but in Burnley and West Brom, Mourinho’s troops are at least facing the two sides who have created the fewest ‘big chances’ so far this season.
Next six: lei | LEE | SOU | ars | BHA | whu
A Gameweek 5 clash with Leicester City doesn’t look like the easiest prospect but after sticking seven goals past the reigning champions a fortnight ago, there’ll be few teams who Aston Villa fear at present.
Time will tell if Villa’s sparkling early-season form is a false dawn or otherwise but their upcoming run of games presents them with a decent opportunity to continue their momentum.
Once the trip to the King Power Stadium is out of the way, the outlook for Dean Smith’s unbeaten side is rosy.
Villa sit top of our Season Ticker from that point up until Boxing Day, with their schedule at home looking particularly welcoming.
Leeds, Southampton, Brighton, Newcastle, Burnley and Crystal Palace are up next for the Villans on their own turf and, as well as some of those teams have done in the opening month of 2020/21, that would still constitute a favourable fixture run in most people’s eyes.
Their away schedule is admittedly less appealing, with the Foxes, Arsenal, an improving West Ham and Wolves next up on the road, but a trip to the Hawthorns rounds off their pre-Christmas campaign on a high.
Next six: LIV | sou | new | MUN | ful | LEE
If we take the liberty to extend the fixture lookahead to seven Gameweeks from now, Everton sit third on our Season Ticker.
The two blobs of red in that run for the Toffees are home matches against Liverpool and Manchester United, two sides that conceded 13 goals between them in a remarkable Gameweek 4.
Everton’s other five matches from Gameweeks 5-11 are against teams currently sitting eighth or below in the embryonic Premier League table, including newly-promoted Fulham and Leeds and winless Burnley.
The Merseyside derby will be the biggest test yet for Carlo Ancelotti’s table-topping troops but, it should be said, here we were ahead of Gameweek 3 wondering if improving Crystal Palace and Brighton sides would pose the Toffees a problem in their upcoming games – and Everton subsequently scored on six occasions.
Next six: SOU | mun | bur | SHU | new | TOT
We’re still waiting on the new-look Chelsea to hit full throttle but with Christian Pulisic (£8.3m) and Hakim Ziyech (£7.9m) returning from injury, perhaps we will finally see the Blues – and the misfiring Timo Werner (£9.3m) and Kai Havertz (£8.4m) – realise their true potential.
The upcoming fixtures look positive, as well.
Point-less Burnley and Sheffield United have struggled to so far match the levels they set in 2019/20, while Southampton and Newcastle might be once again set for a season of mid-table obscurity, capable of a fine result one week and then a capitulation the next.
Frank Lampard will be hoping that Manchester United’s current defensive problems remain unresolved, too, when the two sides meet at Old Trafford in Gameweek 6.
Gameweek 10 could be a hopping-off point for those still invested in Werner and co, however, with the fixtures looking decidedly iffy over Christmas and New Year.
Perhaps unfairly deprived of their own stand-alone section like the teams above, West Bromwich Albion (BUR | bha | FUL | TOT | mun | SHU) and Fulham (shu | CRY | WBA | whu | EVE | lei) have some enticing matches coming up in the next three Gameweeks especially.
Few of us will be interested in either club’s defences (between them they have conceded an average of three goals per match in 2020/21) but the likes of Matheus Pereira (£6.0m) and Aleksandar Mitrovic (£5.9m) could prosper before the November international break.
Their respective Gameweek 5 opponents are currently point-less and without a clean sheet in the relegation zone, while the Baggies and the Cottagers will fancy their chances against one another in Gameweek 7.
Fulham’s schedule is pretty grim from Gameweek 8 onwards but West Brom’s fixtures are actually half-decent until mid-December, with Crystal Palace and Newcastle waiting beyond the lookahead in this article.
Wolverhampton Wanderers‘ (lee | NEW | CRY | lei | SOU | ars) supposedly favourable fixture run began in Gameweek 3 but owners of their FPL assets have had limited joy so far, with West Ham putting them to the sword and whipping boys Fulham not rolling over at Molineux.
The schedule for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side also looks a lot tougher on paper from Gameweek 8 onwards but the next four matches on home soil are agreeable, with Newcastle, Palace, Southampton and Villa visiting the West Midlands.
We’ve been here before with Wolves, of course, with Santo’s troops seldom thrashing their opposition and often looking more potent against the so-called “bigger” clubs.
Fixture difficulty scarcely seems to matter to Raul Jimenez (£8.6m), for example: the Mexican averaged 0.62 attacking returns per 90 minutes against the top ten last season and 0.66 against the rest.
A win over Newcastle aside, Brighton and Hove Albion (cry | WBA | tot | BUR | avl | LIV) have not yet had the results that their performances have merited in 2020/21.
An encouraging total of five goals were scored in defeats against Chelsea, Everton and Manchester United, and, despite their tricky start, only three sides have carved out more ‘big chances’ than the Seagulls.
Two sides without a clean sheet to their name, West Brom and Burnley, are up in the next three Gameweeks, although games against Spurs, Liverpool and surprise package Aston Villa may see interest remain modest in the excellent Tariq Lamptey (£4.7m).
WEST HAM UNITED
Next six: tot | MCI | liv | FUL | shu| AVL
There aren’t really any Premier League clubs with disastrous fixture schedules over the next six Gameweeks as a whole, as illustrated by the team currently bottom of our Season Ticker.
West Ham may have a tricky-looking triple-header up next but from Gameweek 8 onwards, the situation looks far more positive.
In Spurs, Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa, the Hammers will be facing the only four teams who have better shots-per-game averages than themselves.
David Moyes’ side have been excellent since a Gameweek 2 switch to a wing-back system, however, and they defeated Leicester and Wolves by a combined 7-0 scoreline immediately before the international break.
Michail Antonio (£6.3m) has already bagged goals against the Foxes and Arsenal this season, to go with strikes against Chelsea and Manchester United after the springtime lockdown ended.
Next six: mci | LEI | mun | AVL | lee | WOL
Having already squared off against Liverpool and Sheffield United in their last two games, Arsenal face another six of last season’s top ten clubs between now and Gameweek 12.
Two trips to Manchester in the next three Gameweeks would be of immediate concern but the slowly improving Gunners will be quietly optimistic, given that their foes in the north-west have had a stuttering start to 2020/21.
Still, the fact remains that the Gunners sit bottom of our Season Ticker up until the end of November.
Arsenal and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.9m) will undoubtedly pick up points and attacking returns against their forthcoming opposition; it’s just how many, and whether investing in or retaining the services of an FPL asset so pricey is justifiable given that he isn’t likely to be backed with the armband even when a much-improved Aston Villa head to north London in Gameweek 8.
Next six: ARS | whu| shu| LIV | tot | BUR
With only one league win to their name, yellow flags appearing on Kevin De Bruyne (£11.6m) and Raheem Sterling (£11.5m) and a tricky fixture run to come between now and Gameweek 10, Manchester City aren’t flavour of the month in FPL at present.
This is when Pep Guardiola’s side usually punish those of little faith and it’s only two Gameweeks ago that many of the early Wildcarders were constructing their squads around the Citizens, following an impressive showing in their season-opening game at Molineux.
The return of Sergio Aguero (£10.4m) and Gabriel Jesus (£9.4m) from injury will also add more firepower up top, while the capture of Ruben Dias (£5.5m) may go a long way to resolving the chronic right-sided problem at centre-half.
Still, the upcoming fixtures may mean that City have to regain top form the hard way, with Arsenal making strides under Mikel Arteta, West Ham a surprisingly tough nut to crack since the move to a 3-4-3, and Liverpool and Spurs to follow on either side of the November international break.
Southampton (che | EVE | avl | NEW | wol | MUN) and Leeds United (WOL | avl | LEI| cry | ARS | eve) will both be facing the only two unbeaten sides in the division over the next six Gameweeks, in the form of Everton and Aston Villa.
That compounds a run of games against traditionally trickier opposition, with the Saints also facing Chelsea, Wolves and Manchester United, and Leeds entertaining Wolves, Leicester and Arsenal at Elland Road.
Leeds have already gone toe to toe with last season’s top two, of course, and didn’t look out of place against either Liverpool or Manchester City.
Danny Ings (£8.5m) meanwhile scored seven goals in 12 meetings with his next six opponents in 2019/20.
Sheffield United (FUL | liv | MCI | che | WHU | wba) have neither form nor fixtures on their side over the next five Gameweeks, with the exception of the visit of struggling Fulham this weekend.
So defensively solid in 2019/20, the Blades have yet to keep a clean sheet this season and face tough tests beyond the visit of the Cottagers: their Gameweek 6-9 opponents are all in the top seven for shots per game.
This will be a decent audition period for Rhian Brewster (£4.5m), at least, with Sheffield United’s fixtures improving slightly after the November international break.
Finally, a word on Brewster’s former club.
An Alisson-less (£6.0m) Liverpool defence (eve | SHU | WHU| mci | LEI | bha) will face two of the division’s top-scoring teams in the next five Gameweeks, as well as a West Ham side who have hit seven in their last two matches and an always-dangerous Manchester City outfit.
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