Our frisk of the fixtures sees us assess the Premier League clubs with the strongest and weakest runs of league matches over the coming weeks – in theory, at least.
Our primary focus in this article will again be on a six-Gameweek lookahead but we will scrutinise the longer-term prospects where appropriate.
Just what constitutes a ‘good’ fixture is open for debate in 2020/21, with the proverbial freak results seemingly happening on a regular basis in the opening two months of the campaign.
But even taking into account the frequency of these on-paper shocks, the forthcoming schedules for the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur do leap off the page for different reasons.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that our colour-coded Season Ticker, which is the primary source for this piece, has had another tweak over the international break: a match against high-flying Spurs, for instance, is now a darker shade of red, while Burnley join fellow strugglers Fulham and West Bromwich Albion at the opposite end of the scale.
Last month we made functionality improvements to the ticker on our home page, too, with ‘drag and drop’ returning and the ability to remove a Gameweek added.
Next six: BHA | whu | NEW | wol | BUR | wba
Just when we thought the wheels were starting to come off the Aston Villa bandwagon, Dean Smith’s troops go and thump an Arsenal side who boasted the league’s best defensive record heading into Gameweek 8.
The Villans’ upcoming run of games, particularly at home, presents them with a great opportunity to continue their momentum.
Dean Smith’s outfit sit top of our Season Ticker from now until Boxing Day, with Brighton and Hove Albion, Newcastle United, Burnley and Crystal Palace up next for Villa on their own turf and struggling West Bromwich Albion awaiting in Gameweek 15.
All but Palace of those teams are in the bottom eight in the Premier League table.
An improved West Ham United and a typically solid Wolves might be tougher nuts to crack for Jack Grealish (£7.5m) and co on the road but then we thought that of Arsenal, who were comprehensively put to the sword by Smith’s side a fortnight ago.
Villa’s fixtures rotate well with those of Leicester City up until Christmas, should any FPL manager be considering a way to navigate those trickier tests: the Foxes are at home to Fulham and Brighton when the Villans head to West Ham and Wolves.
Given that Liverpool, Leicester and Arsenal have already been despatched by Smith’s troops, however, rotation carries its own risks.
Next six: tot | BUR | FUL | mun | WBA | sou
A “mixed bag” would perhaps sum up Manchester City’s medium-term schedule.
Their next five away fixtures are certainly far from straightforward: as well as a cross-city derby against a Manchester United side that have beaten them three times in the last 12 months, Pep Guardiola’s troops also have to face Spurs, Southampton, Everton and Chelsea – all of whom are in the top seven at present.
It’s the upcoming run at the Etihad that has got many Fantasy managers salivating, however, with three of the bottom four up next for the Citizens.
Guardiola won’t be losing any sleep over the visits of Newcastle, Brighton and Crystal Palace, either, which follow between Gameweeks 15 and 19.
Probably the main worry will be over rotation. It’s inevitable with Guardiola, especially when the fixtures pile up – and this upcoming period is certainly congested, with City having to juggle 13 games in league and cup in little over 40 days.
The concern will be over Guardiola opting to rest his star performers in the ‘easier’ games against the likes of Burnley and Fulham, matches in which many Fantasy managers will be handing armbands to Kevin De Bruyne (£11.5m) and Raheem Sterling (£11.5m).
The good news is that City are already well on their way to qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League: a point against Olympiacos next week would see them through, although Guardiola would no doubt also want to despatch Porto between Gameweeks 10 and 11 to ensure top spot in Group C.
Next six: CHE | cry | avl | WBA | lee | FUL
Callum Wilson (£6.6m) faces a race against time to be fit for the visit of Chelsea this weekend but, given the more winnable games ahead in December, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Steve Bruce avoid taking a risk on his star striker.
Wilson’s importance to Newcastle’s cause is evidenced in the fact that he has already matched the goal tally of the Magpies’ top scorer in 2019/20, even if three of his six strikes have come from the spot.
And he’ll face some accommodating defences next month, with all three newly promoted clubs facing Bruce’s troops in Gameweeks 12 to 14.
West Brom, Leeds and Fulham are in the bottom four for goals conceded this season, with just four clean sheets between them in a combined 24 matches.
Gameweek 10 opponents Crystal Palace haven’t recorded a shut-out since the opening weekend of 2020/21, meanwhile.
From a defensive perspective, West Brom and Fulham are scoring at a rate of less than a goal per game.
The Magpies’ cut-price defenders – wing-back Jamal Lewis (£4.3m) is now one of the cheapest starters among players in his Fantasy position – are decent punts for Gameweeks 12 and 14 at the very least, then, although they quickly cease to become appealing options from Boxing Day onwards.
Next six: WBA | sou | whu | MCI | shu | LEE
Does Gameweek 9 really constitute a favourable fixture swing for Manchester United or is their upcoming schedule, in the words of professional listener-baiter Adrian Durham, “all that”?
A home game with West Bromwich Albion is certainly among the pick of the matches from a Fantasy perspective this weekend, particularly as third meets first at Anfield and Spurs entertain Manchester City.
Bruno Fernandes (£10.6m) is consequently the second-most-popular purchase of Gameweek 9, with many FPL managers offloading the unavailable Mohamed Salah (£12.3m) in the process.
Beyond the visit of the Baggies, the picture is a little murkier.
No Premier League side has conceded fewer goals (six) than Southampton or West Ham over the last six Gameweeks, with clean sheets arriving in seven of those combined 12 matches.
The small matter of a Manchester derby follows in Gameweek 12, although the subsequent double-header against Leeds United and Sheffield United offers more hope: those two sides have conceded on 31 occasions between them already this season.
The Blades are also the only Premier League side without a clean sheet in 2020/21.
Despite our caveats about United’s Gameweek 10 and 11 fixtures, Fernandes’ away form is something to consider: he has yet to blank on the road since moving to England in January.
Were this fixture analysis only concerned with the next three Gameweeks, then Everton (ful | LEE | bur | CHE | lei | ARS) and Crystal Palace (bur | NEW | wba | TOT | whu | LIV) would be right at the very top of this article.
The two clubs are first and second in our Season Ticker from Gameweeks 9-11 and don’t meet a single top-half side between them in that time, with teams currently sitting in 13th or below providing the opposition.
Fulham, West Brom and Leeds are all in the bottom four for goals conceded this season, while Burnley are still winless – although the Clarets, now with the fit-again Ben Mee (£4.9m) and James Tarkowski (£5.4m) back at centre-half, have been showing more signs of resilience of late, keeping clean sheets in two of their last four matches and only narrowly losing out to Spurs in Gameweek 6.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.8m) has provided a steady drip-feed of points all season and with Everton getting bodies back from injury and suspension just in time for this upcoming triple-header, the prospects look positive for FPL’s most-owned forward.
Even when the schedule takes a turn for the worse in Gameweek 12, Calvert-Lewin’s previous for picking up attacking returns against the likes of Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester United bodes well for the tougher tests ahead.
Patience will likely be near-exhausted with a defence that is without a clean sheet in seven Gameweeks, however, and the fixture swing in mid-December will likely be the final nail in the coffin for their backline’s FPL prospects.
Palace are on exactly the same run without a shut-out but their next three opponents are all in the bottom three for shots in the box in 2020/21, so Vicente Guaita (£5.0m) and co may find some belated joy before their own fixtures nosedive in Gameweek 12.
Leicester City‘s (liv | FUL | shu | BHA | EVE | tot) schedule from Gameweeks 10-13 is eye-catching enough but it could be argued that their favourable run starts this weekend at Anfield, given that Liverpool’s squad is so badly decimated by injury and illness.
Jamie Vardy (£10.1m) will certainly be eyeing up a severely under-strength Liverpool backline with keen interest, although the Reds will still possess enough firepower to make the Foxes’ chances of a clean sheet look slim.
Even ignoring the personnel shortage at the back, Jurgen Klopp’s side have already got one of the worst defensive records in the top flight: just one clean sheet has arrived in the first eight Gameweeks, with 16 goals flying in at the wrong end.
Fulham, Sheffield United, Brighton and Everton are, like Liverpool, also in the bottom eight for goals conceded.
Leicester’s next five opponents have kept just two clean sheets between them in the last six Gameweeks, both of which arrived in home games against sides in the bottom three.
And at the other end of the pitch, Fulham and Sheffield United are scoring at a rate of less than one goal per game.
While many of us are offloading their players because of unavailability issues, it should be said that Liverpool (LEI | bha | WOL | ful | TOT | cry) sit top of our Season Ticker if we take the liberty to extend the lookahead to ten Gameweeks.
An injury crisis and a loss of form at the back will see interest in the Reds’ defence remain modest for now but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Jurgen Klopp’s side are still first or second for attempts on goal, shots in the box, efforts on target and big chances this season.
Their next three at home are tougher tests, even if 63 unbeaten league games at Anfield says much about their recent dominance on Merseyside.
While they’re a bit of a footnote in this article and not flavour of the month in the FPL community at present, the Reds will continue to feature prominently in this series over the Christmas period.
Next six: MCI | che | ARS | cry | liv | LEI
There’s only one place to start this look at the clubs with less-than-favourable schedules.
The ‘form versus fixtures’ conundrum is causing a few headaches for owners of Harry Kane (£11.0m) and Son Heung-min (£9.6m), FPL’s two highest points scorers.
Having been top of our Season Ticker in the opening two months of the campaign, Spurs now drop to the very bottom when we look at their next half-dozen games.
Four ‘big six’ clubs and top-of-the-table Leicester are to come for the Lilywhites between now and Christmas, with a Scrooge-like Wolves defence to follow on Boxing Day.
There’s an argument to suggest that Son and Kane might enjoy the counter-attacking approach that Jose Mourinho will no doubt employ against the likes of City and Liverpool, given that they ran riot in away games at Southampton and Manchester United earlier this season – although a suicidal high line from the Saints and the Red Devils going down to ten men after 28 minutes are obvious disclaimers.
Mourinho-led Spurs hadn’t enjoyed much success against the high-flyers in the early days of the new regime, with defeats to United, Chelsea (twice) and Liverpool arriving in the winter of 2019/20.
A win over ten-man Manchester City in February of this year also owed much to good fortune, although there were more encouraging displays against Leicester and Arsenal in the post-lockdown era.
Kane and Son will no doubt continue to pick up returns over the coming weeks but given that Spurs assets aren’t really stand-out captaincy options again until Gameweek 16, there will be plenty of us questioning our Tottenham double-ups and triple-ups.
Next six: SOU | ars | liv | AVL | CHE | bur
A Wolves attack already struggling for goals and quality chances will have their work cut out between now and New Year.
Home fixtures against Southampton and Aston Villa would have been appealing last season but those two in-form clubs sit fourth and sixth in the Premier League table at present.
They, along with Wolves themselves, have registered a joint-high four clean sheets in the opening eight Gameweeks of 2020/21.
Arsenal (Gameweek 8 aside) and Chelsea have also made big strides from a defensive perspective of late, with the Blues keeping clean sheets in three of their last five league games and the Gunners resolute until the Villa horror show.
At the other end of the pitch, five of Wolves’ next seven opponents are in the top seven for goals scored this season.
Max Kilman (£4.3m) et al will have to work a lot harder for their defensive returns, then, although the fact remains that no Premier League side has kept more clean sheets than Nuno Espirito Santo’s troops since the beginning of February.
Next six: EVE | lei | mci | LIV | BHA | new
While the Gameweek 9 visit of an Everton side without a clean sheet in seven matches perhaps bodes well for Aleksandar Mitrovic (£5.7m) and Ademola Lookman (£5.0m), the truth of the matter is that Fulham have scored just seven goals in their opening eight games despite being top of our Season Ticker for ‘attack’ in that time.
There isn’t really a worse run of games over the next four Gameweeks than the one Fulham have to endure, even if Liverpool are shipping more goals than we’d expect and Manchester City aren’t scoring as many as anticipated.
There’s a bit of respite in mid-December but in truth, the poor run drags on even longer beyond that and, given that six of their seven goals and their only clean sheet came against sides also in the bottom six, the Cottagers have “avoid” written all over them.
Next six: CRY | mci | EVE | ars | avl | WOL
While Fulham won’t be giving their upcoming opponents any nightmares, a streetwise Burnley side may be a tougher prospect.
The Clarets’ forthcoming fixture run, which includes meetings with attack-minded teams such as Manchester City, Everton and Aston Villa, is probably enough to deter fresh investment in the likes of Nick Pope (£5.4m), despite a decent-looking Gameweek 9 fixture against Crystal Palace.
Sean Dyche’s side could still have a big say in FPL matters, however, with their defence starting to look more like their old selves since the October international break.
We saw a free-scoring Spurs side struggle to break down their opponents at Turf Moor in Gameweek 6, while the Clarets have registered clean sheets in two of their last four games.
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