Stag’s Take – Gameweek 18
First of all let’s consider the new Manchester United, before they’ve even played a game. The form book has to be torn up; most of that team have capabilities far beyond anything they have hinted at in the first 17 games of this season and in recent campaigns. Further to that, United’s fixtures could scarcely be better – Cardiff (A), Huddersfield (H), Bournemouth (H), Newcastle (A), and Kane FC (A), and their players all amount to differentials amongst active teams. I won’t pretend to know all that much about the new caretaker’s recent history with Molde in Norway, however I can relay the warning of /u/Vebbi on the /r/FantasyPL subreddit who posted that Solskjaer is prone to rotation, especially amongst his attackers. With that in mind, rushing to acquire Martial, Rashford, et al. may not be the most prudent idea. However, the allure of United’s players remains understandably strong – we’ve just got one of the Top Six back.
Speaking of Solskjaer, his Cardiff team in the Premier League was quite defensive – obviously – it was a poor squad bound for the drop from the off. I looked back on the starting players that season, and couldn’t believe how many had escaped my mind. For what it’s worth, The Bluebirds used a 4-4-2 formation with two defensive midfielders or a 4-1-4-1. More recently with Molde, “Ole” has instituted a 4-3-3. I could see him doing something similar with United as that plays to the strengths of many of the squad’s best players.
The upcoming fixtures are sure to cause serious headaches as rotation and injuries afflict. Almost every player will sit out at least a portion of a game – accept it as inevitable and ensure that you give your captaincy armband to a player you really think will play. The best indicators of this will be the words of managers in press conferences, leaks, and in my case I will rely largely on how much a player played in the previous game – I won’t captain anyone who plays 90 minutes in GW18 from Everton or Spurs, who have just three days to GW19, whereas a Liverpool or Wolves player would be quite safe with five days rest between Friday (yes, it is a Friday deadline) and December 26. It might be easier to have Mo Salah in the team and just hand him the responsibility in GW19.
All things considered, it is both Spurs and Everton who present the most rotation risk as they play four times in just ten days whereas Liverpool have a relatively standard four games in 14 days. With Joe Gomez out of action until early in the New Year, Dejan Lovren (4.9) is an extremely cheap route into Liverpool’s defence if you so desire, though beware they play both Arsenal and Man City in GW20 and GW21.
It is Chelsea who have the best set of fixtures for the next few Gameweeks of the Top Six. Eden Hazard will face four bottom half clubs plus tenth-placed Watford in his next five PL outings – an insatiable combination after consecutive double figure returns. He now has a goal and five assists in his last five games. I noted last week that I expected Hazard to benefit from returning to his favoured left-wing position with Olivier Giroud up-front in place of the injured Álvaro Morata. This assumption proved incorrect as Hazard was again deployed as a centre-forward. When asked about the Belgian’s positioning after the Brighton win, Sarri was very upbeat about Hazard’s continued role up-top:
"I think that, for us, he could be very important in this position.
"He's very able to come out and play with his team-mates, very able to create spaces. Now I think that, in that position, he has to improve in attacking the box."
Plum fixtures meant that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was a hugely popular transfer for his encounters with Huddersfield and Southampton. Managers’ optimism was scantly rewarded – just an assist against Huddersfield, however he was the highest underperformer by xG in Gameweek 17 with -1.44. For those that don’t follow the xG statistic, -1.44 highlights that Auba got in some fantastic positions but exhibited serious profligacy in front of goal – extremely frustrating for his owners. With Burnley up next, the Gabon international deserves one last chance in your side, even if it is a substitute appearance after playing 90 minutes of Carabao Cup action in the midweek.
Raheem Sterling (Crystal Palace H)
Outstanding form, clear threat, high potential (even off the bench as seen last weekend v Everton) playing for the best team in England by a distance. Sterling was spared a start and played just 24 minutes in the EFL Cup against Leicester during the week, whilst his wing compatriot Leroy Sané had a rest. Both players are strong candidates for the armband this weekend. Captaining either player seems like a “shield” pick to me – it’s difficult to win at City roulette so you’re best to go with your gut on one of Pep’s men.
Eden Hazard (Leicester H)
It appears Eden Hazard has recovered fully from injury and is back in the swing of things from an attacking point of view. Leicester are not a poor team defensively, with just four conceded in their last four, yet they nevertheless find themselves in the bottom half of the table. Hazard’s record is particularly against non-Top Six teams at Stamford Bridge this season. He has four goals and two assists in five such games, averaging a shot every 30 minutes or so.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Burnley H)
After the aforementioned blanks, Auba feels like a bit of a risk as he lines up against The Clarets this weekend even though Burnley remain one of the most open teams in the league. In the last four gameweeks, no side has conceded more shots in the box (12 per game), although they are just sixth for big chances conceded. That inglorious title goes to Harry Kane and Spurs’ opponents, Everton.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.