Stag’s Take – Gameweek 21
Fatigue finally took hold of Premier League teams in Gameweek 20. Spurs and Everton, both of whom were earmarked in advance of the congested period as having the least rest time between games over the period, fell to disappointing losses to Wolves and Brighton respectively. Leicester City suffered last-gasp defeat at the hands of Cardiff City at the King Power too, though they had the chances to put the game away whether or not fatigue was truly a factor for them. Only Fulham (who beat a fellow two day rest team), Wolves (who had more rest than average between GW 18 and 19), Brighton (facing the most fatigued side), Cardiff, and Man City (who have squad depth to rotate) managed to buck the trend and win with two days’ rest. I think it is no coincidence that most of the sides who had success were bottom half sides, who play a game reliant on absorbing pressure to burst into counter-attacks as well as set pieces. Even with limited recovery time, those teams would have their energy levels restored to the extent that they can play their usual game without needing to adapt. For once though in the PL in this season where the disparity between the top and bottom has been extremely clear, their opponents were more obliging.
If we believe that the rest periods were important in Gameweek 20s results, then they certainly cannot be ignored in Gameweek 21 when similarly two day rests are a factor.
Teams with two days’ rest (GW20-21) [Rest GW19-20]:
- West Ham (Brighton H) 
- Man Utd (Newcastle A) 
- Chelsea (Southampton H) 
- Burnley (Huddersfield A) 
- Bournemouth (Watford H) 
- Southampton (Chelsea A) 
- Crystal Palace (Wolves A) 
- Arsenal (Fulham H) 
- Fulham (Arsenal A) 
- Cardiff (Spurs H) 
- Tottenham (Cardiff A) 
- Leicester (Everton A) 
- Everton (Leicester H) 
We should take particular notice of West Ham and Southampton. Both sides come off the back of two days off and face sides who have had recuperation time than them. The final six teams on that list face each other, all on an equal footing in terms of rest in the previous two gameweeks though Spurs and Everton both had less time between GW18 and 19.
By way of concluding this section, relying on Arsenal players as they host Fulham seems viable. Their class should show through against similarly fatigued opposition. Spurs on the other hand, who have already exhibited a slow-down, may struggle to breakdown Cardiff’s stubborn defence. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s honeymoon at Manchester United also faces a stern test as United’s reborn attack comes up against Rafa’s wall. It’s hard to ignore the likes of Pogba, scratch that it’s impossible to ignore 13, 15, and 18 point hauls consecutively, but maybe this isn’t the GW to captain the Frenchman.
Man City v Liverpool
Pep Guardiola admitted that the title race would have been over if Manchester City hadn’t overcome Southampton on Sunday. He must be approaching Thursday’s clash with Liverpool, whom he has labelled the “best team in Europe,” with a similar mind-set. Earlier in the season Liverpool were fortunate to send City away from Anfield with just a point after Riyadh Mahrez’s late missed penalty, though both sides seemed content with their share of the spoils. Now, City must win at the Etihad.
The optimist in me tells me this is why Leroy Sané had almost a complete rest for the win over Southampton. He is the key to City’s attacking capabilities on the left side, and he will be deeply relied upon. The face-off between Sané and Trent Alexander-Arnold, two of the top young talents in their positions globally, will be decisive. This does not seem like the best time to lose patience with Sané, City looked to be on an upward trajectory again. A major factor in City’s return to form will be the rekindling of Sergio Agüero’s goalscoring form – we saw the first embers of that against Southampton as the Argentine completed another 78 minutes in his return from injury. With so much on the line, it looks to be the right gameweek to bench your Liverpool defenders.
Liverpool on the other hand have had the best Christmas schedule of all sides. They had 4 days between gameweeks 18 and19, the ignominy of suffering like other teams with two days between Gameweeks 19 -20, but now they have four days to enjoy the New Year festivities and watch other teams in action before reconvene for the top of the table showdown. They remain undefeated, there form is still impeccable, Mo Salah has hit a purple patch, and overall they look fantastic. The league season is full of twists and turns and the scene is set for another classic match between the two contenders. Because of City’s squad depth and superior attack, I think they will triumph. However, City’s defence has been pried open again and again with weaknesses clear and exploitable for all opponents – if Pep cannot nullify Liverpool’s red hot attack by cutting off its supply (which I think he may be able to) then City will have a huge upward battle. Play your attackers in this fixture, bench your defenders, and don’t but anyone for it!
Eden Hazard (Southampton H)
Hazard has had a fantastic December for Chelsea, delivering three goals and four assists in his last six games. He has great underlying attacking stats to back up his scores as he places joint-second for big chances, fourth for midfielders for shots in the box (11), and high up for xG. His assists of course play into his appeal. His 17 chances created in the last six leads the PL and is only equalled by James Maddison. Hazard may return to his left wing role in GW21 with Pedro and Giroud now ruled out, meaning he will most likely be flanking Morata opposite Willian. Neither of those teammates present a significant goal threat as it stands, however Chelsea’s defenders are a big threat off set-pieces delivered by Hazard. Hazard also remains on penalty duty for the Blues.
Even since Ralph Hasenhuttl has taken charge of Southampton, the Saints remain one of the league’s most porous defences. They are second for shots conceded, second to Cardiff for shots conceded in the box, and fifth for goals conceded (9) since the German took over.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Fulham H)
In spite of Arsenal’s rollercoaster form, Auba has continued to find the net fairly consistently, placing him joint top in the race for the Golden Boot with defending champion Mo Salah and Harry Kane MBE. Fulham under Ranieri have been much improved defensively. They have dropped from first/second worst in shots and chances conceded metrics to sixth for shots conceded in the box (last six games) and 15th (!) for shots conceded overall. They have been as successful at keeping their “big chances conceded” numbers down under the Italian manager. They remain quite vulnerable to headers even in spite of the improvements, and the eye test isn’t as kind to The Cottagers as the underlying stats are.
In the last six games, Auba has been frustrating to own. He has averaged a stellar goal every other game and placed third for shots in the box amongst forwards (15), however he has had a league leading eight big chances. Mo Salah has six goals in the same period from seven big chances; Lingard has four from four; Son has six goals with just four big chances. That’s where the frustration lays. For a player known for his accuracy and lethal touch, it has been absent of late.
However, whilst he may not be in-form, the stats do highlight that Auba continues to get in the right positions and his teammates continue to create chances for him. Against a side like Fulham, he should get his chances again and could come good for his owners.
Harry Kane (Cardiff A)
Cardiff are statistically a great team to play from an FPL point of view, but Spurs looked listless against Wolves and I have serious doubts about them facing Cardiff as a result. It is not a good sign when Kane manages just a single shot (a fantastic goal it must be said) and is resorting to diving rather than backing himself to get away from his man.
That said, by looking at the form book alone, Spurs should beat Cardiff well with Kane a likely scorer if that comes to pass.
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.