With the importance on every point fought for growing every week at both ends of the Premier League spectrum, so too are the ones currently being picked up in the world of Fantasy Football, as we drift ever closer to this season’s conclusion.
West Bromwich Albion introduce the fixture list with a home clash at home to morale-devoid Arsenal, this week, but the pick of the bunch is undoubtedly reserved for the City of Manchester, as Pep Guardiola’s men host like-minded top four hopefuls Liverpool.
Sunderland versus Burnley, Bournemouth at home to Swansea City and Crystal Palace’s London Derby against Watford stick out in between the aforementioned fixtures, and with them will come this weekend’s heroes. Here’s Fresh Football’s Fantasy Premier League shortlist:
1 – Chris Smalling
Club: Manchester United
The big news coming out of Manchester United’s away fixture versus Middlesbrough is that the relegation-bound side will take José Mourinho’s men on without his protégé, Aitor Karanka, following the latter’s resignation as manager of the club.
As has so often been the case, and the Premier League has clear examples in Hull City, Swansea and, contrarily, Crystal Palace, such parting of ways can go one way or the other.
It’s difficult to predict Boro’s mental state, whether or not change will give them the kick they need, but in the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba in the visitors’ end, the Riverside outfit might well be hoping for the desired result to spring an end-of-season relaunch.
Unfortunately for Karanka’s old flame, Middlesbrough have looked equally toothless in attack, even at full strength, as their regular source of goals sit on the bench, dipped in poor form.
So in the event that the 2004 League Cup winners fail to light up the Riverside with goals of their own, we’re backing United’s defensive sector to clock up a satisfactory display, complete with a clean sheet.
Mourinho’s men should be able to keep out a side that’s scored just 19 goals in the league all season, whereas without their key attacking components, the scene is set for a dreamy set-piece to be the decisive difference, one way or another. The likes of Chris Smalling could come up big, here.
2 – Sadio Mané
If there’s a player in Liverpool roster worthy of the Player of the Year title, that man is Mané and in Sunday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium the Senegalese winger has another big occasion to rise up to.
He’s not short of exemplary showings, putting Arsenal to the sword on two separate occasions this season, meanwhile also punishing their North London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, in much the same way.
Man City’s domestic form may have picked up in recent games but their midweek defeat and subsequent elimination at the hands of AS Monaco in the UEFA Champions League has only accentuated their defensive shortcomings further.
We don’t expect Pep Guardiola to alter his constructive system in any particular way from what we’ve already become accustomed to, which could spell danger against a side that preys so heavily on one’s mistakes.
Much like Mané, Liverpool love a big-game performance – the Reds have practically relied upon them this season – so there’s every chance of it being their day come Sunday.
3 – Fernando Llorente
Club: Swansea City
We’re at the stage now where clubs become desperate for a hero. Swansea have found three in Gylfi Sigurðsson, Fernando Llorente and manager Paul Clement, who’s responsible for pulling the foundations of this potential great escape together.
Saturday’s fixture brings forward another battle for the Swans, taking on a below-par Bournemouth side that sees three points separate the two teams in the league table, such is the latter’s poor form.
The pair are also the leaders for the most amount of goals conceded this season, so it’s one that’s set-up to be a bit of a goal-fest, statistically.
With or without a thriller, we suspect Llorente, who’s gone three in three for goals, will inflict some damage upon a Bournemouth defence that’s depleted by suspensions and mid-season departures.