Teams, Games and Players to Look Out For:
The Hammers have not lived up to expectation this season and have been very poor, especially on the defensive front. This was evidenced in the FA Cup 3rd Round, where they were thumped 5-0 at home by Manchester City. In fact, this is not the first time West Ham have conceded 5 at home this season. They conceded 5 at the Olympic Stadium to Arsenal, as well as 4 to Watford and 3 to Southampton. In addition they have also lacked goals and a genuine striker. Now, if speculation comes to fruition and Dimitri Payet leaves the club, they will also not have a top level playmaker. At the present, it seems that there is a lack of harmony in the West Ham squad, with results not going their way and Bilic chopping and changing his line up each week. In GW21, West Ham face an attack minded Crystal Palace side in a very important game. A win could see them jump into the top half, but a loss could see them drop to 16th, just two places above the relegation zone. Therefore, it is imperative for West Ham to ‘turn up’ this GW, and not allow Crystal Palace to just be another statistic in their poor season.
Arsenal are not having a good time with injuries at the moment. Due to injuries to Cazorla and Coquelin and AFCON ruling Elneny out, the Gunners are left with only Xhaka and Ramsey in central midfield. However, this lack of options could do a world of good for Aaron Ramsey. He will be allowed to play centrally instead of on the wing, and will be allowed more influence on the game. Also, if Giroud continues up front, Ramsey’s stocks should rise even more, as Arsenal will be forced to turn to a quick passing game and Ramsey, with his penetrating runs into the box, could benefit from this. However, the absences of Coquelin and Elneny, the two true defensive midfielders in the squad, may reduce the likelihood of clean sheets over the coming weeks, perhaps reducing the appeal of Bellerin and Koscielny. Furthermore, Wenger has a plethora of attacking players at his disposal, which could mean that we begin to see rotation in the attacking midfield positions and up front. In fact, Wenger stated in a recent interview, that his team sheet will not be consistent, but dependent on the opposition his side are facing. As a result, the only nailed on attacking players in the Arsenal squad are Sanchez, Ozil and Walcott, evidenced by the fact that all three have started every game this season when available. Subsequently, taking a punt on Giroud or Iwobi may come back to bite some FPL managers.
With Mahrez, Slimani and Amartey out due to the AFCON, Leicester have lost three of their best players this season. To rub salt into the wounds, King and Vardy are now ill and Ulloa picked up a thigh injury in the FA Cup tie. As a result, Ranieri’s options are diminished at the moment. However, this could provide a chance for two players who have not been given many opportunities this season to stand out – Demarai Gray and Ahmed Musa. Both players have shown glimpses of their quality this season but a consistent run of starts could see them become viable FPL options. In the FA Cup game against Everton, Musa played at CF and bagged 2 goals (4 shots). This means that in his past 3 starts in English competitions (PL and FA Cup), he has netted 4 goals. Such effectiveness in front of goal could see Musa flourish if given more opportunities. Additionally, Gray is another player who could become a viable FPL option if given a chance. In his 6 starts this season in all competitions, he has averaged 3 shots per game, which is on par with Theo Walcott and better than Lukaku, Alli, Hazard, De Bruyne, Mahrez and Vardy. If these two players can combine and play the role of Vardy and Mahrez from last season, suddenly everything will be looking up for Leicester. Moreover, the return to fitness of Danny Drinkwater (2 assists in FA Cup vs Everton) and the signing of Wilfred Ndidi should sure up the Foxes midfield. All these factors should help to reduce the inconsistencies in performance between European/domestic competitions we have seen this season from the reigning PL champions.
Everton vs Manchester City
This game poses an interesting prospect. Both sides have played well recently, but have also been unconvincing at times and quite inconsistent. Therefore, this game seems like it will be very close. However, delving into the form of individual match winning players, Everton could have the edge. After a 4 game run of blanks, Romelu Lukaku has returned to top form recently. Over his past 7 starts (all competitions), he has managed a shot frequency of 1 every 27.39 minutes (just under 4 per game) and returned 5 goals and 1 assist. In addition, Kevin Mirallas (1 shot per 24 mins/3.8 per game), Ross Barkley (1 shot every 24.85 mins and 1 chance created every 29 mins) and Leighton Baines (10 chances created over past 7 GWs as well as 2 goals, 2 assists and 11 bonus) are all in superb form at the moment. But, Everton will be without Idrissa Gueye, who is leading the competition for tackles made this season, which may make it easier for City to breach their defence. In contrast, Manchester City’s only in-form player at the moment is Raheem Sterling (1 goal and 4 assists in past 5 GWs). Although Aguero scored last GW and again in the FA Cup midweek, we must remember that he was dropped for GW20 due to poor form, and has looked well off the pace since returning from suspension. Similarly, De Bruyne has not returned a double digit haul since GW6, and has only recorded 2 assists in the last 8 GWs. Therefore, although Man City have bigger name players, they are not necessarily favourites due to form. As a result, it will be interesting to see if the Everton players continue their good form, or if the Man City heavy hitters kick into gear in this game and lead their side to victory.
Manchester United vs Liverpool
Last time these sides met, it was built up as the game of the season, but it ended in a bore 0-0 draw. However, this time it could be different. Earlier in the season, Mourinho sent his side out to defend at Anfield and not let The Reds win at their home ground. Subsequently, there was not much attacking play in the game, with only 16 shots in total. It could be different this time as it is at Old Trafford and Mourinho will no doubt want a win. As a result, he will allow the game to be more open as he will hopefully give his team licence to attack. This should bring Ibrahimovic (4 shots per game over past 3 GWs), Pogba (1 shot every 16 mins and 1 chance created every 36 mins over past 4 games in all competitions) and Mkhitaryan (1 shot every 28 mins and 1 chance created every 18 mins over past 4 games) into consideration for FPL managers. Also, it’s not Liverpool’s style to go out and defend, so Klopp will no doubt roll out another attacking squad selection, with the aim of picking up all three points. Thus, the fixture proof Daniel Strurridge (1 shot every 12 mins in 4 appearances since returns from injury), Roberto Firmino (1 shot every 23 mins and 1 chance created every 39 mins over past 4 GWs) and Adam Lallana (4 goals and 2 assist in past 7 GWs) are brought in play for FPL managers. Therefore, it is clear that this game has the potential to be a high scoring and entertaining one.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will discuss my top captain picks, give my score predictions and reveal the GW21 Star Picks XI.
It will be published tomorrow.
By Sebastian Candido