Over three goals a game on average in round 23, a round that saw two 4-0s, a 4-1, a 3-0 and saw Liverpool end Man City’s unbeaten run in a 4-3 thriller at Anfield. Despite a first loss of the season, the Citizens still hold a 12 point lead over United in second place and will take some catching over the remaining 15 games. Liverpool’s win moves them to third on goal differences, with Spurs in fifth just three points off the top four, but with a five point gap on Arsenal, who lost to Bournemouth on the weekend.
The fantasy gold medal for round 23 goes to Marko Arnautovic with 16 points, courtesy of a goal and two assists in West Ham’s 4-1 demolition of Huddersfield.
It’s been a bit quiet on the transfer front. Walcott to Everton is probably the biggest confirmed deal but all the interest remains around where Alexis Sanchez will end up, with the answer likely United. The deal could see Mkhitaryan heading the other way, but Arsenal also continue to be linked with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang which could be the biggest move of the window if it comes off.
After a couple of midweek FA cup replays, round 24 gets underway on Saturday night. This is the return leg of round 20 so the reverse fixtures will still be fresh in the minds of the teams, for both good and bad reasons. Let’s jump into the games ahead:
Burnley v Man United (Game of the Round)
There are no real big games between teams jostling for position either at the top or the bottom, but Burnley v United could be a good game. The Clarets have been on the outskirts of the top six for a while now, but a drier run of results means Leicester are only three points behind them. United will be a tough game for them, but they did manage to take a point from their visit to Old Trafford on Boxing Day, leading 2-0 at one point before being pegged back.
That draw came in the middle of a run of ties for the Red Devils, but they have since returned to winning ways in their last two games. As expected, history favours the visiting side, who’ve only lost one of seven against this week’s hosts. Burnley have built around strong defence, but don’t score many. The fact that Chris Wood is likely to miss out makes this even harder for them. I can’t see past the away win here.
Brighton v Chelsea
After winning the return leg 2-0, Chelsea will be confident coming into this one. Looking at the stats, the Blues dominate – of the top three players for both sides combined in assists, goals, passes and tackles only two of the 12 spots are taken by Seagulls players.
Brighton have been ticking along nicely taking the odd win here and there, but have slowly started slipping down the table and now sit 16th. Chelsea were lucky to take a point against Leicester last out, but haven’t been beaten in their last five and remain in the Champions League spots. The visitors are scoring over double and conceding almost half when compared to the home side. On paper it looks a no brainer, but top scorer Morata is suspended. Will that cost the Blues the win? Probably not.
Arsenal v Crystal Palace
Another win for Palace last time as they continue their charge from the foot of the table, now sitting 12th. As poor as they looked early on in the season, they have the talent in their squad to avoid relegation easily, especially when compared to some of the squads around them. The Gunners lost to Bournemouth last time, look set to lose Sanchez and are slipping away from the top four a bit, with just one win in the last five, so will be desperate for three points here.
They got one last time, coming out 3-2 victors, although it was probably more comfortable than the scoreline suggests. They’ve also got a good record against this week’s visitors, winning 12 and drawing two of 17 PL meetings. Palace did win the meeting before last 3-0, but they look likely to lose and couple of key players in Loftus-Cheek and Townsend, while Arsenal welcome back a couplein Ozil, Monreal and Koscielny. Even without Sanchez, who Wenger said he would play if no deal was done by the weekend, I still fancy the Gunners for this one.
Everton v West Brom
Two sides boasting new managers in this one. It had been working for Everton before three straight losses, but they remain in the top half. Despite finally picking up a win last out, it hasn’t yet worked for the Baggies, who are second bottom.
This looks like the ideal game for the Toffees to get back on track, having only lost one of the last ten against the visitors. The Boxing Day game ended in a 0-0 draw, but Everton were missing Rooney and have also added attacking power to their squad since with the acquisitions of Walcott and Cenk Tosun. The Baggies have only won twice at Goodison and I don’t think they’ll add to that this weekend.
Leicester v Watford
This is the joint closest game of the weekend in terms of ladder position, with just two places between the Foxes and the Hornets. Recent form for both sides isn’t much to shout about, one win in five for each. In those five Leicester have two good draws with United and Chelsea, while Watford’s win was in the reverse of this fixture in December.
These sides have met seven times in the PL. Leicester have won four and have a 100% home record against the Hornets. The same fixture last season finished 3-0. I don’t think it will be that one sided but I don’t think it will be a home win.
Stoke v Huddersfield
Two teams hard to get excited about recently in this one. Between them, there’s just one win in the last five rounds and both sides are deservedly included in relegation discussions. Both come in from heavy defeats in round 23 and will be desperate for victory here.
The Boxing Day fixture ended 1-1 and for my money both sides will cancel each other out again here.
West Ham v Bournemouth
This game sees the other two sides separated by just two league places, and just a point. Whilst it is still tight between the teams in the bottom half, with just five points between 11th and the relegation zone, these two sides have done well recently to pull themselves up the table and slightly away from the relegation conversation, though neither are safe yet by any means.
This has historically been a high scorer, averaging nearly five a game. It’s exactly honours even, with two wins apiece and a draw in five meetings. That draw was the round 20 game which finished 3-3, including three goals after the 80th minute.
Both sides will come into this with confidence, the Hammers having beaten Huddersfield 4-1 and the Cherries getting up over the Gunners. I lean slightly towards the Hammers, but not with any certainty and I’m just hoping it’s another high scoring cracker.
Man City v Newcastle
After being handed their first defeat of the season, this isn’t a bad fixture for City in terms of bouncing straight back. They boast 21 wins and seven draws from 35 matchups, with just one defeat at home against the Magpies. They also won the last home PL game against them 6-1 back in late 2015.
Newcastle could only draw at basement side Swansea last out and hover three points above the drop zone. They lost 1-0 in the reverse fixture, but came under a bit of criticism for negative tactics. That was the Magpies’ last loss, and their only one in the last five. Does that give them chance here? Not really.
Southampton v Tottenham
I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but Southampton are in real danger of going down. Poor all season, they sit a point above 18th and four from the bottom of the pile. They managed a good draw against United a few weeks back, but haven’t seen a win since round 13, one of only four this season.
Spurs on the other hand are flying, a draw at West Ham their only blemish in the last five games and they sit just three points outside the top four. 37 previous meetings see Spurs lead 20-11 in wins, including a 5-2 hammering last time. With the form of some of the visiting players, and the form almost all of the home players, it could go that way again.
Swansea v Liverpool
Closing out the round, the team that handed City their first defeat of the season travel to Wales to face the bottom side. Liverpool are flying, four wins and a draw from the last five and into third place. The Swans have occupied bottom spot for a few weeks now and have just one win in their previous five.
The Reds proved themselves more than capable of winning without Coutinho in the last game, with plenty of match winners still in the squad. They go OK against the Swans too. Seven wins and three draws in the 13 times these side have met at this level. Last time out it finished 5-0 to the visitors and if all their big guns fire it could be something similar again here.
Not many surprises in the trades this week. Arnautovic (7m) top of the pile after a ‘best in round’ performance last week and a good recent run. He’s finally living up to his talented reputation after his move from Stoke. With a good home game ahead he’s a solid option if you don’t already have him.
Salah (10.2m) and Firmino (9.2m) the next two most popular. The former needs no introduction and is closing in on 200 points for the season. I was less convinced on Firmino for a while, but recently he’s put in a lot more consistent scores and he could step up in the absence of the other Brazilian. Add in the fact Liverpool play the bottom club and these are almost no-brainers.
Harry Kane (13m) is in there, no shocks. Son (8.2m) is the player rounding out the top five and he’s certainly been impressive recently. I advocated for Lingard over him last round and was well and truly proven wrong (incidentally, Lingard is in the top five traded out players this week). The only worry is with the next three games for Spurs being tough. That shouldn’t deter you from reaping the rewards from these two in this round though.
I’m surprised any City players aren’t in this list. Personally, I’d be loading on Aguero (11.7m), Sterling (8.9m) and De Bruyne (10.2m).
It seems as though the cheapie mids bubble has burst, with both Richarlison (6.3m) and Gross (5.8m) in the top three traded out players this week, behind only the suspended Morata. I can see the merits in the move with limited recent form, but both sides have a half decent run of games, so if you needed to squeeze a lower priced mid in there, I would still gamble on one of them to come good again in the rounds ahead.
Burnley are missing a few players, so I would also consider taking a punt on Lukaku (11.3m) and Pogba (8m) for this week. Everton should also account for West Brom so I’d look at Rooney or Tosun (7.5m) to get the goals there.
All of the City players above warrant consideration, but I’d be looking at Aguero who seems to always score against Newcastle.
Given they play the bottom side, Liverpool players definitely come into the equation and the standouts probably align to the trade patterns in Salah and Firmino.
With Morata out does Hazard pick up the slack against Brighton? Throw the armband on him and find out.
Elsewhere, I also like Pogba against Burnley, Lanzini at home to Bournemouth and Kane or Son at a struggling Southampton.
Saturday Hooligan Special is back this weekend. I like Lukaku again at his low price of 6.4k. I also think Aguero is worth it even at 10.7k.