The chased may soon become the chasers
The English Premier League is back after the international break to embark on the final stretch where all will be decided, and pressure will be heightened on those chasing for the title and Champions League qualification — as well as determining who will fall through the trapdoor to relegation.
Fantasy managers must be strategic in the final eight rounds, especially after a few key assets picked up injuries while preparing and competing for final spots in the World Cup. Manchester City defender João Cancelo could be a key premium defender as the Pep Guardliola’s men look to retain their title, while Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka will be a marquee character if the Gunners are to hang on to fourth place and Champions League football.
Congratulations to March winner Giorgio Swan, who amassed 290 points with Armani FC!, while J Martin aka “Pilot Flame” remains top of the overall standings on 2,108 points with Hop Skip Jorginho.
Liverpool v Watford
Liverpool have made a remarkable comeback since the turn of the year, cutting a 13-point deficit to just one heading into the run-in. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Naby Keita will be doubts for manager Jürgen Klopp, having suffered hamstring and knee injuries respectively.
Watford have won two of their past five games to keep their slim survival hopes alive, the same tally of wins as they achieved in their previous 14. Jeremy Ngakia and Nicolas Nkoulou are doubts for their challenging trip to Merseyside.
The Reds have won their past two meetings at Anfield by a combined score of 7-0, but must be careful as the Hornets snapped a near 40-match unbeaten run when they smashed them 3-0 at Vicarage Road in February 2020.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Norwich City
Brighton have suffered six straight league defeats, and won only twice in ten overall. Adam Webster and Adam Lallana are doubtful for the South Coast side.
Norwich, despite starting well under new head coach Dean Smith, have also lost six consecutive top-flight games, although they scored in four of those. Andrew Omobamidele and Adam Idah are out. Brandon Williams, Max Aarons and Ozan Kabak are doubts for the Canaries.
Neal Maupay could become Brighton’s most prolific striker in the competition should he score. His last two goals have come against promoted sides. Brighton have shut out Norwich in all of their three previous meetings, two wins and one draw.
Burnley v Manchester City
Burnley are still in the drop zone by four points, despite having two games in hand on many of those around them. They will miss some key players in this massive match-up, which has implications at both ends of the table. Nathan Collins and Johann Gudmundsson are out, the former suspended. Erik Pieters, Ben Mee and Matej Vydra are doubts.
Man City have Liverpool breathing down their necks and now lead them by just one point after being held 0-0 by Crystal Palace. Key defender Rúben Dias will be out with a hamstring injury, while youngster Cole Palmer is a doubt. Winger Riyad Mahrez has scored more league goals against the Clarets than any other club with eight, yet only one of those has come at Turf Moor.
Burnley have won only once in the previous 15 meetings with City, who could find themselves second heading into their crunch tie with the Reds next weekend.
Chelsea v Brentford
Chelsea are back in consistent form in all competitions at a critical time, winning their past five in the Premier League and cruising into the last eight of the Champions League. Ben Chilwell is out for this West London derby. Andreas Christensen, Reece James, and Callum Hudson-Odoi are doubts.
Brentford are back on track with two wins from their past five, after losing five of their previous six. They have a fully fit squad available, with striker Ivan Toney scoring five times in his last three Premier League starts.
The Bees are vying for their first victory over the Blues in nine attempts, losing seven and drawing one in that span. German forward Kai Havertz has scored in his past three league outings, looking to make it four for the first time since he joined the Blues two seasons ago.
Leeds United v Southampton
Leeds have won two of their first four matches under American manager Jesse Marsch, most recently the stunning 3-2 comeback away win over Wolves. They have several injury concerns, though, as Junior Firpo, Tyler Roberts and Patrick Bamford are out, the latter until the end of the season. Leo Hjelde, Jamie Shackleton, Lewis Bate and starting goalkeeper Illan Meslier are doubts.
Southampton are extremely close to guaranteed Premier League survival for an eleventh straight season, sitting on 35 points in eleventh position. Lyanco remains the only absentee for Saints, as striker Armando Broja looks to become their first player to score home and away against the Yorkshire side in a single season since Paul Rideout in 1990-91.
Southampton have won only once at Elland Road since 1998, losing 3-0 on their most recent visit.
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Aston Villa
Wolves will be kicking themselves as they missed a chance to move closer to their fellow European hopefuls with the 3-2 home defeat by Leeds. Raúl Jiménez is suspended after being shown a second yellow card for a powerful challenge on Illan Meslier, while Ruben Neves is also out with a knee fracture. Nelson Semedo and Pedro Neto are doubts.
Aston Villa struggled to keep up the intensity in their 1-0 home defeat by Arsenal. Kortney Hause is out with an abdominal strain, while Marvelous Nakamba is a doubt with a knee injury. Twenty-year-old Jacob Ramsey has scored six league goals this season, third-most in club history in a single campaign for a player under 21.
Wolves have dominated the West Midlands derby recently, winning three of the past five match-ups. Villa have not recorded consecutive away wins over Wolves since January 2012.
Manchester United v Leicester City
Manchester United have won three of their past five league match-ups, either side of the disappointing loss in the Champions League to Atlético Madrid. The Red Devils have scored ten goals via substitutes this season, most in the division. Four of those have come from Marcus Rashford. Edinson Cavani is out with a calf injury.
Leicester City face their third significant test in their past five games, having lost to Wolves and Arsenal. Danny Ward, Ryan Bertrand and Wilfried Ndidi are out to knee injuries, while Marc Albrighton and Jamie Vardy are doubts.
The Foxes won 2-1 on their last visit to Old Trafford, but the Red Devils must win to keep their fading top-four hopes alive.
West Ham United v Everton
West Ham may have dropped out of true contention for Champions League football via the league, but they are serious contenders to qualify through the Europa League. Key defenders Angelo Ogbonna and Vladimir Coufal are out, while Jarrod Bowen is a doubt with an Achilles injury.
Everton are still fighting to stay out of the drop zone; they sit three points above the bottom three. Yerry Mina, Andros Townsend and Allan are out for the trip to East London.
The Toffees were able to stifle the Hammers and come away with a 1-0 win from their last visit to the London Stadium. This could be a bonus result for their intriguing push to hold on to their status of remaining in the Premier League for every single season of its existence.
Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United
Spurs have won four of their past five to push themselves back into the hunt for European qualification. Ryan Sessegnon and Japhet Tanganga are out with long-term injuries, while Oliver Skipp and Ben Davies are doubts.
Newcastle have gone on an impressive run of just one defeat in their past 11 league outings, winning six in that span. Kieran Trippier and Callum Wilson remain out, while goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, Fabian Schär and Federico Fernández are doubts.
The Magpies have travelled well against Spurs, taking four points from their last two visits to North London. Already safe, they could pull an upset against Antonio Conte’s in-form squad.
Crystal Palace v Arsenal
Crystal Palace are the only side in the bottom half of the table with a positive goal difference, having picked up eight points from their past five matches. James McArthur is out for this London derby. Nathan Ferguson, Wilfried Zaha and Michael Olise are doubts for the visit of Arsenal.
The Gunners themselves have solidified fourth place, now three points ahead of Spurs with a game in hand. First-choice goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and Takehiro Tomiyasu are doubts ahead of the journey to Selhurst Park.
Arsenal won 3-1 in this same fixture last season, and could stretch the gap on Spurs to seven points by the conclusion of the round.
Burnley v Everton
Burnley have quite the double-header within the same round of matches. First, they host champions City, who themselves are aiming to defend their crown, before welcoming the Toffees, who are also scrapping for their lives.
Everton have so much riding on this six-pointer, most notably their status as a perennial Premier League regular. Should they lose, they could be as little as one point clear of the bottom three.
This match-up is extremely difficult to call, but there will be goals. There have been at least two goals in the past three meetings in the league, and six of the past eight in all competitions.