Fantasy managers prepare for return of Premier League
English football returns after a magnificent and historic World Cup, which culminated with the most entertaining final I have witnessed in my lifetime of watching ‘the beautiful game’.
The Premier League has introduced a new “Second Chance League” to offer opportunities to all fantasy managers regardless of their progress in the season. There are some intriguing choices heading into the hectic festive fixture period, especially in midfield and attack with Tottenham midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg a strong option and Bournemouth striker Dominic Solanke a solid budget forward.
Congratulations to November winner Keith Steede and team “Stegunda”, which amassed 144 points.
Monday, December 26
Brentford v Tottenham Hotspur (8.30am)
Brentford return to domestic action having recorded the most draws in the top-flight so far (seven). Kristoffer Ajer remains out with a knee injury, while Aaron Hickey, Pontus Jansson, Thomas Strakosha, and Shandon Baptiste are doubtful this week.
Tottenham remain in the top-four despite an inconsistent start. Rodrigo Bentancur is suspended for yellow-card accumulation, while Ben Davies, Richarlison and Ryan Sessegnon are doubtful.
These London rivals have met twice in the top-flight, with this corresponding fixture ending goalless last season.
Crystal Palace v Fulham (11am)
Crystal Palace will miss key defender Marc Guehi due to yellow-card accrual this weekend, while Sam Johnstone, James McArthur and Nathan Ferguson are doubts.
Fulham forward Neeskens Kebano is out for the short trip to Selhurst Park with an Achilles injury, while Manor Solomon is doubtful with a knee injury.
The Eagles have won four of the eight editions of this rivalry, which pits South London against West London.
Everton v Wolverhampton Wanderers (11am)
Everton had taken just one win from their last seven games prior to the international break, leaving the Toffees just one point above the relegation zone. Defender Conor Coady is ineligible to play this weekend against his parent club due to league loan rules, James Garner is out with a back injury, while Andros Townsend and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are doubtful with knee injuries.
Wolves are looking for new ideas having recently appointed manager Julen Lopetegui. Pedro Neto, Francisco Oliveira and Sasa Kalajdžić are out for the Spaniard’s English football debut, while Jonny Otto and Adama Traore are doubtful with groin injuries.
The Toffees edge this series with six victories to Wolves’ five. However, the West Midlands side took the spoils on their last visit to Goodison Park.
Leicester City v Newcastle United (11am)
Leicester have recovered well from their poor start to the season, winning four of their last five to pull four points clear of the drop zone. Ryan Bertrand, Ricardo Pereira and James Justin remain out this weekend, while Jonny Evans, Çaglar Soyüncü and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall are doubtful.
Newcastle have made their best league start in club history, recording five straight victories before the break. Paul Dummett and Emil Krafth remain out, while Alexander Isak is doubtful for the Magpies this weekend.
These clubs have met 30 times, with the Magpies edging the series with 13 wins to the Foxes’ 12.
Southampton v Brighton & Hove Albion (11am)
Southampton remain in the bottom three ahead of the festive fixtures, having won just once in their last five matches before the international break. Tino Livramento is out with a knee injury, while Romeo Lavia, Juan Larios Lopez and Theo Walcott are doubtful.
Brighton have made a reasonable start under Roberto de Zerbi. Alexis Mac Allister is out due to personal reasons and Jakub Moder with a knee injury.
The history of this South Coast derby is evenly split, with six draws from ten meetings between the clubs.
Aston Villa v Liverpool (1.30pm)
Aston Villa are unbeaten so far under new coach Unai Emery. Diego Carlos is still out with an Achilles injury, whereas Philippe Coutinho and Jacob Ramsey are doubtful.
Liverpool have a much stronger squad for the resumption of league football, but Luis Diaz, Arthur Melo and Diogo Jota remain out, while Curtis Jones is doubtful owing to lack of fitness.
Liverpool have enjoyed this encounter historically, winning 31 of the 54 top-flight meetings with Villa.
Arsenal v West Ham United (4pm)
Arsenal have taken their most wins (12) through 14 matches in a league campaign in Premier League history, meaning they are five points clear at the top of the table. Striker Gabriel Jesus is out for at least three months with a medial collateral ligament injury, while Emile Smith Rowe, Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Oleksandr Zinchenko are doubtful this week.
West Ham continue to struggle with goals, netting more than once in just three of their first 15 league matches. Kurt Zouma, Maxwel Cornet, Aaron Cresswell, Nayef Aguerd, Michail Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca are doubtful on Boxing Day.
The Gunners are unbeaten in their last five meetings with the Hammers.
Tuesday, December 27th
Chelsea v Bournemouth (1.30pm)
Chelsea are winless in their last five games after winning six of their first nine. Armando Broja, N’Golo Kante, Ben Chilwell, and Wesley Fofana are out with long-term injuries, while Reece James, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Carney Chukwuemeka are doubtful.
Bournemouth appointed coach Gary O’Neill permanent manager after consecutive victories lifted them out of the relegation zone. Goalkeeper Neto, David Brooks, Jefferson Lerma, Ben Pearson, Joe Rothwell and Marcus Tavernier are all doubts for the Cherries.
The Blues edge this encounter, but the Cherries have taken four victories against the West London outfit.
Manchester United v Nottingham Forest (4pm)
Manchester United are slowly finding their identity under new coach Erik ten Hag. Jadon Sancho is out thanks to mental fatigue and Diogo Dalot is doubtful with a hamstring injury, while Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane are on vacation after both reached the World Cup final.
Nottingham Forest are battling for safety. Dean Henderson is ineligible to face his parent club owing to league loan rules, Giulian Biancone, Moussa Niakhate and Cheikhou Kouyate are out, while Omar Richards is doubtful.
The Red Devils have won seven of their ten encounters with Forest, including the last five. They scored at least three times in all of those latest victories over the West Midlands club.
Wednesday, December 28th
Leeds United v Manchester City (4pm)
Leeds are again struggling in the first full season under Jesse Marsch. Tyler Adams is suspended after receiving a second yellow card away to Spurs before the break. Stuart Dallas and Archie Gray are out, while Luis Sinisterra, Illan Meslier, Robin Koch, Junior Firpo, Crysensio Summerville and Patrick Bamford are doubtful this week.
Manchester City lost at home to Brentford last time, the first occasion forward Erling Haaland has failed to score in English football. Julian Alvarez is doubtful owing to personal reasons.
The Yorkshire side hold a slim edge over their neighbours with seven wins to City’s six through 18 meetings, though the champions have smashed Leeds across the last two encounters by an aggregate of 11-0.