Considering the unprecedented nature of the Premier League’s Project Restart and the impact it has had, not only on the competition itself but on FPL as well, we figured the nearing end of gameweek 32+ is a good moment to stop for a moment and look back at the first three gameweeks after the coronabreak. In order to do so, we identified three ongoing races in the league: for Champions League qualification, for Europa League qualification and to avoid relegation. We’ll take a brief look at each of these battles and how they should be taken into account when planning for the very business end of this crazy season.
Heads up: this piece was written before the start of the 4 matches on Wednesday, July 1st, 2020.
The race for the Champions League
It’s a special race this year, one because Liverpool have won the title six rounds before the end, and two because current 2nd placed Manchester City are running a real risk of being excluded from international European competitions after repeatedly treading on the Financial Fair Play rules and reportedly misleading European football’s governing body UEFA. In this scenario, fifth place equals Champions League qualification as well, while the 6th place will get a ticket for the Europa League. Man City have filed an appeal against their exclusion, but for this article, we will assume that the UEFA will finally manage to stick with a serious sentence for a “big club” this time.
With Liverpool crowned champions, the teams currently sitting in a CL spot are Leicester in third, Chelsea in fourth and Manchester United in fifth. Wolves are tied with United at 52 points, though, while Spurs and Burnley follow at some distance with 45 points each. Of course, the Premier League is the Premier League and anything can happen, but with six to seven games to go this campaign, it looks likely that the battle for the Champions League spots will be between the teams in the current top six.
One of the reasons for this is that the upcoming fixture schedules for Wolves and Man United are among the most favourable ones going forward. The former are facing just one club from the current top six (Chelsea in the final gameweek), while the latter’s only top-six opponent is Leicester in that same round. United’s calendar looks a bit easier on paper, but both teams boast FPL assets that could well last for the rest of the campaign. The likes of Raul Jimenez, Matt Doherty, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire all possess the qualities and/or form to finish the season with a nice run, clad with FPL points.
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The battle for Europa League tickets
In a scenario where the UEFA manages to uphold Man City’s expulsion from European football, the sixth spot in the Premier League represents entry into next season’s Europa League. Wolves are currently occupying this spot, though they are on the same number of points (52) as Manchester United in fifth. The chasers are at some distance at the moment, with Spurs and Burnley on 45 points and Sheffield United behind them with 44 points.
Wolves and especially Man United look to be in good form and we don’t feel that they will be dropping many points over the coming weeks. This obviously doesn’t make it easier for the previously mentioned clubs just below them who are still eyeing a European ticket as well. From an FPL point of view though, this does not necessarily need to be a bad thing. That’s because, in theory, the longer teams have something to play for, the more reliable fantasy picks from their rosters are in terms of starting and motivation. If this ends up being applicable to this season as well, then Spurs, Burnley, and even Sheffield United could prove to be valuable sources of starting and performing fantasy picks.
Of those three outfits, newly-promoted Sheffield United have the hardest finish to the season. In combination with their underwhelming start to Project Restart, that makes us think that it’s probably wise to stay away from any Blades assets over the coming weeks. The same goes for Burnley players to a certain extent, as the Clarets are facing Sheffield United, Liverpool and Wolves over the next four. With Norwich away and Brighton at home, the very tail of their campaign looks a lot more appealing, though.
Of the chasers, Spurs probably boast the most interesting fantasy assets, in part thanks to their Project Restart schedule. Also, a public interest announcement: Don’t let a possible Arsenal sign of life against Norwich tonight (they are up 2-0 as we’re writing) fool you, they have been frustrating this season and their fixtures take a turn for the worse from next gameweek onwards. Back to Spurs: with Everton at home, Bournemouth away, Arsenal at home and Newcastle away in their next four games, Spurs offer us some interesting picks. While Harry Kane might be too much of a risk at the moment due to his price tag and the available alternatives, Heung-Min Son is an excellent midfield choice. The relatively affordable Serge Aurier could be as well, thanks to his drive forward. We recommend to watch the Sheffield United vs. Spurs game this Thursday to see how José Mourinho’s men show up against one of the most resilient sides in the Premier League.
The fight against relegation
It’s towards the bottom of the table where things are getting really tight. The relegation zone consists of the three last spots and currently, five teams are in the drop zone or located just a point outside of it. These are Norwich (21 points), Aston Villa (27 pts), Bournemouth (27 pts), West Ham (27 pts) and Watford (28 pts). Brighton sit on 33 points in fifteenth and definitely can’t switch off yet, while we consider fourteenth placed Southampton safe from relegation with 40 points after their 1-3 victory over Watford on Monday.
Out of these six teams, Norwich’s outlook is probably the grimmest. The Canaries look bound for a return to the Championship and we don’t recommend any of their players, unless you’re looking for a budget-enabler in the style of Todd Cantwell or are still hoping for a Teemu Pukki after-party. Having said that, things don’t look much better for Bournemouth and Villa either. The Cherries have had a horrid return to football and are 0-3 down at home against Newcastle at this very moment, while the Villans have returned in slightly better form. Still, like Bournemouth, Villa have a harsh schedule to deal with from now until the end of the 2019-20 campaign:
|Bournemouth||Man United (a)||Spurs (H)||Leicester (H)||Man City (a)|
|Aston Villa||Liverpool (a)||Man United (H)||Crystal Palace (H)||Everton (a)|
Our verdict? If you REALLY want a Cherry or a Villain, Villa’s form and schedule look slightly better than Bournemouth’s, which kind of brings Grealish into the picture (but not really). Completely out of form and with a nightmare run of fixtures ahead, for the Cherries things aren’t looking great.
Brighton have Norwich at home coming up in GW33+, followed by home games against Man City and Liverpool. After that it’s Southampton, Burnley and Newcastle for the Seagulls, so apart from gameweeks 34+ and 35+, the likes of Ryan and Dunk could be decent defensive punts. Striker Neal Maupay is an interesting differential pick and very budget-friendly.
Out of all bottom teams, it’s Watford and West Ham who have the most appealing run of fixtures coming up, though.
|Watford||Chelsea (a)||Norwich (H)||Newcastle (H)||West Ham (a)|
|West Ham||Newcastle (a)||Burnley (H)||Norwich (a)||Watford (H)|
Apart from Watford’s game in gameweek 33+, all of these fixtures are potential good sources of points for these teams. The ghost of relegation clearly looms over these teams, so some investment in them could be wise. Of course, they are not towards the bottom of the league after 32 rounds for nothing, but both the Hornets and the Hammers do have decent quality within their ranks. From GW34+, for example, Troy Deeney or Ismaila Sarr could be a good Watford punt, while Kiko Femenía could be perfect as a fourth or fifth defender. At West Ham, Fabianski is of proven quality, while the likes of Manuel Lanzini and Michael Antonio could be considered risky but very differential picks and with them in their team they could even upset Chelsea later tonight.
Overall though, when looking at the fight against relegation, we’d say Brighton boast a few options worth considering. It’s Watford though, thanks to a combination of favourable fixtures and them still being at a very real of relegation, where we believe the most interesting fantasy picks can be found for the upcoming weeks.