It's a late Christmas present for giddy Fantasy Premier League managers: the first Double Gameweek of the season! Many teams will now play twice across the week and, obviously, this astronomically increases the points potential of certain players. So, feel free to use me as your wizarding guide for who you should be looking at ahead of this mammoth set of Premier League fixtures!
Game of the week
Liverpool vs Manchester United: Anfield, Sunday 16.30 (Sky Sports)
The biggest game of the Premier League season is upon us.
Liverpool were in majestic form before the Christmas period started. They had beaten Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur before hitting seven against Crystal Palace. Life was good for Liverpool fans. People were handing them back-to-back title successes!
However, the Reds then inexplicably failed to beat West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United, two teams at the wrong end of the table, before losing to Southampton. The tables had turned in just a couple of weeks!
In that same period, Manchester United were building a new wave of momentum. After crashing out of the Champions League to RB Leipzig, the wheels could have fallen off the bus for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But his team haven’t lost a league match since that defeat in Germany, winning four and drawing two.
In the home camp, Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that Mohammed Salah’s lacklustre festive form is at an end. The Egyptian hasn’t found the net in his last three league matches. But Salah rarely disappoints for too long and he is often the man for the big occasion at Anfield.
Bruno Fernandes has been the main man for United but Paul Pogba’s recent performances against Burnley and Aston Villa have stolen the recent limelight. The Frenchman is a polarising figure at Old Trafford but his quality is undeniable. On top form, he is better than Fernandes but it’s his Portuguese team-mate who has been delivering much more consistent performances.
This tantalising tie could go either way but the home team should edge this. Klopp has built a winning mentality with this squad and they very rarely fail to turn up in big games, especially at Anfield. The Reds haven’t lost a league game at home since 2017. These mental factors could make a big difference in a tight game like this.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs West Bromwich Albion: Molineux, 12.30 (BT Sport)
Wolverhampton Wanderers are in a bit of a rut. Aside from the loss of Raul Jimenez, Wolves have collectively dropped across the field. They are no longer as robust from a defensive perspective. The double-pivot of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho has lost a little bit of its magic. Nuno Espirito Santo’s wing-back system had taken the division by storm but, on occasions this season, he has switched to a back-four to try and conjure up a change in fortune. Nothing really seems to be working at the moment.
Sam Allardyce’s magic touch has been rather sparse in the Midlands. His track record of keeping teams in the Premier League is very impressive but this could be his greatest challenge yet. Slaven Bilic seemed to have the backing of his players but the reality is that many of those players were not at this standard. Nonetheless, the signing of Robert Snodgrass will add some proven top-flight quality into the ranks.
Albion might feel as though they are free-falling back to the Championship but here is a big opportunity for some respite. Wolves are not themselves and they are lacking confidence in their actions; a little insecure defensively and lacking sharpness offensively.
Leeds United vs Brighton & Hove Albion: Elland Road, 15.00 (Sky Sports)
Marcelo Bielsa was very disappointed with Leeds United’s embarrassing defeat to Crawley in the FA Cup. However, he was able to rest many of his regular starters and that could be vital to their successes in the league. Bielsa’s style requires a lot of energy and the three quickfire fixtures that they had played over the festive period would have been challenging.
Brighton & Hove Albion fought hard against Manchester City but it was ultimately in vain. However, this match represents a different challenge altogether. Graham Potter will look to set his men up more progressively and, to be fair, they had been finding goals quite regularly during the festive period: five combined against Wolves and West Ham United.
A rested Leeds team will be raring to go but Brighton are more than capable of breaching their opponent’s defensive vulnerabilities. This could be a very entertaining clash.
West Ham United vs Burnley: Olympic Stadium, 15.00 (Prime Video)
The sale of Sebastian Haller was perhaps a little surprising from West Ham, but the £25-million offer was simply too good to turn down. The big-money arrival from Eintracht Frankfurt never fully found his feet with the Hammers, although he had been playing regularly in the absence of Michail Antonio. Now that Antonio is back, though, he is being thrown straight back in.
In midweek, Burnley made life difficult for Man United but, as has been the story for much of the season, they lacked a punch in attack. Defensively, though, the trio of Nick Pope, James Tarkowski and Ben Mee are difficult to get past. They are the foundation for Burnley’s successes.
West Ham have lost four of their last five matches against Burnley, failing to score in all four defeats. At present, though, Burnley’s attack is woefully out of form, although, the home team aren’t the most prolific of goalscorers. They won’t be getting any presents against a deep-block that simply loves to defend.
Fulham vs Chelsea: Craven Cottage, 17.30 (Sky Sports)
Fulham were excellent against Tottenham after receiving just 48 hours notice of their fixture. Scott Parker and his group were due to have a free midweek but, because of scheduling problems, they were told to play Spurs on a Wednesday night. Despite this, Fulham were outstanding and fully merited the point that they took from their London rivals.
There was no such fixture trouble for Frank Lampard. The Blues manager is in the toughest moment of his managerial career, seeing his team slide out of the top-four and into ninth. His team simply cannot build any momentum and, because he has very little managerial experience, Lampard has very little to fall back on.
On paper, Chelsea will be expected to win this match but Fulham are an accomplished team. The big issue for the Cottagers is a lack of wins; they have drawn their last six league matches. This is a deceptively hard match for Chelsea but anything other than a victory will be another nail in Lampard’s coffin. The Chelsea manager could be walking on thin ice.
Leicester City vs Southampton: King Power Stadium, 20.00 (BT Sport)
Leicester City much prefer playing away from home as it allows them to play on the counter more often, but that doesn’t mean they can’t break teams down. The recent return of James Maddison has helped that cause and Brendan Rodgers is, once again, building a team that is capable of challenging for a Champions League place.
By equal measure, Southampton look like a good shout for a European spot. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men illustrated their progression with a superb recent win against Liverpool. It’s vital that they keep Danny Ings fit if they are serious about making an outside push for the Champions League; it is that kind of season!
This game really is the toss of a coin but a draw is very likely. Unfortunately, Ings is out of this one after testing positive for coronavirus but there is enough strength in that team, without their star striker, to get a point.
Sheffield United vs Tottenham Hotspur: Bramall Lane, 14.00
Sheffield United finally won their first Premier League game of the season against Newcastle United. They dominated possession, moved the ball at pace, and just simply dominated their opponents. They benefited massively from the red card to Matt Ritchie and the penalty that Federico Fernandez gave away, but that luck was more than merited.
By contrast, Tottenham were not so lucky. They took an early lead against Fulham when Harry Kane nodded home Sergio Regulion’s outstanding cross. But, once again, Spurs sat deep and failed to contain their opponents. Critics have suggested that Jose Mourinho’s pragmatism is costing Tottenham in games against the smaller teams.
This is a must-win game for Mourinho and one imagines that his Spurs players will be fired up for it. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s angry post-match interview was symptomatic of the collective disappointment at dropping more points from a winning position. Spurs will show no sentiment against the Blades.
Manchester City vs Crystal Palace: Etihad Stadium, 19.15 (Sky Sports)
Manchester City had the opportunities to blow Brighton away but they just couldn’t quite click into their scintillating best. That has been a common theme across the season, particularly against the smaller teams. The final touch has been lacking in many instances.
Crystal Palace fought hard against Arsenal and they were rewarded with a point. Roy Hodgson’s decision to use Tyrick Mitchell over Patrick van Aanholt has worked wonders in recent weeks. While poor form was generally down to the collective, Palace have conceded just one goal in their past three league matches with Mitchell at left-back. It was ten in two beforehand! Mitchell isn’t as flashy as van Aanholt but he is far better defensively.
This could be an awkward game for City but they should pull through. Hodgson’s rigid 4-4-2 has started to return some points in recent weeks, but taking anything at the Etihad might be a step too far.
Arsenal vs Newcastle United: Emirates Stadium, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
Arsenal will be disappointed that they couldn’t overturn Crystal Palace in the middle of the week. Nonetheless, they are unbeaten in five matches, keeping four clean sheets in the process. Mikel Arteta would have taken that with open arms, given the horrendous run of form that his team had been on. Their revival really has been a Christmas miracle!
Is there a more hated manager in the Premier League than Steve Bruce? It’s unlikely! The Newcastle faithful have a powerful disdain towards their manager. The negativity on display in their defeat to Sheffield United was astounding. Of course, the Magpies did go down to ten-men, late in the first-half, but their approach up until that point was basically the same.
Bruce can be forgiven if he fields a defensive setup at the Emirates so, in some ways, he will be looking forward to this one. There will be less expectancy to attack and take the game to their opponents. The Newcastle deep-block could be problematic for Arsenal but it’s tough to see the Gunners blanking for 180 minutes in a row.
West Ham United vs West Bromwich Albion: Olympic Stadium, 18.00 (BT Sport)
It’s a battle of two veteran British managers who haven’t ever bought into the total-football ideology that is rife in the modern era. Allardyce will be hoping to get one over his old club but Moyes’ men could bully the out-of-form Baggies.
Leicester City vs Chelsea: King Power Stadium, 20.15 (Sky Sports)
Leicester are looking to cement themselves amongst the big-six and they will fancy their chances against an unconvincing Chelsea. Lampard needs victories to keep his job but this is a very tough tie. If he doesn’t win against Fulham or Leicester then his job will well and truly be on the line.
Manchester City vs Aston Villa: Etihad Stadium, 18.00 (BT Sport)
This will be Aston Villa’s first match of the week. Their camp is the latest to have been swarmed by Covid-19 and, as a result, they have been unable to play in the previous three matches. While it isn’t ideal, they could gain some short-term fitness benefits.
It's another game in quick succession for City but they are in good form. This is arguably their toughest match of 2021 - Chelsea were not in the best of places - but you would expect them to win.
Fulham vs Manchester United: Craven Cottage, 20.15 (BT Sport)
Another tough match for Fulham but they are not a team you should underestimate. Goals are hard to come by but they play good football and defend resolutely. That being said, this United team doesn't drop too many points on the road.
Liverpool vs Burnley: Anfield, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
Liverpool need to keep winning matches to right the wrongs of their horrendous Christmas period. Burnley are notoriously tough to break down and they were the only team in the Premier League who took points from Liverpool at Anfield, last season. Burnley’s goal threat has dried up since then but the Clarets are still capable of putting up a fight.
Aston Villa vs Newcastle: Villa Park, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
It’s truly bizarre that Villa are playing this match on the weekend of the FA Cup but it is what it is. Newcastle surely can’t keep playing as badly as they have been doing.