Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick, Gareth Bale impressed again and a Manchester United player ended up as the top points scorer. Gameweek 28 was a pretty standard one in truth.
Now though, with the forthcoming FA Cup quarter-finals creating havoc with the fixture schedule, Gameweek 29 is going to prove to be far from normal. Only 12 of the 20 teams are in action, with six matches spread across Saturday and Sunday, as no players from Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal kick a Premier League football. This one isn’t for the faint-hearted.
In honour of the altered Gameweek, we’re going to switch up the latest Fantasy Yirma preview and instead of the usual fare, we’ll give you a game-by-game breakdown of a weekend which could ultimately prove vital to just how your season ends up. As well as that, we’ll give you a player from each match who we’re tipping to score you some points.
Hold on tight for Yirma’s six appeal…
Norwich v Southampton, Saturday, 15:00
The Canaries have won just one of their last 11 matches, and with boss Chris Hughton declaring that this heralds the start of ‘a big month’ for his side then the pressure is sure to be on at Carrow Road. Southampton will also be eager to make up for their loss to QPR last time out, and so this has the potential to be a tight, low-scoring affair.
Saints forward Rickie Lambert (£7.2m) disappointed many as his fine recent run came to an end in the QPR game, and with Hughton struggling to partner Grant Holt (£5.9m) and Luciano Becchio (£5.1m) at the other end, this is a contest in which defenders could shine. Having started all but one match since he signed, Norwich full-back Javier Garrido (£4.7m) will hope to keep things tight at the back and get forward to try and add to his two assists thus far.
QPR v Sunderland, Saturday, 15:00
Will the Southampton win see QPR turn a corner or will it lead them down another cul-de-sac? In truth this could be seen as a pretty perfect game for Harry Redknapp’s side given Sunderland’s patchy away form, but the Rs frequently struggle when home expectations are high, and the visitors might find some momentum from bouncing back from two goals down to draw with Fulham last time.
Stephane Sessegnon (£6.9m) hasn’t hit the heights he scaled last season but his goal against Fulham was a second in a row, and the midfielder from Benin gets the nod in a contest which could well see both sides score. QPR’s hopes for a goal are likely to rest on Loic Remy (£5.7m), whilst Junior Hoilett (£5.6m) made a first start since November at the weekend and also provides an added threat.
Reading v Aston Villa, Saturday, 15:00
Reading really need to win this one ahead of trips to Manchester United and Arsenal, and they’ll be buoyed by the fact that Villa have only won two of 14 on the road this season. The home side will know that these three points will only look more important the longer the season goes on, and if they can stay in the game until close to the conclusion of it they can capitalise on Villa’s likely nervousness.
Brian McDermott isn’t averse to a bit of forward rotation, but with Pavel Pogrebnyak suspended he’s likely to have to rely on Adam Le Fondre (£5.0m) from the start, with the skipper Jobi McAnuff (£4.7m) another certain starter. ‘Alfie’ gets the not due to his goalscoring prowess though, but the Royals will of course have to watch out for Christian Benteke (£7.0m), who scored the winner when these two met in November.
West Brom v Swansea, Saturday, 15:00
An attractive match on paper, and one for fans of both sides to celebrate the giant strides that their clubs have made this season. However, Swansea have only won one in seven on the road and they face a Baggies side who have won the same amount of Premier League home matches as Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal this season. Steve Clarke’s side could just nick a close but entertaining contest.
They badly missed him at Chelsea last weekend, and Romelu Lukaku (£6.5m) returns here in a match in which his strength and power could prove telling. In a match in which the Baggies may be on top, Michu (£8.4m) could find it tough to improve on a run of scoring in just one match in his last eight, whilst Jonathan De Guzman (£5.7m) might find it difficult to make his midfield presence felt.
Newcastle v Stoke, Sunday, 15:00
Neither of these two are in particularly good form, with Stoke winning just one in their last eight in the league and hosts Newcastle never looking that convincing. Alan Pardew’s side will have targeted this clash for a victory though, especially off the back of the late loss at Swansea last time out, and the Geordies’ French connection can combine and help deliver what would be a hugely welcome three points.
The amount of new players in this Newcastle side can mean that the team can be somewhat hit and miss, but Yohan Cabaye (£6.6m) has been in the north-east for a while now and can show much-needed leadership skills in what could become a bit of a battle. Moussa Sissoko (£6.5m) is also likely to find plenty of fans given his recent goalscoring form at St James’s Park, but the vote goes to his compatriot.
Liverpool v Tottenham, Sunday, 16:00
Undoubtedly the weekend’s glamour league fixture, this promises to be a terrific watch for the neutral given the two sides’ recent form. Liverpool have scored nine goals without reply in their last two league matches, but Spurs are unbeaten in 12 since their last trip to Merseyside when Everton beat them in December. An exciting contest looks in store, with both sides likely to find the net and get the pulses racing.
This was always going to be between two names – although Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho (£6.6m) deserves an honourable mention – and it is home advantage which just sees Luis Suarez (£10.8m) get the nod ahead of Gareth Bale (£10.5m). The Premier League’s top goalscorer has been in devastating form recently, and although you really do need to have both him and Bale in your team at the moment it is the Uruguayan who could win the day here.
What to make of Sunderland’s season? It depends what mood you and they are in.
There probably isn’t a more suitable nickname in the Premier League than the one adopted by the men from the Stadium of Light. Black cats are either considered lucky or unlucky depending on what culture you adopt, and the Black Cats from the north-east are either good or bad too.
Mackems supporters are likely to opt for the latter description for the majority of their club’s season though, even if Sunderland’s struggles haven’t been easily apparent to the rest of us.
Bar a six-game winless streak which took in all of October and much of November, Sunderland and boss Martin O’Neill have always just done enough to maintain an air of control. Wins like the Boxing Day success over Manchester City – a now customary victory following on from last season’s – gave the impression that everything was serene on the surface, but below deck those black cats’ legs were whirring wildly.
Now, Sunderland sit just five points and three places above the relegation zone. They have lost all three of their games in February and now face what has suddenly become a huge home match against Fulham, another of the division’s great inconsistencies, on Saturday afternoon.
There are clearly talented performers in O’Neill’s team.
Steven Fletcher has proven himself to be a genuine Premier League forward, Stephane Sessegnon is capable of fantastic performances when he’s in the mood, and Simon Mignolet looks to be a goalkeeper who is destined to play for one of the big boys one day.
The individual talents are certainly there for O’Neill, but as can be true with every individual, the team has far too many bad days to compensate for the good.
Only seven of Sunderland’s 27 Premier League games this season have ended in wins, and whilst that is more than the five clubs who currently sit below them it is clearly not enough given the talents they have at their disposal.
Last season, when O’Neill entered the club in December and steered them away from the relegation zone and eventually to within two points of a top half finish, the likes of Sessegnon, Seb Larsson and James McClean all starred.
The arrivals of Adam Johnson and Fletcher saw new, potentially exciting elements added to that trio, and whilst the Scot has been an undoubted success given his 10 goals over the campaign, Johnson’s inconsistencies have mirrored those of his team.
The sometime England winger is capable of some fine performances on his day, but his day doesn’t come around often enough – a fact borne out by his struggles to break into the Manchester City team and his eventual sale by Roberto Mancini.
O’Neill has recently added Danny Graham to the mix, although the forward’s similarity to Fletcher does leave concerns that the pair won’t be able to form a potent partnership. The French midfielder Alfred N’Diaye looks to be an energetic enough arrival, but there remains a belief that Sunderland failed to strengthen in key areas during January. They are still playing midfielders at full-back regularly.
All of that adds to the often makeshift nature of a team and club who look as though they are not sure where to be. They need to be out of relegation trouble obviously, but that isn’t enough for a club of Sunderland’s stature.
Their inconsistent nature simply can’t be allowed to go on, especially if they want to avoid getting sucked in to the battle at the bottom.
Sunderland need to find themselves, and find a few more wins in the process.
If a team is playing badly then can Fantasy bosses trust their players on a double Gameweek? We’re about to find out.
Sunderland have won just one of their last nine games, a run which has seen them slide down the table and now sit just one point and one place above the relegation zone.
It is hardly stellar form and they are results which have cast serious doubt of the future of boss Martin O’Neill, who will be desperate to pick up at least one positive result in the days ahead as his team face two very different challenges.
First up is Chelsea on Saturday, and with Rafael Benitez struggling to adapt to the very peculiar demands of the Stamford Bridge hotseat – in the Premier League at least – then the Black Cats are likely to fancy their chances ahead of that and their second game of the week against Reading on Tuesday.
Fantasy bosses who are playing the long game will have had Steven Fletcher (£7.2m) in mind for this Gameweek for as long as Sunderland’s game against the Royals was called off due to excessive rain in the north east in August – a common occurrence there – but with the Scot struggling with an ankle injury then it might pay to switch those sights to Stephane Sessegnon (£7.4m) now.
This season the Benin international might not have hit the heights that he regularly found during his last campaign when he registered seven goals and 12 assists, but there have been signs that he’s returning to form recently and whatever Sunderland do over their next 180 minutes is likely to heavily involve him.
Fletcher, Adam Johnson (£6.8m), Craig Gardner (£4.9m), Carlos Cuellar (£4.6m) and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet (£5.1m) are others to keep an eye during Sunderland’s heavy workload, but it is next Tuesday’s opponents Reading who might offer the greater value for your Fantasy cash.
A Saturday match at fellow strugglers Southampton is followed by that Sunderland meeting next week for Brian McDermott’s men, and with forward Adam Le Fondre (£4.9m) forcing himself to the front of Reading’s queue of forwards in recent weeks the 26-year-old could be seen as an inexpensive gamble.
Reading will fancy their chances of finding the net against their two red and white striped opponents, with Le Fondre, Jason Roberts (£4.5m), Jobi McAnuff (£5.1m) and Hal Robson-Kanu (£4.3m) all offering the chance of cheap thrills for your side. At the back, defender Sean Morrison (£4.0m) has come into the team in recent weeks and showed an eye for goal.
With neither of the teams involved in the double Gameweek looking particularly convincing, you might be tempted to look at the teams playing in the regulation one, with the biggest one of those coming at the Etihad Stadium.
The Manchester derby is probably even tougher to call than the usual big name Premier League tussles, but with Wayne Rooney (£11.7m) finally finding his goalscoring form at Reading last week then he’ll be one to watch. Sergio Aguero (£11.0m) started Manchester City’s last two games on the bench and so will surely be turned to from the beginning for the hosts.
In Sunday’s other matches it can’t have escaped Fantasy players’ notice that Tottenham are likely to be missing Gareth Bale for their trip to Everton whilst Luis Suarez (£10.5m) is banned for Liverpool’s visit to West Ham, a state of affairs which could see midfielder Jonjo Shelvey (£5.2m) start upfront and Jose Enrique (£6.0m) pushed up to the left wing again.
A day earlier and up in North London, Arsenal will want to emerge from their latest crisis at home to West Brom and can do if forward Olivier Giroud (£8.5m) is handed a start.
The Frenchman had scored three goals in his previous two home games before being left on the bench for last weekend’s loss to Swansea – Michu is now up to £7.8m ahead of their game at home to Norwich by the way – and if Arsene Wenger turns to his summer signing then he could find that his team gain a bit of luck in front of goal.
Luck which should be on everyone’s wish list this weekend and beyond.