FPL Gameweek 18 – The Fixtures: Festive schedules, rotation risks, fixture pile-ups and a Mourinho-less Man Utd

Jose Mourinho’s departure from Manchester United could give the Red Devils some festive cheer as the Christmas fixture pile-up begins in earnest. We assess the clubs with favourable schedules over the next four gameweeks as Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal continue to dominate FPL attention.

GW18 FIXTURES

Friday 21st December

Wolves vs Liverpool (20:00)

Saturday 22nd December

Arsenal vs Burnley (12:30)

Bournemouth vs Brighton (15:00)

Chelsea vs Leicester (15:00)

Huddersfield vs Southampton (15:00)

Man City vs Crystal Palace (15:00)

Newcastle vs Fulham (15:00)

West Ham vs Watford (15:00)

Cardiff vs Man Utd (17:30)

Sunday 23rd December

Everton vs Spurs (16:00)

MANCHESTER CITY

December 22: Crystal Palace (H)

December 26: Leicester (a)

December 30: Southampton (a)

January 3: Liverpool (H)

Just a point behind Liverpool, Pep Guardiola’s team are still the most attractive fantasy option from an attacking point of view. The Citizens are averaging over 3.5 goals per home fixture so far ahead of Palace’s visit, while trips to Leicester and Southampton should also be fruitful for City midfielders and forwards.

The surprise benching of Raheem Sterling (£11.6m) in GW17 was just another reminder of how fickle Guardiola’s teamsheet can be for FPL bosses. The winger will continue to compete with Leroy Sane (£9.6m) and Riyad Mahrez (£8.5m), despite the City manager’s assertion that he cannot rotate much due to injuries.

Mahrez played the full 90 against Leicester on Tuesday as Sane was given the entire night off. Sterling came on in the 67th minute, missing a shootout spot-kick as the Citizens went through on penalties.

Sane has started six of City’s seven league fixtures since Benjamin Mendy (£6.2m) underwent a knee operation, with the German’s ability to provide width from the left seemingly a factor in his selection. A stunning free-kick against Hoffenheim in the Champions League also showcased another potential route to goal for the attacker.

While City’s wingmen dominate FPL debates, Kevin De Bruyne (£9.7m) is firmly back on the fantasy radar. The midfielder managed 15 minutes against Everton in GW17, before scoring his side’s only goal in the 1-1 draw the King Power stadium in a 71-minute showing.

The Belgium star is now set to threaten the minutes of Bernardo Silva (£7.5m) and Ilkay Gundogan (£5.4m), with KDB’s return to Guardiola’s league XI imminent. Bernardo, along with Fernandinho (£5.4m), did not travel to Leicester while Gundogan was KDB’s replacement. David Silva (£8.5m) is not expected back in action until early January.

Sergio Aguero (£11.2m) was an unused substitute last weekend as Gabriel Jesus (£10.1m) bagged a brace against the Toffees. While the Argentine was previously Guardiola’s clear first-choice striker, his Brazilian team-mate’s return to form will cloud the situation for FPL bosses. Aguero managed 75 cup minutes before Jesus was substituted on.

Just one clean sheet in the last seven gameweeks means that City defenders are a much less attractive proposition. Aymeric Laporte (£6.1m) was handed a rare rest in GW15 and was absent from duty on Tuesday so should feature heavily over Christmas, while Ederson (£5.8m) is the completely nailed-on option for those backing the return of City clean sheets.

However, as more and more premium assets demand attention, keeping faith in the Sky Blues’ ability to shut opponents out is proving difficult. City are allowing the least amount of goal attempts on average so far (7), though have conceded three more goals (10) than Jurgen Klopp’s team, the meanest defence in the league.

LIVERPOOL

December 21: Wolves (a)

December 26: Newcastle (H)

December 29: Arsenal (H)

January 3: Man City (a)

A blunder from Alisson (£5.8m) saw Man Utd wipe out Liverpool’s GW17 clean sheet. Games against Wolves and Newcastle could see Klopp’s men add further shut-outs to their resumé, while the Reds conceded once to Arsenal and kept Man City scoreless in the reverse of those fixtures this season.

Along with the Brazilian goalkeeper, Andy Robertson (£6.4m) and Virgil van Dijk (£6.1m) remain the outstanding candidates for investment, though longer-term injuries to Joe Gomez (£5.0m) and Joel Matip (£4.9m) make Dejan Lovren (£4.9m) a viable budget pick for the next few gameweeks. Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.2m) is also sidelined but could return in GW19.

At his press conference on Tuesday, Jurgen Klopp said of the defender: “It looks surprisingly good. Wolves might be a little early. Pain goes down second by the second. The moment he is on the training pitch we make that decision but it looks good for Trent.” Nathaniel Clyne (£4.6m) started against United in GW17 but may not be worth the £0.3m saving on Lovren with ‘TAA’ waiting in the wings.

Mohamed Salah (£13.1m) saw an assist fairly chalked off last weekend as substitute Xherdan Shaqiri (£7.1m) stole the show with two deflected goals. Sadio Mane (£9.7m) also got on the scoresheet, expertly controlling an incisive Fabinho (£5.5m) pass before volleying past David de Gea (£5.7m).

All three Liverpool attackers will expect to see decent minutes over the next four fixtures, with the tie at home to Newcastle perhaps the most likely for rotation. Salah was rested to the bench in GW15, playing 25 minutes against Burnley, while Mane returned from a minor foot injury as a GW16 substitute. Shaqiri had started each of the five league games prior to GW17, though the Swiss midfielder is clearly seen by Klopp as benchable in bigger fixtures. Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) has scored two of his four goals and made three of his five assists since GW13.

CHELSEA

December 22: Leicester (H)

December 26: Watford (a)

December 30: Palace (a)

January 2: Southampton (H)

Eden Hazard’s (£11.0m) first goal since GW10 saw the Belgian bag a 13-point haul against Brighton last Sunday. Hazard’s assist was his fifth (from an overall total of nine) in the past four gameweeks.

The midfielder was used as a ‘false nine’ for the second gameweek in a row at the Amex Stadium. Maurizio Sarri had alluded to the possibility of fielding Hazard centrally after Chelsea’s win against Man City. While the attacker admitted that “you don’t touch the ball a lot” in that position, his display against the Seagulls suggests he can inflict damage on weaker opponents whatever Sarri’s line-up might be.

Passed fit for bench duty last night, Hazard came on to score a deflected winner against Bournemouth in a 1-0 victory. That cameo will have been a delight to owners after the Belgian was substituted late in GW17 with a knock. The attacker, FPL’s current top scorer, is firmly in the mix for the Gameweek 18 armband selection.

Marcos Alonso (£7.0m) was slightly fortunate not to pick up a second yellow card in GW17 as the Blues beat the Seagulls 2-1, though could easily have notched a goal after cannoning an attempt off the post.

While the left-back’s premium price tag is causing several managers to contract itchy trigger fingers, Chelsea’s upcoming fixtures look ripe for returns at both ends of the pitch. The trip to Watford looks like the Blues’ most difficult encounter in clean-sheet terms over the next four gameweeks. A full night off for Alonso this week also works in owners’ favour amid Emerson Palmieri’s (£5.2m) attempts to earn league starts.

David Luiz (£5.7m) represents a cheaper option in Maurizio Sarri’s backline; the Brazilian was rotated in GW15 before scoring 15 points in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Man City in GW16. The London outfit have kept a clean sheet in every second fixture since GW4.

TOTTENHAM

December 23: Everton (a)

December 26: Bournemouth (H)

December 29: Wolves (H)

January 1: Cardiff (a)

Many owners were left disappointed in GW17 as Harry Kane (£12.6m) failed to net at home to Burnley, though an assist soothed the pain. The England striker mustered just two goal attempts, neither of which were on target. The Clarets’ aforementioned 5-4-1 set-up meant Spurs required a late Christian Eriksen (£9.3m) winner, as Tottenham’s exertions against Barcelona in the Champions League seemed to catch up with them.

After failing to train outside on Tuesday due to having a cold, Kane was named as a substitute against Arsenal last night. The striker came on to provide a great assist for a brilliant Dele Alli (£8.9m) goal as Spurs won 2-0.

Alli assisted his side’s opener as Heung-Min Son (£8.5m) got himself on the scoresheet. The South Korean will only be available for the next five gameweeks before departing for the Asian Cup.

Son was brought off in the 78th minute as Erik Lamela (£6.2m) earned some pitch time, while Lucas Moura (£7.0m) departed the action for Kane. Owners of the striker will be hoping Eriksen and Alli, both of whom played the full 90 against the Gunners, earn greater league minutes alongside Kane over the coming gameweeks. Television schedules mean that Spurs have the least amount of rest between fixtures among the league’s top five.

Jan Vertonghen (£5.9m) and Eric Dier (£4.8m) have both been ruled out for the festive fixture glut, with Ben Davies (£5.6m) playing at centre-back in the club’s last two games. Davinson Sanchez (£5.8m) and Serge Aurier (£5.8m) are both nearing returns, with the latter set to resume a battle for minutes with the fit-again Kieran Trippier (£6.1m). Hugo Lloris (£5.4m) is the safest and cheapest route into the Tottenham backline.

ARSENAL

December 22: Burnley (H)

December 26: Brighton (a)

December 29: Liverpool (a)

January 1: Fulham (H)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.5m) is flattering to deceive following a 16-point haul in GW14. Aubameyang has registered just an assist since then, having posted a second blank in three gameweeks away to Southampton on Sunday.

An expected goals (xG) figure of 0.6 means owners can feel slightly aggrieved at the forward’s failure to return points against the Saints. All three of Aubameyang’s goal attempts in GW17 were deemed big chances. The Gabon striker has now missed 10 big chances overall. Five of those have come in the last two gameweeks as the forward’s goal conversion rate regresses.

Despite these declines, Aubameyang owners could do well to be patient for Gameweek 18 at the very least. The Gunners host a Burnley side that have conceded 33 times so far, with 18 of those coming in away fixtures. The Clarets are maintaining an average concession of just over 20 shots per game. While Sean Dyche’s men did frustrate Spurs in GW17 with a 5-4-1 formation, they still allowed their hosts 15 goal attempts. Two-thirds of those were taken inside the box.

Aubameyang has started in each of Arsenal’s fixtures from GW10 but a 90-minute showing at the Emirates yesterday will not have been what owners wanted to see. Alexandre Lacazette (£9.6m), benched in GW17 after starting in the Europa League, could now be in line to start against Burnley on Saturday. Emery also has the option of pairing the strikers as the manager continues to flitter between formations and change up his starting XI.

Injury doubts over Hector Bellerin (£5.4m), Shkodran Mustafi (£5.4m) and Sead Kolasinac (£5.1m) make it difficult to predict what formation Emery might use. Aubameyang also has the advantage of being able to operate from a wide-left attacking position. Arsenal have not been kept scoreless in the league since a 2-0 defeat at home to Manchester City in Gameweek 1, though investing in the Gunners’ midfield is a risky business. Lucas Torreira (£5.2m) is the safe, budget option. The Uruguayan has been a mainstay since GW6 and has hauled 25 points in the past four gameweeks, though his recent goal spree seems unlikely to continue.

MANCHESTER UNITED

December 22: Cardiff (a)

December 26: Huddersfield (H)

December 30: Bournemouth (H)

January 2: Newcastle (a)

The sacking of Jose Mourinho is the big news in the football world this week, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer taking charge at Old Trafford for the rest of the season. What effect the Portuguese’s departure and the Norweigan’s methods will have is something FPL managers are keenly considering.

Players such as Luke Shaw (£4.9m), Anthony Martial (£7.3m) and Marcus Rashford (£6.9m) have already impressed as FPL assets at different points in this campaign.

Assets like Romelu Lukaku (£10.7m), Juan Mata (£6.2m) and Paul Pogba (£7.8m) could all come onto the fantasy radar amid a favourable fixture run for the Red Devils. Assessing which Man Utd players can prosper under the club’s new set-up before investing could be a wise move for FPL managers; a trip to Spurs and a visit from Liverpool are the only two games with an FDR (Fixture Difficulty Ranking) of more than 3 all the way to GW30.

WEST HAM

December 22: Watford (H)

December 27: Southampton (a)

December 30: Burnley (a)

January 2: Brighton (H)

Robert Snodgrass (£5.4m), Felipe Anderson (£7.4m) and Chicharito (£6.4m) were all in the points again as the Irons beat Fulham 2-0 last weekend. The Scottish midfielder has amassed a huge 35 points in the last four gameweeks, with the Brazilian on 30 and the Mexican forward boasting 29.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men exposed a poor Cottagers defence in GW17, scoring twice from a total of six goal attempts (four inside the box). But with an excellent run of festive fixtures and a decent medium-term schedule, budget-friendly West Ham attackers seem worthy investments for FPL bosses. Reports suggest Marko Arnautovic (£6.9m) could return from injury before the New Year, though Pellegrini’s 4-4-2 formation should mean the in-form Chicharito remains a good pick.

Just a third clean sheet of the season in the Craven Cottage tie promoted the prospects of Lukasz Fabianski (£4.7m) and co, though Fulham spurned some great opportunities against a Hammers backline that continues to give up chances.

WATFORD

December 22: West Ham (a)

December 26: Chelsea (H)

December 29: Newcastle (H)

January 2: Bournemouth (a)

Two assists away to Everton in GW16 were Roberto Pereyra’s (£6.2m) first attacking returns since GW10. While the Argentina midfielder blanked at home to Cardiff, his display was encouraging for owners and potential investors.

Gerard Deulofeu (£5.4m) was the star of the Hornets’ 3-2 win against the Bluebirds, causing havoc for the visitors’ defence as he notched a goal and an assist. With Andre Gray (£6.0m) sidelined, the Spaniard put forward a convincing case for further starts alongside Troy Deeney (£5.8m). Isaac Success (£4.6m) is the other main competitor for one of the two striker spots in Javi Gracia’s line-up. The budget forward had started seven of the last nine gameweeks before Deulofeu was favoured in GW17.

Javi Gracia’s men are without a clean sheet in seven gameweeks, though Kiko Femenia (£4.2m) could provide budget returns if he continues to hold off competition from Daryl Janmaat (£4.9m). Jose Holebas (£4.7m) looks an assured starter at left-back. The Greek scored his third goal of the season last weekend and has four assists to his name. Ben Foster (£4.5m) could be an option for a budget keeper rotation as teams such as Newcastle and Burnley visit Vicarage Road.

EVERTON

December 23: Spurs (H)

December 26: Burnley (a)

December 29: Brighton (a)

January 1: Leicester (H)

Following this Sunday’s visit of Tottenham, the Toffees enjoy a fairly unblemished schedule until Man City call to Goodison Park in GW27. That is the reverse of last Saturday’s tie as Marco Silva’s side lost 3-1 to Guardiola’s charges. Lucas Digne (£5.0m) assisted a Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£5.3m) header at the Etihad and could be set for further attacking returns in the coming gameweeks.

The France full-back has created five big chances in his last four matches, more than any other defender. Digne has set-up two goals so far but his expected assists (xA) figure of 4.38 also suggests he can soon add to that tally. A late strike from a free-kick in GW16 is another weapon in the defender’s attacking armoury.

The downside is that Everton are without a clean sheet since GW13, conceding seven goals over that period – which also included a trip to Anfield. Spurs are unlikely to be gracious guests at Goodison, though the following fixtures will offer Everton the chance to record shut-outs. Digne is as cheap or cheaper than any other of Silva’s regular starters and the potential for returns at both ends singles him out as the weapon of choice for those investing in the Toffees’ backline.

Further up the field, Richarlison (£7.1m) is sure to be a popular transfer target after this weekend. The Brazilian missed a big chance, created by Digne, against City from an attacking midfield position. He has flitted between a deeper role and the lone centre-forward berth in recent weeks as Silva tweaks his line-up. The important note for FPL owners and investors is that Richarlison has started every league game he’s been available for since joining the Toffees over the summer.