14 matches last gameweek, only six this. The Premier League fixture calendar giveth and taketh away, as FPL managers’ options are radically diminished for Gameweek 35 due to the clash with the weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals.
Saturday 21st April
West Brom vs Liverpool (12:30)
Watford vs Crystal Palace (15:00)
Sunday 22nd April
Arsenal vs West Ham (13:30)
Stoke vs Burnley (13:30)
Man City vs Swansea (16:30)
Monday 23rd April
Everton vs Newcastle (20:00)
Less than 38 hours separate the end of Gameweek 34 with the Saturday morning deadline for Gameweek 35, with this fixture preview indeed written before the somewhat underwhelming previous gameweek had drawn to a close. Preparations for the preantepenultimate (get her) gameweek of the season are already difficult enough; of the eight teams who had two fixtures in DGW34, only Burnley have a league game this weekend. It is thus expected that remaining free hit chips and second wildcards will be widely deployed in the lead-up to this weekend’s fixtures, with blanking assets jettisoned for Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal players, amongst others.
Any FPL managers looking for reasons to be optimistic ahead of a decimated GW35 should cast their minds back to the previous blank gameweek, when a 29-point haul from Mohamed Salah (£10.5m) – who was widely captained – propelled many active managers towards and beyond the magic 100-point mark.
It is with Salah’s Liverpool that we begin this abridged lookahead to Gameweek 35.
A couple of weeks ago, a trip to the Hawthorns would have been seen as a very favourable fixture, given West Brom’s atrocious record this season. However, the Baggies finally ended their eight-match losing streak with a 1-1 home draw against Swansea in GW33 and bettered that result with a remarkable 1-0 win at Old Trafford last Sunday. Nevertheless, many FPL managers on their free hit chip or otherwise will be maxing out their quota of three Liverpool assets this weekend. Though the Reds face the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie against Roma next Tuesday, the fact that Liverpool have a Saturday lunchtime kick-off will aid FPL managers’ preparations - all eyes will once again be on a certain Twitter account for that all-important leaked team news.
Salah’s relentless march on the Golden Boot continued at Anfield last weekend with his 30th league strike of the season.
Not quite as prolific on his travels, Salah has ‘only’ scored 12 league goals away from Anfield this season and hasn’t notched more than once in an away league fixture since Gameweek 14. It would be folly though to ignore the Egyptian’s glaringly obvious captaincy credentials for GW35, despite the evident risk to his minutes. Restricted pitch-time is a consideration for many Liverpool players this weekend, with Jurgen Klopp’s priority undoubtedly being that aforementioned clash with Roma next week.
Roberto Firmino (£9.4m) was benched for the recent Merseyside derby, which was inconveniently sandwiched in between Liverpool’s quarter-final double-header against Manchester City. First-choice full-backs Andrew Robertson (£5.1m) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (£4.4m) were also missing from the ‘Pool starting line-up against Everton, along with midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (£5.6m). Perhaps most at risk of a rest in the West Midlands this Saturday afternoon though is Sadio Mane (£9.5m), who has started Liverpool’s last 14 league games. For security of starts, only perhaps Virgil van Dijk (£5.7m) currently looks rotation-proof, given Klopp’s dearth of options in central defence.
A cautionary note for FPL managers hoping that Salah and co will run riot at the Hawthorns this weekend; the Baggies held a full-strength Liverpool side to a goalless draw at Anfield in December, before following up that stalemate with a 3-2 win on Merseyside in the their FA Cup fourth round meeting a month later.
A possible season-ending injury to Sergio Aguero means that Gabriel Jesus’ (£10.0m) stock has suddenly risen. The Brazilian forward is the most bought forward in FPL this week following his nine-point return in City’s 3-1 win at Spurs, and news of Aguero’s prolonged absence effectively cements his place in Pep Guardiola’s side for the time being.
With an undisturbed league fixture in GW35, a ‘double’ in GW37, a very favourable run of fixtures to come, and no FA Cup or Champions League commitments to take into consideration, City players are suddenly an attractive prospect once again. That they weren’t in the first place is a ludicrous thought, given their performances this season, but the likes of Raheem Sterling (£8.7m), Kevin De Bruyne (£10.3m), Nicolas Otamendi (£6.3m), David Silva (£8.2m) and Leroy Sane (£8.5m) were widely culled sacrificial lambs in the weeks preceding DGW34, with City only having the one fixture – that being a outwardly difficult trip to Wembley to face Tottenham. Mirroring Jesus’ upturn in popularity, Sterling is this round’s most transferred-in midfielder by some margin.
City’s home league record bodes well for the visit of Swansea on Sunday afternoon; the newly crowned champions have plundered 53 goals in 16 games at the Etihad this season, their Manchester derby defeat being the first time they have dropped any points whatsoever at Eastlands since their 1-1 draw with Everton in Gameweek 2.
As Arsenal venture deeper and deeper into the latter stages of the Europa League, their league line-ups become all the more difficult to predict. A home game against West Ham this weekend would to all appearances seem an alluring proposition, but owners of Mesut Ozil (£9.3m), Aaron Ramsey (£6.8m), Laurent Koscielny (£6.0m), Hector Bellerin (£5.9m) and Nacho Monreal (£5.6m) will attest to Arsene Wenger’s sudden predilection for rotation in the Premier League.
Only a cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.7m) is sure of an appearance at the Emirates on Sunday lunchtime, with Shkodran Mustafi (£5.5m) – having started the last 14 league games – and Petr Cech (£5.3m) perhaps the safest routes into the Gunners’ backline. Peripheral figures such as Callum Chambers (£4.7m) and Rob Holding (£4.4m) may well feature once again against the Hammers.
Luka Milivojevic’s (£5.2m) implausible run of form continued in the M23 derby at the weekend, with the Serbian midfielder laying on his first two assists of the season in Palace’s 3-2 win over Brighton. Only five midfielders, all of them much more expensive, have scored more than Milivojevic’s ten league goals this season, seven of which have come from the penalty spot.
His teammate Wilfred Zaha (£6.9m) meanwhile has three goals and two assists in the four-and-a-half games he has played for Roy Hodgson’s side since returning from injury in March. Zaha indeed is once again being deployed out of position as a striker by Hodgson, a move proving so effective that Christian Benteke (£7.5m) was consigned to the home bench last Saturday.
Newcastle’s run of four wins on the trot has coincided with a revival of fortunes for the inconsistent Ayoze Perez (£5.3m), who has scored in three consecutive games for the Magpies.
In form and mostly available at dirt cheap prices, the Newcastle squad is littered with budget options for GW35, from the likes of Paul Dummett (£4.2m) and Florian Lejeune (£4.3m) in defence to midfield differentials in the form of Kenedy (£4.8m), Jonjo Shelvey (£5.2m) and Matt Ritchie (£5.4m) – all of whom have returned points during this impressive sequence of victories for Rafael Benitez’s side.
Newcastle’s opponents on Monday night though are Everton, who despite an indifferent season have a strong record against teams beneath them in the table; Everton have won nine and drawn one of the ten home games they have faced against sides outside of the top seven in 2017-18. Leighton Baines (£5.6m) and Seamus Coleman (£6.4m) offer their customary two-pronged threat of clean sheet potential and attacking returns, while Cenk Tosun (£6.8m) seems to have nailed down the strikers’ spot for the Toffees, having started the last six.
Those who packed their squads with DGW34 assets and who don’t have a wildcard or free hit chip to bail their skeletal GW35 teams out will be thankful for small blessings in the form of Burnley, who are away at Stoke this Sunday. Chris Wood (£6.3m) and Ashley Barnes (£5.4m) are budget strikers in scintillating form, while cut-price centre-back Kevin Long (£4.0m) not only enables money to be splurged elsewhere, but provides an attacking threat that brought him a goal in the Clarets’ 2-1 win over Leicester last Saturday.
The Stats Zone’s GW35 coverage continues over the coming days – stay tuned to these pages for in-depth match previews and predicted line-ups.