The challenge here is to go as long as possible without mentioning Jose Mourinho’s sacking. Oh.
Well it was hastened by Sunday’s defeat to Liverpool. Xherdan Shaqiri (£7.1m) only needed 20 minutes to position himself as Gameweek 17’s top scorer, with his brace closing a weekend bookended by Merseyside and Manchester meetings. His two deflected strikes kept Liverpool on top of the Premier League, ahead of a Man City side who beat Everton 3-1 thanks to a Gabriel Jesus (£10.1m) double. In fact, the Swiss international wasn’t the only substitute to come on and score, as Raheem Sterling (£11.6m), Christian Eriksen (£9.3m) and Charlie Austin (£5.5m) proved that a benching can still turn out well for FPL managers.
Fulham and Manchester United are the only clubs who have kept fewer clean sheets than West Ham this season.— Ben Crellin (@BenCrellin) December 15, 2018
Ederson and Allison are the only goalkeepers who have scored more FPL points than Lukasz Fabianski.
Eriksen spared the blushes of team-mate Harry Kane (£12.6m), who was heavily-captained by expectant owners and rewarded them with 90 lacklustre minutes before assisting the winner against resilient Burnley. Elsewhere, there was success for Raul Jimenez (£6.2m) and Danny Ings (£5.4m), whilst Eden Hazard’s (£11.0m) eighth goal of the season was his first since early October.
Crystal Palace won without Wilfried Zaha (£6.7m) for the first time in over two years, in a weekend without any penalties or red cards. Perhaps it can happen again in Gameweek 18, which starts with a Friday night meeting between Wolves and Liverpool. Therefore, remember that all transfers and team selections must be decided by 7pm on Friday.
The TSZ optimum squad scored 44 points last week, which was only one above the global average. Four of the players tipped to star were named as substitutes - Paul Dummett (£4.4m), Son Heung-Min (£8.5m), Sterling and Callum Wilson (£6.9m) – with only the Man City man and Jose Holebas (£4.7m) registering any goals or assists. In fact, Holebas was on the verge of at least 12 points until two late Cardiff goals made Watford nervous. More bad luck took place with Newcastle, whose 1-0 win proved the algorithm was correct to back the Magpies by selecting a defensive trio, but it chose the wrong players. Dummett’s fellow full-back Javier Manquillo (£4.3m) was the 12-pointer who set up the game’s only goal.
This week’s defensive trifecta belongs to Arsenal, who face Burnley at home. The Gunners followed only their third clean sheet of the season by conceding three to 19th-placed (at the time) Southampton. However, Burnley’s 143 shots is the lowest in the league, giving hope to Bernd Leno (£4.8m), Nacho Monreal (£5.4m) and Laurent Koscielny (£5.4m). Owners of the Spaniard will be aware that Sunday’s defeat was Monreal’s first start since an early October hamstring injury and Unai Emery may be easing him back into action, especially with fellow left-back Sead Kolasinac (£5.1m) encouraging FPL managers with his attacking contributions.
Koscielny is also a risk, with a clumsy performance at St Mary’s being his only Premier League minutes this season. The Frenchman was absent for seven months due to an Achilles problem, including the heartbreak of missing a World Cup win. His return was rushed because of Sokratis’ (£5.1m) suspension and injuries to Rob Holding (£4.4m) and Shkodran Mustafi (£5.4m) – once the latter returns, Koscielny may be eased back into rotation. Alongside the Arsenal trio is Brighton’s Lewis Dunk (£4.5m), facing a Bournemouth side who have lost six of their last seven games.
For those doubting Aubameyang - his stats are off scale last 4 GWs— Adam Hopcroft (@ahopcroft13) December 18, 2018
Most shots in box - 11
Most big chances - 8
Chances created - 5
Big chances created - 2
Best xG - 2.95
With Burnley, Brighton and Fulham in next 4 I'd expect Auba to net a few
It's the PL Christmas Schedule organised by rest days!— James Yorke (@jair1970) December 16, 2018
Argue how much the schedulers are biased for or against YOUR team! pic.twitter.com/fNENGRXPDO
There’s an attacking treble-up of Man City assets, with the formidable Sterling and Leroy Sane (£9.7m) joined by the returning Sergio Aguero (£11.2m). Beating Everton was a strong recovery from their defeat to Chelsea, with Sterling scoring from the bench and Sane setting up two Jesus goals. Between the two, they’ve scored 15 league goals and provided 16 assists. City are imperious at the Etihad Stadium and hope their 33 goals from 9 games continues against Crystal Palace.
Aguero is a curious case, essentially only appealing as a home player. It makes him a strong captaincy choice this weekend though, as he has provided home FPL scores of 20, 6, 7, 8, 6, 13 and 7 this season. With Mohamed Salah (£13.1m) blanking, there were relieved owners of Hazard, as the Belgian provided a goal and assist against Brighton. It was his first strike since Gameweek 8 and precedes a promising set of games for Chelsea – facing Leicester, Watford, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Newcastle over the festive period.
Although Dunk should be confident to face Bournemouth in this form, Ryan Fraser (£6.3m) will be equally excited to be against a team who haven’t kept a clean sheet in seven games. The Scot’s 28.8% ownership shows he is still the first-choice fourth midfielder for many players, despite just one goal in 12 games. Eddie Howe’s side had a fantastic start to the season but it has petered away. After Brighton, they travel to Tottenham and a potentially-rejuvenated Man United.
It may also worry Wilson owners, particularly with Howe’s comments regarding the striker’s cameo against Wolves: "Callum had a hamstring problem and we rushed him back to be fit for Wolves, we still have to be careful with him to make sure he can perform over the coming games." Yet, if he starts, Wilson is a great option for Gameweek 18. He’s not the only Callum expected to deliver either, with Cardiff’s Paterson (£5.3m) facing Man United after scoring 31 points from his last five home games.
With no other goalkeeper predicted to keep a clean sheet, we’ve chosen the five who face Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle and Man United. Those save points quickly accumulate! Wayne Hennessey’s (£4.5m) back spasms meant he missed the 1-0 win over Leicester, where replacement Vicente Guaita (£4.2m) kept an impressive clean sheet that suggests there’ll be competition for Palace’s number one jersey. Sokratis should re-enter the Arsenal backline for Burnley’s visit, whilst Holebas’ goal means he has already made seven contributions (goals plus assists) this season – no defender has a higher number. Kieran Trippier (£6.1m) and Danny Rose (£5.8m) face a good Everton side and, as always, come with a strong rotation threat.
Liverpool travel to Wolves, who have managed to arrest their slump with wins over Chelsea, Newcastle and Bournemouth. Still, neither Salah, Sadio Mane (£9.6m) nor Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) will fear their backline. The 1.3 million owners gained by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.5m) since the North London derby have been disappointed by his last three games – just one assist. It’ll be interesting to see how Emery uses Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette (£9.6m), Alex Iwobi (£5.5m), Mesut Ozil (£8.1m) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£6.7m) over the next few weeks, given the Spaniard’s tendency to make half-time substitutions. Elsewhere, Jesus’ brace against Palace were his first goals since Gameweek 2, so he’ll be determined to fend off Aguero and get his season underway. Kane has seven goals in his eight games against Everton.