Man United’s upcoming run of games looks set to see plenty investment thrown their way over the festive period. Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal all look enticing options, though Newcastle and Sunderland are set for a testing time ahead as we assess the strength of schedule over the next four to six Gameweeks:
Six points clear at the top of the table after Sunday’s win at City, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are afforded the perfect opportunity to rack up the points in their bid to retain the title. United are now set to welcome Sunderland, Newcastle and West Brom to Old Trafford and also travel to Swansea and Wigan in their next five fixtures – a schedule that is surely set to earn their main Fantasy assets significant investment.
Wayne Rooney has more than matched Robin Van Persie’s performances over their nine starts together and is picking up the points, though the Dutchman’s consistency is likely to earn him the armband across those matches. Rafael came to the fore last weekend with a pair of assists, though with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones pushing for starting roles, the Brazilian may suffer from rest and rotation over the busy festive period. With injuries and poor form blighting the midfield, it’s hard to look beyond Rooney and Van Persie as the most secure route into Ferguson’s lineup right now.
Andre Villas-Boas will be looking for a response after Spurs succumbed to a late Everton comeback at Goodison last Sunday. The London outfit had won their previous three upon the return to action of Moussa Dembele and will be keen to capitalise on a superb run of games. Swansea and Stoke roll up to the Lane in the next two before Spurs then face four of the bottom five (avl, sun, RDG, qpr) in consecutive Gameweeks.
Gareth Bale may even be back as soon as this Sunday, according to his manager, while Jermain Defoe is just two points behind the Welshman– a clear sign of his consistency this term. Villas-Boas’ decision to roll out a 4-4-2 at Everton, with Emmanuel Adebayor partnering Defoe up top, may be bad news for Clint Dempsey upon Bale’s comeback, while the impending return of Benoit Assou-Ekotto raises too many question marks over Villas-Boas’ likely back-four. With a single clean sheet since Gameweek7, though, not many Fantasy managers will be overly enthused with the Tottenham defence.
Brendan Rodgers’ side continued their recent upturn in form with an impressive win at West Ham last Sunday – all the more so given they were without the suspended Luis Suarez. With the Uruguayan now available again, Liverpool welcome Villa, Fulham and Sunderland to Anfield in the next five, with a trip to QPR also on their short-term agenda.
With a single goal conceded in their last five at Anfield, defensive returns look appealing – Glen Johnson shifted onto the radar after a stunning strike against the Hammers, though Jose Enrique should return this weekend after being subbed off as a precaution at Upton Park.
The Gunners’ schedule remains strong – whether their main Fantasy assets can take advantage is another matter entirely. Nevertheless, they’ll be buoyed by a run of games which sees them travel to Reading, Wigan and Southampton in the next five in addition to home clashes with West Ham and Newcastle. Arsene Wenger’s side will be looking to build on last Saturday’s home win over West Brom, though Olivier Giroud is a concern – he was ruled out of last night’s Capital One Cup clash with Bradford due to a back injury.
With Theo Walcott still sidelined, hopes will be resting on Santo Cazorla to pick up the returns after a disappointing recent run, though Gervinho may come into the equation as the lone forward if Giroud is out for any length of time. Mikel Arteta’s role as spot-kick taker is frustrating – while he notched a pair of penalties in the weekend win over West Brom, the Spaniard had previously scored once all season.
Monday’s defeat extended the Magpies’ recent poor run of form to just a single win in their last 10 matches and the upcoming schedule is likely to deter many. Alan Pardew’s side are now set to face City, United, Arsenal, Everton and Norwich in their next six, with only a Gameweek18 home clash against QPR offering any respite.
Demba Ba’s owners will be a little apprehensive despite his sensational start to the season – with plenty other forwards afforded strong festive fixtures, he may struggle for further goals. At the back, a defence that has registered two clean sheets so far will offer plenty hope to their upcoming opponents, while Hatem Ben Arfa’s return from injury and subsequent goal against Fulham may bring the Frenchman back onto radars, now that Pardew has reverted to 4-3-3.
Chris Hughton’s side have a tricky run of fixtures ahead but clearly have the form to overcome them. While a home clash with Wigan this weekend looks an ideal opportunity to extend their nine-game unbeaten run, the Canaries them face trips to West Brom and West Ham, while welcoming City and Chelsea to Carrow Road in the following four.
With four straight wins in front of their own fans, though, including victories over United and Arsenal, Hughton will be far from fazed with the festive schedule, while last weekend’s 4-3 win over Swansea saw an upturn in attacking potential as confidence continues to course through the Canaries. Having conceded in each of their last four, the clean sheets have started to dry up, though the likes of Robert Snodgrass (double figures in two of his last three) and Anthony Pilkington (double figures in each of his last two home games) have suggested they could still prosper.
The Black Cats will be buoyed after seeing off Reading last night but Martin O’Neill’s side now steel themselves for a schedule that could well dent their bid for survival and leave them struggling as we enter the New Year. Up next, O’Neill’s men face United, City, Spurs and Liverpool in the next five and with a trip to a resurgent Southampton also on the cards, it’s difficult to afford them any optimism.