In Frisking the Fixtures, we take a look at teams and players with poor medium-term fixture runs from Gameweek 9.
This follows our earlier look at the clubs with the best upcoming schedules.
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Just when Mauricio Pochettino’s expensively assembled side begins to find some form, the tough fixtures begin. Back-to-back wins over Fulham and Burnley have thrust Cole Palmer (£4.9m) onto the scene as a cheap midfield option but they’re about to face the top three over the next four outings.
In fact, last season’s 12 meetings versus this imminent six brought no wins, three draws and nine defeats.
Without a league goal throughout September, it made perfect FPL sense that given-up-on assets Raheem Sterling (£7.0m) and Nicolas Jackson (£6.9m) decided to net at Turf Moor.
Meanwhile, defensive numbers have been strong for low-priced goalkeeper Robert Sanchez (£4.6m) and defender Levi Colwill (£4.6m), with the team ranked third for restricting goals (seven) and big chances (10). But it may be time to move them on.
Across west London, Fulham finished tenth last season. Their attempts to avoid ‘second season syndrome’ have been boosted by wins against Everton, Luton Town and Sheffield United, currently sitting on three clean sheets.
However, owners of Bernd Leno (£4.7m) might feel it’s the right time to move on. This fourth most-owned goalkeeper is the only Fulham asset featured in over 2.5% of teams. A 12-point opening-day haul was the first of two double-digit tallies that means he’s the joint-top scorer in his position. No shot-stopper gets near Leno’s eight bonus points.
Then again, his fixtures continue to rotate well with West Ham United’s Alphonse Areola (£4.2m). When the latter has tricky opponents in Gameweeks 15, 18 and 19, Leno has Nottingham Forest (h), Burnley (h) and Bournemouth (a).
Some managers may still have Carlton Morris (£5.6m), Issa Kabore (£4.0m) or Amari’i Bell (£4.0m) from Luton’s Double Gameweek 7. But there’s now a hamstring injury for Bell and another recent rotation for wing-back Kabore.
A side with only six goals, the fewest shots on target (17) and no clean sheets is easy to avoid but things aren’t all bad for the newly-promoted Hatters.
They rank in a respectable mid-table for attempts (102), big chances (16) and expected goals conceded (xGC, 14.84), as they play to their direct football strengths. No team has taken fewer touches (4,072) or made more crosses (196), helped by the league-leading 62 of Alfie Doughty (£4.4m) that ensures Morris is first for headed attempts (11) and fifth for shots inside the box (20).
Next up is a debatable judgement of Man City’s run. Although the fixture-proof champions have lost their last two, the colours above can be deceiving. Brighton and Hove Albion have conceded the fourth-most goals, Liverpool are allowing 14.38 chances per match and rivals Manchester United are having an uncomfortable time.
We’ve explored whether FPL managers can truly proceed without elite forward Erling Haaland (£14.0m), having netted just once from his last five matches in all competitions. Team-mate Julian Alvarez (£7.0m) is half the price and only seven points behind but the Norwegian is ahead of all players on most underlying attacking stats, compares well to last year’s numbers and scored a hat-trick in last October’s Manchester derby.
Elsewhere, their defence can be avoided, after one clean sheet from six. Phil Foden (£7.6m) gets starts but isn’t keeping up with Jarrod Bowen (£7.3m), Moussa Diaby (£6.7m) or James Maddison (£8.1m).
Man City also have a Blank Gameweek 18 on the horizon, although that’s over two months away.
Nobody else has a truly bad fixture run. Man United’s is ranked fifth-worst but they’re about to face Sheffield United – viewed by owners of Marcus Rashford (£8.8m) and Bruno Fernandes (£8.4m) as their last chance. They’re two of the biggest underachievers so far, with expected goal involvements (xGI) of 4.12 and 5.83 that exceed their three returns each. Yet soon after that is Luton at home.
Winless in their first five, Everton have recently defeated Brentford and Bournemouth in time for a difficult stretch against Liverpool (a), West Ham (a) and Brighton (h). Jordan Pickford (£4.4m) finally delivered his first clean sheet but it’s too late for the 1.3 million that had him heading into Gameweek 1.
Surprisingly, the Toffees have accumulated the second-most shots (133) and big chances (28), although their expected goals (xG) tally of 14.92 is way more than the reality of nine.
Finally, Wolverhampton Wanderers have two of the four best midfielders that cost under £6.5m. Pedro Neto (£5.7m) hasn’t blanked in six matches, producing a goal and six assists. Three of these have set up Hwang Hee-chan (£5.4m), meaning the South Korean’s five goals are behind just three others.
Superb short-term trips to Bournemouth, Sheffield United and Fulham offer huge differential potential but there are trickier tests in between.