In Frisking the Fixtures, we take a look at the teams and players with attractive medium-term fixture runs from Gameweek 23.
An overview of those with less appealing matches will follow later.
We’re focusing our usual six-Gameweek window, which takes us up to Gameweek 28.
It’s important to have Blank Gameweek 29 at the back of our minds, however, because as many as 14 teams will be without a Premier League fixture.
And there’s the caveat that three previously postponed fixtures – Bournemouth v Luton Town, Liverpool v Luton Town and Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur – are yet to get a new date.
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A guaranteed Double Gameweek, some very decent fixtures around it, the return of some previously injured stars and a winning streak: there’s a lot to like about Manchester City at the moment.
One thing to be wary of is the UEFA Champions League round of 16, first-leg tie against FC Copenhagen. which falls three days after the Gameweek 24 clash against Everton.
With a fully fit squad to choose from, might Pep Guardiola ring a few changes and spare some of the big guns against the Toffees? We’ve seen him do this before in 2021/22 when resting the likes of Kevin De Bruyne (£10.7m), Joao Cancelo and Rodri (£5.6m) in a clash with Norwich City, which fell three days before a Champions League knockout round tie against Sporting Lisbon.
Only 72 hours separate the two Double Gameweek 25 matches, too, although there are decent rest periods on either side. Both of those games being at home is also beneficial, with travel not a consideration.
While no team holds any fear for the reigning champions, those of us with City triple-ups might be thinking about offloading a player or two by the end of the above run: a trip to Liverpool in Gameweek 28 is very likely followed by a blank in Gameweek 29.
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION
Brighton’s ‘favourable’ run got off to the worst possible start after a four-nil thumping at Luton Town on Tuesday.
The Seagulls will have to dust themselves down for the weekend’s A23 derby, a decent match-up for the Seagulls’ attacking assets on paper given that Crystal Palace are on an 11-match clean sheet drought.
Roberto De Zerbi’s troops will no doubt be hoping that the tricky Eagles duo of Michael Olise (£5.6m) and Eberechi Eze (£6.0m) aren’t fit enough to feature at the other end of the pitch.
Gameweek 24 and 25 opponents, Spurs and Sheffield United, have themselves only kept two clean sheets in their last 26 combined matches.
Albion might need all the help they can get: they have curiously yet to score a goal in the league in 2024, although have plundered nine of them in the last two rounds of the FA Cup.
Of the next six Brighton fixtures, five of them are against sides in the bottom half of the table. So was the Gameweek 22 match at Luton, mind you.
Gameweek 29 is the hopping-off point. If it’s not a meeting with Manchester City, it’ll be a blank. Clashes with Liverpool and Arsenal follow in the three Gameweeks after that, while the Seagulls will also be back in UEFA Europa League action by then – and you’d expect the rotation to step up a gear at that point, as it did last season.
The long unbeaten home record is over, thanks to Newcastle United’s 3-1 win at Villa Park on Monday night.
Whisper it quietly but it’s now just one win in five league games for Aston Villa, and even that was an unconvincing, last-gasp victory against 10-man Burnley.
It’s a lot to pin on one man but that five-game run has coincided with Pau Torres’ (£4.7m) injury-enforced absence from the starting XI, with his excellent distribution from the back as much missed as his off-the-ball work.
Next up for Villa are rematches with two of the sides they’ve recently failed to beat, Sheffield United and Manchester United.
Still, if you’re a believer that favourable fixtures can breed form, then Villa’s ticker-topping run from Gameweeks 23-31 will be of interest.
Their Gameweeks 23-27 opponents are all in the bottom half for goals scored, with Sheffield United – who Villa meet on Saturday – at the foot of the pile.
Were Villa to lose their FA Cup fourth-round replay to Chelsea, too, then they’d be one of just six sides guaranteed a fixture in Blank Gameweek 29.
Has the corner been turned?
Tuesday’s impressive showing at Villa Park followed two away cup successes and a narrow, last-minute loss to Manchester City.
A winter break always looked like it would do Newcastle good, as bodies and minds were clearly fatigued over Christmas after a punishing autumn schedule. Out of the Champions League and (mostly) back to one match a week, it wouldn’t be a shock if Eddie Howe’s side had a bit of a resurgence in the second half of the campaign.
The return of a few bodies from injury should also be a huge boost.
But in a cautionary, chicken-counting tale, the reverse fixtures of the ‘dark blue’ matches above – Luton, Forest, Bournemouth and Wolves – yielded just one point.
It certainly doesn’t seem like a good time to be encountering the Hatters, on a high from a trouncing of Brighton.
Still, a Newcastle side with ample recovery time in between games will be a different proposition to the one trudging back from Dortmund or a two-hour cup quarter-final at Chelsea.
You likely won’t be recruiting any more Arsenal players this week ahead of a crunch clash against free-scoring Liverpool but once that game is out of the way, the Gunners rise to the top of our ticker.
It’s also worth considering that, if Chelsea lose to Aston Villa in their FA Cup fourth-round replay, Arsenal will be guaranteed a fixture when many others blank in Gameweek 29.
The likes of Bukayo Saka (£9.1m) would become that bit more appealing, then, especially for those medium-term planners who are saving their Free Hit for Gameweek 30 onwards.
Two sides who look likelier to blank in Gameweek 29, Crystal Palace and Manchester United, have some favourable tests before that point.
More so from an attacking perspective from the Eagles, who are on that aforementioned clean-sheet drought. Brighton, Chelsea and Spurs, while very capable of busting a shut-out, are themselves not exactly convincing at the rear, so Michael Olise (£5.9m) and Eberechi Eze (£6.0m) will be confident of further returns, if fit.
Olise averages more points per start (8.6) than any other Premier League regular this season.
Home games against Burnley and Luton also await Roy Hodgson’s charges.
As for Manchester United, trips to Aston Villa and Manchester City will be off-putting but cheap benchable options like Alejandro Garnacho (£4.8m) can be on substitute duty in Gameweeks 24 and 27 and wheeled out if needed on either side.
QUANTITY OVER QUALITY?
Finally, a quick word on some confirmed and prospective ‘doublers’.
Brentford definitely do have a Double Gameweek 25, while they are also one of four teams who are assured of having a fixture in Blank Gameweek 29.
No side will have more matches than the Bees (eight) over the next seven Gameweeks.
Four of those games, however, are against the top three in the division.
While an Ethan Pinnock (£4.6m) punt has a limited upside as a result, it’s worth reiterating what we said previously about Ivan Toney‘s (£8.0m) record for giant-slaying.
As for Liverpool and Luton Town, the much-mooted Double Gameweek 25 hasn’t materialised – yet.
If it does, the Hatters’ ‘double’ would be almost as uninviting as Brentford’s.
Liverpool, however, would be facing Brentford and Luton in Gameweek 25.
The Reds’ appeal would be relatively short-lived even if they do get a double, with (likely) two blanks and a clash with Manchester City to come in the following four Gameweeks.