Domestic football resumes after an international break fraught with emotion. The hostilities and sagas which are the cornerstone of top-flight football have been placed into sharp perspective by the events which took place in Paris on 13 November.
One-third of the season will have officially elapsed by Tuesday morning, and it is at this time that the table begins to take on a meaningful form. Naturally, any team in the bottom half will begin to feel anxious, and with this in mind, we expect the following six players can be counted on to take advantage.
1. Lukas Fabianski
VS Bournemouth (H)
For some bookmakers, Garry Monk became the outright favourite to be the next managerial casualty, after a 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road in Swansea’s last outing. Though the Swans are undeniably in mediocre form, they are in far better shape than this week’s opposition.
One way or another, Swansea will hurt Bournemouth – that is one inescapable fact. This is Bafetimbi Gomis’ chance to regain his early season form, but at any rate a clean sheet should be a given for the home side against toothless opposition.
With the two Manchester clubs playing against unpredictable opposition and Chelsea out of form, Fabianski is a relatively safe (and much more affordable!) GK pick in GW13.
2/3. Martin Kelly & Jason Puncheon
VS Sunderland (H)
The Crystal Palace defence is arguably one of the most compact and well-familiarised in the entire league, and the Eagles’ next match, against a poor Sunderland side, provides Alan Pardew’s men with an excellent opportunity to climb the table.
Aside from an ageing Jermain Defoe, Sunderland’s attacking force has been largely found wanting this season, making this one an absolute ‘home banker’ for a clean sheet. In all likelihood, it will be inconsequential as to which Palace defender is picked this week, but Martin Kelly is currently the most affordable of the ‘ever-presents’.
However, Kelly was in Paris on the day of the aforementioned terrorist attacks and, though he is unhurt, it is as yet unclear if he will play against Sunderland. Ultimately, discretion is advised. The sensibly-priced Jason Puncheon also makes his second consecutive appearance in the fantasy shortlist, as Sunderland will struggle to combat his flexibility in the middle of the park.
4. Robbie Brady
VS Chelsea (A)
Many neutrals are now wondering just what it will take to oust Jose Mourinho from Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea lurching to a new low in GW12 with a 1-0 defeat to Stoke. Failure to beat Norwich City on Saturday (at home) will surely mark the end for Mourinho, and several of the current players, come January.
Based on top flight pedigree, Chelsea remain obvious favourites against newly-promoted Norwich, but they are one point behind this week’s opposition, and this is nothing short of a disgrace for the reigning champions. In stark contrast to Chelsea, the Canaries are under no obligations to get a result from Stamford Bridge, so they will attack without fear – as teams such as Southampton and Swansea have done to great effect.
Robbie Brady has been an ever-present this season and, with the pressure off, he could thrive against an inconsistent Chelsea midfield, even if his influence does not prevent the Blues from gaining a desperately-needed win.
5. Jesse Lingard
VS Watford (A)
Watford remain a difficult side to predict. Some of the football produced under Quique Flores has been world class, but opposition teams in the current top six have proven too much for the Hornets.
Jesse Lingard may not start against Watford, but he is certainly worth consideration after his goal against West Bromwich proved that he can take on seasoned professionals at the top level.
For their part, Watford may attempt to play a tight game and steal a goal, but Manchester United are now very much a side determined to regain greatness after a disappointing two years. As Watford begin to tire, Lingard should be the go-to ‘impact’ sub this week if he does not start.
6. Arouna Kone
VS Aston Villa (H)
With Jamie Vardy a doubt ahead of Leicester’s trip to Newcastle, the recommended trio for this weekend is Kane-Martial-Giroud but, if finances are scarce, there are several other names to consider.
For a true ‘man of the moment’, look no further than Arouna Kone, a rejuvenated (yet affordable) striker that scored a hat trick against feeble Sunderland in Everton’s most recent home fixture.
Everton are the natural favourites even if their defence has not performed immaculately of late, and Kone has thrived next to the expensive dangerman Romelu Lukaku at times this season.