Poaching yet another goal, like a fox with an Oxbridge degree in ‘cunning’, Jamie Vardy made his tenth consecutive appearance on the Premier League scoresheet in Game Week 13, confirming Leicester City as the new Premier League leaders.
The Foxes are undeniably there on merit, although with tougher fixtures on the horizon it is unlikely that they will stay put for much longer. A home game with Manchester United begins a challenging ten-game sequence but, if Leicester can play with the same level of valour over the festive period, the descent should be minimal.
With Manchester City at home, the inclusion of Sergio Aguero is an absolute must in GW14, making economical decisions of utmost importance. Here are six more names to consider ahead of what is set to be a tantalising game week.
1. Jack Butland
VS Sunderland (A)
Following that shocking debacle against Watford last month, November has been much kinder to the Bristol-born custodian. Jack Butland, who has long been touted as England’s future “number one”, will enter the Stadium of Light on the back of three consecutive clean sheets, and he is a worthy alternative to the likes of Petr Cech and Joe Hart.
As a unit, the entire Stoke defence has also improved, but Sunderland’s shock win at Crystal Palace on Monday night has given this weekend’s encounter an air of unpredictability. The resilient nature of the win over Alan Pardew’s high-flying Eagles indicates that Sunderland may yet avoid a serious relegation struggle under Sam Allardyce.
Win aside, Sunderland’s over-reliance on Jermain Defoe is a recurring theme. If Stoke can contain him at the weekend, then Butland is more than capable of producing a clean sheet in the North East.
2. Nacho Monreal
VS Norwich (A)
With a Champions League match for the Gunners to negotiate in midweek, rival managers may feel reluctant to include an Arsenal defender in the squad.
There are surer bets in defence (for instance, two Manchester City defenders should be considered), and the Norwich attack will naturally be full of determination, given the calibre of the visitors. However, the Canaries remain an erratic force in attack, and the gulf in class is self-evident.
3/4. Carl Jenkinson & Manuel Lanzini
VS West Brom (H)
If a City-dominated defence is not part of this week’s agenda, consider a less obvious choice. Carl Jenkinson has been a regular feature in the West Ham squad of late, and he is (according to the player performance index) the second best West Ham defender behind the pricier Ryan Cresswell.
A third of the season has now gone, and although West Bromwich Albion have travelled reasonably well during this time, it is worth noting that away goals have been something of a rarity for the Baggies. West Ham have shown the ability to bounce back from poor results before, and there will surely be no repeat of the 4-1 capitulation at White Hart Lane.
In midfield, Dimitri Payet’s absence has given Manuel Lanzini greater license to roam, and the Argentinean loanee has adapted well to this new situation. Though still sensibly priced, Lanzini’s increased remit across the midfield will see his stock rise over the coming weeks, especially if rumours of a move to Anfield become more meaningful.
5. Bastian Schweinsteiger
VS Leicester (A)
The victor of this match (if there is one) will enter December at the very top of the Premier League. For this reason, chances will come at a premium, especially since both sides have improved since last season’s corresponding fixture.
Composure, along with experience of high stakes situations, will be key to success in this fixture. For that reason, affordable midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, with European and international honours to his name, is likely to flourish.
Schweinsteiger was a quiet, but effective, influence in Manchester United’s hard-fought (and fortuitous) win at Vicarage Road this weekend. The good balance of skills he possesses will be an asset, especially if Leicester draw first blood.
6. Gerard Deulofeu
VS Bournemouth (A)
As defensive performances are hard to predict this weekend, the emphasis should be on all out attack in GW14, with Aguero (captain) and Benteke as two of the strikers.
If the third striker is also to be one that is on the ‘expensive’ side, then employing an affordable midfielder with attacking prowess is crucial. For a player that fits such a description, look no further than Gerard Deulofeu.
His stock has yet to take a significant rise, but it is only a matter of time before Deulofeu becomes a must-have, even if the Spaniard is set to face sterner opposition than a seemingly-doomed Aston Villa in the coming weeks.
Although Bournemouth cannot fail to offer better resistance than Villa did last Saturday, the inexperienced defence is still likely to struggle with the potentially scintillating interplay between Deulofeu and his equally-driven teammates, namely Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku – both of whom scored a brace in GW 13.