And they said romance was dead. Leicester remain in theoretical contention for the Premier League title after a gutsy 1-1 draw at home to thirteen-time champions, another positive result again made possible by Jamie Vardy – the man who began his career at Stocksbridge Park Steels.
The fantasy frontline of three expensive strikers practically picks itself for GW15, so the emphasis this week once again shifts towards economy in the middle of the park.
Curiously, for the first time ever, there are no single standout players for any team.
1/2. Virgil van Dijk & Graziano Pelle
VS Aston Villa (H)
Virgil van Dijk has enjoyed an encouraging start to his Southampton career, establishing himself as a mainstay in the Saints starting XI.
No team has ever survived after yielding five points from the first fourteen games, but that is all Aston Villa have to show for their so-called ‘efforts’ this season. Admittedly, Villa are unlikely to finish 20th, and a fruitful January transfer window will be the Villans’ last hope, but there is quite simply too much lost ground to cover.
Expect another easy win and a first clean sheet in three games for the Saints. With Manchester City facing a tough trip to Stoke, Sergio Aguero may be an expensive white elephant this weekend, making the inclusion of Graziano Pelle as striker (and captain) an absolute must.
Pelle’s inclusion at the expense of Jamie Vardy will raise a few eyebrows, but Leicester’s record breaking striker will have to draw a blank sooner or later. Unlike Villa, Leicester’s opponents Swansea are at home in GW15 and still have much to fight for, meaning that Pelle is still the wiser pick – even if Vardy extends his scoring run to twelve games.
3/4. Bratislav Ivanovic & Willian
VS Bournemouth (H)
Chelsea’s shutout at White Hart Lane will be a huge boost, especially with the Blues needing a strong run over the festive period. Much can be made of Bournemouth’s miraculous comeback against Everton in GW14, but the Cherries’ first ever league trip to Stamford Bridge is set to be a cruel and punishing one.
Still an economically sound choice, Willian’s increased involvement has coincided with Chelsea’s recent upturn in form, and Bournemouth’s highly vulnerable defence will be faced with trickery, the likes of which they have seldom seen this campaign.
The return of Ivanovic to the starting XI has also seen a distinct improvement in Chelsea’s defensive ideas, and his unrivalled experience should give Chelsea another much-needed clean sheet.
5/6. Yohan Cabaye & Yannick Bolasie
VS Everton (A)
These two combine skill and pace to deadly effect – and they often thrive on Merseyside soil. On the evidence of Everton’s second half capitulation at Dean Court last Saturday, this is again likely to be the case for a Crystal Palace side that is now in real contention for a European berth.
Granted, Bolasie and Cabaye are not the cheapest midfielders, but Palace’s form is too good to ignore.