Football has seldom favoured the underdog since the turn of the millennium, but the 24th advent of the Premier League has, thus far, been nothing short of a godsend for the thrill seeking neutrals. Penultimate game survivalists Leicester City are top of the Premier League with just under three weeks to go until Christmas, while champions Chelsea remain in a theoretical battle against relegation.
In such uncertain times, a clean sheet is sometimes considered a provisional ‘win’, with none other than Manchester United’s title-winning goalkeeper David de Gea taking to social media and appealing for calm in the wake of his team’s frustrating 0-0 draw at home to West Ham.
Economy in defence will be the focal point in GW16 and, with the festive goals set to fly in, there are three back line players to strongly consider…
1. Alexandr Kolarov
VS Swansea (H)
Swansea City are in a dreadful run of form at present, and given they are now managerless following Garry Monk’s dismissal, things are unlikely to improve any time soon.
Still not the most expensive of the City defenders, Kolarov is a sensible choice against any team that lacks cohesion in midfield.
2. Leighton Baines
VS Norwich (A)
Brendan Galloway endured his first less-than-stellar Everton performance in the 3-3 draw at Dean Court, a match in which the Merseyside blues may have coasted to victory, had they been afforded the luxury of a more experienced back line.
Everton require a wise head in defence for this testing trip to East Anglia, and Leighton Baines’ ability from set pieces and advanced positions should provide Norwich with many challenges in Saturday’s lunchtime game. The Canaries will be familiar with Baines’ reputation, but the management at Carrow Road has had no opportunity during this season to re-adapt Norwich’s game plan in order to isolate him.
Ultimately, this could count in Everton’s favour.
Having been absent for a lengthy period, Baines’ price has also dipped drastically, making him an affordable inclusion in defence.
3/4. Eric Dier & Delle Alli
VS Newcastle (H)
Dier has acted as the middleman between defence and midfield all season, and his consistency ensures that Tottenham can be miserly when required. Newcastle produced a heroic display against Liverpool on Sunday, but it was not until much later in the game that the Magpies began to produce a performance worthy of a win over the reds.
Tottenham are unlikely to make the same mistakes as Liverpool did, making Dier a sensible and affordable pick for GW16.
Tottenham are naturally eager to remain in touch with the battle for fourth place and, in recent weeks, no player at the North London club has shown this more than Delle Alli. His strike against West Brom was just the latest of many success stories, and the youngster from Milton Keynes continues to grow in stature at an impressive rate.
5. Riyad Mahrez
VS Chelsea (H)
Title chasing Leicester City meet relegation candidates Chelsea under the brutal glare of Sky’s cameras on Monday night, and a victory for ex-Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri would represent the ultimate payback. Having been removed from the West London club by Roman Abramovich in May 2004, Ranieri will certainly not compromise on style, nor give any quarter to the team which has taken one of the most spectacular falls from grace in recent memory.
This meeting could not have come at a better time, with Leicester enjoying a second consecutive 3-0 away win to go clear at the top of the Premier League. The Foxes’ form and confidence contrasts strongly with that of the visitors, and Riyadh Mahrez is now very much the MVP in the squad after scoring a hat trick at the Liberty Stadium.
Inexplicably, he remains a much more affordable player than his midfield counterparts at Chelsea, such as Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Oscar, all of whom were embarrassingly impotent against a spirited Bournemouth.
6. Odion Ighalo
VS Sunderland (A)
Watford managed to sustain their unbeaten run with a 2-0 win over Norwich City, and they will travel to the Stadium of Light free from pressure and full of confidence – a combination which has usually worked in Watford’s favour this season.
Sunderland will be tough to break down, but Ighalo is set to be a divergent selection this week.