The festive period saw Arsenal overtake Leicester City at the top of the Premier League table, despite enduring a 4-0 reverse at St Mary’s Stadium on Boxing Day.
With no particular team establishing a dominant lead at the summit, the answers to supremacy on the virtual field remain as cryptic as ever. However, in time-honoured tradition, good choices start at the back…
1/2. Jack Butland & Phillipp Wollscheid – vs Norwich (H)
The man championed as England’s future ‘number one’ is, statistically, the best goalkeeper in the league after maintaining an impressive clean sheet-to-games ratio throughout the first half of 2015/16.
Defying ex-Potter Cameron Jerome will be a daunting task for Butland, yet he is blessed with a tight-knit and dependable back line that has saved a significant number of points throughout the season. Of that back four, it is arguably Wollscheid that has been the standout performer in recent weeks.
Of particular note is the German defender’s performance at Goodison Park in a pulsating 4-3 win over Everton. Though three goals were conceded, it could easily have been thrice that number if not for Wollscheid’s interventions at key moments.
Norwich’s goalscoring prowess is not as fearsome as Everton’s, and with no other ‘home bankers’ for a clean sheet, it is worth employing a goalkeeper and a defender from Stoke this week.
3. Pape Souare – vs Aston Villa (A)
Another appearance for Souare, whose timely interventions over the festive period established Crystal Palace as the defence most akin to Ebeneezer Scrooge.
For Crystal Palace, a 3-0 home reverse to Chelsea was a far from ideal start to the New Year, but the Blues under Hiddink would always be a different prospect to the Jose Mourinho side that so meekly surrendered to Palace at Stamford Bridge in August.
It is difficult to envisage relegation-bound Aston Villa causing the same trouble against an Eagles side that generally travels well under Alan Pardew.
4/5. Yaya Toure & Kevin De Bruyne – vs Everton (H)
Expensive though this duo is, both players represent a worthy investment, especially when faced with a below-strength midfield and defence. Everton players Phil Jagielka and James McCarthy represent the ‘spine’ of the team, and they have been sorely missed in recent weeks, with goals being shipped at a rate of knots in their absence.
Tom Cleverley is also conspicuous in his absence, with Everton lacking even their famed ability to retain possession in the middle with the ‘precision’ football that manager Roberto Martinez aims to employ regularly.
There is only one foreseeable winner at the Ethiad Stadium in GW21, and there is the overriding feeling that football fanatics across the globe have not seen anything from Manchester City yet.
6. Harry Kane – vs Leicester (H)
Harry Kane retains his place on the ‘most wanted’ list, having re-ignited an ailing campaign with some encouraging performances on home soil of late.
Over the past three months, Tottenham have established themselves as one of the most improved sides in the league, and the North Londoners have the form and confidence to succeed in what is set to be one of the most open and enthralling battles for a Champions League place ever seen.