Midweek mayhem is upon us once again, with every football fanatic in the country anticipating yet another blockbuster chapter in an enthralling title race. With the season fast approaching its endgame, time is running out to make those crucial choices that could be the difference between joy and despair.
Of the twenty Premier League teams in action, only Everton and Stoke City enjoyed a weekend off work, and both teams face off against a team in the bottom four, creating an opportunity for an unusually high points return from teams stuck in mid table.
1. Kasper Schmeichel – vs WBA (H)
Following the club’s exit to Reading in the FA Cup, West Bromwich have nothing left but time in the 2015/16 season. The Baggies’ most recent road trip (to Goodison Park) yielded possibly the unlikeliest victory of the season, having absorbed relentless pressure from the home side, and a similar game plan is expected at the King Power Stadium.
Kasper Schmeichel should not be unduly troubled against West Brom, although the visiting team’s typical starting XI boasts a number of physically strong players that have the capability to menace from set pieces.
2/3. Laurent Koscielny & Mesut Ozil – vs Swansea City (H)
Francesco Guidolin is fortunate that the teams immediately behind Swansea appear bereft of form, especially since a repeat of last season’s Emirates win is impossible to envision.
Caution will be the keyword in Guidolin’s game plan, and Koscielny (though highly valued) is a crucial addition to any side, as statistics indicate that he is Arsenal’s best defender. Ozil has enjoyed the mantle of ‘best Arsenal midfielder’ since the very start of the season, and his ability to destroy naive defences needs no introduction.
4. Marko Arnautovic – vs Newcastle (H)
The Austrian superstar may not yet be fully fit after a recent bout of illness, but that issue will not prevent him from outperforming the entire Newcastle midfield. In their most recent road trip, the Magpies produced their very worst performance of a dismal season in a 5-1 defeat to a Chelsea side that is itself still emerging from the wreckage of a wretched autumn.
The Potters’ increasingly fraught attempts to claim a European spot will be boosted by the extra few days rest granted by the advent of the Capital One Cup final.
5. Romelu Lukaku – vs Aston Villa (A)
Everton travel to Villa Park as a well-rested unit reflecting on a pleasing FA Cup win at Bournemouth, and anything less than three points against a doomed Aston Villa would be a huge disappointment for Roberto Martinez’ men.
It will be many a year before Everton enjoy such malleable opposition as the Villa side which collapsed in a 4-0 defeat in November’s reverse fixture. However, on the evidence of Villa’s most recent home game (against Liverpool), a rerun of that rout is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Villa are down, out and with nothing to play for and, ultimately, Tuesday should prove nothing short of a field day for Romelu Lukaku, whose blistering form has been the highlight of an extremely frustrating season for Everton.
Consider also the inclusion of Leon Osman at a later stage, since the veteran midifielder has a good personal record against Aston Villa, with the ability to change games and defy expectations in his twilight years.
6. Graziano Pelle – Bournemouth (A)
Pelle’s popularity may wane in GW 28 due to Southampton’s role as the visiting team, but that should not deter anyone from selecting the Italian. Simply put, the current Southampton XI is a fantastic, close-knit unit with a bright future under Ronald Koeman, who has avoided “Second Season Syndrome” on the South Coast.
Bournemouth provided meek opposition in their last home game, a 2-0 defeat to a composed Everton team in the FA Cup, and this can only detract from the confidence that Eddie Howe has tried to build and maintain in his squad all season.