Springtime international friendlies, along with the relentless, blurry parade of European and FA Cup fixtures, have caused the rearrangement of several key matches.
As such, a strong performance in GW32 could provide the perfect foundation on which to finalise a frenetic campaign, before the extended game weeks begin later in April.
1. Thibaut Courtois – vs Aston Villa (A)
Chelsea’s season is, to all intents and purposes, now over. With a Europa League spot potentially out of Chelsea’s reach, it is anyone’s guess as to how Guus Hiddink can rally his troops after a miserable season of frustration and underachievement.
It is now mathematically impossible for the London club to retain its title, but the back line should have little trouble this weekend against the so-called footballers currently ‘gracing’ the famous ground in the iconic claret and blue of Birmingham’s flagship club. To make dire circumstances worse, Remi Garde has left the club after just 147 days of misery at Villa Park.
2. Ricky Wollscheid– vs Swansea (H)
Stoke’s defence has been unsettled through injury to key personnel, as evidenced by a failure to keep a clean sheet in what is now three consecutive Premier League games. That noted, Stoke performed admirably as a unit in the 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road over Watford – in the process, they also gained revenge for the 2-0 reverse at home to the Hornets back in October.
Swansea are not entirely out of danger, but just one more win will secure the club’s top flight status for another year. The nature of the Swans’ 3-2 defeat at Bournemouth will do little for defensive confidence, but plenty of attacking prowess was evident.
With a far greater defensive resolve than Bournemouth, the Potters are unlikely to gift many chances to Swansea.
3. Philippe Coutinho – vs Tottenham (H)
With an excellent recent record against the North London club, Liverpool will undoubtedly prove unforgiving opposition to Mauricio Pochettino’s young, title-chasing squad. Of the ten fixtures in GW32, this is arguably the least likely to end 0-0, with two young, attack-minded managers on the touchline for what should be an enthralling battle.
The winning team, if indeed there is one, will have earned three points on pure merit, and taking control of the midfield war will be paramount to winning the day. Unlike Tottenham, the Liverpool squad will not be battling the psychological effects of a title charge, with Jürgen Klopp’s men firmly focusing on Europa League success instead.
With a greater opportunity to be creative, Klopp can utilise Coutinho’s natural creativity in playmaking to achieve the aim of winning said war.
4. David Silva – vs Bournemouth (A)
Every Bournemouth player has shown great determination throughout the season, despite the club losing Callum Wilson and Max Gradel to long term injury.
The Cherries have all but managed to avoid relegation to the Championship, but must still avoid falling into complacency and play with the unity and professionalism shown in a majority of this season’s games to end a promising debut Premier League season in the right manner.
Manchester City are in an entirely different class to their hosts of GW32 however, and with go-to midfielder Yaya Toure struggling for fitness, the spotlight falls on David Silva as the danger-man.
5/6. Dimitri Payet & Michail Antonio – vs Crystal Palace (H)
The fourth month of the New Year is upon us and Alan Pardew’s ailing Crystal Palace squad remains winless in the Premier League this calendar year – and there is little to suggest that the situation will change in the Eagles’ last ever visit to Upton Park.
Though he is still emerging from the wreckage of a long-term injury, Payet has re-integrated himself into the West Ham starting XI almost seamlessly. Michail Antonio will also be a huge asset to any fantasy squad if funds allow.
But for the emergence of fellow Englishman Delle Alli, Antonio has arguably been the standout Englishman of 2015/16, with his contributions keeping West Ham in contention for a top-four finish.