Leicester City’s lead has survived the first month of 2016 and, with just fifteen games remaining, even the most sceptic of neutrals must now consider Claudio Ranieri’s cunning Foxes as genuine title contenders.
Though Manchester City and Arsenal remain firm favourites to be the frontrunners come May, both teams remain inconsistent, showing nothing like the form that has yielded both teams England’s most coveted prize in previous years.
Even Tottenham, with a young and enterprising side, have an outside chance of snatching a first league title since 1961, and Mauricio Pochettino’s long term vision appears to be finally bearing fruit. Flourishing in his domestic and international whites, Delle Alli is undeniably the future of England’s midfield, and a strong performance is expected in this summer’s Euro finals.
However, despite his heroics against Palace last time out, he does not feature in this week’s shortlist.
1/2. Scott Dann & Yohan Cabaye – vs Bournemouth (H)
Crystal Palace’s defence is enduring the very bleakest midwinter after beginning the season with a series of staunch defensive stands. In Game Week 23, the Eagles capitulated to Tottenham in alarming fashion en-route to a 3-1 reverse after taking a promising lead.
The present Bournemouth XI remains an unpredictable enigma of a team, but Pardew’s charges have more than enough quality to dispatch their hosts, with a clean sheet long overdue. The signing of Emmanuel Adebayor should also provide Crystal Palace with an extra degree of confidence.
3. Aaron Cresswell – vs Aston Villa (H)
West Ham United are without a clean sheet in three games, but Aston Villa remain alarmingly impotent in front of goal as relegation looms large on the horizon.
If Villa are to take anything from what is set to be their final visit to Upton Park, a ‘safety first’ approach will be crucial. Ultimately, it is difficult to foresee many chances for the Premier League’s basement side, and any West Ham defender is a safe pick this week.
4. Ross Barkley – vs Newcastle (H)
Ignoring the dangerously ponderous defence, Everton have proven their ability to inflict tremendous damage. Sadly for the Toffees, their home performance last time out against Swansea was a throwback to the very worst of 2014/15, in which a jaded Everton struggled to balance Europa League football with domestic duties.
The midweek visit of Newcastle United represents an important watermark for the club and manager Roberto Martinez, with Barkley the safest bet to end Everton’s winless league run by virtue of his excellent record against the Magpies.
5. Ayoze Perez – vs Everton (A)
Everton’s defence was described as “shambolic” by Talksport commentator Stan Collymore after the second, and decisive, Swansea City goal in Sunday’s match at Goodison Park.
On league standing alone, Everton are the favourites to prevail against Newcastle, but at least one goal for the Magpies is a near-certainty. Understandably, Perez’ value is still low in comparison to other Premier League strikers, but he is worth serious consideration for this game week.
6. Riyad Mahrez – vs Liverpool (H)
League leaders Leicester are unlikely to be as irresolute in defence as Liverpool’s last opponents, Norwich City, and they are marginal favourites to win this encounter.
The Merseyside reds will likely still be smarting from 120 minutes of intense action in the Carling Cup semi final, and Mahrez’ inclusion requires no explanation.