EPL

Premier League Fantasy Picks: City trio in great shape, Barnes and Zaha on a roll

By Sports Desk January 29, 2021

Manchester City are threatening to run away from the rest of the Premier League and their success has been in a large part down to the previously unsung Ilkay Gundogan.

As they prepare to face Sheffield United, who surprisingly may be relishing a second trip to Manchester in four days, we look at who else is making City tick.

A trio of Pep Guardiola's players feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks, along with high performers from Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham and Crystal Palace.

EDOUARD MENDY

One thing is for certain: Chelsea's new boss Thomas Tuchel will know all about Mendy. Tuchel's old Paris Saint-Germain side faced Mendy twice in Ligue 1 during the goalkeeper's Reims days, scoring four the first time but just once second time around in a shock defeat. Last season saw Mendy help Rennes finish third in the French top flight.

The goalkeeper conceded just three times in his first eight Premier League games for Chelsea but has shipped 11 in eight matches since that bright start.

Clean sheets in two of his past three league games, however, suggest Mendy and the Chelsea defence are getting their act together.

Ahead of a home clash with Burnley, only one goalkeeper - City's Ederson (61 per cent) - has kept a higher share of clean sheets in the Premier League this season than Tuchel's new number one, with Mendy avoiding conceding in eight of his 16 appearances.

JOAO CANCELO

Move over Andy Robertson, there's a new defensive assist king in town. City's Cancelo has created more chances from open play than any defender in the Premier League this season after setting up 30 opportunities.

Admittedly, Robertson is second on that list after making 27 chances for Liverpool team-mates, but Cancelo has played four fewer games than the Scot.

With City facing the Blades at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, the flying full-back will doubtless be eyeing up more forward missions.

RUBEN DIAS

If City are to succeed where neighbours Manchester United failed, by keeping out the Blades, then Dias may have a big role to play.

The Portuguese centre-back has achieved more clean sheets than any other Premier League defender this season, playing in 10 games where City have had shutouts.

He is yet to score but has an xG value of 1.4, suggesting he is getting into positions from where he might soon be due a goal.

Only James Tarkowski (1.62) and Adam Webster (1.66) have a higher xG value without scoring among Premier League defenders this season.

HARVEY BARNES

Leicester winger Barnes is enjoying a purple patch after scoring three times and claiming two assists in his past six Premier League games.

Perhaps back him while he's hot as Leicester host Leeds United on Sunday.

Barnes has six goals and three assists in the top flight this season, while he also scored six and assisted eight goals across the previous Premier League campaign.

ILKAY GUNDOGAN

It seemed unlikely that Gundogan would be the man to step up and be City's top scorer in the absence of Sergio Aguero this season.

Despite Aguero having been rarely available, the name of Gundogan at the top of City's list of Premier League top scorers might mystify many.

But his seven goals have come from some exhilarating performances, and all have come in his past eight league games. This weekend he could become the first German player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances.

WILFRIED ZAHA

Where would Palace be without Zaha? The Championship seems a likely answer to that, as again his goals and attacking drive are propping up their campaign.

Palace are suffering at the moment, though, having won just one of their past nine league matches, so Saturday's home game with Wolves would be a good moment for Zaha to fire.

He has nine goals in 17 Premier League appearances this season – only in 2018-19, when he netted 10 times, has he managed more in a single campaign in the competition.

MICHAIL ANTONIO

West Ham are challenging for Champions League football. Those eight words are a lot to take in, but Antonio has had a big say in their success this season.

He has five goals in 12 games in the Premier League and two goals and an assist in his past three outings ahead of a home clash with Liverpool, who sit just behind the Hammers.

Antonio enjoys facing Liverpool, having scored more goals against the Reds than any other West Ham player in the Premier League era. His four goals in six appearances against the reigning champions shows Antonio should not be overawed by Sunday's London Stadium occasion.

Could he rub salt into Liverpool's wounds as Jurgen Klopp's side, and their vulnerable defence, wonder where their title challenge has gone to?

Related items

  • Ten Hag hails 'outstanding' achievement after Ajax and Haller make Champions League history Ten Hag hails 'outstanding' achievement after Ajax and Haller make Champions League history

    Erik ten Hag lauded Ajax's "outstanding achievement" after the high-flying Dutch giants capped their group-stage campaign with more Champions League history.

    Ajax made it six wins from six games in Group C following Tuesday's 4-2 victory over fellow last-16 bound outfit Sporting CP in Amsterdam.

    With the triumph, Ajax became the first Dutch team to win all six of their games in a single Champions League group-stage campaign.

    Ajax also won six consecutive matches in the European Cup/Champions League for the first time in their illustrious history.

    Ten Hag's men have swept all before them in Europe this season and the Manchester United-linked head coach hailed Ajax.

    "To win one match in the [UEFA] Champions League is difficult enough, but to win six in a row is an outstanding achievement," Ten Hag said.

    "The intensity was good throughout the match this evening. You saw that in the pressure we put on them which led to the second goal by Antony."

    Sebastien Haller broke a Champions League record held by Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland when he gave Ajax the lead against Sporting, matching another feat previously only ever achieved by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Haller took his tally this term to 10 goals in six appearances – making him the quickest player to reach double figures in a Champions League career after Haaland had previously managed to so in seven matches.

    Ivory coast international Haller also became the first player to score in each of his opening six games in the competition.

    Haller is only the second player in Champions League history to score in all six matches of a single group stage after Ronaldo in 2017-18, while the former West Ham and Eintracht Frankfurt forward is only the second Ajax player to score 10-plus goals in a single season of the premier club competition following Soren Lerby in 1979-80.

    "There is no secret [to our success]. It’s just a matter of working hard, together. The coach tells us everything we should know. And then we just try to stay focused," Haller told UEFA.com.

    "Of course I didn't expect it [to score ten times in six matches], especially in my first games. The only thing you want to do is perform well, and be in the flow of the game. Ten goals was not in my dreams. So I can be happy and proud today."

    Haller added: "The way we train every day, the way we think; we always want to play well and perform. Even at the end of the game you could see that.

    "We're really happy with the energy and focus we put into the game, and we just hope that the next game will be the same."

  • Ancelotti realistic about Real Madrid's Champions League chances Ancelotti realistic about Real Madrid's Champions League chances

    Carlo Ancelotti is not getting carried away over Real Madrid's Champions League prospects despite Tuesday's 2-0 win at home to Inter sealing top spot in Group D.

    Madrid just needed to avoid a defeat to go through to the knockout phase as group winners, but they ultimately battled to a commendable victory over the Italian champions.

    Toni Kroos netted a glorious first-half opener, before a similarly satisfying Marco Asensio curler wrapped up the win 11 minutes from time.

    As such, Madrid will – theoretically – get a kinder draw than runners-up Inter in the last 16, potentially setting them up nicely to reach the quarter-finals.

    Los Blancos went as far as the last four in 2020-21 following back-to-back round-of-16 eliminations, though Ancelotti is not making any sweeping statements regarding their chances of going deeper into the competition this time around.

    He told reporters: "We have the quality to win LaLiga and the quality to compete in the Champions League.

    "There are no teams with the quality [guaranteed] to win the Champions League, just to compete.

    "There are more intense teams, others with more quality. We are not an intense team in the defensive aspect, but we have a lot of quality, a lot of experience and a lot of commitment."

    Luka Modric made his 100th Champions League appearance on Tuesday, becoming only the ninth player to reach that landmark while at Madrid. Eight of those games came during his time at Tottenham.

    Modric turned in a typically controlling display and completed the full 90 minutes, which was somewhat surprising given the important nature of Sunday's clash with Atletico Madrid.

    There had been calls prior to the weekend win over Real Sociedad for Ancelotti to rotate his midfield more, yet Modric is heading into the derby having played 90 minutes both against La Real and Inter.

    The Croatian is not concerned, however.

    "I feel very good," the 36-year-old told Movistar. "I think you don't have to look at the years, you have to look at what you do on the field. The years are less and less noticeable because players' careers are prolonged.

    "I feel very good, and I feel like I am younger than 30!"

  • Klopp 'couldn't be more proud' of Liverpool after Milan win Klopp 'couldn't be more proud' of Liverpool after Milan win

    Jurgen Klopp insisted he "couldn't be more proud" of his Liverpool squad after they secured a perfect Champions League group-stage record with victory at Milan.

    Despite their progression to the knockout stages as group winners already secured, the Reds put in a dominant performance to claim a 2-1 success in San Siro.

    And the manner of the performance from a team showing eight changes left Klopp delighted at full-time.

    He told BT Sport: "[It's] really difficult in the hectic schedule. We have to be always on fire for the next game and, what the boys did tonight, I couldn't be more proud. 

    "It was an incredible game, I'm so happy about so many things I saw tonight and, of course, in the end that we won the game is great as well. 

    "But the performance was absolutely outstanding; playing this game tonight, having 21 shots, not 21 on target but 21 times we finished a situation off. 

    "[There were] so many situations where we played outstandingly well and defended with passion and good organisation. So many good things I saw tonight, really happy."

    Klopp went on to pay tribute to the three players who retained their starting places from the weekend win over Wolves: Alisson, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

    The German was most pleased with the desire that trio showed while being involved in a game that, in truth, had little riding on it for the visitors. 

    He added: "I have to say, we changed it eight times but Ali is a goalie and that he could play and wanted to play so desperately speaks for him. 

    "The same for Sadio and Mo, the game they played tonight was absolutely outstanding. 

    "The quality they have and the physicality they bring in a game like this, how much they help defensively, is absolutely outstanding. 

    "Mo obviously scores the first, Sadio sets up the second, that speaks really for the boys. 

    "So, because it's a mix of fresh legs and quality as well, it was a really good mix tonight."

    The Liverpool boss also hailed teenage midfielder Tyler Morton, who put in another impressive performance on just his second Champions League start.

    Klopp continued: "I don't want to make his night more complicated than it is already with playing at such a young age for a club like Liverpool, playing a game like this with a performance like this. 

    "I think we should all calm down, but it was really good tonight! 

    "It was a big pleasure to watch the boy playing and the football knowledge, football brain he showed tonight was absolutely exceptional. 

    "If you are technically on that level – and he is, obviously – and you have then such good orientation, sometimes you have enough time to do good stuff and that is what he did tonight. 

    "On top of that, he defended incredibly well together with the other boys."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.