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

  • The bigger, better Boston Celtics deserve favouritism in 2020 Eastern Conference Finals rematch The bigger, better Boston Celtics deserve favouritism in 2020 Eastern Conference Finals rematch

    Two years after meeting in the 2020 Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics are on a mission to flip the script on the Miami Heat.

    In that 2020 series, which the Heat won 4-2 in 'the bubble' to advance to the NBA Finals, the Celtics were the higher seed, and were playing in their third Eastern Conference Finals in the space of four seasons.

    But in hindsight, it was Miami who were built to win that series, despite it being their first time past the second round since LeBron James carried them to the finals in 2014.

    Jimmy Butler was invigorated in his first year in Miami, in his physical prime at 30 years old and was determined to show he was not at fault for pushing his way out of the Minnesota Timberwolves and being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers in the space of a year.

    He was also supported by Goran Dragic, just two years removed from his lone All-Star appearance, who in the series averaged 20.5 points and 4.7 assists per game in 34 minutes.

    As well as having two strong initiators, the Heat also had a complete mismatch in the form of Bam Adebayo against a Celtics team starting Daniel Theis at center, with no competent back-up. Adebayo averaged 21.8 points while shooting over 60 per cent from the field, with 11 rebounds and five assists per game, and was clearly the most dominant player in the series.

    When taking into account an outlier 37-point showing from Tyler Herro on 14-of-of-21 shooting that single-handedly won Game 4 112-109 for the Heat – making it a 3-1 series lead instead of 2-2 heading back to Boston – it begins to become clear that there was not much the Celtics could do, given their personnel.

    Fast-forward a couple of years, 22-year-old Jayson Tatum is now 24 and in the midst of a rapid ascension into the game's best players, 23-year-old Jaylen Brown is now 25 and has developed into a true number-two option, Marcus Smart is now 28 years old and the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and, more importantly, the supporting cast is built for the long-haul.

    Replacing Theis with Al Horford may be the most consequential addition or subtraction on either side, with the potential to nullify the series-altering presence of Adebayo on the inside. Horford will also have help in the form of Robert Williams III – who became one of the best defensive players in the league this season – while Theis remains as a 'break glass in case of emergency' option.

    Adding to the rise of the Celtics has been the emergence of Grant Williams as a reliable two-way player, capable of slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo while hitting over 40 per cent of his threes, as well as the trade to add Derrick White as a second defensively sound 'small' guard next to Smart.

    For a team with a real defensive identity – willing to 'switch' every screen and allow their small guards to take on bigger assignments – being able to replace Kemba Walker with a trustworthy, stout defender completely takes away an avenue of attack for a sharp offensive team like Miami.

    What it also means is that the Celtics will not have to waste any minutes on players who have no business in big playoff series – such as Brad Wanamaker and Semi Ojeleye, who combined for 21.8 minutes per game in the 2020 series.

    A run to the NBA Finals would be fulfilling the promises of Boston's advanced numbers, which after the All-Star break had the Celtics as not just a legitimate title contender, but as the favourite, and a historic team.

    During that stretch, the Celtics were the number one offense – with a gap to the Charlotte Hornets at number two – and the number three defense, with a net-rating of 12.7. The Memphis Grizzlies (7.6) were the only other team with a net-rating above 6.0.

    For the Heat, Dragic has been replaced by Kyle Lowry, who is now 36 years old and recovering from his second hamstring injury of the playoffs, and the veteran presences of Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder have been replaced by a combination of Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the shell of Victor Oladipo.

    Erik Spoelstra boasts arguably the deepest bench in the entire NBA, but this is playoff basketball, which generally comes down to each side's best seven players, nullifying their advantage on the back-end of their roster.

    The identity of this Miami offense through the playoffs has largely relied on the brilliance of Jimmy Butler, who at 32 years old is putting together the best playoff run of his career, averaging 28.7 points per game on 52.7 per cent shooting, with 7.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.1 steals.

    Miami's second-best scorer this postseason has been Adebayo, way down at 14.6 points per game compared to his 19.1 for the regular season.

    Butler was perfectly matched up against the Philadelphia 76ers, who have no wing defenders capable of matching the Heat star physically – but the Celtics do not have the same problem.

    The Celtics have at least four players – Tatum, Brown, G. Williams and R. Williams – who match up well with Butler, and they showed against the Milwaukee Bucks that they were more than happy to play straight-up defense and force one player to try and beat them with isolations all day.

    If Miami cannot figure out a way to unleash a second scorer in a real way – be it Herro, Adebayo, or even Strus, who averaged 20.5 points in his two matchups against Boston this season – they may be playing straight into the Celtics hands. 

    The one advantage Miami will have is the rest-factor. It will be five days since the Heat's Game 6 win against the 76ers, while the Celtics will only have one true rest day after handling their business in Game 7 on Monday night.

    For the regular season, the Heat won all three of their games with at least three days rest, although the Celtics were the fourth-best team in the NBA coming off one day of rest (28-13, .683 winning percentage).

    If the Heat can take advantage of their fresh legs and win Game 1, anything could happen, but ultimately, just like the Celtics were almost helpless in 2020, the Heat just may not have the horses this time around.

  • Allegri salutes Chiellini and Dybala after their Juventus farewells Allegri salutes Chiellini and Dybala after their Juventus farewells

    Massimiliano Allegri paid tribute to departing heroes Giorgio Chiellini and Paulo Dybala, whose Turin farewells ended in a 2-2 draw against Lazio.

    The first half was a celebration, as Dusan Vlahovic put the hosts up 1-0 just 10 minutes in before Alvaro Morata doubled the advantage after 36 minutes.

    An Alex Sandro own goal set up a tense finish, though, before Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored a dramatic 96th-minute equaliser to put a slight dampener on an emotional evening at the Allianz Stadium.

    Despite seeing his side held at home, Allegri only wanted to focus the impact of Chiellini and Dybala to the Bianconeri.

    "Tonight was a wonderful evening, full of emotions – the evening of Chiellini and Dybala," he told Sky Sport Italia.

    "One stops and has given a lot to world football, out of passion and love of work. A few videos of Chiellini should be sent to Coverciano [Italy's main youth training centre] to show how he defends.

    "On a personal and human level, he also left a lot to me when I arrived at Juventus. He introduced me to Juventus and helped me. 

    "Dybala was an important player for seven years, I raised him because he was a child and the fans gave a well-deserved tribute. All with great class.

    "He has grown a lot, he arrived as a kid, he won the job. He has done great things and I wish him the best. There was so much emotion that I think talking about something else has little value."

    Touching on the future of the club, Allegri pointed to some exciting internal development, as well as his theory on what is required at different stages of the season.

    "The ideas are clear, then the market can develop in various ways," he said.

    "We have to start from the base this year – many will improve like Vlahovic and [Denis] Zakaria. 

    "[Fabio] Miretti played with personality and vertically, which drives me crazy. Morata played a good game, the good foundations are there. 

    "The matches up to October travel at certain rhythms, from October to March to others. As a child I used to say that when the daisies bloom, the rhythms drop and you need players of great technique. 

    "The players must be chosen when they go fast, then to win they must be fast and with great technique."

  • Arsenal 'don't deserve Champions League' – Xhaka furious after Newcastle defeat Arsenal 'don't deserve Champions League' – Xhaka furious after Newcastle defeat

    Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka was furious after his side's 2-0 Premier League defeat against Newcastle United, saying Mikel Arteta's team "don't deserve" Champions League qualification after the damaging reverse.

    A Ben White own goal gave the Magpies the lead in a must-win clash for the Gunners, before Bruno Guimaraes sealed Newcastle's victory late on, leaving Arsenal's top-four hopes hanging by a thread.

    Arsenal are now two points behind Tottenham in the standings with one match remaining, where Spurs will need to lose to Norwich City to allow the Gunners a chance to sneak back into the top four, courtesy of their inferior goal difference.

    The Gunners were comprehensively outclassed in the crucial encounter, producing just 0.40 expected goals compared to Newcastle's 1.38, and only controlling 33 per cent of the first-half possession.

    Speaking to Sky Sports after the loss, Xhaka called it a "disaster performance", accusing his team-mates of not following Arteta's gameplan and asserting the team did not deserve European football after producing such a showing.

    "So difficult to find right words after the game," he said. "We came here to show a different game, but from the first minute until the 90th minute we didn't deserve to be on the pitch today.

    "I can't explain why we didn't do what the game-plan was. Not listening to the coach, [it] was a disaster performance.

    "[If you] play like this you don't deserve Champions League, don't even deserve Europa league. Very hard to take it at the moment, I don't know why we are not doing what the coach is asking of us."

    Xhaka went on to declare Arsenal had not shown the necessary fight at St James' Park and his told team-mates that if they didn't "have the balls", they should have stayed at home.

    "I don't know if someone is not ready for this game, stay at home." he added. "Doesn't matter the age. You can be 30, 35, you can be 10, you can be 18 – [if you're] not ready, stay on the bench, stay at home, don't come here. 

    "We need people to have the balls - sorry to say that - to come here to play, because we knew this game is maybe one of the most important games for us.

    "A performance like this… [we cannot] accept it, very very sad for us. Sorry for the people that came over here to support us. I feel sorry for Arsenal supporters, this is the only thing I can say – to say sorry to them."

    Arsenal play Everton at the Emirates Stadium in their final fixture of the Premier League season on Sunday.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.