EPL

Premier League Fantasy Picks: Why Vardy and Salah should be shoo-ins for start of season

By Sports Desk August 12, 2021

The Premier League is back. Yes, already.

After the packed schedule of 2020-21, the delayed Euro 2020, Copa America and Tokyo Olympics and a pre-season still impacted by travel restrictions, the new season in England's top flight will, hopefully, be a bit more like normal.

With fans set to return to grounds across the country, the anticipation for this opening weekend has been greater than many others – and, we assume, that same excitement extends to fantasy football.

To that end, Stats Perform's Fantasy Picks series has returned to point you in the right direction for those all-important choices. Whether you're squad-filling, striker-selecting or triple-captaining, these suggested selections - all backed by Opta data - should hopefully get you off to a flyer.

 

ROBERT SANCHEZ (Burnley v Brighton and Hove Albion)

Robert Sanchez was one of the more surprising names in Luis Enrique's Spain squad for Euro 2020. Given his form this year, perhaps he shouldn't have been such a shock.

The only goalkeepers to keep more Premier League clean sheets since the start of January are Ederson (12) and Edouard Mendy (10), with Sanchez's nine helping Brighton to secure survival.

They start their campaign away to Burnley, where they have lost only once in their past seven league visits. Indeed, the Clarets are on a 10-game winless run at Turf Moor.

 

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (Norwich City v Liverpool)

Having declared himself fully fit and feeling confident, 2021-22 could be the season where we see Trent Alexander-Arnold back to his scintillating best.

That said, even his more difficult campaign last term had impressive elements. Since the turn of this year, his expected assists figure of 5.37 is the highest of any defender and second only to Bruno Fernandes (5.62) in the whole competition.

Liverpool average 2.8 goals per game against Norwich City in the Premier League and it's safe to back this man to provide the chances again at Carrow Road, particularly with Virgil van Dijk set to return to offer an extra set-piece threat.

JAMES TARKOWSKI (Burnley v Brighton and Hove Albion)

James Tarkowski has long been admired as a stopper at the heart of the Burnley defence, but he is a greater threat going forward than six league goals in six seasons would suggest.

Last season, the 28-year-old had the most touches in the opposition box (66) and the highest expected goals tally (3.37) of any centre-back in the Premier League.

Goals in this fixture are rare – just 1.5 per game on average – so gambling on a clean sheet and a set-piece winner from Tarkowski could be worthwhile.

 

MOHAMED SALAH (Norwich City v Liverpool)

In the past four seasons, Liverpool's opening Premier League goal of the season has been scored by Mohamed Salah. He got three in their win over Leeds United a year ago.

No player has ever scored on the opening day for five consecutive Premier League seasons but, given Salah's record, you would not bet against him.

It's worth adding that Liverpool have won seven away games in a row against Norwich in the top flight.

MASON GREENWOOD (Manchester United v Leeds United)

With Marcus Rashford recovering from shoulder surgery and Jadon Sancho still adjusting to new surroundings, it's highly likely Mason Greenwood will start on Saturday.

After scoring just once in 23 games, Greenwood ended last season with six goals in eight league appearances to take his tally to 19.

Manchester United scored six when Leeds United visited last season, and it's been 30 years since the Yorkshire club last won a league game at Old Trafford.

JAMIE VARDY (Leicester City v Wolves)

Along with Salah, Jamie Vardy is the only current Premier League player to score six goals in six opening matches of the season. He's a striker who hits the ground running, and running hard.

Leicester City are also enjoying a run of one defeat in 24 home league games against Wolves - and that was back in May 2007 in the Championship.

Wolves have gone eight seasons without losing their opening league match, but they have a new man in charge in Bruno Lage, and five of the previous seven managers whose first Premier League game came against Leicester were defeated.

 

CALLUM WILSON (Newcastle United v West Ham United)

Losing Callum Wilson to injury last term was a major reason behind Newcastle United's struggles, and it was his double in that shock 4-2 win away to Leicester that effectively secured their survival in May.

The Magpies begin 2021-22 against one of Wilson's favourite opponents. He has scored eight goals in 10 Premier League games against West Ham, more than he has against any other side in the competition.

The striker got his opening top-flight goals for both Bournemouth and Newcastle against the Hammers.

Related items

  • A-League: Yuel turns the tide as Melbourne City are beaten A-League: Yuel turns the tide as Melbourne City are beaten

    Sydney FC surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Newcastle Jets on Saturday and prolong their winless start to the season.

    The 2020 champions looked in control against a side they had beaten nine times in 12 previous home games, Adam Le Fondre opening the scoring from the penalty spot before cleverly setting up Elvis Kamsoba for a 2-0 half-time lead.

    However, Valentino Yuel puled a goal back before the hour mark and struck again seven minutes later, firing high into the net after a strong run into the box.

    Le Fondre thought he had scored a winner 13 minutes from time only for VAR to intervene due to an offside in the build-up.

    While Sydney remain without a win in three games, reigning champions Melbourne City have fared little better, losing 1-0 at home to Western United on matchday three.

    Dylan Wenzel-Halls followed up his winner over Perth Glory on November 26 with the only goal of the game at AAMI Park, firing home after being played in by Alessandro Diamanti.

    Adelaide United drew for the third game in a row as Brisbane Roar claimed their first point of the season, with six saves from visiting goalkeeper James Delianov ensuring a goalless draw at Moreton Daily Stadium.

  • India dominate New Zealand after Ajaz Patel's sensational 10-wicket haul India dominate New Zealand after Ajaz Patel's sensational 10-wicket haul

    Ajaz Patel sensationally became only the third man to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings before India dominated New Zealand on an astonishing day two of the second Test.

    Spinner Patel claimed stunning figures of 10-119 as India were bowled out for 325, but the tourists were skittled out for only 62 in reply as the India attack ripped through their batting line-up.

    The hosts ended the day 69-0 in their second innings in Mumbai, with a commanding lead of 332 heading into day three.

    Patel started where he left off on day one, taking the wickets of Wriddhiman Saha (27) and Ravichandran Ashwin (0) in consecutive balls during the first over, before eventually removing Mayank Agarwal for a brilliant 150.

    Axar Patel (52) and Jayant Yadav (12) were the next victims, before Mohammed Siraj (4) edged an attempted sweep to Rachin Ravindra to make it a perfect 10 for Patel.

    That was very much where the day peaked for New Zealand as India set about ripping through the Black Caps.

    Siraj removed Tom Latham (10) before getting rid of Will Young (4) and Ross Taylor (1) in consecutive balls. The seamer nearly had a hat-trick, but a review show his delivery to Henry Nicholls pitched just outside leg stump.

    Ashwin (4-8) then came to the fore, with Kyle Jamieson (17) and Latham the only New Zealand batsmen to make double figures.

    Agarwal (38 not out) and Pujara (29no) calmly eased India through to stumps in a dominant position.


    Shine slightly taken off historic day for Patel

    It is an incredible story. A man born in Mumbai returns as a New Zealand player to take all 10 wickets in an innings. The only thing more surprising involving Patel on day two was that the New Zealand number 11 was out in the middle holding a bat just a couple of hours later.

    It was just the third time in the history of men's Test cricket that a bowler has taken every wicket in a single innings, following in the footsteps of Jim Laker in 1956 and Anil Kumble in 1999.

    The 33-year-old, who was New Zealand's not-out batsman, would probably appreciate a bit more help from his team-mates on day three.

    Ashwin bowls devastating spell

    New Zealand were already reeling after Siraj (3-19) reduced them to 17-3, but having seen what the spin of Patel had achieved, they must have been fretting about what Ashwin would do when he came on, and with good cause.

    The 35-year-old bamboozled the tourists - missing injured captain Kane Williamson - and Axar Patel took 2-14 as the winners of the inaugural World Test Championship were humiliated.  

  • Is Kirk Cousins holding the Vikings back? Is Kirk Cousins holding the Vikings back?

    When the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed contract back in 2018, they believed they were landing a quarterback who put them over the top and could help them deliver a first Super Bowl title.

    What they actually acquired, however, was perhaps the league's ultimate enigma at quarterback.

    Nobody could look at Cousins' raw numbers and deem him a bad quarterback. Yet throughout his career both with the Vikings and beforehand in Washington, he is a player who has continued to confound, most notably with an apparent inability to deliver in 'clutch' situations with the game on the line.

    Cousins' time as a pro was arguably encapsulated by his showing in Week 12. In the most important game of a season in which he has the best touchdown to interception ratio in the NFL, Cousins came up dismally small, a series of poor throws and a turnover dooming the Vikings to defeat against the San Francisco 49ers.

    The Vikings are not without their problems in other areas. However, with the weapons around Cousins, theirs is an infrastructure seemingly conducive to quarterback success.

    In terms of his statistics, Cousins has largely succeeded in 2021. Yet baffling performances like the one that dropped the Vikings to 5-6 last week only serve to give rise to the debate around Cousins and whether he is holding his team back.

    Cousins' San Francisco slump

    Already over 3,000 yards passing with six games still to play, with 23 touchdowns and a career-low three interceptions to his name, statistically the 2021 campaign ranks among Cousins' finest seasons.

    Delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 80.8 per cent of his pass attempts, above the league average of 78.4, and throwing a pickable pass on 10 out of his 385 attempts, Stats Perform's advanced metrics also reflect well on Cousins.

    But it is that apparent season-long consistency that makes displays like his showing against San Francisco all the more bemusing.

    Cousins has done an excellent job of taking care of the football this season, yet his third interception of the year came in the third quarter against the Niners as he somehow failed to spot linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair crowding his throwing lane on an attempted pass to Adam Thielen. As far as failures to correctly read the field go, that was as bad as it gets.

    That interception set the Niners up to take a 28-14 lead, a gap the Vikings were unable to bridge in large part because of inaccurate throws by Cousins.

    He led the Vikings on a touchdown drive on the next series only to then miss a wide-open Justin Jefferson on a two-point conversion try with a low throw.

    Jefferson was the target on a fourth-down throw in the fourth quarter that sailed well over his head, that play coming after Minnesota burned a timeout due to Cousins lining up behind the right guard instead of the center.

    Cousins is not the first quarterback to accidentally line up in the wrong spot in the heat of the moment, but such a gaffe gives the impression of a signal-caller ill-equipped to deliver when the pressure is at its highest.

    And, given the performance of the surrounding weapons, it is no wonder Jefferson was left throwing his arms up in disbelief at some of Cousins' misses.

    Stacked supporting cast

    Any thought of Jefferson taking a step back after a historic 2020 season that saw him break the rookie record for receiving yards has been put to bed.

    Jefferson is on pace to surpass his tally of 1,400 yards from last year and, among wide receivers with at least 25 targets, he ranks seventh in burn percentage, which measures the rate at which a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, while he is 11th with a big play rate of 39 per cent.

    Thielen, who had a pair of touchdowns against San Francisco, has also excelled at creating big plays, doing so on 34.6 per cent of his targets.

    With K.J. Osborn emerging as a legitimate third receiving option and Tyler Conklin enjoying a career year at tight end, Cousins possesses one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL and is supported by a run game that has produced 37 runs of 10 yards or more, the 12th-most in the league.

    The potential absence of Dalvin Cook with a shoulder injury may reduce the assistance Cousins gets from the ground attack, but he is certainly in no position to complain about a stacked supporting cast, though he may be frustrated by a lack of help from other areas.

    The Vikings' fatal flaw

    Cousins' sack numbers have drastically improved this season. After taking 39 sacks last year, he has suffered only 15 across 11 games in 2021, pointing to an improvement on the offensive line.

    Yet a deeper assessment at the O-Line's performance suggests there may be a hint of fortune about the Vikings' success in preventing sacks.

    Indeed, Cousins has attempted 136 passes under pressure, second only to Matt Ryan (145), while the Vikings rank a lowly 28th in pass protection win rate.

    More often than not, the Vikings are losing the battle in the trenches, and that is the case on the defensive side of the ball, too.

    Continually bullied off the ball by the 49ers' superb rushing attack, the Vikings gave up 208 yards on the ground at an average of 5.3 yards per attempt.

    Though San Francisco's run game has dominated several teams this season, the Vikings' inability to stop them was in keeping with a theme of their season.

    They rank 26th in opponent yards per play allowed with 5.87 and are giving up 4.83 yards per rush, the most in the NFL. In Stats Perform's rush yards under expected allowed, the Vikings are also 26th.

    Minnesota's severe underperformance in containing opposing run games has a two-pronged effect. It has contributed to a defensive effort that has the Vikings giving up 25.1 points per game - with only eight teams conceding more - and allowed opponents to control the clock as the 49ers did last Sunday.

    Cousins' inability to make the key throws and that dismal interception undoubtedly played a critical role in Minnesota coming up short in Week 12, but the massive disadvantage in time of possession that resulted from San Francisco's run game dominance, along with a fumble from Cook as he suffered his injury, limited opportunities for the passing game to turn things around.

    That a quarterback of Cousins' experience and undoubted talents continues to throw in these sporadic head-scratching showings is a legitimate problem for the Vikings. However, they are too infrequent for him to be considered as holding Minnesota back.

    The reality is that, between the amount of points they are giving up and Minnesota's ineffectiveness against the run, the Vikings - for all their strengths on offense - aren't in a position to survive Cousins' off days.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.