Back To The FPL Future: GW31

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Bogey teams. Glaring differences between home and away form. Those players who just always seem to score against certain clubs. Sometimes fixtures past can offer some insight into fixtures future.

Looking at the recent history of the fixtures for the upcoming Gameweek can provide some potentially useful insights as to what we might expect to unfold. This is reinforced by a study of 25,000 games of football, which demonstrated a direct correlation between previous fixture results and the next fixture results. It is the reason why, for example, Everton’s 1-0 win at Liverpool in 2020/21 was so notable as their first win at Anfield in the Premier League since 1999; it was the exception that proved the rule.

Common themes, potential upsets, unexpected blanks or hauls for certain players. There are well known examples like how Jamie Vardy always scores against Arsenal. Or how Harry Kane always scores against Arsenal. Or how Kevin de Bruyne always scores against Ar…. you get the idea.

So, let’s take a look at the GW31 fixtures:

Fulham v Wolves

The 4 fixtures played in our timeframe were mostly Championship fixtures, except for the 2018/19 meeting which came after both teams were promoted to the Premier League together following the 2017/18 season. There has been quite a lot of squad turnover for both sides over the years, which makes it hard to pinpoint any relevant FPL players who stand out.

Wolves have the better record at Craven Cottage with almost double the aggregate and average goals, although a closer look shows that this is largely due to 2 consecutive games in 2015/16 and 2016/17 where Wolves scored 3 goals each time in winning performances. Wolves scored just 1 goal over the following two most recent games, losing and drawing in the process. Wolves are not in the best form and are still missing talisman Raul Jimenez due to a long term injury, as well as never having found the same form since selling key players Doherty and Jota. This probably makes a closer score line more likely, which has been the case in more recent meetings between these teams at Craven Cottage anyway, with Fulham having a decent chance for all 3 points.

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Liverpool v Aston Villa

There are only a couple of fixtures over the past 5 seasons due to Villa’s time in the Championship, and unsurprisingly Liverpool have the advantage with 2 wins out of 2. What was surprising was the infamous 7-2 reverse fixture score earlier this season where Villa completely took apart the reigning champions.

Villa talisman Jack Grealish was expected to make his return from injury last week against Fulham, but was unexpectedly withdrawn after feeling some ‘discomfort’ in training just before. Could we see him return in time for this fixture? Liverpool also seem to have most of their slip ups in their home games, losing at Anfield to the likes of Fulham, Everton, Brighton and Burnley and drawing with West Brom. Could we see a repeat of the 7-2? Probably not. There is also no set return date for GrealishS yet, so all eyes on Villa press conferences this week.

Due to squad turnover and there only being a couple of matches in the last 5 years, it is hard to identify any stand-out players from an FPL perspective. Mane scored last season but has been in poor form this season by his own standards. Salah got an assist in the same game last season and does go into this game off the back of a goal in the 3-0 win over Arsenal last Saturday, so will probably be favourite for attacking returns for FPL managers.

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Crystal Palace v Chelsea

Unsurprisingly Chelsea have the upper hand in this fixture, winning 4 of the last 5 games at Selhurst Park. Their aggregate and average goals over the last 5 are over double that of the home side, and Chelsea will be looking to make a statement in response to an embarrassing home defeat to West Brom last week. That result, whilst concerning, can probably be considered anomalous, as Chelsea had the best defensive stats in the league under Tuchel prior to last weeks’ round of games and had not conceded a single big chance in their 4 games prior to that. Given that Palace have failed to score in 3 of the last 5 fixtures at home to Chelsea, a revert to type would likely see an away win to nil.

It is hard to identify and standout FPL options due to squad turnover; Willian has previously done well which could suggest some joy for Chelsea’s wide men. For Palace, in the couple of games they managed to score Zaha has a couple of goals in those games. One thing that has previously been noted about Palace this season is their weakness from set pieces, so this could perhaps provide hope to Chelsea centre backs who will be getting forward for corners.

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Burnley v Newcastle

This has been a pretty close tie in recent seasons, with alternating wins between the sides and each win only being a 1 goal margin. Burnley just have the edge, and there has not been a draw between these sides in any of their 3 matches in the past 5 seasons. Having said that, it is hard to call a winner here at Turf Moor on Sunday but the home side maybe just have the edge despite Newcastle’s improved performance in their 2-2 draw against Spurs last week. Burnley have scored in every game at home to the Magpies in our timeframe, whilst the away side have failed to score in 2 out of 3.

With many FPL managers pulling the trigger on their final wildcard in GW31, there probably won’t be too many opting for players on either of these sides. Chris Wood will likely be the most popular, and he did score the only goal in the Burnley win here last season. I wonder what involvement Ben Mee will decide to have this time around, having assisted a Burnley goal but then scoring an own goal in the same game in 2018/19.

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West Ham v Leicester

Despite all of the games being very close, Leicester have a pretty strong record away to West Ham having won 3 of the last 5. The other 2 were draws, meaning West Ham haven’t won at home to Leicester at all in our timeframe. West Ham are having a very strong season this time around, however, whilst Leicester sit third in the Premier League and are in a strong position despite a little bit of unpredictability with their performances. All of this probably means we can expect another close game on Sunday, and recent history suggests it is likely to be a draw or an away win for Leicester.

Vardy has a decent record away at the Hammers, with 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 games prior to last season where he was absent through injury. Iheanacho scored in Vardy’s absence last season, and the Nigerian forward appears popular in many wildcard drafts so far thanks largely due his form, price point and tasty fixture run. The Hammers will also be missing key man Declan Rice through injury, so the prospects for Leicester forwards will have increased somewhat following this.

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Tottenham v Manchester Utd

Whilst Spurs dominate the aggregate and average scores, this is largely due to the earlier 3 games in our timeframe where they won all 3 and scored 7 goals in the process. The latter part of our timeframe has seen a relative drop-off for the home side, where they have lost and drawn and only scored 1 goal in the last 2. Whilst Man Utd have faded from the impressive form they showed earlier in the season, form which sees them still sitting pretty in second place in the Premier League, Spurs have faltered lately under Mourinho, the latest showing being a 2-2 draw at relegation threatened Newcastle. A meeting between two sides who are not in their greatest form may not make for the most exciting game , so we may see another result similar to the last two seasons which have been close, low-scoring affairs. Cue a seven goal thriller.

Interestingly, Kane has not scored at home to Utd in the last 3 meetings, and only has 1 in the last 5 which came in the 2016/17 win. Perhaps not the greatest omen for the highly-owned England forward. Son Heung-min has fared even worse, and does not have a single goal or assist in the last 5! On the Utd side, Fernandes scored in the 1-1 draw last season, whilst Pogba has an assist in each of his last 2. Goals will probably be at a premium in this game, with most goals for both sides coming from midfield/wide players.

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Sheffield Utd v Arsenal

There has only been 1 fixture in our timeframe due to Sheffield Utd’s time in the Championship and League 1. This was a narrow 1-0 home win, but this was back when Sheffield Utd still looked like a strong team and were surprising the whole Premier League with their strong performances. This 1-0 win occurred during possibly the height of Sheffield Utd’s 2019/20 pomp, a position to which they are now nowhere near. Arsenal are having another poor season themselves, but should be welcoming back some key players from injury and have far more about them on their day. Most observers will reasonably be expecting a win for the Gunners on Sunday, and they will be desperate to bounce back from an embarrassing, limp defeat to Liverpool last weak.

We cannot identify any key players from just the 1 fixture, but Saka and Smith-Rowe (assuming they are fit) will likely play a key role in unpicking the Sheffield Utd defence, whilst it is also a decent shot at a clean sheet for the Gunners.

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West Brom v Southampton

No fixtures in the last 2 seasons thanks to West Brom’s relegation in 2017/18. Before this, Southampton had the edge with 2 wins and a draw at the Hawthorns. West Brom come into this game off the back of an impressive 5-2 thrashing of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, whilst Southampton fans have had a torrid time in the latter part of this season but did at least enjoy some warm feelings again last week in the 3-2 win over Burnley. The West Brom result v Chelsea is probably anomalous, whilst Southampton will be hoping that their win last week will get their previously impressive season back on track, and will be hoping they can continue that here on Monday evening. Recent history suggests they will.

Due to squad turnover in the past few seasons there is only really 1 player of FPL relevance with any history here; Ward-Prowse hauled with a goal and assist in the last meeting between these two teams at the Hawthorns in 2017/18.

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Brighton v Everton

Brighton have the advantage in this fixture since their promotion to the Premier League in 2071/18. They have won 2 consecutive home games against the Toffees since a 0-0 draw in their debut season, and have scored 4 goals across those 2 wins. Everton again demonstrated their tendency to slip up against ‘lesser’ team last week in their disappointing home draw v Crystal Palace, whilst Brighton put in another good performance and took the lead in their eventual 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford. Given this, we may well see another Brighton win on Monday night and the home side have never failed to scored at home to Everton.

The meeting last season featured own goals for both sides, including for 9% owned (at time of writing) Lucas Digne. For the home side, Pascal Gross has a decent record with a goal and an assist in the last 3 games. Budget attacker Aaron Connolly got a brace of assists in the 3-2 win last season, but is not a particularly relevant FPL option this season with just 0.3% ownership. On the away side, Calvert-Lewin has the same decent record as Pascal Gross, with 1 goal and 1 assist in the last 3.

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Manchester City v Leeds

There is no table to display for this fixture as there have been no fixtures played out in the last 5 seasons thanks to Leeds’ 16 year absence from the Premier League.

This is an intriguing fixture as Manchester City will be expected to comfortably beat Leeds and therefore provide the best captaincy options. The issue comes from anticipating exactly which City players will be on the pitch. Pep himself has indicated that he will rotate like never before, and playing Pep roulette is trying at the best of times. City have just played Dortmund in the Champions league, and 3 of their next 5 games are non-Premier League fixtures so you have to imagine there will be significant rotation. Then you factor in exactly what effect that much squad rotation will have on the consistency and fluidity of the team, against a more settled Leeds side who have had a full week to prepare. Perhaps the result won’t be so one-sided after all, and it’s worth remembering that the reverse fixture was a 1-1 draw. It would still be a surprise if City didn’t win this one, but it may be closer than many expect.

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FOOTNOTES:

Past meetings in cup competitions have been excluded from the table of results, as we are only interested in league results. Not to mention cup competitions can have more erratic/unreliable results with unique atmospheres and weakened teams often played.

There are also varying amounts of fixture history in the last 5 seasons to draw upon, by virtue of 3 teams being relegated to and promoted from the Championship every year. Leeds, for example, have been absent from the Premier league for 16 years and so will often have little to no league history in the last 5 years versus certain teams. It was considered to replace those teams in these articles with ‘similar’ teams for the sake of comparison, but it was decided that this would be more unreliable, subjective and arbitrary and therefore would not represent an accurate or fair analysis.

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