We are down to the last seven rounds of Premier League Football and for Fantasy Players this is the exciting time of hitting Double GameWeeks and Blank Weeks when you can really take a hold of your mini-Leagues.
Ten teams play twice this week and later in the month there is going to be another couple of rounds where there will be the chance to double up the points. Most will still have chips to use to maximise their returns, but for me I would suggest this could be the most productive of the Double GameWeeks ahead.
The bigger name clubs have good looking fixtures on paper compared with the Double GameWeek coming up in Week 35 so this may be the time to let the 'Bench Boost' or 'Triple Captain' chips loose- I know I will be playing one of those.
As with any Fantasy Week I had some very good plays and some that I would like to forget in GW31 when five Premier League fixtures were played across two days. Ryan Babel being a potential star for Fulham was perhaps my favourite as he did score, but Eden Hazard failed to sparkle as I thought he could for Chelsea at Everton.
Below you will be able to read my thoughts about the fixtures to be played this week as well as the Fantasy Star and Alternate for each game.
I will then have my top selections in from goalkeeper to forward from the Fantasy game this week which will hopefully offer some positives for those who decide to transfer in any of those players I have highlighted.
Fulham v Manchester City Pick: The Premier League title race looks like one that could run down to the very last day of the season and both Liverpool and Manchester City have to recognise how fatal the next slip could be.
It is Manchester City who get to go up first this weekend as they open the Premier League round of games with a trip to Craven Cottage. A win would move them back to the top of the table twenty-four hours before Liverpool are due to host Tottenham Hotspur, but anything less may give their rivals the impetus needed to go on and win a first English title in twenty-nine years.
Pep Guardiola will be reminding his players to take things game by game, but they have not looked completely convincing away from home in recent weeks. Two late goals were needed to win in Schalke, while Manchester City came from 2-0 down and needed some controversy to beat Swansea City 2-3 in the FA Cup Quarter Final two weeks ago. Add in the narrow win at Bournemouth and you have to say there are one or two things for Guardiola to have addressed during the two week international break.
With players heading off around Europe it can be a tough time for teams to produce their best out of the international break, although Manchester City have won by wide margins in all three previous occasions following the internationals this season. It is certainly something Scott Parker and Fulham will be looking to take advantage of, but it is hard to see that really happening.
Two weeks ago Fulham almost put a spanner in the Liverpool title charge when holding them to a draw and time ticking on, but another defensive mistake cost them another defeat. Fulham have been beaten by all five of the top six they have hosted this season, but they have shown they can hang in for long enough to cause one or two problems which has to be something Manchester City look to avoid.
However both Arsenal and Manchester United have won here comfortably and Fulham have not defended well enough to think they can contain Manchester City. Perhaps they sit in and make life difficult as they can, but Liverpool could have hammered Fulham early on and this Manchester City team score enough goals to think they win here by a comfortable margin.
Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool have all won 1-2 here, but I think Manchester City get closer to the margin Manchester United produced and I will back the visitors to cover the Asian Handicap and earn one of their more routine away wins in the last two months.
Fantasy Star: Sergio Aguero- looks to be the starting striker for Pep Guardiola and has had two weeks rest while Gabriel Jesus has been playing for Brazil.
Alternate: Raheem Sterling- improving all the time and the England winger is in fine form for both club and country. Will he start after playing two games for England, that is my only question mark?
Brighton v Southampton Pick: This is a big game down at the bottom of the Premier League table as both Brighton and Southampton look to ease relegation concerns by winning this weekend when they face each other at the Amex Stadium.
The international break can destroy some of the momentum teams have built up, but both teams should be feeling confident in their chances of earning the three points when you think of how they have been playing.
Southampton have won 2 of their last 3 Premier League games which has allowed them to move out of the bottom three, while Brighton have won back to back Premier League games and also knocked out Millwall in the FA Cup Quarter Final on a penalty shoot out.
Confidence shouldn't be a problem in what is expected to be a tense game where both teams should have their chances of at least getting on the scoreboard. Both Brighton and Southampton have looked threatening going forward in recent games, but neither has shown such strength defensively to think they are going to put together a host of clean sheets.
All 3 Premier League games between them over the last eighteen months have finished in score draws too and I would not be surprised if that is the case again on Saturday. At odds against you can back both teams to score in this one and that would have been a winner in 6 of the last 7 games Brighton have played as well as in 9 of the last 11 Southampton games.
You can't always tell how the international break would have affected form, but I think the two teams may be quite content if this did end in a draw and backing both teams to score is my pick. I think the 1-1 scoreline is most likely to continue the run of score draws between these south coast rivals.
Fantasy Star: Glenn Murray- his goals are going to be key for Brighton to avoid the drop and he should have chances against this Southampton defence.
Alternate: Danny Ings- is back from an injury and like Murray, I would expect the striker to get some chances against an underperforming Brighton defence.
Burnley v Wolves Pick: This is a fairly difficult game to predict with Burnley out of form going into the international break, but Wolves being a team who can sometimes play down to the level of their opponent and also potentially focused on the FA Cup Semi Final which is coming up next weekend.
A run of 4 losses in a row is a concern for Burnley and that concern is doubled down when you think they have conceded at least twice in each of those defeats. That includes a 1-3 loss to Crystal Palace and a 1-2 defeat to ten man Leicester City in their last couple of games at Turf Moor, but Burnley remain full of belief that they have enough to make sure they finish outside of the bottom three of the Premier League table.
They are facing a Wolves team who don't score a lot of away goals- while they have proven to be a tough team to beat, Wolves have scored more than one away goal in just 3 of their 15 away Premier League games this season and that means they simply don't win as many games as they would like.
Wolves tend to get at least the one goal though as they have managed to hit the net in 8 of their last 10 away Premier League games and one of the failures came at Manchester City when reduced to ten men very early on. That is going to be a concern for a Burnley team conceding as many goals as they have been, but they can take encouragement from the fact that Wolves have conceded in 11 straight away League games too.
The system employed by Sean Dyche has produced goals for Burnley who have scored in 11 straight games at Turf Moor in all competitions and I can't help feel the layers have given up a decent price for both teams scoring in this one. The last time they met almost exactly three years ago saw both teams hit the net against each other and I do think the 1-1 is a real player again in this one.
Perhaps this is a day when Wolves put their chances together and produce a clinical performance, but I do think both teams will have their opportunities and at close to odds against I will back both teams to hit the net.
Fantasy Star: Raul Jimenez- it's a boring selection, but he has been a huge part of the Wolves attack and likely a key figure again if they are going to score at Turf Moor.
Alternate: Dwight McNeil- the youngster has been in impressive form for Burnley and is going to be key to unlocking a stubborn defence.
Crystal Palace v Huddersfield Town Pick: This has to be seen as a big chance for Crystal Palace to earn an important three points that can take them away from the bottom three of the Premier League and perhaps begin to ease the fans from any relegation worries that may be around.
Going out of the FA Cup in the Quarter Final was a blow for Roy Hodgson's men, but they have key players back this weekend and ultimately survival in the Premier League was the main ambition for the manager at the start of the campaign.
Playing at Selhurst Park has been difficult for Crystal Palace with their style of play not really that effective when it comes to breaking down opponents who want to sit in deep. Defensive mistakes means The Eagles have found it tough to score the two goals they have needed to win such games, but they should have enough to beat a Huddersfield Town team who conceded too many and don't score enough on their travels.
Granted The Terriers managed three at West Ham United two weeks ago, but that snapped a run of 6 without scoring on their travels. Huddersfield Town have also lost 3 straight to Crystal Palace without scoring in any of those games and Roy Hodgson's team's last 5 home wins have come in games where they have kept clean sheets.
You would have to imagine a team containing the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Michy Batshuayi, Christian Benteke and Andros Townsend will have enough to create chances and score goals against this struggling Huddersfield Town team and I do think they can win this fixture.
It didn't work out for me two weeks ago, but I will back Crystal Palace to win this fixture with a clean sheet at odds against and move into a position where they are close to securing another season in the Premier League.
Fantasy Star: Michy Batshuayi- has looked pretty lively and been amongst the goals for Crystal Palace. Could be main threat with Wilfried Zaha possibly missing.
Alternate: Jeffrey Schlupp- a defender who can be used in midfield and who has been involved in creating and scoring goals. Clean sheet bonus a real possibility too.
Leicester City v Bournemouth Pick: This should be one of the more exciting games of the Premier League weekend with both Brendan Rodgers and Eddie Howe wanting their Leicester City and Bournemouth teams to play attacking football.
Neither team has defended as well as they would have liked so there should be opportunities for both teams to take advantage.
In recent years the games between these teams have tended to be tighter than you would think, but I do think the home team will be set up to get forward with much more conviction than Claude Puel would have done for Leicester City.
Since Brendan Rodgers has come in as manager, Leicester City have scored in all 4 games and they have scored two or more goals in 3 of those. They've needed those goals to win games as Leicester City have not been keeping clean sheets, and I do think they can take advantage of the fact that Bournemouth have been conceding goals at an alarming rate away from the Vitality Stadium.
It would be a surprise if a Bournemouth team containing David Brooks, Callum Wilson and Josh King are not able to create problems for the home team, but I believe Leicester City can edge them out for an important three points. I am anticipating goals and Bournemouth had conceded two or more goals in 9 away Premier League games in a row before the clean sheet earned at Huddersfield Town.
Backing Leicester City to win a game featuring two or more goals looks to be the call here.
Fantasy Star: Jamie Vardy- looks to be enjoying his football under Brendan Rodgers and has scored four times since Claude Puel was sacked.
Alternate: David Brooks- the Welshman has been in fine form and could be the man to take advantage of a Leicester City defence that has struggled for clean sheets.
Manchester United v Watford Pick: There should be a really good atmosphere at Old Trafford on Saturday after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was announced as the permanent manager of Manchester United on Thursday.
This is a decision that might leave me a little unconvinced, but in reality the performances and results have improved to such a level under the Norwegian that it was the only real decision the board at Manchester United could have made.
A big summer awaits the club, but the key for Manchester United is earning a top four finish at the very least and making sure Champions League Football is being offered to any new potential recruitments. They can move into one of those places by beating Watford before the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea play this weekend and I think the positive atmosphere is going to help produce a positive performance after back to back losses.
Manchester United have not been at their best at Old Trafford in recent games, but the late win over Southampton earlier this month ended a run of 3 without a win at home.
Now they are facing a Watford team who have lost at Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City this season and who will be trying to remain focused on the Premier League ahead of the FA Cup Semi Final being played next Sunday. I don't think that will be a big distraction coming out of the international break and certainly not the factor that decides this fixture, but Watford have struggled when visiting the top teams and I expect that may continue.
Javi Gracia will likely want to have his team set up to frustrate Manchester United, but the home team have shown they can create the chances to break them down. Manchester United have beaten Watford 7 times in a row at Old Trafford and I think the positive feelings from the appointment of Solskjaer will see the crowd get behind the team and help them overcome this opponent.
Manchester United have scored at least twice in 8 of their last 10 at Old Trafford and I think they will do just enough to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.
Fantasy Star: Paul Pogba- has thrived under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and can underline that point by scoring in the first game since the Norwegian was made permanent manager.
Alternate: Marcus Rashford- was missing for England duty, but is available this week and looks to lead the line in the absence of Romelu Lukaku. Could take advantage of a distracted Watford team looking ahead to the FA Cup Semi Final next Sunday.
West Ham United v Everton Pick: This might not have been the fixture that leapt off the page for live television coverage in this round of Premier League games, but West Ham United and Everton could produce an entertaining fixture for the neutrals tuning in.
Neither team has looked very secure defensively, but there are some really good attacking players that can take advantage of those vulnerabilities and I think that should mean chances at both ends.
You have to give the edge to West Ham United considering they have won 5 of their last 6 at the London Stadium although the manner of the win over Huddersfield Town will raise some doubts. In that fixture The Hammers trailed 1-3 before fighting back for a stunning 4-3 victory, but going down to Everton will be a much bigger mountain to climb.
Everton have won 2 of their last 4 away Premier League games and they also led 0-2 at Newcastle United before blowing it in the second half of a 3-2 defeat. A strong second half saw them dismiss Chelsea two weeks ago, but the pressure remains on manager Marco Silva with rumours suggesting Everton will be looking for yet another new manager at the end of the current campaign.
I would imagine those rumours would disappear if Everton can finish 7th in the Premier League table, but that remains a big task for a team who have generally struggled away from home.
This is a fixture that has produced goals in recent years and I do think we are going to get at least three in this one. I was very close to backing West Ham United on the Asian Handicap considering the home form compared with the Everton away form, but the last few performances on their travels has made me a little wary of opposing the the visitors.
In saying that I would be surprised if West Ham United were to lose this game considering they have only been beaten in 1 of their last 5 at home by Everton. While I do think we will see goals, I think West Ham United may edge the victory on the day and I am going to select them on the Handicap to do that.
Fantasy Star: Javier Hernandez- West Ham United have been strong at home and Javier Hernandez has scored in 2 of the last 3 at the London Stadium.
Alternate: Gylfi Sigurdsson- if Everton are going to upset the home team, the Icelandic midfielder is likely going to be an influential part of their success.
Cardiff City v Chelsea Pick: The first of the live televised games from the Premier League on Sunday afternoon comes from Wales and it has big implications at the top and bottom of the table. With games beginning to run down the importance of every fixture is increasing tenfold and neither Cardiff City nor Chelsea can afford a defeat.
On Saturday Cardiff City will have watched a couple of their rivals in avoiding relegation face each other, while Burnley take on a potentially distracted Wolves team so the gap between them and safety may have grown. With games against Chelsea and Manchester City to come this week it does put pressure on Cardiff City and they have struggled when facing the top clubs so far this season.
Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have all scored at least three goals and won by at least three goal margins in wins at the Cardiff City Stadium this season. Arsenal scored three times in a narrow win here too, and I do think this Chelsea team are capable when at their best.
The only issue with Maurizio Sarri's men is you don't seem to know what you're getting from half to half let alone game to game. Two weeks ago they were beaten at Everton to lose their 5th away League game in 6 played, but Chelsea could have been out of sight in the first half before crumbling in the second.
A similar level here will likely be enough to see Chelsea break down Cardiff City and their one win in recent away League games did come at struggling Fulham. They've also won comfortably at Huddersfield Town, Southampton and Burnley earlier this season and edged out Brighton so I do think the talented Chelsea players can get the better of a Cardiff City team missing influential centre back Sol Bamba and who have conceded plenty of goals at home all season.
It is hard to trust Chelsea, but they have winnable League games coming up over the next nine days and I think they can get back into a position where the top four finish they crave is back within their control. That will begin with a win at Cardiff City and I will back them to do that by a comfortable margin when it is all said and done.
Fantasy Star: Eden Hazard- scored for Belgium during the international break and banged in a hat-trick against Cardiff City earlier this season.
Alternative: Ross Barkley- might not be a starter so a risky play, but had chances against Everton and was in good form for England.
Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: At this stage of the season you are going to see many people predicting how the rest of the Premier League campaign is going to play out and this looks like one of the major obstacles in front of Liverpool over their last seven games.
Tottenham Hotspur can play spoiler as they visit both Anfield and the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League before the season is out, but the game means plenty for clubs as they chase the ambitions they have set out for the 2018/19 season.
In the last couple of months Liverpool have lost control of their own destiny as far as the title race is concerned, but Jurgen Klopp has to feel winning their remaining seven League games will be enough to earn a first title since 1990. Two major fixtures at Anfield look to pose the most problems and the first of those is the visit of Tottenham Hotspur despite the fact that Spurs have not won in 8 attempts here.
On the face of it Liverpool look very short, but they have been very good at Anfield all season and Tottenham Hotspur have just lost their way away from home. Spurs have lost their last 3 Premier League games on their travels and that has seen them pulled into a battle for the top four places in the table, but this is still a dangerous team that can cause problems for the best teams in England and Europe.
I expect they will cause problems for Liverpool, but ultimately I would not be surprised if there is too much attacking threat from the home team to be contained by the visitors. Tottenham Hotspur have conceded at least twice in their last 3 away League games and Liverpool have scored at least three times in 3 in a row at Anfield which is likely part of the reason they are such strong favourites to win here.
However teams have begun to create more chances and taken more opportunities against Liverpool and I think Tottenham Hotspur will play their part in this one. Liverpool have kept 2 clean sheets from their last 6 Premier League games at home and that includes conceding to Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Burnley. Over the course of the season Tottenham Hotspur have shown they can score away goals and I think they will help play their part in a fixture that finishes with three or more goals shared out.
4 of the last 6 overall and 5 of the last 7 at Anfield between these clubs have hit that mark and I will select this fixture to do the same.
Fantasy Star: Sadio Mane- the player propelling the Liverpool title race at the moment having scored and won the penalty in the win over Fulham two weeks ago.
Alternative: Harry Kane- scored the equaliser at Anfield last season and should be sharper with more creativity behind him having returned from an injury six weeks ago.
Arsenal v Newcastle United Pick: The final Premier League game of the weekend sees yet another top four chasing side looking to keep the pressure on the teams around them by earning the three points. Arsenal are hosting Newcastle United in front of the television cameras and they are will likely be looking to get back into the top four by the time this game kicks off as both Manchester United and Chelsea are expected to win their fixtures played on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
There could be some tension in the Arsenal stands with the fans knowing how important a return to the Champions League is for the club, but they have been very strong at home this season and I expect that will continue.
Arsenal have won 6 in a row here in all competitions while scoring at least twice in each game. They have creative, attacking players that will feel they can break down a Newcastle United team that will be set up to counter the home team and I think they can do that.
While Newcastle United have been in improved form, they have not been the best travellers and the majority of their best results have come at home. They do have a decent front three that can cause problems for a vulnerable Arsenal defence, but Arsenal have shown improvement of their own with a single goal conceded in their last 5 at home.
Fortune has perhaps helped that number of goals conceded, but Arsenal should be confident and they should be too strong for Newcastle United having beaten them 6 times in a row at home. The last 5 wins earned by Arsenal at home have come by two or more goal margins and I will back them on the Asian Handicap to continue that run in this one too.
Newcastle United are rarely blown away which has to be respected and only Liverpool and West Ham United have beaten them by more than a one goal margin. They have lost 2-1 at Manchester City, 3-2 at Manchester United, 2-1 at Chelsea and 1-0 at Tottenham Hotspur, but Arsenal are in really good nick and I think they will be able to score the goals to win by a wider margin than those four teams mentioned.
A Newcastle United goal will be tough to overcome on the Handicap, but I will look for Arsenal to find a way to cover.
Fantasy Star: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang- loves playing at the Emirates Stadium and should have chances against this Newcastle United defence.
Alternative: Sead Kolasinac- a potential assist maker and also the chance of a clean sheet with Arsenal managing 5 in their last 6 at the Emirates Stadium.
Brighton-Southampton Both Teams to Score @ 2.00 Bet Fred
Burnley-Wolves Both Teams to Score @ 2.00 William Hill
Crystal Palace Win to Nil @ 2.05 Bet365
Leicester City Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.15 Ladbrokes
Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor
West Ham United 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Fred
Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor