So much for the final international break of the season being a quiet one! Tottenham stunned the soccer world by sacking manager Mauricio Pochettino on Tuesday, less than six months after they contested a Champions League final. Jose Mourinho is the new man in charge and it will be fascinating to see what he does with his new squad, currently languishing in 14th place in the Premier League. Could this change at the top provide a boost for Tottenham’s underperforming players, like Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen? Certainly, but I’m going to wait and see how things pan out over the next couple weeks, at least.
At the top of the table, Liverpool now has an eight-point lead after a 3-1 win over Manchester City just prior to the break. The game was actually a relatively even one. In fact, Man City only outshot Liverpool 18-12, and topped them in terms of xG (expected goals) according to TruMedia’s model by a slim 1.76-1.26. margin. Liverpool simply was the more clinical side in terms of finishing.
Man City has actually dropped to fourth place, one point behind both Leicester City and Chelsea, the side they will host in the marquee matchup of this weekend. Despite facing such challenging opponents, I’m going with Man City’s Sergio Aguero as my Tier 1 forward and captain this week. Aguero did not score against Liverpool, and has fallen to third in the Golden Boot race, two goals behind Jamie Vardy and one behind Tammy Abraham. However, Aguero has played 162 fewer minutes than Abraham, and 345 fewer minutes than Vardy.
Despite that relative lack of playing time, Aguero is still tied with Mohamed Salah for the league-lead in shots with 40. He sits alone at No. 1 in xG (expected goals) at 8.41. Plus, as good as Chelsea’s results have been so far this season, they’ve still conceded 17 goals in 12 games. In fact, they have only the sixth-best defensive record in the league in terms of xG conceded.
Speaking of Salah, he actually may not be available for Liverpool’s game at Crystal Palace on Saturday due to injury. If that is the case, I’ll be picking teammate Sadio Mane as my Tier 1 midfielder instead. Both Salah and Mane scored against Man City prior to the break. Mane leads Liverpool with seven goals, and is also tied for ninth in the league in chances created with 23. If Salah is out, Mane should be Liverpool’s primary attacking outlet against Palace.
After a rough start to the season, Wolves have risen to eighth in the table, having gone unbeaten in their past six league games (three wins, three draws). It’s no coincidence that Raul Jimenez has gotten red-hot of late. Jimenez has scored in three straight games — and five of the past six, if you include the Europa League. He’s taken at least five shots in each of the last three games.
On the season, Jimenez is tied for eighth in the league in shots, with 34. He’s also a facilitator. Jimenez has 18 chances created and, of the players ahead of him in terms of shots, only one (Sterling) has created more chances. Wolves play away this week, but do so against Bournemouth, who have only conceded 15 goals, but have the sixth-worst defensive record in the league in terms of xG conceded at 22.20. As such, Jimenez will be my Tier 2 forward this week.
I also considered Richarlison, with Everton hosting the team with the worst defense in the league in terms of xG conceded, Norwich City (28.18). Richarlison scored a goal in Everton’s 2-1 win at Southampton prior to the break. However, before that, he hadn’t scored since Sept. 1. He has only scored in two of 12 matches this season.
At Tier 2 midfielder, Christian Pulisic is now at the top in terms of fantasy points per game, after scoring in three straight matches (five goals in total). Unfortunately, Pulisic picked up a knock in Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Palace prior to the break. Even if he’s fit this weekend, he’ll be playing at Man City. Instead, I’m going with John McGinn, who has taken 34 shots this season — as many as Jimenez and Teemu Pukki, and more shots than any other midfielder in the league. McGinn has three goals and two assists on the season, and played very well for Scotland during the international break, with a goal and an assist in a 2-1 victory at Cyprus, followed by a brace in a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan. Plus, Aston Villa is favored at home over Newcastle.
Harry Wilson, Bournemouth (Tier 3 midfielder): Wilson scored his fourth goal of the season in Bournemouth’s 2-1 loss at Newcastle prior to the break. He also had a goal and an assist in Wales’ 2-0 win at Azerbaijan last weekend. It’s not an easy matchup against Wolves, but at least Bournemouth is at home.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool (Tier 1 defender): Alexander-Arnold is second in the league in chances created with 42, one behind De Bruyne, and is tops in terms of xA (expected assists) at 4.13. Plus, he’s 17th in the league in passes completed, and second among all fullbacks (behind only teammate Andy Robertson), averaging 49.1 per game. Liverpool’s opponents this week, Crystal Palace, have the fourth-lowest possession percentage in the league (42.6%).
Lucas Digne, Everton (Tier 2 defender): Digne has three assists — only six players in the league have more — and is third in the league in chances created with 31. He’ll be up against Norwich who, as mentioned above, has the worst defensive record in the league in terms of xG conceded.
Alisson Becker, Liverpool (Goalkeeper): Alisson has yet to keep a clean sheet in four Premier League games and two Champions League matches since returning from injury, but he’s only conceded one goal in each of those six games. I like his chances of picking up that elusive first clean sheet against Palace, who are second-worst in the league in both goals (10) and xG (13.49).