As we stated in our goalkeeper selection, round 24 of the Irish Times Fantasy Premier League takes a back seat over the weekend with the fourth round of the F.A Cup swinging into action. It is worth noting that there are no fewer than six premier league teams that are not in F.A Cup action this weekend with Newcastle, Southampton,Swansea, Sunderland, West Brom and West Ham having all be knocked out of the competition they will have the weekend off and a good rest prior to round 24. As far as defenders are concerned heading into the impending fixture round there are no major injury worries for fantasy managers to contend with both Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta and Norwich’s Sebastien Bassong set to return from injury in time for the midweek fixtures.
Obviously with round 24 not kicking off until Tuesday there will be plenty of time to keep a close eye on player and team performances over the weekend but for the moment here are our coaches thoughts of defenders for round 24.
Patrice Evra (Manchester United) £5.o million Fixture: Southampton (Home)
The United left back has been in immense form this season and despite the lack of expected clean sheets from the Red’s rear guard Evra has managed to improve his attacking potential and come up with two goals and three assists in his last six appearances to bring his tally to four goals and five assists for the season. At home this season United have not been their usual solid selves managing a mere two clean sheets at the theater of Dreams, but their are signs of improvement with the league leaders collecting two clean sheets in their last four games.
The Saint’s go into this one with a pretty good run of form behind them having gone the last six games unbeaten, but a trip to Old Trafford is certainly not somewhere their new managers would have wanted to go with only one game under his belt at his new club. As we stated in our goalkeeping selections, Southampton’s away record is not all that bad in recent week’s as Chelsea found out to their detriment, but with United looking to ensure they do not drop any more points at the top of the table the Saint’s will find it tough to breach the United defences.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) £4.7 million Fixture: QPR (Away)
It’s the second time in as many weeks we turn to the City full back for defensive points and after he failed to disappoint last time out it is hard to look past him once again as City make the trip to Loftus Road in round 24. Zabaleta was however unlucky enough to pick up a slight ankle injury against Fulham at the weekend but if all reports coming out of Carrington are to be believed then the Argentine should be fit in time to feature in this weekend’s F.A Cup action, of course if he doesn’t feature then fantasy managers are advised to watch the situation closely over the days leading up to City’s clash with QPR.
QPR are on a decent run going into round 24 with the R’s currently unbeaten in three games, but when the champions come to town it can all too often be a tale of too much too soon.The R’s have only managed to score eight goals at home all season and I would imagine that even the injection of a new striker namely Loic Remy is going to change the fortunes against Roberto Mancini’s men. City now go into a run of games that should see them collect plenty more defensive points with the toughest tests coming in round 25 and 27 as they play Liverpool and Chelsea respectively but even these games are home where the title holders have only conceded nine goals and kept six clean sheets to date.
Robert Huth (Stoke) £3.6 million. Fixture: Wigan (Home)
Oh how the mighty have fallen? It’s wasn’t too long ago that the safest bet for a clean sheet each week was a Stoke defender but now it seems that has gone out the window as the Potters struggle to stem the flow of goals they are shipping. Having conceded 13 goals in 4 games fantasy managers will not exactly be full of confidence heading into this one but with a home game against Wigan on the cards all may not be lost just yet as Tony Pulis’s side look to steady the ship and claim clean sheet number ten of the season.
As we said Wigan are the visitors to the Britannia this weekend and there is no doubting that the Latic’s are struggling. Having managed to find the net ten times this season on their travels Roberto Martinez’s side will certainly find it difficult to break down a resolute Stoke defence and with their number one striker Arouna Kone currently on international duty at the African Cup of Nations the task doesn’t get any easier. This fixture represents a chance for Stoke to get back on the horse and back to winning ways and despite their recent performances a clean sheet may not be too far away for the Potters.
Sascha Riether (Fulham) £3.5 million. Fixture: West Ham (Home)
The Cottagers haven’t exactly been filling fantasy managers with confidence lately having only managed to win one of their last six games, but with West Ham making the short trip across town for their third London derby in as many games there will be a quiet air of optimism around Craven Cottage. Riether who is currently on loan from Bundesliga side FC Köln has been ever present this season under Martin Jol and looks to be showing the benefits of regular first team football with the German chipping in with two assists in his last five games, which interestingly enough both came on home soil.
The Hammers go into this one after that unmerciful hiding at the hands of Arsenal last time out and if they were looking for a handy game to bounce back in this most certainly isn’t it. Big Sam’s side have the worst offensive record away from home in the league having managed to find the net a mere six times in eleven games. Fulham of course have not exactly been at their best either and the usual fortress that is Craven Cottage seems to waining somewhat this season, but with the miss firing Hammers coming to town Riether may just be about to collect six points for his efforts.
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