EPL Weekend Picks – Week 31

vardyWith a reduced run of fixtures in the Premier League this coming weekend owing to FA Cup Sixth Round action, there are only ten teams from which to take this week’s weekend picks. The pick of the upcoming fixtures is arguably Everton hosting Chelsea in the 4.30pm kickoff on Sunday, while Bournemouth host in-form Newcastle on Saturday. Burnley do battle with Leicester and West Ham take on Huddersfield in Saturday’s other games, while Sunday’s earlier game sees Fulham welcome Liverpool to Craven Cottage. Taking all of that into account, let’s adopt a 4-3-3 this time and see which players could be set to work their way into fantasy management consideration.

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Fabianski and Szczesny to battle for Poland starting spot

Juventus v Genoa CFC - Serie A

With Poland facing Portugal in the UEFA Nations League tomorrow, their manager Jerzy Brzeczek will have a tough decision to make. Unlike most teams, the dilemma he faces is who he’ll put between the sticks for the tie. Whereas as most national teams have a nailed on number one, Poland called upon both Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski during the last international break.

With both having new roles at club level this season and one game apiece last time around, it will be interesting to see who Brzeczek picks. Fabianski moved to West Ham United from Swansea City in the summer for a sum of £8 million. His performances for the East London club have made this seem like a bargain, as alongside Marko Arnautovic he has been the club’s outstanding performer, even when times have been tough for the Hammers. According to the official Premier League site, he is tied with Joe Hart in making the most saves in the league this season, with 36 stops.

Szczesny may not have moved club, but with Gianluigi Buffon leaving Juventus for PSG, his role within the club has changed significantly. He’s seen off competition from new recruit Mattia Perin to play nine of Juventus’ 10 matches in all competitions this campaign. He’s won every competitive game he’s played this season, keeping five clean sheets.

With the pedigree of club they play for differing, Szczesny seems like the obvious choice to go in goal against the Portuguese. However, Fabianski’s showing this campaign means he must be considered for the role. In addition to his club form, he performed admirably against Italy, producing numerous brilliant saves. In the end it took an effort from the penalty spot to beat him, as Jorginho converted after Jakub Blaszczykowski had fouled Federico Chiesa in the box. Fabianski’s performance may not have been enough to earn himself a clean sheet, but he was rewarded with a point for his team.

The third choice goalkeeper for Poland this time around is Lukasz Skorupski. The 27-year-old who plays his club football for Bologna has two Poland caps to his name. Fabianski and Szczesny have earned 42 and 38 caps respectively.

The Portugal side Poland are facing will be without Cristiano Ronaldo. However, with the likes of Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, RB Leipzig’s Bruma and Sevilla striker Andre Silva in the team there will still be a significant threat to be dealt with by the chosen keeper and their defence.

Following the aforementioned draw with Italy, Poland sit second of the three teams in the UEFA Nations League’s League A Group 3. They are currently two points behind Portugal, who themselves beat Italy in their opening game in the competition. A win for Poland will see them top the group before they host Italy on Sunday night.

The two stoppers in question know each other well, having both been at Arsenal, as well as fighting for the starting spot for Poland’s national team in recent times. Whoever gets the go ahead to start in goal tomorrow night will know they’ll have to perform well to keep their place in the long run.


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West Ham keep their first clean sheet of the season


West Ham came into today’s match against Chelsea off the back of a 3-1 victory against Everton- their first Premier League win of the season. However, there will have been many who doubted that the Hammers would be able to get anything against the Blues, even despite their Europa League travels. Chelsea have won scored 14 times this season, but they were unable to get on the score sheet at the London Stadium, as West Ham earned their first clean sheet of the season.

The game may have ended 0-0 –ending Chelsea’s 100% league record- but the Hammers could have easily won it. Michail Antonio had two chances in the first half which he failed to get past Kepa Arrizabalaga. Andriy Yarmolenko had the best chance though, as he found himself in acres of space just outside the six yard box when Robert Snodgrass crossed the ball in, but his header went wide of the post.

While the missed chances will leave the Hammers frustrated, the lack of opportunities Chelsea created will be satisfying for Manuel Pellegrini and his side. Before the international break West Ham had been widely criticised for their poor defensive displays, especially during their 4-0 opening day loss against Liverpool. They were highly impressive defensively today though.

Chelsea’s midfield three of Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic have dominated games between them this season, however, they were unable to do so today. The trio of Mark Noble, Declan Rice and Pedro Obiang did a brilliant job of keeping them at bay. Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson also played their part, as they also regularly tracked back which led to the midfield area becoming incredibly overcrowded. This led to their forward passing routes being shut off, consequentially there were plenty of backward passes and hopeful balls from the men in blue.

One talking point going into the match was how the Hammers could stop Eden Hazard, who came into the match with five goals and two assists in five Premier League appearances. While cutting off the supply to him helps, it was clear that the Belgian was going to get the ball at times. When he did have the ball at his feet there was always someone hot on his trail. If he drifted to the right hand side he was met by Arthur Masuaku, if he went to the left Pablo Zabaleta would work tirelessly to ensure he didn’t have space and Rice was always there to help the full back out or fill in for them when required. Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena were also incredibly resolute in the way that they defended, pulling off plenty of tackles, blocks and interceptions at vital times.

It was clear that with the attacking talent at Chelsea’s disposal they would be able to carve open the occasional opportunity. Whenever they did Lukasz Fabianski, who has been one of West Ham’s top performers this season, was there to stop them. The Polish goalkeeper was arguably man of the match, as he produced some brilliant saves. The pick of the bunch has to be his stop at the feet of Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard, who had replaced Olivier Giroud let off a shot in the box, but Fabianski rushed out, stopping the ball with his face.

The nature of the defending that earned the Hammers a clean sheet today will be incredibly encouraging. With Manchester United next in the league, they will be hoping to continue this form defensively to continue climbing the table.


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Marko Arnautovic concludes West Ham’s UEFA Nations League involvement

Marko Arnautovic

The first ever round of UEFA Nations League fixtures have come to a close. There were some incredible score lines across the board as Spain beat Croatia 6-0, Switzerland won 6-0 against Iceland and Luxembourg had a 4-0 victory over Moldova. Of the many players involved in the competition, four of them were from West Ham: Lukasz Fabianski, Andriy Yarmolenko, Robert Snodgrass and Marko Arnautovic. They had varying levels of success though.

Of the four it is Yarmolenko who’s struggled most for the Hammers this season, as he hasn’t started a single Premier League match since joining from Borussia Dortmund. However, it is the Ukrainian winger who has had the most success during the international break. Ukraine were the only team in League B Group 1 to play twice; they’re also the only side to have any points, after winning both matches, with Yarmolenko central to their success.

In the opening fixture against Czech Republic, Patrick Schick put the Czechs ahead after just four minutes. It was Yarmolenko who led the Ukrainian charge with some dangerous balls into the box following that setback. He was involved when the men in yellow equalised as he dummied Marlos’ pass which went to Evgen Konoplyanka, who cut inside and fired the ball into the bottom corner. Yarmolenko was brought off in the 66th minute, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko. It was the Manchester City man who scored the winner in the dying moments of the match.

The second game of Ukraine’s Nations League campaign came at home against Slovakia. Once again Yarmolenko made the difference as he scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot in the 80th minute, despite Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka getting his hand to the ball.

Next up was Lukasz Fabianski, who beat Wojciech Szczesny to the starting spot in Poland’s goal for the tie against Italy. Poland took the lead in the 40th minute when Mateusz Klich dispossessed Jorginho near the edge of Italy’s box, offloaded the ball to Robert Lewandoski, who crossed it towards the back post where Piotr Zielinski was on hand to volley into the net.

As he has done for the Hammers throughout this season, Fabianski made a number of impressive saves in the game. However, after Jakub Blaszczykowski had fouled Federico Chiesa inside the box, there was nothing the keeper could do to stop Jorginho’s penalty as he was sent the wrong way; the game ended 1-1.

Robert Snodgrass was not originally part of Scotland’s squad, but was brought into the fold when West Bromwich Albion’s Matt Phillips withdrew through injury. Snodgrass is now getting plenty of time on the pitch at West Ham, but was left on the bench for the entirety of Scotland’s 2-0 win against Albania. It was an own goal from Berat Djimsiti and a 68th minute header from Steven Naismith which earned the Scots all three points.

Marko Arnautovic was the last of West Ham’s quartet to make an appearance in the Nations League, as his Austria side faced Bosnia & Herzegovina away from home. It was a tame affair for the majority of the game. Arnautovic gave Ibrahim Sehic his biggest test of the match with a curling effort from outside the box in the 14th minute, but the Büyüksehir Belediye Erzurumpsor and Bosnia & Herzegovina keeper was able to tip it over the bar. In the end, it was AS Roma’s Edin Dzeko who made the difference as he scored in the 78th minute to earn the home side a 1-0 win.

All four of the West Ham players will now be looking ahead to the Hammers’ next fixture, Sunday’s away fixture against Everton, alongside the rest of the squad.

Lukasz Fabianski impresses again

Lukasz Fabianski

Following all the anticipation having spent £100 million on new players, West Ham have been seriously disappointing so far this season. After four matches they sit bottom of the league with no points. Most of the signings have been underwhelming, but Lukasz Fabianski has been very impressive, even though he’s conceded 10 times already.

He certainly isn’t at fault for this number though, in fact if it wasn’t for the man the Hammers signed for £7 million that record could easily be a lot worse. Having been rested in West Ham’s solitary win against AFC Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup, Fabianski went into the international break having lost every game he’s played in.

With competition from Juventus man Wojciech Szczesny, it was unknown whether Fabianski would be starting for Poland as they started their first ever UEFA Nations League campaign. He was given the nod though as they faced Italy in Genoa tonight.

It was Fabianski’s opposite number, Gianluigi Donnarumma who was the busiest in the game’s early exchanges. The AC Milan stopper pulled off a brilliant save at Piotr Zielinski’s feet to prevent the Napoli man from opening the scoring.

While Poland’s keeper wasn’t tested extensively during the first half -with AS Monaco’s Kamil Glik and Southampton centre back Jan Bednarek protecting him well- Fabianski impressed with his feet. Poland manager Jerzy Brzęczek clearly wants his team to play out from the back, starting with Fabianski. The goalkeeper obliged and rarely misplaced a pass, whether it was playing it short to his centre back or hitting a long ball to the wingers.

It was Fabianski’s Poland who took the lead in the 40th minute. Mateusz Klich dispossessed Jorginho in Italy’s half, the Leeds man then played the ball to Robert Lewandowski, who clipped it towards the back post where Zielinski was waiting to volley it in with the side of his foot.

Poland made it to half time with their 1-0 lead intact. However, Italy came out in the second half and put a lot more pressure on their goal. Fabianski showed the shot stopping skills which he’s had to use so many times this season. He made a brilliant save as he caught a close range volley from Lorenzo Insigne. It was eventually called offside, but this was a clear sign of his handling. He made another great stop when substitute Federico Chiesa’s shot deflected off of Glik’s knee, as was able to adapt his position and was equal to the challenge.

It was going to take special circumstances for the Polish goalkeeper to be beaten. The chance for that came when Jakub Blaszczykowski slid in on Chiesa in the box in the 76th minute, with the referee adjudging it to be a penalty. Jorginho stepped up and sent Fabianski the wrong way, slotting the ball away and making the score 1-1.

Italy put further pressure on following their goal, but were unable to force their way past Fabianski and his defence. West Ham’s Polish stopper picked up a booking in the 93rd minute for time wasting, but will be more than happy to take that alongside a point in his country’s first ever UEFA Nations League match.

His team will face Republic of Ireland on Tuesday before heading back to East London. With this positive result under his belt, Fabianski will be hoping that he can build on this further and pick up some points with West Ham. He and his team mates will have a tough schedule, with Everton, Manchester United and Chelsea next up. Many aren’t convinced that West Ham won’t manage to get anything from these fixtures, but what is clear, is that if they do Fabianski will be a big part of that.


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Klopp: Liverpool face a tough season despite West Ham win

salahmaneLiverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has commended his players for their performance in Sunday’s 4-0 win over West Ham, but warned that his team face an “unbelievable tough” season ahead of them. The Reds finished 25 points behind champions Man City last term but did overcome Pep Guardiola’s men fairly convincingly in the Champions League quarter-finals, and so there has been hope among the Anfield stands that the Merseysiders could challenge at the top of the league this season. This was about as emphatic a start as they could have hoped for, as well as being their fourth successive four goal return against the Hammers (0-4, 1-4, 4-1 and then 4-0), and the match served as a stark reminder to new West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini how tough life can be in the Premier League.

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