“We’re hoping to have him back fit after the international break” was a common refrain among Premier League managers in their press conferences over the last few weeks.
A number of key Fantasy Premier League (FPL) players look set to be closing in on a return to full fitness ahead of Gameweek 30, so we’ll take a look at the pick of the bunch here and discuss their appeal for the season run-in.
“He was out on the field today and he looked very, very good. We’re hopeful that, if he can have a good couple of weeks during the international break, he could be close when we get back. He just looked like he had his confidence back.
“He was doing his ball work, multi-directional work, and I think he was really pleased. Hopefully, over the international break, we can step that up and he can join us after that.” – Brendan Rodgers, March 18
James Maddison (£7.1m) was in top form before a recurrent hip problem led to his withdrawal in Gameweek 25 and subsequent absence.
Maddison had registered five goals and four assists in his ten Premier League appearances before his injury flared up, averaging 6.8 FPL points per match over that period.
Maddison’s impending return needn’t be a worry for owners of the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho (£5.7m) as it’ll very likely be Ayoze Perez (£6.0m) making way in ‘the hole’ if Rodgers sticks with the 3-4-1-2 set-up he is currently employing.
How Harvey Barnes (£6.7m) is incorporated back into the side is another question, although the young winger is a little way behind in his rehabilitation from a knee problem.
Gameweek 32 looks like an excellent time to pounce on Maddison fixture-wise and gives us a bit of time to assess his form and fitness upon his playing comeback.
“There was definitely a chance [for Gameweek 29], I wouldn’t have said it if there wasn’t. He had not trained up until Friday when I had done my press conference, but he is pain-free now and he is running. So he will definitely be back after the international break, for sure.” – Dean Smith, March 21
Even if their so-so form did pre-date Gameweek 25, it’s pretty evident that Aston Villa have missed Jack Grealish (£7.5m) in the six matches without their talisman.
Villa have scored on just three occasions and won only once in their last half-dozen outings, with Ollie Watkins (£6.6m) in particular feeling the pinch – he hasn’t had a single big chance since Grealish was sidelined.
Grealish has directly played a part in 50% of the goals that the Villans have scored when he has been on the pitch this season, further underscoring his influence.
Even Dean Smith admitted after the defeat to Spurs that it feels “like the players are waiting for Jack to come back.”
The international break may come at a good time for Villa, and not just because of Grealish’s recovery – they have fewer senior players away with their respective countries than any other Premier League side.
The fixtures are a mixed bag at best for Grealish when he does return – Trezeguet (£5.2m) will be the likely fall-guy when that does happen – but there will be a Double Gameweek for him to enjoy at some point, with a postponed clash against Everton still awaiting a new date.
Guaranteed minutes is another string to his bow, too, when rotation may be an issue elsewhere.
“I think it is a serious one but not too serious. I think three weeks will be – I expect him being back after the international break.” – Ralph Hasenhuttl, March 8
Southampton still have an as-yet-unannounced Double Gameweek to come before the end of the season, with their postponed Gameweek 33 clash with Tottenham Hotspur still to be given a new date.
Three favourable fixtures before then, against Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace, also increases the immediate appeal of Saints assets – if only they weren’t in such wretched shape.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are rock-bottom of the Premier League form table over their last 12 matches, having lost all bar two of those dozen games.
Danny Ings‘ (£8.4m) own recent record has mirrored that of his club’s, as he has scored on just one occasion in his last nine outings. Two disastrous Double Gameweeks (25 and 27) for his owners in FPL still stick in the throat, too.
But the breather afforded by the international break could provide Hasenhuttl and co with a chance to gather themselves and hit the reset button; Saints were in similarly poor form before lockdown last year, returning with a vengeance after Project Restart.
There was certainly a more convincing display in the win over Bournemouth at the weekend, while Ings’ regular strike partner Che Adams (£5.8m) has three goals in as many appearances in the top flight.
“We still think with Callum that the international break is at the right time but he’s well into his rehabilitation, he’s back on the grass.” – Steve Bruce, March 19
It’s hyperbolic to suggest that Newcastle United’s prospects of survival lie solely on the shoulders of Callum Wilson (£6.5m) – but it’s not too far from the truth.
He has been directly responsible for 70% of the goals that Newcastle have scored this season and the Magpies have found the back of the net on just three occasions over the past six Gameweeks, a period that has coincided with Wilson’s absence.
Joelinton (£5.7m) and an ‘out of position’ Ryan Fraser (£5.6m) were always going to struggle to make up for the shortfall of goals, while the absence of Miguel Almiron (£5.6m) – who returned in Gameweek 29 – and Allan Saint-Maximin (£5.1m) partly explains why Newcastle’s rate of chance creation has tailed off dramatically.
While guaranteed game-time (if fit), penalty-taking responsibilities and a talismanic status are very much ticks against Wilson’s name in FPL, the fixtures from Gameweeks 30-36 and the Magpies’ form are the exact opposite.
“Sonny has no chance for this match, no chance at all. I even feel it’s very doubtful for the weekend. I believe he will need the international break to recover totally.” – Jose Mourinho, March 17
The four players we have discussed above have all been medium-term absentees from their respective clubs.
Son Heung-min (£9.4m) has been sidelined for a much shorter period but he picked an inopportune time to miss his first Premier League match of the season, with many Fantasy managers relying on his services in a decimated Blank Gameweek 29.
We’ve still yet to hear if Son will be available for the Newcastle match in Gameweek 30 (we’re still in “could” territory, at the time of writing) but Jose Mourinho got his wish in preventing the Korean winger from flying out to represent his country over the international break.
That will have given Son three weeks to recover from the hamstring issue that forced him off in the north London derby, which should be adequate providing it’s nothing more serious than a grade I injury.
The clash with an out-of-sorts Newcastle side is one of a handful of appealing fixtures that Spurs have in the run-in (Sheffield United, Southampton and a defensively unpredictable Leeds United are still to come), while an upcoming Double Gameweek and elimination from Europe are positives for FPL managers.
No fixture for the Lilywhites in Blank Gameweek 33 is something to be aware of, however.
THE BEST OF THE REST
The expected comeback from illness of Liam Cooper (£4.3m) may well have negative implications for Pascal Struijk (£4.0m), as might the gradual return to full match-fitness of Robin Koch (£4.3m).
Diogo Jota‘s (£6.7m) price has risen already in FPL over the international break but it’s worth bearing in mind that Roberto Firmino (£9.1m) may be back from injury in Gameweek 30, to add to the competition up top at Liverpool.
Adam Webster‘s (£4.3m) comeback will be worth monitoring, too, especially if Graham Potter sticks with a 3-4-1-2 and Joel Veltman (£4.4m) – currently to be found as a left-sided centre-half – is again unleashed at wing-back.
Thiago Silva‘s (£5.6m) recovery will add to the rotation risk and uncertainty at centre-half at Chelsea, while Burnley’s Charlie Taylor (£4.4m) could be available to put pressure on Erik Pieters (£4.3m) at left-back.
Carlo Ancelotti has already told us that James Rodriguez (£7.7m) will be back for the visit of Crystal Palace, with goalkeepers Jordan Pickford (£4.8m) and Robin Olsen (£4.5m) also in contention.
We await an update on Daniel Podence (£5.3m), whose prognosis of six weeks out with a muscle issue ought to see him nearing a return in Gameweek 30 – and nicely timed, too, with Wolves’ fixtures taking a positive turn.
And finally, might we actually catch sight of the fabled Nathan Ferguson (£3.8m) this season? He and Tyrick Mitchell (£3.8m) are among a cluster of Crystal Palace players who could be on the cusp of a comeback when Premier League football resumes.
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