It’s the most wonderful time of the year… the Premier League is back after the World Cup break, and with the top flight’s return comes the chance to made inroads in your fantasy league.
The congested festive fixture list always makes December tough to navigate, but things are a little different this year, with many players’ availability in question following their trips to Qatar.
With the start of the campaign a distant memory and many of the league’s best players likely to be sidelined, how will fantasy managers make the correct selections?
That’s where Stats Perform hopes to help, delving into the Opta numbers to identify four players who could make a flying start when the Premier League resumes.
Which player will hit the ground running when the?
— Premier League (@premierleague)
Nick Pope (Leicester City v Newcastle United)
An unused member of Gareth Southgate’s England squad in Qatar, Pope appears certain to start between the sticks at Leicester City on Monday, having already appeared in the EFL Cup this week, and has enjoyed a fine campaign to date.
As well as keeping seven Premier League clean sheets this term – a tally only matched by Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale – Pope has conceded just 11 goals from shots worth 13.9 expected goals on target since the start of the season.
The Newcastle United goalkeeper has thus prevented 2.9 goals, a figure only bettered by Alisson (7.8) and Jordan Pickford (4.2), and he will be protected by a rock-solid defence when the Champions League-chasing Magpies visit the King Power Stadium.
Ben White (Arsenal v West Ham)
Premier League leaders Arsenal are the only team to match Newcastle’s record of just 11 goals conceded this season, and White has played a key role for Mikel Arteta’s side.
Since the start of last season, Arsenal have conceded just 1.0 goals per game with White in the team. Without him, the Gunners have shipped 2.2 goals on average.
Fantasy managers love a defender with the ability to also contribute in attack, and having moved to right-back this season, White is one of just seven Premier League defenders to create 10 chances from open play while contributing to four or more clean sheets.
Having left England’s World Cup camp early, White looks well-placed to contribute against West Ham – who have only scored 12 goals in 15 league games this term.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace v Fulham)
Ivory Coast international Zaha was absent from the World Cup, and his tally of eight goal contributions in the Premier League this season suggests he may make an impact against Fulham.
Zaha’s return of six goals and two assists means he has been involved in 53 per cent of Crystal Palace’s goals in the competition this campaign (eight of 15). Only Everton’s Alex Iwobi (55 per cent, six of 11) has contributed to a larger share of his team’s goals.
Meanwhile, Zaha is averaging a goal involvement every 144 minutes this season, a better rate than in any of his previous Premier League campaigns.
Erling Haaland (Leeds United v Manchester City)
When it comes to players who missed the World Cup, the Premier League’s leading goalscorer Haaland is understandably the name on everyone’s lips.
Having played just 13 Premier League games, Haaland is two goals away from his 20th goal in the competition. Should he hit the net twice against his hometown club Leeds United, the Manchester City talisman will reach that figure in record time. Kevin Phillips needed 21 career games to reach 20, while Luis Suarez owns an impressive single-season record inside 15 games in 2013-14.
Haaland’s 18 Premier League goals have come from chances worth 11.1 expected goals, while he has averaged a goal every 2.9 attempts.
With Haaland converting 34.6 per cent of his shots this season, fantasy managers will be hard pushed to ignore the Norway international after a lengthy break.