EPL

Premier League Fantasy Picks: Back Coutinho to shine again against Saints... or pick Forster

By Sports Desk March 04, 2022

Time is ticking down on the 2021-22 Premier League campaign – and indeed on your chances of making up those valuable points in your fantasy football league.

While certain players are a must for any manager with serious prospects of finishing top of the pile (hello, Mohammed Salah), others often go under the radar.

And with a real rarity of all 10 gameweek 28 fixtures taking place across the same weekend – at the time of writing, at least! – it is important you get your selection spot on.

So why not let Stats Perform, led by Opta data, pick out four players – one for each position – that can help propel you up the standings. Come on, trust us.

FRASER FORSTER (Aston Villa v Southampton)

Five games without defeat, including back-to-back victories over Everton and Norwich City at St Mary's, have helped propel Southampton back into the top half of the division.

What makes those successive home wins all the more impressive is that Saints kept two clean sheets, having failed to record a single shutout in their previous 13 league matches.

Forster was in goal for both games and, while he only had to make one save across the 180 minutes, he has prevented the fourth-most goals in the Premier League this term.

Having conceded only 10 times, excluding own goals, from shots worth 13.5 expected goals on target, he has limited opponents to 3.5 goals fewer than expected.

Only Aaron Ramsdale (4.0 goals prevented), David de Gea (7.5) and Jose Sa (7.8) have fared better in that regard in the English top flight this term.

MATT DOHERTY (Tottenham v Everton)

Tottenham may be struggling for consistency, but right wing-back Doherty finally appears to be finding his feet under Antonio Conte – in the league, at least.

The former Wolves defender scored and assisted in the same Premier League game for the first time in Tottenham's most recent outing in the competition against Leeds United.

Doherty now has three goal involvements in his past five league games, also supplying an assist at Leicester City, where he created four chances.

PHILIPPE COUTINHO (Aston Villa v Southampton)

Okay, okay – we know we have already selected Southampton goalkeeper Forster, but hear us out here.

By putting Aston Villa midfielder Coutinho in your side, you are hedging your bets, because if the Villans are to score then they need their Brazilian playmaker on top form.

He has four direct goal involvements in six games since returning to the Premier League in January – only Harry Kane (six) and Bruno Fernandes (seven) can better that return.

That should be of particular concern to Southampton as Coutinho has been involved in as many Premier League goals against them (five – four goals, one assist) as against any other side.

EMMANUEL DENNIS (Watford v Arsenal)

Long gone are the days of Watford being unable to keep a clean sheet for love nor money – the Hornets are now shutout kings under that up-and-coming boss Roy Hodgson.

Well, not quite, but Watford's three Premier League blanks since Hodgson's first game is the joint-most of any side, along with Liverpool, Manchester City and, eh, Burnley.

Now they just need to work on becoming more prolific at the other end of the field, and in Dennis they have a player potentially capable of firing them to safety.

The Nigeria international has scored nine goals and assisted five more in the Premier League this term – only five other players have been directly involved in more.

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  • Nick Montgomery wants Hibernian ‘up there challenging’ ahead of Celtic test Nick Montgomery wants Hibernian ‘up there challenging’ ahead of Celtic test

    Inside Easter Road reminders are everywhere, including on the mouse mats, of what is expected at Hibernian.

    Doing the small things, humility without an ego, and reinforcing a demanding but healthy culture sit alongside the desire to consistently qualify for Europe and close the gap on Celtic and Rangers.

    On Wednesday, boss Nick Montgomery – three months into his reign – gets the chance to test their progress again.

    Under chief executive Ben Kensell, Hibs’ internal mantra is to be the club which dares to do things differently. It is up to Montgomery to ensure it happens on the pitch ahead of the trip to Celtic.

    “It’s very hard but you only have to look at Leicester in the Premier League, no-one really expected them to do that (winning in 2016),” the former Sheffield United midfielder tells the PA news agency.

    “Every club in every league will see that as an inspirational story. Is it sustainable? No, it’s hard to be sustainable because look at where Leicester are now but that’s a one-off example.

    “You can only try to achieve the best positions every season. It’s not easy to compete against the two giants of the division, but that’s something every team aspires to do.

    “I’m not saying we can compete on any level with them financially, budget-wise that’s never going to happen.

    “What we can do is make sure we have a team competitive enough to make sure we’re competing in every game.”

    The long-term plans stem from Kensell, who has laid important foundations at Easter Road and was key in helping bring Montgomery to Edinburgh from Central Coast Mariners in September after Lee Johnson’s departure.

    Former Reading manager Brian McDermott also joined as director of football in May.

    Kensell was a driving force behind commercial and on pitch success at Norwich, as chief operating officer, before leaving in 2021. He helped oversee two promotions to the Premier League and guided them through the pandemic as part of the club’s executive committee.

    Another of the 10 points at Easter Road which underline the demand on staff is “enjoy what you do, work hard, play hard and smile”. It is something which resonates with Montgomery and translates into what he is doing on the pitch.

    “In the time I’ve been here we’ve had a lot of progress in terms of an identity on the pitch, off it we want people to enjoy it but also know it’s going to be hard work,” he says, from his office at the snow-covered training ground in Tranent.

    “The first thing is getting to know people, what their strengths and weaknesses are and creating a team environment but one where everyone demands off each other.

    “The boys are a tight-knit group, we have brought in a couple of speakers and sports psychologists to talk to them about bonding and how you can become stronger.

    “That’s my job, to make sure that happens, to create an environment where everyone feels they can be themselves.”

    Montgomery won Central Coast Mariners’ first A-League title in 10 years last season and has now been joined by wife Josie and daughters Eva, Chloe and Leah, who watched their first game, Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Aberdeen, after flying from Australia.

    A third straight win left Hibs two points behind third-placed Hearts and Montgomery believes it is just the beginning.

    “Everybody knows there are two massive teams in the league but you want to be up there challenging,” he said.

    “We want to become a club with an identity, a club that develops players, one which can sell players to the biggest leagues in the world and reinvest back into the academy and the foundations.

    “We want to keep growing the fanbase and the community and give everyone a club to be proud of.”

  • Ex England midfielder Jill Scott added to National Football Museum Hall of Fame Ex England midfielder Jill Scott added to National Football Museum Hall of Fame

    Retired England and Manchester City midfielder Jill Scott has become the latest Lioness to be inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.

    Scott, 36, hung up her boots last August after making 161 appearances and scoring 27 goals for England, and was part of the Lionesses’ European Championships triumph in 2022.

    At club level, she was a Women’s Super League champion with Manchester City in 2016, also winning three FA Cups.

    Scott said: “It’s such a massive honour. I was here on opening day with Rachel Brown-Finnis at the museum, so to see how much the museum has grown, and then to get inducted into the Hall of Fame and see how far the women’s game has grown, I feel so fortunate that I’ve had the chance to live this journey in women’s football.

    “When I look at some of the names that are in there – Rachel Yankey, Kelly Smith, Karen Carney – they are all fantastic football players, but also fantastic people, so to have my name alongside them is something very special. It’s something I can show the family and hopefully they will be very proud.”

    Scott has donated her England cap from an international friendly against the Czech Republic on the November 12 2019 to the museum, where it is now on display.

    Off the pitch, Scott, who last month was also inducted into the Women’s Super League Hall of Fame, is known for her love of coffee and runs her own coffee shop, Boxx2Boxx Coffee, in Manchester.

    She is also the founder of the Jill Scott Academy, a programme designed to provide opportunities and mentorship for young aspiring footballers, and has been involved in coaching City’s academy players.

    Tim Desmond, CEO of the National Football Museum, added: “Jill Scott’s induction into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame is a momentous occasion.

    “Her career achievements, her profound impression on women’s football, and her remarkable influence on a whole generation of young women make her an exceptional inductee.

    “We’ve seen here first-hand at the museum the impact the Lionesses 2022 European victory has had, and Jill was as big a part of that as anyone.

    “We had an incredible response from visitors to the Crossing The Line: The Story of Women’s Football exhibition, which encapsuled the spirit and ongoing impact of their 2022 Euro win.

    “Jill Scott is more than a footballer; she’s a shining example to young girls on just what can be achieved in football. We are extremely proud to welcome her to our Hall of Fame and celebrate her legacy.”

  • Steve Clarke keen for Scotland to have ‘top level’ facility for training Steve Clarke keen for Scotland to have ‘top level’ facility for training

    Steve Clarke wants a top-end Scotland training complex as he prepares for Euro 2024 in Germany.

    The men’s national team moved from their base in Oriam, Scotland’s Sports Performance Centre, to Glasgow earlier in the year, with coach John Carver criticising the pitches at the Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh Campus.

    Clarke spoke about the move to Lesser Hampden and a city centre hotel as part of the re-setting of Scotland following the defeat by Ukraine in the World Cup play-off in June 2022 and, although he is focused on a second successive Euros, he is looking to the longer-term, albeit he may not be the beneficiary.

    Scotland were drawn against host country Germany, Switzerland and Hungary in Group A  for next summer’s Euros, with the Scots set to face the Netherlands in the first of a friendly double-header in March with an as-yet unnamed opponent coming to Hampden Park days later.

    Clarke said: “Oriam was the venue that I was asked to use. It was fine.

    “Initially it was perfect, it served its purpose. We had some really good camps at the Oriam, some great results, some great moments.

    “We made the best of those facilities and we made them work.

    “But after a period of time you think, ‘OK, this is a little bit tired, we are a bit tired of this place and we need to change’.

    “To be fair to the (SFA) board, as soon as I began to ask for change, they were on it. They understood what I was trying to say to them.

    “Just to freshen it up, to try to improve the facilities a little bit and move close to the top level of facility.

    “Unfortunately we don’t have our own base in Scotland so we have to find something and at the moment the Blythswood hotel and Lesser Hampden is a fantastic option but I won’t stop looking and I won’t stop pushing for something else because I want to keep moving and moving.

    “I say it to the board all the time, never stop trying to improve and never stop trying to look for something eventually, hopefully,  can become a Scottish FA facility.

    “It would be nice but being realistic, two tournament qualifications in 25 years is not going to help us (pay for it), you would need to look at another two or three, or three out of the next four, or three out of the next five, a constant extra revenue coming into the association and maybe then they can think about it.

    “If you are asking me if I would I rather have a training ground than a refurbished Hampden – Hampden will get refurbished for the 2028 Euros.

    “If that refurbish is adequate then I would be saying look to put your money into a training facility that belongs to the Scottish FA and then you can look to move the game forward, you can use it as a facility for the men’s A, the women’s A and then hopefully all the under-age groups moving down the way and that is something we should look at.”

    “I can start the process,” continued Clarke. “I never think too much about myself. Maybe you see that sometimes.

    “But if I’m in the fortunate position to be head coach with a really talented group of players – which I am – then this is the time to start trying to build something for the future.

    “Hopefully it could be for just one head coach down the line – or maybe two or three head coaches down the line before we actually get there.

    “But, either way, that will mean we’ve been consistently successful and then hopefully we can end up with a nice product.”

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