EPL

Premier League Fantasy Picks: Saka to strike against Leeds, Ings to haunt Southampton

By Sports Desk March 31, 2023

After an unwelcome international break the view of many, Premier League football returns this weekend with plenty to decide at both ends of the table.

A gruelling clash between title-chasing Manchester City and top-four hopefuls Liverpool kicks things off on Saturday, with league leaders Arsenal hosting Leeds United later in the day and potentially having the opportunity to extend their lead at the summit.

Bukayo Saka is once again one to watch at Emirates Stadium, having maintained his fine form over the international break on England duty, and it would be wise to draft him into your fantasy squad if he is not yet in the side.

Elsewhere, Kai Havertz's resurgence is one to keep an eye on, while Danny Ings and Jack Harrison are also worth a punt.

Using Opta data, we've highlighted exactly why that quartet should be on your hit list.

Bukayo Saka (Arsenal v Leeds United)

The Hale End graduate is the only player in the Premier League to have hit double figures for both goals (12) and assists (10) this season, with Saka in particularly devastating form at Emirates Stadium.

Overall, 14 of his 22 goal involvements have come in north London, standing behind only Erling Haaland (23) for the most direct goal involvements at home in the Premier League.

Last time out against Crystal Palace, Saka scored twice and contributed an assist to help Arsenal maintain their title charge, then carrying that form into England duty and scoring against Ukraine at Wembley.

Kai Havertz (Chelsea v Aston Villa)

Linked with a move to Bayern Munich at the end of the season following Thomas Tuchel's appointment in Bavaria, Havertz has hit a fine vein of form at a crucial stage of the season in Chelsea's top-four bid.

Seven goals this season puts Havertz just one shy of his tally from last season, while he enters the clash against Aston Villa having scored in each of his last two Premier League appearances – meaning he could score in three consecutive games for the first time since March 2022.

No player has been involved in more goals under Graham Potter than Havertz (six goals, one assist), scoring twice the amount as Chelsea's next leading scorer under the Englishman (Mason Mount, three).

 

Danny Ings (West Ham v Southampton)

Ings has established a fine record of haunting his former employers in the Premier League, having been directly involved in 10 goals in his last 14 such matches (seven goals, three assists).

That includes involvement in three goals in his last two appearances against Southampton (one goal, two assists), who may wonder what might have been had he been in their ranks in the fight for Premier League survival.

Since January 21, no West Ham player has a higher goals-per-game ratio (0.55) or expected goals (0.56) return, while only Jarrod Bowen (6.43) and Said Benrahma (5.29) have more touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes than Ings (4.66).

Jack Harrison (Arsenal v Leeds United)

With six assists over the course of the season, Harrison ranks sixth across the entirety of the Premier League in that regard, with only Christian Eriksen (seven), Mohamed Salah (seven), Leandro Trossard (eight), Saka (10) and Kevin De Bruyne (12) having more.

In Leeds' bid for survival, Harrison has been the catalyst in pushing the club away from the bottom three and travels to Emirates Stadium having scored in consecutive Premier League matches.

Only Rodrigo (12) has been involved in more Leeds goals this term than Harrison (nine), while nobody has created more chances for the Yorkshire side than the midfielder (41).

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    Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk admits the team was probably guilty of trying too hard to compensate for the absence of a host of star players in the 4-1 victory over Luton.

    Forwards Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah were the latest added to an absentee list, which had grown to 11 senior players and left manager Jurgen Klopp short of options, certainly of match-winners, as his bench comprised three defenders and four academy players.

    The likes of Harvey Elliott and Cody Gakpo, and to a lesser extent Luis Diaz, all struggled up front in the first half, but four goals in an impressive second-half comeback after going behind in the 12th minute re-established a four-point advantage at the top of the Premier League.

    Klopp’s side have won now 22 points from losing positions this season, more than any other team.

    “First half with the very first chance (for Diaz) we could have changed the game, but we were a bit rushed in the final third,” said Van Dijk.

    “Obviously the way we turned it around was credit to the boys.

    “Staying calm is the most difficult thing to do, especially in the situation where we are at; everyone wants to show themselves and play their best game ever, and you have to try to stay calm and find the right solution.

    “The first half was a bit rushed and that’s why we struggled a little bit in that sense. Being 1-0 down is never nice, but the way we bounced back is good to see.”

    Elliott, on his 100th appearance, scored the team’s 100th goal of the season with the late fourth to end his night on a high after coming in for some vociferous criticism from the crowd.

    However, Klopp – who remonstrated with a fan who appeared to target Elliott after yet another pass went astray in the first half – defended the 20-year-old.

    “Top performance. And Harvey is a top player; 100 games for Liverpool FC in not the worst period of the club’s history, where you cannot afford players who (just) play the position, that’s a proper sign,” he added.

    “He had not a great first half. There was a pass with Lucho (Diaz); I saw he wants to play the pass instead of maybe he can go in a one-on-one situation.

    “But the reaction in the second half is the main difference, that’s the thing. That made this performance the performance and I’m so happy for him.

    “I don’t lose patience in these moments, I know that it’s a challenge for young boys.

    “When everything is great, they are super talents. When things don’t go well, you have to show up. And that’s what he’s learning more and more.

    “And with 100 games under his belt, we all know he will definitely play another 100, 200, 300 – if you ask him, 500 – for this club.”

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    Manchester United co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has set out his vision for bringing some of the Eric Cantona glamour and swagger back to Old Trafford.

    The 71-year-old Ineos founder and chairman wants the club he has supported since the age of six to be seriously challenging their “noisy” north-west neighbours Manchester City and Liverpool for domestic and European titles within three seasons, and “knock them both off their perch”.

    In a wide-ranging briefing, Ratcliffe also:

    :: Outlined his hope to either redevelop Old Trafford at a cost of around £1billion, or build a new £2billion stadium with state support that could host England matches, FA Cup finals and Champions League finals.

    :: Admitted Dan Ashworth would be “a very good addition” to the Manchester United leadership as sporting director and said it would be “absurd” if he remained on gardening leave after his departure from Newcastle.

    :: Pledged that a fresh decision would be taken on Mason Greenwood’s future.

    :: Joked about whether Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim, his long-time rival for full control of United, even existed.

    Ratcliffe, who by the end of the year will hold a 28.9 per cent stake in United and whose Ineos company now controls football operations at Old Trafford, conducted the interview with a bust wearing a United number seven shirt stationed behind him, collar turned up in the fashion of the club’s hero of the 1990s Eric Cantona.

    “(Cantona) was the catalyst for change in Sir Alex Ferguson’s era … and then that sort of kickstarted everything off. He was the sort of talisman,” Ratcliffe said.

    “There has always been a bit of glamour attached to Manchester United which has been lacking a bit in the last few years. You’ve had George Best, Bobby Charlton, Eric the King for a while.

    “At the end of the day we are in the entertainment business. So that’s why you don’t want to watch bland football or characterless football.

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    “There have been some great matches. I can’t remember many matches at the beginning of the season I was really excited by but since Christmas we have played some really good football and there has been a bit of glamour attached to some of these footballers on the pitch, and we have really enjoyed it.

    “The three young lads (Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo) sitting on the hoarding at the side – that was a good picture. So I think that’s the ‘Eric’ point really. We are cognizant of the fact you do need a bit of glamour in this.”

    Ratcliffe says improving the club’s record on recruitment is “top of the list” of things to get right, and publicly stated his club’s interest in Dan Ashworth, who has been placed on gardening leave by Newcastle after expressing his desire to leave the Tyneside club.

    “I think it’d be a very good addition to Manchester United, but he (Ashworth) needs to decide whether he’s going to make that jump,” Ratcliffe said.

    “We’ve obviously had words with Newcastle. They clearly would be disappointed to lose Dan. I understand why they would be disappointed to lose Dan but but then you can’t equally criticise Dan because it is a transient industry.

    “So we’ll have to see how it unfolds.”

    Ratcliffe said it would be “a bit silly” if it took £20million to secure Ashworth’s services, and added: “What I do think is completely absurd is suggesting that a man who’s really good at his job, sits in his garden for one and a half years.”

    Also key to the transformation as Ratcliffe sees it is a redeveloped Old Trafford or a new stadium built partially with state support.

    Ratcliffe said a taskforce would be set up to look at the feasibility of the latter option and agreed former Manchester United defender Gary Neville would be an “obvious” person to include on it.

    Ratcliffe sees no issue with one of the world’s richest clubs in United seeking state support for such a project.

    “The people in the north pay their taxes like the people in the south pay their taxes,” he said.

    “But where’s the national stadium for football? It’s in the south. Where’s the national stadium for rugby? It’s in the south. Where’s the national stadium for tennis? It’s in the south. Where’s the national concert stadium? It’s the O2, it’s in the south. Where’s the Olympic Village? It’s in the south.

    “All of this talk about levelling up and the Northern Powerhouse… where is the stadium in the north? How many Champions Leagues has the north-west won and how many Champions Leagues has London won? The answer to that is the north-west has won 10 – Liverpool have won more than us – and London has won two.

    “Where do you have to go if you get to the semi-final of the FA Cup and you’re a northern club? You have to schlep down to London, don’t you?

    “People in the north pay their taxes and there is an argument that you could think about a more ambitious project in the north which would be fitting for England, for the Champions League final or the FA Cup final and act as a catalyst to regenerate southern Manchester, which has got quite significant history in the UK.”

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