Stag’s Take – Gameweek 35
A calamitous series of FPL selection decisions on my part in the final 24 hours ahead of Double Gameweek 34 resulted in one of the most bruising FPL gameweeks in memory for me. There have been quite a few gameweeks this season where the template team underperformed spectacularly, though few of these gave us lessons like DGW34.
DGW34: What happened to us?
I was at the vanguard of the movement trumpeting the Shane Duffy captaincy in DGW34, but it is a decision that looks more absurd with hindsight. Even before DGW34’s losses for Albion, their results suggested they were a team in freefall towards the relegation zone. I was gripped by a feverish optimism, casting form aside and instead expecting Brighton to finally knit together the results they needed against Bournemouth and Cardiff City. Maybe that was wrong. Furthermore, the fact that Brighton had two fixtures when no other team (bar of course Cardiff) had a double definitely contributed to the madness. What I will take from the DGW34 Duffy debacle is a memory which will drive me towards caution in future DGWs. Having two fixtures doesn’t guarantee anything. Furthermore, I think I will find it hard to back a player from a team battling relegation in the future – it makes a lot more sense to trust a form player in a form team. You may argue that this is just revisionism on my part or an analysis which can only be done with hindsight; such an assessment would not be entirely wrong, but this is an attempt to take prospective lessons, not retrospective self-flagellation. 22.72% of the Top 10K’s managers trusted the Irishman, it couldn’t be ignored.
Football fans across the world were treated to some fantastic games by Europe’s biggest clubs this week. On Tuesday, it was Ajax and Juve who delivered a classic at the same time as Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League at the Camp Nou in Barcelona. Unfortunately, Ajax are outside the purview of this piece, so a reflection on Man Utd is required.
United have now lost five of their last seven games and four consecutive away games. Whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cannot (and should not) be blamed for the individual errors and the personnel at his disposal on Tuesday, he can face criticism for the slowdown witnessed in United’s PL performances since the GW30 defeat to Arsenal. Even West Ham, a side so out of form it beggared belief, almost got the better of United in GW34 – in fact the London side probably would have triumphed were VAR in operation in England’s top flight this term. West Ham created better opportunities than United, dominated the ball with 58% possession, and generally looked more like the side who was fighting for their Champions League ambitions. Bringing in a United player for the upcoming DGW35, where they face Everton at Goodison Park and then Manchester City at the Etihad, seems akin to the Brighton fanfare ahead of DGW34 – this is a team on the fall with no discernible form players (don’t include penalties when you make this assessment).
Maybe instead, we should look at the other English group who managed to disentangle themselves from Europe this week, Manchester City. At times this season, one could be forgiven for wondering how any side could stop them reaching a quadruple. They had eliminated their propensity to have blip like last season’s FA Cup defeat to Wigan or the derby defeat to Man Utd, they seemed to have overcome their European hoodoo. The only time we had cause to question them was a jittery festive period, but their form since the turn of the year dispelled those concerns. Then came Spurs in the Champions League. The London side played in a manner which matched the slogan embedded in the stands of their new stadium: “To dare is to do”. Rather than sit back and hang onto their slender first leg lead like most commentators would have prescribed, Spurs attacked Manchester City, exposed Ederson’s shot stopping and won their individual confrontations.
From an FPL perspective, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling shone brightly, and Sergio Agüero again played well. Sterling’s form merits the player of the year award, it will probably see him top the individual scoring charts in FPL this season. Even though he may be “due” a rest soon, he definitely merits a place in your squad. As for de Bruyne, he is back playing at his best after a campaign blighted by injury. The Belgian has assisted six of City’s last eight goals in all competitions (x3 v Spurs (UCL), x2 v Palace (PL), x1 v Brighton (FA Cup) but he is playing with the confidence of a player who knows that this is a level he is capable of maintaining. However, I do not like de Bruyne’s odds of playing 180 minutes or even more than 120 minutes over the coming DGW. Pep has seemed unwilling to play him three times in a seven or eight day period since he returned to the squad, perhaps having learnt that rushing him back doesn’t yield the best results. De Bruyne featured right up to the final whistle at Palace last weekend, and he looked completely spent as City’s game with Spurs came to its VAR crescendo on Wednesday.
The man who stands out to me for City this weekend as my “third” City pick after the Sterling and Aguero is the man who (mystifyingly) played just ten minutes on Wednesday, Leroy Sané. His game time has been extremely chequered over the past month or two, but when given the opportunity he has returned for owners, notching a goal and an assist in the last two gameweeks. In those two games (the only consecutive 80+ minutes Sané has been given in a long time), only Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling (both 10) have had mire attempts on goal than Sané (9) amongst the Citizens.
For those fleeting moments when City had beaten Spurs on Wednesday evening, we got a glimpse at how exhausted Tottenham’s players were. Players were strewn across pitch, understandably holding their heads in their hands. Christian Eriksen must have wondered if he would begin to view his life as the time before his mistake which led to Sterling’s “winner”, and the time which followed. Then, the referee blew his whistle, blasting hope and adrenaline into Pochettino’s men, reviving them. Whilst Spurs’ players lay there, I started to wonder if keeping any Spurs player would be a good FPL decision. They (famously at this point) have no squad depth, meaning that weary warriors like Heung-Min Son and Eriksen will have to lace up their boots again against City this weekend. Overall, it’s hard to see anything but Manchester City eviscerating Spurs in a classic revenge turnover, but at least FPL managers can be fairly confident that of all players, Poch is likely to flog Son, who is suspended for Spurs’ Champions League semi-final first leg.
Other teams play in Europe?
Liverpool’s comfortable win over Porto attracted little fanfare as bigger fish were fried in England. There were goals for all the “classic” front three of Salah, Mané, and Firmino, though most notably the Brazilian came off the bench at half time. One would expect Bobby to get 90 minutes this coming weekend against Cardiff.
A close to full strength Chelsea side got a fright against Slavia Prague at Stamford Bridge on Thursday but still progressed with a two goal margin. Like against Liverpool, Everton, and Cardiff, Chelsea conceded soon after half-time and saw their performance dip, though they will take heart in having held off Slavia for the final 30 minutes after such a shock. Their bid to secure Champions League football cannot be solely reliant on the league, and after defeat to Liverpool in GW34 they must bounce back with a win against Burnley at the Bridge on Monday. After getting the last half hour off on Thursday, one would expect Eden Hazard to feature from kick-off.
Unai Emery’s constant rotation makes predicting the Gunners’ line-up for the weekend extremely tricky, especially after a good win at the San Paolo in Napoli. One would expect them to come through a tough London derby at the Emirates against Crystal Palace, but their away form and Wolves’ Top Six slaying propensity may prove a fatal mix for Arsenal in their second outing of the DGW.
Mo Salah (Cardiff A)
The Egyptian has relocated his scoring touch with a flourish in the last fortnight, and hope springs afresh that he can prop Liverpool up through the last few games of their title tilt. Once Salah is beginning to show form like he is, his ownership and captaincy rate explode. It’s safer to have him than not.
Leroy Sané (Spurs H, Man Utd A)
I can’t envisage a situation where Spurs manage to rally enough to overcome City again in such a short period of time. I definitely don’t see the United who were humbled by Barcelona keeping Pep’s men down. With question marks over the game time of so many fatigued City attackers, I think that Leroy Sané has the best prospect of featuring twice this DGW.
Gerard Deulofeu (Huddersfield A, Southampton H)
Troy Deeney is suspended after picking up a red card in Watford’s loss to Arsenal on Monday evening, leaving (hopefully fit-again though no guarantees have been given) Deulofeu in a good position to take over as The Hornets’ main goalscorer in a DGW with promising fixtures. Two goals against Wolves in the FA Cup semi-final live long in the memory, though “Gerry D’s” play is generally quite direct and bodes well from a fantasy perspective.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.