Stag’s Take – Gameweek 5
International break blues gripped FPL managers over the past week as the Premier League went on hiatus for a weekend, giving NFL fans a chance to organise their drafts and leaving everybody else waiting for the planet to spin on its axis. Regular readers and my Twitter followers will now that I spent the time off FPL carefully following the Republic of Ireland as we took a few more steps towards Euro 2020 qualification.
A 1-1 draw with Switzerland was a big result for a team that was flattered by the scoreline in a 4-1 defeat to Wales in 2018; Newcastle centre-back Fabian Schär (5.0) followed his GW4 goal with another against the Boys in Green, scything through Shane Duffy’s channel to collect the ball in the box from a move he began before slotting home. Sheffield United’s David McGoldrick (5.5) scored his first international goal at the 11th attempt to draw things level. Harry Kane’s replacement when he picks up his annual ankle injury, Troy Parrott (4.5), flew into the headlines after swooping to the Ireland Under-21s’ rescue from the substitutes’ nest with a brace in a 3-1 away victory too. Poch has categorically stated that Parrott is Spurs’ second-choice striker previously; he should get a chance in the Premier League at some point – one to watch from an FPL perspective. For now, I’ll have to stick to bird emojis, avian puns, and tweeting (yes, I’m aware) about his every newsworthy move.
Pep’s problems and City’s Solutions
As noted in the last edition of this column ahead of Gameweek 4, Manchester City, who are of course “fixture-proof” anyway, are just at the beginning of a tantalising run of fixtures which takes them all the way to the end of Gameweek 11. They avoid every Top Six side; a trip to Goodison Park (GW7) and hosting Wolves a week later (GW8) at the Etihad are the toughest fixtures in the gift from the scheduling gods.
Ahead of Gameweek 4, this run of fixtures made me ponder if a City defender was an essential ingredient for success in the short-to-medium term. City, after all, seemed the most solid of the top defences after the first few weeks given Liverpool’s woes, not withstanding the fact that they had “only” kept clean sheets in 50% of their games and conceded three times. However, Aymeric Laporte’s serious injury in the Brighton game has made this less attractive than it had been. Are Nicolás Otamendi and Fernandinho (or John Stones when he is fully fit) a good enough pairing to keep clean sheets consistently enough to match a 5.4 (Ota) price tag?
Fernandinho was already training to be a centre-back, bidding to “do a Mascherano”, before Laporte’s injury and it was he who stepped into the breach left by the Frenchman in Gameweek 4:
“I think he has the conditions to play at centre-back. He is intelligent, fast, strong, he can head the ball and he can see what is happening in front of him." – Pep post-Brighton
That’s all well and good, especially when you consider how City’s main form of defence is starving their opponents of possession. They defend set pieces by just rarely giving them away. However, how will the few that they do concede go when they are relying on an almost 5ft 7in (176 cm) to neutralise them? It could be tough. 39% of the goals City conceded last season came from set plays (9/23) and already, both Spurs (Lucas header) and Bournemouth (Harry Wilson free-kick) have had joy down this route.
Pep will be hoping that the Otamendi-Fernandinho partnership works out. In the first have of the 2017/18 season before Laporte landed in England, given Vincent Kompany’s injuries City’s first choice centre-back pairing was Stones and Otamendi. In 14 60 minute (or more) PL appearances together, they picked up just six clean sheets in 14 outings. It should also be noted that five of these had come by Gameweek 7; then opponents had them worked out. If City’s defence were to have this sort of record, you’d be better off investing heavily in City attackers instead because they’ll need goals to pick up three points! In the Laporte era, the pairing had just three games together in the PL, keeping three clean sheets (Huddersfield 17/18, Everton GW27, Bournemouth GW31 (both 18/19). Both played alongside Aymeric Laporte in the 3-2 loss to Palace at Christmas time too during City’s brief (Fernandinho-less) wobble. Make of that what you will.
My gut feeling is that Otamendi and Fernandinho will be the first choice pairing unless they prove to be a dysfunctional pairing. If they are to succeed, Rodri’s fitness will be critical and he may drop a bit deeper to support the pairing if Pep deems it necessary. Regardless, I think City should be good enough to shut out most PL sides, especially those they face between now and early November. 5.4 is a great price to access their defence via Otamendi, who has proven himself a handful in attacking set pieces too.
To me, the Argentine is also a much better acquisition than Oleksandr Zinchenko (5.6). Two goals whilst playing as a midfielder for Ukraine in the international break have lit up Twitter but remember, as a left-back, he is quite restrained and rarely gets the shooting opportunities afforded to him representing his country. Benjamin Mendy is now fit and likely to rotate in and out of the left-back berth. A Ukraine homecoming for Zinchenko against Shakhtar in the Champions League on Wednesday seems like a game Pep will have to start his nominal first choice man in – will he really leave Shark Team member Mendy sitting on Twitter in the dugout in both GW5 and GW6?
Oh, yeah – City’s attackers are still good. No injuries to report but Bernardo Silva (1G, 3A), Kevin De Bruyne (1G, 3A) and Raheem Sterling (2G, 4A) all impressed over the break. Sergio Agüero (dropped as a new generation emerges) and David Silva (retired) had a nice rest. Good luck to Norwich on Saturday! The Canaries have conceded the most goals (10) as well as shots in the box (47) in the division thus far this season.
United they stand (in defence), divided (in attack) they fail
Manchester United’s season has not gone well so far. The opening day thrashing of Chelsea at Old Trafford, when the summer shadows slouched across the pitch, seem a dim and distant memory now. Anthony Martial, scorer of a brace that day, thoroughly unimpressed as a Number Nine in Anthony Martial’s absence in GW4. Even with the Frenchman in the side, United struggled to actually bring their forwards into the game when facing sides who sat back defensively. Bravely is a fools errand when facing this United side – just sit back and you’re safe: you’ll get them on the counter. United’s xG numbers are padded enormously by penalties. When you remove those from the equation, United have clearly been decidedly average going forward, recording plenty of shots but failing to create a gilt-edged chance. Daniel James’ remarkable auditions to be the new “cut-inside man” to replace Arjen Robben in football culture/memes (a talent he demonstrated again for Wales over the international break) have really been the only bright spark for three games.
At the back, United have genuinely been good. They have conceded the least big chances of all sides. Their opponents have completed just three passes in the box all season – a tally only Liverpool can better. Neves’ wonder-strike and a few mistakes from de Gea have perhaps covered over the fact that there is value in that United defence. I would recommend waiting until Gameweek 10 (at least) before racing a United defender into your side though as their fixtures are not straightforward.
Burnley have an outstanding run of games coming up, starting with a visit to the Amex in Gameweek 5. Eligible to be an Austria international (for real) Ashley Barnes’ form is no secret to anybody and has been analysed in this column previously. I am still a sceptic but I won’t be able to ignore another barnstormer (sorry).
Dwight McNeil (6.0) is Burnley’s crosser in chief (one off double any other teammate’s tally) and a promising FPL asset after rising to prominence at the tail end of last season scoring on three occasions; he could prove to be a fantastic differential in the coming weeks. Don’t let Erik Pieters’ two assists fool you about his attacking prowess as a Burnley defender. His returns indicate a classic case of over-performance given that he has created just three chances this season! On the other side of defence, Matt Lowton (4.5) is actually creating (marginally) more chances than the former Stoke man, but he’s doing it for 0.1 less!
Arsenal have a good run of fixtures too but who knows how they will go. A generous bystander would say that Nicolas Pepe (9.4) has proved he’s not afraid to “have a go” in his first few appearances for the Gunners, with only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (13) having more attempts than the new signing (12). However, seven of these efforts came from outside the box and just four hit the target at all. A more scathing viewpoint would be that the Ivorian has been wasteful, but even someone saying that would have to admit they have been impressed by his dribbling and directness since he landed. Chronic inaccuracy was not a hallmark of Pepe’s game while featuring for Lille in Ligue 1, where he had a shot accuracy in excess of over 50% over the course of last season. In context, his Lille accuracy was superior to Mo Salah (48%), Sergio Agüero (36%), or Harry Kane (45%) last season. He will hit a rich vein of form soon and we will all be scrambling to find a way to accommodate him in our sides!
I would love this section to be more in-depth but unfortunately, time and space constrain both this article and the universe.
Raheem Sterling (Norwich A)
A fantastic Reddit post analysed Pep’s rotation of Raheem Sterling in Gameweeks following International Breaks and concluded that, as far as we can say such a thing with Pep, he should be safe from rotation this weekend. He started six of eight, was consistently subbed but never extremely early, and did not come on as a substitute in the two games he was rested.
Sterling has been lethal so far this term in front of goal and leads the league in a number of underlying metrics which back up his sharpshooting. Furthermore, as noted earlier in this piece, Norwich have one of the league’s weakest defences. Only three sides have a higher xGC from open play tally this term than Norwich (5.4) – West Ham (7.5), Bournemouth (7.1), and Spurs (5.8). These are three of the four sides that have actually faced Manchester City so far in 2019/20! A canary in the coalmine for the… you know the rest. It is also a credit to Brighton, who rank eighth on this metric.
Curiously, Norwich also had a worse defensive record playing at home last season in the Championship than they did on their travels; they conceded 34 times at Carrow Road – the 15th worst defensive record on home turf in the Championship. The Canaries did not overhaul that leaky defence over the summer and actually look to have an injury crisis in their back line ahead of Gameweek 5 too. The stage is set.
Mohamed Salah (Newcastle H)
Many have an aversion to Saturday morning captaincies but plenty of basic analyses tell us that there is nothing to fear about giving your armband a player lining out in the Saturday curtain raiser. When that person is Mo Salah, the ying to Sterling’s yang in the FPL captaincy roulette this term, one should feel even more comfortable.
A summer’s worth of commentary had condemned Newcastle to humiliation and relegation this season but somehow they have been resolute (the Norwich loss aside) and actually recorded decent defensive numbers overall. However, when you break the chances Newcastle have conceded down further, you notice that they are particularly porous down on one flank – their left. Opponents have created 18 of the 53 chances created against the Toon on their attack’s right side. In contrast, just 8 of the 53 came from the left. Of course, chances created are not the same as shots conceded – as you would expect, there is an even scatter all around the box representing where opponents have actually had efforts on Dubravka’s goal – but what this does tell us is that right-sided attackers are getting a lot more space to create compared to those on the right. Given what we saw in Gameweek 4, do you think Salah will create when there’s space to run and shoot himself?
It should also be noted that Salah did not play in the international break.
Sébastien Haller (Aston Villa A)
Monday night football returns with a clash of two of the PL’s maroon-wearing sides. However, whilst Villa are hoping they can do well enough to be marooned in the PL again next season, West Ham are trying to rise higher in the PL than Maroon 5 in the charts.
Sébastien Haller is their main goal-scoring threat and key to linking up their play. Villa have conceded the second most shots in the box (46) of all PL sides this term, one behind Norwich. They have also conceded the joint most headed chances of all PL sides (13), matching a Haller speciality nicely.
Captaincy risks outside the big two, save for say… Sergio Agüero or Harry Kane (maybe… will he get a penalty again? Apparently, VAR will be extra-intrusive this weekend) are inherently risky. But in Gameweek 4, those who took risks were rewarded handsomely as Salah and Sterling failed to truly fire. It has been hard to make headway so far this season, so risks are becoming ever more tempting… I’m just not convinced that this is the weekend to do it.
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.