Alfie Mawson and Harry Maguire – we’ve got all the big names in this week’s Say What?
For the sake of balance, however, there’s still room for Zlatan, Ross Barkley and even Andrea Pirlo (ish) as we round up the quotes of note from the week gone by.
Alfie At Liberty To Dance
Back in the 1970s, footballers were expected to do little more during a game than wear black boots, stay relatively sober and pick a fight with Billy Bremner.
Dancing was the preserve of shivering majorettes with scratchy polyester outfits and blotchy thighs employed by half-time entertainment pioneers to further churn up the pitch to the required sub-standard.
These days, even the callowest of youth teamers can bust some serious moves – often with little or no performance pedigree to back them up.
At least Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson has an excuse.
Three goals in the last six Gameweeks have prompted him to unveil his ‘Alfie Shuffle’ celebration. And two double-digit hauls over the same time frame have made it far easier for the centre-half’s few (0.5%) Fantasy owners to look on indulgently.
Not that Mawson is getting too big for his dancing boots, mainly because they seem to belong to someone else.
“People were saying that I had big boots to fill and that I was coming in to be Ashley Williams.”
And it wasn’t just his footwear, either.
“I didn’t come here to try and fill Ashley’s shirt. I came here to be my own player.”
As an ever-present since Gameweek 15, it seems fair to say that Mawson has now definitely made all that kit his own, although a brief trawl through some parish records would be enough to disprove his next assertion.
“I didn’t want to be the next Ashley Williams. I want to be the first Alfie Mawson.”
Despite Swansea’s huge improvement under Paul Clement, investing in their defenders is still a risky business – Mawson has as many goals in six matches as he’s managed clean sheets all season.
But once they get a Gameweek 26 trip to Chelsea out of the way, their schedule through to the end of April is an excellent one, with the visit of Spurs the only major blot.
Mawson brings an undeniable goal threat – his 12 penalty box touches over the past six Gameweeks are negligible; his 60% conversion rate unbeatable among defenders with more than one attempt to their name.
“I do like scoring goals. Any player would say the same, and I’ve got a habit of popping up in the right place.”
And the motives behind his goal celebration are pleasantly unselfish.
“It’s for my missus. I started it a few years ago when I was at Wycombe and I said to her if I scored I’d do it for her.”
Lovely. Sweet. Just don’t spoil it with an ill-advised final comment that positively drips with double meaning.
“She means a lot to me, obviously, so I thought I’d pull it out.”
What’s all that about, Alfie?
The Silva Lining Playbook
If Swansea players are suddenly looking like excellent budget options, so are those from Hull City.
New boss Marco Silva is threatening to oversee the greatest comeback since Jesus rose from the dead and started banging them in for Man City, although that might not be the same bloke and he’s injured now anyway.
The Tigers’ new-found defensive resilience is at the heart of their resurrection. Before Silva – 20 matches, zero clean sheets. Since Silva – five matches, two clean sheets.
Defender Harry Maguire knows that is no coincidence.
“He has been brilliant since he came in. We were conceding sloppy goals, but he has come in and is very organised. He’s very thorough in what he does. He works tirelessly on the opposition and comes up with good game plans.”
And Curtis Davies is just as enthusiastic. Literally.
“He just literally came in, he’s watched the videos. He literally, physically was grabbing people – ‘I want you here, I want you there’. Set-pieces, team shape every day, and that’s what we’ve pretty much done.”
With nearly every Hull defender costing no more than 4.5 and a great run-in to come – only Man City away and a final-day home match with Spurs look truly tough – now is the time to invest in their backline, particularly as the Tigers are guaranteed a Gameweek 28 outing as well.
Maguire, at 4.4 and a starter since Gameweek 15, is a good choice. His 0.3% ownership base adds to the attraction compared to, say, cut-price keeper Eldin Jakupovic (4.1 but 22.3%) or new signing Andrea Ranocchia (4.5 and 0.8%), although the latter has already managed an assist from just two starts.
Davies (4.9) is pricier and injured for the foreseeable future, so the best thing he can do is explain more about Silva’s secrets.
“No days off. I’ve worked with foreign managers and they don’t really like days off, I think we’ve had two days off this year so far. It didn’t go down too well, but the manager’s getting the best out of us.”
It’s surely time we all got the best out of them, too.
Zlatan Goes Deep
The best has not been so forthcoming from The Best (at least in his own eyes) recently.
Zlatan’s self-regard is legendary, but even he is humbled by his own form of late.
A goal and an assist from his last four starts is okay, until we drag in a stat or two. He leads the way for attempts (13) and penalty area touches (36) during that time frame, only to blow it all with a patchy 7.7% goal conversion rate.
“In the games you don’t have a lot of opportunities and you should take care of them when you get them. That’s why I’m a little bit disappointed in myself.”
The figures rather suggest that Ibrahimovic has had a lot of opportunities, so maybe he should be a little bit more than a little bit disappointed.
But he has some mitigation to throw into the mix – he’s dropping deeper to set up more chances for team-mates.
“I got a lot of balls, tried to create and give stability to the team. The only thing I missed was the goal. I tried to give them options to play around me, to give the guys more confidence to do that.”
At least the stats back him up on that one. Zlatan’s created 12 chances over the last four Gameweeks – seven more than any other forward.
One person to benefit from his largesse is Anthony Martial, who scored in the 2-0 win over Watford for the first time since Gameweek 19.
Ibrahimovic set up that goal, and he reckons his influence extends beyond the pitch.
“When we eat breakfast and he is beside me or if he passes me, we talk. I think everyone talks to everyone. It is not like you try to cheer him up; it is a good atmosphere and the guys are all good guys, very professional.”
One can only imagine the golden nuggets of wisdom Zlatan passes on at breakfast, but surely Jose Mourinho starts the day with The Special K before washing it down with a cup or two of cheer from Antonio Valencia.
The Ecuadorian has started all but three of United’s league matches under Mourinho, and he’s clearly thriving at full-back – his 84 points makes him the most productive of the side’s defenders – even though he still considers himself a winger.
“Mourinho has shown faith in me to stay here so I’m delighted. I don’t want to say I am 100 per cent a right back. I still feel like a right-sided attacking player but I guess I am getting there. I feel I’ve improved in that area but when I’m on the attack it’s like I’m in my position.”
It’s only in the last few weeks that he can back up that claim, however. He’s provided two assists over the past five Gameweeks having managed none (and no goals) prior to Gameweek 21.
And any temptation to try and tap into that new-found forward form must be kept in context.
United have a fine set of fixtures from now until the middle of April, but they have a definite Gameweek 26 blank and a likely Gameweek 28 postponement to come.
Both he and Ibrahimovic are popular Fantasy assets – owned by 10.4% and 39.6% respectively.
Whether we stick with them through those blanks or risk having to buy back at extra cost for Gameweek 29’s trip to Middlesbrough is likely to keep us occupied through breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Tactics Tip-Top For Tadic
At the risk of over-egging the breakfast theme, the form of Southampton’s Dusan Tadic has been rather more scrambled than sunny side up this season.
With just two goals and four assists (compared to eight and 13 last year), it’s no wonder that FPL bosses have been saying cheerio in droves – he’s currently owned by just under 58,000 when he started the season with 192,000+.
The Saints, as a whole, have been a bit of a dog’s dinner recently, chalking up six defeats over the last eight Gameweeks.
But the arrival of striker Manolo Gabbiadini, who has three goals from his first two starts, has led to a change to a 4-2-3-1 system that is proving far more palatable for Tadic.
“We played a different system (in the 4-0 win at Sunderland) and that’s the best system for us. You have good balance between offence and defence and it’s more space for everyone to play. You can see how the team play better and better and I will also be better.”
Tadic now has a goal and an assist from his last four starts, which represents his best run since an early season three-match purple patch.
So while the masses have been gobbling up Gabbiadini – the second most purchased player this week – those seeking a midfield differential could do worse than the 1.3%-owned Serb once the blanks have passed.
Southampton’s short-term schedule is appetising enough, but their EFL Cup final date and a likely Gameweek 28 blank makes the case for investment in the Saints much harder to swallow.
Barkley The Perfect Ten…
There are no such worries over Everton players – the Toffees are one of the few teams guaranteed no blanks at all over the coming weeks.
That should alert managers to the charms of Ross Barkley, particularly after his goal and assist in the 6-3 hammering of Bournemouth.
And yet the midfielder is currently only the fourth most popular buy among the Everton squad, behind Romelu Lukaku, Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori.
Manager Ronald Koeman is certainly talking up Barkley’s attacking allure.
“I think if you look at Ross he’s really improving and also playing a different position to one he was playing before. He is more offensive and not one of three midfield players. He can still play in the number 10 position but has more free role. He is more important for the team in the last part of attacking than he was before and that is what I want.”
And with Sunderland, West Brom and Hull to come – and all at home – over the next four Gameweeks, maybe we should be taking heed of Koeman’s words.
…But Ozil’s Days Are Numbered
One obvious player Barkley could replace is Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil.
The England man is owned by 7.4%, the German by 6.5%. But Barkley is 2.3 cheaper and in a considerably better place than Ozil at the moment.
The Bayern shellacking will hardly have helped the confidence of a man with just three assists and no goals from his last ten league matches, and another wasted opportunity when put through in Bavaria is symptomatic of his current issues, according to Arsene Wenger.
“Maybe he will find confidence back as well, because he misses chances. He has chances and he misses the chances that don’t look not feasible for him. It’s always a problem because you think he can deliver something special but it’s true that technically he missed things that he is not used to.”
At least a manager of Wenger’s vast experience knows what is missing with Mesut at the moment.
“I don’t know – it can happen. I don’t know any specific reason.”
But tailor-made technical plans are in place to address the issue, yes?
“I had a chat with him.”
Well, talk is cheap, whereas Ozil (9.4) isn’t. And unless the Gunners contrive to lose at Sutton on Monday (which, you know…), they’re facing two blanks and matches with Liverpool and Man City over the next five Gameweeks.
No more Mesut, methinks.
Conte’s Pearl O’Wisdom
Finally, we come to Antonio Conte – a man who can do little wrong, even when his comments make little sense.
If you don’t believe me, just see what he has to say about Cesc Fabregas.
“Cesc is a top player and is a genius at football. I can talk in the same way about Andrea Pirlo. Cesc if he doesn’t run 100 metres in 10 seconds, I can allow him this, because he’s a genius with the ball. His velocity is in his mind.”
Then again, there is clearly a thing called damned with high praise when it comes to Conte. He is, after all, a man who has given Pirlo 2.0 precisely 83 minutes of pitch-time over the past six Gameweeks.
“For me Cesc is an important player. And I try to put him always in the best condition to give us his best for the team.”
That condition seems to involve trying to avoid bench sores.
“Cesc is playing with us and is very important for the team.”
But he’s not really though, is he Antonio?
“Sometimes you must make the decision and to look the balance of the team. And sometimes you must make different decisions. It’s the same for Willian and Pedro. For me, sometimes it’s very difficult to sleep and to make the best decision. But I prefer to have this type of problem.”
Mentioning Pedro in the same context as Fabregas should send a chill or two down the spines of his 5.9% ownership base.
But until Conte likens Pedro to Messi, it’s probably best to let him lose all the sleep over that particular selectorial decision.
Because with the Chelsea boss, you’re only a footballing great when you’re not good enough to get in the team.