Romelu Lukaku’s scoring drought finally ends as both he and Eden Hazard shine for Belgium, but an injury to Phil Jones threatens to derail the plans of more than 100,000 managers who have already moved for the Manchester United defender before the Gameweek 12 deadline.
Injury issues – good and bad – also surround Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and West Ham forward Chicharito, while Spurs’ midfielder Son Heung-min continues his fine goalscoring form for both club and country.
Here are the notes from a hectic night of international action.
Belgians back in business
Romelu Lukaku finally snapped his dry spell with a brace for Belgium in their 3-3 friendly thriller against Mexico.
The Man United striker had gone seven matches without a goal in all competitions before last night’s double, prompting consistent Fantasy Premier League sales that had reduced his peak ownership of 3.1 million in Gameweek 7 to 2.5 million going into the break.
Although he is still owned by 47.6% of FPL managers – making him the most popular player in the game – the sales had continued following the Gameweek 11 loss at Chelsea, with a further 71,000+ showing him the door.
That move could be punished, particularly with an immediate schedule involving Newcastle and Brighton at home and a trip to Watford awaiting Lukaku when he returns to Manchester.
Indeed, aside from a two-match blip of Arsenal away and the Manchester derby in Gameweeks 15 and 16, United’s fixtures are set fair from now until the end of January.
His compatriot, Eden Hazard, opened the scoring from a Lukaku rebound against Mexico to continue his own ascent.
The Chelsea midfielder now has four goals and an assist from his last six matches for club and country, although his 10.6 price tag remains a major obstacle when the likes of Mohamed Salah and Manchester City’s midfield are proving powerful and consist sources of returns.
Hazard’s ownership is still a modest 5.1%, and he’s gained just over 1,000 owners since Gameweek 11.
Chelsea’s schedule, however, is very attractive from now until the end of the year, with only a Gameweek 13 trip to Anfield looking like a major test.
Belgium’s XI against Mexico was the usual Premier League-heavy affair, with Thibaut Courtois, Nacer Chadli, Kevin De Bruyne, Lukaku and Hazard all starting.
Mousa Dembélé replaced De Bruyne at half-time, while both Hazard and Lukaku were substituted late on. Simon Mignolet, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Defour watched on from the bench.
West Ham forward Chicharito drew the foul from which Mexico levelled at 1-1 from the penalty spot.
But the striker went off after 51 minutes with a suspected hamstring issue, although Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio said post-match that he had no update on the player’s condition.
Chicharito is in 12.7% of FPL squads, and the Hammers have reasonable short-term fixtures to come (wat, LEI, eve) before the schedule turns very ugly indeed (mci, CHE, ARS) for new manager David Moyes.
Jones injury vexes early adopters
If selling Lukaku is starting to look like risky business, the 103,000+ who have made his United team-mate Phil Jones the second most popular buy of Gameweek 12 must be ruing their early trade.
The injury-prone defender limped out of England’s creditable 0-0 draw with Germany after just 25 minutes, although his international coach, Gareth Southgate, was quick to downplay the seriousness of the thigh issue.
“He seems fine, we’ve checked him out. It’s something he’s been carrying but he doesn’t seem to be any worse so that’s fine. We’ll see whether Phil stays with us.”
Injury and Jones have never exactly been strangers, with United manager Jose Mourinho issuing almost weekly bulletins of doom and gloom regarding his centre-half’s fitness, only to start him in every single league match this season.
Time will tell whether Southgate’s rather more upbeat take turns out to be equally misleading.
But the defender’s 15.8% FPL ownership will surely be hoping that Jones is now wrapped in cotton wool as a spectator for Tuesday’s friendly with Brazil – particularly with United’s aforementioned schedule offering excellent prospects of defensive returns.
The goalless draw at Wembley was a bright and breezy affair in which the 5.3%-owned Crystal Palace midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek caught the eye, as did fellow debutant Jordan Pickford, who pulled off some fine saves to keep the Germans at bay.
Cut-price Liverpool defender Joe Gomez (4.6) continued his dream start to the season when he made his debut as the replacement for the stricken Jones, while in-form Man City winger Leroy Sane was a threat throughout for the visitors, hitting the bar with one shot and seeing another effort headed off the line.
Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, however, had another outing to forget. The 15.0%-owned forward has scored just once in his last five league matches and failed to convert two excellent chances last night.
The Foxes now face a more testing set of opponents, with visits from both Man City and Spurs over the next three Gameweeks. The schedule compounds Vardy’s recent lack of form, which may have prompted 45,000+ to sell the striker since Gameweek 11 compared to just 14,000 acquisitions – that’s a third drop in ownership over the past four Gameweeks.
Well-owned Swansea City striker Tammy Abraham (17.5%) partnered Vardy in attack and came close to scoring with a deflected effort in an encouraging, if patchy, debut.
Antonio Rüdiger, Ilkay Gündogan, Mesut Ozil and Sane all started for the Germans, with Liverpool midfielder Emre Can coming on after 67 minutes.
Brazilian bench boost for Coutinho?
Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho is still officially recovering from a groin injury, but he was on the bench as Brazil saw off Japan 3-1 in a friendly played in Paris.
Whether the midfielder was ever fit enough to actually play is unclear as he remained an unused sub on the night, as did his club-mate Roberto Firmino.
Tuesday’s England v Brazil friendly will provide us with a clearer picture as to the extent of the midfielder’s recovery ahead of a vastly improved Liverpool schedule.
Doubts over his fitness, plus continued speculation on his future in January, continue to keep Coutinho’s ownership static at 4.5% for now. And with Salah excelling and Sadio Mane fit and back in the equation, Coutinho’s stock among Jurgen Klopp’s attacking options may struggle for a revival.
Mane confirmed his own return to form following injury with an assist for Senegal – his third in a productive week of domestic and international action – in a 2-0 win over South Africa that sealed their qualification for Russia 2017.
Liverpool are now hoping that Mane can return early to Merseyside with Senegal’s final qualifying match, at home to South Africa again on Tuesday, a dead rubber.
Brazil’s other Premier League stars were very much involved in the win over Japan.
Man City striker Gabriel Jesus had a match that mirrored his domestic season to date – starting, scoring and then being subbed off after 58 minutes.
His City team-mates Fernandinho and Danilo played the full 90 minutes, with the latter providing an assist, while Chelsea winger Willian was withdrawn on 71 minutes.
Southampton centre-back Maya Yoshida played the full match for Japan.
Son the stand-out Spur
Spurs’ Heung-min Son continued his rich run of form with both goals in South Korea’s 2-1 friendly win over Colombia.
The midfielder now has four goals in as many matches for club and country, but although he has started the last four league fixtures, concerns over rotation have kept his ownership levels simmering at just 1.6%.
Once a north London derby is done and dusted in Gameweek 12, Spurs have a 12-match run in which only a trip to Man City looks particularly testing.
Should Son be handed a consistent starting place for Spurs, the 7.9-will again offer a powerful differential option. However, the imminent return to fitness of Erik Lamela will add to Mauricio Pochettino’s options in the attacking roles, adding another layer of uncertainty to Son as a Fantasy asset.
A number of his Spurs team-mates were also in action last night.
Davinson Sanchez was on the same pitch as Son, completing the full 90 minutes for Colombia, while wing-backs Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier played over an hour each for Wales and England respectively and Moussa Sissoko was an unused substitute for France.
Potential stand-in for Phil Jones, Man United centre-half Victor Lindelöf, played the full 90 minutes in Sweden’s 1-0 World Cup qualifying play-off victory over Italy.
Martin Olsson, who had missed Swansea City’s last two matches with a hamstring injury, was named on the bench for the Swedes. Man United defender Matteo Darmian started and finished the match for the Italians, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Davide Zappacosta among the unused substitutes.
The second leg of the play-off takes place on Monday night.
Two other World Cup qualifying play-offs, involving Honduras v Australia and New Zealand v Peru, finished goalless.
Mat Ryan and Aaron Mooy both featured for the Aussies, while Winston Reid played the full match for New Zealand with Burnley striker Chris Wood limited to a cameo in the last 15 minutes following a recent return from injury.
The second legs of both ties take place early on Wednesday morning, with the 1.4% of FPL managers who own Wood facing up to a double-edged sword – if their man plays, then his fitness will have been confirmed ahead of the Gameweek 12 visit from Swansea. But his horrendous travel schedule – to New Zealand and then Peru – suggests that he may well be benched for the Swans’ visit.
Liverpool star Mane was not the only Premier League player to enjoy a night to remember for Senegal.
West Ham striker Diafra Sakho opened the scoring – a potentially timely goal in light of Chicharito’s possible plight – and Cheikhou Kouyaté and Idrissa Gueye also started for the victorious Senegalese.
Fellow World Cup qualifiers from Africa, Nigeria, played out a 1-1 draw in Algeria.
Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho started for the visitors, with Ahmed Musa on the bench.
His Leicester City team-mates Islam Slimani put in a full shift for the hosts, while Riyad Mahrez was subbed on 64 minutes in what appeared to be a tactical move.
Olivier Giroud was on target for the French in their 2-0 win over Wales.
The Arsenal striker played 73 minutes before being replaced by club-mate Alexandre Lacazette. Post-match Giroud has revealed that he’s currently struggling with a muscular injury, which could well see him miss Tuesday’s encounter with Germany. Reports also suggest that Giroud will therefore be an early doubt for the north London derby on Saturday.
Elsewhere for France, Laurent Koscielny was given the full 90 minutes, while Man United midfielder Anthony Martial came on at the same time as Lacazette.
As well as Ben Davies, Wayne Hennessey, Ashley Williams, Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Sam Vokes and Andy King started for Wales, with the latter pair replaced on 83 and 64 minutes respectively.
Liverpool starlet Ben Woodburn came for Davies after 63 minutes.
Man United’s Nemanja Matic was rested for Serbia’s friendly against China, with the midfielder omitted from the travelling party to the Far East.
Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic scored and played 85 minutes, Southampton’s Dusan Tadic was on the pitch thoughout and provided an assist and Liverpool midfielder Marko Grujic remained on the bench.
West Brom midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak played the full 90 minutes in Poland’s goalless draw at home to Uruguay, while Man City’s Bernardo Silva was given 56 minutes for Portugal in their 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia.