Another dramatic weekend saw the midfield firmly reassert itself as a target for big Fantasy investment.
The surprise, explosive return of Paul Pogba, another big score from Mohamed Salah and a Gameweek-high tally from Eden Hazard has meant that Fantasy managers are putting their five-man midfield under scrutiny. And, for once, Manchester City’s assets are not on the agenda.
Harry Kane’s failings and the continued rotation in Pep Guardiola’s frontline helped ensure that midfielders were the main focus.
However, there was at least a resurgence in the cheap striker bracket, with Oumar Niasse and Callum Wilson showing form and submitting their CV’s as perfect enablers for midfield investment.
Meanwhile, at the back, the inexorable rise of Stephen Ward continues, thanks to another Man City asset suffering sales.
Continuing our series of weekly articles, we at whogottheassist.com are reviewing and commenting on trends and behaviours in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) marketplace, looking at common themes and giving our view on the viability of the transfers taking place.
Pogback with a bang
Last season many Fantasy managers turned to 3-5-2 as the go-to formation, with big-ticket midfielders Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard and one or both of Spurs duo Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen squeezed into line-ups.
Savings came in the shape of Josh King as a cheap but hugely productive asset in midfield, with Victor Anichebe doing his bit as an enabler up front.
This season, the early prominence of premium defenders and strikers distracted Fantasy managers from a big spend in midfield.
However, we’re now seeing a shift, with that trend exploding into focus this week.
Paul Pogba’s 12-point comeback performance for Manchester United in just 69 minutes has sparked a rush to invest in the Frenchman.
His 8.0 price tag appears locked for seven days post-injury, meaning that his 224,000 investors so far have yet to impact on his valuation. But with his ownership continuing to climb as we approach Friday’s deadline, we will doubtless see one, or even two, increases ahead of Gameweeks 14 and 15.
Clearly, many see Pogba as a bargain and are swooping with Brighton due at Old Trafford on Saturday and a trip to Watford to follow soon after.
By contrast, team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan – whose form has dipped as dramatically as his price – is also back to his original 8.0 valuation as he continues to be sold in droves. Over 96,000 managers have parted ways with the Armenian, with almost 60,000 making the straight swap to Pogba.
Interestingly, Manchester City’s midfield options also appear to be suffering from Pogba’s return to prominence.
The tactic of doubling up on Pep Guardiola’s free-scoring options appears to have temporarily lost its appeal, with both Raheem Sterling (8.1 and 20,000+) and David Silva (8.4 and 14,000+) shedding owners directly to Pogba.
Salah maintains momentum
Mohamed Salah (9.6) gave us another virtuoso performance, with his brace against Southampton eliciting 16 points for his ownership, which now hovers around the 40% mark. His bandwagon shows no sign of slowing as managers cave in to his charms after back-to-back hauls and a seemingly relentless consistency.
More than 100,000 managers have brought the “winger” in so far despite a tough match-up with former employees Chelsea up next.
A major casualty of the rush for Salah is Christian Eriksen (9.5), who, astonishingly, is without an assist since Gameweek 2. Despite a kind looking run to come, another blank against Crystal Palace proved the final straw for many, with 80,000+ selling him on so far – 25,000 as part of a direct trade to Salah.
Wilson and Niasse pounce on Tammy setback
Gameweek 12 has also signalled a major shift in the budget striker market.
Just as Fantasy managers potentially lost one cut-price option, so another two compelling candidates stepped up to fill the potential void.
Oumar Niasse (5.0) at Everton and Callum Wilson (6.0) at Bournemouth were the only two strikers to hit double figures at the weekend, coinciding with Tammy Abraham’s (6.0) injury in Swansea City’s 2-0 away defeat to Burnley.
Abraham has since sustained 94,000 sales and 35,000+ of these have been trades to Niasse, while over 25,000 have moved to Wilson.
There are several twists in this particular tale, not least the fact that Swansea seem confident on Abraham’s return to face Bournemouth this weekend.
Secondly, Niasse has had his short-term appeal dented by the FA only this morning.
Niasse harvested a 10-point return at Crystal Palace and is currently the second most bought player, with 129,000 managers rushing to exploit his potential to free up funds. However, with the FA’s charge revealed earlier today, those owners will likely have to do without the Senegalese for the next two matches. It will be interesting to see if that reverses the market trend, with Niasse’s 5.4% ownership suffering a dip.
Elsewhere, Wilson’s warming return to FPL relevance after injury arrived via an explosive 17-point hat-trick. That treble against Huddersfield Town rewarded the intrepid 3,393 managers who acquired his services ahead of the Terriers clash.
With a very favourable run of short-term fixtures, Wilson has prompted 80,000 to swoop ahead of his away trip to a vulnerable Swansea defence.
Morata in vogue
Despite the top five strikers being placed just 10 points apart, a goal and an assist at West Brom has seen Alvaro Morata (10.5) continue to soar as the market’s forward option of choice.
A promising run of fixtures after Saturday’s trip to Liverpool has urged another 113,000+ to snap up the Chelsea striker, with Spurs’ Harry Kane (12.8) and City’s Sergio Aguero (11.7) predictably the players shedding owners.
That pair suffered significant blows to their stock in Gameweek 12. Kane blanked for the first time in a north London derby on Saturday, while Aguero recorded yet another no-show in an away fixture.
The uncertainty surrounding Aguero’s starting role has seen many of his owners take action, with his price falling as a result of more than 94,000 sales – over a third of which have been trades to Morata.
While a trip to Huddersfield is up next, Pep Guardiola’s statements in yesterday’s Champions League press conference appeared to confirm that Aguero remains in a job share with Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian has started all of Man City’s away matches so far, which would suggest that Aguero will again have his minutes cut against the Terriers.
As for Kane, he has been sold off by 50,000 with managerless West Brom up next.
Despite causing despair following his recent failures as captain, the fear factor remains a consideration with Kane.
Capable of punishing a beleaguered Baggies, his Gameweek 13 potential will doubtless be slowing sales. However, a lack of convincing alternatives – aside from Morata – has also helped his cause and urged many to ignore recent disappointments and show patience.
Dropping like Stones
A hamstring injury sustained against Leicester City has ruled Man City centre-half John Stones out for the Christmas period.
Heavy sales have inevitably followed and he’s the most discarded asset ahead of Friday, with 102,000 managers showing him the exit.
More than 20,000 have so far swapped for his defensive partner Nicolas Otamendi, who returns from suspension for Gameweek 13. Arsenal’s Sead Kolasinac and Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels are the other two key targets benefitting from the Stones fallout.
However, his injury has also helped to maintain the meteoric rise of Burnley’s Stephen Ward. He is now the top-owned defender in the game (21.2%) and has attracted another 61,000 managers this Gameweek. Ward has also risen from his initial valuation of 4.5 to a princely 5.0.
Sales of early-season favourite Ahmed Hegazi and the crocked Phil Jones have also benefitted Ward. Some 7,500 have made the direct Jones to Ward swap.
Those seeking Burnley representation in their backlines, but now baulking at Ward’s inflated price, are considering Nick Pope in goal. He earned two bonus points against Swansea despite registering just a single save.
Pope is surpassing David de Gea for transfers in (17,000 vs 13,000), while some (8,000+) have downgraded the Man United stopper in another bid to free up investment funds.
We are now careering into a period of intense Fantasy activity, with Gameweeks coming thick and fast – nine of them between now and New Year’s Day.
Accordingly, the market could pick up pace.
This Gameweek, only 5.7 million transfers were made, the third lowest so far. Will this number be sustained, or will the quick turnover in rounds catch out those less attentive?
There are two notable trends to monitor: the move towards midfield investment to set up a 3-5-2 formation and the drive to acquire an active bench ahead of the Christmas schedule.
Pogba as a potentially cheap heavy-hitter, along with the emerging cut-price options in attack, can only help facilitate matters.
The movement away from Man City assets is also of interest.
The fact that Leroy Sane is the only significant riser among City’s squad indicates that rotation concerns may be reducing confidence and encouraging managers to consider alternatives. The trades from Silva and Sterling to Pogba illustrate this and could continue, depending on Gameweek 13 performances.