A rampant Liverpool hit seven with Philippe Coutinho once again the star performer, while Spurs and Manchester City assets are rested in their Champions League dead rubbers.
Listen carefully, and you’ll hear the sound of the Philippe Coutinho bandwagon approaching at pace.
An 18-point, goal and three assists masterclass at Brighton had already made the Liverpool midfielder the second most popular buy heading into Gameweek 16.
And now a Champions League hat-trick in a 7-0 rout of Spartak Moscow has made him the most purchased player of the last 24-hours.
Named captain for the Merseysiders last night, Coutinho has earned more than double the number of new owners (32,000+) than any player over that period, yet still sits in a mere 7.8% of squads ahead of a run of four home fixtures (EVE WBA bou ars SWA LEI) in the next six Gameweeks.
The case for inclusion in our five-man midfields is strengthened by the Brazilian’s underlying stats. Despite playing just eight times this season, he sits second for shots (33) and key passes (23) and has played a part in 60% of their goals when on the pitch – more than any other player.
Although just one of his league efforts has been deemed a “big chance”, Coutinho’s stock took another climb last night when he stepped up to convert Liverpool’s opener from the spot – his first ever penalty for the club. If he also has spot-kicks duties in his armoury, the option of a double-up with Mohamed Salah over that festive run looks very tempting.
FPL’s most popular player, the Egyptian – who boasts a 54.1% ownership – provided contributions to bookend the evening’s entertainment rather neatly. He was fouled for Coutinho’s opener before firing in the final goal himself – that’s his 18th strike in all competitions already.
Last night’s haul took the Merseysiders’ tally to 32 goals in nine matches across all competitions since their Gameweek 9 loss at Spurs, with Jurgen Klopp’s attack stocked full with in-form options right now.
Having bagged a brace at Brighton, Roberto Firmino maintained that momentum with a goal and assist against the Russians.
The forward has 112,000+ new owners this week – Coutinho has more than 143,000 – as he provides FPL managers with increasing evidence of a return to form.
His 8.5 price tag also hands us some much-needed budget flexibility, with funds otherwise tied up in big-ticket strikers, such as Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku, who are currently serving up meagre returns, or Man City strikers ever-vulnerable to the perils of rotation.
Sadio Mane, who has started just one of the Reds’ last three league matches, also came to the party, scoring twice and providing one assist. With two sets of double-figure hauls in his last three league starts, the Senegal international – owned by 8% – is another who is shaping up as a winter differential if he can avoid Klopp’s rotation.
Meanwhile, James Milner came on just before the break and set up three goals after it, with fellow sub Daniel Sturridge also producing an assist late on.
Milner’s presence on the field was the result of an ankle injury to left-back Alberto Moreno who, with 5.8% ownership, is the most owned Liverpool defender.
His managers will have to wait and see whether their man is fit for Sunday’s Merseyside derby, with Klopp unsure post-match.
“It was a strange situation. He is a tough guy and if he cannot continue the game then you should consider it could be something serious. In the treatment room then, he was a little bit more positive, so maybe we are lucky and it’s not too serious. We will see.”
Should Moreno fail to recover, either Milner or Andrew Robertson will need to be drafted in.
Klopp also spoke of a change to his usual 4-3-3 formation that paid dividends against the Russians.
“We (didn’t have) three strikers with Coutinho behind, we played 4-4-1-1. They were proper midfielders tonight, they had to play as midfielders and defend, Phil and Sadio. That’s why we changed the system, we wanted to have a clear structure. We have Roberto running everywhere and Mo between the lines, that was the idea. Of course, the weekend will be different already. We will have the ball much more at the weekend, for sure, but it’s not too offensive, it’s not too defensive. The approach is not the thing, it’s what we do with it.”
With or without a new formation in place, Everton’s mini-revival under Sam Allardyce makes the derby slightly harder to call, but the Toffees will do well to halt Liverpool’s goal-laden juggernaut.
Small wonder, then, that three of the top seven transfers-in for Gameweek 16 are Reds attackers.
Liverpool’s win confirmed their place, as group winners, in the draw for the Champions League knock-out stages on Monday.
The first legs of the Round of 16 will take place on February 13/14 (after Gameweek 27) and 20/21 (prior to Gameweek 28), the second legs on March 6/7 and 13/14, either side of Gameweek 30.
Pep ramps up rotation ahead of derby
Having already secured first place in Group F, Pep Guardiola’s teamsheet clearly had one eye on the weekend trip to Old Trafford.
Aside from keeper Ederson, arguably only three other players, from last night, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho – who was used in a makeshift back-three before being replaced on 70 minutes – have a chance of starting in Sunday’s derby.
Popular FPL picks such as Kyle Walker, Nicolas Otamendi and Raheem Sterling warmed the bench from start to finish ahead of the United clash, while Sergio Aguero emerged as a sub to convert a late consolation from the spot after Jesus had been fouled in the box.
The 2-1 loss brings their winning streak to an end, though Guardiola was devoid of most of his regulars. Kevin De Bruyne was suspended, while David Silva missed out with a knock as the City manager otherwise played a team of fringe players and teens in Ukraine, with the most notable inclusion being the 17-year-old Phil Foden, who became England’s youngest ever starter in the Champions League.
Although Sane’s 21.6% ownership will have been disheartened to see him among the starters last night, the German was withdrawn after 62 minutes, however, suggesting he’s likely to retain his role on the left against the Red Devils.
The 14% who own Jesus, who has started just three of the last seven matches in the league, won’t be too enamoured by his manager’s decision to hand him the full 90 minutes. Aguero – who played just 20 minutes by comparison – now looks the likelier weekend starter.
Kane and company get a break
In another dead rubber, Spurs managers Mauricio Pochettino handed nights off to key assets Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen.
They still beat Apoel Nicosia 3-0, with Fernando Llorente scoring his first goal for the club at the 17th attempt.
The Spanish striker put away a Serge Aurier pass before combining with Son Heung-min for the South Korean’s second goal in as many matches.
Georges-Kevin Nkoudou completed the scoring late on.
Pochettino made eight changes from the side that drew with Watford, with his inclusion of Aurier and Danny Rose a strong pointer that Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies will get the nod for Saturday’s visit from Stoke City.
In terms of tactics, Pochettino opted for a back-four for the second successive fixtures, suggesting that Trippier and Davies may be utilised as full-backs, as opposed to wing-backs, against the Potters.
But while Kane and Eriksen failed to make the squad, Dele Alli started and played 88 minutes in an attempt, perhaps, to rediscover some form – the England midfielder has produced just one assist from the last six Gameweeks. He was used in a deeper role, behind a front three on Wednesday night.
Elsewhere, Davinson Sanchez’s upcoming three-match domestic ban meant a full 90 minutes for the Colombian last night, allowing Pochettino to keep his current first-choice centre-back pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier fresh for the Stoke clash.
The Belgian spent last night on the bench, while Dier didn’t even make the squad.