West Brom win at Old Trafford to hand Man City the league title as Double Gameweek 34 continues to surprise and delight precious few Fantasy managers.
Following modest returns from Saturday’s matches, Sunday was meant to be so much better but instead it handed us further disappointment and set up a variety of selection concerns for the run-in.
Man United’s 1-0 loss at home to the Baggies was the dampest of squibs for Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers across the board.
Romelu Lukaku went into the match with 243,000+ new owners. Captained by 45 of the top 100 managers and 16.6% overall, a hefty 92,000+ made him the Double Gameweek’s most popular Triple Captain choice.
The Red Devils’ frontman squared up to the league’s bottom side having recorded a goal or an assist in seven of his last 10 Gameweek starts (five goals, three assists).
Just like armband rival Harry Kane less than 24 hours earlier, he blanked.
Albion keeper Ben Foster was required to make two saves – one a superb stop – to deny the Belgian, but both the forward and the team as a whole were so far removed from the heroics of last weekend at the Etihad Stadium.
Lukaku still has a second match to make amends – up against a Bournemouth defence with one clean sheet in 21 matches – but he’s managed just one goal in his last six away fixtures. While he remains a likely starter at the Vitality Stadium, coach Jose Mourinho is still set to rotate his squad in preparation for the weekend’s FA Cup semi-final with Spurs.
It’s far more doubtful whether Paul Pogba will retain his spot on the teamsheet, though, after an ineffectual display.
The driving force behind United’s second-half comeback at Man City, he was signed by 232,000+ for Double Gameweek 34 and captained by almost 86,000.
Yet despite Mourinho starting the match with the 4-3-3 formation that the Frenchman is said to thrive in, his 14.2% owners were rewarded with an abject performance as a booking and a 57-minute withdrawal produced zero points.
Pogba’s owners must now surely fear the worst when Mourinho unveils his Wednesday night teamsheet, with the manager far from complimentary on his display post-match:
“In the first-half I felt I had to bring one player with more dynamic and a player that runs more and has more touches of the ball. I had to make a decision one midfield player out to bring in Jesse Lingard and then after that I wanted more width, and Paul had a yellow card and before that he had a situation not for a second yellow but you never know in football, so I reacted to that. And Paul’s game was complicated like many others, always one more touch.”
At least the 175,000 who bought Chris Smalling got another 90 minutes out of the defender, but it’s now one clean sheet in seven Gameweeks for the United backline.
Mourinho preferred Victor Lindelof to Eric Bailly, who was rested from the squad altogether, as Smalling’s partner yesterday.
Prior to kick-off, he explained his decision to start with the summer signing:
“Normally, we are going to have more of the ball and, normally, it’s when we need somebody from the back to add extra technical quality in the middle of the back. We have three matches in a week. Bournemouth in a few days [Wednesday night] then Spurs after a few days again. In that semi-final, they are having one day extra to us to recover so I need also to think about that.”
Smalling now has 11 straight starts under his belt and seems to be rotation-proof, but with Phil Jones returning to the bench yesterday, even his pitch-time could be in doubt, leaving perhaps only David De Gea and Antonio Valencia as safe bets for midweek minutes.
Another who should feature at Bournemouth is Jesse Lingard, who was drafted in by 98,000+ for the West Brom match, only to be benched as Juan Mata returned to the starting XI on the right flank.
He did at least come on at half-time yesterday, although to little avail, while the brief renaissance of Alexis Sanchez, who had a goal and three assists from his previous two starts, ended abruptly against the Baggies.
Mourinho, as is his way, has made much of the fact that Spurs will have more time to prepare for Saturday’s semi-final, making changes yesterday and presumably plotting more of the same in midweek to combat the perceived injustice.
What effect that will have on the second act of our Double Gameweek 34 experience remains to be seen, but it will do well to be any worse than what has occurred so far.
Moore the merrier
West Brom’s caretaker manager Darren Moore has now won as many league matches (one) in two fixtures at the helm than his predecessor, Alan Pardew, achieved in 18 mostly miserable attempts.
And while the Baggies’ revival will spark little Fantasy interest –they have no Double Gameweeks to come and the remaining schedule (LIV new TOT cpl) is less than kind – it does have some knock-on effects.
Four points from Moore’s two matches suggest that the team have moved on from their whipping-boy status under Pardew, which could make Liverpool’s Gameweek 35 trip to The Hawthorns less of a Fantasy banker than it appeared a week or so ago.
Those hoping, with or without the Free Hit chip to employ, for a major points haul from Salah and two of his team-mates in next week’s reduced slate might have to rein in their expectations.
There’s even a case to be made for drafting in West Brom’s match-winner at Old Trafford, Jay Rodriguez, who’s now scored in three of the last four Gameweeks, although the Reds defence has kept clean sheets in three of their last five away days.
But the major fallout from yesterday’s shock win was Man City’s title victory.
It’s mission accomplished for Pep Guardiola’s 2017/18 vintage, with nothing left to play for but pride from here on in.
A coach who has never been afraid to chop and change now has carte blanche to rotate to his heart’s content.
Those of us on a Free Hit strategy for Gameweek 35 will still be bringing in three City players for Sunday’s title celebration match at home to Swansea City.
Which of those assets actually gets pitch-time is the key question now, with Raheem Sterling currently the top transfer pick for the weekend and Gabriel Jesus not so far behind in third place.
And then there’s the matter of the champions’ Double Gameweek 37.
What was once a fill-yer-boots exercise involving plum home fixtures against Huddersfield and Brighton could now be used an excuse for Guardiola to make sure everyone gets a go before they pack for the beach and/or the World Cup.
City were always going to win the league, but West Brom’s victory yesterday has ushered in the resultant complications a little bit sooner than we all would have liked.