Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was on target for the sixth time in pre-season as Unai Emery experimented with his system, while Crystal Palace’s most popular assets – Wilfried Zaha among them – starred in a 4-1 demolition of Toulouse.
Rafael Benitez and Neil Warnock voiced their concerns after Newcastle United and Cardiff City’s disappointing weekend defeats, while it was all change for Sean Dyche’s Burnley side following their Europa League exploits last week.
In this latest Scout Notes article, we take a look at five more pre-season friendlies to assess what impact they might have on our Fantasy Premier League squads.
Arsenal 2-0 Lazio
- Goals: Reiss Nelson (£4.5m), Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (£11.0m)
- Assists: Alex Iwobi (£5.5m), Alexandre Lacazette (£9.5m)
Unai Emery teased the possibility of fielding a bona fide strike partnership in Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (£11.0m) and Alexandre Lacazette (£9.5m) as he rolled out a 4-4-2 formation in the first half of Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Lazio on Saturday – although the prospect of the former Paris Saint-Germain manager deploying that system in the Gameweek 1 encounter with Manchester City looks slim.
It was Eddie Nketiah that got the nod alongside Lacazette during the opening 45 minutes, as Emery made 11 changes to the side that played Chelsea in midweek.
Aubameyang emerged as a half-time substitute to score Arsenal’s second after being teed up by Lacazette, although Emery opted to switch back to his tried-and-tested 4-3-3 set-up for the final half of the Gunners’ pre-season.
Emery’s quotes after the match suggest that the 4-3-3 formation will be, as expected, the system he reverts to for the visit of Pep Guardiola’s defending champions on Sunday:
Today we played with 4-4-2, to try this system and tweak our mentality, style and ideas, but for me, in the first half, the possession with the ball and control with the ball wasn’t as good as I wanted. It’s for that reason that we started the second half with three midfielders. I think in the second half we controlled the match better with this system. Today we tried in the second half and second half to choose the best system with the best players and best ideas, but I’m happy with this performance because they are working very well and improving also.
Arsenal looked far from secure as they edged their visitors in an end-to-end encounter, although the unfamiliar shape and a largely second-string back four would perhaps account for their fragility at the back.
Stephan Lichtsteiner (£5.0m) made his Gunners debut at right-back, with Callum Chambers (£4.5m) and Rob Holding (£4.5m) a shaky presence at the heart of the Arsenal defence. Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis (all £5.5m), with 307, 263 and 235 pre-season minutes to their names respectively, look likely to take their places on Sunday.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.5m) filled in at left-back after the news that Sead Kolasinac (£5.0m) is set to miss eight to ten weeks with a knee injury and Emery suggested afterwards that Nacho Monreal (£5.5m) – without a minute of pre-season football – only has an outside chance of returning in time for Arsenal’s opening Premier League match at the weekend:
He arrived with no big injuries, but his knee has a little problem and he’s training every day but not with us. He’s doing work alone with the physical coach and running, and we think maybe on Tuesday he can start training with the team.
We don’t want the injuries but it’s one of those things that you can’t help. We have players like Nacho, but he arrived late from the World Cup and also has a small injury. It’s difficult for him to arrive for the match against Manchester City.
For us we are trying to help Ainsley play in this position and, for me, I want to give confidence to all my players in their positions, then he can play in this position as best as possible.
Granit Xhaka (£5.5m) returned from his post-World Cup break to line up alongside debutant Lucas Torreira (£5.0m) in the double pivot, although Matteo Guendouzi (£4.5m) – who has played more pre-season minutes (282) than any Arsenal midfielder – once again impressed after being brought on at the break to shore up the centre of the park.
Mesut Ozil (£8.5m) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£7.0m), meanwhile, arrived just after the hour mark and for a quarter of an hour linked up with Aubameyang and Lacazette in the Arsenal attack – only the second occasion in pre-season that all four players have been on the pitch at the same time.
Bernd Leno (£5.0m) quietly impressed, meanwhile, particularly with the ball at his feet – his ability in possession would suggest that the German custodian will get the nod over Petr Cech (£5.0m) for the City match. The two goalkeepers can’t be split in terms of their pre-season minutes, however (180 apiece).
Reiss Nelson (£4.5m) grabbed Arsenal’s opener, tapping in after fellow winger Alex Iwobi (£5.5m) had struck the woodwork.
ARSENAL XI (4-4-2): Leno; Lichtsteiner (Bellerin 62′), Chambers (Mavropanos 77′), Holding (Sokratis 77′), Maitland-Niles; Nelson (Guendouzi 46′), Xhaka (Elneny 62′), Torreira (Ozil 62′), Iwobi (Mkhitaryan 62′); Lacazette (Smith Rowe 77′), Nketiah (Aubameyang 46′)
Burnley 0-2 Espanyol
Burnley’s efforts in their extra-time Europa League victory over Aberdeen last Thursday had a pronounced effect on the Clarets’ final pre-season friendly on Sunday, with Sean Dyche making 11 changes from the side that had prevailed in the “Battle of Britain“.
The defeat to Espanyol would be of little interest to Fantasy managers other than to confirm which of Dyche’s squad are unlikely to feature in the Gameweek 1 match against Southampton this coming Sunday.
With Nick Pope (£5.0m) out with a long-term injury, Tom Heaton (£5.0m) facing a race against time to be fit for the season opener and Anders Lindegaard (£4.5m) rested for this Thursday’s European match against Istanbul Basaksehir, fourth-choice goalkeeper Adam Legzdins began the match between the sticks.
With Joe Hart joining the club today from Manchester City, the goalkeeping position is far from settled and would be one to avoid for Fantasy managers looking for a route into the Burnley backline for their appealing opening Premier League fixtures.
Ben Mee and James Tarkowski‘s (both £5.0m) security of starts now look threatened too, following the capture of Ben Gibson from Middlesbrough – the 25-year-old centre-back’s transfer was announced during the Espanyol match and the club-record signing was present at Turf Moor to see his new team-mates in action. Speaking of Gibson’s arrival, Dyche said:
We are always trying to increase the competitive demand in the group, and last year we carried three centre halves, which is tricky. The demands of the Premier League are there for all to see and, of course, we now have the Europa League and we don’t know how far that’s going to go. Then you have domestic cups, so that has to be looked at.
Ben is a very competitive player and he will continually push the players. One of the definite demands of being a footballer is when a new face comes in, particularly a high-quality new face. I think he is high quality and he is up for the challenge of competing for the shirt. I spoke to him and he’s very straight and very demanding.
Jeff Hendrick (£5.5m) now leads the way in pre-season minutes (512) for Burnley after playing the full match here.
BURNLEY XI (4-4-2): Legzdins; Bardsley, Dunne, Long, Taylor; Hendrick, O’Neill, McNeil (Goodridge 89′), Walters; Wells, Agyei (Koiki 65′)
Cardiff City 1-2 Real Betis
- Goal: Josh Murphy (£5.0m)
- Assist: Sean Morrison (£5.0m)
Neil Warnock made a point of highlighting his lack of options in the centre of the park by fielding defender Sol Bamba (£4.5m) alongside Joe Ralls (£5.0m) and Callum Paterson (£5.5m) in the 2-1 defeat to Betis at the weekend.
Warnock’s post-match comments repeatedly referenced his desire for at least one new central midfielder before Thursday’s transfer deadline after the Bluebirds seemingly missed out on Liverpool’s Marko Grujic:
I’m disappointed that we haven’t got one or two but that’s life. I won’t worry about things like that. Sol will probably end up being the best midfielder in the league. Next week is all about increasing the squad. We’ve had knock-back after knock-back.
Bobby Reid worked hard today as well. He played in midfield for us because we haven’t got anybody else. I thought he did as well as could have been expected.
Cardiff’s fluidity in their formation was a trademark of their promotion-winning campaign last season and Warnock’s tactical versatility was in evidence again at the Cardiff City Stadium, with Bamba dropping back alongside Sean Morrison (£5.0m) and Bruno Ecuele Manga (£4.5m) in the heart of the defence and allowing the Bluebirds’ full-backs to push forward into a four-man midfield.
FPL managers fond of a bargain-bin defender would have been heartened to see Lee Peltier (£4.0m) get the nod at right-back once again, with Joe Bennett (£4.5m) lining up on the opposite flank.
Josh Murphy (£5.0m) is Cardiff’s form player in pre-season with five goals to his name and the summer signing from Norwich City was on target again on Saturday, collecting a Morrison pass and rifling home a rising near-post shot.
Murphy linked up well with Junior Hoilett (£5.5m) and Bobby Reid (£5.5m) in a fluid three-man attack, although Reid’s versatility is a negative from a Fantasy perspective given Warnock’s propensity to field him either out wide or in an attacking midfield role; Reid once again dropped back into midfield during the defeat to Betis.
Reid and Kenneth Zohore‘s (£5.0m) chances of leading the line this season were dealt a further blow when Warnock was asked about whether he would like to sign another forward before Thursday:
Yes, I think so. We didn’t play with one (a striker) today and I thought we did alright. We had two smaller lads and I thought we played quite well doing that. We had a bit more threat and movement so who knows.
Barring further recruitment, Warnock’s starting XI looks relatively settled: of the 11 players with the most pre-season minutes for the Bluebirds, ten started their match against Betis at the weekend. Left-back Greg Cunningham (£4.5m), overlooked for Bennett in this friendly, was the one exception.
CARDIFF CITY XI (4-3-3): Etheridge; Peltier, Morrison, Manga, Bennett (Cunningham 71’); Bamba, Ralls, Paterson; Hoilett (Damour 63’), J Murphy (Mendez-Laing 71’), Reid (Zohore 63’)
Crystal Palace 4-1 Toulouse
- Goals: Christian Benteke (£6.5m), Jeffrey Schlupp (£4.5m), Luka Milivojevic (£6.5m), Wilfried Zaha (£7.0m)
- Assists: Luka Milivojevic, Patrick van Aanholt (£5.5m), Andros Townsend (£6.0m), James McArthur (£5.0m)
Several of Crystal Palace’s most-discussed FPL assets furthered their cases for inclusion in our squads as Roy Hodgson’s side won their sixth successive pre-season friendly with a 4-1 victory over Ligue 1 side Toulouse.
Despite persistent speculation linking him with a move away from Selhurst Park, Wilfried Zaha (£7.0m) once again started for Palace in a front two with the impressive Christian Benteke (£6.5m). The strike duo were both on target at the weekend, with Benteke heading in the Eagles’ first-half equaliser and Zaha rounding off a resounding win with Palace’s fourth.
Luka Milivojevic (£6.5m) provided a timely reminder of his dual-threat from set pieces and penalties, providing the assist for Benteke’s goal from a corner and converting a spot-kick after Andros Townsend (£6.0m) had been felled.
Two of Palace’s defensive targets combined for their second goal, with Patrick van Aanholt (£5.5m) registering a fifth attacking return of pre-season (two goals, three assists) as he set up Jeffrey Schlupp‘s (£4.5m) strike.
With Palace enjoying a favourable run of fixtures until Gameweek 10, their myriad FPL defensive options are proving difficult to separate.
James Tomkins (£4.5m) and bonus point magnet Mamadou Sakho (£5.0m) look assured starters in the heart of the defence, with both centre-backs enjoying a squad-high 373 minutes of pre-season action. Tomkins underscored his goal threat in the victory over Toulouse, too, with a disallowed strike in the first half.
While much has been made of van Aanholt’s attacking threat, that Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£4.0m) is available for £1.5m cheaper on the opposite flank and made yet another start at right-back on Saturday strengthens the budget defender’s case. Only Sakho and Tomkins have played more minutes for Palace than Wan-Bissaka (366) over the summer.
Schlupp, who has himself racked up 352 minutes of pre-season friendly action for the Eagles, is the fifth name to throw into that mix. Playing out of position in central midfield at the weekend, the former Leicester City player is an appealing prospect but one whose pitch-time is likely most at threat out of this defensive quintet. The arrival of Cheikhou Kouyate (£5.0m) from West Ham adds to his competition in the centre of the park, while Max Meyer‘s (£6.0m) capture on a Bosman would further complicate matters – and possibly lead to a change in shape from Hodgson’s favoured 4-4-2.
Vicente Guaita (£4.5m) played the full match in goal and has more pre-season minutes to his name than Wayne Hennessey (£4.5m), but it would be dangerous to assume that the Spanish goalkeeper is Hodgson’s preferred choice between the sticks – Hennessey was due to play in this fixture, but was withdrawn from the starting XI prior to kick-off with a minor injury. Guaita was also culpable for Toulouse’s opener, having spilt a Max Gradel shot to Toulouse forward Aaron Leya Iseka.
CRYSTAL PALACE XI (4-4-2): Guaita; Wan-Bissaka (Ward 63), Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt (Souare 85′); McArthur (Williams 87′), Milivojevic, Townsend, Schlupp (Kouyate 70′); Zaha, Benteke (Sorloth 85′)
Newcastle United 0-1 Augsburg
With an awful opening sequence of league fixtures and a goal drought that stretches to three pre-season matches, Newcastle have fast become one of the least-appealing Premier League sides from a Fantasy perspective.
Joselu (£5.0m), who has 272 minutes to his name over the summer, once again led the line for the Magpies in Saturday’s meeting with Augsburg but the captures of Salomon Rondon and Yoshinori Muto (both £6.0m) over the last week means the budget Spanish forward is surely on borrowed time as the spearhead of the United attack.
Martin Dubravka (£5.0m) missed the Magpies’ final pre-season friendly with a knock, while Mohamed Diame (£5.0m) limped off before the half-hour mark after being on the receiving end of two heavy tackles. Jonjo Shelvey (£5.5m), at least, returned from a thigh strain as a second-half substitute. Having been absent for the Magpies’ last three matches on compassionate leave, Kenedy (£5.0m) also featured for the final 22 minutes of the defeat to Augsburg.
Ten of Newcastle’s starting XI – the exception being Joselu – were part of their Championship-winning squad in 2016/17 and Rafael Benitez’s frustrations were all too apparent in his post-match interview:
I have said before that I compete for trophies – even with less money, at Chelsea and Napoli. At Valencia we were competing for trophies. Why? Because we had time and confidence from the top and then we delivered. Now I was expecting that we would be competing for something after one year especially after guaranteeing the money from TV this season.
Normally when we have had time and support, we deliver. So we have won trophies everywhere and it was the idea to do something similar here. I am not happy we have to just survive every year but at the moment we have to see if we can improve the squad.
NEWCASTLE XI (4-2-3-1): Darlow; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark (Schar 57′), Dummett (Manquillo 68′); Hayden (Shelvey 57′), Diame (Ki 29′); Ritchie (Kenedy 68′), Atsu (Murphy 57′), Perez (Roberts 83′); Joselu
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