Our Gameweek 8 coverage ends with this regular look back at a player, team and discussion point that attracted our interest in the weekend’s matches.
Our featured player is not one who shone at the weekend: Sadio Mane didn’t manage a single shot on goal against Manchester City, but he and Liverpool are about to enjoy an appealing run of matches between now and December.
Brighton‘s medium-term fixtures are one of the best in the division and the Seagulls began this sequence of matches by recording their first clean sheet of the season in the 1-0 win over West Ham United.
We also ponder the unthinkable: are Cardiff City‘s budget assets worthy of a look for their own favourable run of fixtures in the coming months?
The Player – Sadio Mane
There has been plenty of discussion in recent weeks about Mohamed Salah (£12.8m), namely whether the Egyptian can possibly recapture his form of 2017/18 and whether he is worth the significant outlay.
Not so much has been made of Sadio Mane‘s (£9.9m) indifferent performances, however. The Senegalese midfielder hasn’t recorded a single attacking return since play resumed after the September international break, though admittedly three of the Reds’ fixtures in the last four Gameweeks were against Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City.
First things first: if you already own Mane, you very likely stick with him for the time being.
Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City and Fulham are three of Liverpool’s next four opponents in the league and this trio of clubs have conceded more goals than the other 17 Premier League sides.
For the non-owners who are toying with a move for a Liverpool asset or two ahead of this succession of matches between now and the November international break (and beyond), Mane’s game is worthy of scrutiny.
The former Southampton midfielder is not in terrible nick from an underlying stats point of view: Mane ranks fifth among FPL midfielders for shots on goal and penalty box touches, while only Salah has had more shots in the box among players in their classification. Mane is also proving to be more of a sustained goal threat than Roberto Firmino (£9.4m) based on a comparison of their key performance indicators (KPIs).
Even in the last four weeks, Mane’s output has remained fairly consistent, recording only one fewer shot than he did in Gameweeks 1-4 and indeed racking up more penalty box touches in spite of the trickier fixtures.
Where Mane has tailed off is in big chances, which is understandable given the calibre of Liverpool’s opposition: the Senegalese midfielder hasn’t had a single clear-cut opportunity in the last four Gameweeks.
Given that Fulham, Cardiff and Huddersfield have allowed 60 big chances between them this season, Mane can surely expect to see the whites of the goalkeepers’ eyes on a more frequent basis over the next month.
In truth, Mane’s lack of attacking returns in the last four Gameweeks have simply balanced out his over-performance in the first month of the campaign, in which he scored from four of his ten shots – an unsustainable goal conversion rate.
Mane has reached double figures for goals in each of his four previous seasons as a Premier League player and the underlying stats suggest he will do so again this campaign: he is currently matching or bettering several of his KPIs – penalty box touches, attempts on goal, shots on target and shots in the box – from last season. While his big chances and rate of minutes-per-shot are down, consideration has to be given to the fact three of Liverpool’s eight fixtures so far have been against their title rivals.
Salah is naturally outperforming Mane across the board for KPIs such as penalty box touches, shots and big chances, but then the Egyptian is also trumping all other midfielders for these statistics.
Increased competition from the likes of Daniel Sturridge (£5.8m) and Xherdan Shaqiri (£7.0m) is certainly a worry, of course: Mane has started all 11 of Liverpool’s competitive fixtures this season and a rest is surely just around the corner.
Another possibly significant development is the return to fitness of Kevin De Bruyne (£9.7m). With Salah, Eden Hazard (£11.3m) and Raheem Sterling (£11.1m) all priced at £11.0m or above, Mane’s competition in that second rung of premium midfielders has been lacking this season, be it through injury, loss of form or rotation to the likes of Christian Eriksen (£9.2m), Dele Alli (£9.0m), Alexis Sanchez (£10.0m), Leroy Sane (£9.2m) and Riyad Mahrez (£8.6m).
A fit and firing De Bruyne, traditionally a mainstay in the City midfield, is a tempting option from a Fantasy point view in this season of unpredictable rotation from Pep Guardiola. Mane has to deliver over the next month or so to convince his owners (of which there are over two million) to reject the straight swap to the Belgian in the medium term.
The Team – Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton’s 1-0 win over West Ham United on Friday kicked off a sequence of nine fixtures in which the Seagulls face none of the “big six”.
Chris Hughton’s side played Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in the first two months of the season and their Fantasy assets were largely dodged by FPL managers for the first seven Gameweeks of the campaign.
With the south coast club sitting near the top of our Season Ticker between now and early December, should we consider drafting in one of their stand-out FPL assets?
Anyone who made a move for the likes of Mathew Ryan (£4.5m), Shane Duffy (£4.5m) and Lewis Dunk (£4.4m) ahead of Gameweek 8 was instantly rewarded as the Brighton backline recorded their first clean sheet of the season in the win over the Hammers.
Given that Brighton avoid any of the sides that finished in the top six between now and Gameweek 16 inclusive, the omens for further clean sheets are good: nine of their ten shut-outs in 2017/18 were registered against clubs ranked seventh or worse in the Premier League.
There remains a slight concern over their defensive solidity, however: only two clubs conceded more shots in the box than Brighton in Gameweek 8, though admittedly just four of West Ham’s efforts were on target and just one was a big chance.
Their statistics over the season so far don’t particularly encourage investment in Messrs Duffy, Dunk or Ryan: only Burnley have allowed more attempts on goal, while just Fulham have conceded more shots in the box. Only three teams have allowed more big chances, meanwhile.
Of course, consideration has to be given to the calibre of their opposition in four of those eight fixtures.
In 38 matches last season, only Liverpool, Manchester City, Spurs and Chelsea conceded fewer big chances than the Seagulls in the Premier League.
It was perhaps no surprise that their first shut-out of 2018/19 came in a fixture in which their regular backline of last season – Ryan, Bruno (£4.4m), Dunk, Duffy and Gaetan Bong (£4.5m) – were reunited for the first time this campaign.
Brighton largely dealt with West Ham’s threat comfortably from open play on Friday but a concern would be how vulnerable they look at set-pieces, with Fabian Balbuena (£4.4m) wasting the visitors’ best chance from a corner and the Hammers generating six other opportunities from dead-ball situations.
Indeed, over the season so far only Newcastle United have allowed more set play attempts than the Seagulls.
Duffy can easily compensate for a lack of clean sheet with an attacking return, of course. After a frustrating 2017/18 in which he racked up 28 attempts on goal without finding the net, the Albion centre-back has already been involved in four goals this season (two goals, two assists).
Further forward, two names stand out as budget/mid-price Fantasy assets in midfield and attack.
The ageless Glenn Murray (£6.5m) scored his fifth goal of the campaign in that win at the Amex on Friday and indeed no FPL forward has more goals to his name than the veteran striker (five) this season.
Owned by just 2.6% of FPL managers and about to embark on one of the best fixture runs in the entire division, Murray is a seriously overlooked candidate as a third or perhaps second Fantasy forward – particularly as he has wrestled penalty-taking duties away from the injured Pascal Gross (£6.7m). Only one of Brighton’s next eight opponents (Wolves) haven’t already conceded a spot-kick this season.
A concern for Murray would be the amount of chances being created for him. An attempt on goal every 49.5 minutes is one of the worst in the division among forwards who are regular starters, while only Newcastle have racked up less shots than the Seagulls this season overall.
This, however, is nothing new. Murray only averaged a shot every 41.4 minutes last season and still managed to scored 12 league goals, thanks to his excellent goal conversion rate (and penalties, of course).
A bit like Jamie Vardy (£9.0m) at Leicester City, Murray tends to make the most of the few opportunities he is presented with.
Last season, Murray converted an impressive 22.6% of his opportunities into goals. This campaign, that figure has risen to 38.5% – the best in the league among FPL forwards.
Florin Andone (£5.0m) and Jurgen Locadia (£5.3m) provide competition for his place, but Hughton may instead choose to preserve Murray’s limbs in fixtures in which the Seagulls aren’t on the front foot and are expected to do a lot of chasing – in the away match against Manchester City in Gameweek 7, for example, Locadia was preferred up top.
Anthony Knockaert (£5.5m) was once again Brighton’s arch-creator on Friday and is another who is benefitting from Gross’s absence, having assumed the German’s role of chief set piece-taker.
Knockaert is in a rich vein of form and while perhaps not at his scintillating best against West Ham, still caused Arthur Masuaku (£4.4m) plenty of headaches down the flank.
No Brighton player has attempted as many shots or made as many key passes as Knockaert this season, while Johann Berg Gudmundsson (£6.0m) is only FPL midfielder to have registered more assists.
Knockaert is quite possibly the best current midfield option available for less than £6.0m taking into account both current form and fixtures.
The Talking Point – Are Cardiff City assets even worth considering?
No Premier League team has scored fewer goals (four) than the Bluebirds in 2018/19, while only Fulham (21) have shipped more than Cardiff (17) at the other end.
Last season’s Championship runners-up also have the worst shot accuracy and goal conversion rate in the top flight.
That so many FPL managers disrupted the balance of their squad or took a hit to get Harry Kane (£12.5m) in ahead of the Gameweek 8 meeting between Spurs and Cardiff at Wembley said much about faith in the Bluebirds, who are still without a win at the eighth time of asking.
As they demonstrated in that narrow defeat on Saturday and in other fixtures this season, however, Cardiff aren’t quite as hilariously bad as often depicted.
City battered Burnley in Gameweek 7 and somehow came away from that match on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat (the Clarets having only had three shots on goal), and isolating their fixtures against clubs outside the top six makes for slightly better reading – Warnock’s troops have conceded on just four occasions in as many matches and kept clean sheets in two of those encounters.
The reason we highlight those more “winnable” games is that Cardiff now sit second in our Season Ticker for the next nine matches, with only Liverpool to play from the sides that finished in the European places last season during that spell.
With not one of their players costing more than £5.2m in FPL, are any of their assets now worthy of consideration for “playable” bench fodder duty at least and perhaps even granted the odd start in our Fantasy teams?
With regards to their forward options: absolutely not. Bobby Reid (£5.2m), Kenneth Zohore (£4.8m) and Gary Madine (£4.5m) have not only failed to register a single goal or assist between them this season but haven’t been able to nail down a place in Warnock’s starting XI, either. Indeed, not one of those three strikers started in the defeat to Spurs.
There are a couple of noteworthy options in the centre of the park, though, for those trawling the bargain bin for a fifth midfielder.
While Danny Ward‘s (£4.5m) stock has fallen after his brief run “out of position” as a striker came to an end, Victor Camarasa is one of the few £4.5m-rated options who is seemingly guaranteed game time.
Ostensibly a central midfielder, Camarasa has actually played wide right for a large chunk of this season and scored from that position in the 3-2 defeat to Arsenal.
His biggest selling point, however, is set-pieces. Sharing free-kick and corner-taking duties with Joe Ralls (£4.8m), Camarasa will now presumably have the monopoly on dead-ball situations over the next three matches as his team-mate serves a suspension for foul play. With Sean Morrison (£4.9m) and Sol Bamba (£4.5m) towering targets to aim for, the on-loan Betis midfielder could quite easily rack up an assist or two over the coming weeks and months.
Camarasa would likely be no more than a third substitute for any potential FPL owner, though Josh Murphy (£4.8m) has the undoubted potential to be a fifth midfielder who could be granted the odd start in these forthcoming matches.
The concern around Murphy in the early weeks of the season has been rotation, but with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (£4.8m) likely out injured until late November, Junior Hoilett (£5.1m) offering little of note from the flank and Cardiff’s strikers flattering to deceive, Murphy has established himself as the Bluebirds’ chief goal threat.
Murphy had two big chances against Spurs at the weekend (the joint-most any player has managed against the Lilywhites this season) and only Gylfi Sigurdsson (£7.4m) has had more attempts on goal and shots on target than Murphy among all FPL midfielders in the last two Gameweeks.
The former Norwich City man’s average of a shot on goal every 26 minutes is also the best among sub-£5.0m midfielders this season and better than the means of Christian Eriksen (£9.2m), Sadio Mane (£9.9m) and Raheem Sterling (£11.1m).
Most folk who watched Cardiff’s defeat to Burnley would be in agreement that Murphy was the game’s stand-out player and but for an excellent Joe Hart (£4.6m) save in that fixture and a brilliant goalline clearance from Toby Alderweireld (£5.9m) last Saturday, the City winger could have easily registered three goals in the last two matches.
It’d be a tough ask to convince anyone to punt on a Cardiff defender after Warnock’s side conceded 15 goals in five fixtures and in reality, with such value being offered elsewhere by the likes of Jonny (£4.4m), Matt Doherty (£4.7m) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£4.3m) and several premium options regularly churning out attacking returns with clean sheets, a move for a Bluebirds stopper is a complete non-starter.
Just for the record, however, Cardiff’s defensive form against non-“big six” teams is far from terrible. City began the season with a run of games against Bournemouth, Newcastle and Huddersfield and the Bluebirds ranked sixth for fewest shots conceded, eighth for fewest shots on target allowed and joint-tenth for fewest shots in the box conceded in this sequence of matches, registering two clean sheets along the way. As we mentioned earlier, Burnley had only three attempts on goal (and no big chances) in their meeting with Cardiff in Gameweek 7.
That Morrison tops both the expected goals (xG) and expected goal involvement (xGI) columns among FPL defenders says much about his attacking threat from set pieces. Were he priced around the £4.5m mark, the Cardiff centre-back would have been one to perhaps consider as a fifth defender between now and Christmas. At £4.9m, however, even his undoubted dominance in the air struggles to justify that cost.
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