Our Gameweek 13 coverage ends with this regular look back at a player, team and discussion point that attracted our interest in the weekend’s matches.
Aleksandar Mitrovic is suddenly en vogue again after his two goals against Southampton and has currently been bought by more Fantasy Premier League managers than any other forward in the lead-up to Gameweek 14.
Crystal Palace‘s awful run of fixtures finally came to an end at Old Trafford, where the Eagles demonstrated their defensive aptitude with a well-earned clean sheet to take into their more attractive matches ahead.
Finally, we also look at a busy week ahead and potential rotation as FPL managers face their first midweek deadline of the season.
The Player – Aleksandar Mitrovic
From Gameweek 7 to 13, Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.6m) suffered over 500,000 sales in FPL and saw his ownership cut by almost a third.
The Serbian striker’s form mirrored that of Fulham’s overall as they slumped to six successive defeats and sank to the bottom of the Premier League table before Slavisa Jokanovic was deposed as head coach. Mitrovic, indeed, didn’t score in any of those losses.
We wrote after Gameweek 11’s meek surrender to Huddersfield Town that the appointment of a new manager could have a galvanising effect on Mitrovic and help force him back into the reckoning from a Fantasy perspective, and given what transpired in Claudio Ranieri’s first match in charge at Craven Cottage on Saturday, that may have well just happened.
The “new manager bounce” is one of those mystifying, unquantifiable factors and the Cottagers were certainly revitalised against Southampton, recording their first league win in three months with Mitrovic grabbing a brace.
The Serb had more efforts on target in this match than he had managed in the previous six Gameweeks combined, with no FPL forward having more attempts on target than Mitrovic this weekend.
Only Burnley’s Chris Wood (£6.2m) had more shots in the box in Gameweek 13 among players in Mitrovic’s position, meanwhile.
The switch of formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-1-1 perhaps helps Mitrovic, with Ranieri stating after the game that he has instructed his wide players to provide as many crosses as they can for the Serbian forward:
For me, Mitrovic is one of the best strikers in Europe. When I say in Europe, I say all the world.
He’s only 24 years old, he’s a fantastic player and is important to give the ball to him because he can play as a platform but also as a goalscorer when the ball arrives in the box, always there is a goal or very close.
I asked my team to make a lot of crosses for Mitrovic because he is amazing in the box. He can do everything in his career.
That is important to give him a lot of chance to score.
Those words suggest Ranieri is a big fan of the former Newcastle striker and is perhaps building his team around him for the time being.
Both of Mitrovic’s goals came via crosses from Fulham’s overlapping full-backs, Maxime Le Marchand and Cyrus Christie (both £4.2m), which underlined this approach.
The impact of a fit and firing Tom Cairney (£4.8m) can’t be underestimated, either, with the Scottish midfielder renowned for his passing accuracy in the Championship last season. Cairney was stationed in behind Mitrovic on Saturday, freeing him up from the added defensive responsibilities than playing in a central midfield three comes with and allowing him more freedom to create.
Cairney’s inclusion in “the hole” came after Ranieiri’s comments on Friday about not being able to find a strike partner for Mitrovic in his squad, despite having vowed to do so when he was unveiled as Fulham boss.
That in itself bodes well for Mitrovic’s security of starts going into a festive period when we Fantasy managers yearn for as many assets as possible who are largely immune from rotation.
Luciano Vietto (£5.5m) and Aboubakar Kamara (£4.3m) would seem unlikely to lead the line by themselves, so with Ranieiri unable to dip into the transfer market until January, Mitrovic appears to be his only hope for goals in attack.
Fulham have no EFL Cup or European commitments in December either, which will surely help with Mitrovic’s recovery in between Premier League matchdays.
Speaking of the festive calendar, Fulham have one of the best runs of fixtures over Christmas: West Ham (h), Newcastle (a), Wolves (h) and Huddersfield (h).
While Fulham’s next three matches are fairly unappealing, their attractive run of games from Gameweeks 17-20 coupled with Mitrovic’s talismanic status could see interest in him spike again among the Fantasy community.
One large caveat, of course, is the fact that the Serbian striker sits on four yellow cards and is only a booking away from a one-match suspension. Prospective Fantasy owners may indeed be hoping that he picks up a caution in the coming two Gameweeks, meaning he is a risk-free purchase by the time the Hammers visit Craven Cottage.
The Team – Crystal Palace
One Premier League club who have largely disappeared from these pages over the last couple of months are Crystal Palace.
The Eagles have endured the trickiest run of matches of any top-flight side from Gameweeks 7-13 – at least, according to our Season Ticker – but the clean sheet they picked up at Old Trafford on Saturday ahead of their fixture swing in Gameweek 14 possibly bodes well for the “easier” games ahead.
Fantasy investment has understandably been limited over the last seven Gameweeks, with even Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£4.2m) taking a tumble in price despite being eminently benchable during this tricky run.
Palace’s goalscoring record has been poor all season but even their clean sheets had dried up before the trip to Manchester, with Saturday’s shut-out their first in the Premier League since the 0-0 draw with Newcastle United in Gameweek 6.
Next up for Roy Hodgson’s side are Burnley, Brighton and Hove Albion, West Ham United and tenth-place Leicester City, with a home match against Cardiff City to come in Gameweek 19.
A couple of clean sheets over these five fixtures is a very real prospect, given that the Eagles have already recorded three shut-outs in five encounters with sides currently sitting in the bottom half of the table.
Palace are one of only four teams to have faced at least five of the “big six” in the opening 13 Gameweeks of the season – the others being Newcastle, Huddersfield and West Ham.
Despite this, Palace are ranked a respectable ninth for fewest shots on target and attempts in the box conceded in 2018/19.
Having all four of Wan-Bissaka, James Tomkins (£4.3m), Mamadou Sakho (£4.9m) and Patrick van Aanholt (£5.4m) available seems crucial to their defensive solidity: all four of the Eagles’ clean sheets this season have come when that backline has lined up together.
Indeed, Palace only conceded to Spurs in Gameweek 12 after Tomkins had limped from the pitch on 59 minutes.
Tomkins and Wayne Hennessey (£4.5m) were particularly excellent on Saturday, while in Cheikhou Kouyate (£4.7m) Palace have an in-form defensive midfielder stationed in front of the back four who has been key to their recent rearguard efforts.
In Burnley, Brighton, West Ham and Cardiff, Hodgson’s side will face opponents who rank in the bottom half of the table for shots in the box, big chances and efforts on target.
Further forward there seems less cause for optimism: no club has scored fewer Premier League goals this season (eight) than the Eagles.
Only four clubs have mustered fewer big chances than Palace, who rank 15th for shots in the box attempted.
The calibre of their opposition in recent weeks has to be taken into account, but then again the Eagles have also failed to score against Newcastle, Southampton and Wolves at Selhurst Park this season.
Wilfried Zaha (£6.7m) would appear the only Palace midfielder or forward who would be remotely interesting to FPL bosses and the Ivorian was a bright spark as a central striker in a 4-4-2 on Saturday.
Given the number of alternatives available in the mid-price forward bracket and that Zaha is without a goal in seven matches, however, there may be a limited number of takers initially.
The Talking Point – Gameweek 15
The first set of midweek Premier League fixtures of the season takes place next Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving Fantasy managers with precious little turnaround time between Gameweeks.
Gameweeks 14-16 are almost a “mini-Christmas” with regards to fixture congestion and we will surely see some form of rotation from a number of sides over the coming 12 days.
Liverpool assets perhaps look most at risk of bench duty over this period, given that the Reds have the quickest turnaround between matches: only five days and 20 hours separate their kick-offs against Everton and Bournemouth in Gameweeks 14 and 16, with a trip to Burnley sandwiched by those matches.
Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Fulham are the other four sides who face a Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule next week.
Those kinds of schedules are nothing to clubs such as the title-chasing quartet mentioned above, of course, though Chelsea and Arsenal have been able to rotate more comprehensively this season given that they are “only” in Europa League action.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have the kindest schedule, given that almost nine days separate their clash with Cardiff City this Friday from the Gameweek 16 encounter with Newcastle.
Watford, meanwhile, have also been dealt a favourable hand with a Saturday-Tuesday-Monday timetable.
In this corresponding set of fixtures last season (Gameweeks 13-15, with Gameweek 14 being the midweek set of matches), Sadio Mane (£9.9m), Mohamed Salah (£13.0m), Leroy Sane (£9.3m), David Silva (£8.6m), Kieran Trippier (£6.2m) and Callum Wilson (£6.8m) were all dropped to the bench for at least one of their respective clubs’ fixtures.
Eden Hazard (£11.1m) was a substitute in one of Chelsea’s games too, though was playing under a different manager.
However, Sergio Aguero (£11.5m), Raheem Sterling (£11.3m), Harry Kane (£12.3m), Christian Eriksen (£9.2m), Dele Alli (£8.9m), Paul Pogba (£7.9m), Anthony Martial (£7.6m) and Richarlison (£7.0m) were among the many players to have started all three games.
The circumstances for many of the above players this season will, of course, be different this time around, be it fitness, form or increased competition for their places.
Fantasy managers also have to ask themselves if one potential rest is enough to dodge an in-form asset such as Sterling, given how explosive he could prove to be in the other two fixtures.
As ever, a strong FPL bench would seem the key to navigating the forthcoming three Gameweeks.
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