The first of Manchester City’s two Gameweek 25 fixtures brought wildly mixed results for those who backed the defending champions’ three most-owned attacking Fantasy assets.
While Raheem Sterling and – especially – Sergio Aguero‘s owners basked in their players’ double-digit hauls, those who invested in Leroy Sane were to be left disgruntled as the German winger remained an unused substitute and missed out on the points bonanza in City’s 3-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday.
We’ll round up the usual talking points, manager quotes and injury updates as we reflect on an afternoon that caused as much anguish as it did satisfaction in the Fantasy community.
Manchester City 3-1 Arsenal
- Goals: Sergio Aguero (£11.4m) x3 | Laurent Koscielny (£5.4m)
- Assists: Aymeric Laporte (£5.9m), Raheem Sterling (£11.3m) x2 | Nacho Monreal (£5.4m)
Pep Guardiola has a long-standing reputation as the Fantasy manager’s nemesis, be it his ambiguous injury round-ups in pre-match press conferences or his predilection for a surprise rotation.
This Double Gameweek always had to the potential to be a groin-kick for those with City assets, lying as it does in the middle of four Premier League fixtures in the space of 13 days.
Wednesday night’s trip to Goodison Park may prove to be just as infuriating for owners of Raheem Sterling (£11.3m) and Sergio Aguero (£11.4m) but Guardiola chose Sunday as the day to remove Leroy Sane (£9.8m) from the City attack and experiment with his formation, the Germany international not even setting foot onto the pitch as a substitute and leaving his Fantasy backers yearning for either a monster haul against the Toffees or perhaps another no-show for those who handed him the armband and have a high-scoring vice-captain.
The hindsight brigade will, of course, be out in force. Was Sane’s middling performance and early substitution against Newcastle on Wednesday an indication that he was to be dropped for this encounter? Sterling was, after all, arguably just an ineffectual on Tyneside but stayed on for the full 90 minutes.
The second instalment in the Gameweek 25 saga will provide us with a further narrative: either Guardiola has had one of his biannual losses of faith in Sane or, quite simply, he was keeping him fresh for the midweek trip to Merseyside amid the congested fixture schedule.
Coming into Sunday’s match, the German wide-man had started more Premier League matches than any other City midfielder since Benjamin Mendy (£6.1m) picked up a knee injury in Gameweek 12.
Even Sterling and Aguero had suffered two benchings apiece to Sane’s one in the preceding 12 Gameweeks before this “double”, with the left-winger arguably City’s most consistent player in attack during those three months.
Mendy’s imminent return was always seen as a threat to Sane’s future minutes but the French left-back was still missing from the match-day squad for Sunday’s encounter at the Etihad, so that had no bearing on this particular selection decision.
There is, of course, nothing to be done about it now (at least, not in FPL).
We could just as easily be sat here on Thursday morning writing about an Aguero one-pointer or a Sterling no-show (though their respective banked hauls would soften the blow), trying to rationalise both Guardiola’s decisions and our own as Fantasy managers in the inevitable autopsy.
With Pep and his charges, we are buying into a free-scoring side that is high-risk, high-reward – especially where Double Gameweek captaincy (or triple captaincy) is concerned.
To the game itself and Guardiola’s teamsheet raised eyebrows upon its release an hour before kick-off – and not just for Sane’s benching.
Going into the match without a recognised left-back – Danilo‘s (£5.1m) owners also the victims of Guardiola’s tinkering – City took to the field in a formation that was effectively 4-1-4-1 without the ball and an ambitious 3-2-4-1 with it.
Aymeric Laporte (£5.9m) was the de facto left-back in the back four, with Fernandinho (£5.3m) joining Nicolas Otamendi (£6.1m) at centre-half.
Fernandinho then moved alongside Ilkay Gundogan (£5.4m) in the double-pivot when City gained possession, with Laporte forming a back three with Otamendi and Kyle Walker (£6.4m).
Sterling (on the left) and Bernardo Silva (£7.5m) provided the width either side of attacking midfielders Kevin De Bruyne (£9.7m) and David Silva (£8.5m), with Aguero ploughing a lone furrow up front.
Fernandinho said of the system:
If they [Arsenal] play 4-4-2 we defend, and when I have the ball I go to the middle, join Gundo but without the ball, I join the back four.
I think it worked today. Playing back there you have the whole vision of the pitch and going to the middle I know what I have to do because it’s the same position I’ve played all season.
Of course, I’m happy to help my teammates win an important game.
With the overall match stats showing 17 shots to four in City’s favour, the formation change looked to have been a success.
Apart from a blistering first ten minutes in which Aguero nodded in Laporte’s cross and City steamrollered the Gunners, however, the first half was much closer than the end result and shot count suggested.
From the moment Laurent Koscielny (£5.4m) glanced in a Nacho Monreal (£5.4m) flick-on from a corner in Arsenal’s first attack of the match, Unai Emery’s side gave as good as they got – at least until half-time.
Playing in what resembled a 4-4-2, with Sead Kolasinac (£5.0m) deployed out of position on the left wing, the Gunners wrestled control of the game, with Lucas Torreira (£4.4m) and especially Matteo Guendouzi (£4.8m) excellent in dominating the City midfield.
Ederson had to rush out to deny Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.2m) what would have been a clear goalscoring opportunity before Kolasinac and Torreira saw their shots saved and blocked in the same move as City wobbled.
The hosts’ second goal, scored just before half-time, almost came against the run of play but it was a vintage City strike: Sterling running onto a chipped Gundogan pass behind the Arsenal defence to square the ball for Aguero to tap in.
City’s third arrived in similar circumstances (with a suggestion of handball on Aguero’s part), with the goal all of Sterling’s making down the left flank.
That all three of City’s goals came from Arsenal’s right-back position would have been even more galling for Sane and Danilo’s owners, with 35-year-old defender Stephan Lichtsteiner (£4.5m) looking every inch the veteran full-back as he struggled against Sterling’s pace and guile.
The second half was at odds with the first with City completely dominant and not allowing their visitors a single shot on goal.
Bernd Leno (£4.8m) repelled three De Bruyne shots before producing a fine stop to keep out a deflected Aguero effort, going on to rack up three save points and one bonus point as City twisted the knife.
The likes of De Bruyne, Silva and Bernardo were some way short of their best, particularly in the first half, but City have made a habit of dismantling sides recently (Newcastle apart) without getting out of second gear.
We wrote in our write-ups of the recent victories over Wolves and Huddersfield that City looked disjointed at times but, as they did against Arsenal on Sunday, Guardiola’s troops still managed to put three goals past their opponents on both occasions.
For us Fantasy managers with City assets in our squads, that ability to plunder goals regardless of performance is what keeps us coming back for more.
Guardiola paid tribute to the hat-trick hero after full-time:
From the beginning, I was very pleased. In the first season, people said I didn’t like him but always I was delighted.
I am honest, sometimes I played Gabriel or Raheem as striker. Today he fought and did everything for the team.
I judge the intention. The intention from Sergio was always perfect since we’ve been together.
For those who pay heed to managed game-time and the omens for the following match, Aguero was sacrificed on 80 minutes as Sterling completed his seventh straight Premier League game, while De Bruyne gingerly walked off with what seemed only to be cramp in the closing stages – though that in itself suggests he is still a little short of full match-fitness after his recent comeback from injury.
For all Arsenal’s admirable ambition, the fact that Aubameyang and Lacazette didn’t register a single shot in the box between them highlighted the difference in class between the two clubs.
Emery shared his thoughts on the match:
They showed their superiority today over 90 minutes. Above all, the second half cost us.
In the first half, we can look at it with some optimism but in the second half, we tried to do something different to go up against them by creating more chances, more opportunities, with more players and possibilities on the pitch. We were more open than we were in the first half and they have very fast players in the transition.
I’m very happy with Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira’s performances today, but they also need time to improve and to take confidence, to take experience for their future here. With the result, it’s not easy to say that, but there are some positives that we can look at from our players today.
Today, we lost but are looking to improve. It’s normal because they showed their superiority and now we continue working. The next match for us is very important against Huddersfield. These are the matches where we can take the regularity to be in the position we want, near to the top four.
Emery also gave an update on Shkodran Mustafi (£5.4m), who was substituted in the second half:
I think he’s okay also. He’s been having problems all this week and last week.
I think last week he is with some problems also [with] his head and today, when in the last 20 minutes he was also with some problems, I decided to give Mavropanos 20 minutes. I hope it is not a problem with Mustafi for this week and the next match.
Denis Suarez (£6.5m) made his Gunners debut off the bench midway through the second half, meanwhile.
Manchester City XI (4-1-4-1): Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Fernandinho; Gundogan; Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne (Mahrez 88′), Silva, Sterling; Aguero (Gabriel Jesus 81′).
Arsenal XI (4-4-2): Leno; Monreal, Mustafi, Koscielny, Lichtsteiner; Kolasinac (Denis Suarez 66′ ), Torreira, Guendouzi, Iwobi (Ramsey 66′); Aubameyang, Lacazette.