Paul Pogba continued his scintillating Fantasy form with a 16-point haul on Saturday.
Manchester United comfortably saw off Fulham 3-0 in the lunchtime kick-off but they did it all without Marcus Rashford, who remained an unused substitute at Craven Cottage.
We take a look at the reason(s) for the England forward’s benching, as well as recapping the other Fantasy talking points from the Gameweek 26 curtain-raiser in west London.
Fulham 0-3 Manchester United
- Goals: Paul Pogba (£8.7m) x2, Anthony Martial (£7.2m)
- Assists: Anthony Martial, Phil Jones (£5.1m), Juan Mata (£6.1m)
As if Fantasy managers didn’t have enough to consider with blanks and doubles on the horizon, the return of the UEFA Champions League could play havoc with our squads in the coming months.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not been averse to tinkering with his starting XI since being appointed Manchester United manager in December but it is hard not to think the six alterations he made to his line-up at Craven Cottage on Saturday were exacted with one eye on the meeting with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night.
Solskjaer rotated all three of United’s frontline and three-quarters of his defence in west London, with Marcus Rashford (£7.8m) – the most-owned forward in FPL – and Victor Lindelöf (£5.0m) among those to drop out.
The United boss explained before kick-off that those two changes were injury-related but even in the following comments it was evident that the Norwegian had his mind on the visit of Thomas Tuchel’s side in midweek:
There’s a couple of niggles. Rashy got a dead leg against Leicester that he struggled with all week so we don’t want to risk him. Victor’s out, there’s not really a concern, I think he’ll be OK for Tuesday.
Mass rotation in Gameweek 24 almost cost Solskjaer his unbeaten record but only in the opening exchanges of Saturday’s encounter at Craven Cottage did United look significantly weakened by this latest raft of changes.
Fulham were the better team in the first ten minutes of the Gameweek 26 curtain-raiser, with Luciano Vietto (£5.3m) wasting a glorious chance from an Andre Schurrle (£5.6m) cross before the German winger himself skied a couple of efforts over David de Gea‘s (£5.7m) bar.
Paul Pogba‘s (£8.7m) opener almost killed the game stone dead, however, with de Gea’s goal only fleetingly troubled after that point.
While Rashford’s owners might have been miffed at missing out on Fantasy points in United’s three-goal victory, those who owned Pogba were rewarded yet again as the Frenchman’s renaissance continued apace.
Pogba added a second-half penalty to his 14th-minute strike – a superb first-time effort that caught Diego Rico (£4.4m) out at his near post – and left Craven Cottage with a fourth double-digit haul in nine Gameweeks.
Pogba has blanked only once in the nine Premier League matches that Solskjaer has overseen and has amassed a staggering 92 points in that time (at an average of 10.2 per appearance).
The France international was seemingly omnipresent at Craven Cottage, occupying both the left-hand side of central midfield and the pockets of space in behind United’s front three and oozing class in possession.
Not that many FPL managers will need converting to the cause but Pogba was again prominent in pretty much every United attack and continues to look a bargain even at his current market-driven price.
Anthony Martial (£7.2m) was similarly impressive on his return to the left flank, claiming the assist for Pogba’s strike and scoring a superb solo goal of his own when running half the length of the field to slot past Rico.
That was Martial’s first league goal since Solskjaer’s inaugural match in charge in December but the winger here looked more like the appealing Fantasy prospect he was in Gameweeks 8-12, racking up more than twice as many penalty box touches as anyone else on show at Craven Cottage.
His manager said of Martial’s performance:
Anthony in free flow is a great sight. His balance is fantastic, he is very strong, he shrugs defenders off and he is quick. He is a very, very good finisher and I think that goal won us the game. I think we were in complete control after that.
Further evidence that Solskjaer had one eye on the PSG encounter was presented when both Martial and Pogba were withdrawn around the 70-minute mark – this being the first league match under the interim United boss that Pogba has failed to last 90 minutes of.
Solskjaer even said after full-time:
[Paul] is doing well, he is enjoying himself, he is playing well. His energy is high so that was one of the questions I asked myself – should I play him or should I not, because there is a big game coming up on Tuesday? But I think the intention shows when you play Paul, and everyone knew that we needed to take this game seriously.
The second leg of the PSG game is scheduled to take place in between Gameweeks 29 (Southampton at home) and 30 (Arsenal away), so Fantasy managers perhaps need to be prepared for further tinkering from Solskjaer in the first of those matches especially.
United’s victory was more in spite, rather than because, of Juan Mata (£6.1m) and Romelu Lukaku‘s (£10.7m) inclusion, with those two players looking decidedly inferior alternatives to Rashford and Jesse Lingard (£6.7m) in the three-man attack.
The visitors’ much-changed defence had a fairly comfortable ride, with de Gea making three routine stops en route to a fourth straight clean sheet away from home.
Solskjaer said of his stand-in central defenders:
[Jones and Smalling] did well, the two of them. We must remember Chris hasn’t played for over two months and it was an absolutely fantastic performance from him. He has worked hard to get back, he has been on his own, up and down that touchline running with the physios. I was never in doubt he was going to play today because this was the game that I had earmarked for him.
This was an all-too-familiar story for Fulham, who have now conceded at least two goals in a Premier League match for six Gameweeks running.
Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.5m) was at best a ‘handful’ but there was precious little goal threat from the Serbian striker or his team-mates after the opening ten minutes, save for a close-range Ryan Babel (£5.5m) effort that struck the upright in the final quarter of an hour.
Having abandoned his usual 3-4-3 system midway through each of the two preceding Gameweeks, Ranieri did the reverse on Saturday.
Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 at kick-off, the Fulham boss sacrificed Schurrle for Cyrus Christie (£4.2m) early in the second half – to a chorus of boos – and reverted to the wing-back system he had preferred in the previous eight Gameweeks.
Ranieri defended his substitutions and his refusal to start Ryan Sessegnon (£6.0m):
I change the system and Schurrle because he had some problem with the fever and he come back with us the last two days. I also wanted to put two strikers, Mitrovic and Vietto in front and Babel behind and try to find the solution on the flank.
We managed the ball better, we make the cross, but the Manchester players close all the space in front of their goal.
Ryan is a good player but in this moment is not at the best of his fitness and form. For this reason, I played with Joe Bryan.
With the Cottagers haemorrhaging goals, Ranieri evidently unsure of his best formation and the Fulham fans starting to turn on their manager, West Ham’s attacking assets look even more appealing in Gameweek 27.
Fulham XI (4-2-3-1): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream, Bryan (Sessegnon 81′); Seri, Chambers; Schurrle (Christie 53′), Vietto, Babel (Cairney 77′); Mitrovic.
Manchester United XI (4-3-3): De Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Jones, Shaw; Herrera (Bailly 85′), Matic, Pogba (McTominay 74′); Mata, Lukaku, Martial (Sanchez 70′).