Our regular critique of a player, team and discussion point that attracted our attention in the weekend’s matches returns.
A player without a fixture in Gameweek 27 caught our eye on Sunday, while a team with some excellent matches ahead piqued our interest despite a defeat on the same day.
We also examine the potential impact of the return of European club competition on our Fantasy assets.
The Player – Bernardo Silva
The Leroy Sane (£9.5m) exodus is set to continue this week, following the German winger’s second benching in three matches and with Manchester City of course without a Premier League fixture in Gameweek 27.
Sold by over 400,000 Fantasy Premier League managers ahead of Gameweek 26, Sane has been transferred out by a further 140,000 FPL bosses since the Saturday lunchtime deadline.
Since the start of Double Gameweek 25, Pep Guardiola has plumped for one of Sane or Raheem Sterling (£11.3m) on the left flank, with the latter being handed the bulk of the minutes.
It remains to be seen if Sane can force himself back into his manager’s plans in the near future but after below-par displays against Newcastle and Everton, the Germany international has a lot of work to do to become the regular starter he was from Gameweeks 13-24 (Sane having only been benched once during that time).
One beneficiary of Sane’s demotion has been Bernardo Silva (£7.5m).
The return to fitness of Kevin De Bruyne (£9.7m) was viewed as a negative regarding Bernardo’s game-time in central midfield and indeed the Portugal international was benched in Gameweeks 23 and 24 as the fit-again Belgian made his latest injury comeback in the starting XI.
Since Sane’s relegation to bit-part player, however, Bernardo has been back in Guardiola’s team in a more advanced position, playing on the right of City’s front three.
That right-wing role is particularly intriguing from a Fantasy perspective, with Bernardo potentially even more attractive as a cut-price route into the most potent attacking team in the top flight.
Guardiola’s recent words about his City side being “Bernardo and ten others” echoed his early-season sentiments on the Portuguese midfielder and certainly provided reassurance regarding his future starts.
The City boss said last week:
To drop Bernardo Silva right now is almost impossible. It’s him and ten more players right now. The movement offensively and defensively, the way he lives the game. The other guys have to compete with Bernardo in that position.
From Gameweeks 5 to 26, Bernardo has started all but three of City’s 23 league fixtures (those two aforementioned matches when De Bruyne returned plus the Gameweek 13 clash with West Ham).
The evergreen Fernandinho (£5.3m) is the only City midfielder or attacker who can boast a better rate of starts in that time.
Price and regular starts aside, many Fantasy managers will need plenty of convincing that Bernardo can become a viable option from Gameweek 28.
The Portugal midfielder is without an attacking return in the last six Gameweeks, with – more pertinently – nothing to show for his efforts on the right flank in City’s last three matches.
David Silva (£8.5m) and De Bruyne have registered more penalty box touches in Gameweeks 25 and 26 than Bernardo despite only playing two out of three matches and being stationed in central midfield, while De Bruyne and Sterling have registered more shots than the Portugal international in the last two Gameweeks.
Bernardo is arguably one of City’s players of the season but the 24-year-old former Monaco prospect is often lauded for his touch, his work rate, his attitude and his dribbling – star qualities in Guardiola’s eyes but attributes that don’t necessarily translate into attacking returns in the Fantasy world.
Nevertheless, there were encouraging signs against Chelsea on Sunday.
Bernardo would have had at least one assist but for an unbelievable close-range miss by Aguero, while the Portugal international was denied three points in the build-up to Sterling’s opener as his cross was deemed to have deflected away from its intended destination and into the England winger’s path.
A total of two penalty box touches, no shots and only one key pass tells its own story, however, and many Fantasy managers will need more convincing before they even consider a move.
Perhaps if we don’t think of Bernardo in relation to Aguero, Sterling, Sane et al and instead on his own merits, he becomes a more attractive option: Bernardo is the fifth-highest-scoring FPL midfielder under the £8.0m bracket this season.
In fact, only Sterling can better him for value for money in the City midfield and attack.
With Guardiola’s side likely facing a blank in Gameweek 31 (barring a huge shock at Newport this weekend) and then potentially Gameweek 33, Bernardo is at least available at a more benchable price for the excellent fixtures (WHU, bou, WAT, ful) around those possible postponed games.
The Team – Leicester City
This week’s team analysis focuses on a club without a victory in five league matches and who were defeated 3-1 in Gameweek 26.
Top of our Season Ticker for the next nine Gameweeks and avoiding any of the “big six” until the end of April, Leicester City and their Fantasy assets are nevertheless particularly appealing as we head into the first Blank Gameweek of the campaign.
First off, the Foxes are one of just five clubs to be currently guaranteed a fixture in the decimated Gameweeks of 27, 31 and 33.
Any FPL managers who have already got one eye on building a squad in the run-up to Gameweek 31 especially will no doubt be tempted by the likes of Ricardo Pereira (£5.3m), Ben Chilwell (£5.0m) and James Maddison (£6.6m), given their kind schedule and unaffected fixtures in those aforementioned Blank Gameweeks.
Leicester are a difficult team to assess, however.
Having produced heartening displays to defeat Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton over the festive period, the Foxes then slumped to dismal losses against Cardiff City, Southampton and Wolves (as well as suffering an FA Cup exit at the hands of Newport County).
And, although they have taken only one point from the last three Gameweeks, Puel’s troops have been very competitive and occasionally superb in their most-recent fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs.
Sunday’s defeat at Wembley was particularly hard on the Foxes.
No Premier League team had more shots in the box or efforts on target than Puel’s side in Gameweek 26, while only Manchester City carved out more of what Opta deem “big chances” last weekend.
Substitute Jamie Vardy (£8.8m) missed from the spot before pulling a goal back for the visitors, while Harvey Barnes (£5.5m) missed a glorious one-on-one opportunity in the second half having earlier screwed another excellent chance wide of Hugo Lloris‘s (£5.4m) left-hand post.
Demarai Gray and Harry Maguire (both £5.4m) also nodded straight at the French goalkeeper when unmarked.
Claude Puel said of this latest defeat:
It’s the same feeling after our game against United. Another time today, we made good collective performance, with good quality and good moves. We hurt them, without finding efficiency. It’s a big shame.
It was not a fair result but it’s our fault because we have had a lot of chances since the kick-off. It’s a mixed feeling with the thought that we showed a lot of quality. It’s encouraging.
Also encouraging was Leicester’s defensive display, aside from two sloppy individual errors that led to Spurs’ second and third strikes.
Only two sides allowed fewer shots in the box than the Foxes in Gameweek 26, while Spurs’ only two clear-cut chances were the ones despatched by Davinson Sanchez (£5.8m) and Son Heung-min (£8.9m).
Despite facing the might of Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs over the last three Gameweeks, only three clubs have allowed fewer big chances than Leicester during that time.
The Foxes are among the five best clubs for fewest shots in the box conceded over this three-match period, too.
That all bodes well for the supposedly easier tests ahead, though as we discussed earlier, Leicester have generally performed better against the “bigger” sides in recent times.
Pereira is an obvious candidate for these upcoming fixtures, with the gung-ho full-back creating another four chances in Gameweek 26 to go with the 20 key passes he registered before Sunday.
The Portugal international also sits just outside the top ten for attempts on goal among defenders in 2018/19.
Chilwell warrants a mention too – the Leicester left-back has created more chances than Pereira this season and no player on show at Wembley on Sunday had more touches than him in the opposition half or final third.
Picking a Fantasy asset further forward is trickier, with Barnes, Vardy, James Maddison (£6.6m) and Gray all having dropped to the bench at least once in 2019 as Puel rotated.
The potentially season-ending injury to Marc Albrighton (£5.1m) at least lessens the competition and the acquisition of Youri Tielemans (£6.0m) could be a beneficial one to Messrs Vardy, Maddison and Barnes, with the Belgian midfielder excelling in finding his more advanced team-mates with some defence-splitting passes at Wembley.
Maddison, incidentally, has only two attacking returns since Gameweek 16 – though Eden Hazard (£10.8m) is the only FPL midfielder to have created more big chances this season.
The Talking Point – The Return of the Champions League and Europa League
The UEFA Champions League returned from its winter hiatus on Tuesday night, with Manchester United succumbing to a 2-0 home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.
The impact of that fixture was felt three days previously, with Marcus Rashford (£7.8m) and Victor Lindelöf (£5.0m) effectively rested (despite claims of injuries) in United’s 3-0 victory over Fulham with one eye on the Champions League.
Paul Pogba (£8.8m) and Anthony Martial (£7.2m) also had their pitch-time managed in that comfortable win at Craven Cottage, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer preserved their legs for Tuesday’s encounter with PSG.
Spurs are in action against Borussia Dortmund this evening, while Arsenal and Chelsea resume their UEFA Europa League campaigns on Thursday night.
These three upcoming fixtures are unlikely to have any direct impact on Fantasy managers in the short term, with the FA Cup taking centre stage at the weekend, though it is perhaps prudent to take a medium-term look at the European fixtures ahead to see how our FPL assets may be affected in the coming weeks and months.
The current schedule up until the March international break looks as follows:
|Dates||Premier League||Other fixtures|
|Tue Feb 12 – Thu Feb 14||Champions League/Europa League
Feb 12: Man Utd v PSG
Feb 13: Spurs v Dortmund
Feb 14: Malmo v Chelsea/BATE v Arsenal
|Fri Feb 15 – Mon Feb 18||FA Cup fifth round|
|Tue Feb 19 – Thu Feb 21||Champions League/Europa League
Feb 19: Liverpool v Bayern
Feb 20: Schalke v Man City
Feb 21: Chelsea v Malmo/Arsenal v BATE
|Fri Feb 22 – Sun Feb 24||Gameweek 27
|Feb 24: EFL Cup final: Man City v
|Tue Feb 26 – Wed Feb 27||Gameweek 28|
|Sat Mar 2 – Sun Mar 3||Gameweek 29|
|Tue Mar 5 – Thu Mar 7||Champions League/Europa League
Mar 5: Dortmund v Spurs
Mar 6: PSG v Man Utd
Mar 7: Europa League last 16, 1st leg
|Sat Mar 9 – Sun Mar 10||Gameweek 30|
|Tue Mar 12 – Thu Mar 14||Champions League/Europa League
Mar 12: Man City v Schalke
Mar 13: Bayern v Liverpool
Mar 14: Europa League last 16, 2nd leg
|Sat Mar 16 – Sun Mar 17||Gameweek 31
|FA Cup quarter-finals|
|Wed Mar 20 – Tue Mar 26||Internationals|
Liverpool are in action against Bayern next Tuesday night, though the fact that they then have five days to prepare for their Gameweek 27 clash with Manchester United surely allows sufficient recovery time for rotation not to be an issue.
The return leg could perhaps pose more risk, lying as it does between league matches against Burnley and Fulham in Gameweeks 30 and 31, though whether Jurgen Klopp would jeopardise the Reds’ title tilt by resting key players is another question.
Pep Guardiola has the squad depth to do just that, though, and their meeting with Schalke next Wednesday kicks off a sequence of four matches in 11 days that also includes an EFL Cup final and two Premier League fixtures.
The Gameweek 28 and 29 matches against West Ham and Bournemouth, then, might see rotation in operation for the likes of Aguero and Sterling – though we will only be able to make more educated estimates on City assets’ game-time once we have seen the teamsheets for their forthcoming Champions League and EFL Cup ties.
The second leg of Spurs’ last-16 tie against Dortmund takes place in between the north London derby in Gameweek 29 and a trip to Southampton in Gameweek 30.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side will have contested five matches in 15 days (four of them Premier League fixtures) by the time they visit St. Mary’s on March 9.
The potential impact on Manchester United assets we have discussed in our Scout Notes article earlier today, while it remains to be seen if Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri continue with their policies of fielding largely second-string starting XIs in the Europa League: that would certainly seem likely in the immediate future given that Arsenal and Chelsea are up against limited opposition in BATE and Malmo respectively in the last 32.