Fantasy Premier League managers were given hope that Chelsea options could still be worth owning in Blank Gameweek 31.
The Blues recorded a much-needed win over Spurs on Wednesday night to ease the pressure on Maurizio Sarri.
With their assets recently proving unpopular, this win could see them become more viable with trips to Fulham and Everton coming up in the next three Gameweeks.
Meanwhile, Manchester United played through their injury crisis to win at Crystal Palace and the absence of some key individuals shone the light on some potential differentials.
Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Goals: Pedro (£6.3m)
Assists: Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.3m)
Own Goals: Kieran Trippier (£6.2m)
Chelsea’s defensive assets were the real winners of Wednesday night’s performance at Stamford Bridge. That was because the game itself was a poor one, that featured just one shot on target between the two sides. But there were additional points pulled in by two members of Chelsea’s back-four.
The crucial change in defence was Willy Caballero (£4.7m) coming in for Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.5m). It was a switch that was not hugely unexpected after the unprecedented events that took place in the last few minutes of the League Cup final on Sunday. Kepa refused to be substituted at the end of extra-time, which only served to heap further pressure on manager Maurizio Sarri. Although the Italian played down the incident as a “misunderstanding” in the aftermath, he was much heavier handed when explaining his team selection for the Spurs game.
“It was very easy. Kepa made a big mistake and then paid with the club. In this match, he has to pay with the team. It was only a message for all the team, the dressing room – we are a team and not 25 individuals. Now it is behind us and Kepa from tomorrow will be with us.” – Maurizio Sarri
When Kepa will return to the starting XI remains to be seen, with Sarri admitting he is not sure. The fact that Caballero kept a clean sheet will be seen as in the Argentinian’s favour, even if he did not have to do very much.
“I don’t know if he will be on the pitch in the next match or not, but in one of the next two, for sure. We cannot kill him. When you are young, I think you can make mistakes. The most important thing is that you need to understand very well, after every mistake. So now, for me, the issue is closed.” – Maurizio Sarri
There was something of a redemption for Marcos Alonso (£6.4m) against Spurs as he finally put in a performance worthy of praise. He wasn’t quite back to his explosive best from a Fantasy perspective but offered plenty to be encouraged by at both ends of the pitch, for the first time in some months. The Spaniard made some good runs down the left flank and made a crucial interception to stop Son Heung-min (£8.9m) rushing through on goal. All of that allowed Alonso to pick up maximum bonus and register a nine-point haul. He recently missed the League Cup final and has had serious competition from Emerson Palmieri (£5.2m), but the Italian wasn’t even on the bench on Wednesday night.
Cesar Azpiliceuta (£6.3m) was the stand-out performer as he provided the assist for Pedro’s second-half goal. He also took the maximum bonus and managed a 12-point haul. Incidentally, the Spaniard now has two assists in as many home Premier League matches.
However, Fantasy managers should hold their horses before considering Chelsea assets for the coming weeks. We are probably going to need a selection of them for the Blank Gameweek 31 trip to Everton, whether that’s in our main squads or as part of a Free Hit, but it is still unclear who they should be. The Blues have now kept back-to-back clean sheets at Stamford Bridge, but only one of their next three matches take place there.
More importantly, it is the attacking assets that will be of interest for clashes with Fulham and Everton, but it is currently unclear who the best candidates are. As already mentioned, there was just one shot on target from Chelsea in this match, coming from goal-scorer Pedro. Gonzalo Higuaín (£9.5m) was joint-top for efforts on goal in the game, but only one was in the box and none were on target. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard (£10.8m) did not register a single effort on goal and touched the ball in Spurs’ box just once.
Over the last four Gameweeks, Pedro and Higuaín have had the most accurate efforts on goal, with three each but 21 players have managed more than that since Gameweek 25. The Argentinian is probably more of a goal threat because of his security of starts and the fact he’s managed 13 total shots in that time, although he is still struggling for accuracy. Perhaps the best tactic for assessing Chelsea’s attacking players is to use the Gameweek 29 trip to Fulham as an audition for Blank Gameweek 31. Alternatively, it could be worth taking a risk on Higuaín or Hazard this weekend considering how poor the Cottagers’ defence has been of late.
There will be some that will argue Spurs were more responsible for their hosts’ clean sheet than Chelsea were on Wednesday night. Mauricio Pochettino’s men were incredibly poor going forward in a performance that will drastically reduce any interest in Son and the recently returned Harry Kane (£12.4m). This was the first time Spurs had ever had no shots on target under Pochettino, something that had not happened to them since December 2013 against Liverpool.
“Always, for me, when your performance is not good enough it’s always because of us. Of course, the opponent did their job, but they only had one shot on target too. We didn’t shoot, well we did have shots but we had a lot of shots blocked, always, but it wasn’t a great game to watch. Of course very disappointed, but we need to look forward and move on.” – Mauricio Pochettino
Kane did join Pedro and Higuaín at the top of the shooting charts for the match in terms of volume (three efforts) but could not land any on target. He appeared to be more frustrated than usual at Stamford Bridge, finding himself in several verbal scraps with David Luiz (£5.9m).
“I think he’s so competitive on the pitch. We were frustrated, we want to win, we show our character. Things that happen that we don’t know because it’s impossible from outside the pitch to see what is going on inside. But that is football. It’s not a thing we should be worried about. When you finish the game and shake hands, big hug and the game finishes and it’s finished. He fought today, ran today and was on the pitch. Perfect level on the pitch, physically and mentally.” – Mauricio Pochettino
Meanwhile, Son’s drop-off in form continued as he shot just once against Chelsea. In the last four Gameweeks, the South Korean has recorded just one effort on target and looks to be the fall-guy for managers signing Sadio Mané (£9.7m) for his form and Blank Gameweek 31 fixture in mind.
It is hard to place the blame just at the forwards’ feet with Spurs not functioning at their best behind Kane and Son. Quality service was hard to come by at Stamford Bridge with the midfield and wing-backs creating little.
Wednesday night was another anonymous display from Christian Eriksen (£9.4m) whose passing was sloppy. The Danish international did not create a single chance and appears to be missing a partnership in midfield with the injured Dele Alli (£8.8m). Despite Eriksen’s importance to Spurs in recent years, he has still earned severe criticism from the local press in recent days.
Trippier was also not at his best going forward and committed a complete howler to score an own-goal. Without looking up to check the position of the onrushing Hugo Lloris (£5.5m), he passed the ball into his own net under virtually no pressure. Ironically, Pochettino rested the right-back for Saturday’s trip to his former club Burnley, to have him fresh for the Chelsea game. Trippier’s poor performance could be a sign that the manager’s regular chopping and changing of defenders is not good for rhythm and communication.
Either way, the England international has had a pretty awful season. It has all been downhill for him since scoring in the World Cup semi-final in Russia. Trippier has had injuries to deal with, but his defensive and attacking contributions in 2018/19 are well below what we came to expect last year. It has had a knock-on effect for Spurs with other defensive players, and the likes of Moussa Sissoko (£4.9m), having to cover for him. Meanwhile, attacking players aren’t able to benefit from his previously excellent delivery anymore.
“(Asked what was missing) Points. Shots. We didn’t shoot, and we were not consistent enough. It was an even game, but we didn’t create too much, but them also. They only had one shot on target. The other shot on target was the own goal. It wasn’t a great game. I was disappointed because it was another defeat, but we need to be sure we are ready for Saturday, and another tough London derby against Arsenal. It’s going to be tough. In the small details we lose. We made mistakes and lost the game, that is why we are disappointed, we weren’t capable of playing our way.” – Mauricio Pochettino
Lloris has to take some blame for the own-goal as he did not communicate with Trippier that he was leaving his line to take over possession. It was not even the first time the game that the Frenchman was guilty in the conceding of a goal. He should have done better in defending Pedro’s at the front post, ultimately nutmegged by the shot. After committing that well-documented gaffe in the World Cup final, it has been a campaign of uncertainty from Lloris.
As expected Davinson Sánchez (£5.8m) played in central defence after being rested for Burnley. He was joined by Toby Alderweireld (£6.0m) and Ben Davies (£5.6m) at the back as Jan Vertonghen (£5.9m) missed out with a hip injury.
“Yesterday he felt a problem with his hip so he’s not available. Hopefully, it’s not a big issue and he can be available for the next game.” – Mauricio Pochettino
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Caballero; Alonso, D Luiz, Rüdiger, Azpilicueta; Kovačić (Loftus-Cheek 77′), Jorginho, Kanté; Hazard (Willian 60′), Higuaín (Giroud 84′), Pedro.
Tottenham Hotspur XI (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Davies, Alderweireld, Sánchez, Trippier; Winks, Sissoko (Rose 85′); Son (Moura 80′), Eriksen, Lamela (Llorente 70′); Kane.
Crystal Palace 1-3 Manchester United
Goals: Joel Ward (£4.3m) | Romelu Lukaku x2 (£10.7m), Ashley Young (£5.7m)
Assists: Jeffrey Schlupp (£4.4m) | Luke Shaw (£5.1m), Victor Lindelöf (£5.0m), Paul Pogba (£8.9m)
Romelu Lukaku (£10.7m) put in a strong performance against Crystal Palace on Wednesday night to ramp up competition for Marcus Rashford‘s (£7.7m) place in the Manchester United starting XI. The Belgian forward was deployed in a central role at Selhurst Park after Ole Gunnar Solksjaer recently switched him to the right, and it paved the way for a 12-point haul. Lukaku scored twice and was comfortably the Red Devils key goal threat with more shots in the box than any other player at Selhurst Park on Wednesday.
“He was through the middle today. We created chances for him, he put them away. He’s done loads of running up and down the line, right wing, left wing, because he’s had a different role because of Rashy’s form. Today, he got a chance up front and could have got another one as well. Very pleased for Rom. He’s a quality finisher. He’s a professional boy, a good boy, great to have in and around the place. He’s always happy, always working on his finishing and he’s played more than you think, but he’s played wide right, wide left, it’s Rashy’s form that’s moved him out there. And now with Rashy’s injury, he grabbed the chance.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
However, Rashford’s injury sustained against Liverpool was not as bad as first feared. He was fit enough for the bench and actually came on for a 13-minute cameo at the end of the game. With a home match against Southampton up next, those who sold the striker might soon regret it. However, there is still a slight chance that Rashford could be benched for Gameweek 29 with next week’s must-win Champions League clash with Paris Saint Germain. After all, Solskjaer rotated his team to that effect when they travelled to Leicester in Gameweek 25.
There had been some fears for popular assets such as Paul Pogba (£8.9m) with Manchester United coming to Crystal Palace with injury doubts hanging over 10 players. However, in stark contrast to the previous regime, Solskjaer took those problems in his stride and got the best out of what he had available to him. That approach to the match continues to highlight just how different things are at Old Trafford now and that Manchester United are much more trustworthy as a source of investment for Fantasy managers.
“It’s Manchester United, we do have a quality squad and quality players and we will continue to bring players through. Every team in the league will have injuries at this time of the season.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The back-five was expected for Manchester United with David de Gea (£5.7m) keeping goal behind Ashley Young (£5.7m), Chris Smalling (£5.6m), Victor Lindelöf (£5.0m) and Luke Shaw (£5.1m). There were actually attacking returns for three of those with Young scoring late on and Shaw and Lindelöf notching assists.
Shaw, in particular, was impressive at both ends of the pitch, finally showing some attacking potential after restraining himself to defensive play in recent weeks. He created as many chances as Pogba did against Crystal Palace and provided the assist for the first of Lukaku’s goals. The exciting news for Shaw’s 9.3% ownership is that Solskjaer revealed after the game that he’d like him to get forward more.
“We want him to go forward. That’s the next step for him as well, to trust himself more often going forward. But, then again, it was down to the shape we played today because Anthony wasn’t fit. We played Alexis inside more with Rom, and it worked well with Diogo as the wide right and the winger on the other side.” – Ole Gunnar Solksjaer
It had been thought that Solskjaer might be forced into playing a 4-4-2 diamond formation to accommodate the only fit midfielders and attackers, but he kept with his favoured 4-3-3-. The Norwegian solved his staffing issue in wide areas by deploying defender Diogo Dalot (£5.3m) out of position on the right of attacking midfield, which saw him also create as many chances as Pogba did. If the injury situation continues for several weeks, which it could do with many of the problems reported as hamstring-related, the right-back could get more game-time in an advanced position.
“A little bit of a means to an end because of all the injuries we’ve got up front. But Diogo has played as a winger in Porto when he was younger. You could see he’s got skills going forward but, of course, he did help. Zaha and Van Aanholt are a good left side for Palace.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
In central midfield, there was a first appearance since Gameweek 19 for Fred (£5.4m), who played alongside Pogba and Scott McTominay (£4.2m). Despite an impressive showing against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon, Andreas Pereira (£4.5m) was an unused substitute.
There was also some involvement for young players as James Garner (£4.5m) came on for his debut. Judging by the way Solskjaer has been talking about him, we could be seeing more of the central midfielder soon. Exciting attacking talent Tahith Chong (£4.5m) was also an unused substitute.
“I believe (Garner) has got the chance to have a great future. He knows we believe in him, we’ve got great faith in him as the next Michael Carrick. I know he’s young and I know it’s not fair on kids to compare to great players like Michael was, but he’s the same mould, he plays simple passes, plays through the lines. Scott McTominay did really well today, some of the passes through the lines into Paul were excellent.” – Ole Gunnar Solksjaer
Despite the score-line, Crystal Palace were actually very much in this particular game. They had more goal attempts and more shots in the box than their illustrious visitors, also recording a higher expected goals (xG) score too.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£4.5m) continued to miss out with a hamstring problem, which meant another start for Joel Ward (£4.3m), who found the net against Manchester United.
Martin Kelly (£3.9m) was able to overcome his flag to start at centre-back alongside James Tomkins (£4.3m) in the absence of Mamadou Sakho (£4.9m). That meant Scott Dann (£4.4m) remained an unused substitute.
Further up the field, it was another start for Michy Batshuayi (£6.5m) in the front three, flanked by Andros Townsend (£5.9m) and Wilfried Zaha (£6.8m). While none of them registered attacking returns, the trio was joint-top for shots in the box among Palace players against Solskjaer’s men.
Crystal Palace XI (4-3-3): Guaita; van Aanholt (Kouyaté 83′), Tomkins, Kelly, Ward; Schlupp, Milivojevic, McArthur (Meyer 61′); Zaha, Batshuayi (Benteke 78′), Townsend.
Manchester United XI (4-3-3): De Gea; Shaw, Lindelöf, Smalling, Young; Fred (Garner 90′), McTominay, Pogba; Sánchez (Rashford 77′), Lukaku, Dalot (Bailly 77′).