Our regular analysis of a player, team and discussion point that attracted our interest in the previous weekend’s matches returns ahead of Gameweek 30.
The in-form Wilfried Zaha is the subject of our player focus, while Bournemouth‘s fixture turn prompts a closer look at the Cherries.
We also mull over the different combinations of players in a Liverpool triple-up.
The Player – Wilfried Zaha
As we approach the minefield that is Gameweeks 31-35, a significant proportion of the Fantasy community are adopting the ‘Free Hit (or Wildcard) in Gameweek 32’ approach.
That chip strategy invariably means gradually stockpiling assets that are guaranteed fixtures in Gameweek 31 and (ideally) Gameweek 33, largely ignoring – perhaps with the exception of Manchester City – clubs who are set to blank in one of/both of those Gameweeks.
Crystal Palace are one of the sides whose Gameweek 31 league fixture is already postponed, while they will also blank in Gameweek 33 if they beat Watford in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Investment has been relatively modest in the Eagles’ assets as a result, despite a run of form that has seen them lose only one of the last six Premier League matches. No side outside of the “big six” has accrued more points in that time.
Only Manchester City have racked up more goals than Palace (16) over the last eight Gameweeks, while the Eagles haven’t failed to score in any of their nine league fixtures in 2019.
Wilfried Zaha (£6.9m) has really caught the eye in recent weeks. Having failed to score a single league goal between Gameweeks 6 to 23, the Ivory Coast international has now hit the back of the net on five occasions in as many appearances.
While the ‘Free Hit/Wildcard in Gameweek 32’ brigade will be understandably reluctant to consider a move, those Fantasy managers who are perhaps planning on using their Free Hit chip in Gameweek 31 would be able to call on Zaha’s services for successive home matches against Brighton and Huddersfield, plus potentially another fixture in Double Gameweek 32.
That approach would still be a risky one, of course, with Palace possibly blanking in Gameweek 33 depending on the result of their FA Cup quarter-final.
When treated in isolation, Zaha is among the form forwards in Fantasy Premier League.
Sergio Aguero (£11.8m) is the only striker to have been involved in more Premier League goals than Zaha (six – five goals, one assist) when players are filtered by their last six appearances.
Since his return from suspension in Gameweek 26, Zaha ranks first among FPL forwards for penalty box touches and take-ons, third for shots in the box and joint-third for attempts on target.
His rate of big chances and expected goals tally aren’t particularly impressive in that time, however, and he sits outside the top ten among FPL forwards for both those statistics over the last four Gameweeks.
His switch over to the right flank against Burnley might be a situation to monitor, too: Zaha registered only one shot and no key passes in his 79 minutes at Turf Moor, though he was admittedly much more of a threat than those numbers suggest and caused a lot of havoc down the Clarets’ left.
The return of a bustling central striker has perhaps been key to Zaha’s renaissance.
While Christian Benteke (£6.3m) is maligned in many quarters for his showings as a central striker, the feeling among some Palace fans and impartial observers was that Zaha missed having a physical presence alongside him for large chunks of 2018/19 and wasn’t as effective himself as a centre-forward in a 4-4-2.
Since Benteke became an option again and with Michy Batshuayi (£6.5m) slowly growing into this role as first-choice centre-forward, Zaha has – coincidence or otherwise – been excellent.
One final caveat ahead of Palace’s double-header at Selhurst Park either side of Gameweek 31: only two of Zaha’s 13 attacking returns have come on home soil this season!
The Team – Bournemouth
With only Spurs to face of the “big six” between now and Gameweek 38, Bournemouth sit top of our Season Ticker for the remainder of 2018/19.
Arsenal are the only other Premier League side who face as few meetings with the current top half-dozen clubs over the next nine Gameweeks.
The Cherries come into this run of fixtures off the back of a remarkable display against Manchester City in Gameweek 29.
Eddie Howe’s side registered no shots on goal, just four penalty box touches and 17.9% of possession in their 1-0 defeat to the reigning champions, with their usual attacking ambition shelved for the afternoon in favour of a backs-to-the-wall approach.
The official teamsheet read a 4-4-1-1 but Bournemouth effectively used a 5-4-1, with Nathan Ake (£5.0m) dropping back to help out Jack Simpson (£3.8m) and Chris Mepham (£4.5m) in defence. Howe named six recognised defenders in his starting XI, with Adam Smith (£4.3m) playing in midfield.
The average position of all 14 of the players that Howe used on Saturday was in Bournemouth’s own half, with even City centre-back John Stones‘ (£5.2m) average position being further up the pitch.
The more pragmatic approach and the performance of budget defender Simpson may have caught Fantasy managers’ eyes but there is little doubt that Saturday’s set-up was purely an exercise in damage limitation.
It is questionable whether Howe will use this system again at the Vitality Stadium this season.
The Bournemouth boss had started with a back four in every other home Premier League match in 2018/19, reserving the wing-back system or back five for tricky away fixtures at City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolves and, curiously, Fulham.
The fact that Bournemouth are on a nine-match losing streak away from home (conceding 28 goals in that time) may make Howe consider the use of a 3-4-3/5-4-1 on the road in the weeks to come, but the calibre of opposition in their remaining five away matches (Huddersfield, Leicester, Brighton, Southampton and Crystal Palace) is a darn sight different to the teams they have recently faced on their travels: the Cherries have lost to City, Wolves, Spurs, United, Liverpool and Arsenal in six of their last eight away matches.
The return from injury and suspension of David Brooks (£5.0m), Callum Wilson (£6.3m) and Jefferson Lerma (£4.5m) is also a significant factor.
Weak at the back or otherwise, Bournemouth would seem ideally suited to a 4-4-2 when they have a fully-fit squad, with Wilson and Joshua King (£6.5m) leading the attack and Brooks and Ryan Fraser (£6.1m) providing width on the flanks.
Those four players have started just two league matches together in 2019: the 3-3 draw with Watford and the 2-0 win over West Ham.
All four of that quartet delivered attacking returns over those two fixtures and the hope for owners of King and especially Fraser is that the return of Wilson and Brooks – plus the fixture swing – leads to an increase in goals and assists.
Bournemouth’s record when Fraser, Brooks, Wilson and King have started together this season is: P12, W7, D3, L2, F24, A16 (four clean sheets).
When one or more of that quartet hasn’t started, the Cherries’ record reads: P17, W3, D1, L13, F15, A38 (three clean sheets).
There are some factors that admittedly contribute to that stark contrast (i.e. Brooks being benched for the away games at Chelsea, Wolves and Manchester United) but there is nevertheless evidence to suggest that the return of Brooks and Wilson comes at just the right for Bournemouth’s Fantasy assets given the fixtures ahead.
The Talking Point – The Liverpool Triple-Up
Whether Fantasy managers are “dead-ending” their teams ahead of Blank Gameweek 31 or planning to use the Free Hit chip in that Gameweek, a Liverpool “triple-up” seems a likelihood in most of our squads.
Some FPL bosses may have three Liverpool assets in their teams already but for those sitting one or two players from Jurgen Klopp’s side and planning on maxing out their allocation, there remains the question of whether to double-up on the Reds’ backline or focus on more forward-thinking assets in midfield and attack.
Those Fantasy managers looking at adding to their stash of Liverpool players ahead of Gameweek 30 will no doubt be tempted by a pairing of Sadio Mane (£9.8m) and Mohamed Salah (£13.4m).
Liverpool are at home to Burnley this weekend and have scored 22 goals in their last six league matches at Anfield.
When teams are filtered by their last half-dozen home matches, Liverpool sit top for goals scored and attempts on target and joint-second for big chances and shots in the box.
Not that their defence hasn’t impressed in that time, too: the Reds sit joint-second for fewest big chances and shots on target conceded. Andrew Robertson (£6.9m), Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.5m) and Virgil van Dijk (£6.6m), of course, all registered double-digit hauls in the last league match at Anfield.
Salah and Mane sit in the top four midfielders for goals scored, efforts in the box and shots on target over their last six home matches.
It’s a different story away from home, however, which is pertinent given that Liverpool are on the road in Blank Gameweeks 31 and 33 (the visit of Spurs falls in between).
As we mentioned in our Scout Notes article earlier this week, the Reds have scored only three goals on their travels in 2019.
The record of Liverpool’s first-choice front three – Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) – in those fixtures is exactly the same: five appearances, one goal, no assists.
When Premier League clubs are filtered by their last four away matches, the Reds sit in the bottom half of the table for goals scored, overall goal attempts and shots on target, while they sit tenth for efforts in the opposition box.
The Blank Gameweek fixtures at Fulham and Southampton are, of course, far more appealing prospects than some of Liverpool’s recent matches away from Anfield.
The Cottagers have conceded more goals, attempts on target and shots in the box than any other club in their last four home matches.
Salah’s underlying stats are also impressive over Liverpool’s last six away matches – though Mane’s are less so (more information can be found on that in our Members’ Area).
Barring the little wobble from Gameweeks 20-25, however, Liverpool’s defence have been a reliable source of clean sheets all season.
Eight of their 17 shut-outs have come away from home, while no club has registered more clean sheets or conceded fewer big chances than Klopp’s side over their last six away games.
Only Manchester United have conceded fewer away goals than Liverpool during that period.
The three best value-for-money outfield players in FPL this season (based on points per million) are Robertson, van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold and a double-up on two of these three would perhaps allow for investment in the likes of Eden Hazard (£10.8m) and Gonzalo Higuain (£9.6m) further up the pitch – not that the Chelsea duo couldn’t be fielded alongside Salah and Mane, for those with the right team structure and squad value.
The second leg of the Champions League tie against Bayern Munich next Wednesday may still have some part to play in our decisions and could, perhaps, even influence how many minutes the most-popular Liverpool assets are handed in Gameweeks 30 and 31.