Manchester City and Watford are two of ten sides without a fixture in Blank Gameweek 31, with both of these clubs in FA Cup quarter-final action next weekend.
Their Fantasy assets signed off until after the international break on Saturday evening, with Raheem Sterling‘s hat-trick helping the league leaders to a 3-1 win.
The premium midfielder’s second 21-point haul of the season takes centre stage in our Scout Notes article below.
Manchester City 3-1 Watford
- Goals: Raheem Sterling (£11.4m) x3 | Gerard Deulofeu (£5.6m)
- Assists: Sergio Aguero (£11.9m), Riyad Mahrez (£8.2m), David Silva (£8.5m) | Troy Deeney (£5.9m)
Raheem Sterling (£11.4m) joined Mohamed Salah (£13.4m) at the top of the Fantasy Premier League points-scorers’ list after his eighth double-digit haul of the season.
Sterling is now only 31 points away from matching his incredible 2017/18 campaign, with still eight matches of the season to go.
We’re now in a curious situation where the FPL player with the best points-per-match ratio (7.3) this season is a disposable asset ahead of the next round of fixtures, with City blanking in Gameweek 31.
The reigning champions are only a victory over Swansea City away from blanking in Gameweek 33, too.
Those Sterling owners who are planning to Free Hit in Gameweek 32 will be tempted to sell (rather than bench) him ahead of next weekend, with little value tied up in the premium midfielder: Sterling has only risen £0.4m from his starting price and has actually dipped in value from his season-high price of £11.6m in Gameweeks 16-18.
Whatever the approach, Sterling is unlikely to be “differential” material should City enjoy a Double Gameweek 32 – which seems a very real possibility if they get the better of Swansea next weekend. Already in 14% of FPL squads, the England winger will surely feature in a large chunk of Free Hit/Wildcard teams in that Gameweek given that Pep Guardiola’s side will potentially face a double-header against Fulham and Cardiff City.
Rotation is always a threat (Sterling has been benched in two of the last five Gameweeks) but there is no doubt that the former Liverpool wide-man is, as he has been for much of his manager’s tenure, a trusted asset of Guardiola’s – something that can’t be said yet of Riyad Mahrez (£8.2m) or currently of Leroy Sane (£9.4m).
The City head coach’s almost Football Manager-esque approach to press conferences and post-match interviews (two parts praise, one part tactical criticism) was in evidence again when he was asked about Sterling’s display.
He can do better. The first half he didn’t play good. The three goals were fantastic but he can do better. He didn’t help us a lot defensively in the first half and with the ball was not clear, he lost a lot of balls. He can do better.
While those comments were seemingly just an exercise in ego management, Guardiola was right in that Sterling did little of note before half-time.
Nor did many of his team-mates, as Watford set out purely to suffocate City’s attackers and offer no ambition of their own.
Watford’s average position map bore a striking resemblance to that of Bournemouth’s last weekend and at times in the first half, the Hornets looked as if they were playing with a six-man defence.
The stats show that City had nine shots before the break but there was a growing sense of frustration among both the home support and owners of City’s attacking assets, which only served to further fuel the argument that the Sky Blues lack drive whenever Fernandinho (£5.3m) is missing.
City will likely encounter similar rearguard approaches when they meet Fulham and Cardiff, though those two clubs are not particularly renowned for their ability to keep out “big six” sides.
Guardiola said after full-time:
It was almost impossible to attack when they play so deep, there were no spaces.
Most of the games we play are like this, difficult because the opposition are so organised. The opponent came here and defended with 11 players in the box. We spoke at half-time to make more attacking movements and we did it.
It was so difficult but we created enough chances and after the first goal, it was easier.
Sergio Aguero‘s (£11.9m) owners had to make do with an assist for Sterling’s first strike but the Argentinean striker had chances of his own, the best of which was a free header from a Bernardo Silva (£7.5m) cross on 28 minutes.
Aguero was inches away from connecting with an Oleksandr Zinchenko (£4.7m) cross-shot moments earlier and shot straight at Ben Foster (£4.6m) just before being withdrawn in the final ten minutes but this was one of the more frustrating afternoons for his legions of FPL owners – the premium forward was twice denied tap-ins when Bernardo and substitute Sane opted to shoot rather than square the ball.
Although his points haul was dwarfed by Sterling’s, Aguero kept up his record of banking an attacking return in every single home league match that he has started in this season.
It could be argued that Aguero has only been benched once in the league this season when fully fit (the Argentina international having been a substitute in Gameweeks 17 and 18 after gradually returning from a groin injury) and he is another Fantasy asset who will likely form the basis of many Free Hit squads in Gameweek 32.
Aguero’s miscontrol led to Sterling’s controversial opener just after the break, a goal that had originally been flagged for offside before referee Paul Tierney overturned the decision.
City’s second was peak Sterling, with the winger tapping in a low Mahrez cross from close range, before the England international completed his hat-trick with a jinking run and deflected shot on 58 minutes.
Mahrez was a lively presence on the right wing, though whether he’s still a Fantasy option in Gameweek 32 remains to be seen as Kevin De Bruyne (£9.7m) may well have recovered by that point, thus allowing Bernardo to return to a more advanced role in the front three.
The Algerian provided an excellent opportunity for the improved David Silva (£8.5m) early on, only for “El Mago” to head/handle the ball off target.
City’s defence were seldom troubled and they remarkably have conceded only four attempts on goal over the last three Gameweeks combined.
Watford ruined the hosts’ clean sheet with their only real serious attack, substitutes Troy Deeney (£5.9m) and Gerard Deulofeu (£5.6m) combining with their first touches to score the Hornets’ consolation.
Deeney and Deulofeu were two of seven players who dropped out of the Watford side for this encounter, with Javi Gracia seemingly having one eye on the FA Cup quarter-finals next weekend.
Andre Gray (£5.9m) led the line in what was ostensibly a 4-1-4-1, with Kiko Femenia (£4.2m) and Isaac Success (£4.6m) the unlikely wide-men on the flanks.
Gracia’s stifling tactics worked well in the first half and he was understandably miffed after full-time regarding the nature of City’s opener:
Everybody could see what happened, it was a game before that moment and a game after it.
We played a very good first half, defensively perfect, knowing we have options in the second half and in that moment, our plan changed and it was difficult for us.
I think it is offside because, when Aguero touches the ball, Sterling is offside and he influences it by going to the ball. The linesman says it is offside but I do not criticise the referees and I will not do it today.
Gracia explained his mass rotation thus:
The decisions I make are focused on the next game. Before the game, I thought we needed fresh legs to compete today and to run a lot.
In this moment, we have 26 players available and all of them deserve to play. As you can see, they have competed well. It is good for us to compete today.
There are eight games left and the FA Cup. This is the best news for us, to have 26 players ready to compete and all of them trying to help the team.
If I have to take the decision again, I would do it the same way.
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Zinchenko; B. Silva, Gundogan, D. Silva; Mahrez (Foden 90′), Aguero (Jesus 80′), Sterling (Sane 65′).
Watford XI (4-1-4-1): Foster; Janmaat, Britos (Cathcart 82′), Kabasele, Masina; Capoue; Femenia (Deulofeu 65′), Doucoure, Cleverley, Success (Deeney 65′); Gray.
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