Our regular analysis of a player, team and discussion point that attracted our interest in the previous weekend’s matches returns ahead of Blank Gameweek 31.
As there are only five Premier League fixtures being contested in Gameweek 31, we have focused on those players and teams that don’t blank this coming weekend.
We also look at the importance of team value at the business end of the season.
The Player – Callum Wilson
Callum Wilson (£6.4m) has timed his return to fitness nicely.
The mid-priced Fantasy Premier League forward played for the first time since Gameweek 23 on Saturday, scoring a goal and setting up another in Bournemouth’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town.
With the Cherries enjoying an excellent run of fixtures over the next six Gameweeks and indeed being one of only two clubs to be at home in both Gameweeks 31 and 33 (the other being Everton, who face Chelsea and Arsenal), Wilson is a fresh name to add into the FPL forward mix in the short-to-medium term, at least.
Wilson has played three Premier League matches in 2019 and scored in all of them.
In the three games that Wilson has started this calendar year, Bournemouth are unbeaten and have scored seven goals.
We highlighted in last week’s Digest how much more potent Eddie Howe’s side are with Joshua King (£6.5m), Ryan Fraser (£6.2m), David Brooks (£5.1m) and Wilson in the side and that trend continued at the weekend against an admittedly limited Huddersfield team.
Wilson’s own individual record against sides outside of the “big six” this season is even more encouraging, given that the Cherries avoid the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs between Gameweeks 31 and 36.
All but two of Wilson’s 20 attacking returns this season have come against the sides outside of the top six.
Wilson’s record against the “also-rans” of the Premier League in 2018/19 reads as follows:
Wilson has only blanked twice in nine home matches against non-big six sides. The Bournemouth striker has four goals and six assists in the other seven fixtures.
Wilson’s underlying stats weren’t great on Saturday – two shots on goal, one key pass – but his own attacking KPIs away from home mirror Bournemouth’s struggles on the road.
The England forward averages a chance every 33.2 minutes at the Vitality Stadium, compared to one every 50.5 minutes in away fixtures.
Wilson’s rate of shots in the box, efforts on target and key passes are also significantly superior on home soil, too – relevant statistics particularly for those Fantasy managers looking at acquiring Wilson initially only for Gameweeks 31 and 33 (and perhaps playing their Free Hit/Wildcard in Gameweeks 32 and 34).
The Team – Fulham
Many of the clubs in Premier League action this weekend have been the primary focus of our Gameweek 30 Scout Notes over the past couple of days.
One team who, for obvious reasons, haven’t quite been devoted the same amount of column inches is Fulham.
The Cottagers are by some distance the least-represented top-flight club among the leading Fantasy managers of 2018/19: there were, on average, only 0.07 Fulham players in the squads of the top 10,000 FPL bosses as of Gameweek 30.
Indeed, Fulham’s most-owned player in the top 10k is bench fodder option Aboubakar Kamara (£4.5m) – who departed for Turkish side Yeni Malatysapor in a loan move in January.
A brief analysis of Fulham is not so much taken with an eye on their own Fantasy assets ahead of Gameweek 31 but rather with a focus on how their weaknesses could be exploited by Liverpool this weekend.
While he has lost both of his matches in charge of the Cottagers, Scott Parker has at least got a reaction out of the players that looked so meek in the final weeks of Claudio Ranieri’s reign.
The battling second-half displays against Chelsea and Leicester City in Gameweeks 29 and 30 are a testament to Parker’s ability to instil a bit of pride in his Championship-bound squad, but the same failings seem to remain.
Fulham have shipped five goals with Parker at the helm, while no Premier League club has allowed more attempts on goal, shots in the box or efforts on target than the west London side over the last two Gameweeks.
While Opta deem that Fulham allowed only a combined four “big chances” in the matches against Chelsea and Leicester, there were plenty of other scares and near-misses during those games for the statistic to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Jamie Vardy (£9.0m), for instance, twice broke free of the Fulham backline in the first half on Saturday and looked poised to score before desperate, last-ditch interventions from Havard Nordtveit (£4.5m) and Joe Bryan (£4.8m) thwarted the Leicester striker. Those two situations weren’t classed as “big chances” by our data compilers.
Also encouraging for owners of Liverpool assets would be how often Leicester, under the guidance of new manager Brendan Rodgers, caught out the Cottagers with a high press in that opening 45 minutes and how much space Parker’s side left in between defence and goalkeeper.
Jurgen Klopp’s “gegenpress” would seem ideally suited to exploit this weakness and it might be that the Liverpool manager decides to adopt the same attacking 4-2-3-1 that Rodgers used at the King Power Stadium on Saturday to exact more pressure on the fragile Fulham back four.
The Cottagers have lost possession on more occasions than any other Premier League side over the last two Gameweeks, seeing only 41.1% of the ball. Two of the goals that Parker’s troops conceded against the Foxes came from their own errors.
Another observation to share is how much of a weakness Denis Odoi (£4.4m) looks at right-back.
While Bryan played well and largely nullified the threat of Demarai Gray (£5.4m), Odoi had a nightmare up against the promising but still raw Harvey Barnes (£5.5m) down Leicester’s left.
Parker’s decision to play a left-winger – be it Ryan Sessegnon (£6.0m) or Ryan Babel (£5.5m) – on the right flank has often left Odoi exposed, too, such is their relative inexperience in that role or their proclivity to cut infield.
Parker has the option of recalling Cyrus Christie (£4.2m) at right-back, of course, but that position has been a problem for Fulham all season: the Cottagers have conceded more chances from their right flank than they have from the central and left zones in 2018/19, while no club has allowed more opportunities to be created from their right wing than Fulham this calendar year.
Sadio Mane (£9.9m) and Andrew Robertson (£6.9m) might have a field day down Liverpool’s left, then, when the Reds visit Craven Cottage on Sunday.
Offensively, Fulham have scored in five of their last six home matches.
Under Parker, they sit in the bottom seven for big chances created, shots in the box and overall goal attempts, though have indeed registered the same amount of efforts on target as Liverpool over the last two Gameweeks.
Certainly, there would seem more chance of Fulham scoring against Klopp’s side than keeping a clean sheet: the Cottagers are the only Premier League side without a shut-out in 2019 and have conceded two or more goals in each of their last ten top-flight fixtures.
The Talking Point – Team Value
A significant proportion of Fantasy managers face something of a crossroads as we approach Blank Gameweek 31.
Those FPL bosses who are not deploying their Free Hit chip this weekend may have a bit of dilemma regarding the players they have value tied up in.
The likes of Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez are all without a Premier League fixture in both Gameweeks 31 and 33, while Manchester City assets such as Sergio Aguero are only a win over Swansea City away from doing likewise (Pep Guardiola’s side are assured of a blank this weekend, of course).
What those five players above have in common is that they have all risen in cost considerably, either from their starting price back in August or from a mid-season low.
Jimenez had jumped from £5.5m to £6.9m, Pogba from £7.8m to £9.0m and Doherty from £4.4m to £5.5m.
All three of those players have begun to come down in price over the last week or so, while Rashford, who had leapt from £6.7m to a high of £7.8m, has done likewise.
Fantasy managers who own one or more of the above may now face a choice between cashing in their valuable assets in order to acquire players with fixtures in the Blank Gameweeks or retaining their services in order to maintain team value ahead of the Gameweeks in which they plan to use their Free Hit and second Wildcard – if they still have those chips, of course.
The question has to be asked: do FPL bosses want the likes of Pogba and Doherty back, if sold?
The answer might well be yes, as both Wolves and Manchester United will enjoy two Double Gameweeks.
For the ‘Free Hit in Gameweek 32/Wildcard in Gameweek 34’ brigade, re-obtaining Pogba, Jimenez et al will be straightforward enough in that hits won’t have to be taken – but team value will have been damaged as a result of any sales ahead of Gameweek 31.
Retaining a decent team value has to be of some importance for the Double Gameweeks ahead, particularly as the rearranged fixtures have still to be announced and we don’t yet know how many premium assets we will covet when these doubles finally roll around.
There are always options, however.
Taking a £0.5m loss on Doherty, for example, might make a Fantasy manager unable to bring the Irish wing-back in, should their transfer budget be stretched to the limit.
Would Jonny (£4.3m) be such an awful alternative for the Double Gameweeks and remaining fixtures, however, given that Doherty hasn’t banked a double-digit haul since Gameweek 8 and has only averaged 2.86 points per match since?
Another factor to consider is how busy a month Wolves and in particular Manchester United might have.
Should Wolves prevail in their FA Cup quarter-final, would Nuno Espirito Santo rest some of his key players (as he has done previously when three matches fall within a week) in the Double Gameweek 32 match at Old Trafford ahead of the cup semi-final which takes place just days later?
Manchester United, meanwhile, will play twice a week throughout the whole of April should they reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer demonstrated in the win over Fulham in Gameweek 26, which took place three days before United faced PSG in the Champions League, that he would not be averse to resting big names (or managing their minutes) in league matches should he deem it necessary.
As ever with these things, a balance has to be struck.
Selling all three of Pogba, Jimenez and Doherty in one fell swoop ahead of Blank Gameweek 31, for example, might lose £1.5m in market value and would perhaps be folly given the uncertainty over the Double Gameweeks ahead.
Offloading one or perhaps even two of these profit-making assets isn’t a strategy to be pooh-poohed though, particularly as we have just eight Gameweeks of the season remaining and team value counts for very little once the final ball of 2018/19 has been kicked.
MINUS FOUR’s hot topic on this very subject prompted some excellent discussion and sandwich analogies, and is a recommend read.