The Fantasy Premier League interest in West Ham’s defence hit rock-bottom in Blank Gameweek 31 in a high-scoring game at the London Stadium.
The Hammers conceded three goals to bottom side Huddersfield Town after FPL managers had stocked up defensive assets.
Whether this spells the end for investment in Lukasz Fabianski (£4.8m) and his colleagues at the back, is the focus of this latest Scout Notes article.
West Ham United 4-3 Huddersfield Town
Goals: Mark Noble (£4.8m), Angelo Ogbonna (£4.2m), Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández x2 (£6.1m) | Juninho Bacuna (£4.2m), Karlan Grant x2 (£5.0m)
Assists: Manuel Lanzini (£6.4m), Aaron Cresswell (£5.0m), Samir Nasri (£5.2m), Felipe Anderson (£7.2m) | Aaron Mooy (£5.0m), Chris Löwe (£4.4m), Terence Kongolo (£4.3m)
West Ham’s defensive issues were laid bare by the most goal-shy side in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon. In the four matches prior to Blank Gameweek 31, Huddersfield were bottom of the league for shots in the box, efforts on target, big chances and goal conversion rate. That, understandably, led to mass investment in Hammers options additional to Fabianski at the back, 145,000+ signing Declan Rice (£4.7m), with Angelo Ogbonna (£4.2m) and Issa Diop (£4.4m) also considered. However, in Blank Gameweek 31, the Terriers recorded more big chances than any other side, were joint-second for total goal attempts and joint-third for shots on target.
“We talked before the game that maybe this team don’t win too many games because they don’t have many goals but they always score from set pieces. They then scored two goals from set pieces.” – Manuel Pellegrini
Before this match, Huddersfield had scored eight away league goals all season but they added three to that total after visiting West Ham, an increase of 37% in one match. Considering how late we are in the campaign, that is a huge figure that demonstrates the levels to which the Hammers’ defence have fallen.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men have seriously struggled to keep clean sheets in home matches against favourable opposition this season, Newcastle the only side outside the top six to blank at the London Stadium in 2018/19. Bournemouth, Wolves, Burnley, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, Watford, Brighton and Fulham have all come to West Ham and scored when Fabianski has largely been turned to as a starting goalkeeper for his 18.4% ownership.
Conceding three to Huddersfield’s attack is likely to be the final straw for Fantasy managers as we approach Free Hit and second Wildcard season. With goalkeepers such as Rui Patrício (£4.5m) and Vicente Guaita (£4.2m) already confirmed to have two fixtures in Double Gameweek 32 and Ben Foster (£4.6m), Mat Ryan (£4.4m) and Neil Etheridge (£4.7m) likely to have the same, Fabianski, who faces Everton at home, will not be an option worth considering next time out. After that, it’s a trip to Chelsea in Blank Gameweek 33 and Manchester United in Gameweek 34, by which point second Wildcards are likely to have seen him removed for better shot-stoppers.
Only two West Ham defensive options came away with healthy Gameweek scores. The first was Ogbonna, who scored a second-half headed goal. The centre-back hadn’t shown a great of threat in the four matches prior to Blank Gameweek 31, but out of West Ham’s defensive options, he was joint-top for shots inside the box with Diop.
Aaron Cresswell (£5.0m) was the other, registering the assist for Ogbonna’s strike. The left-back was making his second start in a row, having missed out on a place in the first XI in Gameweeks 28 and 29. Crucially, it was Cresswell who largely benefited from a surprise benching for Robert Snodgrass (£5.0m), the usual set piece taker. The former Ipswich Town defender took three corners at the London Stadium, more than any of his colleagues, although Manuel Lanzini (£6.4m) and Felipe Anderson (£7.2m) chipped in with one each.
The latter experienced some advantages from Snodgrass’ absence, but not as many as was expected when the team-sheet came out. As already mentioned, Anderson was able to take one corner against Huddersfield, but also had a crack at a direct free-kick, which he fired into the wall. Either way, he finished the match with more key passes than any other player, with the majority of them coming from open play. Anderson’s number of chances created against Huddersfield was higher than the total he had recorded across the previous matches, hence how he was able to provide a first assist since Gameweek 25.
The striker situation at West Ham still seems rather unsettled, even after Pellegrini’s comments last week about Marko Arnautovic (£6.9m) returning to the solitary forward position for the Huddersfield match. The Austrian did indeed make his first start since Gameweek 24 but had just one shot and was booed off the pitch when he was replaced by Lucas Pérez (£6.2m) in the 68th minute.
“I think that, as every player who is not at their best, Marko did not have the best game. When Samir Nasri came as a playmaker, he gave more balls to the attackers. The complete team played very bad during most part of the game, conceding two goals from set pieces and after that, the complete team improved and we changed the score.” – Manuel Pellegrini
Meanwhile, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández (£6.1m) was absent for just the second time since Gameweek 25 after a poor performance against Cardiff, in which he was booked for diving. However, the Mexican was brought on for Michail Antonio (£6.8m) at half-time and scored twice, getting the winning goal too. He probably has the advantage over Arnautovic at this point but it is hard to tell, given the minutes he and his colleague have played in recent weeks.
“I think that Javier was playing well all the games except against Cardiff, where all the team played very bad. Maybe in that action [his dive] he felt someone touch him and he made a mistake. But he is an important player, every time he is in the box he is a danger to the other team. Today, I think he did not have so much pressure without having Marko behind him. But I always say to the players who are a substituted you are still involved in the game, it is so important.” – Manuel Pellegrini
Mark Noble (£4.8m) registered further confirmation that he is still on penalties for West Ham after he dispatched a first-half spot-kick following a foul on Manuel Lanzini (£6.4m). The Argentinian midfielder has now started the last three matches in a row.
With set pieces proving important for Huddersfield against West Ham, it is no surprise to see that no player created more chances at the London Stadium than Aaron Mooy (£5.0m).
Meanwhile, no player from either side registered more shots on target than Karlan Grant (£5.0m), who emerged from the match with two goals and a 13-point haul. It was the third start in four for the striker, who this time kept Steve Mounié (£5.8m) out of the starting line-up for the first time since Gameweek 27. It sums up Huddersfield’s season that, even though he arrived in January and has scored just three times in the Premier League, Grant is now the top-scorer both for the Terriers and former club Charlton Athletic this season.
In defence, Christopher Schindler (£4.2m) missed the match through illness and with Thomas ‘Zanka’ Jørgensen (£4.4m) benched for the third time in four Gameweeks, it was Terence Kongolo (£4.3m) and Jon Stankovic (£3.9m) at centre-back. The latter, who has been used in central midfield of late, looks like he could make for decent bench-fodder for those playing the Free Hit in Double Gameweek 32 as he has started the last four in a row. Also, FPL defender Chris Löwe (£4.4m) made his first start since Gameweek 27 and was used on the left-wing.
However, defensive issues continue to plague Huddersfield as much as they did their opponents. Despite having a comfortable hold on the game in the 75th minute, with a 3-1 lead, the Terriers let it slip with no team conceding more shots than them in the Blank Gameweek. That bodes well for Crystal Palace options preparing for a home match against them in Gameweek 32.
“There are reasons why we are bottom of the table (referring to goals conceded in the second half). I said it from the beginning but I still kept fighting as you saw today.” – Jan Siewert
West Ham United XI (4-1-4-1): Fabianski; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Diop, Zabaleta; Rice; Anderson, Lanzini, Noble (Nasri 59′), Antonio (Hernández 45′); Arnautovic (Pérez 68′).
Huddersfield Town XI (4-2-3-1): Lössl; Durm, Kongolo, Stankovic, Smith; Mooy, Bacuna (Puncheon 67′); Löwe, Pritchard, Rowe (Billing 55′); Grant (Mounié 70′).