We continue our write-up of Saturday’s games with a look at events at Old Trafford and Craven Cottage.
Manchester United are the primary focus of the Scout Notes article below and we assess how their players fared in victory over West Ham, with Fantasy managers considering the Red Devils’ assets going into Double Gameweek 35.
We also run the rule over Fulham’s surprise win over Everton and highlight the excellent form of one midfield differential for Gameweek 36 and beyond.
Manchester United 2-1 West Ham United
- Goals: Paul Pogba (£8.7m) x2 | Felipe Anderson (£6.9m)
- Assists: Juan Mata (£6.1m), Anthony Martial (£7.2m) | Manuel Lanzini (£6.4m)
Paul Pogba (£8.7m) scored twice from the spot to hand Manchester United a welcome three points but the Red Devils were far from convincing ahead of their Gameweek 35 double-header against Everton and Manchester City.
Even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted that his troops were fortunate to overcome a spirited West Ham United side on Saturday evening, saying:
We got away with it, you can put it that way. I know it’s not easy because we played a game on Wednesday and there were a few changes that we had to make. So, we got away with it. They deserved their goal, but then again we’re allowed to have a good goalkeeper.
Away from home, especially the Wolverhampton and Arsenal games [defeats], I’ve stood here and been pleased with the performances, when we’ve played well and created chances but didn’t get what we deserved.
In the last two games here at home, against Watford and now West Ham, we’ve probably got more than we deserved. But it’ll even itself out over the season. Sometimes you can’t always be on your game and we have to be honest that today and in the Watford game we have been poor. We haven’t performed, we’ve been too open, our shape wasn’t good enough.
The visitors had more attempts on goal and shots in the box than Solskjaer’s side and were deserving of their equaliser when the excellent Felipe Anderson (£6.9m) converted Manuel Lanzini‘s (£6.4m) cross at the far post just after half-time.
The hosts rode their luck throughout as Anderson earlier had what looked like a legitimate goal chalked off for offside before flashing a header narrowly wide from a Robert Snodgrass (£5.0m) corner.
Even after their goal, West Ham continued to press: substitute Michail Antonio (£6.8m) crashing an effort off the woodwork before forcing David de Gea (£5.7m) into a superb flying save with a header shortly after.
The Red Devils, by contrast, didn’t offer much of an attacking threat against the team that has conceded more big chances than any other Premier League team in 2018/19.
Pogba’s first-half penalty was United’s only shot on target until substitute Marcus Rashford‘s (£7.4m) arrival on 55 minutes, with the England striker immediately testing Lukasz Fabianski (£4.8m) with a low effort and then nodding over from close range shortly afterwards.
Pogba’s brace may have rekindled interest in him from a Fantasy perspective, while his underlying stats (six penalty box touches, four shots from inside the area) were better than they have been in some time – although two converted spot-kicks slightly skew those numbers.
It should be said, though, that Pogba was generally stationed deeper than ever and there have to be reservations about his appeal for Double Gameweek 35 and beyond.
The France international took up a role in the double-pivot alongside Fred (£5.3m), with those two players complementing each other well in Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1.
The position was one Pogba often occupies for his national team and Solskjaer had previously talked of deploying him in such a way after the win over Watford a fortnight ago.
Speaking after full-time on Saturday, Solksjaer said:
He’s practising penalties. He knows he’s on them and he just makes up his mind. He’s got a good goal ratio. Paul’s got a great mentality, I don’t think he’s fazed by anything. He’s got a good personality, he loves football, he plays it for the right reasons.
He played a different role today and I thought at times he played really well, but at times we struggled to have a good shape. Paul and Fred did really well in midfield.
With Rashford benched, Victor Lindelof (£5.0m) rested and full-backs Luke Shaw (£5.0m) and Ashley Young (£5.7m) both suspended, there were opportunities for United’s squad players to stake a first-team claim and perhaps force themselves into the debate for Double Gameweek 35.
Impressive displays were thin on the ground, however.
Anthony Martial (£7.2m) and Juan Mata (£6.1m) were largely ineffective apart from the “Fantasy assists” they banked when being fouled for Pogba’s two penalties, while Jesse Lingard (£6.7m) disappointed again and looks some way short of the form he exhibited before aggravating his hamstring injury in Gameweek 27.
Romelu Lukaku (£10.8m), meanwhile, spent a lot of the game drifting out to the right flank and didn’t register one shot from inside the West Ham box.
The front four that started on Saturday (Lukaku, Martial, Mata and Lingard) indeed only recorded two shots between them.
Deputy full-backs Diogo Dalot (£5.3m) and Marcos Rojo (£4.9m) did little to suggest that Young and Shaw won’t reclaim their positions when available for selection again, meanwhile.
While Fantasy managers will perhaps be far from convinced about United’s players for the season run-in, there may be even fewer interested in West Ham’s players.
The Hammers only have one fixture in Double Gameweek 35 and face tricky away games at Spurs and Watford thereafter, as well as hosting two improving sides in the form of Leicester and Southampton.
After receiving much criticism in recent weeks, however, West Ham were far better at Old Trafford.
Anderson reserved one of his best performances in months for Saturday, which, as sod’s law dictates, came at a point when his FPL ownership was at the lowest it had been since Gameweek 14.
The Brazilian winger registered more attempts on goal, shots in the box and penalty box touches than anyone on show in Manchester and indeed more than any other FPL midfielder so far in Gameweek 34.
Snodgrass created five chances on his return to the starting XI while Arthur Masuaku (£4.3m) turned in an unexpectedly fine performance at left-back as he deputised for the sidelined Aaron Cresswell (£5.0m).
Cresswell missed out with a knee injury, while Marko Arnautovic (£6.8m) was unavailable due to illness and Lucas Perez (£6.2m) didn’t feature because of a minor fitness issue.
West Ham also lost Lanzini to a second-half injury, with the Argentinean midfielder set for a scan on his groin later this week.
Reflecting on the game after full-time, Pellegrini said:
Frustrated, of course, because we deserve more but in football, the team that plays better doesn’t always win. For me, it was a pleasure to see the team play the way they did against Manchester United at their home stadium.
Unfortunately for us, there were some decisions by the referee – very difficult decisions so I am not complaining about him – but with the VAR, I am sure this game would have seen a 1-0 for us. Felipe is onside and if you review that, it is a goal.
After that, it was not a penalty off Robert [Snodgrass], but it was a difficult decision. Then we finish with the second goal for Man Utd, he was offside when the last pass was made.
But I repeat also, they were marginal mistakes. The decisions went for United in this game.
Manchester United XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Dalot, Jones, Smalling, Rojo (Pereira 75′); Fred, Pogba; Lingard, Mata (Rashford 55′), Martial; Lukaku (Greenwood 75′).
West Ham United XI (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Zabaleta (Fredericks 76′), Ogbonna, Balbuena, Masuaku; Rice, Noble; Snodgrass, Lanzini (Diangana 62′), Anderson; Hernandez (Antonio 73′).
Fulham 2-0 Everton
- Goals: Tom Cairney (£4.6m), Ryan Babel (£5.5m)
- Assists: Ryan Babel, Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.3m)
Newcastle’s win over Leicester and Bournemouth’s thrashing of Brighton sent tremors through the Fantasy community over the past few days but relegated Fulham’s 2-0 victory over in-form Everton ran them close for the most eye-catching result of Gameweek 34 so far.
The Cottagers came into Saturday’s fixture off the back of a nine-match losing streak, while Marco Silva’s improving side had kept clean sheets in all but one of their previous six Premier League games and won four of them in the process.
Fulham had also conceded two or more goals in all 13 of their top-flight fixtures contested in 2019 before this weekend and kept fewer shut-outs than any team in the division this season.
It’s all too easy to dismiss a side with relatively little to play for as being “on the beach” when they lose a match such as this in the season run-in.
Similarly, we can rush to proclaim an already relegated club as freed from their previous anxieties after one surprise victory.
In truth, you pay your money and you take your chance at this stage of a Premier League season.
Fantasy managers investing in teams and players with little meaningful to compete for could just as easily be rewarded with a goal bonanza as they could a series of dismal defeats and blanks.
Unpredictably and chaos are major players in FPL at any time of the year, of course, but they seem to have a greater impact in the final weeks when there are a number of factors – experimentation with system and personnel with an eye on the following season, for example – that add to the instability.
Whatever the reason for Fulham’s victory over Everton on Saturday, the west London club deserved it.
Scott Parker’s side registered more attempts on goal, shots in the box, efforts on target and big chances than the Toffees, with home goalkeeper Sergio Rico (£4.4m) only being called into action on one occasion to deal with a weak first-half effort from Bernard (£5.9m).
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£5.4m) also trundled an effort agonisingly wide via the outside of Rico’s left-hand post and headed over a presentable chance from close range, with this match another reminder that the budget FPL forward is not a natural goalscorer despite his undoubted other qualities.
The striker wasn’t the only player to disappoint in an Everton shirt, with Richarlison (£6.5m) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (£7.4m) not registering a single shot between them.
The Icelandic playmaker did supply the excellent chance that Calvert-Lewin hit the post with but both he and Richarlison had off-days before being replaced late in the second half.
The usually reliable Lucas Digne‘s (£5.3m) end product was also missing (the Frenchman was successful with only two of his 11 crosses), although he did register 14 more touches in the final third than anyone on show and more than Richarlison and Sigurdsson did combined.
Everton deserve to be cut some slack after their fine displays of recent weeks but Silva acknowledged that their fast-paced, high-pressing approach was absent in west London, saying:
We did not start the match well, our first half was not good, even if we had one or two moments in attack and created some problems for them.
But we were not aggressive enough, with or without the ball. We were not moving the ball fast enough to disorganise them.
Silva’s decision to stick with Gameweek 33 match-winner Phil Jagielka (£4.3m) over the fit-again Michael Keane (£4.8m) was admirable for its loyalty but ultimately looked like a misstep, with Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.3m) bullying the veteran centre-half and Everton’s backline in general with a dominant performance.
The Everton boss defended his team selection after full-time, adding:
It was a tactical choice, it was my choice to put Jagielka on the pitch. After he played like he did last week, I kept the same line-up.
It’s easy to look just at one player. If you want to say that we lost because of Jagielka, you are completely wrong. It was not.
The team didn’t perform, and if you want to look for just one player it’s a big mistake. In general, we didn’t perform the way we needed to.
With no goals in his last ten Premier League appearances, Mitrovic has long ceased to be a sought-after mid-price FPL forward and his display on Saturday was his season in a microcosm: impressive on the underlying stats front, underwhelming in terms of goal conversion.
More than half of Fulham’s 12 attempts on goal came courtesy of the Serbian striker, with all seven of his efforts coming in the first half.
No FPL striker has had more efforts overall or shots in the box than the former Newcastle striker in 2018/19 but three league goals in 20 starts tells everything there is to know about Mitrovic’s lack of a clinical streak.
The Serbia international tested Jordan Pickford (£4.9m) with two early shots before heading a Ryan Babel (£5.5m) cross straight at the Everton goalkeeper, later going on to clip the bar with a stinging drive from inside the Toffees’ box.
Mitrovic at least registered what was only his third attacking return of 2019 with a fine assist for Fulham’s second goal, which was confidently dispatched by the pacy Babel on 68 minutes.
The Dutch winger also teed up Tom Cairney (£4.6m) for Fulham’s opener and he has very quietly gone on about delivering consistent attacking returns since joining the Cottagers in January, despite being on the losing side in ten of his 12 appearances.
Just seven FPL midfielders have a better points-per-match average than Babel (5.0) in 2018/19 and all of these players are premium assets priced at £8.7m or above.
No Fantasy player in Babel’s position, indeed, has been presented with more big chances since the Netherlands international’s debut in Gameweek 23.
Home games for Fulham against Cardiff and Newcastle are potentially appealing for those looking at a real midfield differential (Babel is currently owned by 0.4% of FPL bosses) once Double Gameweek 35 is done and dusted.
After experimenting with a three-man backline in his two recent games, Parker reverted to a 4-2-3-1 for this encounter with Babel, Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon (£6.0m) playing behind Mitrovic in the hosts’ attack.
Calum Chambers (£4.2m), meanwhile, was back “out of position” in central midfield.
Parker said of his side’s performance:
It’s been a while since we’ve won a match and it was fully deserved today.
The players took the front foot and that got the crowd behind us. From the start to finish, I thought we were superb. If ever the focus was on this team, it was now.
After getting relegated it would have been quite easy and the questions have not been asked of me in my press conferences and you wonder if your players are still up for it, up for the fight or are they on the beach. Ultimately, today they answered those questions.
It would have been easy to not perform but the players proved that wrong really, showing real fight and determination.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Rico; Fosu-Mensah (Christie 66′), Ream, Le Marchand, Bryan; Chambers, Anguissa (Odoi 89); Sessegnon, Cairney, Babel (Seri 83′); Mitrovic.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Coleman, Jagielka, Zouma, Digne; Gomes, Gueye; Richarlison (Tosun 84′), Sigurdsson (Walcott 74′), Bernard (Lookman 84′); Calvert-Lewin.