Our Scout Notes continue with a look at three fixtures contested on Thursday.
Aston Villa and Watford got their pre-seasons underway while Arsenal secured a last-gasp victory over Bayern Munich in the United States.
Our pre-season minutes spreadsheet has been updated accordingly and can be viewed by clicking here.
Bayern Munich 1-2 Arsenal
- Goals: own-goal, Eddie Nketiah (£4.5m)
- Assists: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m), Tyreece John-Jules
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m) made his first start of pre-season on the right flank as Arsenal edged past Bayern Munich in the International Champions Cup.
There will be understandable reservations among the Fantasy community if Aubameyang becomes a permanent fixture out wide in the 4-2-3-1 that Unai Emery employed against the Bundesliga champions but the Gabonese forward was still a real threat despite the position change.
He wasn’t always hugging the touchline, either, cutting inside as Arsenal’s fluid front four dovetailed in attack.
One surging 70-yard run through the centre of the pitch led to a chance for Mesut Ozil (£7.5m) while the Gabon international almost scored a carbon-copy of his goal against Watford when charging Manuel Neuer down.
Aubameyang’s pace and trickery caused a lot of problems down the Bayern left and indeed it was the premium FPL forward’s low cross that led to the game’s first goal, with Louis Poznanski turning the ball past his own goalkeeper.
A superb bit of wing play later on culminated in an excellent chance for Reiss Nelson, which the Arsenal substitute spurned.
Alexandre Lacazette (£9.5m) didn’t have too many goalscoring opportunities (bar one decent chance carved out by Ozil) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£7.0m) flattered to deceive but Ozil looked like his old self in the number ten role, buzzing in behind the French striker.
Fantasy managers will need more convincing than an impressive 81-minute showing in pre-season, of course, and given Emery’s predilection for changing his formation on a weekly basis the cons probably outweigh the pros at present.
Shkodran Mustafi (£5.5m) was his usual ropey self at the back and it was the much-maligned German defender who lost Robert Lewandowski for Bayern’s equaliser in the second half.
Rob Holding (£4.5m) could be back sooner rather than later, though, as Emery explained after full-time:
We are really happy with his progress. He started training with us a few days ago. We’re going to do one process to let him play little by little.
We need his performances as a centre-back. When he had his injury he was really playing with big performances.
We’re looking forward to seeing him with us and other players with injuries like Hector Bellerin, Mavropanos and Emile Smith Rowe. We are waiting for [Holding] to come back with us with his quality.
Eddie Nketiah (£4.5m) grabbed Arsenal’s winner after coming off the bench, with fellow substitute Tyreece John-Jules claiming the assist.
Youngster Joe Willock impressed in the central midfield two, meanwhile.
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Leno (Martínez 46′), Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Mustafi (Chambers 81′), Monreal (Kolasinac 46′), Willock (Burton 65′), Xhaka, Mkhitaryan (Nelson 65′), Ozil (John-Jules 81′), Aubameyang (Saka 81′), Lacazette (Nketiah 81′).
Minnesota United 0-3 Aston Villa
- Goals: Jack Grealish (£6.0m), Henri Lansbury (£4.5m), Birkir Bjarnason (£4.5m)
- Assists: Frederic Guilbert, Andre Green (£5.0m)
Dean Smith gave his verdict on new Aston Villa signing Jota (£6.0m) after his side got their pre-season off to a winning start in the United States.
Jota lined up on the right flank but roamed from his starting position and was one of Villa’s standout players in the first half of their victory over Minnesota.
One superb pass for Anwar El-Ghazi (£5.5m) set up a great chance for the Dutch winger and Jota himself saw a low shot finger-tipped wide, with the summer signing from Birmingham frequently drifting infield from the wing.
The Villa boss said:
Jota had a lot of touches in the first half, popped inside and found really good pockets of space on the ball. It was unfortunate he didn’t score with a right-foot shot. He put a really good ball through for Anwar El Ghazi, also.
Wesley Moraes (£6.0m) also made his Villa debut and looked a handful up front, although a physical presence and the ability to link up play are not attributes that Fantasy managers place at the top of their wishlist when looking for a striker.
It is still early days, of course, and this match – as so many mid-July pre-season friendlies are – was an exercise in fitness-building rather than anything else.
Jack Grealish (£6.0m) showed promise in pulling the strings in central midfield, at least, and the gifted playmaker broke the deadlock with a well-hit shot from distance.
Villa’s first-half XI was perhaps the stronger of the two but there were still players of interest involved after the interval.
Frederic Guilbert certainly caught the eye from right-back, getting forward to support the attack and setting up Henri Lansbury (£4.5m) for Villa’s second goal.
The consensus among Villa fans seems to be that Guilbert is their preferred option at right-back and with Mohamed Elmohamady (£4.5m) still to return following his participation in the Africa Cup of Nations, it could be that the Frenchman has the edge in that position for Gameweek 1.
Back-up winger Andre Green (£5.0m) set up Birkir Bjarnason (£4.5m) for Villa’s third goal.
Reflecting on the game, Smith said:
It was a good goal from Jack Grealish. We possibly could have scored a few more.
If I was being picky, I’d say we were a little bit loose on the ball in that first half. We didn’t press as we would have liked. We allowed them to play through the two-thirds too quickly. That’s something we can work on and build on.
Defensively I thought our shape was better in the second half but I thought we were wasteful in the final third until the last 10 or 15 minutes.
Not involved was new signing Bjorn Engels (£4.5m), who Villa have recruited from Reims.
The towering centre-half has scored 16 league goals in 130 appearances and Smith highlighted the defender’s goal threat when asked about his recent capture:
He’s a player I really like. He can adapt well. He’s a great age. His potential is that he will get better and develop – he has a hunger to develop too. He’s calm and assured on the ball. He reads the game really well.
But another thing that attracted me to him was that he scores goals. It’s something we want to target in the Premier League – to become a really good set-piece team because it can win you games. He scores goals. He scores from set-pieces. He’s good in both boxes.
Aston Villa first-half XI (4-3-3): Steer, Bree, Konsa, Hause, Targett, Hourihane, Grealish, O’Hare, El Ghazi, Jota, Wesley.
Aston Villa second-half XI (4-3-3): Kalinic, Guilbert, Chester, Mings, Taylor, McGinn, Bjarnason, Lansbury, Green, Davis, Hogan
Ajax 2-1 Watford
- Goal: Andre Gray (£6.0m)
- Assist: Abdoulaye Doucoure (£6.0m)
Watford’s pre-season got off to a losing start in a fairly low-key affair in Austria.
Javi Gracia gave 45 minutes to 22 of his players, although Troy Deeney (£6.0m) and Ben Foster (£5.0m) were not part of the matchday squad – the reasons for which are as yet unknown.
Gracia predictably sent his two sides out in a familiar 4-4-2 shape, although there was little joy for the Hornets’ attackers from open play against last season’s UEFA Champions League semi-finalists.
Watford’s deadlock-breaking goal came from the penalty spot, with Andre Gray (£6.0m) tucking away the spot-kick in Deeney’s absence.
Stefano Okaka, playing alongside Gray in the first half, was heavily involved in the lead-up to the penalty, with his run and cross finding Abdoulaye Doucoure (£6.0m) in the Ajax box.
Doucoure – who looked solid alongside Etienne Capoue (£5.0m) – tucked the ball past Dominik Kotarski but not before the referee had blown up for a handball, with Gray beating the Ajax goalkeeper for pace with his effort.
Tom Cleverley (£5.0m) went close with a free-kick but it was the Hornets’ two shotstoppers who the busier ‘keepers in each half.
Daniel Bachmann was tested on a handful of occasions in the first half, with Pontus Dahlberg (£4.5m) also called into action after the interval.
Dahlberg was first beaten by Donny van de Beek following some sloppy defending, while Jurrien Timber struck with a header late on to hand Ajax the victory.
Gracia said after full-time:
We have conceded to goals in situations where we have to do better, we have to defend better. We need to improve our attacking and lots of other different phases, like set-pieces, but it’s normal. We are in pre-season and we have time enough time to improve and I’m sure with a good attitude, we are able to do it.
Gerard Deulofeu (£6.5m) was thrown on at half-time and looked sharp up front, often drifting into wide areas and going close with one shot that crept wide.
The recently reclassified FPL forward said ahead of the game:
I scored 12 goals [last season] but I can score more. In some periods of the season, I missed chances but I hope this season I score more than 12 goals because I can score. I feel the players like me can score more and also the best thing is to help the team take three points and achieve something special with Watford.
Before I came here I thought a lot about being a forward and spoke a lot together with Javi and all season I have been playing up front. I feel really well and I want to keep my career there up front because I feel near the goal, I feel much better than in the wing.
I got chances against big teams and I have to be more clinical.
Ken Sema (£5.0m) had an effort saved and Nathaniel Chalobah (£4.5m) flashed an effort wide but there were few clear-cut chances in the second half against one of last season’s most impressive European clubs.
Watford first-half XI (4-4-2): Bachmann, Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina, Cleverley, Doucourè, Forster, Gray, Okaka.
Watford second-half XI (4-4-2): Dahlberg, Femenía, Dawson, Kabasele, Holebas, Hughes, Wilmot, Chalobah, Sema, Deulofeu, Success.
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