There were plenty of Fantasy talking points as the Premier League Asia Trophy reached its conclusion over the weekend.
Manchester City, Wolves, West Ham and Newcastle were all in action as we learned more about how they are shaping up for the new campaign.
There was particularly interesting lines on Pep Guardiola’s attacking options as well as how Wolves are looking in the absence of key personnel.
Wolves 0-0 Man City (3-2 pens)
Raheem Sterling (£12.0m) got the chance to play as the centre-forward for Manchester City as they lost the Asia Trophy final on penalties to Wolves.
The England international could not find a breakthrough in his 45-minute appearance, which also featured a missed penalty.
Sterling’s miss has caused some concern among Manchester City followers about their spot-kick situation.
Sergio Aguero (£12.0m) is, of course, the main man for their penalties but given the amount of times he was substituted around 70-minutes last season, Pep Guardiola still needs to firm up his second choice.
Let’s not forget that Aguero also missed some crucial spot kicks including ones in the Champions League against Spurs, PSG and Barcelona.
Sterling’s miss, as well as unconverted spot-kicks in the shootout for Ilkay Gündogan (£5.5m), David Silva (£7.5m) and Lukas Nmecha will not inspire too much confidence moving forward, while Rui Patrício‘s (£5.0m) heroics should not go unnoticed.
Riyad Mahrez (£8.5m), still absent following African Cup of Nations commitments, famously missed one last season at Anfield, allowed by Guardiola to take it despite missing six of his previous 10 at that point.
Gabriel Jesus (£9.5m) also missed one against Swansea last season, causing some City fans to even suggest that Ederson (£6.0m) get a look-in.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the penalty situation at Manchester City this season, especially with plenty of interest in both Aguero and Sterling in early drafts.
Also of interest to Fantasy managers is the left-back position with Benjamin Mendy (£6.0m) ruled out until September.
After Angeliño (£5.0m) started there against West Ham, it was Oleksandr Zinchenko‘s (£5.5m) turn against Wolves.
After two matches, the pair have very similar pre-season minute counts, so this remains a situation worth monitoring as the summer schedule progresses.
Also, the fact that Leroy Sané (£9.5m) started this match, after 45 minutes against West Ham, goes some way to dispelling rumours that a move to Bayern Munich is imminent.
Guardiola has appeared keen to get the player fit and up to scratch ahead of the new season, which might not make much sense if he was preparing to sell a supposedly unhappy player.
Meanwhile, Morgan Gibbs-White (£5.0m) found himself deployed as a centre-forward for Wolves again on Saturday.
The continued absence of Raúl Jiménez (£7.5m), as he enjoys extended leave from winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup with Mexico, has left Wolves somewhat short in that department.
We would expect Jiménez to reclaim his starting berth as soon as he is back in the fold, but it is worth knowing Gibbs-White’s versatility as an option.
Were one of either Jiménez or Jota to pick up a serious injury later in the season, and if Nuno has been unable to recruit a new striker, then Gibbs-White could get a run in that position.
However, we must continue to disclaimer this with Adam Traoré‘s (£5.0m) situation.
With Matt Doherty (£6.0m) currently out injured for several weeks, Traoré was being used to fill in at right wing-back, and might have had a crack at the centre-forward role otherwise.
Ruben Vinagre (£4.5m) could potentially get the nod on the right in Doherty’s absence though, which might free Traoré up for a move forward until Jiménez returns.
Wolverhampton Wanderers XI (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly (Kilman 79′); Jonny (Vinagre 63′), Moutinho (Cundle 79′), Neves (T Taylor 79′), Dendoncker (Wan 79′); A Traoré (Sanderson 63′); Gibbs-White (Ennis 63′), Jota (Perry 63′).
Manchester City (4-3-3): Bravo; Zinchenko (Angelino 62′), Laporte (Harwood-Bellis 62′), Stones (Gundogan 46′), Danilo; Bernabe Walker 46′), Rodri (Garcia 62′), de Bruyne (B Silva 46′); Sané (Nmecha 62′), Sterling (D Silva 46′); Poveda-Ocampo (Knight 74′).
Newcastle 1-0 West Ham
Goals: Yoshinori Muto (£5.5m)
Assists: Jamie Sterry
Newcastle looked a much-improved side in their first match under Steve Bruce, although there is still plenty of work to be done.
In the wake of a disorganised and lacklustre performance against Wolves several days earlier, the Magpies’ new manager moved away from the 4-5-1 and reverted to five at the back.
That saw Matt Ritchie (£5.5m) return to the left wing-back role so soon after he vacated it, as Bruce went for a 5-3-1-1 system.
For all the clamour about the Scottish international becoming an ‘out-of-position’ asset this season, this match suggested his time in defence may not be over yet.
Newcastle remain short in the left-back position, hence continued Ritchie’s involvement there.
Paul Dummett (£4.5m) was admittedly rested for the West Ham match, but Ritchie was preferred at left-back to him at times last season anyway.
The problem here was best demonstrated by the fact that when Ritchie came off, Jack Colback was the only option capable of taking his place.
Not surprisingly, given the shortage of options at the club right now, it was Yoshinori Muto (£5.5m) who led the line once again.
While the Japanese international was poor against Wolves, after a disappointing start to life in Newcastle, he offered plenty of threat on Saturday.
Muto’s runs and decent link-up play suggested he could do the job the Magpies need in 2019/20 and he topped off a strong performance with the only goal of the game too.
As things stand, Muto has virtually no competition for his place, with Joselu, Ayoze Pérez (£6.5m) and Salomón Rondón no longer at the club, so he should feature heavily in the next three pre-season friendlies.
Whether he can replicate his performance against West Ham remains to be seen though and with Newcastle’s tough early fixtures, Muto is unlikely to be troubling Fantasy managers as they go through draft after draft.
With Miguel Almirón (£6.0m) still on extended leave following Paraguay’s time at the Copa America, Bruce was very short in attack, handing a start to Elias Sorensen in the number 10 role.
There was encouraging news for the Toon Army as Sean Longstaff (£5.0m) made his first appearance since his injury in March.
He looked sharp in a 26-minute cameo against West Ham and also got a chance to play alongside Jonjo Shelvey (£5.0m), a partnership that could be the key to Newcastle’s fortunes this season.
Meanwhile, West Ham ended their time in China with another goal-shy display, highlighting the need for Sebastien Haller (£7.5m) to settle in quickly.
For the third time in pre-season, Michail Antonio (£7.0m) was used as West Ham’s centre-forward instead of in attacking midfield.
This could mean that Manuel Pellegrini doesn’t particularly fancy him in any of the attacking midfield positions and with the arrival of Haller, yet to make a pre-season appearance for West Ham, his chances could become even more limited this season.
However, the prevailing opinion seems to be that Antonio showed good promise in his centre-forward appearances in China and could do well as Haller’s understudy in 2019/20.
After three games of pre-season, it is still unclear who Pellegrini will select in the supporting trio behind his centre-forward.
Felipe Anderson (£7.0m) has been one of the most used West Ham assets of the summer so far so appears likely to hold his place, while Manuel Lanzini (£6.5m) may be in a similar position.
Andriy Yarmolenko (£6.0m) started on the right against Newcastle, with set-piece specialist Robert Snodgrass (£5.5m) coming on at half-time.
Meanwhile, new signing Pablo Fornals (£6.5m) is yet to be thrown into pre-season action and Jack Wilshere (£5.0m) is also asking difficult questions of Pellegrini.
The former Arsenal man was used in the number 10 role for the second half of the Newcastle match and looked in really good shape across both games in China.
Another winner of the trip to Asia is youngster and budget defender Ben Johnson (£4.0m).
His involvement against Newcastle was shorter than against Manchester City but the local press is already reporting that he can provide serious competition at left-back this season after his time in China.
Arthur Masuaku (£4.5m) will be returning to the club late after African Cup of Nations duty while Aaron Cresswell (£5.0m) did not fare too well on tour, appearing rusty in both appearances.
Also off the pace against Newcastle was Angelo Ogbonna (£4.5m), who struggled to contain Jacob Murphy in particular.
The fact that he has more pre-season minutes than any other West Ham player may not hold him in good enough stead when other options in his position become available for selection again.
Winston Reid (£4.0m) got his first start in 18 months but showed it will take some time to work back up to his previous level.
Therefore, it seems clear that Fabian Balbuena (£4.5m), still on leave following Paraguay’s Copa America campaign, and Issa Diop (£4.5m) currently face little threat for their places at centre-back.
The latter missed the Newcastle game with a minor back injury which is not being considered as too serious by Pellegrini.
Newcastle United XI (5-3-1-1): Dubravka; Ritchie (S Longstaff 64′), Clark (Fernandez 46′), Lascelles, Schär, Sterry (Manquillo 46′); Shelvey (M Longstaff 78′), Colback (Aarons 78′), Hayden (Ki 46′); Sorensen (Murphy 46′); Muto (Lazaar 78′).
West Ham United (4-2-3-1): Fabianski (Roberto 63′); Cresswell, Ogbonna, Reid (C Sánchez 46′), Zabaleta (Johnson 71′); Rice, Cullen (Noble 63′); Anderson (Diangana 63), Lanzini (Wilshere 46′), Yarmolenko (Snodgrass 46′), Chicharito (Antonio 46′).
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