Marco Silva is faced with problems at both ends of the field for Everton this summer.
With potential personnel problems in defence, they are also struggling to show much attacking cohesion too.
Elsewhere, Arsenal’s friendly against Real Madrid was exactly the sort of stern test that was able to give us reliable and accurate information for their 2019/20 set-up.
Meanwhile, a heavy win for Aston Villa at Walsall has some Fantasy managers searching their ranks for a bargain option.
Wigan Athletic 0-0 Everton
Everton recorded a third consecutive clean sheet of pre-season as they drew 0-0 with Wigan on Wednesday night.
However, it is still too early to tell whether that will lead to defensive returns when the Premier League campaign starts in earnest.
Their last three opponents were FC Sion, Monaco and Wigan, who operate in the Championship.
However, there are plenty of developments off the field that could jeopardise Everton’s defensive stock.
Firstly, it was reported on Wednesday that the Toffees had agreed on a transfer fee with Paris Saint Germain for Idrissa Gueye (£5.0m).
While this hasn’t come to fruition yet, the central midfielder’s departure would leave Everton short of protection for their back-four.
With Kurt Zouma‘s (£5.0m) still turning out for Chelsea during pre-season, Yerry Mina (£5.5m) was charged by the FA on Wednesday with misconduct concerning a breach of betting regulations.
While no punishment has discussed as yet, there is the possibility that the Colombian could receive a ban, which could leave Everton short in the centre-back area at the start of 2019/20.
To make the Goodison Park faithful more nervous still, Michael Keane (£5.5m) was taken off after 35 minutes with a head injury against Wigan.
The club revealed after the game that he had received a cut to the head and that Marco Silva “hopes” he will be involved in upcoming pre-season action on Saturday.
In the worst-case scenario, the options that could cover for Keane, Mina or both will not inspire confidence in Fantasy managers.
The first is youth player Lewis Gibson, who has played more pre-season minutes than any other Everton player (268).
The second is Mason Holgate, who spent last season on loan at West Bromwich Albion. He has 217 pre-season minutes to his name so far, the fourth highest in the squad.
Fantasy managers might also be a little concerned about Everton’s lack of goals so far in pre-season.
They have found the back of the net just twice in four matches and have also had the luxury of most of their key offensive players for many of these.
The only attacking assets yet to be involved for Everton so far this summer are Richarlison (£8.0m) and Cenk Tosun (£6.0m), while Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£6.0m), Gylfi Sigurdsson (£8.0m) and Lucas Digne (£6.0m) have all made at least three appearances.
The Toffees’ need for a new striker has been quite evident this summer and they may need to secure the services of one to fulfil the potential of their early 2019/20 fixtures.
First-half Everton XI (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Digne, Mina, Keane (Holgate 35′), Coleman; Delph, Gomes; Bernard, Sigurdsson, Walcott; Calvert-Lewin.
Second-half Everton XI: Pickford (Lössl 60′); Foulds, Gibson, Holgate, Mirallas; McCarthy, Schneiderlin; Gordon, Davies, Broadhead; Hornby.
Real Madrid 2-2 Arsenal
3-2 on penalties
Goals: Alexandre Lacazette (£9.5m), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m)
Alexandre Lacazette (£9.5m) scored his first goal of pre-season as Arsenal drew with Real Madrid in normal time.
The Frenchman netted a first-half spot-kick, awarded after a Nacho handball, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m) was on the pitch.
He also provided an impressive assist for his forward colleague but according to the local press, was still not at his best.
Aubameyang garnered much higher praise, especially for his movement, which was part of what led to his first-half goal.
However, it was Lacazette who led Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 formation with Aubameyang officially stationed on the right-wing again.
After missing the 3-0 win over Fiorentina, this was the second time on the tour that Aubameyang played in attacking midfield.
To be fair, he still roamed from position to position, sometimes pushing up to act as a second striker alongside Lacazette or dropping deep to initiate play.
After the game, Emery discussed Aubameyang’s versatility which, for Fantasy managers, could be something of a poisoned chalice.
The fact that he can be used in several different roles could make it hard to predict when he will be handed a centre-forward berth, but it might boost his chances of starting matches.
“Yes, really their combination is very good but they can play both. They were playing both and sometimes we are playing with one striker or two strikers or with one as a winger. Aubameyang can play like a striker alone, like a striker with two and can play as a winger on the right or the left. But above all with him we want to be very aggressive in the attacking third and moving forward to score with him. When we are deciding to play with another player maybe they are more of a one-to-one winger or a player like Mesut, a player who goes deep to take the ball and keep our possession with him in the pitch. It’s different in each moment and each match. But above all, with Aubameyang, we can take different options with him and he is very good and very rich for us.” – Unai Emery
Emery also updated Fantasy managers on Sead Kolasinac‘s (£5.5m) role within the team, and it’s good news for the Bosnian international.
Last season he often lost his place to Nacho Monreal (£5.0m) when Arsenal used a four-man defence, Emery preferring only to use him as wing-back when deploying his troops in a 3-4-1-2 formation.
However, Kolasinac was trusted with the left-back berth in a four-man defence against Real Madrid and there’s a chance that could continue into the start of 2019/20, although there were still a few shaky moments for him.
“Last year we used different systems during the season. Each moment, each match was thinking about how we were better in our positioning for defence or attack. We are starting last year working in general with a back four and trying to use two players like Ainsley and Sead, working a lot in this back four and also with Jenkinson, maybe Nacho, his natural habit was to play back four and sometimes like a left centre back in a back three. But we want to use two systems and we are working with two systems, but our first objective is to play with a back four. We are continuing working on that and, above all, feel that we defensively get stronger with a back four with Sead, with Ainsley, with Sead, with Jenkinson and with Hector when he comes back. But we can take the performance with two systems and I think it’s rich for us tactically to use two systems and have two options.” – Unai Emery
That said, owning an Arsenal defender for the start of the season still looks like a questionable decision as their problems in that area of the pitch continue.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos (£5.0m) did not play too poorly against Real Madrid but was sent off in the 40th minute.
Shkodran Mustafi‘s (£5.5m) questionable pre-season displays saw him remain as an unused substitute.
Meanwhile, Laurent Koscielny (£5.0m) still has not played a single minute for Arsenal this pre-season after refusing to come on tour amid transfer speculation.
“I’ve spoken about him, with respect to him. I tried to be with us in the position here and continue working and finding one solution between the club, between him and us. When he decided not to come here with us on tour, the solution is now only for the club and him. He decided to be out. I respect him but I have a responsibility, he has a responsibility, and the club have their responsibility. Now it’s one issue only for the club and him. My idea is to continue with the players we are working with, and the players that want to be here.” – Unai Emery
Koscielny’s absence on tour has allowed Calum Chambers to make a strong case for inclusion in Arsenal’s starting line-up for Gameweek 1.
After returning from a loan at Fulham last season, Emery has thrown the defender straight into his plans, with no Arsenal centre-back registering more pre-season minutes than his 224 so far.
Currently, not priced up by FPL, his extensive game time and admirable performances during the summer should see him added to the game soon. Perhaps the only thing up in the air will be his positional classification given that he played holding midfielder for Fulham last season.
Also making an unexpected case for a starting berth is Carl Jenkinson (£4.5m) as Arsenal’s injury problems at right-back continue.
With Hector Bellerín (£5.5m) still out with a long-term knee problem, understudy Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£5.0m) pulled up with a reported calf injury in the warm-up of the Real Madrid game.
He had been pencilled in to start the friendly but was withdrawn and replaced with Jenkinson. The former West Ham loanee has now played more pre-season minutes than any Arsenal option. That preparation would put him in a good place to start in Gameweek 1 if Maitland-Niles is still touch-and-go by then.
However, whether he is of the level required to stop Arsenal’s defensive slide under Emery, is another question. He looked out of his depth against Real Madrid, particularly struggling to cope with Ferland Mendy and Eden Hazard.
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Martínez; Kolašinac, Sokratis, Chambers, Jenkinson; Willock (Monreal 46′), Xhaka; Mkhitaryan (Nelson 75′), Özil (Saka 74′), Aubameyang (Burton 75′); Lacazette (Nketiah 74′).
Walsall 1-5 Aston Villa
Goals: Jota x2 (£6.0m), Wesley x2 (£6.0m), Jack Grealish (£6.0m)
Assists: Frederic Guilbert (£4.5m), Jota, Wesley
Aston Villa’s summer signing Jota (£6.0m) was widely regarded as the best player on the pitch as Walsall were thrashed 5-1 on Wednesday night.
Local press and fans alike heaped praise on the winger as he scored twice and contributed an assist in an impressive performance. He also took some corners, even though both Jack Grealish (£6.0m) and Conor Hourihane (£6.0m) were on the pitch at the same time as him.
When we researched the player for a Scout Report earlier this summer, we found that he might have to improve a little to become part of Dean Smith’s plans regularly.
Even though it was only Walsall, the confidence shown by Jota at the Bescot Stadium, and the fact that he is currently joint-first for most pre-season minutes among Villa players, might help him nail down a slot in the attacking midfield trio by Gameweek 1.
Jota’s fellow recruit Wesley (£6.0m) also scored twice and got an assist as he demonstrated the sort of presence he can provide as a target man for Villa this season.
One of his goals was scored from the penalty spot, which could indicate he will replace Tammy Abraham (£7.0m) as the penalty taker this season.
Probably against Wesley from a Fantasy perspective for now was his propensity to drop back and support play from midfield.
The fact he scored twice against League Two opposition should not generate too much interest from Fantasy managers and we have to assume at this stage that when he plays against Premier League defenders, he may end up dropping deep even more often than he did at the Bescot Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Grealish also looked good as he got himself a goal but also demonstrated one slight drawback from an FPL perspective.
The central midfielder’s positioning meant that he was often one pass away from the assister, playing the ball into that player before they set up the goalscorer.
With Jota and Wesley sharing Grealish’s price point this season, and likely to be one step closer to the goals and assists, maybe they might offer more to Fantasy managers than him in 2019/20.
Much is being made of Villa right-back Frederic Guilbert (£4.5m) after a swashbuckling performance against Walsall.
His runs into the opposition’s final third meant that he spent large spells effectively as an attacking right-winger.
The Frenchman’s crosses into the box were also decent, earning him one assist, and it was Guilbert who played the ball which led to Villa’s penalty.
There is already some excitement about Guilbert’s potential for the Sky Sports Fantasy Football game given his defensive capabilities.
In Europe’s top five leagues, only Gueye and Wilfried Ndidi (£5.0m) have made more tackles than him since August 2016, which could help Guilbert perform well in Sky’s bonus points system.
Admittedly, he will have to compete with Ahmed El Mohamady (£4.5m) for a place in the starting line-up first, with the Egyptian very much the first-choice last season during Guilbert’s loan spell to Caen.
At this stage, it is hard to say who is ahead in the pecking order given that El Mohamady is yet to return to playing for Villa following involvement with Egypt at the African Cup of Nations.
Finally, the Aston Villa goalkeeper situation remains a little unclear.
Jed Steer (£4.5m) was given the full 90 minutes in the win over Shrewsbury on Sunday but put in a questionable display.
Smith opted to give a full match to Lovre Kalinic (£4.5m) against Walsall.
Aston Villa XI (4-3-3): Kalinic; Targett (N Taylor 70′), Mings (Hause 70′), Engels (Suliman 70′), Guilbert (Bree 70′); Grealish (O’Hare 70′), Lansbury (McGinn 70′), Hourihane (Bjarnason 70′); Green (Hepburn-Murphy 70′), Wesley (Hogan 70′), Jota (K Davis 70′).
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