Our Gameweek 2 reviews continue with a look at Sunday’s first match.
Sheffield United’s first Premier League fixture at Bramall Lane since 2007 ended in victory for the hosts, with plenty to interest Fantasy managers who love a budget buy.
Sheffield United 1-0 Crystal Palace
- Goal: John Lundstram (£4.0m)
- Assist: None
There were two starting £4.0m FPL defenders at Bramall Lane on Sunday, with the less-popular asset delivering big for his owners.
Sheffield United’s John Lundstram (£4.0m), owned by less than a third of the Fantasy managers who had Martin Kelly (£4.0m) in their squads at the point of the Gameweek 2 deadline, banked a goal, a clean sheet and maximum bonus points as Sheffield United deservedly beat Crystal Palace and maintained their unbeaten start to 2019/20.
A defender in FPL, Lundstram was again deployed in his usual central midfield position as Chris Wilder named an unchanged starting XI and stuck with the 3-5-2 set-up that earned the Blades a point at Bournemouth.
The portents weren’t good early in the match as Lundstram picked up a yellow card after just seven minutes.
That was as bad as it got for the budget FPL defender and his owners, however.
Having already created a big chance that David McGoldrick (£5.5m) spurned before half-time, Lundstram showed he is no mere deep-lying midfield clogger by pouncing on the loose ball from a Luke Freeman (£5.5m) cross-shot to fire the Blades in front on 46 minutes.
Sunday might well have represented Lundstram’s high point as a Fantasy asset in 2019/20 but his spot in the Sheffield United starting XI would appear to be safe for the time being, with his place in the Blades’ midfield very much merited on his early-season performances.
Loan signing Muhamed Besic (£4.5m) may pose a long-term threat (although this is a midfielder who himself hasn’t yet proved anything in the top flight, having spent the previous 18 months on loan in the Championship with Middlesbrough) and Wilder may at some point ditch the flat three in midfield for the 3-4-1-2 he favoured last season but the balance of the Blades’ side looks ideal at present and the United boss would surely be averse to upsetting the current status quo in midfield.
An injury picked up by John Fleck (£5.0m) against the Eagles on Sunday may further lessen the competition in the engine room, although the severity of the Scotland international’s problem has yet to be determined.
Hailing Lundstram after full-time, Wilder said:
It has been a really difficult period for John. We brought in Ollie Norwood last year, who was arguably the best player in the Championship, and we played a two.
John’s more of an athletic midfield player and we’ve played with three players in the middle of the park. He’s a modern-day midfield player, he’s athletic, he’s mobile and he’s got good ability.
Everyone is delighted for him as he is such a good kid and sometimes, you just need a little bit of a break.
I said to him at the back-end of the season that if we did manage to go up, don’t start thinking: ‘that is me done’.
It was not and I always thought he had a part to play and for John now he needs to show that level of consistency. But I thought he was outstanding today.
Lundstram’s fine display both on and off the ball (no United player won more tackles) was only a small part of the Blades’ victory.
Substitute Freeman had an effective afternoon in the midfield three with Lundstram and creator-in-chief Oliver Norwood (£5.0m), while Callum Robinson (£5.5m) – who himself was withdrawn with an as-yet-undiagnosed injury in the second half – and McGoldrick pressed well from the front.
The stand-out performers were arguably the Blades’ defenders, though, with a Palace side that scored 32 goals on the road last season (only three sides netted more) barely getting a sniff.
Wing-back George Baldock and centre-half Chris Basham (both £4.5m) nullified Wilfried Zaha (£7.0m) after the Ivory Coast international had made a lively start, while Christian Benteke (£6.0m) was easily handled by the hosts’ back three.
The Eagles were perhaps the more threatening side in the opening quarter of an hour but Benteke’s fourth-minute effort was Palace’s only attempt from close range all game, with their other five speculative shots coming from 18 yards out or further.
Basham’s overlapping runs in open play again caught the eye, while Jack O’Connell‘s (£4.5m), himself not averse to a dash forward, posed a real threat at set plays, twice going close with headers from dead-ball situations.
Reacting to criticism of the Blades’ robust approach, Wilder said of his defence:
It’s still a contact sport. Players are still allowed to make contact with each other and they should be allowed to make contact. That’s part and parcel of what we do.
We did not allow them to get into any rhythm. They are an outstanding side away from home and had won seven out of their last 10 [on the road].
We got the balance and the shape of the team right. Even late on in the game, when we had to stand tough, I thought we did that. It was a good day from my point of view as the manager in terms of how we played with and without the ball.
The cliched, Match of the Day pundit-style response to whether the Blades were good or Palace were bad was appropriate today: “it was a bit of both”.
The Eagles’ bright-ish start didn’t really amount to much and, after Benteke’s aforementioned chance, Dean Henderson (£4.5m) only had to deal with long-range efforts from Andros Townsend (£6.0m) and substitute Jeffrey Schlupp (£5.5m).
The Blades predictably targeted Zaha and, when the Ivory Coast international is muscled out of the game, Palace’s lack of threat from other areas becomes apparent.
Two blanks in front of goal aren’t enough for us to completely write off their attacking assets but Palace now face nine of last season’s top ten between Gameweeks 3 and 13 and sit bottom of our Season Ticker as a result, so there is little incentive to invest at present.
Palace weren’t shambolic at the back but presented the Blades with enough chances to win the game without Lundstram’s goal, with McGoldrick missing a sitter, Robinson blazing over, and O’Connell and Oliver McBurnie (£6.0m) going close with headed efforts in the second half.
Let’s not forget that the Eagles were without first-choice centre-halves James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho (both £5.0m) and haven’t really replaced one of 2018/19’s stand-out right-backs in Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.5m) – the difference in class between Manchester United’s summer signing and Joel Ward (£4.5m) glaringly obvious again on Sunday.
Certainly, there would be plenty to encourage owners of the Red Devils’ Fantasy assets heading into Gameweek 3.
Sheffield United XI (3-5-2): Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Basham, Norwood, Fleck (Freeman 29′), Lundstram, Stevens; McGoldrick (Jagielka 89′), Robinson (McBurnie 56′).
Crystal Palace XI (4-4-2): Guaita; Ward, Dann, Kelly, van Aanholt; Townsend (McCarthy 70‘), McArthur (Wickham 82′), Milivojevic, Meyer (Schlupp 65′); Zaha, Benteke.
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