Sheffield United 0-2 Newcastle United
- Goals: Allan Saint-Maximin (£5.4m), Jonjo Shelvey (£5.0m)
- Assists: Javier Manquillo (£4.3m), Andy Carroll (£5.4m)
- Bonus: Manquillo x3, Martin Dubrakva (£5.0m) x2, Shelvey x1
Newcastle United didn’t read the script on Thursday evening as they ended Sheffield United’s seven-match unbeaten league run and inflicted the heaviest home defeat on Chris Wilder’s side since January 2017.
The Blades’ fixture against Steve Bruce’s team was one of the more attractive-looking matches of Gameweek 15, particularly from a defensive perspective.
Newcastle are bottom or second-bottom for shots in the box, big chances and overall efforts on goal this season, while only Leicester City have kept more clean sheets than Wilder’s troops in 2019/20.
Fantasy managers were certainly keen on the encounter, with Dean Henderson (£4.7m) the most-bought goalkeeper of this Gameweek.
John Lundstram (£5.1m) was already a popular option, of course, but his ownership and price hit a season-high ahead of this fixture, with just under 90,000 more Fantasy Premier League managers transferring him in.
Over 16,000 maverick FPL bosses even handed the armband to Lundstram for this plum home game.
Allan Saint-Maximin‘s (£5.4m) 15th-minute header sent millions of clean sheets up in smoke, however, with Jonjo Shelvey (£5.0m) rubbing salt into the wounds when racing clear to double the lead midway through the second half – more on that controversial goal in a bit.
It wasn’t any better for owners of Lys Mousset (£5.1m), who was the most-bought FPL asset of Gameweek 15.
He and strike partner David McGoldrick (£5.4m) were both rested for this encounter, emerging from the bench late in the game for frustrating one-point cameos.
It’s all too easy to apply retrospective narratives to freak results (if we can call it that) such as these.
Some may argue that Wilder shouldn’t have rested two in-the-groove strikers in one fell swoop, especially as understudy Billy Sharp (£5.6m) hadn’t started a league game all season.
Sharp and Oli McBurnie (£5.7m) were a fairly static strike pairing, with McGoldrick’s link-up play and Mousset’s pace missed.
Others may point to the fact that the Blades boss has barely changed his other nine first-team regulars at all, with fatigue something to watch out for in December as the fixture pile-up catches up with this impressive Sheffield United side.
Perhaps the truth of the matter was that this game was so unlike anything that had gone before this season, with the hosts suddenly finding themselves an early goal down, with the majority of the ball and camped in Newcastle’s half.
Sheffield United averaged 41.1% possession and 137.9 passes in the opposition half per Premier League match before Thursday night.
Against Bruce’s backs-to-the-wall Geordies, those figures shot up to 72.7% and 362 respectively.
All of a sudden the boot was on the other foot and a Blades side so adept at soaking up pressure and hitting teams with dynamic, direct attacks had to find a way of patiently breaking down a five-man defence.
There were chances, it has to be said: Martin Dubravka (£5.0m) was forced into a superb stop to keep out a McBurnie header and made some other camera-friendly saves to repel a deflected Enda Stevens (£5.1m) drive, an Oliver Norwood (£4.9m) free-kick and another McBurnie header after the break.
The sustained possession didn’t really lead to many clear-cut opportunities (the first McBurnie header aside), though, and Shelvey’s goal killed the contest stone-dead with a quarter of the game still to play.
The Newcastle midfielder’s strike was the source of much debate, with an offside flag on Andy Carroll (£5.4m) prompting everyone bar Shelvey and match referee Stuart Attwell to halt proceedings (Henderson doing his best Fabian Barthez impression) and allow the former Swansea man to race clear and finish coolly.
A referral to the VAR saw the offside call overruled, with Wilder furious on the sidelines.
The Sheffield United boss said later:
This game in a heartbeat has changed. This game now is completely different to what I experienced as a 16-year-old lad as an apprentice. I don’t know where it is going and it is sucking the life out of me and the supporters.
I was told at the start of the season that the linesman would not put his flag up and let it go. He put his flag up and the referee was about to blow his whistle. Everyone in the ground stopped. Jonjo Shelvey even nonchalantly went up and took an opportunity. His body language said to me he had seen the linesman had put the flag up and he was going to be offside.
I want to be talking about our first season back in the Premier League. I want to talk about trying to break down a team like Newcastle – to talk about football and not yet again VAR.
Reflecting on the game itself, Wilder said:
I’m okay with the performance. With the ball, I thought we played very well. I should imagine that’s the most we’ve dominated any team in terms of possession this season.
But, as I’ve said all along, possession doesn’t win you games. Goals do. We were desperately disappointed with the goal we conceded and then missed a few chances ourselves.
Newcastle are a curious bunch, boasting one of the least-potent attacks in the division yet sitting comfortably in 11th after impressive wins over the likes of Manchester United, Spurs and Sheffield United, to go with Saturday’s 2-2 draw against the reigning champions.
Earlier this season we wrote that the Magpies look much more comfortable when playing in Rafael Benitez’s 5-4-1, with Steve Bruce’s early-season experiments with a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 bringing heavy beatings and disjointed displays.
To Bruce’s credit, he has revisited the tactics of his predecessor, which undoubtedly play to Newcastle’s strengths: i.e. their defence.
This was the Magpies’ fourth clean sheet of the season (not an outstanding figure but still more than Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United have managed) and, yet again, there was a defender involved in one of their goals: Javier Manquillo (£4.3m) crossing for Saint-Maximin to break the deadlock.
While Miguel Almiron (£5.8m) continues to beaver away to little avail and Joelinton (£5.7m) awaits his first goal since August (he was benched for Carroll at Bramall Lane), the Magpies do at least have some creative quality in the form of Shelvey and Saint-Maximin.
Neither really nailed down a start until a couple of months ago but the pair do add a dash of flair to an otherwise workmanlike side.
Budget FPL asset Shelvey here scored his third goal in five Gameweeks and continues to impress in a midfield two, something he had struggled with previously under Benitez.
The exciting Saint-Maximin finally added an end product to his hugely watchable trickery, meanwhile, opening his Newcastle account from Manquillo’s cross.
The Frenchman has been playing through the pain barrier of late and was pictured with ice on his ankle after the game, telling reporters:
In England, you have to walk out when you have some pain. It’s what I do. I started thinking I wouldn’t go and then I told the coach I wanted to play. Even if I have pain, I got one goal and we won.
Bruce picked out Carroll and Dubrakva for praise, saying:
Andy Carroll can be crucial for us. It’s pretty evident, and I think everyone can see that he needs games but he’s got through 65 minutes.
Martin has pulled off some great saves and kept us in it at a crucial time. It’s not bad to have a goalkeeper in such a rich vein of form.
Dubravka is now the joint-fourth leading points-scorer among goalkeepers this season.
Gameweek 15 – FPL Match Reports
- Crystal Palace 1-0 Bournemouth
- Burnley 1-4 Man City
- Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa
- Leicester 2-0 Watford
- Man Utd 2-1 Spurs
- Southampton 2-1 Norwich
- Wolves 2-0 West Ham
- Liverpool 5-2 Everton
- Sheffield United 0-2 Newcastle
- Arsenal 1-2 Brighton
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