Liverpool 1-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Goal: Sadio Mane (£12.3m)
- Assist: Adam Lallana (£5.8m)
- Bonus: Mane x3, Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.4m), Joe Gomez (£5.1m) x2
There was a familiar narrative at Anfield on Sunday, with Sadio Mane (£12.3m) taking his one big chance of the game and Mohamed Salah (£12.3m) missing his.
Over the past 18 months, Mane has been the more clinical of the two premium Fantasy Premier League midfielders.
In 2018/19, Mane’s goal conversion rate was 25.3% compared to Salah’s 16.1%.
This season, the two Liverpool assets are scoring with similar accuracy: 23.3% of the shots that Mane has had have resulted in goals, with the figure at 15% for Salah.
The time is approaching where – budget permitting – Fantasy managers perhaps don’t need to choose between the two, of course, with Liverpool enjoying a Double Gameweek 24 and then a string of excellent fixtures beyond that.
And while the three matches before then are a little tougher, the Reds proved on Boxing Day with their thrashing of Leicester City that they are as close to fixture-proof as any team can be this season.
Many will be eyeing a Salah/Mane double-up in 2020, then, with 7.65% of the top 10,000 FPL managers having already taken the plunge on that combination.
Perming three Liverpool assets from the plethora available is not that simple, however.
The Reds’ defenders are playing themselves into contention after recording their fourth successive clean sheet, with Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.4m) and Joe Gomez (£5.1m) picking up more bonus points on Sunday to supplement their shut-out.
Jurgen Klopp’s troops had only recorded two clean sheets in the first 15 Gameweeks of the season but they had been frustratingly close to more, conceding exactly one goal in 12 of their league fixtures.
There have been wondergoals – Jetro Willems (£4.7m) in Gameweek 5, for example – and individual errors – Adrian‘s (£4.1m) howler against Southampton in August – that have contributed to the dearth in clean sheets but, while Liverpool’s defence unquestionably looks less secure than last season, it always seemed likely that their luck would turn at some point.
The Reds owed their latest shut-out a little to good fortune, with Pedro Neto‘s (£5.0m) strike on the stroke of half-time being ruled out for a marginal offside call on Jonny (£5.4m).
A handful of chances came and went late on, too, with Diogo Jota (£6.1m) forcing Alisson (£6.0m) into a save after a Virgil van Dijk (£6.4m) error, Raul Jimenez (£7.5m) being denied by a crucial Gomez touch and Ruben Vinagre (£4.2m) slashing wildly at an effort with better options available.
The feared mass-rotation didn’t materialise from Klopp, with his only change seeing Adam Lallana (£5.8m) replacing Naby Keita (£5.8m) in midfield.
Xherdan Shaqiri (£6.3m) was in line for a start but a minor hamstring injury put paid to his involvement, with Klopp saying:
Shaqiri should have started but last night he felt a little bit the hamstring. Now he’s out, not for long but maybe a week or ten days.
The hope from a Fantasy perspective will be that, with Liverpool not now in action until Thursday, Klopp can delay any tinkering with his starting XI until FA Cup third round weekend – although the fact that Everton are the Reds’ first opponents in that competition ought to ensure a fairly strong team being put out.
The second half of the win over Wolves also seemed to be an exercise in energy preservation, with the hosts only registering two attempts on goal (neither on target) after the break.
Lallana was the ‘creator’ of Mane’s goal, chesting/shouldering the ball to the Senegalese winger after a long ball forward from van Dijk, who also may have handled in the build-up – a VAR check permitting the goal to stand, to Wolves’ anger.
Salah’s big chance had arrived earlier in the game, with the Egyptian, who had looked lively in the early stages, blazing over the bar following a superb cross from Alexander-Arnold.
While owners of the Liverpool right-back would have been left cursing Salah’s wastefulness, it was otherwise another satisfying afternoon for the 35% of FPL bosses who have Alexander-Arnold in their squad.
Not only did he avoid a benching but he also dodged a fifth booking of the season, too, with the yellow card threshold now raised to ten for Liverpool (and West Ham), a Gameweek after the amnesty for the other 18 Premier League clubs.
After naming almost the same team for ten matches in a row (only a suspension to Romain Saiss (£4.4m) in Gameweek 14 preventing that), this was one game too far for Nuno Espirito Santo.
The trip to Anfield came less than 48 hours after the five-goal thriller against Manchester City and Santo opted to hand Saiss, Jimenez, Adama Traore (£5.5m) and Matt Doherty (£6.1m) a breather, with all bar the Irish wing-back coming on in the second half.
Traore and Jimenez caused the Liverpool backline problems in their cameo appearances and owners of either can surely expect their in-form Fantasy assets to return for the New Year’s Day clash with Watford, with the overdue rest now out of the way.
Reflecting on his side’s efforts, Santo said;
The way we are doing things, the way they commit themselves, made me proud. We had 45 hours to get ready to compete, it’s a tough schedule for every team in the Premier League, but we had energy.
That’s the good part, the reaction, the way we did things in the second half makes us proud, the display of energy was amazing. It was a tough game, the boys worked very hard, which is unnegotiable.
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