Liverpool 2-0 Sheffield United
- Goals: Mohamed Salah (£12.3m), Sadio Mane (£12.3m)
- Assist: Andrew Robertson (£7.0m)
- Bonus: TBC – still unconfirmed at the time of writing
Fantasy Premier League managers opting for a Liverpool triple-up in Double Gameweek 24 face the proverbial welcome selection headache from the options available.
Some FPL bosses will have already made up their minds but for those still deliberating over which three assets to perm, there were more strong cases being made in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Sheffield United.
Having registered only two shut-outs in the first 15 Gameweeks of the season, the Reds have now banked five clean sheets in a row – more than nine other Premier League clubs, including Spurs, Wolves, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, have managed all season.
With full-backs Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.4m), we’re not just getting defensive contributions.
Alexander-Arnold already has 12 attacking returns to his name in 2019/20 but took a backseat against the Blades, with fellow full-back Robertson banking an assist and maximum bonus for his first double-digit haul since Gameweek 36 of last season.
Virgil van Dijk (£6.4m), about as nailed a starter as any Liverpool player in a Double Gameweek, also looks set to pick up a bonus point or two to go with his clean sheet to move fourth in the FPL points standings for defenders, behind only his two aforementioned teammates and John Lundstram (£5.1m).
The ‘value’ bet would be a defensive double-up (or even triple-up, for the maverick few) and one of Sadio Mane (£12.3m) or Mohamed Salah (£12.3m), with the extra cash freed up perhaps the difference between having a balanced FPL squad and a fodder-filled bench.
The trouble, of course, is that the two premium Liverpool midfield options are difficult to ignore.
Salah and Mane were both on the scoresheet at Anfield, with Salah converting Robertson’s cross to break the deadlock and Mane finishing at the second attempt after the interval to put the game to bed.
There could have been further or other attacking returns, too.
Salah would have had the assist for Mane’s goal had the Senegal international converted his pass at the first time of asking, while the Egyptian also forced Dean Henderson (£4.9m) into three saves of varying degrees of difficulty and agonisingly hit the post with a cross that drifted over everyone’s head on the hour-mark.
Mane meanwhile was inches from getting more meaningful contact on a Robertson delivery just after the break, with John Egan‘s (£4.5m) unpunished bear hug on the left-winger preventing him from doing so.
Certainly, there was no sign of fatigue from the pair or any lingering effects of the chronic ankle issue that bugged Salah in late-autumn, with the premium duo looking sharp throughout.
Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) will likely be the differential Double Gameweek 24 punt.
Owned by just 8.9% of overall FPL managers and only 1.5% in the top 10k, it’s easy to see why he’s not as popular an option, having banked fewer FPL points than the three discussed Liverpool defenders and even one less attacking return than Alexander-Arnold.
His selfless link-up play can adversely affect his own Fantasy output but there has been little wrong his underlying stats all season (more shots in the box than Mane, for instance) and there is a sense that he is perhaps due an explosion of points.
A meagre four attacking returns in 14 league appearances tells its own story, sadly, and his goal conversion rate has always been on the modest side in previous campaigns.
The fixture congestion eases slightly for the Reds now, although there is the small matter of a Merseyside derby in the FA Cup third round this Sunday.
Jurgen Klopp promised “fresh legs” for that encounter although his lengthy injury list – Naby Keita (£5.8m) was added to the list of casualties when pulling out of the starting XI in the warm-up – may prevent him from making wholesale changes against the Toffees.
Speaking after full-time, Klopp said:
I will not tell Carlo Ancelotti the line-up. But I will do what I think is right to do. Some things I can decide by myself, I will. And some things the medical department will tell me. So that means I don’t know in this moment what the line-up will be, but it will be the best possible [one] for us in this moment.
But we will have fresh legs and what we need is support. They played yesterday, we played today, the only advantage we have is Anfield. We need support from the first second. We will see how it will be. It was a tough game tonight and we have to make sure we make the right decisions. Hopefully, I can do that.
We have 13 adult players. And go through this period and after tonight we have 12. Takumi [Minamino] coming in makes it 13 again. Nat Phillips – if you want to count him with 22 years as an adult player with no Premier League experience – makes it, at least for one or two weeks, 14.
On Keita, the Liverpool boss added:
He will not be involved against Everton. That makes it 12 adult players we have, plus the kids, so that’s not cool, but we cannot change it.
Sheffield United welcomed back their very own popular FPL asset for this clash after he missed the defeat to Manchester City with an ankle injury.
Lundstram returned to the Blades starting XI and almost scored within five minutes, an opportunistic effort looping wide of Alisson‘s (£6.0m) goal.
The out-of-position Fantasy defender then made sure of putting the ball in the back of the net despite being flagged for offside but there was to be no fairytale goal for the boyhood Liverpool fan, with a VAR check confirming that he had strayed beyond the last defender.
After David McGoldrick‘s (£5.4m) effort that Alisson beat away, the Blades didn’t have another (legal) shot on goal for another 80 minutes, with substitute Oli McBurnie (£5.7m) almost denying the Reds their clean sheet with the clock ticking down.
As a typically honest (and perhaps overly harsh) Wilder said after full-time, the Blades battled manfully but barely troubled their hosts:
From our point of view, I was disappointed really. I did not think we laid a glove on them.
I think the scoreline flattered us. I know Dean [Henderson] got a lot of criticism for his unfortunate mistake at our place, but I thought he was the difference between it not being three, four or five.
Obviously, when you come here, you have got to try and get a foothold in the game and we could not have got off to a worse start in terms of George (Baldock) slipping and they took full advantage. It gave them a big lift and it was comfortable for Liverpool.
You could see why they are world and European champions and they look like they are going to be Premier League winners as well. People talk to me about academies and technical stuff and rotation, but the basic stuff they had to tonight – win headers, races and drop on second balls and run and play forward and back and defend as a team – they did it miles better than us. They were more aggressive and physical than us. It was not like us.
The two parts of comfort I can take is that our supporters were absolutely magnificent in their backing of our players. We never gave them anything to shout out.
The second bit is that is has taken 21 games for a team to really roll us over like Liverpool did.
That last line sums Sheffield United up perfectly: in this their first Premier League campaign in over a decade, they have yet to be beaten by more than a two-goal margin and have been competitive in pretty much every single match bar this one.
It’s fair to say that Lundstram and co will be back in many starting XIs in Gameweek 22, with the visit of West Ham United providing a better chance of FPL returns at both ends of the pitch.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson (Lallana 88′); Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum; Salah (Elliott 90′), Firmino, Mane (Origi 78′).
Sheffield United XI (3-5-2): Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood (Besic 78′), Fleck, Stevens; McGoldrick (Sharp 66′), Mousset (McBurnie 65′).
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