Sheff Utd 1-0 West Ham
Goals: Oli McBurnie (£5.7m)
Assists: John Fleck (£4.9m)
Bonus Points: Fleck x3, Enda Stevens x2 (£5.1m), McBurnie x1
West Ham failed their first real test under new manager David Moyes as they lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Friday night.
Following a 4-0 win over out-of-form Bournemouth last time out, and FA Cup progress at the expense of League One Gillingham, there was plenty of interest in Hammers assets ahead of Double Gameweek 24.
However, after a miserable performance at Bramall Lane, and fresh injury concern for Lukasz Fabianski (£4.9m), Fantasy Premier League managers may well be removing West Ham players from their radars already.
Lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, presumably to match Sheffield United’s 3-5-2 system, Moyes’ men offered very little in the way of creativity for most of Gameweek 22’s opener, until Robert Snodgrass (£5.2m) emerged from the bench in the second half.
There was some excitement among the Fantasy community when Arthur Masuaku (£4.2m) was named as an attacking wing-back as the Gameweek 22 deadline passed but he was virtually anonymous all evening.
Furthermore, his presence in the team meant that Aaron Cresswell (£4.7m) was a member of the back-three and Pablo Fornals (£6.0m), who had shown some form coming into Gameweek 22, was left on the bench with Snodgrass.
Masuaku did have one moment of note in the first half when he found some space behind George Baldock (£5.0m) but could only blaze his shot horribly wide.
He was then replaced by Snodgrass in the 69th minute as Moyes did away with the 3-4-2-1 line-up and moved back to a more traditional 4-2-3-1.
It was in this set-up, with Snodgrass in the side, that West Ham did ask some questions of the Sheffield United defence but arguably it was too little too late.
As soon as he came on, Snodgrass delivered a perfect free-kick to the far-post which Sébastien Haller (£7.0m) hooked back across goal and into the net, only to have it correctly ruled out for offside.
“I’ve been quite impressed by Seb(astien Haller) especially. Trying to get him more support, we tried to do that tonight. I thought in the first half he had a great couple (of) chances. Overall, I have been pleased with him.” – David Moyes
Later in the game, Snodgrass thought that he had scored a stoppage-time equaliser, only for the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to rule it out for a handball against Declan Rice (£4.7m) in the build-up.
Admittedly, West Ham did not deserve a great deal from the game anyway although they were not helped at all by another injury to first-choice goalkeeper Fabianski.
He only returned from a long-term hip injury in Gameweek 20 but looks likely to have suffered a recurrence of that problem after taking a goal-kick on Friday night.
“It looks like a recurrence of his hip injury. He felt something in his thigh. He was a big miss when we didn’t have him before and I’m hoping that he won’t be out for long but obviously until we get the scan we won’t be able to say conclusively what it is.” – David Moyes
However, the fact that his absence caused issues for the team is no mere mitigating circumstance for another poor team performance as far as Fantasy managers are concerned. It has become very clear this season that Fabianski is one of the most important players at West Ham, the rest of the team prone to crumbling when he’s not around.
Roberto‘s (£4.4m) performances have been nothing short of dreadful this season while David Martin (£4.1m) has hardly been blameless either. In fact, it was the latter’s mistake that cost West Ham any share of the spoils on Friday night.
In the 54th minute, Martin misplaced a ball out of the back to Fabian Balbuena (£4.3m), his pass overshooting the centre-back and winding up in no man’s land. That allowed John Fleck (£4.9m) to pounce on the scraps and bear down on goal, only needing to square to Oli McBurnie (£5.7m), who stabbed it home under the retreating goalkeeper.
Seeing the Hammers look so poor without Fabianski once again should arguably make us feel a little for Manuel Pellegrini. Had the Polish goalkeeper remained fit this season, he might still be in the job and Moyes will certainly have his work cut out if the former Arsenal goalkeeper is out for any great length of time.
Should Fabianski still be injured by the time Double Gameweek 24 comes around, it will be very hard to justify including any of his colleagues when they are set to face two of the best teams in the league, Leicester and Liverpool.
In fact, the absence of Fabianski could come as a huge blessing to Fantasy managers who had been considering the Triple Captain chip for Double Gameweek 24.
Having seen mistakes from both Martin and Roberto this season, the prospect of Mohamed Salah (£12.3m) and Sadio Mané (£12.3m) facing a Fabianski-less West Ham defence is arguably the stuff of FPL dreams.
It will be interesting to see if Moyes moves for another goalkeeper now that the transfer window has opened. He was asked about resigning Darren Randolph on Friday night and indicated it was a possibility.
“Well I’m only just here so I’m still finding my way in terms of what the players can do but I think it’s been well-documented that having another goalkeeper to choose from might be a good thing to have.” – David Moyes
“(Asked about signing Darren Randolph): I’m not sure because we’re just waiting on a small injury that is improving so hopefully (that situation) will improve soon.” – David Moyes
Up next for West Ham’s uninspiring attack is a home meeting with Carlo Ancelotti’s new-look Everton side.
In order for any Hammers assets to receive serious consideration for the Double Gameweek, huge improvements will have to be made. As already mentioned, it’s hard to read much into recent wins over Bournemouth and Gillingham, and in the Hammers’ first testing outing, they fell woefully short.
It must be said that Sheffield United were not exactly at their best either, which to some extent, is more of a damning indictment of how poor West Ham were.
“Yeah, it was a little bit (flat) so we had to grind it out a little bit. It’s a huge three points for us. We were caught in between whether to press or drop off an protect. We didn’t react or anticipate or get players out of tight situations. In the second half, I wanted us to be more physical.” – Chris Wilder
Either way, the Blades still rewarded those invested in their defence, providing an eighth clean sheet of the campaign. At close of play on Friday night, this put them level with Leicester for shut-outs in 2019/20.
This latest clean sheet was Sheffield United’s fifth from a possible 11 at Bramall Lane this season. While Manchester City are the next side to frequent Sheffield, the fact that Bournemouth (Gameweek 26), Brighton (Gameweek 27) and Norwich (Gameweek 29) are among the next four visiting sides at Bramall Lane should help maintain interest in the likes of John Lundstram (£5.1m) and Dean Henderson (£4.9m).
The former had another outing in which he was, to some extent, unfortunate not to get any attacking returns.
Lundstram’s late eighth-minute run into the box saw him nearly connect with a Fleck cross at the back-post and 10 minutes later, he saw his close-range effort turned away from Balbuena.
Towards the close of the first period, Sheffield United’s dynamic number seven found himself on the right flank, turned Rice inside and played a sweeping cross to the back post with his left foot, which was just short of some definitive contact from McBurnie.
After the hour-mark, Lundstram had another chance to assist, playing a clever through-ball to an overlapping Baldock, whose shot at the near-post was blocked and put out for a corner by Cresswell.
Lundstram was replaced by Muhamed Bešić (£4.4m) in the 70th minute, having taken some criticism but banking his clean sheet, although, with the help of VAR, his colleagues also cashed in on that too.
“We try to play out with the three (in midfield). With their system today we should have got Basham and O’Connell out a lot more with Ollie Norwood but, to be fair, they jumped on him a little bit. I didn’t think, from our point of view, our midfield players were at their best with the ball. They gave it away cheaply. They’re a lot better than that usually but the energy that they give us and the structure that they give us (is good). In this system, if teams are playing three at the back then one of them has got to go and release onto the third centre-half. Fleck did that better second half and Lundstram did that better second half.” – Chris Wilder
It must be said that there were a few moments during the game in which Sheffield United were lucky to hold onto their clean sheet, John Egan (£4.5m) inadvertently at fault both times.
In the 29th minute, the centre-back failed to properly deal with a forward pass from Martin, his header allowing Felipe Anderson (£6.6m) to bear down on Henderson through the middle. Although it would have been completely against the run of play, the Brazilian really should have scored but he screwed his effort wide.
In the closing stages, Henderson was forced into two excellent stops from Manuel Lanzini (£6.2m), the first coming from a well-placed free-kick, the second a close-range effort after Egan’s slip had allowed the Argentinian into the penalty box unopposed.
Finally, we should discuss Fleck, who was arguably the best player on the pitch. It was his pressing that led to the opening strike, the resulting assist his sixth attacking return of the campaign, and he easily could have been involved in more goals.
In the 49th minute, Fleck had two rasping efforts on goal from the edge of the box after an Oliver Norwood (£4.9m) cross was cleared, the first blocked and the other fizzing just wide.
In the 73rd minute, the midfielder played a perfectly-weighted through-ball to McBurnie on the edge of the box, the centre-forward executing a clever dummy, which sent substitute Lys Mousset (£4.8m) through on goal, although he could only aim an effort at Martin.
Sheffield United XI (3-5-2): D Henderson; O’Connell, Egan, Basham; Stevens, Fleck, Norwood, Lundstram (Bešić 70′), Baldock; McGoldrick (Mousset 59′), McBurnie (Sharp 84′).
West Ham United XI (3-4-2-1): Fabianski (Martin 15′); Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena; Masuaku (Snodgrass 69′), Rice, Noble, Zabaleta; Anderson, Lanzini (Fornals 84′), Haller.
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