Newcastle 0-0 Burnley
- Goals: None
- Assists: None
- Bonus Points: Nick Pope x3 (£4.8m), Fédérico Fernández x2 (£4.5m), James Tarkowski x1 (£5.1m)
Two teams with a more than passing interest in keeping things tight at the back played out a goalless draw to the surprise of absolutely nobody on Saturday.
Newcastle came into the fixture with three shut-outs from the last six matches to their name, while visitors Burnley were showing even stronger signs of defensive solidity, having kept three clean sheets over the four previous Gameweeks.
Not that the game was entirely devoid of action, or chances.
Magpies boss Steve Bruce shifted to a flat back four, with striker Joelinton (£5.5m) operating on the left of midfield and Dwight Gayle (5.0m) – to the delight of his 3,034 FPL ownership – starting for just the third time in the league this season.
But the real star of the show – and a possible out-of-position prospect for the remainder of the season – should have been Matt Ritchie (£5.3m).
The Scotland international, classified as a defender in FPL this campaign, has spent much of the season playing as a wing-back.
But he was pushed further forward – and more centrally – against the Clarets and responded with a strong attacking display.
Newcastle had 21 attempts to Burnley’s eight and Ritchie had seven of them, five of which came from inside the penalty area.
Unfortunately for him, precisely none of them were on target, although one did graze the post, which had a major impact on his bonus point chances.
The same could not be said for Burnley’s Nick Pope (£4.8m), who backed up his status as FPL’s most productive goalkeeper with another solid display.
The 17.3%-owned England international – only Brighton placeholder David Button (£3.9m) is more popular among glove men – was not to be beaten on Saturday, even if none of his four saves at St James’ Park was anything more than routine.
He was helped by a typically resolute Burnley backline in which James Tarkowski (£5.1m) was outstanding, leading the way for clearances, blocks and interceptions (CBIs), with 10, and winning all of his tackles and 10 of his 12 aerial duels.
Things were rather quieter at the other end of the pitch, as Burnley’s strike partnership of Matej Vydra (£5.3m) and Jay Rodriguez (£5.7m), who had three goals from the last two Gameweeks between them, toiled to little effect.
The latter had three shots, the former none at all, although Vydra’s eventual replacement, the fit-again Chris Wood (£6.1m), did at least manage a couple of attempts in the 32 minutes he was given from the bench.
Clarets boss Sean Dyche was understandably keen to dwell on his side’s defensive display post-match.
“I think overall it was a below par performance from us. I’m being critical of our own performance, but 11 clean sheets speaks for itself. It wasn’t a great game by any means from any side. Newcastle have only lost here three times this season, so to get a point was a good point.” – Sean Dyche
As Dyche mentioned, Burnley have now kept 11 clean sheets this season – only Liverpool (12) have more – although the 391 shots they’ve conceded is the league’s sixth-worst record.
That might need bearing in mind should Fantasy managers be considering jumping on the Burnley bandwagon for the rest of the campaign.
And their short-term fixtures are another reason to pause for thought, as the Clarets have to face Spurs and Manchester City over the next two Gameweeks.
They do, however, have a guaranteed fixture in Gameweek 31 – at home to Watford – and their schedule after that is attractive enough, with even a Gameweek 35 trip to Liverpool potentially less taxing if the Reds have secured the league title by then.
Newcastle, meanwhile, remain a team painfully short on goal threat.
They’re bottom of the league for goals scored (24) and only three teams (including, it should be said, Burnley) have managed fewer attempts than their total of 286.
Ritchie aside, Miguel Almirón (£5.8m), who played off Gayle at the top end of the pitch, was about as exciting as it got for the home side on Saturday. He fired in three shots and created four chances and Bruce was in no doubt as to his effectiveness in that advanced role.
“I certainly thought he was comfortable in the position. He played a lot there in Germany. I think Almiron’s best position is off the front.” – Steve Bruce
Despite the praise, the Paraguay international still has just two goals and an assist to his name all season.
The Magpies’ schedule suggests he could well add to that underwhelming tally – their next five matches include three teams below them in the table and one, Southampton, directly above.
It would also not be a surprise if they have a Gameweek 31 fixture – they’re due to play Aston Villa – as their FA Cup fifth-round tie is an eminently losable one against Championship leaders West Brom.
But it would take a brave Fantasy manager to look beyond their defence – and their consistently excellent goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka (£5.0m) – for decent returns anyway, even if Ritchie continues in his new-found attacking role.
Pick of the defensive crop on Saturday was Fédérico Fernández (£4.5m), who earned two bonus points and is the side’s most productive outfield player in FPL, with 78 points, despite only nailing down a starting place in Gameweek 10.
The shut-out, and the change of formation, certainly left Bruce optimistic.
“I was pleased with some aspects, the clean sheet. We’ve had 20 attempts, which is far more than we’ve had before. There was bits of it I was pleased with, room for improvement. I certainly thought that we were more of a threat.” – Steve Bruce
But it’s going to take a lot more than that to convince most Fantasy managers to look at any Newcastle players outside that relatively tight back four.
Newcastle United XI (4-4-2): Dúbravka; Rose, Lascelles, Fernández, Manquillo; Joelinton (Saint-Maximin 78′), Shelvey, Hayden, Ritchie; Almirón, Gayle.
Burnley XI (4-4-2): Pope; C Taylor, Mee, Tarkowski, Bardsley; McNeil, Westwood, Cork, Hendrick; Rodriguez, Vydra (Wood 58′).
BLANK GAMEWEEK 28 FPL MATCH REPORTS
- Norwich City 1-0 Leicester City
- Brighton and Hove Albion 0-1 Crystal Palace
- Bournemouth 2-2 Chelsea
- Newcastle United 0-0 Burnley
- West Ham United 3-1 Southampton
- Watford 3-0 Liverpool
- Everton 1-1 Manchester United
- Tottenham Hotspur 2-3 Wolverhampton Wanderers
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