Newcastle United 3-0 Sheffield United
- Goals: Allan Saint-Maximin (£5.4m), Matt Ritchie (£5.3m), Joelinton (£5.5m)
- Assists: Ritchie, Isaac Hayden (£4.4m), Miguel Almiron (£5.8m)
- Bonus: Ritchie x3, Saint-Maximin x2, Hayden, Federico Fernandez (£4.6m) x1
Newcastle United completed a home-and-away double over ten-man Sheffield United on Sunday and ensured that the Blades’ Gameweek 30+ double-header ended on a sour note.
The Magpies’ Matt Ritchie (£5.3m) scored more Fantasy Premier League points than the whole of Chris Wilder’s squad combined on Tyneside as the visitors slumped to their heaviest defeat of 2019/20.
It was a bit of a disaster from the release of the teamsheets onwards, with the widely owned John Lundstram (£4.9m) only named among the substitutes to accommodate John Fleck‘s (£5.0m) return in central midfield.
A tedious affair that was plodding towards what seemed like an inevitable goalless draw was then turned on its head by John Egan’s (£4.6m) dismissal shortly after half-time, with the Blades’ clean sheet going up in smoke minutes later.
It wasn’t just Egan’s lapse of judgement that proved costly for Wilder’s side, with an uncharacteristic error from Enda Stevens (£5.2m) leading to Allan Saint-Maximin‘s (£5.4m) deadlock-breaking goal.
Even Dean Henderson (£5.3m), it could be argued, ought to have done better with the French winger’s opener.
Goals from Ritchie and Joelinton (£5.5m) rounded off Newcastle’s biggest win of the season as the visitors, usually so adept in their wing-back system, struggled to adjust to life in an Egan-less back four.
Some may think of Sheffield United as being greater than the sum of their parts, with the system so ingrained that the players within it are of secondary importance.
Replacing two or three cogs in the machine at the same time presents a big challenge, however, given how often Henderson and his regular back five have played together this season.
We have yet to learn whether Jack O’Connell (£4.7m) will be fit for Wednesday night’s match at Old Trafford (Wilder gave out mixed messages on the injury last week) but Egan and Henderson will definitely be missing through suspension and ineligibility respectively.
Phil Jagielka (£4.1m) and Simon Moore (£4.3m), who are poised to fill in for those two players, made their one and only Premier League starts of the season in the reverse fixture at Bramall Lane in November and the Blades promptly conceded three goals for the first (and only, until Sunday) time in 2019/20.
While grossly unfair to lay the blame of that Gameweek 13 capitulation at Jagielka and Moore’s doors, there is no doubt that Manchester United – and owners of their Fantasy assets – will fancy facing a patched-up Blades defence more than a full-strength one.
If there is one thing we can likely guarantee in Gameweek 31+, however, it’s that Wilder will get a reaction from his players after an underwhelming display at St James Park.
A seething Sheffield United boss said after full-time:
People will look at the goals conceded today and will ask how we managed the amount of clean sheets this season and to be defensively tight.
We all need to sharpen up and tighten up. If we don’t, it’ll be a long five weeks. We’ve got a huge game on Wednesday night. We just want the overall performance to be better than what it is.
They were poor goals from our point of view. We looked a bit sorry for ourselves late on and that’s what disappoints me. We haven’t got a long time and I didn’t enjoy that, and the players understand that as well.
The players need to give themselves a shake. We have to play at our maximum to get a result in this division.
I’m sick and tired of people talking about Europe and the Champions League.
It’s about working in the present and the present is that we’ve put in two bang-average performances this week.
Martin Dubravka (£5.1m) wasn’t made to work hard for his clean sheet, with the Slovakian goalkeeper forced into just one easy save all game.
A 58th-minute Billy Sharp (£5.6m) header was as close as the visitors came to ruining Newcastle’s shut-out but the veteran striker nodded off-target from close range.
No side can better the Magpies’ record of seven clean sheets and 12 goals conceded in home fixtures this season and there could be more joy to be had in the next three Gameweeks, with struggling Aston Villa, Bournemouth and West Ham United up next – two of whom have to make the trip to St James Park.
Federico Fernandez (£4.6m) for once didn’t supplement his clean sheet with a trademark bonus point (although he came mighty close to doing so) and it was instead Ritchie who stole the show from Newcastle’s crop of FPL defenders.
Deployed ‘out of position’ on the right of midfield for the third match running, the Scotland international supplied the assist for Saint-Maximin’s opener (thanks to a helping hand from Stevens) and rocketed the Magpies into a 2-0 lead midway through the second half, beating Henderson from distance.
First on penalties (although he did miss from the spot in Gameweek 29) and a regular taker of set plays, Ritchie is certainly an eye-catching prospect in a side that has already hit double figures for clean sheets in 2019/20.
The price will put some managers off and there is the chance of rotation with the pacier Valentino Lazaro (£5.4m) waiting in the wings but, following Sunday’s display, he surely holds the upper hand for now.
The sight of the much-maligned Joelinton hitting the back of the net capped off a perfect afternoon for the Magpies, with the Brazilian having earlier wasted a big opening in trademark fashion with the game goalless.
Saint-Maximin dazzled down the left, too, as Bruce’s new 4-2-3-1 formation gave his attacking players the platform to flourish.
The three worst Premier League defences in 2020 are up next for the Magpies but Fantasy managers would be forgiven for thinking that they need a bit more evidence to suggest that Newcastle are now a potent offensive threat, given that their last four goals have all been scored against ten men.
Still, Bruce was looking on the positive side at full-time:
We tried to change at Leicester [earlier in the season], but the one thing I detected very quickly is that they weren’t ready for change. With the experience I’d like to think I’ve got, I just said, ‘Why do I change it? Let them be comfortable’.
But the time came when I thought our big players at the top end of the pitch weren’t becoming a threat in the final third. They were working so hard for the team, but we had lost that little bit of counter-attacking threat.
I didn’t think we were a big enough threat, so the time was right to change. It’s proven at the moment that they’re enjoying it, and we’re certainly more of a threat. We scored three against West Brom in the cup tie and scored three again today. So things are looking up.
Newcastle United XI: Dubravka, Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Rose, Hayden, Shelvey (Schar 85′), Ritchie (Yedlin 90′), Saint-Maximin (Bentaleb 79′), Almiron (Lazaro 85′), Joelinton (Carroll 79′).
Sheffield United XI: Henderson, Basham, Egan, Robinson, Baldock, Berge (Lundstram 66′), Norwood, Fleck (L. Freeman 74′), Stevens, Sharp (Zivkovic 74′), McBurnie (K. Freeman 85′).
Double Gameweek 30+ FPL Lessons Learned
- Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United
- Manchester City 3-0 Arsenal
- Norwich City 0-3 Southampton
- Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Manchester United
- Watford 1-1 Leicester City
- Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 Arsenal
- West Ham United 0-2 Wolves
- Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace
- Newcastle United 3-0 Sheffield United
- Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea
- Everton 0-0 Liverpool
- Manchester City 5-0 Burnley
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