Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City
- Goals: Christian Pulisic (£6.9m), Willian (£7.0m) | Kevin De Bruyne (£10.7m)
- Assists: Tammy Abraham (£7.5m) | Riyad Mahrez (£8.5m)
- Bonus: Willian x3, De Bruyne x2, Mahrez x1
A hugely entertaining match at Stamford Bridge ended in a win for Chelsea, a league title for Liverpool and the strong likelihood of Pep Roulette creating new levels of exasperation for Fantasy managers.
Since football has returned, many a fixture has been a drab, sterile affair.
Last night’s game was not one of them.
Chelsea allowed Manchester City 65% of the possession, but used their time on the ball to greater effect, firing in seven shots on target to the visitors’ two.
But thanks to a combination of sloppy finishing and some goal-line heroics from Kyle Walker (£5.6m), it took a VAR-awarded penalty to win the home side the points.
Following the knee injury suffered by Sergio Aguero (£11.7m), there was much pre-match speculation as to who would fill the great man’s shoes in City’ attack.
The obvious candidate was Gabriel Jesus (£9.6m), but as City coach Pep Guardiola doesn’t do obvious, he sent out three attacking midfielders – Bernardo Silva (£7.7m), Raheem Sterling (£11.7m) and Riyad Mahrez (£8.5m) – to do the job between them.
While the City selection picture is as clouded as ever, what did become crystal-clear was that Benjamin Mendy (£5.5m) seems to have forgotten how to defend.
The left-back was horribly at fault for the opening goal after 36 minutes, getting into a mix-up with Ilkay Gundogan (£5.2m) that allowed Christian Pulisic (£6.9m) to burst through on goal, beat Mendy for a second time and curl the ball past Ederson (£6.0m).
It was tough on City, who had controlled the match up until then, with makeshift centre-half Fernandinho‘s (£5.1m) header forcing a fine save from Kepa (£5.4m) in the Chelsea goal.
But it was further proof that the extended lay-off has helped Pulisic, who looked sharp, hungry and, after his second straight Gameweek with a goal, full of confidence.
Chelsea still have a Champions League place to tie down and a decent run of fixtures, until Gameweek 37+ at least, to do it. The American, currently owned by just 4.6% (but rising quickly), looks a decent differential option.
Another who could end the season strongly is Tammy Abraham (£7.5m), who again started on the bench last night but came on to great effect in the second-half, with his and Pulisic’s pace proving too much for City’s centre-backs.
By the time the England striker was brought on, City were level.
Mahrez drew a foul 25 yards out from the Chelsea goal and the imperious Kevin De Bruyne (£10.7m) did the rest, stroking home a superb free-kick.
The Belgian now has two goals and an assist from his last two starts and, even in a midfield of such abundant talent, is the player that makes the team tick. That doesn’t mean he’s immune from Guardiola’s rotational lust – the coach would probably drop himself if he could – but De Bruyne and Mahrez are very much the City men in form at the moment.
Neither could do anything about Chelsea’s response to being pegged back, however.
Sterling had a great chance to make it 2-1 immediately after De Bruyne’s equaliser, only to hit the post when clean through.
But once Abraham had come on for the willing, if one-paced, Olivier Giroud (£6.6m), the hosts’ attacking threat was transformed.
Mason Mount (£6.2m) wasted a great chance when Ederson essentially passed him the ball, the young midfielder hitting the side netting with the goal at his mercy, before Pulisic rounded the Brazilian keeper only to see his goal-bound effort cleared off the line by a sliding Walker.
The chances kept coming for Chelsea, however, and when Fernandinho effected another goal-line clearance, this time to block an Abraham effort, VAR quickly revealed that he had used his hand to do so.
Off went the midfielder-turned-defender, up strode Willian (£7.0m) and his converted penalty won Chelsea the match and Liverpool their long-awaited (and, no doubt, long-to-be-celebrated) Premier League title.
The Fantasy fallout of that title win, on the City side in particular, could make or break a number of managers’ seasons.
Speaking post-match, Guardiola praised Liverpool before turning to the immediate future:
We have five or six weeks to play. The FA Cup on Sunday is important and we need to achieve qualification for UCL and after that we need to prepare for Madrid.
Yes, City have yet to mathematically qualify for next season’s Champions League, although a looming ban might make that a moot point anyway. But Guardiola is fooling no-one if he thinks we believe he’ll prioritise the league over the FA Cup and August’s Champions League resumption.
That said, keeping his players fit and sharp won’t involve giving them a couple of cup games while they otherwise lounge around waiting for the Champions League to start again.
But finding consistent, reliable starters over the next few Gameweeks is going to be tricky, which is business as usual with Pep, to be fair.
Fantasy managers might have to risk a no-show here and there to benefit from the potentially big hauls that in-form players such as De Bruyne and Mahrez can still deliver – especially as City still have to face five of the bottom seven before the season finally ends.
Chelsea are a different proposition entirely.
Their Champions League qualification is likely, but most definitely not yet assured, and coach Frank Lampard has shown a consistent willingness to give his young players extended opportunities.
Now that he’s fit again, that should mean Abraham and Pulisic will have plenty of opportunities over the next few Gameweeks.
Lampard was keen to praise Pulisic after the match:
I wanted to protect him a bit against Villa and see if he could make an impact. He did that. I always planned to start him against City because I know what he can bring in these sorts of games. He brought it and did really well.
He’s a young player, he’s got so much talent, and he needs to keep working. He can get better and better.
And the coach made it clear how important the final few league matches will be:
We are in a battle here and it’s not going to be decided tonight. It’s a nice result which gives us confidence. Now the consistency we produce until the end of the season is what is going to define us this year, and get us the finish we want.
Chelsea do still have the FA Cup to consider, and nominally the Champions League, where they’re 3-0 down to Bayern Munich.
But the Premier League will surely be their main focus, meaning key players will need to be in our sights from here on in.
Chelsea XI (4-3-2-1): Kepa; Rudiger, Alonso, Christensen, Azpilicueta; Kante, Mount (Pedro 90′), Barkley (Kovacic 73′); Willian, Pulisic (Gilmour 90′); Giroud (Abraham 62′).
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Mendy (Zinchenko 59′), Laporte (Otamendi 74′), Fernandinho; Gundogan, Rodri (Silva 55′), De Bruyne; Sterling, Bernardo (Jesus 55′), Mahrez.
Burnley 1-0 Watford
- Goals: Jay Rodriguez (£5.7m)
- Assists: Dwight McNeil (£6.1m)
- Bonus: Nick Pope (£5.0m) x3, Ben Mee (£5.0m) x2, Matthew Lowton (£4.2m) x1
A Jay Rodriguez (£5.7m) goal was enough for Burney to see off Watford and keep Nigel Pearson’s side deep in the relegation mire.
The striker’s winner, from an excellent Dwight McNeil (£6.1m) cross, was harsh on the visitors, who put on a much-improved second-half display that was probably worthy of at least a point.
From a Fantasy perspective, the main news was a clean sheet and maximum bonus points for Burnley keeper Nick Pope (£5.0m), which meant a 10-point tally for up to 19.2% of Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers.
It was Pope’s second double-digit haul in four Gameweeks and with Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and West Ham to come over the next three fixtures, few managers will be benching him any time soon.
Rodriguez, alongside strike partner Matej Vydra (£5.3m), led the line well and could have had more goals but for a fine save from Ben Foster (£4.9m) and a goal-line clearance by Craig Dawson (£4.8m).
The Watford centre-back was equally busy at the other end, producing a team-leading three attempts (all headers, all from set-pieces), while skipper Troy Deeney (£6.2m) was unlucky to see a header cleared off the line by McNeil.
But neither side’s attacking threat is likely to attract much investment. Burnley’s 35-goal total for the season is better than only seven other sides, while Watford’s (28) is the third-worst in the division.
It’s an entirely different matter at the other end of the pitch, however.
Only Liverpool (14) have more clean sheets than Burnley’s 12 this season, while Watford’s nine shut-outs is the joint-fifth-best record in the league.
The Hornets are perilously close to the drop zone at present, and still have Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal to play.
Their other four fixtures, involving Southampton, Norwich, Newcastle and West Ham, will likely decide their fate, and those matches could also produce decent defensive returns.
Goalkeeper Foster, with 3.8% ownership, is their most popular player and that is not likely to change.
As for Burnley, their ‘keeper is also their most-owned FPL asset and even a generally good schedule will probably not tempt much investment anywhere else in the side, although both Rodriguez and McNeil have produced decent enough returns over the last five Gameweeks.
The striker went off early with a hamstring issue against Watford, but Burnley boss Sean Dyche played down the extent of the problem post-match:
We don’t think it is too serious, we think we have got him off in time. It was a loss to us, but we are suffering a bit with numbers at the minute so we have got to protect the players as best we can when we can.
Dyche’s Watford counterpart Pearson wasn’t keen to dwell on the match.
They are good at what they do and saw the game out. We have to move on. There is no point spending too much time talking about the negatives.
It seems unlikely, at present, that many Fantasy managers will spend much time talking about the positives at Watford either.
Burnley XI (4-4-2): Pope; Lowton, Taylor, Tarkowski, Mee; Cork, Brownhill, McNeil, Westwood; Rodriguez (Pieters 81′), Vydra.
Watford XI (4-3-3): Foster; Kiko, Dawson, Kabasele (Cathcart 45′), Masina; Cleverley (Doucoure 45′), Hughes (Chalobah 83′), Capoue; Sarr, Deeney (Gray 85′), Welbeck.
FPL Lessons Learned from Gameweek 31+
- Leicester City 0-0 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 West Ham United
- Manchester United 3-0 Sheffield United
- Newcastle United 1-1 Aston Villa
- Norwich City 0-1 Everton
- Wolves 1-0 Bournemouth
- Liverpool 4-0 Crystal Palace
- Burnley 1-0 Watford
- Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
- Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City
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