As a Manchester United fan I am super excited about a new season where our options are among the best in Fantasy Premier League.
Based on their own ability alone, the Red Devils’ attackers were among the most popular options during Project Restart and I am expecting a similar dynamic in 2020/21.
However, the fixtures for next season have certainly thrown a spanner into the works. We all know we’re going to own Manchester United midfielders and/or forwards this year, but when will they be in our team?
With a Blank Gameweek for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in the opening round of action, that’s a difficult question with a complicated answer.
Before the fixture release, David wrote an article for our Premium Members comparing the top United attackers on points potential, but I’ll be taking that research a step further.
I’ll be assessing each player based on their Project Restart form but also considering how best to invest in Manchester United in light of Blank Gameweek 1, when we should buy-in more heavily and see if there’s any alternative players in the Premier League who could make for an easy placeholder…
Usually I like to look at the whole season when assessing the previous campaign, but in Manchester United’s case there was a key turning point for them. When Bruno Fernandes (£10.5m) arrived and Paul Pogba (£8.0m) came back from injury – which mostly coincided with Project Restart (Gameweek 30+ to 38+)
Before we delve into the stats I should provide one caveat. Manchester United’s fixtures in this period were not the most difficult, which could potentially have skewed the figures a little. They faced Brighton, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Southampton, Crystal Palace, and West Ham and only one member of the so-called big-six (Spurs).
When comparing to other teams we should also consider that the title was wrapped up, and perhaps teams like Liverpool didn’t perform to their normal ability.
For shots in the box as a team, Manchester United were seventh during this period, with West Ham, Southampton and Leicester all above them, and Aston Villa and Watford not far behind.
When we look at the quality of chances however, things look a bit better with non-penalty xG the third highest in the league, only behind Chelsea and Manchester City.
So things do look promising, even with the slightly easier fixture schedule to some teams.
Looking at the attacking players individually it might surprise some people to see that Marcus Rashford (£9.5m) comes out on top in this period. A player that frustrated owners at times, and saw them switch to Mason Greenwood (£7.5m).
Not only did Rashford have the best quality chances, he also created some of the best opportunities as well. He may have lost penalties for the most part, but his reclassification to a midfielder will provide extra points, and like other players in the team he’s going to massively benefit from Pogba and Fernandes if they are both available for Gameweek 2.
There is no doubting that Fernandes is a great player, but he did overperform last season, at least in terms of the underlying statistics, with penalties being a huge benefit. A total of 14 were awarded to United last season, a new record. In 2018/19 they were awarded 12. In the four seasons before that they were awarded 15 combined.
You could argue that United now have an attacking line-up with pace and skill that will win more penalties, or you could put it down to huge variance and that penalties just can’t be relied upon. It’s worth noting that Neale wrote about this in his Premium FPL Midfielders article, and even without penalties, Fernandes was still coming up with some big FPL points.
The player that stands out to me in terms of price is Greenwood, and I still can’t decide exactly what I think of him as an option. It can’t be ignored that he did overperform a bit last season, scoring 10 goals for just 2.91 non-penalty xG.
On the flip side, he’s playing in one of the best attacks in the league now, and without a new right sided winger being signed by the club, you’d imagine he’s in for 30+ starts this season, playing in the same position as Rashford who is £2.0m more expensive.
With the other options limited in and around the £7.5m price point I still think Greenwood is worth a shot. He’s certainly the easiest Manchester United attacker to bench in Blank Gameweek 1. He’s not going to continue scoring 10 goals for every 2.91xG, but he’ll likely keep getting chances in this team, and we know he’s a decent finisher.
One player that is perhaps being slightly overlooked is Anthony Martial (£9m). We rarely like it when a player is moved from a midfielder to forward position, but he’s just had a season scoring 17 goals. As I’ve previously mentioned, a lot of those goals came when Manchester United were playing without Pogba and Fernandes so it could be exciting to see what he can do with those two playing more regularly behind him for a full season.
At just £0.5m more than Raúl Jiménez (£8.5m) and Danny Ings (£8.5m) he could be worth a look if you can stretch some extra cash out of your squad.
For those looking into under/over performance, Martial’s non-penalty expected goals (nPxG) last season was 11.31nPxG and he scored 17 goals, the season before it was 6nPxG, scoring 10 goals, and the one before was 5.59nPxG, scoring 9 goals in total. So he has history of out-performing his xG, and I would hope that this season the players behind him will carve out even more chances for the number nine.
Looking past the blank for a second, I sometimes like to look at the fixtures and have a gut feeling for whether they look good or not on paper, before I even look at the stats. From Gameweeks 2 to 7, I think they look okay, but not out of this world amazing, but this will depend on how far in advance you want to plan which I’ll come onto later.
Having to play Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea in the space of six Gameweeks could be difficult, and they aren’t fixtures I would usually look to target, although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are much more reliable for goals these days.
Either way, these games will still be tougher than what they faced during Project Restart. While transfers for clubs haven’t been locked in, we know that Arsenal will have additional centre backs to bolster their defence, with Kieran Tierney (£5.5m) now fit and available and performing well at the back end of last season. There is also plenty of buzz about William Saliba (£4.5m) and Bernd Leno (£5.0m) is back from injury.
Spurs are currently rumoured to be bringing in Matt Doherty (£6.0m) to bolster their defensive options, and with Serge Aurier (£5.5m) potentially on this way out, this could make them a stronger unit, especially with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (£5.0m) already being brought in. Since Jose Mourinho joined Spurs, they were the eighth-worst team in terms of expected goals conceded (xGC), but since lockdown they were the ninth-best, showing some improvement, although they still have some way to go before being considered a “traditional” Mourinho team. My Pro Pundit colleague Sam covered this subject in more detail in a recent article.
Chelsea on the other hand are signing every player under the sun, and have already added Ben Chilwell (£5.5m) to their defence and Thiago Silva following him to Stamford Bridge. It remains to be seen whether they will sign a new goalkeeper, although given the limited number of quality chances they actually gave away last season it may not matter. In terms of xGC Chelsea were the fifth best team, at just 38.84, despite conceding 54 goals. You’d expect that to regress a little this year.
Crystal Palace, Brighton and Newcastle will be easier fixtures in this run from Gameweeks 2 to 7, but as a whole they don’t necessarily scream double and triple up which we saw at the end of last season, especially with the new price points.
It is worth noting that the above will depend on how long term you want to plan. Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea are all included in the opening six fixtures for United, but only Spurs feature in the first four and in that space of time there could be a lot of attacking points up for grabs.
One of the key questions if you want United players, is how to plan for them with the blank in Gameweek 1. Do you start and bench, or plan to use transfers?
I’m usually a fan of having all my money on the pitch as often as possible which means having a cheap bench. I’m also aware that transfers are precious, especially at the start of the season. This is a time we might see different formations, line-ups and form than we expected and being able to change players around is key.
That being said, points are also key. And because of that it’s probably perfectly fine to plan to use transfers in Gameweek 2 and 3 on Manchester United players (and even City!), given the upside they can have on your team. You just need to be prepared that you may have to forgo the latest bandwagon, or be happy taking the odd hit here or there, unless you want to activate an early Wildcard.
I’m not settled on a draft yet, but I’ve found that benching Greenwood doesn’t feel that detrimental to the overall team, especially with a lot of cheap defender options, or maybe someone like Tomas Soucek (£5.0m) if you’re willing to spend a little extra on your fifth midfielder.
If I was wanting Rashford, Martial or even Fernandes, I think I’d prefer to start with another player who might get me big points in Gameweek 1 and then make the transfer in Gameweek 2.
As someone who can’t usually wait to shoehorn Manchester United players into my FPL team, I’m not as excited (yet) as I maybe usually am. Not because I don’t expect the team and players to do well, but because there are so many alternatives, that play in Gameweek 1 when Solskjaer’s men do not.
Jamie Vardy (£10m)
He’s not getting any younger, but he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down yet. Post-lockdown was a poor time for Leicester City, however there were down some key men due to injuries and suspensions.
We’ve seen Vardy hit the ground running before, and with West Brom, Burnley, West Ham, and Aston Villa to play in the opening five fixtures he could provide an alternative to Martial, with the option to downgrade later as needed.
Timo Werner (£9.5m)
Even as a non-Chelsea fan, it’s been hard to ignore their transfer business this summer, adding some great players to a team that as shown above, had the second most shots in the box and non-penalty xG from Gameweek 30-38.
They were already one of the best attacks in the league and only look to have gotten better with Werner arguably the best of the lot. Like Vardy, he is priced higher than Martial so always opens the option up to downgrade later.
Son Heung-min (£9.0m)
Although post lockdown saw some people favour Harry Kane (£10.5m) over Son, I still think there’s lots to like about the Spurs midfielder. 11 goals and 13 assists was his most productive season since he came to the club, with Mourinho there for a good chunk of that time as well.
Priced lower than both Rashford and Fernandes he could be an alternative that lets you spend money elsewhere and for those thinking of going to a United player later on, you wouldn’t have to find too much cash to upgrade to Rashford at least.
As a Manchester United fan it’s great to see some of our players be genuine considerations once again. It has been far too long since that was the case.
There are some exciting options and the price points make for some tough decisions. Do you back Fernandes to continue to perform well, with or without penalties or do you spend less on Rashford, although he is currently an injury-doubt for England’s pre-Gameweek 1 international break. Will Greenwood be able to increase his output without overperforming to such an extent?
It’s hard to turn down an attack that now looks so potent, and even with Martial projected to have fewer points with the midfielder to forward switch, he now also has Pogba and Fernandes behind him full time, for a lot of last season that wasn’t the case.
For me I currently own Greenwood. I understand the output isn’t sustainable, but he’s a young player that will improve with more playing time. At £7.5m I’m not seeing many great alternatives and it does allow me to save a transfer for Gameweek 2 if I hold onto him.
I may not start with other Manchester United players (at least at the time of writing), but I have players in like Son and Werner who can be used to bring in United players easily enough.
Best players by position:
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- Goalkeepers: Premium
- Defenders: Budget
- Defenders: Mid-Price and Premium
- Midfielders: Budget
- Midfielders: Mid-Price
- Midfielders: Premium
- Forwards: Budget
- Forwards: Mid-Price
- Forwards: Premium
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