- Goals: Jack Grealish (£7.0m), Conor Hourihane (£6.0m), Tyrone Mings (£5.0m)
- Assists: John McGinn (£5.5m) x2, Hourihane
- Bonus Points: Hourihane x3, McGinn x2, Mings x1
A clinical Aston Villa maintained their perfect start to the season at the expense of a Fulham side seemingly hell-bent on getting their relegation form in nice and early.
Four wins on the bounce – two in the league, two in the Carabao Cup – have marked the Villans as an early-season form team, which is just as well when they’ve got Liverpool and Leicester to come next.
But there is a confidence and continuity about this club now – Villa have strengthened the squad this summer without upsetting the balance of the team – that suggests last season’s desperate struggle to stay up will not need repeating this time around.
Fulham coach Scott Parker switched to a three-man defence for the encounter, but his preference for playing high and wide remained intact. That was a tactic the visitors exploited ruthlessly from the get-go and offers some crumbs of comfort to anyone still in possession of Wolves attackers for Gameweek 4.
It took less than five minutes for Villa to find a way through that new-look backline, with Jack Grealish (£7.0m) running onto John McGinn‘s (£5.5m) ball over the top and steering it past Alphonse Areola (£4.5m) in the Fulham goal.
The strike was, according to boss Dean Smith, straight off the training pitch.
“We’ve been working on breakthrough runs with Jack especially. Great run, great finish, great pass.” – Dean Smith
The pair then combined for Conor Hourihane (£6.0m) to double the advantage after 15 minutes, with the midfielder sweeping the ball home from an intelligent McGinn lay-off. The former Plymouth Argyle and Barnsley midfielder has now registered more attacking returns than any other Villa asset since the beginning of Project Restart (five).
That made it two shots, two goals for Villa – a question of quality over quantity that neatly summed up the entire game. Fulham outshot the visitors 16-12, but managed just two attempts on target to Villa’s five and created no big chances while their rivals carved out four.
If the game wasn’t up after 15 minutes, it certainly was just after half-time when Tyrone Mings (£5.0m) sprang the Cottagers’ high line/offside trap attempt and was left all alone to score from Hourihane’s set-piece ball into the area.
It was the final proof, if it were even needed, of Fulham’s current defensive shortcomings. Indeed, conceding ten goals across the first three Premier League matches of a season would have equalled a nasty little record – if West Brom hadn’t had a ‘hold my beer’ moment and already let in 11 thanks to Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Chelsea.
What’s making matters considerably worse for Parker’s men is their inability to look the part at the other end of the pitch either.
This was their second blank in three league matches and the three goals they scored against Leeds were as much to do with the Yorkshire outfit’s own defensive issues as Fulham’s attacking prowess.
The 20%-owned Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.0m) was easily the most popular Fantasy Premier League starting asset on show at Craven Cottage, and he led the way for attempts (six), all of which came inside the area.
All of them were also headers, but only one found the target and none truly troubled visiting keeper Emiliano Martinez (£4.5m), whose most eye-catching save involved tipping a late Joe Bryan (£5.0m) effort onto the bar.
His opposite number, Areola, had the misfortune of picking the first three of Villa’s attempts on target out of the back of his net, but he was worked by Mings and McGinn when the game stretched out late on, while striker Ollie Watkins (£6.0m) twice went close with earlier efforts.
Fulham did manage to score at one point when Bobby Decordova-Reid (£5.5m) pounced after Martinez spilled Aboubakar Kamara‘s (£5.0m) shot, only for VAR to entice referee Stuart Attwell to a TV screen to decide that Mitrovic had fouled Ezri Konsa (£4.5m) as the first shot came in.
The late introduction of new signing Bertrand Traoré (£6.0m) demonstrated the extra firepower Smith now has at his disposal, but he was quick to talk up a second straight clean sheet post-match.
“We scored some great goals, but maybe more pleasing for me is the will to keep the ball out of the back of the net. It’s about keeping that balance. If we can, it gives us a great chance to win football games.” – Dean Smith
The views of Parker were, in essence, a mirror image of his Villa counterpart.
“In terms of defending, yeah we weren’t good enough tonight. We’ve not been good enough for the first three games this season, and we need to address that. It’s an area that I think everyone at the football club can see.” – Scott Parker
Both Konsa and Mings have now scored this season, with the latter also providing a Gameweek 2 assist. The pair sit second and third in an FPL defenders table topped by Leicester’s Timothy Castagne (£5.7m), who’s played a game more. They are also backed by four clean sheets in their last six Premier League matches, three of those coming at Villa Park, where they play three of their next four fixtures.
But investing in Villa’s backline, or indeed any of their players, is just not happening from what we can see of the FPL transfer market.
Despite their stellar start to the season, none of their assets can be found in Gameweek 4’s top 30 transfers-in, presumably thanks to those two tough fixtures mentioned earlier in this piece.
The Villans’ schedule eases considerably from Gameweek 6 onwards, however, with a trip to Arsenal probably the trickiest encounter of a 10-match run.
Fulham’s match-ups are more mixed, but the FPL reception to their current form is not – Mitrovic is currently the fourth most-sold player heading into Gameweek 4 as managers still invested in Parker’s men look to cut and run.
Fulham XI (3-4-2-1): Areola; Ream, Odoi, Hector (Le Marchand 58); Bryan, Tete (Kamara 39), Zambo Anguissa, Cairney; Cavaleiro, Decordova-Reid (Kebano 78); Mitrovic.
Aston Villa XI (4-3-2-1): Martínez; Targett, Konsa, Mings, Cash; Hourihane (Ramsey 76), Luiz (Nakamba 87), Trézéguet (Traore 84); McGinn, Grealish; Watkins.
Lessons Learned from FPL Gameweek 3
- Brighton and Hove Albion 2-3 Manchester United
- Crystal Palace 1-2 Everton
- West Bromwich Albion 3-3 Chelsea
- Burnley 0-1 Southampton
- Sheffield United 0-1 Leeds United
- Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Newcastle United
- Manchester City 2-5 Leicester City
- West Ham United 4-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Fulham 0-3 Aston Villa
- Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
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