- Goals: Ollie Watkins (£5.9m) x3, Jack Grealish (£7.0m) x2, John McGinn (£5.5m), Ross Barkley (£5.9m) | Mohamed Salah (£12.2m) x2
- Assists: Grealish x3, McGinn, Trezeguet (£5.5m), Watkins | Roberto Firmino (£9.4m)
- Bonus: Grealish x3, Watkins x2, Salah x1
Aston Villa put Liverpool to the sword with a display of pace and verve entirely in keeping with this increasingly maverick season.
A hat-trick for Ollie Watkins (£5.9m) grabbed the headlines, but it was the performance of Villa skipper Jack Grealish (£7.0m) that caught the Fantasy eye.
Two goals, three assists, maximum bonus and 24 points was the stuff of legend for his (at the time) 9.9% Fantasy Premier League (FPL) ownership and the stuff of nightmares for the 56,000 or so managers who’ve sold him on over the past two Gameweeks.
That lack of faith has cost them 32 points all in. A short-term schedule involving both Leicester and Arsenal is clearly not dissuading people now – Grealish’s ownership is close to 12% and he’s in the top ten for Gameweek 5 transfers-in.
Watkins (2.3%), who had to make do with just the 19 points, is another being snapped up and he set the ball rolling against Liverpool with an early goal.
Those managers still clinging to the ‘two Liverpool at the back’ formula would have been twitchy when news came through that Alisson (£6.0m) had injured his shoulder in training, meaning a start for the rather less reliable Adrian (£4.5m) in the Reds goal.
And they only had to wait until the fourth minute for their fears to be realised when the Spaniard’s slack pass to Joe Gomez (£5.4m) was intercepted by Grealish, who set up the unmarked Watkins to finish with ease.
It was the striker’s first Premier League goal in 184 minutes of action. His second came just 18 minutes later when he was released by Grealish down the left, cut back inside and hit a shot across Adrian and in at the far post.
In between those goals came a golden chance – wasted – for Villa debutant Ross Barkley (£5.9m), two saves by Emiliano Martinez (£4.6m) from Roberto Firmino (£9.4m) and a growing sense that Liverpool were going to score from a move down the left.
They did just that in the 33rd minute when Andy Robertson (£7.0m) and Diogo Jota (£6.3m) – in for the ill Sadio Mane (£11.9m) – combined well on that flank, the ball was moved inside and finally fell to Mohamed Salah (£12.2m), who finished clinically.
Salah’s goal sparked brief hopes of a Liverpool comeback, which lasted precisely two minutes before a deflected John McGinn (£5.5m) shot made it 3-1. The Egyptian scored again after the break, with an assist from Firmino, to suggest another rally might happen. It took all of six minutes for Villa to snuff that out for a second time.
But while Salah’s 13 points was the only decent FPL haul to be had from Jurgen Klopp’s men on the night, arguably the major talking point was the lopsided nature of the champions’ attack.
As can be seen in the Premium Members Area, the touch heatmap for Liverpool shows swathes of possession down their left flank and hardly anything of note down the right.
That meant a sorry night for FPL’s most-owned defender, Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m and 42.1%), who was kept to very occasional forays forward by the attacking presence of Grealish and Watkins.
On the opposite side, Robertson was considerably more advanced and dovetailed well with Jota all game. If that’s a sign of the times, it will be the cheaper Scot – currently owned by just 14.8% – who will find his way into more FPL teams.
But on the evidence of last night, selling Liverpool defenders will be the way forward, as Klopp acknowledged post-match:
Tonight, pretty much everybody made massive mistakes around the goals. The first one was obviously Adrian; that was a big mistake, yes, but the reaction on the goal was an even bigger mistake, how we reacted.
Yes, the first goal was not cool, of course. But apart from that, I don’t think he had anything to do with all the other goals pretty much. We didn’t help him tonight, let me say it like this, or we even did the opposite.
The coach also had an update on the health of the 13.2%-owned Allison:
No chance to play against Everton. We don’t know exactly. Let me say, it could have been worse with that injury, that’s for sure. We were slightly lucky but it’s not that he can play against Everton. I don’t want to put a time frame on it, but four weeks could be possible, six weeks is maybe more likely, but I don’t know.
Not that Liverpool with the Brazilian stopper in the side are anywhere near the defensive levels of last season either, but overall now they’ve kept one clean sheet in four matches and shipped 11 goals, which only West Brom (13) can ‘better’.
The Merseyside derby – against the current league leaders, don’t forget – and a Gameweek 8 trip to Manchester City mean that Liverpool will need to bounce back from the Villa debacle sharpish. But an otherwise favourable schedule through to early next year means there’s no need to panic just yet.
That, however, is enough about the Reds, because the night belonged to Villa.
Dean Smith’s side have now played three, won three in the league and some smart work in the transfer market has stabilised a previously giddy defence while adding pace and bite higher up the pitch.
No longer is Grealish the one and only attacking attraction, although he was superb on Sunday night, laying on a further assist for Barkley, whose shot was deflected, and then scoring twice himself, once with a deflected shot of his own and the other a calm finish when sent clean through by McGinn’s sweet pass.
That meant the latter brought in his second straight double-digit haul – budget returns enjoyed by just 0.8% of managers.
In amongst all that carnage, Watkins completed his hat-trick with a free header from Trezeguet’s (£5.5m) cross after Villa had sprung Liverpool’s terrible attempt at an offside trap from a free-kick.
The goal encapsulated the visitors’ defensive performance. Liverpool played a high line all night and it cost them. Time and again Villa broke at pace and exploited the acres of space in behind a Reds side that threw caution to the wind in their desperate desire to get back into the game.
That led to the home team having a chunky 11 attempts on target – they’d managed seven across their first two matches – which was a fact not lost on Smith.
The performance was outstanding from start to finish. We created an awful lot of chances against an exceptional defence and team.
Liverpool’s defence was, in truth, anything but exceptional, and the fact that three goals came via deflections should temper Villa fans’ (and Fantasy managers’) reactions to the match as well.
Smith’s side are not going to be scoring like this again any time soon and future opponents are likely to sit deeper to negate their pace and threat on the break. But the side – enhanced further by Barkley – are full of attacking threat at present and their fixture list is passable now and set fair from Gameweeks 9 through to 15.
Then again, on the evidence of last night, form could very well trump fixtures for this Villa outfit anyway.
Time will tell, but their assets are now very much on the radar to further complicate a season shaping up to be like no other, in both real and fantasy life.
Aston Villa XI (4-3-3): Martínez; Cash (El Mohamady 80′), Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz (Nakamba 80′), Trézéguet (Traoré 87′); Barkley, Watkins, Grealish.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Adrián; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez (Jones 61′), van Dijk, Robertson; Keita (Minamino 45′), Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino (Milner 68′), Jota.
Lessons Learned from FPL Gameweek 4
- Chelsea 4-0 Crystal Palace
- Everton 4-2 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Leeds United 1-1 Manchester City
- Newcastle United 3-1 Burnley
- Leicester City 0-3 West Ham United
- Southampton 2-0 West Bromwich Albion
- Arsenal 2-1 Sheffield United
- Wolves 1-0 Fulham
- Manchester United 1-6 Tottenham Hotspur
- Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool
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