Planning anything in this crazy Fantasy Premier League season is proving rather difficult. Even as I’m writing this, the Blank Gameweek 18 schedule has changed once again.
Aston Villa’s meeting with Tottenham Hotspur has now been officially called off, and in its place, Spurs’ home game with Fulham has been added.
I keep telling myself to ‘embrace the chaos’, but it does make planning kind of hard! However, as Fantasy managers, we need to adapt quickly, so in this, my latest column, I’m going to talk Blank Gameweek 18, with a heavy focus on Manchester City and their opponents, Brighton and Hove Albion.
I will also touch upon some of the other teams involved this week, and highlight a few standout statistics relating to them.
City’s opponents in Blank Gameweek 18, Brighton, shipped another three goals against Wolverhampton Wanderers last time out, which takes them to a total of 28 this season. Only West Bromwich Albion (39), Leeds United (33), Crystal Palace and Sheffield United (29) have conceded more.
However, the defensive statistics suggest they’ve been a bit unlucky. Based on expected goals (xG), they should have conceded just 18.66. They’ve also conceded the third fewest shots.
When analysing the goals they’ve let in, we can see six have been from penalties and seven from set-pieces. That suggests a lack of concentration, or discipline. Whatever you want to call it, it’s worrying, and to highlight it, you just need to watch Dan Burn’s (£4.2m) performance against Wolves in Gameweek 17.
The fact they tend to switch-off could also stem from the keeper. Before he was dropped, Matt Ryan (£4.3m) was obviously struggling, and I have doubts that Robert Sánchez (£4.4m) is the long-term solution. To be fair to him, he has made some good saves, but he’s still young and will make mistakes.
So, knowing Brighton are susceptible to conceding from set-plays, finding a place in your squad for one of City’s biggest aerial threats, Rúben Dias (£5.8m) or John Stones (£5.0m), makes a lot of sense to me. Dias is due a goal too, having racked up an xG of 0.76 without scoring. It goes without saying that Kevin De Bruyne (£11.7m) is a good option too, but his set-pieces could be really important this week, which gives him the edge over team-mate Raheem Sterling (£11.4m).
MAN CITY’S DEFENCE, AND THE IMPACT OF DIAS AND STONES
City have conceded 13 goals in 15 Premier League games this season, and just three in their last 12 in all competitions. Dias has played a huge part in that, and has probably been their best player this term, but Stones has offered real balance alongside him. As a partnership, they’ve given up just one goal in eight starts together!
Pep Guardiola’s side are clearly the best defensive play this week, and when you look at their schedule to follow (see below), a defensive double-up is really appealing.
João Cancelo (£5.8m) has looked really sharp this season, standing in at left-back most of the time.
However, with Kyle Walker (£6.1m) out of action, he’s moved to the right, and has often found himself pushing ahead of the holding midfielder when in possession, and occupying spaces on the edge of the oppositions box.
To highlight this, here’s his combined touch heatmap from the recent games against Newcastle United and Chelsea:
In Blank Gameweek 18, City will have a lot of possession in Brighton’s half, and will surely turn to the likes of Cancelo to unlock their defence. I know I say this a lot, but attacking returns look imminent here!
GUNDOGAN’S NEW ROLE
Another player whose role has changed in recent weeks is Ilkay Gündogan (£5.4m), who has been taking up a more advanced position. That’s coincided with goals against West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle and Chelsea.
Rather than playing as a second player in a double-pivot, he’s now more of a number eight and taking up some smart positions in the box, something he touched upon in a recent interview:
“… even though I like to be included in rotating the ball, when I am playing as a number eight and more offensive position, I try to put myself in the spaces where I think something could happen or I feel like the space is not occupied by a player of ours or the opponent. Both goals I scored in the last games were similar in the way they were from the right side and Raheem assisted me both goals and I tried to be in a space where I am free and able to get the ball and finish with one touch. It worked out quite well and as long as I am playing in that position I try to continue like that.” – Ilkay Gündogan
His seven shots in the box and four big chances in their last four matches are more than any team-mate, and his five shots on target are joint-top with De Bruyne. Here you can see where he’s been shooting from over that period, with his attempts on target in green:
If Gündogan continues in this role, I think he’s a viable option, and if you’re not comfortable with a defensive double-up, pairing the German international with De Bruyne could be a nice play.
So, moving away from City, here’s a few standout statistics and observations relating to some of the other teams involved this week:
- Manchester United have scored 21 goals in their seven Premier League away matches this season, averaging three per game – not bad, is it? It’s also worth noting Marcus Rashford (£9.6m) is yet to blank on his travels, registering six goals and four assists in seven appearances. Yes, Burnley are a decent defensive team, but can be exposed by better sides, and a midfield double-up involving Rashford and Bruno Fernandes (£11.3m) looks sound this week.
- Since Boxing Day, Arsenal have scored eight goals. They’ve also taken more shots and had more attempts in the box than any other side during that time. This week, I see the wide players being key, so Bukayo Saka (£5.3m) is near the top of my Watchlist. Since moving to the right-flank, no midfielder has taken more shots in the box, and he’s also been on corner duties too. However, if you’re working with a smaller budget, Emile Smith Rowe (£4.4m) is another nice option.
- Though there have been signs of improvement at Arsenal recently, Wilfried Zaha (£7.4m) can cause them problems. Let’s not forget, the Gunners have failed to keep a clean sheet at home this season. I also think they look vulnerable against quick players who like to run at them, which should suit Zaha. If you can fit him in, he should do well.
- Over the course of the season, only two teams have given up more big chances than Sheffield United. Bearing in mind Callum Wilson (£6.6m) has been directly involved in five of Newcastle’s eight away goals in the Premier League this season, plugging him into one of your forward positions makes a lot of sense this week. The Blades are also on a club record 20 league matches without a win, and are yet to keep a clean sheet.
- In this climate, filling your Free Hit benches with Sheffield United and Newcastle players looks wise, seeing as they kick off shortly after deadline. The likes of Ethan Ampadu (£4.3m), Jayden Bogle (£4.3m), Rhian Brewster (£4.5m) and DeAndre Yedlin (£4.3m) are all cheap and should get some minutes, and at least contribute a few points from the bench in case of any disruption to Wednesday or Thursday night’s fixtures.
So, best of luck in Blank Gameweek 18 everyone, and thanks for reading!
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