Man City 1-0 Sheff Utd
- Goals: Gabriel Jesus (£9.1m)
- Assists: Ferran Torres (£6.3m)
- Bonus points: Jesus x3, Rúben Dias x2 (£5.9m), Fernandinho x2 (£5.4m)
Pep Guardiola’s rotation policy was a key factor as Manchester City’s Fantasy Premier League assets disappointed in Gameweek 21.
For an appealing home match against Sheffield United, his selection decisions not only limited the players he benched but also those who started the match.
Raheem Sterling (£11.6m), João Cancelo (£6.0m), John Stones (£5.2m) and Riyad Mahrez (£8.1m) were all unused substitutes while Rodri (£5.3m) featured only as a 90th-minute replacement for Ferran Torres (£6.9m).
Naturally, owners of those players were frustrated by their Gameweek 21 blanks. But it appears that their absence also ensured a disappointing afternoon for Ilkay Gündogan (£5.8m) and Phil Foden (£6.3m) who toiled for 90 minutes in a largely second-string side against a 3-5-2 system which Guardiola has always found it hard to play against.
“It’s not easy to play (Sheffield United’s) system. The first season we won 2-0 here, after 0-1 there, this season 0-1 there, now 1-0 here. We struggle because they are a really good side. It’s a surprise they are down there, but their team is alive, they shout, talk, stick together until the end. We knew it and we performed really well.” – Pep Guardiola
Either way, Gündogan produced 8.5 points per match between Gameweeks 13 and 20, registering his first blank since Gameweek 18 against the Premier League’s worst side.
So the question on many a Fantasy manager’s lips is: what went wrong?
ON THE THIRD DAY
The return of Gabriel Jesus (£9.1m) to the Manchester City team appeared to be a negative influence on Gündogan’s goal threat against Sheffield United.
The German international’s new advanced role in recent matches has worked best when coupled with Bernardo Silva (£7.4m), Kevin De Bruyne (£11.8m), Mahrez or Foden fulfilling a false-nine detail.
This combination allows for the designated centre-forward to drop deep and allow team-mates to drift into space he was previously occupying – something Gündogan did to devastating effect against West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Chelsea.
However, with a recognised centre-forward leaving the line there were fewer opportunities for the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder to make dangerous runs into exposed pockets of space.
As a result, Gündogan was completely robbed of any goal threat and did not register a single effort on goal against Sheffield United on Saturday afternoon.
And without Cancelo, Stones and Rodri in the team, there was more of an onus on Gündogan to focus on recycling possession and creating chances too, further detracting from his ability to get into threatening areas.
Since Gameweek 13, Rodri (656), Stones (605) and Cancelo (563) are all in Manchester City’s top four for attempted passes.
Over that same period, Cancelo (346) and Rodri (305) rank second and third among their colleagues for successful passes inside the opponents half.
So taking on an increasingly confident Sheffield United side without those key players certainly limited the Citizens’ ability to string together enough passes to truly stretch defenders while simultaneously increasing Gündogan’s workload in this area.
Meanwhile, with Mahrez and De Bruyne out of the team, the German was also roped into providing set-piece delivery further pulling him away from the key action areas.
He was admittedly close to earning an assist for Aymeric Laporte‘s (£6.0m) headed effort in the second half, only to see him hit the cross-bar.
But in a game where the centre-back received the same number of passes in the opponents half as Gündogan (43), it was simply not going to be his day.
Manchester City added their 12th Premier League clean sheet of the season against Sheffield United, their 20th in all competitions, at least five more than any other side in the top-five European leagues.
However, such an achievement was not as encouraging to as many Fantasy managers as it usually would have been.
Not only was Cancelo left on the bench and unable to earn clean sheet points, but Stones was also an unused substitute for the first time in a Premier League match since Gameweek 13.
The recent return to fitness for Laporte had already left an ominous shadow over Manchester City team selection in recent weeks and those fears were realised as the Frenchman made his first league start since Gameweek 9.
As things stand it is difficult to tell if left-footed centre-back Laporte is close to reclaiming his place or whether his start should be viewed in the wider context of rotation and rest for the whole team with a trip to Liverpool on the horizon.
We suspect the latter to be the case considering the partnership between Dias and Stones has been become firmly established and helped Manchester City concede just one goal in 12 starts together in all competitions. Breaking it up, even against Sheffield United, was certainly a surprising decision.
Guardiola’s comments in recent weeks have suggested that Laporte’s route back into the first-team would involve him working hard and returning to the form he has shown in recent seasons.
And it must be said that while he enjoyed a mostly routine afternoon against a toothless Blades outfit, Dias did have to step in and mop up for Laporte when his clearance went straight to Oliver Burke (£4.2m). Guardiola is known for pouncing on players after even momentary lapses in judgement like this so it must be said Laporte still has some work to do, especially considering how well Dias and Stones have done together this season.
“I’m happy for Ayme(ric Laporte), today he is back and played really well. It is not just about John (Stones) and Ruben but everyone. Today when Nathan (Ake) was here and the full-backs with Joao (Cancelo), Aleks (Zinchenko), Kyle (Walker) – everyone. It is a commitment from everyone.” – Pep Guardiola
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Zinchenko, Laporte, Dias, Walker; B Silva, Fernandinho, Gündogan; Torres (Rodri 90′), Jesus, Foden.
Sheffield United XI (3-5-2): Ramsdale; Ampadu, Egan, Basham (McBurnie 78′); Bogle, Fleck, Norwood, Lundstram, Baldock; Burke (Sharp 78′), Brewster (McGoldrick 62′).
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