Fulham 0-3 Manchester City
- Goals: John Stones (£5.3m), Gabriel Jesus (£9.2m), Sergio Aguero (£10.3m)
- Assists: Joao Cancelo (£6.2m), Ferran Torres (£6.9m)
- Bonus: Cancelo x3 Stones x2 Jesus x1
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola initiated full Fantasy troll mode for his side’s (eventually) routine win over Fulham.
Even for a boss who’s not picked the same side in the league for two games running all season, his decision to switch to a back three was something of a surprise, and partnering Gabriel Jesus (£9.2m) and Sergio Aguero (£10.3m) up front for the first time in over a year was a full-blown eyebrow-raiser.
The benching of both of the team’s most-owned attacking assets in FPL – Ilkay Gundogan (£6.2m and 38.5%) and Kevin De Bruyne (£11.9m and 18.6%) – while excluding Raheem Sterling (£11.5m) from the squad entirely was particularly hurtful to Fantasy managers.
A net 178,899 had brought in De Bruyne for the Fulham game, a more modest 51,783 went for Gundogan. Neither player saw a minute of action.
Roulette It Be
Guardiola made seven changes in all for the Craven Cottage clash, and his justification for that confirmed what we already knew – Pep Roulette remains as valid as ever in 2021.
What we have done the last two, three, four months, everybody is involved. Sometimes the players don’t believe me, I want everyone involved. Sometimes it is difficult, but everyone has to make a contribution to win games and we will arrive at the end of the season fighting as best as possible.
In further ominous quotes released later, the City boss said:
Everybody wants to be involved from the beginning. Now it’s perfect as we rotate six or seven players from the beginning every game. Everyone is fit. To win the Premier League and all the titles we need everyone, everyone, everyone.
At present, that fighting remains stretched across four fronts. With the Premier League title now a matter of when, not if, it seems reasonable to assume that competition might take its fair share of the rotation.
And the fact that City now have just three matches over the next five Gameweeks further dampens the appeal of their big-name stars.
Back in the Groove
Defensively, things are only a tiny bit more settled, with Ruben Dias (£6.1m) now up to 2,393 minutes of pitch-time – only Ederson (£6.1m and 2,610) has more – and Joao Cancelo (£6.2m) closing in on the 2,000-minute mark achieved by just four other City players so far this campaign.
Saturday’s major hauls came from defenders, with opening goal scorer John Stones (£5.3m) notching 14 points and Cancelo, who set up the centre-half’s strike, earning the maximum bonus award to record 12.
Stones’ points-per-match average in 2020/21 is now up to a remarkable 6.8, which is superior to that of any of his team-mates.
Not that those performances were enjoyed by all – Cancelo was sold by 181,431 managers, and Stones by 93,806, heading into the Gameweek.
But for a side with a league-leading 16 clean sheets to their name this season, defensive options look like being the safest Man City investment over their final eight matches.
Fulham’s improvement at the back over recent weeks has been there for all to see, which made their loss to City both unsurprising and atypical at the same time.
The match was a curious mix of their own excellent team organisation, the visitors’ first-half struggles to adapt to a novel formation and a series of preventable errors that led to the post-interval goals.
But the key takeaway was that a Fulham side with five clean sheets from their last eight matches looks well worthy of investment for the hugely-reduced Gameweek 29 schedule, when they’ll host Leeds.
Home boss Scott Parker went all Guardiola on his team by benching Josh Maja (£5.5m) and deciding midfielder Ademola Lookman (£5.1m) should lead the line; a role he played with more enthusiasm than finesse.
Goals remain an issue – only West Brom and Sheffield United have managed fewer than the 22 they’ve scored this season – and they’re even more toothless at home, with a league-worst eight from 15 matches.
That further confirms defenders as the go-to Fulham options for Gameweek 29 and, arguably, the three fixtures (avl WOL ars) that then precede a Gameweek 33 blank.
Fulham XI (4-3-1-2): Areola; Aina, Andersen, Adarabioyo, Tete; Lemina (Onomah 73), Reed, Anguissa, Loftus-Cheek (Mitrovic 63); Lookman, Cavaleiro (Robinson 80).
Man City XI (3-4-3): Ederson; Laporte, Dias (Garcia 75), Stones; Mendy, Rodrigo, B Silva (Fernandinho 67), Cancelo; Torres, Jesus, Aguero.
Crystal Palace 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
- Goals: Luka Milivojevic (£5.6m)
- Assists: Wilfried Zaha (£7.1m)
- Bonus: Milivojevic x3 Vicente Guaita (£4.8m) x2 Joel Ward (£4.3m) x1
In terms of footballing excitement and spectacle, Crystal Palace v West Brom was the Fantasy equivalent of… Crystal Palace v West Brom.
Two squads with a total FPL ownership of 48.6%, or, as it’s properly known, nearly all of a Patrick Bamford (£6.8m), produced a ‘spectacle’ in which the stats accurately reflected the two sides’ respective states.
The Baggies under Sam Allardyce have shown a tad more willing to attack, but have a crippling lack of quality up front. As a result, against Palace, they had 12 attempts, of which only one was on target.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are a Roy Hodgson side that makes the most of the scraps on offer and they tested Sam Johnstone (£4.5m) in the visitors’ goal with four of the six shots they managed.
The West Brom keeper, whose 2.6% ownership makes him the team’s most popular starter, was only beaten by Luka Milivojevic‘s (£5.6m) penalty, given for a handball by Darnell Furlong (£4.5m).
The decision was correct, even if the result was harsh on the home side, while the award of an assist was fortuitous for the 8.8% of managers who had stuck by Wilfried Zaha (£7.1m) through his five-match injury lay-off.
But it was a measure of how ordinary the encounter was that the key talking point involved Zaha’s decision not to take the knee before the start, preferring instead to ‘stand tall’ in the anti-racism fight.
Back in Fantasy land, Palace have now kept three clean sheets in four matches, with the likes of Joel Ward (£4.3m) providing some cut-price returns.
They could be further bolstered by the return of some of their walking wounded – maybe even the mythical Nathan Ferguson (£3.8m) – after the international break, with Hodgson saying:
We are still without five, I think, players that we regard as regular players in our squad.
I’m really hoping that three of those will be back after the international break. All that can happen now is we’ve got to through the international matches and hope the guys that go away come back in one piece.
But if they do I think our squad is going to look a bit stronger after the international break because at least three of the players who have been injured will become fit again, and the two that probably won’t be will be the two centre-halves, Tomkins and Sakho, but we’ve long-since accepted that their injuries are long-term ones and we’ve got to be patient.
A schedule that involves Everton, Chelsea, Leicester and Man City over the next five matches does not make investment in that solidity look overly wise, however.
Neither the Eagles nor West Brom have a Gameweek 29 fixture, with the latter then facing a fixture list including the tough (Chelsea, Leicester and West Ham), the tricky (Aston Villa, Arsenal and Leeds all away) and Southampton.
Strange things do happen in football – Allardyce was once the England manager, after all – but it will take a miracle for West Brom to survive and their players to find their way into our Fantasy teams as the season heads down the final straight.
Crystal Palace XI (4-4-2): Guaita; van Aanholt, Cahill, Kouyaté, J Ward; Eze (Schlupp 74), Milivojevic, Riedewald, Ayew (Townsend 84); Zaha, Benteke.
West Bromwich Albion XI (4-1-4-1): Johnstone; C Townsend, Bartley, O’Shea, Furlong; Yokuslu; M Phillips (Snodgrass 71), Maitland-Niles, Gallagher, M Pereira (Robson-Kanu 63); Diagne.
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