Manchester City and Liverpool were both in UEFA Champions League quarter-final action on Tuesday evening, four days before they return to their domestic duties.
The champions-elect face Leeds United in the early kick-off on Saturday afternoon, with Liverpool playing host to Aston Villa in the traditional 3pm slot.
And from a Fantasy perspective, there were a few talking points from last night’s encounters that could affect the thinking for Gameweek 31 – most notably team selection.
MANCHESTER CITY 2-1 BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Speaking after the win over Leicester City on Sunday, Pep Guardiola promised that there’d be “fresh legs, more than ever” for the upcoming clash with Leeds.
What that entails is anyone’s guess, but the line-up he sent out against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday evening might be some sort of signpost.
In hindsight, the starting XI at the King Power Stadium wasn’t too surprising: nine City assets featured in all three of their countries’ fixtures over the March international break and the almost-nailed Ruben Dias (£6.1m) was the only one of them to start.
A lot of those players returned to the side at the Etihad on Tuesday, including John Stones (£5.3m), Joao Cancelo (£6.0m), Ilkay Gundogan (£6.0m) and Bernardo Silva (£7.4m).
There were a few exceptions, most notably Raheem Sterling (£11.3m): after a 27-minute cameo in Gameweek 30, the winger was an unused substitute against Dortmund.
Sterling, Oleksandr Zinchenko (£5.5m) and Ferran Torres (£6.9m), along with the lesser-used Nathan Ake (£5.4m) and Eric Garcia (£4.7m), are the only senior City outfielders who are yet to start a match since the international break ended, so will surely be in their manager’s thoughts this weekend.
Moderator Legomané’s excellent “Pep Roulette Matrix” is shown below (click to expand) and details the minutes racked up by Guardiola’s squad of late.
Kevin De Bruyne (£11.9m), Riyad Mahrez (£8.2m), Rodri (£5.3m), Kyle Walker (£6.1m), Ederson (£6.1m) and Dias are the six City players who have started both of their side’s competitive matches over the last week, although all bar the indefatigable Dias had limited minutes or a complete breather over the international break.
“Fresh legs” doesn’t mean that anyone starting Tuesday’s win over Dortmund won’t feature against Leeds (Guardiola has hailed the regenerative powers of several of his side before, including Mahrez and Cancelo) but there will be nagging doubts plaguing anyone who owns a likely starter in next Wednesday’s return leg in Germany and in the subsequent FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea.
As for the game itself, City went – as they often do in matches of this magnitude – strikerless.
Bernardo was tasked with leading the line for the first hour, with Gabriel Jesus (£9.2m) relieving him of his duties in the final 30 minutes.
De Bruyne was impressive yet again in an advanced central role and his deployment as a roaming number 10 in the 4-2-3-1 led to more disciplined double-pivot duties for Gundogan, who managed just one penalty box touch – although the German is, of course, typically afforded more license to get forward when Guardiola plays his usual 4-3-3.
The Belgian opened the scoring after a classic City byline-cut-back assist from Mahrez, with Phil Foden (£6.1m) grabbing the winner after being teed up by Gundogan.
Foden hit double figures for penalty box touches and topped the shot count table from the left flank, wasting a couple of clear openings before his 90th-minute clincher.
Marco Reus briefly restored parity to keep things interesting for the second leg, with Ederson earlier fortunate not to concede when the referee adjudged that the Brazilian had been fouled in the lead-up to a Jude Bellingham strike.
One other thing worthy of mention: Mahrez was in line to take a first-half City penalty before VAR intervention overturned the decision.
REAL MADRID 3-1 LIVERPOOL
Liverpool’s brief resurgence and some excellent forthcoming fixtures has rekindled interest in the Reds in the Fantasy world.
With plenty at stake in the Premier League (which is increasingly not the case for the runaway leaders), rotation hasn’t quite been the issue at Anfield as it has been at City.
Nor do changes look likely to be wholesale this weekend, with Jurgen Klopp saying after Tuesday’s defeat at Real Madrid:
We cannot be picky with that, we have to go for everything. It’s not like we can now make the decision after that game there is no chance for us in the Champions League anymore. In the Premier League, we cannot change it every week – we have to fight until the end and we will.
Now we have to recover first and then concentrate on Aston Villa, which is for us a very important game, not only because of the results we had recently or in this season against them.
Generous scheduling before and after next Wednesday’s return leg may also help with the recovery of key players.
Diogo Jota (£6.9m) and Georginio Wijnaldum (£5.3m), both of whom racked up the minutes for their countries over the international break and were then rested against Arsenal, returned to the starting XI in Madrid, while Andrew Robertson‘s (£7.1m) ‘breather’ may well have been the half-hour he was spared at the back-end of Gameweek 30.
Naby Keita (£5.2m) was the only real surprise inclusion last night, with his evening ending ignominiously early when he was hooked before half-time with the Reds trailing 2-0.
Mohamed Salah (£12.4m) made it two goals in as many competitive matches with Liverpool’s only strike of the game, while Jota topped the shot count with three.
There were more worrying signs in defence after the recent improvements at the back, with Liverpool’s two full-backs as culpable for the Madrid win as the inexperienced centre-half pairing.
As Zophar pointed out in his thread of the game, of course, the partnership of Ozan Kabak (£5.0m) and budget FPL asset Nat Phillips (£4.0m) “is clearly not for the top-level” but much easier tests await in the run-in domestically.