Our Scoreboard series rounds up the key Fantasy Premier League (FPL) talking points from Saturday’s Double Gameweek 22 fixtures.
GOALS, ASSISTS, BONUS
INJURIES AND BANS
Cristiano Ronaldo missed out on Manchester United’s draw with Aston Villa on Saturday evening with the same hip issue that kept him out of Monday’s FA Cup tie.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford were also unavailable because of illness and a dead leg respectively, while Harry Maguire, Phil Jones and Jadon Sancho were only among the substitutes after their own recoveries from injury.
“With Cristiano, it’s unfortunately still the same problem with his hip flexor. He couldn’t train yesterday, and I had a conversation with him. After training, we decided that it doesn’t make sense if he’s not feeling fully fit to take the trip here. It makes sense to have treatment at home and then hopefully be available again for the game on Wednesday at Brentford.
“Aaron (Wan-Bissaka) unfortunately is ill, that’s the reason why he couldn’t travel with us.
“Harry (Maguire) was out for two weeks, I’m happy to have him back in the squad again but I decided to stay with the two central defenders that played on Monday. With all the games coming up in the next couple of days, it’s most likely that he will play again then.
“Marcus (Rashford) conceded a dead leg two days ago in training. At first, it didn’t seem to be that bad, but overnight it got worse and he couldn’t train yesterday.” – Ralf Rangnick
Ezri Konsa was substituted at half-time of the evening kick-off, meanwhile.
Pep Guardiola delivered the ominous news that Manchester City had some fresh cases of coronavirus in his pre-match press conference but the damage appeared minimal when looking at today’s teamsheet.
Nathan Ake and Cole Palmer were the two players to miss out (the City website repeating the line that they were “short of full fitness”), while Oleksandr Zinchenko picked up an injury and was also unavailable.
Ederson, John Stones, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling were all back after their own purported spells in isolation.
Ruben Neves, Allan and Kenny McLean also missed out because of “illness” at their respective clubs on Saturday.
Marcal‘s absence from Wolves’ win over Southampton was injury-related (no other details have been forthcoming), meanwhile.
Dean Smith confirmed that Brandon Williams was merely suffering from cramp when being substituted in Norwich’s win over Everton, while he also downplayed the severity of Max Aarons‘ knock – but did say that Tim Krul‘s shoulder injury was a worry.
GAMEWEEK 22 TAKEAWAYS
TITLE RACE OVER?
Manchester City’s win over Chelsea took them 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League. Liverpool can narrow that gap to eight points by winning both of their games in hand but it’s perhaps worth half a thought about what impact a premature end of the title race could have on FPL in the longer term.
Gameweek 36 has been widely touted as being a big ‘double’ in FPL but how much will be left to play for by that point is another question. City, for instance, could very easily have the title sewn up by then, as happened last season when Pep Guardiola ran wild with the changes with the Premier League crown in the bag and cups to play for elsewhere.
Planning that far ahead in this helter-skelter season requires Nostradamus-like powers, of course, so the message is perhaps more: “Enjoy City assets while you can”.
They’ve got some tantalising fixtures coming up in the next five Gameweeks especially, with Kevin De Bruyne back on the radar after his fifth attacking return in six appearances.
He’s started every single game in that time, with Ilkay Gundogan typically the fall guy to accommodate him, and he’s looking back to his best after an early-season dip in levels: from Gameweeks 17-22, he’s clocked up eight more shots and eight more chances created than any of his teammates.
“He’s missed a little bit of confidence this season, he was struggling a little bit, but he knows what he can do. He’s incredibly loved by all of us for that fact.” – Pep Guardiola on Kevin De Bruyne
DIGNE AND COUTINHO DEBUTS
Philippe Coutinho stole the headlines with a goalscoring appearance off the bench but Lucas Digne also caught the eye on his Villa bow.
Immediately installed at left-back, Digne served up a, well, Digne-esque zero-pointer, thanks to his concession of two goals and a yellow card.
But he was very advanced up the Villa left flank, registering 25 final-third touches (the second-most of Villa players), two shots in the box and two chances created, and was also involved at set-piece situations.
There were promising performances all over the park from Steven Gerrard’s side, with Emiliano Buendia impressive and excellent budget midfielder Jacob Ramsey picking up his second and third attacking returns in four appearances.
Should Villa’s mooted Double Gameweek 23 materialise (that’s still pure speculation at this stage), they’ll have plenty of takers based on some promising displays under Gerrard in some tricky-looking fixtures.
It’s difficult to gauge Coutinho’s levels after a mere 22-minute cameo (remember Leon Bailey?) but Gerrard’s system involves two number 10 roles, rather than out and out wingers, and seems a good fit for the on-loan Brazilian.
It was noticeable just how central he was after his introduction against United, popping up in the six-yard box for a dramatic equaliser and generally being prominent in and around the Red Devils’ area.
Owners and captainers of Bruno Fernandes had a dream evening, with the Portugal international scoring twice – both goals owing much to individual Villa errors.
There’s still a long way to go before we welcome him back into the premium FPL asset conversation in earnest.
Stationed in a centre-left midfield role in a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 hybrid set-up, his two goals came from his only efforts of the match, with his second strike his only real meaningful touch in the Villa area.
Managers who already own Fernandes will care not a jot and be laughing all the way up the overall ranks; for the rest of us, the last couple of games in cup and league have been better from the one-time ‘essential’ FPL midfielder but he has plenty of work to do to recapture those 2020/21 levels – particularly with the loss of the monopoly on penalty-taking duties.
THE BEST OF THE REST
While much of the Fantasy focus was on Watford’s blanking strikers and Magpies debutant Chris Wood at St James’ Park, Allan Saint-Maximin moved third in the FPL forwards’ points list with a second successive nine-point return. The fact that he’s in a podium place is more an indictment of the underwhelming competition this season: he had blanked in 11 of his previous 12 appearances before scoring against Manchester United in Gameweek 19.
But nine attacking returns at the halfway(ish) stage of 2021/22 is decent, while he is doing his best to banish an injury-prone reputation as he has yet to miss a single one of Newcastle’s league matches this season.
Emmanuel Dennis, meanwhile, didn’t have too many sights of goal but ought to have had an assist to his name when Moussa Sissoko wasted a sitter he set up. It was goalscorer Joao Pedro, and not Dennis or Joshua King, who ended up playing through the middle on Tyneside in the second half, and it was he who bagged the equaliser, building on some impressive displays in recent weeks.
It took a peach of a James Ward-Prowse free-kick to breach Wolves’ mean defence but there was still joy to be had for Jose Sa, Conor Coady and Rayan Ait-Nouri, who produced returns thanks to their work either between the posts or at the other end of the pitch. Sa is now FPL’s leading goalkeeper for points, while Coady is joint-seventh among defenders. The promising budget asset Ait-Nouri, meanwhile, is now averaging 5.2 points per match this season, which is better than what the likes of Andrew Robertson, Ruben Dias and Antonio Rudiger are managing.
Ward-Prowse, meanwhile, is on a hot streak, with four goals and two assists in five starts. He’s massively overachieving (his expected goal involvement is 1.79 in that period, almost half of which comes from a penalty) but with a dead eye like his from set-piece situations, perhaps Opta need to come up with a metric just for him.
Rafael Benitez is reportedly on the brink of the sack after Everton’s dismal 2-1 defeat at Norwich. Owners of the Toffees’ players in FPL will be clinging on to the vague hope that whoever replaces the former Liverpool boss can enjoy some sort of new manager bounce as the fixtures are still very decent for Demarai Gray and co over the next four Gameweeks, even if the form is wanting.
Everton’s plight is made all the worse when we consider that Norwich had lost their last six matches by a combined 16-0 scoreline. Few FPL bosses will be interested in the Canaries despite Saturday’s success but Adam Idah is a name to monitor for budget bench fodder duties, building on a promising display against West Ham last week with a goalscoring performance against Everton, with Dean Smith’s recent switch to a 4-4-2 increasing his first-team chances.
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