One game-week down, 37 to go! (maybe 38 depending on how make-ups are scheduled). While it’s difficult to say that this fantastic start set anything in concrete regarding how the rest of the season will play out, we do come away with some important early lessons that should guide our thinking going forward.
- There was a World Cup impact on playing time, but it was not nearly as severe as we were led to believe it would be. Players from the four teams who went deepest into the World Cup (and were granted vacation/recovery time afterward) were expected to be rested for the opener if not beyond, and that largely was the case for Friday’s early game. Jesse Lingard, Chris Smalling, and Ashley Young were rested entirely, while Jamie Vardy, Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford came off the bench. However, Paul Pogba and Harry Maguire did start. Thereafter, peer pressure seemed to exert itself, as a rash of others in a similar situation suited up for their weekend kickoffs: Tottenham’s Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane and Jan Vertonghen, Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, Everton’s Jordan Pickford, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner, and Manchester City’s John Stones, Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling. Meanwhile, the list of Saturday and Sunday substitute appearances was much smaller: Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. (Spurs’ Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld, Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, and Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany and Fabian Delph were rested entirely over the weekend.) If you had stayed away from World Cup stars, don’t worry about it any more, go ahead and grab them!
- There was plenty of World Cup carryover, in a good way. It actually kind of felt like the World Cup never ended. Of the 25 goals scored, 11 came from stars featured in the summer tournament: a brace from Mane and one each from Pogba, Vardy, Vertonghen, Alli, Kante, Raul Jimenez, Mo Salah, Sterling, and Bernardo Silva; Lukaku really should have as well, but apparently he left his finishing boots in Russia. Several other stars from national teams who failed to qualify for the World Cup cracked the net, too.
- Even so, Harry Kane still has not scored in August. The World Cup Golden Boot winner started and played the full 90, but the Tottenham talisman barely made an impact, never really threatening to break his curious spell of opening month misery. Fantasy managers who avoided him weren’t penalized (though those who believed Llorente would start were), and there may not be any rush to add him now.
- Raheem Sterling sure did forget about his dismal World Cup showing quickly. Sterling easily could have dwelt upon his inability to finish during the summer, but he demonstrated a remarkable ability to shrug that off, scoring 14 minutes into the game against Arsenal with a nice dribble across the box and a fantastic strike weaving around the defender. Many (myself included) worried that his form would dip this season, but Sterling is clearly out to prove that idea wrong.
- Liverpool is the most exciting Premier League team to watch... when they’re at home against West Ham and Manchester City travels against Arsenal. When the Citizens are at home against a lesser team and the Reds go on the road against tough competition, that certainly may change. With Salah and Roberto Firmino up front, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita on their heels, James Milner, Trent-Alexander Arnold, and Andrew Robertson providing service from the wings, plus the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge coming in from the bench (with Fabinho yet to feature), it’s a beautiful, breath-taking, near-constant attack.
- Tottenham really needs to keep Toby Alderweireld. When Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen paired together in 2015-16 and 2016-17, Spurs conceded an average of 31 goals. Last season, with Vertonghen injured or otherwise rarely in the starting XI, the side saw 36 crack the net. With Alderweireld on the bench against Newcastle, the defense seemed disorganized and undisciplined, allowing several great chances in wide open space. Spurs were extremely lucky to get out of St. James’ Park conceding but a single goal. If you have Lloris, Vertonghen, Ben Davies and/or Kieran Trippier in your fantasy teams, you will want Spurs not to sell Alderweireld, or you might be looking at a reduced number of clean sheets.
- Jose Mourinho hasn’t forgotten how to squeeze out a result. It wasn’t pretty. It easily could have been worse. But Jose Mourinho and Manchester United eked out a one-goal home victory that they desperately needed to keep things from imploding at the start as many had feared. The formula is still locked away, kept safely in Mou’s vault.
- Rather than providing clarity, the three penalty kicks brought only more uncertainty. Paul Pogba (wearing the captain’s armband) wrested the ball from Alexis Sanchez when given the chance from the penalty spot for Manchester United. And he scored. Settled situation, right? Well, after the game Pogba said that the PK taker is an ad hoc decision, and that next time Alexis may get it. Thanks a lot for the lack of clarity! Meanwhile, with Eden Hazard on the bench, Jorginho took — and scored — from the spot. Hazard will be expected to be the Blues’ primary pen taker going forward, but that situation will be certainly worth keeping an eye on. Callum Wilson drew a big call in the box for Bournemouth, but saw his subsequent meek effort saved; might Joshua King or Jermain Defoe yank that duty away?
- There is nothing like desperation to inspire a good performance. Luke Shaw got a chance to start at left wing back, with the expectation that it was a short-term plan. But what did he do? He just scored what turned out to be the decisive late winner, that’s all. Newcastle bought Salomon Rondon to challenge for the starting job up top, and what happened? With his spot under threat, Joselu took his opportunity and scored to draw the game even. Given a position in the starting XI, Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva scored on a beautiful finish (shortly after Sergio Aguero had wasted a glorious chance of his own). Who knows how long these players will stay starters, but they certainly gave their managers reason to keep going with them for now.
- The Alexis Sanchez we knew and loved with Arsenal is a distant, rapidly-fading memory. Everybody has a bad game now and then, of course. But Friday’s showing (or rather, no-show) by Alexis Sanchez may literally be the most pathetic Premier League performance by a star player that I have ever seen. And it wasn’t at Stamford Bridge or the Etihad; it was at home against Leicester. It wasn’t like he was being double- or triple-teamed, he wasn’t getting any sort of special attention. His passing, dribbling, shooting, awareness, composure, and teamwork, I’d rate him 0 out of 10 on every count. Alexis needlessly, sloppily turned the ball over with staggering regularity, pissing away opportunity after opportunity. Whether it’s Father Time or the new-ish system and teammates, the Alexis Sanchez who terrorized the league with Arsenal (60 goals scored in 122 EPL games) is simply gone; he has only two goals in 13 games with Manchester United. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get the memory of his performance in this game out of my head. Simply put, Alexis Sanchez is dead to me in fantasy.
- Chelsea defenders will get forward after all. Some may have been worried about the attacking returns for Chelsea’s wing backs Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta, given the switch from a back three plus two under Antonio Conte to a flatter four man line with new manager Maurizio Sarri. While Azpi was reserved on the right side at Huddersfield, Alonso blitzed down the left flank at will, drawing a penalty kick on a rampaging run into the box and nearly scoring on a shot that came off the crossbar. The only question is, will offensive joy from the wing backs rotate on a game-to-game basis, or will Alonso remain the primary beneficiary?
- It’s rough at the bottom. The five most recently promoted teams in the league — Brighton, Cardiff, Fulham, Huddersfield Town, and Wolverhampton Wanderers — are already under the gun, with only one point taken from a possible 15 among them, owing to a lopsided combined scoreline of 11-2. Wolves’ provided both goals and the only point... at home against 10-man Everton. Sometimes we see some early surprises from the so-called “lesser” teams, but if you were targeting that quintet of squads for fantasy opportunity from players facing them, that strategy has only been reinforced.
- Managers can make a big difference, but sometimes maybe it’s more about who is in the squad than who coaches it. Rafa Benitez has won two La Liga crowns with Valencia and a UEFA Champions League title with Liverpool. But at Newcastle, he couldn’t beat Spurs at home in the opener. Manuel Pellegrini hoisted the EPL trophy with Manchester City. His new West Ham side, of course, got steamrolled by Liverpool. Unai Emery took the Ligue 1 title with Paris Saint-Germain, but in his new Arsenal digs, it was Manchester City who came out victorious. Having a major title-winning manager is wonderful, but having a side fully stocked with elite players might be more critical.
- Petr Cech has not gotten over his gaffe-marred 2017-18 campaign. Arsenal had a poor defensive showing last season, and while it certainly wasn’t Cech’s fault entirely, he shared a fair amount of the blame, committing several painful blunders that led to goals. While Cech avoided the consequences in the opener, it wasn’t for lack of trying, as twice he barely missed gifting Manchester City goals in ugly fashion. With new keeper Bernd Leno waiting in the wings, Cech cannot afford a repeat performance if he intends to keep his starting spot.
- Rotation looms already — immediately — as a huge issue for Manchester City. It’s a great “problem” for Pep Guardiola to have, but a potential nightmare for fantasy managers. We all expected it to rear its ugly head eventually, but were hopeful it wouldn’t happen so soon in the season. Oh well! It was no surprise to see Kevin De Bruyne on the bench, given his World Cup exertion. But this was a big game, the season opener at Arsenal. And yet Leroy Sane was also on the bench — joined by the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi — while David Silva, Danilo and Fabian Delph weren’t even selected for the 18-man team. Meanwhile, newcomer Riyad Mahrez and a pair of part-timers from last season — Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan — earned starts in midfield. Elsewhere in the XI, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte manned central defense, joined by Kyle Walker and injury-free Benjamin Mendy on the flanks, with Fernandinho in defensive midfield and Sergio Aguero up top. Manchester City players will surely again amass fantasy points this season at a staggering clip. But there are simply so many world-class tools at Pep Guardiola’s disposal, and with multiple trophies the Citizens aim to contend for, how secure can fantasy managers be with their selections getting enough starts and minutes in domestic action to justify the investment?
Which of these observations has you re-thinking how you should put together your fantasy teams going forward? What else did you glean from the first game week of the season? Let us know in the comments!