Following a fun Friday to Sunday opening weekend, we’ve got another exciting long weekend of games for Week 2 running from Saturday through Monday. Take a look at the schedule:
- Arsenal v. Burnley (early game; line-ups available before Fantrax deadline)
- Aston Villa v. Bournemouth
- Brighton v. West Ham
- Everton v. Watford
- Norwich v. Newcastle
- Southampton v. Liverpool
- Manchester City v. Tottenham (late game)
With the basics out of the way, let’s go over some talking points ahead of the deadline when you have to set your fantasy teams:
CHELSEA’S INSTANT REDEMPTION
Chelsea needed to redeem itself following its 4-0 opening pasting at Man United. The result had many thinking that this season could be even more difficult than originally feared: the club had lost superstar Eden Hazard along with manager Maurizio Sarri, and it was banned from adding anybody in the transfer window (other than the delayed move for Christian Pulisic and loan recalls).
A strong showing in the UEFA Super Cup loss to Liverpool will have Blues’ fans spirits on the rise. Chelsea narrowly lost on penalties following a 2-2 draw at the end of extra time. Perhaps most vitally, following a donut against what was an unusually leaky Manchester United defense last season, the Blues’ offense (including Pulisic) looked dangerous against a Reds’ team that had secured the most clean sheets and conceded the fewest goals in 2018-19.
SLUGGISH STARTS FOR A COUPLE OF FANTASY DARLINGS
A year ago, Bournemouth thrived when facing attractive schedule to start the season, and fantasy managers were rewarded for going with Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson. Leicester ended on a high note in the spring following the winter transfer addition of Youri Tielemans and Brendan Rodgers’ hire that coincided with the resurgence of Jamie Vardy supported by strong play from James Maddison. The summer addition of Ayoze Perez, Newcastle’s leading scorer from last season, had many fantasy managers salivating over the Foxes’ offensive prospects this season.
Unfortunately in the opening weekend, the Cherries looked extremely sluggish, drawing 1-1 at home against newly promoted Sheffield United, while Leicester City ended nil-nil at home against Wolves, a team that showed a solid defense last season but struggled to keep clean sheets. Most alarmingly, the Foxes managed only a single shot on target.
Are you jumping off the bandwagon for either team, or sticking with them? After all, it’s only one week, why panic yet, right? (Plenty of time to push that button later!)
CROWDED SCHEDULES FOR SOME TEAMS
Competing in the Europa League qualifiers isn’t always good for team health, as we saw with Burnley last year. Wolverhampton, however, has had no problems so far, winning each of its legs 4-0 against Pyunik, the first allowing considerable squad rotation in the second.
After winning the first leg away at Pyunik on Thursday, August 8, Wolves earned a solid draw at Leicester. The only players who started both at King Power and at the Molineux for the midweek return Europa leg were Conor Coady and Joao Moutinho, so the side should be well-rested for Monday’s tilt against the Red Devils.
FA COMMUNITY SHIELD & UEFA SUPER CUP
Manchester United downed Liverpool in the FA Community Shield on Sunday, August 4, via penalties following 90 minutes. The Reds had their Premier League opener on Friday, August 8, while the Citizens kicked off Saturday, August 9.
As mentioned, Liverpool beat Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup final on Wednesday, August 14, via penalties following 120 minutes. The Reds travel to Southampton on Saturday, August 16, while Chelsea has a bit more rest until its Sunday, August 17 game against Leicester.
For Liverpool, that’s four games (including one that went 30’ extra, and two that had the added stress of penalties) in 13 days! Might Jurgen Klopp — gulp — actually be tempted to rest Mo Salah or any of the other stars this weekend? Salah, after all, comes in having played all three recent club games in their entirety. Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Divock Origi, by contrast, have been more mix-and-match. Klopp also has the option of rotating in midfield. Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, and Georginio Wijnaldum started against Norwich, leaving Adam Lallana, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Xherdan Shaqiri as options to freshen the squad.
For Chelsea, Tammy Abraham started as the lone striker up front against Manchester United, while Olivier Giroud came on as a sub. Those roles were reversed against Liverpool, and Abraham crucially missed the penalty that proved the difference for Adrian and the Reds. It is unclear whether Frank Lampard will show confidence in the youngster and throw Abraham back out there, or instead turn to the veteran Giroud.
Christian Pulisic and N’golo Kante started against Liverpool, as Mason Mount and Ross Barkley hit the bench. Interestingly, Lampard repeated what Maurizio Sarri did so often last season, starting three players whose best position is defensive midfield — Jorginho, Kante, and Mateo Kovacic. Pedro played 90’ against Manchester United and 120’ against Liverpool, so there is an outside chance that he could be rested. Wing back Emerson Palmeiri did likewise, possibly leaving the door open for Marcos Alonso to get the call.
PERFORMANCE BY THE PROMOTED TEAMS
All three promoted sides were away to start the season, and fantasy managers were not shy about loading up on players from their opponents.
Norwich got off to a horrible start in conceding four fairly quick goals at Liverpool, but the Canaries settled down and scored the only second half goal. Also losing, but in somewhat opposite fashion, Aston Villa shocked Spurs with the first goal, but wore down late in the second half as Tottenham came back to win 3-1. Sheffield United was the only promoted team to get a point, playing Bournemouth to a 1-1 draw.
Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane rewarded fantasy managers who invested in them. But amazingly, each of the promoted sides scored, leaving interests on the defensive end from Liverpool, Tottenham and Bournemouth short of collecting the vital clean sheet bonuses.
Now that the promoted sides all play in front of the home fans, can any of them shock the world (or at least England) with a victory in Week 2? Will they instead come out on the short end of the stick? Or perhaps something somewhat in between again?
THE INTRODUCTION OF NEW PLAYERS
Players added early in the transfer window, or those who came over from fellow EPL teams, generally were able to be integrated instantly in their new teams. Aston Villa’s Tom Heaton, Manchester United’s Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Leicester City’s Ayoze Perez, Newcastle’s Joelinton, Tottenham’s Tanguy Ndombele, and West Ham’s Sebastien Haller all started.
For many of those added late in the transfer window, however, things were not so seamless. Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe (19’), Everton’s Moise Kean (21’), Sheffield United’s Oliver McBurnie (27’), and Wolves’ Patrick Cutrone (14’) played limited minutes, while Arsenal’s David Luiz, Everton’s Alex Iwobi, Tottenham’s Giovani Lo Celso, and Watford’s Danny Welbeck failed to feature at all.
Frustratingly for some fantasy managers, Christian Pulisic (32’) did not start for Chelsea despite being a very high profile, extremely early summer transfer.
THE FIRST LOOK AT VAR
I was hoping for a significant impact from VAR in terms of added goals, and expecting at least an increased share of goals from penalty kicks. In the first weekend, there was one added goal that arose from VAR review, though intriguingly it came in a different way than we have come to expect from other competitions. Most interestingly, the VAR process actually took away more goals than it added.
However the rest of the season plays out, it is clear that VAR will be a big talking point, as it did seriously affect a few games, most notably in Manchester City’s 5-0 shellacking of West Ham. Gabriel Jesus had a goal overturned (due to assist-maker Raheem Sterling being ruled offside), while Sergio Aguero got to retake a penalty that had been saved (Declan Rice was ruled to have entered the box early and Fabianski was off his line, but VAR in the EPL enforces only the former); Kun made no mistake on his second try.
Of course, the impact in the City / Ham game was from a fantasy perspective, as there was no doubt about which team would take all three points. However, the actual result of Leicester v. Wolves was influenced. What would have been the only goal of the game from Leander Dondencker was canceled by VAR in the nil-nil Leicester v. Wolves affair, as a handball infraction was ruled on Willy Boly. That one was a combination of VAR and a revision to the handball rule regarding a touch in the box that results in a goal.
PENALTY KICK ROLES
Speaking of PKs, it’s always fun seeing who takes them early in the season! Interestingly, it seems that Marcus Rashford has displaced Paul Pogba as top PK man at Manchester United. Otherwise, seeing Sergio Aguero as #1 choice on the other side of Manchester was no surprise at all.
Jorginho took Chelsea’s only PK during the Super Cup final to equalize at 2-2, while also netting during the PK tiebreaker. Giroud and Ross Barkley, the two most likely other suspects, were both on the bench for Jorginho’s effort at 101’, but Jorginho would seem likely to remain the team’s designated pick from 12 yards out when available.
STATUS OF WANT-AWAY STARS
A pair of star midfielders — Man United’s Paul Pogba and Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen — each reportedly want to go elsewhere in Europe. And there is still the possibility that either or both could exit, since the outgoing transfer deadline is still open. But for now, they remain in England.
Interestingly, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer started Pogba, whereas Mauricio Pocchetino used Eriksen only as a sub. Both players were influential, as Pogba notched two assists in the 4-0 victory over Chelsea, while Spurs scored all three of their goals with Eriksen on the pitch in the 3-1 comeback win over Aston Villa. Fantasy managers, of course, will look a lot more favorably on Pogba’s 90 minutes and 9 FPL points than Eriksen’s 26 and 1.
Tottenham’s Son Heung-min and Juan Foyth remain suspended (Foyth is also injured) for incidents at the end of last season. Everton’s Morgan Schneiderlin will serve a one-game ban from Week 1’s double-yellow red. [Source: the FA]
NOTABLE INJURIES/FITNESS CONCERNS
According to Football London, Antonio Rudiger is “close to a comeback from injury,” so whether he can make it or whether Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma continue as the pair of central defenders is unclear. Willian is also in contention for an appearance after missing the opener through injury, but he would likely come from the bench.
Keeper Alisson is reportedly out injured for several weeks, which opened up a place for newly added back-up Adrian. Now Adrian has a doubt of his own, but seems “optimistic” about being able to play. [Source: Liverpool FC official site] If Adrian does not pass fit, either youngster Caoimhin Kelleher (who is dealing with his own fitness doubt) or emergency journeyman Andy Lonergan would be thrust into the fray.
Midfielder Naby Keita may miss out due to illness. Defender Dejan Lovren may not be available due to injury. [Source: Liverpool Echo] However, also according to the Echo, Lovren is reportedly a candidate to transfer to Serie A’s AS Roma, which would be another reason to leave him on the bench.
Magpie forwards Andy Carroll (who recently transferred from West Ham) and Dwight Gayle are reportedly unfit to feature yet, according to NUFC Blog. Summer addition Allan Saint-Maximin played only 23 minutes in Week 1, and is an injury doubt this time.
Dele Alli and Ryan Sessegnon remain out injured. In Mauricio Pochettino’s presser [source: Football London] he made it seem that Kyle Walker-Peters will start again and Giovani Lo Celso will not start, but he was less clear regarding the fitness of Ben Davies and Jan Vertonghen who missed the opener. Poch was also mysterious regarding whether Eriksen will start or continue to come off the bench.
WEST HAM UNITED
Sebastian Haller and Felipe Anderson each started against Manchester City, but are both doubtful with injury for the trip to Brighton. Mark Noble, who missed the opener, continues to be uncertain as well. [Source: Claret and Hugh]
What has you biting your nails ahead of the deadline? Please share any late-breaking news in the final hours, and Fantrax managers especially should respond to the early-match lineups in the final pre-deadline minutes. Then join us as the live game action unfolds!