As much as we all love the midweek Champions League and Europa League frenzy, we can’t help but cringe at the impact it could have on the Premier League and our domestic fantasy teams. Let’s run down what transpired during the week that may have you sweating regarding the status of your favorite players.
[NOTE: Friday’s Southampton v. Bournemouth game will have starting line-ups available in the countdown hour ahead of the Fantrax deadline.]
Two teams (Chelsea and Liverpool) lost their group stage openers, while Tottenham drew, leaving Manchester City as the only EPL team to emerge victorious. This from the league that had all four teams go through to the knockout stage last year and enjoy an all-Premiership final. Not a promising start, England!
In the 1-0 home loss to Valencia (which last week sacked its manager, and then followed that up with a 5-2 loss to Barcelona), Frank Lampard used mostly the same XI as last weekend’s 5-2 victory at Wolves. The only change was Antonio Rudiger missing out through injury, replaced by Kurt Zouma. Kepa Arrizabalaga, Andreas Christensen, Fikayo Tomori, Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Willian, and Tammy Abraham played the entire game. Mason Mount was removed in the first half following injury, with Pedro coming on. Kurt Zouma and Mateo Kovacic came out in the 2nd half, replaced by Olivier Giroud and Ross Barkley. Christian Pulisic did not play a single minute against Valencia, a repeat of what happened at Wolves for everybody’s favorite American.
Barkley missed a penalty kick that would have salvaged a draw. For some odd reason, Frank Lampard seems to rate Barkley as the team’s #1 PK taker when the former Toffee is on the pitch, despite now being a putrid 3-for-5 at converting in his career (Jorginho, meanwhile is a stellar 13-for-14, making him the obvious, automatic choice to me). The next time a PK is awarded, it could be anyone among Barkley, Jorginho, Willian (4-for-5), Abraham (13-for-16), or perhaps Lampard will run onto the pitch and take it himself. Oh, how I miss the old days when even a new Blues’ manager wouldn’t be able to resist the stark, simple choice of Eden Hazard.
Many fantasy managers are worried about the severity of Mount’s injury. Defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante and wing back Emerson Palmieri have returned to training and should be available for Liverpool, while Mount and Antonio Rudiger are more doubtful. [Source: Metro]
[Note: PK stats came via transfermarkt.]
Last season James Milner was a regular starter in Champions League, and this year that looks to be the case again. In Liverpool’s 2-0 loss at Napoli, Jurgen Klopp made a trio of changes from the weekend’s XI who won over Newcastle. Milner, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino replaced Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Divock Origi, respectively. Adrian, Andrew Robertson, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, and Firmino played the entire game. Milner and Henderson subbed off in the 2nd half, replaced by Wijnaldum and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Following the weekend’s win over Crystal Palace, Mauricio Pochettino really shook up the lineup with five changes in his XI for the 2-2 draw at Olympiakos, turning to Ben Davies, Davinson Sanchez, Tanguy Ndombele, Dele Alli, and Lucas Moura. This came as Son Heung-Min, Erik Lamela, Moussa Sissoko, and Serge Aurier hit the bench, while Danny Rose failed to make the 18-man team.
Lloris, Davies, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Winks, Eriksen, and Kane played the full game, while Ndombele, Moura and Alli came off in the 2nd half, replaced by Son, Sissoko and Lamela. Son should be extremely well-rested for those of you hoping he can deliver another strong performance following the brace against the Eagles. Of course, following the slew of changes, there will be several question marks surrounding Poch’s next XI, particularly at wing defense. Danny Rose will likely return to the XI on the left, but the right seems to be totally up in the air, as it could be anybody among KWP, Aurier, Sanchez, or even Juan Foyth (if he passes fit), so that minefield may be best avoided.
On the offensive side, Eriksen, Kane and Son probably have the best chances at starting, but without much time to rest between Wednesday and Saturday, it’s possible that Eriksen and/or Kane could be benched. It is also difficult to predict who among Alli, Lamela, Moura, Ndombele, and Sissoko will start. With Alli and Ndombele recently returning from injury, my guess would be that Lamela and Sissoko will join Eriksen, Kane and Son in the XI, but I wouldn’t put any moolah on it.
MANCHESTER CITY (Wednesday)
Pep Guardiola made four changes to the XI from the weekend’s loss at Norwich for the mid-week 3-0 victory at Shakhtar Donetsk. Fernandinho (more used to playing defensive midfielder) moved back in place of injured John Stones, while Gabriel Jesus replaced Sergio Aguero at forward. In midfield, David Silva and Bernardo Silva made way for Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez.
Ederson, Oleksandar Zinchenko, Nicolas Otamendi, Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan, Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, and Gabriel Jesus played the full game, while Walker, Rodri and KDB came off for Joao Cancelo, Benjamin Mendy, and Bernardo Silva in the 2nd half.
Fantasy managers will be biting their nails, worrying about the infamous “Pep roulette” on Saturday, particularly in midfield. A very well-rested Sergio Aguero should be set to start up front, so Gabriel Jesus will likely make way, although of course Guardiola could choose to pair them together up front and remove a midfielder from attack. I think that David Silva, Bernardo Silva, and Kevin de Bruyne have very good chances of starting in support of Kun on the attacking end this weekend. Having played the full game both Saturday and Wednesday, Raheem Sterling would seem to be most at risk of getting a rest on the bench. It’s a similar story for Ilkay Gundogan, having made the past two starts.
The big choice would seem to be between Sterling and Mahrez in wing attack. Fantasy managers with Sterling will hope that the shock loss at Norwich — which left City five points off leaders Liverpool — will influence Guardiola to rely on his best attacking side, which obviously would include the dazzling England winger. But hey, it’s not like Mahrez is chopped liver, a Kun/Mahrez/D. Silva/B. Silva/KDB quintet isn’t too shabby at all!
Those holding Zinchenko will fret over the possibility that Mendy could take his left back spot in the XI, although even if that were the case, Pep could entertain the option of keeping Zinchenko as a starter by moving him up to midfield (adding more doubt to Pep’s midfield minefield).
Europa League (Thursday)
In the Gunners’ 3-0 red card aided victory at Eintracht Frankfurt, Unai Emery made seven changes to the XI seen in Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Watford, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Granit Xhaka, Sead Kolasinac, and David Luiz the only holdovers. Meanwhile, Bernd Leno, Sokratis, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dani Ceballos, Mesut Ozil, Matteo Guendouzi, and Nicolas Pepe made way. Maitland-Niles, Ceballos, and Pepe came on as 2nd half subs in Germany. Somewhat inconceivably, PEA played the full game again (as did Luiz and Xhaka; Kolasinac was subbed out in the 2nd half).
But with Alexandre Lacazette out injured, it would be seemingly unfathomable for Emery to rest Auba for Sunday’s visit of Aston Villa to the Emirates. Otherwise, most of the regular starters will likely come back into the XI, but given the strong result to kick off the Europa campaign, several of those who starred — such as goal scorers Joseph Willock and Bukayo Saka — made a push for inclusion as well.
The Red Devils have been in injury crisis recently, so it was absolutely no shock to see a rash of changes in the XI from the 1-0 Leicester City victory to the follow-up 1-0 win at Old Trafford against FC Astana. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made nine switches, as only Marcus Rashford and Nemanja Matic retained their spots. Not only that, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, Victor Lindelöf, and Andreas Pereira were entirely left out of the 18-man team, and Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay did not get off the bench. Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, and Ashley Young came on as 2nd half subs.
Daniel James was one of several players left out of the team due to injury concern, as he joined Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, and Luke Shaw in that department. All of those players remain doubts for the weekend. Much like PEA with respect to Lacazette, Rashford will likely feature again on Sunday due to Martial’s situation, and his youthful vigor should help in that effort. However, it is certainly possible that OGS could turn to even younger Mason Greenwood, who started on Thursday and scored the winner.
Compared to Emery and OGS, Nuno Espirito Santo stuck more with the same team that had featured in Wolves’ 5-2 home loss to Chelsea on Saturday for the 1-0 defeat at the Molineux against Braga. Even so, he made five changes, as Diogo Jota, Adama Traore, Joao Moutinho, Romain Saiss, and Ruben Vallejo made way for Patrick Cutrone, Matt Doherty, Morgan Gibbs-White, Willy Boly, and Ryan Bennett, respectively. Moutinho, Jota and Traore came on as 2nd half subs.
Central defender Willy Boly missed the Chelsea loss last weekend with suspension, but will be available for Sunday’s trip to Crystal Palace, so Jesus Vallejo will likely see the bench this weekend. Likewise, while fellow central defender Romain Saiss was preferred to Ryan Bennett in the Chelsea fixture, Bennett will probably get the nod. Wing back Matt Doherty came on in the second half against Chelsea in a return from injury, but it is unclear whether Santo will want to risk him with two starts in quick succession following Thursday. There is also an outside chance that newcomer Cutrone (who scored against Chelsea) could displace Jota, as last season’s stalwart has fallen well short of expectations so far this time around.
Of course, given Wolves’ atrocious form this season (19th place, winless in the EPL) and lack of confidence following the listless Europa League showing on Thursday, is anybody feeling good about any of the team’s players in fantasy?
Beware, Fixture Congestion is Officially Upon Us
All three teams that toiled in Europa League on Thursday thankfully will not feature again until Sunday to close the EPL weekend, but it’s surely not as much rest time as they’d like. As for the Champions League teams, Chelsea and Liverpool are comfortable, having plenty of time to recover between their Tuesday exertions and Sunday face-off at Stamford Bridge. But following their Wednesday travels to Greece and Ukraine, respectively, Tottenham (at Leicester) and Manchester City (v. Watford) both play on Saturday after considerably less turnaround time. That’s two fewer days of rest for Spurs and City than for the Blues and Reds!
Looking through a wider lens, two EPL UCL teams are dealing with a Saturday / Tuesday / Sunday turnaround, while the other two are Saturday / Wednesday / Saturday. In that respect, that’s only one day fewer, which is not as glaring, but it’s still an extra day. If they were all scheduled for Sunday in week 6, that would have essentially made things equal. Chelsea and Liverpool would have had one day fewer rest before Champions League, and Tottenham and Manchester City would have had one day fewer rest after Champions League. Simple, right?
Well, no, not exactly. As much as I may quibble here or there, the EPL and worldwide schedule makers have an extremely difficult, practically impossible job. Between weeks 4 and 5 came the international break, when many top players had not one but two games for their national teams, some involving long travel on top of the physical toil. A Saturday game in week 5 was actually a disadvantage for their club teams in that respect. And what happens after week 6? Carabao Cup fun on Tuesday and Wednesday! And after week 7? Champions League and Europa League return Tuesday through Thursday.
Right now, of course, the Friday deadline makes life even tougher than usual for fantasy managers to plan with any sort of certainty, as there is not the extra day afforded to gather information and watch managers’ pressers when Saturday starts the weekend for all but two teams.
Get the headache and stomach upset medication handy, folks.
- West Ham defender Arthur Masuaku will miss Sunday’s game against Manchester United following a red card (two yellows) last weekend.
- Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp starts his suspension (covering three total games, two in the EPL) for his straight red against Southampton last weekend.
- Aston Villa midfielder Trezeguet returns following a one-game suspension.
- Southampton wing defender Kevin Danso also returns following suspension.
[Suspension news source: The FA official site]
- After missing two games with injury, influential Southampton attacking midfielder Nathan Redmond seems set to face a game-time decision for manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. However, goal-scoring hero in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Brighton, Moussa Djenepo, is out through injury. [Source: Southampton FC official website]
- Like Redmond, attempting his return from injury, Burnley playmaking midfielder Johann Berg Gudmundsson seems headed for the dreaded game-time decision. [Source: Burnley official website]
- Newcastle defender Fabian Schar seems like a better bet to be fit again than midfielder Sean Longstaff. Forward Andy Carroll has returned to training, but a few minutes from the bench would likely be the most he could ask for following his long return to fitness. [Source: Ed Harrison’s NUFC Blog]
How are your teams coming along ahead of the Friday deadline? Do any of you Fantrax managers care about the Saints and Cherries that will be confirmed just before the deadline? Please be sure to share any late-breaking news in the comments!