The Premier League is back! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having matches to watch and fantasy teams/players to follow again. Would it have been nicer if Arsenal had started out the season with a win (or even a plucky draw)? Sure, but given the competition I can’t complain too much.
With 90 minutes now in the books for all twenty teams, we have some actual data to work with. The problem after one week is that we now have what the geeks call a small sample size. Some of the things that happened will be very instructive as to what we’ll see for the rest of the season. Some will just be the sort of week-to-week randomness that happens every weekend in every league around the world – it just so happens that in Week 1 that’s all the data we have and it tends to be harder to separate out the real from the illusion than after we have a bunch of weeks of additional data to compare it to.
Let’s run down some surprise outcomes and performances and try to figure out whether they are worth acting on or whether they are just blips that will be forgotten by the time we hit October:
Petr Cech Starts
With Arsenal doing an extreme makeover at the back over the summer, it turned out that only Sokratis and teenager Matteo Guendouzi started from among the new arrivals. That meant that Bernd Leno was watching his first match at the Emirates while Petr Cech kicked off the Unai Emery era. The pragmatist in me says that Unai Emery is protecting Leno/leaving Cech out to dry by starting the former Chelsea man in Arsenal’s difficult first two fixtures – Manchester City and @Chelsea – to cushion the German’s arrival. Let Cech potentially lose the two opening matches and then let Leno ride in as the savior after Emery gave the veteran “every chance” to save his job. There’s a certain mercenary logic to it even if it doesn’t exactly honor Cech as the Premier League legend he is. Oh, and expect Guendouzi to be starting next to Lucas Torreira sooner rather than later. We’ve heard “That was a bad spot to give the ball away for Granit Xhaka” from announcers about 100 too many times for that to be allowed to continue.
Roberto Pereyra Stars
Richarlison who? With Marco Silva and Richarlison gone to Goodison Park, the Hornets barely even noticed as Roberto Pereyra was excellent scoring both goals in the season opener. Pereyra was at Juventus before Vicarage Road so the Argentine has some talent. Maybe all it will take is a consistent opportunity. He did score five goals while adding two assists last season in 18 starts and 14 substitute appearances. If he can make it 34 starts, not unreasonable given Watford’s lack of attacking options, then 8 to 10 goals isn’t a crazy projection and makes him a solid 5th midfielder to play when Watford have strong match-ups. Just do go expecting 16-point outbursts on a regular basis. Oh, maybe more than Pereyra, you might want to claim Jose Holebas who picked up two assists and the clean sheet on the back of a season when he was among the chance creation leaders at defender in the Premier League. If more of his chances are converted then he’s going to be a surprise top ten point scorer among defenders.
Mendy Returns with a Bang
Bernard Mendy picked up two assists and a clean sheet as he launched his comeback/highest scoring defender campaign. Andrew Robertson and Patrick Van Aanholt are likely to be in the scoring race all season, but Mendy looks like the odds on favorite given the amount of freedom Pep Guardiola seems content to give him.
Neves over Jota
Ruben Neves scored six goals and contributed a single assist all last season as Wolves were running wild over the Championship. Diogo Jota picked up 17 goals and 5 assists in the same campaign. Both are 21-years-old. The smart money in drafts was on the proven performances of Jota. The eye test on Saturday says Neves looked the more dynamic against Premier League competition. I’m not giving up on Jota by any means (he was credited with an assist in the PL.com scoring format) but Neves looks like he may be ready to add end product from a deeper-lying role. I’d have him high on my list of waiver claims this week. It isn’t like he did it against a poor opponent either.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka Outstrips PVA
The sample size is small over last season and this but the 20-year-old England U20 international looks like he could be a surprise package. No, he’s not going to drop 12-point matches on a regular basis but Palace like to get their backs forward and with the defense tilting toward the better-known Patrick Van Aanholt, Wan-Bissaka could sneak up on them. Worth a flier if you aren’t in love with your 5th defender but don’t expect too much in Week 2 against Liverpool.
Up Goes Fraser
Ryan Fraser pops up with a big match about once a month. At 24-years-old and entering his third full season as a Premier League player, it wouldn’t be crazy to see a jump forward. Still, I’d put my money on the combination of a small sample size and a poor opponent in Cardiff City. I’d have to be desperate for help in midfield to put in a waiver claim on Fraser after this particular performance.
Shaw Breaking Through?
Luke Shaw not only got a start, but he scored his first senior goal in 141 cracks at it. After suffering the slings and arrows of Jose Mourinho’s displeasure for two seasons, this looks like it could be the latest opportunity for the former rising star who is still only 23-years-old. Still, before we all get TOO excited about a Shaw revival in fantasy, let’s remember that this is Jose Mourinho and unless you’re one of his favorites (although I’m not sure who on this Manchester United squad fits that description) you’re going to go in the dog house. Expect Shaw to be a rotational option but best paired with Ashley Young rather than picked up with the expectation of regular starts. For now, though, he’s probably worth picking up if your window is a couple of weeks.
A New Penalty Taker at the Bridge?
Chelsea were awarded a penalty against Huddersfield Town on Saturday and Jorginho was the man to take it. And what a take it was. The question is whether he ends up having Milivojevic-like value as a deeper-lying midfielder because he takes penalties. With Eden Hazard not in the match at the time, we’ll probably need more evidence before deciding that Maurizio Sarri has changed penalty-taking horses, but I might want to stash Jorginho as my 5th midfielder (I know he’s available on waivers in both of my expert leagues) while we find out.
Callum Wilson Coming Good?
Like Ryan Fraser, we’ve seen this from Callum Wilson before. He burst on the scene in 2015-16 with a hat trick coming up from the Championship and before blowing out his ACL. As he’s recovered from that injury and fought off challenges from guys like Jermain Defoe his performances have run hot and cold. He tallied a goal or an assist in six matches among his 23 starts last season and four of the six included multiple tallies (either goal + assist or multiple goals). My point being that we’ve seen this before and if this happened in mid-January (as it did against Arsenal last season) or late January (as it did against Chelsea) then we probably wouldn’t think too much of it. I’m not ready to dive in and displace someone I drafted over Wilson if he were available on waivers. Still, a solid 3rd forward if you waited until late on that selection in your draft.
Joe Hart is Clean
Joe Hart has taken a lot of (deserved) abuse for his performances over the past couple of years. After arriving at Burnley as an emergency option in the wake of injuries to Nick Pope and Tom Heaton, he has registered two clean sheets in his Europa League and Premier League debuts for the Clarets. The question isn’t whether a Burnley goalkeeper is a worthwhile pick-up, Pope and Heaton have proven that it doesn’t really matter who wears the shirt, they’ll be productive. The big question as it regards waivers is whether Hart will maintain his place when Heaton returns to action which seems likely to be as soon as Week 2. I’m only taking a risk here if I am unhappy with one or both of my current goalkeepers.
N’golo Kante Playing Further Forward
It is an odd concept moving world football’s preeminent midfield destroyer a little higher up the pitch but that seems to be what Maurizio Sarri is telegraphing. In Week 1 it yielded a goal for the World Cup Winer. I don’t suspect that Kante will be a huge scorer but if he starts 36 matches and scores, say, six goals (vs. the one he scored last season) then he’s a very credible 4th starter in a midfield. Not a priority waiver claim but at least a worthy consideration if you’re not thrilled with where you ended up after your draft.
Will Joe Gomez Start?
The long-term answer here is probably, “yes” but for this season he’s likely a rotational piece with Dejan Lovern taking over once he’s back from his World Cup exertions and Joel Matip gets healthy. Maybe a good spot starter for Week 2 if you need a defender but don’t expect him to be a season-long keeper.
The Manchester City CB Pairing
Unlike Gomez, the pair of John Stones and Aymeric Laporte could well be a surprise starting duo on a regular basis even when (if) Vincent Kompany is healthy. Nicolas Otamendi was nearly ever-present in City’s defense last season and was among the top point-getters at the back as a result. Could he lose his starting spot? It isn’t unreasonable given that Stones and Laporte both better fit the ball-moving CB ideal that Pep Guardiola values. Not a sure thing but there’s no real reason Otamendi would have been omitted if it weren’t just that he was now out of favor.
Speaking of Starters at City
So, the other highly drafted player from Manchester City who didn’t start and had no World Cup-related reason for being on the bench was Leroy Sane. With the arrival of Riyad Mahrez at City over the summer, it was clear that one of Sterling, Mahrez, and Sane was going to get the short end of the minutes stick. At the first time of asking it looks like Sane is going to see his minutes clipped at least somewhat. There will still be points but if you bought high on Sane you might want to see if you can incite a bidding war between the guys who drafted Mahrez and Sterling to see if they’ll trade you something of value for what might well turn out to be a very valuable handcuff for their high draft pick. I’m not saying Sane is going to be worthless as a standalone but given the money spent on Mahrez it isn’t unreasonable to think that he’s going to get more minutes than his German counterpart.
Cenk Tosun’s draft position was a bit of a mystery to me over the summer. Yes, Everton’s attack was dysfunctional last season and that could have been the root cause of Tosun failing to score or even register many shots on target. The stats say that he picked up an assist yesterday, but it was hardly the result of a strong performance. His assist was the result of rolling the ball along into the path of Richarlison who took a couple of dribbles and then unleashed an exceptional shot. It counts the same as a beautiful pass at the end of the fantasy season but Tosun was a passenger registering a single shot on target. Frankly, I don’t see him as a long-term starter at Everton and I’d be looking to make a trade before his value declines.
Yarmolenko on the Bench
Andriy Yarmolenko started the Hammers’ match against Liverpool on the bench. This is a problem for a guy who was a popular mid-round draft pick among draft managers. I can’t say I understood the interest in Yarmolenko. Yes, he was fairly prolific for a wide attacker when he was at Dynamo Kyiv putting up double digit goals for seven consecutive seasons but his move to the Bundesliga was a massive dud. We’ve seen plenty of players unable to make the leap from a lesser league (the Championship, Eredivisie, etc) and I don’t think it is unreasonable to put the 28-year-old Yarmolenko into the same category. Why he would be the presumed starter over Michail Antonio is a mystery.
There are probably another 10 or 15 players who merit some discussion, but these were the performances and likely waiver/trade concerns that stood out to me from Week 1. Remember, it has only been one week, don’t overreact. If you believed in your draft it is way to early, with a very few exceptions, to be coming off your decisions.