And we’re back! Just in time for a hectic boxing day schedule, we’re here to take a look at the week that was in Gameweek 18. Tottenham and Manchester United exploded for goals while Manchester City slipped up to give Liverpool the best Christmas gift of all, a gap at the top of the league. While this won’t be a Christmas centric piece I would like to take a second to wish a Merry Christmas to those who celebrate.
Let's get cracking...
He’s only got little arms
The festive period is supposed to bring joy to football fans far and wide but for fans of Everton, they may be hoping that Jordan Pickford wakes up with a lump of coal in his stocking as he committed his third error leading to a goal on Sunday. This brought Pickford level with Asmir Begovic and Bernd Leno to top a chart that no keeper wants to be on. While his most high profile mistakes were versus Liverpool and Tottenham, nothing can explain Pickford’s ineptitude when he’s off his line. Nope, not even his little arms Toon faithful.
Without Idrissa Gueye, Everton’s high line left a lot on Pickford in this match and he left much to be desired. At this point, the question is can Pickford learn to change his ways or will these mistakes continue to a degree that his defenders lose confidence in him. It’s a question that only Marco Silva, Pickford, and Everton’s goalkeeping coach can answer but if the answer is no, a new keeper will need to be brought in sooner rather than later.
Loris Karius was run out of Merseyside after one high profiled mistake. While Pickford’s haven’t been on as big of a stage, they have been worse than anything that Karius did while at Liverpool. Something has to give, right?
The fun is back in Manchester:
Considering that his first match was against Cardiff City, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t need to do much to make Manchester United look good except let them roam freely versus inferior opposition. And from Marcus Rashford’s goal, it looked like Manchester United was freed from the shackles of José Mourinho. But the interesting thing is that it’s not anything that Solskjaer did particularly well in that game. It’s that United has one of the best rosters in the Premier League and unless you overmanage, good teams usually beat bad teams.
The performance shouldn’t be an indicator of what Solskjar’s first choice team is due to Romelu Lukaku not being available for selection and Alexis Sánchez’s status being up in the air but United will drop a few crooked numbers including this week versus Huddersfield. The only constant is that each team will include Paul Pogba and David De Gea.
United will attack with intensity but the defense will leave much to be desired so I’m not particularly looking to invest in them for fantasy purposes but I want Pogba in my side now. With two assists in the game versus Cardiff and being almost undroppable by a manager with common sense, he should return to being the dual threat that hasn’t been seen since returning to United from Juventus. Get Pogba like yesterday. Seriously.
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What’s the value of a good midfield shield?
N’Golo Kante, Idrissa Gueye, and Fernandinho. What do they have in common? All are top-tier central defensive midfielders who save their teams from shipping in goals. But we’re not able to see their value until they are out in the case of Fernandinho and Gueye or have their positions changed in the case of Kante. It’s an interesting conundrum facing the most underappreciated members of teams.
In the case of Fernandinho, it was thought that left-back was Manchester City’s biggest weakness but after shipping in three goals to Crystal Palace(!) it’s clear that Fernandinho is the most irreplaceable guy on the roster. John Stones isn’t a midfielder and Yaya Toure is gone and without a club. A proper backup is one of the most important needs for the CItizens in the January window unless the team wants to see Liverpool or Tottenham surpass them to win the league. Manchester City is dazzling going forward but at the end of the day, defense wins championships. Fernandinho has been an iron man but the yellow card machine isn’t getting any younger and true injury insurance is a must.
Idrissa Gueye is the only thing holding Everton’s high wire act together. Marco Silva isn’t a defensively astute manager or he wouldn’t have tried to hold a high line versus a Tottenham side including Heung-Min Son. But Mike Goodman of Statsbomb explains this much better than I ever could. What’s important here is that when Gueye doesn’t play, Everton must adjust their tactics or their European dreams will be crushed by Jordan Pickford.
Kante isn’t as important here as Chelsea is heavily reliant on the performance of Jorginho to push forward in their games but the movement of Kante has turned a stout defense into one that can be easily exploited by going over Kante. The old saying that, “75% of Earth is covered with water and the rest is covered by N'Golo Kante” no longer rings true as he’s pushed higher up the pitch. Due to Maurizio Sarri bringing in a new system, the argument can be made that Jorginho is now more important to Chelsea than Kante but it’s clear that the defense is worse off with Kante higher up the pitch.
Looking at this from a fantasy lens, defenders from each of these teams should have a notch taken off of their value because one player missing can destroy their value. Put this in contrast to Liverpool and Newcastle who are keeping clean sheets regardless of who is in the lineups. Invest in teams with higher rotation in front of the backline because those are the teams that have a much stouter team defense than the three aforementioned teams. Basically, if it’s not Marcos Alonso or Lucas Digne I don’t want much to do with any of those three defenses.
I’d like to close with wishing everyone a Merry Christmas again but the real holiday here is Boxing Day. Let’s take a look at one of my favorite Christmas Carols though: