Stag’s Take - Gameweek 18
Since Liverpool lifted the big-eared Champions League trophy on June 1st, we have known that the Club World Cup would force Liverpool to miss a gameweek around the festive fixtures. Even in November, it felt like it was ages away, but the Reds’ trip to Qatar is very much underway and the “Liverblank” is upon us.
It has, however, been part of the FPL planning arithmetic for weeks. How else did the community find itself despairing at Mo Salah, who had shown glimpses of form in the lead up to GW17, scoring a brace against bottom-placed Watford? Nobody wanted to bring him back into their sides knowing that he wouldn't play in GW18 for weeks! This writer considered a maverick move for the Egyptian but fortunately, I decided that I couldn’t drop Kevin De Bruyne ahead of the Arsenal game. How right that proved!
After an exhausting return trip to Qatar to play two games in quick succession, the Reds return for a Stephens’ Day (Boxing Day to many readers) clash with Leicester City (away). Leicester, who have the tightest defence in the league, are rarely held scoreless under Brendan Rodgers - this is not a good FPL fixture for any Liverpool asset. Liverpool are indeed the only side in the PL who are yet to fail to find the net in a game this term, however both Sheffield United and Manchester United, the third and sixth best defences in the league by goals conceded, held them to just one.
Less than three days from full time at the King Power, just as the fatigue may truly be affecting Klopp’s men, the resurgent Wolves visit Anfield. Wolves are notoriously good in fixtures against the Top Six also. Skip on four days again and Liverpool face Sheffield United at Anfield. Even though the Blades’ form has dipped a little in recent months, their defence remains one of the strongest in the division. Only Man City and Liverpool have conceded less shots in the box than them in the last five games.
Whilst all these fixtures are ongoing, the risk of rotation hovers over all of Liverpool’s highly owned attacking assets. The argument that Salah and Mané have “already had their rest” is one to which I give short shrift - I think it’s inevitable that at minimum both players will miss half a game but probably even more. New signing Takumi Minamino will be eligible to play in the December 2nd game against Lord Lundstram and co, adding to the list of bodies hoping to dislodge one of the front three for at least a few minutes.
For TAA, Joe Gomez always threatens his place, and with Liverpool’s clean sheets scarce, it’s easy to wave goodbye to Trent for a period. This is made easier by the fact that his value has only moved by 0.3 since the start of the season.
For those considering replacing Trent, Robbo or the ever-present VVD, consider the following players:
Martin Kelly (4.4) - No side has kept more clean sheets (3) than Palace in the last five gameweeks. As noted in last weeks column, The Eagles’ strength at the back is not backed up by statistics, but if you don’t have coverage, it would be prudent to invest given Hodgson’s men have four good fixtures coming up (new, WHU, sou, nor).
Matt Targett (4.4) - The better pick of the two, for me, as the ex-Southampton man provides a threat going forward too. Villa host Danny Ings’ Southampton and Norwich before travelling to Watford over the next three gameweeks. The Villains have kept three clean sheets in eight home matches so far this term.
Serge Aurier (5.1) - Aurier has been ever-present on the right of José Mourinho’s defence at Spurs, picking up two league assists in his reign. Spurs face good defensive fixtures in their next five, and their defence remains a differential in an increasingly templated FPL community. Only the aforementioned Matt Targett (3) has created more big chances than Aurier (2) in the last six gameweeks.
There are signs that attackers who appeared in the Gameweek 1 template team are coming to the fore again. Already, Spurs attackers are back in vogue, Marcus Rashford is send only to Jamie Vardy in xG terms over the last six, and now Richarlison is scoring again.
The Brazilian was just starting to show signs of life as the Marco Silva era faded away at Goodison Park, scoring in three of Marco Silva’s final four games, but he has continued his good record since, beating Kepa once in the 3-1 win over Chelsea in GW16 and recording more penalty box touches than any many in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United, albeit whilst failing to register a single chance. Everton’s much-discussed run of poor Christmas fixtures is already over, with a clash with Man City their only encounter with a member of the “New Top Six” between now and GW28.Only five midfielders have had more shots in the box than Richarlison over the past six gameweeks.
Whisper it, but Raheem Sterling’s PL Midas Touch appears to be returning. Kevin De Bruyne may have stolen the show in City’s Arsenal deconstruction in GW17 but it was “Raz” who was the most prominent attacker in the final third. Sterling’s three shots in the box and xG of 0.62 were bested by nobody, with the Englishman picking up one goal which KdB had served on a platter. Like he has (frustratingly) done all season, Sterling also scored in midweek cup action, notching up a brace in a 3-1 League Cup win over Oxford United. The signs are looking good again for a player now owned by less than 12% of the world’s Top 10K.
Those Spurs mids
The question on many peoples’ lips is “Alli or Son?”. Honestly, as I said in recent columns, there is little to choose between them in the Mourinho era, so I recommend you go with your gut. Alli shades the debate in my opinion because of his lower price tag with near identical underlying stats and gross returns.
Jamie Vardy (Man City A)
In a week where there is no obvious captaincy choice, Mr Reliable this season is hard to ignore. The City defence is only a little less skittish than it was in the immediate aftermath of Aymeric Larporte’s injury a few months ago, so even though they concede few chances by dent of rarely ceding possession, when the chance comes it seems to inevitably end up in the back of Ederson’s net.
Marcus Rashford (Watford A)
Watford’s defence has dramatically improved since the early weeks of the season yet last weekend, Liverpool’s pace opened them up time and time again, only for the final ball to fail to find its man more often than not. Luck can’t favour the Hornets when they face the big sides every week, and where United do create big chances, more often than not it is Marcus Rashford who is in place to finish them. He hit his 15th goal of the season for the first time in his career during the week and we’re not even at the halfway point. Quietly, he is in the form of his life.
Danny Ings (Aston Villa A)
Southampton’s struggles are well documented, but if it wasn’t for Ings, they would already have been condemned to the drop. Averaging a goal every other game for a team that can’t score is quite an achievement. Over the last four gameweeks, no side has conceded more shots in the box (54) or big chances (13) than the Villains.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.