The Fantasy Premier League (FPL) talking points from two of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures are discussed in our latest Scout Notes article.
Here we focus on the Manchester derby and Brighton & Hove Albion v Liverpool.
The numbers you see in this article are taken from our Premium Members Area, where you can access Opta player and team data for every single Premier League fixture this season.
MARVELLOUS MITOMA AND BRILLIANT BRIGHTON…
Leandro who? Brighton may have been without their bolshie Belgian but there’s seemingly an endless supply of talent coming through the doors at the Amex and he was scarcely missed against Liverpool.
The 3-0 scoreline didn’t really flatter the Seagulls, who racked up the highest expected goals (xG) tally (2.24) of any of the 12 Premier League clubs who were in action on Saturday.
It was a continuation of some exhilarating football under Roberto De Zerbi: no club has scored more Premier League goals than Brighton (24) since his appointment.
Above: Brighton’s next seven fixtures – although note that Gameweek 25 could be a blank if Newcastle make the EFL Cup final
For Fantasy managers, Albion’s upcoming fixtures are pretty damn good (see above) and their players are veritable bargains. Not one of their starting front four on Saturday currently costs more than £5.0m in FPL, while their goalkeeper and three starting Fantasy defenders in Gameweek 20 all fall within the £4.4m-£4.7m price rung.
Solly March (£5.0m) was the headline-grabber against Liverpool, scoring twice, assisting once, and even having a penalty award overturned for offside.
He’s now hit double figures for attacking returns in 2022/23, six of which have come since the World Cup.
Above: Solly March is in fine company for NPxGI over the last six matches
We’re in Almiron territory with March, who went over two years without a single Premier League goal before his purple patch began on Boxing Day.
Can a player previously known for his profligacy be transformed into a points machine? There is some deserved scepticism (as there was with Almiron) but we’ve seen with Newcastle’s Paraguayan what a good manager-player bond can do – and De Zerbi is setting March’s sights high.
“I love playing for Roberto De Zerbi. He’s great. He puts his arm around you and tells you you’re a good player and maybe that’s what I needed.” – Solly March
“We had a bet with Solly, he has to score more than ten goals. He has this target because he can score more goals – like Mitoma. If we end the season with Mitoma, more than ten goals, Solly more than ten goals, we can arrive in a high position in the table.” – Roberto De Zerbi
Despite March’s heroics and good underlying numbers, Kaoru Mitoma (£4.9m) is arguably the more exciting prospect. He continues to turn in electric display after electric display on the left flank and De Zerbi’s quote above about a goals target does make it sound like the young Japan international will continue to be a regular starter going forward. Trossard’s probable departure makes that even more likely.
Since the Boxing Day restart, Mitoma beats all of his teammates for penalty area touches, shots in the box and big chances. Another attacking return followed on Saturday when his wayward effort was tapped in by March.
There was another start for £4.5m forward Evan Ferguson, who provided the assist for March’s second. He’s another exciting prospect in FPL but Danny Welbeck‘s (£6.5m) return to fitness is something to consider, the former Manchester United forward scoring off the bench here. There is also a sense that Albion’s wide players tend to benefit more in De Zerbi’s system: Trossard wasn’t as effective as a false nine than when at wing-back/on the wing, while Welbeck was goalless all season until Saturday.
In less enticing news, the versatile Pascal Gross (£5.6m) was at right-back for this match and World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister (£5.4m) was back in his deeper central midfield role. Ideally, we’d like to see them further forward before they re-enter the FPL thinking.
…BUT LOUSY LIVERPOOL
Liverpool were as bad as Brighton were good.
While injury has ravaged their squad, they were still perhaps only two regular starters away from it being a full-strength XI.
Owners of Mohamed Salah (£12.8m) will be getting itchy fingers after another blank, although there is at least some mitigation for the attack: no team has had more ‘big chances’ since the restart, while Salah himself had a good opportunity to score here in an otherwise quiet display.
There’s not much defence for the, er, defence, however.
It’s eight straight league matches without a clean sheet, while their frightening rate of ‘big chance’ concessions was something we highlighted in last week’s Big Numbers article. The imploding midfield three in front of the back four warrant just as much criticism.
Jurgen Klopp’s post-match words were damning; unless we get a Double Gameweek for the Reds soon, their defenders in particular are tough sells at their exorbitant prices.
“Bad, really bad. I can’t remember a worse game. It’s not difficult maybe. Brighton were the better team, it was well deserved. They played really well.
“It was a very organised team against a not very organised team. We gave the ball away, the spaces were too big, and we couldn’t push up. That is obviously not good, especially against a super well drilled side like Brighton.
“We need to be creative with the options we have. What I saw today from my team was that they were not really convinced by it. That’s it.”
“Yes, how can you not be [concerned] after a game like this? I cannot stand here and say it didn’t happen. Of course, we have to be very concerned about it.” – Jurgen Klopp
MARTIAL INJURY LATEST
Anthony Martial (£6.6m) was passed fit to start in the Manchester derby on Saturday lunchtime but his number was up by half-time and he failed to emerge for the second half.
Erik ten Hag confirmed after the match that there was an(other) issue with the Frenchman, without expanding on what the problem was exactly or whether he’ll be fit for Wednesday’s clash at Crystal Palace.
“At half-time, we had to sub Anthony Martial, he had some complaints.” – Erik ten Hag
When Antony (£7.4m) was seen warming up during the interval, most of the watching public would have assumed he was coming on for Marcus Rashford (£7.1m).
The in-form England international had needed medical treatment towards the end of the first half for a blow to the hip, and he was moving gingerly as the half-time whistle blew. But out he came for the second half to not just score but also last until stoppage time, his eventual substitution just winding down the clock.
The comments from player and manager after the game don’t hint at too much lingering concern.
“Players have to be resilient, you get kicked in a game and obviously it happened. It hurts but you have to keep going and you have to do it to get the right result, the right performance. Fight and deal with that, even if it keeps on being painful. You have to contribute to the game. You have to deal with it. He did today and got rewarded for it, the team got rewarded for it. In top football, you have to suffer, sacrifice in getting the right result.” – Erik ten Hag
“Just a little knock but in games like this you have to try and push through. Thankfully I managed to do that, obviously scoring the goal at the end and winning the game and that’s what we set out to do.” – Marcus Rashford
Three and a half months after being humped 6-3 at the Etihad, Manchester United showed how far they have come under Erik ten Hag.
They admittedly needed the help of a controversial equaliser from Bruno Fernandes (£9.8m), which arrived out of the blue and after a contentious VAR/offside call, to turn the game on its head.
But they were in the contest for much of the game, restricting their cross-city rivals to just one shot on target – substitute Jack Grealish‘s (£6.8m) headed goal – and only five efforts in total. Erling Haaland (£12.2m) was limited to an expected goal involvement (xGI) tally of 0.28, his second-lowest of the season.
Above: City had just three shots in the box all game
As the above suggests, it’s the defence that has really impressed over the last few months – and the Red Devils now pretty much belong in the same conversation as Arsenal and Newcastle when it comes to FPL defences.
Casemiro‘s (£4.9m) arrival has given United the world-class number six they have missed for years but ten Hag, a bit like Eddie Howe at Newcastle, is getting a tune out of some formerly maligned players: his two full-backs in the derby, for example, are very likely his second choices in their respective positions, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£4.3m) performing admirably since his dead United career was resurrected. Luke Shaw (£5.1m) was superb again at centre-half, not that his FPL owners really want to see him in that position given the lack of a supplementary attacking threat.
Rashford was again the pick of the bunch in terms of goal threat. Two gilt-edged opportunities had already gone begging in the first half before he tapped in substitute Alejandro Garnacho’s (£4.2m) cross, while he was the interfering/not interfering party in Fernandes’ strike. That, incidentally, was the Portugal international’s first ‘big chance’ since Gameweek 6.
CITY NOT QUITE FIRING
We get to see City again in Double Gameweek 20 when they take on Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad.
Whatever fare they serve up on Thursday, the reality is that many of us will retain a keen interest in Pep Guardiola’s side regardless.
A home match against Wolves follows in Gameweek 21, while yet another Double Gameweek (in 23) precedes trips to two of last season’s promoted clubs:
And while City have plundered half the goals (10) that Brighton have (20) in their last seven matches, the reigning champions still sit top of the pile for xG. They may not look quite right at present and even their own players admit to there being a dip in levels, but the numbers still remain decent even in a supposed slump.
There’s still time to debate which of their players is worth hanging onto going forward, though.
Joao Cancelo (£7.2m), Kyle Walker (£4.8m) and Phil Foden (£8.2m), three hitherto regulars who had struggled for game-time since the World Cup, were back in the starting XI here but blanked again, the two full-backs getting a mild rebuking from their manager (see below) and Foden hooked after 56 minutes for goalscorer Grealish.
“In the first half [we had control] except five or ten minutes because our full-backs were not in the right position. Our second half was really good, in this stadium always you have to do it. We miss a little bit our threat up front, our players up front, we were a bit disconnected. It’s not easy when they follow man to man, the switch of plays, their full-backs are close to our wingers. We make a fantastic game considering the quality of the opponent.” – Pep Guardiola
Rico Lewis (£3.9m) was benched as a result of Walker and Cancelo’s inclusion but Kevin De Bruyne (£12.5m) at least finally delivered the goods after four blanks, providing the excellent assist for Grealish’s opener.