The remaining three Gameweek 7 matches from Saturday are the focus of our latest Scout Notes piece.
Manchester United v Crystal Palace, West Ham United v Sheffield United and Everton v Luton Town are the fixtures in question.
Any graphics and stats you see in this piece are taken from our Premium Members Area, where you can find Opta data on each and every Premier League match.
Manchester United are almost at the “come back, diaper” stage, with their season lurching from one low to the next.
The clean sheet loss against Palace was perhaps unfortunate, as Joachim Andersen‘s (£4.7m) thunderbolt was the type of shot that typically ends up in row Z and the visitors created little else of real note.
Of more concern is the attack, which has averaged only one goal per game this season. They also sit 12th for expected goals (xG), so it’s not just the absence of finishing boots to blame.
All the positivity from the midweek cup win over the Eagles, plus the boost of some returning bodies, was swiftly forgotten by 5pm on Saturday.
It’s Marcus Rashford (£8.8m), more so than Bruno Fernandes (£8.4m), that is the biggest worry at the moment.
It was just last week that Fernandes scored against Burnley and he was only denied an even better goal by the flying Sam Johnstone (£4.5m), also seeing an assist go begging when the Palace goalkeeper kept out a Rasmus Højlund (£7.1m) header.
Rashford’s form, however, has got to the point where Erik ten Hag is having to field questions on him in his post-match presser.
”I think he knows he can do better than he is now and I’m sure it will come. He works hard and it will come, but not automatically. The team has to work around him, and they have to invest a lot. The decision-making wasn’t good enough and then we don’t score.” – Erik ten Hag on Marcus Rashford
What the bare numbers don’t show are the poor decision-making when team-mates are in a better position and, more importantly, the downbeat body language.
And yet… he’s still had more goal attempts and shots in the box than any other FPL midfielder this season. He’s underachieving more on the xG front than any other midfielder, having historically exceeded his ‘expected’ tally. The upcoming fixtures are very decent, too.
We’ve seen what’s happened with Ollie Watkins (£8.0m) in recent weeks, from goalless going into Gameweek 6 to the top-scoring FPL asset in any position after Gameweek 7.
Keeping faith still requires more patience than most FPL managers are willing to give him, however, particularly with plenty of other (mostly cheaper) midfielders enjoying purple patches.
There is some mitigation for United’s blank, as Crystal Palace are quietly one of the better defensive sides in the division.
Look at what’s happened previously in Palace fixtures: Arsenal were made to graft for their 1-0 win, Brentford were kept to very few clear-cut chances, while free-scoring Aston Villa were goalless until an 87th-minute howitzer from Jhon Duran (£5.0m) changed the path of the game.
Despite the mixed bag of opening fixtures, Palace’s defensive numbers are positive:
|Rank v other clubs|
|Shots on target conceded||=3rd|
|Big chances conceded||=5th|
The Eagles were similarly solid last season, finishing fourth for xGC.
Andersen, the top-scoring FPL defender, and Johnstone, now likely devoid of short-to-medium-term competition following Dean Henderson‘s (£4.5m) injury, are the obvious targets when the fixtures get good in Gameweek 11.
There is a question mark over the attack, as Palace are as negatively reflected in those underlying numbers as they are shone in a positive light at the rear.
Eberechi Eze (£6.2m) at least banked a long-overdue assist for Andersen’s strike. He has been involved in 45 chances for Palace this season (27 shots and 18 key passes) and, on a similar theme to Rashford, is the biggest ‘underachiever’ among midfielders when it comes to non-penalty xGI.
BOWEN HITS THE BULLSEYE
Sheffield United delivered an improved performance following last weekend’s hammering by Newcastle United but the gulf in class was still telling in east London.
The Blades almost matched their hosts on the shot count but were met by stout defending and didn’t carve out a single ‘big chance’; West Ham had five.
Jarrod Bowen (£7.2m) continues to tick along very nicely, scoring from one of his six shots against the Blades. He’s now only one goal behind last season’s meagre tally of six, and the goals are backed up by strong underlying numbers: he’s top among all FPL midfielders for non-penalty expected goals (NPxG) in 2023/24.
Tomas Soucek (£4.9m) added a second for the Hammers, while Vladimir Coufal (£4.5m) contributed an assist for the third straight Gameweek. Coufal does have pedigree in this area, assisting on nine occasions in 2020/21, and with Bowen drifting in from the right flank, the Czech defender is given a license to get forward for crossing opportunities.
James Ward-Prowse (£6.3m) came close to an assist of his own on several occasions and despite blanking, still picked up a bonus point for his efforts.
Dominik Szoboszlai (£7.0m) is the only midfielder he trails for baseline bonus points (BBPS) this season, despite Ward-Prowse playing one game fewer than the Liverpool man and many others.
Above: Midfielders sorted by baseline bonus points (BBPS) in 2023/24
Bowen remains the go-to West Ham attacker due to his far superior goal threat but there isn’t the yawning chasm between the two overall that we might have expected.
A DOUGHTY PERFORMANCE
Luton Town’s Double Gameweek 7 got off to a flier, especially for those managers handing the armband to Carlton Morris (£5.6m).
The striker volleyed home his third goal of the season in the Hatters’ win over Everton, while he also headed against the woodwork in the build-up to Tom Lockyer‘s (£4.3m) opener. Another point-blank header was ruled out for offside.
He barely scrapes into the top 20 forwards for NPxG this season but owners will care little. It’s job done as far as Double Gameweek 7 is concerned, with anything that follows against Burnley on Tuesday a bonus.
It’s abandon ship time for Luton assets beyond the clash with the Clarets: eight of last season’s top nine follow over the next 11 Gameweeks.
Given the above run, it’s almost not worth pointing out that the corner-taking Alfie Doughty (£4.4m) is now creating chances at a more frequent rate than Kieran Trippier (£6.7m) this season. Another six opportunities were supplied at Goodison Park, mostly from set plays, including the assist for Morris’s goal.
The shirt seems to be his for now but longer-term rotation is a worry, with Ryan Giles (£4.5m) and Amari’i Bell (£4.0m) also getting run-outs at left wing-back already this season.
And it’s worth mentioning that Luton still haven’t kept a single clean sheet in 2023/24.
Neither have Everton, following their latest miserable afternoon on Merseyside.
A home game against goal-shy Bournemouth offers the final chance for Jordan Pickford (£4.4m) to improve on his awful 1.6 points-per-match average before Everton, like Luton, embark on a grim run of fixtures:
Everton have been strangely un-Dychean this season.
Without a single clean sheet at the back (semi-regular shut-outs were a hallmark of his Burnley side), they’ve created a hatful of chances at the other end.
Profligacy has dogged them, however, with last week’s win at Brentford the only time they’ve really capitalised on their creativity.
A cut-price Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£5.8m) was on the scoresheet for the third match running in league and cup but the Toffees wasted five other big chances and hit the woodwork, with the hard-luck stories continuing in front of goal.
“I am disappointed in the result, obviously. On the performance, it is broken record time. We dominated so much of the game and gave away really poor goals and didn’t take our chances. I have spoken endlessly about changing the story and it is our responsibility.” – Sean Dyche
Above: Only Chelsea have underachieved more than Everton on the xG front this season