UEFA Champions League (UCL)
Déjà vu! Gunner’s fans say it year after year at the same period of the season. Arsenal breeze through the UCL group stage and into the knockout phase only to stumble at the first hurdle and pack their bags to head home. Once again, this seems the most likely outcome unless there is a miracle recovery at the Emirates in the second leg against Bayern Munich. In the opening encounter Arsenal were completely dismantled 5-1 to a far superior Bayern team. Everything that Arsenal are accustomed to dominating in matches was reversed. Passing, possession, goal attempts all favoured the home side and left Arsenal looking like schoolboys. For FPL managers this result can create headaches in selecting Arsenal players. However, the UCL is a whole different standard of competition. First team regulars Alexis Sánchez, Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott performed fantastically throughout the group stage, however saw a significant decrease when up against the might of Bayern. Lucky for FPL managers, no teams in the Premier League equal the power that Bayern possess, meaning that Arsenal should get back to winning ways once they recommence league fixtures.
So, Should FPL managers stick with, or ditch their Arsenal selections?
Sánchez has been in another stratosphere in comparison to his Arsenal team-mates in terms of performance and influence this season. There has been recent speculation about Sánchez jumping ship from the Emirates for a more successfully club in search of trophies. The likes of Juventus, PSG AC Milan and former club Barcelona are all lining up transfer bids for the Chilean. As of now Sánchez has chosen to stick with the Gunners. However, the UCL loss to Bayern could be the last straw for Sánchez’s loyalty to Arsenal. Sánchez has registered 20 goals and 11 assists in all competitions starting 31 of his 33 matches this season, mainly in a striking role. Although Sánchez was far below his usual self at striker against Bayern, his underlying stats were quite good and don’t diminish his FPL prowess. Missing a penalty was the only blemish Sánchez had in the game, albeit scoring on the rebound. Registering a goal from 2 shots (both on target), Sánchez had 2 successful dribbles (4 attempts), 2 aerial duals won and made 2 key passes leading to goal attempts. In total, Sánchez was involved in 4 of Arsenals 7 total shots. Arsenal only managed 26% possession but Sánchez was highly effective the few times he had the ball. It is unlikely that Arsenal will ever have such low possession in the league therefore Sánchez is still a must have for FPL managers. Sánchez’s only downfall when returning to league fixtures is that his head might have already left Arsenal and he is waiting for the summer transfer window to move on. This mindset could cause his contributions and FPL points returns to decrease as the season draws to a close.
Performing far below the heights of last season, Özil hasn’t been a mainstay in FPL manager’s squads this year. However, his underlying stats have been quite good, and a meagre 6.5% ownership makes Özil a good differential pick for the backend of the season. Arsenal have a very favourable run-in and will more than likely be without European commitments making Özil and attractive alternate choice. Starting all 7 fixtures in the UCL, Özil orchestrated Arsenal attack in the group stage, scoring 4 goals and providing 3 assists, having 1.8 shots per game above his average of 1.6 shots per game in the Premier League. In the first playoff game against Bayern, Özil was asked to perform far more defensive duties than usually expected but performed relatively well for such an attacking minded player. Registering 5 successful tackles, Özil was second best on field only to Arturo Vidal, ahead of defensive team-mates Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs. If Özil applies himself defensively while sustaining his attacking threat, FPL managers could relish in his possible points returns heading into Arsenals easier fixture run and double game-weeks.
Starting the 2016/17 season off well, Walcott was considered a handy option by all FPL managers. 3 goals and 2 assists in the first 6 games made the Arsenal midfielder one of the best performers in his position. Dropping off the pace with injury in GW18, Walcott has just recently been promoted back into the starting XI in league competition. Arsenals first leg playoff against Bayern Munich saw Walcott drop back to the bench. This has been a regular occurrence in the UCL for Walcott this season – 2 starts and 3 bench appearances. However, Walcott has managed 5.4 shots per 90 minutes of game time in the competition making him a goal threat with every touch of the ball. When substituted on in the 65th minute against Bayern, Walcott had little to no impact as Arsenal struggled in every aspect of the game. With Arsenal having a blank in GW26, Walcott won’t have seen much game time in multiple weeks. Not having scored since GW17 against Manchester City, Walcott might not be the best inclusion in FPL squads. Instead, Alex Iwobi on the other wing could be a prized possession for FPL managers as an Arsenal selection due to his low price (£6.0) and his recent nailed on status.
UEFA Europa League (UEL)
For the second season in a row Tottenham have been by far the most consistent Premier League team. With the equal best defensive record in the league (18 goals conceded), Tottenham have applied their defensive structure and assurance to European competition this season. Finishing 3rd in their UCL group, Tottenham got a second life in the Europa league (UEL). However, Tottenham faced KAA Gent in the first knockout phase of the competition and suffered a 1-0 away loss. This is not much to fear for Spurs fans as Tottenham have been scintillating at home this season in all competitions, yet to lose at White Hart Lane in the league so far. For FPL managers, this creates different dilemmas when considering team selections. If Tottenham go deep into the UEL, more work load will be thrust upon top players Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Kyle Walker. This could possibly decrease league performance output due to the multitude of games being played. Eriksen, Alli and Walker this season have become relatively fixture proof individuals. Kane however has been up and down.
With UEL in the picture, what should FPL managers do with Spurs players?
Kane, this season hasn’t seen the same trust he was given by FPL managers in past seasons. Still having already registered 14 goals in the league, Kane is on track to easily pass the 20 goal barrier for the third consecutive season since breaking into the starting XI at Spurs. However, as much as Kane has done for Tottenham in the league, in European competitions he has been less than impressive. Appearing in 27 European games in his career, Kane has managed 11 goals. As a striker this appears as a decent record but Kane’s impact factor in big playoff games has been non-evident. Averaging 4.3 shots per game against stronger UCL opponents, Kane was expected to recapture top form in Spurs’ most recent fixture against KAA Gent. However, Kane’s only significant involvement was a shot that struck the woodwork. As Tottenham’s only out and out striker in the UEL tie against Gent, seeing midfielders Alli, Dembèlè and Eriksen all have more shots should make FPL managers reconsider the reasons for selecting Kane in their squads. At a price of £11.2, Kane compromises FPL squad depth with his selection. Having blanked against Hull and Burnley at home in GW16 and GW17, FPL managers have lost trust in the young Englishman. With age on his side and no credible threat to his position, it is almost certain that Kane will start every game when he is fit so that Tottenham can continue to push for the Premier league title, even with European commitments. Possibly having the easiest fixture difficulty for the remainder of the season, Kane should improve his form, but with cheaper forward options performing at high levels, FPL managers shouldn’t put Kane at the top of their selection list.
Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen
For FPL managers there has been one constant decision throughout the 2016/17 season - Alli or Eriksen? Although both have been in dazzling form throughout the campaign, many FPL managers opt for one or the other, using two other possible spurs player spots for the ever reliable Kyle Walker and Harry Kane. In the UEL, Alli didn’t do any favours for himself in the minds of FPL managers, performing sub-par with 2 shots on target and picking up a yellow card. Eriksen was only given 11 minutes off the bench, managing 2 shots off target. Throughout the league season, Eriksen has given FPL managers 7 double figure returns while Alli has only managed 4. Although this is in Eriksen’s favour, Alli has scored 11 goals to Eriksen’s 5. Amazingly assist-wise the numbers are flipped. Eriksen with 11 assists and Alli with 5 assists. Both players find themselves in very advanced positions within the team set-up, often playing just behind Kane in an attacking midfield role or alongside the Englishman at centre forward. For FPL managers only able to afford one in their squad, Eriksen is the prized choice. Eriksen is averaging 3.8 shots and 2.8 key passes per game in the league. These are the stats that lead to FPL points returns for midfielders, and both are far superior to Alli (2.4 shots, 1.3 key passes). However, in the long run it would be wise for FPL managers to double-up on Tottenham midfielders (Eriksen and Alli) with the sacrifice of Harry Kane, who has scored big returns this season but has been far too inconsistent to trust ahead of his counterparts.
In the best form in England, Man Utd went into their UEL tie against Saint-Etienne on a 16 game unbeaten run in the League. Zlatan Ibrahimović continued to dominate European competitions registering all three goals in a 3-0 win against the French opponents in the knock-out tie. For FPL managers, Ibrahimović is one of the lynch-pins in most squads (39.5%TSB). However, he was not the only stand out player in this match for the Red Devils. Midfielders Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial yet again showed why United paid such large transfer fees for each individual. Along with the midfield, United defenders were solid yet again. Man Utd looked a level above the Group C winners, leading every statistic in the fixture (shots, pass accuracy, possession, take-on efficiency and tackles). Manchester Utd players look to be a good selection for FPL managers in the coming weeks as fixtures are favourable. However, Ibrahimović isn’t the only answer to gain points returns.
Manchester United players could be essential, but outside Ibrahimović who should be included?
Against Saint Etienne, Pogba put in another fantastic performance. After a slow start to the Premier League season, Pogba has picked up as of late. From both an advanced attacking midfield position as well as defensive midfield, Pogba has been highly involved in most of United’s attacking play and has been one of the reasons the red side of Manchester has been on such a great run of form. In the UEL this season, Pogba has registered 2 goals and 1 assist from 7 games with an average of 3.4 shots per game from midfield, higher than Ibrahimović (3.2). Pogba also averages 2 key goal scoring passes per game in the UEL. Both these shots and passing stats are identical to his Premier League contributions. It is only a matter of time before Pogba begins to consistently provide big returns to FPL managers. With less than 10% ownership (9.3%), Pogba could prove an excellent differential pick in FPL for those looking to jump up the rank leader board towards the end of the season. With Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, West Brom and Sunderland coming within the next 6 GWs, Ibrahimović will be a popular captain’s choice, but Pogba’s form suggests he could provide healthy returns for FPL managers willing to put faith in the Frenchman.
Martial, like Pogba was fantastic in the UEL tie against Saint Etienne. Registering 5 shots on target from 5 efforts and 6 successful take-ons from 6 attempts, Martial lead all players for take-ons and was second only to Pogba for shots. His 100% completion for two of the most important factors in his position should persuade FPL managers to consider including Martial in their squads for the league fixtures ahead. Martial has only completed 90 minutes in the league once this season (against Middlesbrough in GW19), and only featured in more than 2 consecutive games between GW1 and GW5 to open the season. Of the 8 games Martial has played more than 60 minutes this season, he has scored or assisted in 4, showing that when he is given time, he repays the faith placed on him. Being re-injected into the starting XI against Watford in GW25 after a 3 game hiatus, Martial produced a goal and an assist to give the 2.4% of FPL managers who have selected him a hefty 12 point return. Moreover, Martial is averaging 2.5 shots, 2.6 successful take-ons and 38 touches on the ball per 90mins in all competitions. FPL managers looking for a Manchester United player to include in their squads for the upcoming games, but are reluctant to bring in the pricy Ibrahimović should turn to and utilise Martial. The £9.2 differential midfielder will virtually be playing in the forward line, giving FPL managers another reason to bring the French international into their squads. However, FPL managers will need to act fast as Martials value is likely to rise quickly should he maintain his starting spot and positon.
Blind aided Manchester United in gaining another clean sheet against Saint Etienne in the UEL. Menacing in attack and strong in defence, Blind has nailed himself as certain starter in recent weeks in the united backline. Against Saint Etienne Blind managed 5 successful tackles to top the defensive duties among the Manchester United backline. With promising league fixtures to come for Man Utd, there is the likelihood that clean sheets will be on offer to capitalise on. Defensive FPL points have become a rich source of scoring for FPL managers in the 2016/17 season. For FPL managers, seeing Blind re-inserted into the left back position is good news. The potential for more threating attacking raids down the wing and possible goal assists is enticing. As Manchester United’s cheapest FPL defender (£5.2) in comparison to Chris Smalling (£5.8), Antonio Valencia (£5.6) and Eric Bailly (£5.3), Blind could be the best inclusion to capitalise on United’s clean sheet possibilities. Along with clean sheet temptation, Blind ranks above his defensive team mates for shots on target and key passes per 90mins this season, along with being on corner and set-piece duty. With these factors in mind, FPL managers should consider Blind for the points he could present to their squads and the saving in funds.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week
Manchester City and Leicester’s UCL fixtures will be reviewed along with the second legs of the UEL ties for Tottenham and Manchester United
By Luke Scali – Twitter (@LS_Potzi)