Pre-season is one of those strange beasts in the footballing world. On the face of it, managers appear to not place too much stock on the outcome of results as they prefer to experiment with different plans in a risk-free scenario whilst building match fitness ahead of an arduous campaign. However, in the FPL community these games can offer us an insight into the thought process of a manager, and help us identify some progressing line-up trends ahead of the Premier League season. In this article I’ve looked at each of the 20 Premier League clubs and based on my own personal observations attempted to analyse their pre-season campaign to date to spot if there are any emerging themes in preparation, and to identify if there are any players or sides who can take advantage of another club’s flaws within the opening gameweeks.
The Gunners have been relatively busy in pre-season, which is somewhat unsurprising considering that so few of their key assets were on World Cup duty. A haul of 18 goals in 3 matches against Boreham Wood, Crawley Town and Brentford looks impressive on paper, despite the calibre of opposition. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has notched 5 goals in that time and looks to be in red-hot form, which will be more sternly tested when they face Atletico Madrid, PSG and Chelsea in the upcoming fortnight.
Ultimately, Unai Emery’s side are currently experimenting with different formations and play styles- which is why two of Arsenal’s matches have been behind closed doors. New keeper Bernd Leno was said to be at fault for the goal which gifted Brentford victory in Arsenal’s latest friendly- however given that no video has surfaced yet showing the mistake, it is impossible to analyse whether it’s a one-off error or a fundamental issue which could recur during the season.
The Cherries haven’t struggled to find the back of the net thus far in pre-season: a well fought 1-1 draw with Sevilla preceded a hugely entertaining 4-3 win against Levante. In terms of attacking options, it is challenging to pin down which of the Cherries’ strikers will be the more regular point scorer. Callum Wilson’s pace was a threat against Sevilla, but there are still concerns over his fitness after he missed the Levante game. Josh King might be a better player in terms of guaranteed minutes, but he was anonymous against Levante and has been known to go missing at times over the course of a season.
Bournemouth opted for a 3 man defence against Sevilla, before reverted to a 4 ATB formation for Levante, utilising a different XI for each half. With Charlie Daniels a key player of interest given his 4.5m price tag, a particular concern for Fantasy managers will be the ease at which both of the Spanish outfits were able to play through balls round the back of the Cherries’ defence, with the ageing full-backs routinely finding themselves caught with pace. Interestingly against Levante, this issue did not present itself as much in the second half, with Nathan Ake and Dan Gosling much more mobile in the centre of defence. Nonetheless, clean sheets might be at a premium for the Cherries, with investment in West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic for Gameweek 2 seeming wise, while those looking to save money might find some unexpected mileage in Cardiff’s Bobby Reid in Gameweek 1.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Not too much can be read into Brighton’s assets from their two pre-season games. A near-full strength Brighton side first drew 1-1 with St Gallen, before being humbled 2-1 away to Wimbledon. Not exactly comfortable reading then, considering their horrendous run of games to open the new campaign.
A potential issue for Brighton was their inability to take their chances. Glenn Murray picked up a knock against St Gallen and subsequently did not feature in Brighton’s next friendly against Wimbledon. In that match, the Seagulls had 22 shots on goal, with 9 on target- but ultimately struggled in front of goal. With Murray struggling for fitness and a lack of attacking depth, it is perhaps wise to consider investing in defenders who are facing Brighton- with Manchester United and Liverpool two sides who face them in the opening 3 gameweeks.
Preparations for the Clarets have been in full force given their earlier start to the season this coming Thursday for their two Europa League matches with Aberdeen. The Clarets have played 5 friendlies, but haven’t fielded their full-strength side in any of the games, instead opting to split the team into 2 camps to play matches simultaneously. Looking exclusively at their pre-season performances, Burnley haven’t been too impressive on the face of things, with two narrow defeats to Shrewsbury Town and Blackpool making for grim reading. But the key thing to remember with Burnley is they generally thrive when they aren’t in possession of the ball. They have built a reputation as a counter-punching outfit who like to nick a goal, then defend the lead.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson returned for the Clarets in their 2-0 win against Macclesfield Town over the weekend, and his presence as a creator down the left hand side is obvious, often pulling the strings and making life extremely easy for the target men up front. At 6m he is perhaps slightly too expensive for most, but he was Burnley’s second highest points scorer behind Nick Pope, and could be worth the outlay. The Aberdeen match will be the most obvious indicator as to where Sean Dyche’s men are as a side, most notably when Nick Pope returns from his extended break. Quite obviously in their current guise the Clarets lack the depth needed to maintain a high standard of Premier League performances should they progress through the Europa League, but their opening run of fixtures is incredibly generous and the extra match sharpness should benefit them. Chris Wood, in particular, could be a huge benefactor for this kind opening set of games.
Cardiff’s 1-1 draw with Torquay halted a run of very one-sided friendly games. What a Premier League team can learn from fielding a full-strength team and using it to batter 2 sides who play in tier 10 of the footballing pyramid is quite frankly beyond me, let alone attempting to use the data for FPL purposes. The Bluebirds failed to impress in their friendly with Torquay United, who are now plying their trade in the sixth tier of English football. It could have been a blip, but Cardiff’s strikers wasted plenty of chances in front of goal, and looked uncomfortable dealing with Torquay’s attacking threat. The key to note is that the Bluebirds are capable of creating chances, and if given the nod Bobby Reid might well be able to take advantage of a Bournemouth defence that gift opportunities. Given the step-up in level that the Premier League will offer though, Cardiff appear to be a side that will struggle with the increase in quality as the season wears on- and should be targeted as such.
One point which might be worth noting is that Danny Ward, listed as a 4.5m midfielder, has been used as a forward in Cardiff’s friendly matches- but was substituted just 15 minutes into a substitute appearance after picking up a knock.
Chelsea began their pre-season against Perth Glory this lunchtime, and it will offer players a first glimpse at Maurizio Sarri’s side. The hot issue will surround his formation, and whether Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses will be surplus to requirements in the new system. Since it is very likely Sarri will want to test out several members of his new squad, it is advisable to wait until the Community Shield match with Manchester City on Sunday 5th August as that will be the match where we will have a better idea as to what his likely tactics will be at the start of the new season.
Palace have started pre-season in a promising fashion, and could prove to provide a lot of value in the early stages of the Premier League season. Patrick Van Aanholt is a very popular man in the FPL community, which is partially due to his love of fantasy football, but also because his end-of-season form appears to have continued into pre-season. Two goals against Halmstads did much to whet the appetite, and against Oxford on Saturday he continued to bomb down the left wing, finding himself in dangerous attacking positions frequently- and perhaps could count himself unlucky not to have delivered any attacking returns in that game. Another point of note is that Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a 4m asset, once again started the match- putting in a solid, if unspectacular, performance. A slight caveat with Palace’s defence is their lack of clean sheets, their attacking approach tends to cause them to switch off at the back.
Wilfried Zaha is one man who may not be with Palace for their opener against Fulham, but his pre-season form will make them more desperate than ever to retain his services. He appears to link up well with Andros Townsend, the two of them seem to be able to find each other frequently, with Zaha the benefactor of the final pass- this was best demonstrated against Oxford, where the link-up play between the two contributed to all three goals.
It feels strange to critique a club for a lack of goals considering that Everton managed to notch 22 in their opening friendly. However, anybody who caught a glimpse of the highlights from that drubbing of Austrian amateur side ATV Irdning will know that match was frankly a farce. Marco Silva’s side have since only mustered 1 goal in three pre-season matches, although they should have had far more but for Oumar Niasse and Cenk Tosun both being equally guilty of wasting chances across the matches.
Everton should in theory be a team that most FPL players will target, given that 8 of their opening 10 fixtures are very winnable. However, they appear to lack creativity in the centre of midfield. I wonder if this will change once Gylfi Sigurdsson starts getting more pre-season minutes, as Everton have lacked a player who is able to unlock a defence.
Speaking of defence, Everton have trialled a back 4 of Baines, Keane, Jagielka and Coleman in two of their friendlies. Those looking for a marauding fullback might be interested in Baines or Coleman- but Jagielka at 4.5m looks to be Marco Silva’s preferred man at the back. Given Everton’s attractive opening fixtures, he would represent a calculated risk.
With the imminent arrival of Richarlison from Watford, we should all be wary of how Marco Silva intends upon using him- particularly since it might well affect the minutes of the likes of Theo Walcott- and thus monitor accordingly.
A common theme which appears to be emerging with Fulham over pre-season is their lack of depth. While playing their strongest XI against Fenerbahce & Lyon, the Cottagers successfully kept things tight at the back and dealt with the threats presented well. However, when fringe players were offered their chance to shine, they completely crumbled against their more established opponents.
Lyon were known to be a quick team who attack on the wings, and in the second half consistently targeted the left back position when attacking, gaining 3 of their 4 goals as a result of attacks down that side. Their Gameweek 1 match against Crystal Palace could see them struggle to handle their wide pace, and Andros Townsend might be the benefactor of this frailty.
Should Fulham fail to recruit the right players to enhance the squad’s depth, they will become a punching bag around the busy winter months when injuries & fatigue are most likely to accumulate.
If pre-season is an indicator as to how a club will perform during the course of a season, Huddersfield Town are set to struggle defensively. You certainly can’t fault David Wagner’s willingness to find match fitness- they’ve played 6 pre-season matches in the last 12 days. The Terriers didn’t appear to have much in the way of end-product during matches last season, and it comes as no surprise that this hasn’t really changed over pre-season, bar a 4-0 win against Bury. Put simply, they are devoid of quality and should provide easy clean sheets for Chelsea and Man City in their first two fixtures.
Two defeats in mini-matches with Real Betis & Werder Bremen preceded a laboured 1-1 draw with Darmstadt over the past weekend. In the latter match, Aaron Mooy played his first 25 minutes of the pre-season campaign having been rested after international duty- and Huddersfield’s productivity noticeably improved during that period, particularly since he often looks like the only player capable of playing that killer through-ball. Jonas Lossl & Zanka are both due to link back up with the club soon after their World Cup exploits with Denmark, and if the evidence of pre-season is anything to go by, the Terriers can’t have this happen soon enough.
Part 2 – Leicester – Wolves now available here: https://fplelstatto.com/2018/07/24/pre-season-review-part-2-2-leicester-wolves