Part 2 of our review of pre season so far…
Part 1 can be found here: https://fplelstatto.com/part-1-2-arsenal-huddersfield/
The Foxes have only played one friendly, in what is an unusually light list of pre-arranged friendlies. With several key players absent due to World Cup duty, the remaining Foxes put four past Notts County in what turned out to be a comfortable win. The one goal that Leicester conceded came about from a simple ball played over the top of the defence, who were too slow to respond to the threat- something which could cost them in Gameweek 2 against a Wolves side known for their rapid wing-play.
It’s tough to analyse Leicester given that their full-strength squad hasn’t really had much of a run-out. That said, one of the players worthy of mentioning was the 4.5m midfielder Hamza Choudhury, who played well in the match and deserved the goal he scored in the game. This normally wouldn’t be granted much in terms of column space for FPL purposes, but I feel it’s worth monitoring him as he’s been used extensively in Leicester’s kit launch photographs which could potentially suggest that Claude Puel intends upon using him more frequently this season- he might prove to be a hidden gem.
The acquisition of Alisson Becker will not have come at a better time for Liverpool, with Loris Karius continuing with his wretched vain of form, making huge mistakes against Tranmere Rovers before going on to have another horror show against Borussia Dortmund. The Brazilian is expected to shore up a Red’s defence that managed to keep 17 clean sheets last season. Another new signing, Naby Keita, has provided three assists in pre-season, and given Liverpool’s favourable opening set of fixtures could be presented the opportunity to gain more during the earlier gameweeks.
The appeal of Andy Robertson as an FPL asset has been further enhanced during pre-season. Aside from the fact Liverpool haven’t conceded during pre-season while he’s been on the pitch, Robertson provided an excellent assist against Dortmund with a pin-point cross from a short corner to find the head of Virgil Van Dijk, who duly obliged. His willingness to push forward at any given opportunity often gets him in the right positions to contribute to attacks, and he is brimming with confidence.
The Reds’ standard attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are yet to feature in pre-season as they are being eased back in from World Cup duty, however a fit again Daniel Sturridge has scored 3 times in pre-season, and could possibly provide a rotation risk if he continues to play well.
It’s difficult to put the Citizens’ pre-season exploits into any genuine context as they have only played one match against Borussia Dortmund; a game where they largely utilised youth team members & club outcasts. Riyad Mahrez had his first run out where he looked somewhat rusty, but clearly capable of causing problems down the right side of midfield. Leroy Sane is another FPL asset whose progress will be of key interest to many players, but he didn’t have much of an opportunity to make an impact during his 17 minute cameo as a substitute.
Ultimately we need to be patient with Man City as a far better indicator of their possible Gameweek 1 squad will come in their Community Shield match with Chelsea on Sunday 5th August.
United’s opening two friendlies offered little in the way of optimism for attacking returns, but there is certainly the potential for points at the back. Jose Mourinho caused quite the stir in the FPL community when he announced that Valencia, Bailly, Smalling and Shaw would make up his starting back-line for United’s first match against Leicester. However a slight knock to Antonio Valencia against San Jose Earthquakes served as a timely reminder that Jose might be forced to change his plans. Defensively, United have remained solid and look a safe bet to earn clean sheets in some of their easier early fixtures.
Anthony Martial, a natural winger, has been touted as an option for FPL managers given that he has started the past two friendlies in a centre-forward role, but it is evident from watching both matches that he’s simply unsuited to the position- frequently making the wrong runs, and generally lacking the intelligence needed to be in the right position at the right time. There are rumours that the Frenchman might move on before the window is out, but in his current form if he was to remain at United I’m less than confident that he could deliver returns.
The Magpies have thus far only played the one friendly- a comprehensive 2-0 win over St Patrick’s Athletic in a game which showcased very little to tempt FPL managers to invest in their players. The best player during that match, midfielder Sean Longstaff, is currently not priced up in the game- but may well be if he was to continue to be selected during pre-season, certainly one to keep an eye on. One thing to note is that during the St Pat’s match the competitively priced £5.5m Christian Atsu scored a penalty- it is worth monitoring in the remaining friendlies whether he retains these duties as he could be a budget-friendly asset.
It is very noticeable that Southampton can’t seem to keep a clean sheet; it was an issue they suffered with last season, and is one that hasn’t been resolved thus far, having conceded 8 goals in 3 friendlies. From watching them, it’s obvious to see why they have struggled: they stand off midfielders who run at them, their full-backs don’t work back creating freedom in the wings, plus there’s a general lack of communication when trying to prevent the movements of target men. To combat this, Jannik Vestergaard was signed from Borussia Monchengladbach. Against Derby, Vestergaard’s height proved a handful from set-pieces and he was unlucky not to have scored; 5m might price him out for some, but his goal threat means he’s certainly one to watch.
For some inexplicable reason, Mark Hughes continues to place his faith in Wesley Hoedt, a defender whose ineptitude in reading the game will almost certainly gift goals to opponents. His lack of awareness has already been problematic during pre-season as he gifted an equaliser to Jiangsu Suning, and two goals to Derby County on Saturday. When Gameweek 1 comes around, the Saints will face a Burnley side who will already be match fit having played two Europa League matches. If they cannot rectify their defensive frailties, Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes will have a field day.
Spurs have played two pre-season games behind closed doors, so it’s difficult to analyse their performances with any real degree of scrutiny. With such a large portion of their squad having featured in the latter stages of the World Cup, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the club have been cautious with their friendly preparations.
However Erik Lamela has shone in both matches, scoring a hat-trick in the first game against Southend whilst offering creativity and assist potential in their second match against Brentford. Heung-min Son will be off to the Asian games after Tottenham’s Premier League opener against Newcastle- it might be the case that they’ll miss his presence as he proved to be a handful when he was introduced as a substitute against Brentford.
Spurs have 4 friendlies to come before Gameweek 1, so a deeper analysis of what their depleted ranks can offer will soon be available.
Watford’s two friendlies in Germany have seen them draw 1-1 with Cologne and earn a 3-1 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf. The Hornets have rotated their line-up in both halves of both friendly matches. Watford have failed to keep clean sheets in both of their pre-season matches, with both of them coming about as a result of the defence failing to pick up men in open space and allowing them to shoot. However generally Watford’s back line has been solid, and their first two Premier League matches offer the potential for them to gain back-to-back clean sheets.
Up front, Andre Gray has looked impressive in pre-season. The 6m forward found the back of the net against Cologne, before setting up a great cross for Isaac Success in the Fortuna Dusseldorf game. His off-the-ball play has also assisted the team in the way they build up attacks, and given Watford’s run of 4 home matches in their opening 5 Gameweeks should definitely be considered.
It’s worth noting that Gerard Deulofeu, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Nathaniel Chalobah haven’t been involved in any of the pre-season matches as of yet; whether that’s simply to ease them back into the new campaign or a sign of anything deeper lying is yet to be seen.
West Ham United
Marko Arnautovic has garnered a lot of attention in recent days due to a combination of his positional reclassification, his 7m price tag, and his 3 goals in the Hammers’ most recent two friendlies. It’s somewhat unfortunate then that West Ham have such a difficult opening set of gameweeks- which will curtail any defensive interest. When I was covering Stoke City’s matches, Arnie gained a reputation for blowing hot & cold; on his day he was a world-beater capable of scoring past any one of the top 4 clubs, but he was equally likely to sulk around the pitch whilst contributing little more than another booking. Right now he is displaying his best traits, but a few poor results could see that change.
West Ham have been very busy during the summer, a new manager in Manuel Pellegrino will make the Irons a much more attractive proposition than under David Moyes. Their recent set of friendlies has seen Andriy Yarmolenko shine in midfield. The Ukrainian’s trickery and tendency to cut inside will throw off defenders who lack the patience to sit back and absorb the pressure- which could bear fruit in Gameweek 1 against a Liverpool side known to commit numbers forward. It’s worth noting that Jack Wilshere has also impressed in the friendlies he’s been involved in, although it’s unlikely he’ll be a prime FPL asset given he’s only provided 17 assists & 8 goals in 166 Premier League appearances.
Quite possibly the most hotly anticipated club of all the newly-promoted sides, Wolves are far from your typical Championship side. Under Nuno Espirito Santo’s stewardship, bankrolled by Chinese billionaires and with a direct hotline to super-agent Jorge Mendes- this ambitious Wolves side will be targeting a top-half finish.
There’s a lot of waves being made about Diogo Jota’s midfield classification- particularly given the 17 goals he scored for Wolves last season. Against Ajax, Jota was utilised as a central forward, but he never looked entirely comfortable in that position and looked to drift wide to pick up the play. He generally played off the main striker in a wide left role last season, which is where I would expect him to be used for the most part of the 2018/19 campaign.
Another player who has gained a lot of popularity is Ruben Neves- largely due to the spectacular long-range goals he was able to score in the Championship. Priced at 5m, his play style doesn’t generally lend itself to FPL points, as he fulfils a deeper midfield role. There will be some who have gotten excited that Neves took the penalty kick in his side’s 1-1 draw with Ajax- but this should be taken into context as Wolves had no less than six different penalty takers last season.
Defensively, it’s difficult to tell who Nuno Santo will start with as his club are expected to remain active in the transfer market- but the surging runs of Barry Douglas and Matt Doherty down both flanks have certainly caught the eye.