Pre-season is now in full swing so in this series of articles we review each friendly match and offer insight as to bargain players, team form, and who’s hot and who’s not. The final friendlies are being played and we can begin to see player form and manager preferences heading into the full season. In this article we conclude that Norwich have some interesting picks, whilst Sunderland less so. Everton, so often a team to pick a defender from, have had an indifferent preseason, whilst Swansea are a team on the up with plenty of options to pick from. We also draw conclusions from the final friendlies of Manchester City, Sunderland and Tottenham.
1st August Crystal Palace 1-1 Fulham
Crystal Palace XI (4-2-3-1): Hennessey; Ward (Campbell), Dann, Delaney (Hangeland), Souare; Jedinak (Ledley), McArthur (Kelly); Puncheon, Cabaye (Zaha), Lee (Mutch), Murray (Gayle)
The first half saw both sides struggle to create chances, but the best Palace chance one fell to Cabaye, who after some great play between Ward, Puncheon and Murray, could not keep his shot down and fired over.
They went into half-time 1-0 down after a well-worked Fulham goal, but did not take long to get level after the break, with Souare meeting a Mutch corner to head home. This gave Palace some confidence, and Puncheon displayed his quality by lobbing a pass over the Fulham defence into the path of Murray, whose volley was straight at the keeper. Zaha also made a difference, adding some of the pace in attack that made Palace so dangerous last season.
Overall both sides will be fairly happy with the performance, although us fantasy football managers should be cautious when investing in Cabaye – he struggled here and looked off the pace. Perhaps he needs extra game time to get back to full match fitness after not playing regularly for PSG, but Puncheon looks better value. The signing of Wickham will also have an impact on the attack, although it remains to be seen whether he will be played as a striker or a left winger.
1st August Everton 0-2 Leeds
Everton XI (4-2-3-1): Joel; Robinson, Pennington, Browning, Jones; McCarthy (Cleverley), Barkley (Ledson), Oviedo, Dowell, Naismith (Mirallas); Kone (McAleny)
This was very much a mix of first and second string players for Martinez, but his squad currently has a lot of injuries so perhaps he chose this game to assess the depth of his squad prior to the season kick-off. He also was probably wary of over-exerting his first team players who featured in Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial on the 2nd.
Despite the negative score line, there were positives for Martinez, as youngster McAleny was very lively and acquitted himself very well, as he has done throughout preseason. Altogether though, without the majority of their first teamers playing, there is not a lot that we can deduce from this game. Barkley at 6.5 appears overpriced though, and there are likely to be better options for a similar price.
1st August Norwich 2-1 Brentford
Norwich starting XI (4-2-3-1): Ruddy; Whittaker (Wisdom), Martin, Bassong, Brady; Howson, Mulumbu (R Bennett), Dorrans (Tettey), Johnson (Redmond), Hoolahan (Jerome); Grabban (Andreu)
Goalscorers: Hoolahan; Jerome
Norwich threatened right from the off – Grabban raced on to a long ball over the defence and fired just wide. Just before the 20 minute mark, Howson played a through ball over the top that split the defence and saw Hoolahan run through to goal, where he coolly lobbed the goalkeeper. Norwich’s style of playing out at the back caught them out however; Martin was caught on the ball and Brentford duly punished them by scoring the equaliser.
Norwich’s shape was a mix of a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3; Mulumbu was truly the anchor in midfield and sat deep, never breaking forward ahead of Hoolahan or Howson. The latter two were given license to go forward, with Howson playing a box-to-box role, and Hoolahan operating in the No.10 position. The deep positioning of Mulumbu provided Neil the opportunity to push his full backs very high up the pitch, which is something that Norwich will undoubtedly do often over the course of the season. If you are investing in a Norwich defender, then look to the full backs, as Whittaker and Brady were often found very high up the pitch and near the 18 yard box.
Norwich play with a high line, and whilst this is risky, it allows them to compress the midfield and press hard, to win the ball back quickly. This is what happened for the winning goal; Brentford lost the ball on the halfway line and then the defence worked it out to Wisdom, who quickly carried the ball into the midfield and opened the defence up with a clever pass to set Jerome through to smash home.
Norwich have enjoyed a good preseason on the whole with no major injuries suffered. Mulumbu did pick up an injury here, but he is unlikely to be a popular fantasy football pick as he will compete with Tettey for the holding midfield role. Redmond, the most selected Norwich midfielder, started on the bench here and has lacked a final product in preseason, so is likely to be a rotation player. Johnson at 5.5 would be the better pick, but I prefer Howson or Hoolahan at 5.0 as a bench player who should start all games.
In attack, Hooper is the most selected forward but was not first choice last season and has done nothing to suggest that should change heading into this season. Grabban has started a few of the preseason games and looked sharp, and at 4.5 should get more minutes than Hooper. With Jerome and Van Wolfswinkel to consider as well though, and Neil’s preference to play five in midfield, at least one of these forwards will struggle for gametime this season.
For now, stay away from Norwich’s attack unless you are looking for bench fodder, but look towards their defence instead. Ruddy at 4.5 will score a good points total this season, and rotates well with Butland of Stoke. Martin and Bassong are the first choice centre backs, but the full backs will likely score more points due to Neil’s preference to have them push forward high up the pitch. Whittaker and Olsson were the starters last season, whilst Wisdom and Brady will provide good competition and could well become starters soon enough.
1st August Stoke 1-2 Cologne
Stoke XI (4-2-3-1): Butland; Johnson, Muniesa, Teixeira, Pieters; Sidwell, van Ginkel; Walters, Ireland, Afellay (Odemwingie); Joselu
Somewhat suprisingly given their performances last season, Stoke struggled to possession in the first half and chances were at a premium. Van Ginkel should have scored when he had a free header, but he misjudged and missed the target. Koln, on the other hand, hit the post twice and opened the scoring just before half-time.
In the second half Afellay was replaced by Odemwingie, who made an impact on the game by scoring the equalising goal. Stoke could not hold the lead however, as Johnson lost his man to allow Gerhardt to score the winning goal.
Despite the positive atmosphere surrounding Stoke this season, this result shows there are still things to be worked out, and perhaps the many new signings will take a while to settle in to the squad. Still, without key players like Bojan, Diouf, Adam or Arnautovic playing, there is still a lot more to come from this Stoke team.
1st August Sunderland 1-0 Hannover
Sunderland XI (4-3-3-): Pantilimon; Jones, Coates, Kaboul (O’Shea), Van Aanholt; Cattermole (Giaccherini), Larsson, Rodwell; Johnson, Lens, Defoe
Sunderland grabbed a win that will boost confidence within the squad after a mixed preseason. Advocaat made a change to play Defoe as the lone striker, and he was lively and bright throughout, going close with a volley, but was caught offside too often. Whilst the forward can pose a goal threat, there is still a distinct lack of creativity in the squad, and the incoming signings of Fer and M’Vila are likely to increase this much.
The dangermen for Sunderland were their wide men, with Johnson being the main creator. Lens worked hard, and he chased the ball for his winner and robbed the defender, before striking the ball home from 25 yards out.
Sunderland’s prospects for the season still look bleak despite their summer additions, and I see no reason to invest in their squad unless they begin to show some form in the full season. If you are adamant in investing in Sunderland, then look towards either Johnson or Lens, or Pantilimon or Van Aanholt in defence.
1st August Manchester City 2-4 Stuttgart
Manchester City XI (4-2-3-1): Hart; Sagna, Kompany (Denayer), Mangala, Kolarov; Evans (Lopes, Garcia), Nasri (Zuculini), Silva, Navas (Dzeko), Sterling; Bony (Iheanacho)
Goalscorers: Iheanacho; Dzeko
This game showed nothing that has not been seen both in last season and prior preseason games – Manchester City are frail at the back. They conceded four first half goals, despite naming the strongest defence that they had available, and the one that is likely to kick off the season. The midfield lacked the defensive protection that Fernando, Fernandinho, Delph or Toure would have provided, which can account somewhat for their defensive problems, but conceding four goals in less than forty-five minutes in the last preseason friendly is not a positive sign for Pellegrini.
In the second half City were able to fight on a more level-playing field, but their two goals came in the final ten minutes and it was ultimately not enough to salvage a draw.
On the upside, this game saw yet another positive performance from Sterling, who has played with real determination and a will to win since his arrival from Liverpool. At 9.0 and sure to benefit from the extra quality around him, he is the better option over Silva right now. Silva is too expensive at this early stage of the season, so the next best option Toure at 8.5 but he is currently an injury doubt. My advice would be to make sure you have a plan to get Aguero in for Gameweek 4 or 5. His ownership at the time of writing is around 12% but upon his return to form his ownership will undoubtedly sky-rocket to near 50%, and with it his value will sky-rocket too. So, make your plans to get Aguero in early, even if it is a wildcard early on.
If it has not been clear enough in my prior coverage of Manchester City’s friendlies then I will say it again – steer clear of their defensive options. They are too over-priced and have shown no form in preseason. Kolarov, however, may well be an option for your watchlist in an early wildcard if he can keep Clichy on the periphery of the squad.
1st August Swansea 0-0 Deportivo
Swansea XI (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor (Tabanou); Cork, Ki Sung-Yueng; Shelvey (Sigurdsson) Routledge (Montero), Ayew (Dyer); Gomis (Eder)
Monk named his strongest side here, and the one likely to start against Chelsea, with the interesting inclusion of Shelvey ahead of Sigurdsson in the No.10 role. It remains to be seen whether this is a hint at a surprise selection against Chelsea, or merely a reminder to Sigurdsson, as a result of his average preseason performances, that he is not undroppable this season now that they have a lot of depth. Shelvey did perform very well, and has been consistently impressive in preseason, so owners of Sigurdsson should be on alert that he may be subject to a bit more rotation this season.
Swansea did go close to opening the scoring through Ayew and Shelvey in the first half, whilst Gomis, Montero and Ki went close in the second. Montero may not be a starter this season, but his pace has threatened many defences throughout preseason and as an impact sub he will be useful. If he can secure a place in the starting eleven, he could be a good points scorer this season.
Swansea offer good fantasy football picks throughout the team, from the solid defence where Fabianski or the two centre backs are good choices, to Ki in the central midfield, all the way to Gomis or Sigurdsson in attack. Having a Swansea defender in your ranks should be a priority, as not only are they cheap, but the likes of Williams consistently scores highly every season.
2nd August Everton 1-2 Villareal
Everton XI (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Stones (Browning), Jagielka, Baines; Osman, McCarthy (McAleny), Cleverley (Rooney), Barry, Mirallas (Naismith (Ferguson), Kone (Barkley)
The Toffees didn’t manage to finish off preseason with a bang, but still played some convincing matches with the exception of their 3-1 defeat to Arsenal in the Barclays Asia Cup. The fixture with Villareal was representing the testimonial for Duncan Ferguson, which allowed the inclusion of Wayne Rooney into the Everton squad for the day. The starting eleven men were all current Everton players though and the first half was full of half chances for the home side. But it was the Spanish team that found the back of the net first after a flicked on header fell to the feet of an unmarked Gerard. The striker finished the play off, and later on Villarreal doubled the lead to make it 2-0. Everton were defenseless to Villareal’s excellent passing buildup, and the Spanish side sliced past the Toffees with ease. The Premierss hip side eventually got their play together and pumped up the intensity, but unfortunately it was all a bit too late and the main spark was supplied by a Rooney, a Manchester United player! Rooney’s play did open up space for Barkley to make a few dangerous runs, and the Englishman’s introduction led to a higher tempo among the rest of the Everton team. Soon a corner kick led to what was to be a consolation goal was headed in by Browning from a Baines delivery.
At the present moment, not many Everton fantasy prospects are all that appealing. Barkley has probably been the best performer of preseason, though the Toffees have still struggled to stamp their authority on matches in an attacking sense. If one were to predict where goals will come from, Barkley and Mirallas would seem the most likely. Roberto Martinez’s striker situation has been cloudy as well, with neither Lukaku nor Kone impressing much. Youngster McAleny has scored several times this preseason, but consistent game time will be the main concern for him. As exemplified by Rooney’s impact, Everton need a Rooney-like player to drag the side back into contention when struggling. Barkley could very well become this player, but he still seems a bit too inexperienced still. Time will tell.
At the back, Coleman, Baines, and Jagielka are all obvious options at the back if Everton defense is what you’re looking for. Watch out for the departure of Stones also, as he could be a valuable asset if he is not sold to Chelsea. Apart from an easy opening fixture, the Toffees have a fairly tricky start, so avoiding Everton defenders may not be a bad idea.
2nd August West Ham 1-2 Werder Bremen
West Ham XI: Adrian (Spiegel); Tomkins, Kouyate (Maiga), Zarate (Cullen), Jenkinson (Collins); Sakho, Noble (Amalfitano), Ogbonna (Henry), Payet (Lanzini), Oxford (Poyet), Page (Knoyle)
West Ham rounded up their preseason in a dampening manner, falling behind to lose after having led the match. Disappointing results have marred the preseason for West Ham, with several poor showings of stalemate and slim losing results against lesser opposition including the likes of Colchester, Birkirkara, Charlton, and the recent leg one disaster versus Astra. As has been farily typical for the Hammers this year so far, they started brightly and even opened the scoring on nineteen minutes. The partners in crime of Sahko and Payet were the two main conductors of the goal. Payet, who has been one of the few West Ham players to display some consistency this preseason, was vital to West Ham’s solid play early on. The summer signing was dangerous from set pieces and also open play, and it was his cross that supplied the assist for Sahko to slash into the back of the net. But as promptly as West Ham had taken the lead, they gave it away in a similar fashion, conceding within the next minute. The equalizer from Werder Bremen came from a shot from distance, an effort that Adrian could have perhaps done better with. The go-ahead goal, and ultimately the winner, then came right after the half hour mark. Tomkins was beat off the dribble and the opposition finished finely past Adrian. The second half was largely uneventful for both teams, with the fight and positivity West Ham had shown in the first half, looking fairly diminished. It seems as if elementary errors are proving to be the downfall of many West Ham conceded goals. The Bremen strikers split through the midfield easily at times, and the Hammer defenders looked quite vulnerable.
As stated above, West Ham have experienced a bag of mixed results thus far. The Irons are still fighting in the Europa League, but have had some extremely close calls. With red cards, for Sahko in particular, West Ham have limped along at points, with the 2nd qualifying round against Birkirkara showcasing the less proactive side of the team in which they hibernated into “stay alive mode”. It is when players such as Payet, Sahko, Valencia (who is injured currently), and other creative players are struggling that West Ham has seemingly reverted back to their historic, rough-nosed, long ball attack; a method that has been proved to be highly inconsistent.
When picking attackers from mid-table sides, Payet and Sahko should stand up to the majority of other options in each of their respective positions’ price ranges. Payet is priced at 7.5 and Sahko is at 6.5. Both players have strived in preseason, but have also shown to work well together, meaning Sahko has prospered from Payet’s chances created, while Payet has benefitted from Sahko’s movement and finishing abilities. Sahko, the striker, looks to be the more likely to finish off buildups and score, whereas Payet has looked to be a chief distributor. Though Payet has also shown an eye for goal, supplemented by his debut brace, the French playmaker seems to operate much deeper than Sahko in midfield. Neither player should face much rotation as a bonus.
In defense, poorly conceded goals have scarred many potentially positive showings for West Ham this preseason. Cresswell was excellent last season, but with his side struggling for some solidity at the back, be wary of picking him up at the current moment. Tomkins and Collins have had moments in preseason, but with a wealth of options in defense including players such as Jenkinson, O’Brien, and a few others investment in West Ham probably isn’t the best choice.
5th August AC Milan 0-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham XI (4-2-3-1): McGee; Trippier, Fazio, Vertonghen, Davies; Dier, Bentaleb; Onomah, Lamela, Carroll; Chadli
Subs: Lloris, Vorm, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Rose, Walker, Alli, Mason, Dembele, Eriksen, Winks, Kane
Goalscorers: Chadli, Carroll
The first chance of the game was in the 4th minute, when Nacer Chadli saw his 25-yard strike go narrowly wide of the post. However, Chadli was soon celebrating when he gave Tottenham the lead in the 7th minute. From around 25 yards out, he cut inside from the right and curled a wonderful strike with his left foot in to the top corner. It took until just after 70 minutes for Tottenham to double their advantage, and it was Tom Carroll with the goal. He got on the end of a Kieran Trippier pass and finished neatly. AC Milan had a late rally when Federico Fazio had to clear a header off the line, and a minute later when Ely hit a powerful volley that Hugo Lloris collected at the second attempt.
I didn’t get to see much of Tottenham over pre-season, as they played just 3 fixtures, and these have been played towards the back end of July/early August. However, against Real Madrid they were disappointing, and against MLS All-Stars they created some good chances and failed to capitalise on them. Harry Kane scored a wonderful goal against the All-Stars and I would recommend adding him to your fantasy team- he is in mine, and despite Tottenham’s tough opening fixture away to Manchester United, Kane has that aura which makes you believe he will score in every game. He does have a premium price of £9.5m, but for a proven goalscorer, he should be worth every bit of it. There are slight doubts around the fitness of Hugo Lloris and it appears like it will be touch and go as to whether he will feature on Saturday. One player who would be excellent for your fantasy side is Toby Alderweireld. For me, it was a surprise to see Atletico Madrid be content to allow him to leave their club. He was magnificent at Southampton last season, and I would expect him to improve on his 88 fantasy points he tallied for them. At £5.0m he is a bargain. Andros Townsend an injury concern, although he could potentially be fit for the game at Old Trafford.