Chelsea 1-3 Manchester City
- Goals: Callum Hudson-Odoi (£5.7m) | Ilkay Gundogan (£5.4m), Phil Foden (£6.2m), Kevin De Bruyne (£11.6m)
- Assists: Kai Havertz (£8.2m) | Foden, De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling (£11.4m)
- Bonus: Foden x3, De Bruyne x2, Gundogan, Foden x1
Manchester City chose an opportune time to deliver what was arguably their best Premier League performance of the season.
One of 12 top-flight clubs in action in Blank Gameweek 18 and then among a dozen teams who enjoy two fixtures in Double Gameweek 19, City are high on the Fantasy Premier League watchlist in early January.
And if their clash with Chelsea on Sunday was an audition of sorts, then Pep Guardiola’s troops passed it with flying colours.
Manchester City’s defensive aptitude hasn’t been in doubt for some time.
Callum Hudson-Odoi‘s (£5.7m) late, late consolation goal for Chelsea on Sunday was the first time that an opposition player had scored against the Citizens since Gameweek 9 and ruined what would have been a sixth clean sheet in seven.
What has been called into question is their attacking prowess and the lack of value for money being provided by their FPL forwards and midfielders.
From Gameweeks 4-15, City scored one goal or fewer in nine of their 12 matches.
Even plum home fixtures against Fulham and Newcastle United returned only 2-0 wins; these were games in which City would have traditionally run riot and matches in which Fantasy managers would expect hauls from.
At Stamford Bridge, we saw the City of old return.
First-half goals from Ilkay Gundogan (£5.4m), Phil Foden (£6.2m) and Kevin De Bruyne (£11.6m) saw City sail into an unassailable 3-0 lead, while there were other chances beyond those strikes: De Bruyne spurned a one-on-one opportunity after a quarter of an hour, Gundogan flicked an effort wide from six yards just before the break and Rodri (£5.4m) wasted a De Bruyne assist with a 53rd-minute header.
Guardiola agreed that this display was more reminiscent of City of yesteryear:
We had a plan, we tried to play in a certain way that we did in the past and it worked. The players were incredible, fantastic in all departments.
We are a team that has to play in one certain rhythm. A lot of passes and, in the right moment, attack. We won Premier Leagues in that way, and we miss a little bit for many reasons this tempo, and today we got it. The way we won the League titles, it was because we were like today.
The question now, of course, is whether the “tempo” is here to stay and whether it can be as effective against teams who won’t employ Chelsea’s high, aggressive press.
Brighton, a more possession-based team who are not renowned for their backs-to-the-wall approach, might just well be the ideal Gameweek 18 opponents – Graham Potter’s troops lost by an aggregate score of 9-0 in their two league meetings with City last season.
With City unable to call upon Gabriel Jesus (£9.1m) and Ferran Torres (£6.9m), and with Sergio Aguero‘s (£10.3m) game-time being carefully handled, Guardiola turned to De Bruyne to lead the line in west London.
We have seen the Belgian playing in a more advanced position anyway this season but this was a step beyond a number 10 role, with De Bruyne veering between ‘false nine’ and outright centre-forward.
Explaining his tactical decision after full-time, Guardiola said:
Kevin can play in many positions. We wanted more solid players in the midfield and Bernardo is more solid in those areas.
[De Bruyne] is so good, with his energy to run in behind. He did it really well. He can play there, as a winger, attacking midfielder. There is no doubt about this.
De Bruyne himself said of Sunday’s role:
A little bit bizarre in the beginning. I’ve done it a couple of times in my career. Obviously, there are lot of strikers, forward players who are out. The coach asked me to do this job, so I tried to do it the best as possible.
We have different players, so we play a little bit different this year and we adjust to the personnel we have. The team is finding the rhythm in the last month so we’re playing better and the difference today when we have the chance we took them.
In Formation, Entertainment
It should be pointed out, of course, that the deployment of De Bruyne as a striker may just have been a needs-must, one-off experiment.
Jesus ought to be back from self-isolation by Gameweek 18, with Torres likely available for Double Gameweek 19. Aguero may also be closer to a start himself by the time next Wednesday’s clash with Brighton comes around.
So long as the attacking swagger is here to stay, then starting positions might be less of a concern for Fantasy managers.
Indeed, De Bruyne had three fewer big chances in the whole of 2019/20 than he has managed in Gameweeks 2-17 of the current campaign, yet still found the net on 13 occasions, with five of his goals coming from outside the box.
What is worth keeping an eye on is Gundogan’s role within Guardiola’s team.
Part of the double pivot with Rodri for months in the more conservative 4-2-3-1, we have seen the German allowed a bit more attacking freedom of late.
Gundogan and the excellent Bernardo Silva (£7.4m) were the two number eights stationed either side of Rodri on Sunday, registering six shots in the box between them.
After the match on Sunday, Gundogan said of his more advanced role:
To be honest, in the last few games where I scored, I played more of a number eight than a number six. Before that, I played more of a holding midfielder role together with Rodri.
It is different and every position needs a little bit of adaptation. I think I am a player that can adapt quickly and well into a system and the manager knows I am quite flexible.
Also, me personally, even though I like to be included in rotating the ball, when I am playing as a number eight and more offensive position, I try to put myself in the spaces where I think something could happen or I feel like the space is not occupied by a player of ours or the opponent.
Both goals I scored in the last games were similar in the way they were from the right side and Raheem assisted me both goals and I tried to be in a space where I am free and able to get the ball and finish with one touch. It worked out quite well and as long as I am playing in that position I try to continue like that.
The Self-Isolating Six
The visitors were missing six of their squad because of positive COVID-19 tests.
The unavailability of Kyle Walker (£6.1m) and Jesus we were already aware of, while social media posts from Ederson (£6.0m) and Tommy Doyle (£4.4m) all but confirmed that they too were among those self-isolating.
Torres and Eric Garcia (£4.7m) have reportedly been added to that list, with the latter still struggling with injury, too.
Nathan Ake (£5.4m) was absent on Sunday because of “fitness issues”, while Aymeric Laporte (£6.0m) missed out because of a tight hamstring.
All of that meant a start for reserve goalkeeper Zack Steffen (£4.4m), who will drop to the bench once Ederson is fit again, and Foden, who featured in Guardiola’s XI for only the second time in 11 league matches.
Foden produced a superb display from the left flank, leading the way for chances created in Sunday’s game and having three shots in the box of his own.
The hard work starts now with players expected back from illness and Riyad Mahrez (£8.1m) waiting in the wings but Guardiola was enthused by the youngster’s display:
So proud. He never dropped one, nothing for his energy, how he helps. He can play up front in all four positions and again he has a sensational goal, he scored a fantastic goal. He is a guy, we rely on him incredibly, national team for England will be a top player because he’s so clever, so calm, he did a good performance today.
Got the Blues
While the wheels haven’t completely come off, the Chelsea bandwagon has been seriously derailed in recent weeks.
One clean sheet in seven, and four defeats in six, has seen FPL managers slowly drift away from previous high-achievers like Ben Chilwell (£6.1m) and completely desert the misfiring Timo Werner (£9.2m).
A bright start against City couldn’t be sustained and they had managed only one effort on target until second-half injury time, when substitute Hudson-Odoi popped up to ruin a clean sheet for Joao Cancelo (£5.7m) and Ruben Dias (£5.8m) – the former also seeing a projected bonus point go up in smoke.
A run-out in a central position couldn’t end an eight-match goal drought for Werner, while a hitherto solid backline – who were again missing the injured Reece James (£5.2m) – has now shipped seven goals in three matches.
Easier tests await, of course, starting with a Double Gameweek 19 home fixture against a Fulham side who have scored just two goals in their last five matches, which should provide encouragement for Fantasy managers still sitting on Chilwell.
Lampard cited youth and unavailability as mitigating excuses when intereviewed after the match:
One month ago people were asking when I’m signing a new contract, and now people will be saying different things because in a tight, busy period we have lost four games of football in quick succession. The pressure remains constant in this job.
The reality is a lot of the players who have come in are new, are young, have been injured, haven’t played together. It was the first time I’ve been able to play Ziyech, Pulisic and Werner in the same team.
Without a doubt, we have the character to get out of it, because we went 16 games unbeaten. What we can control is what we do tonight and tomorrow and the next day and what we do against Morecambe and what we do against Fulham.
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Mendy; Azpilicueta, Zouma, Silva, Chilwell; Kante (Gilmour 64), Kovacic (Havertz 77), Mount; Pulisic, Werner, Ziyech (Hudson-Odoi 64).
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Steffen; Cancelo, Dias, Stones, Zinchenko; Gundogan (Fernandinho 75), Rodri, Bernardo; Foden (Mahrez 86), De Bruyne (Aguero 86), Sterling.
Lessons learned from FPL Gameweek 17
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