With only one Premier League fixture this weekend, the FA Cup took centre stage and was full of talking points bound to affect upcoming Fantasy Premier League Gameweeks.
Mohamed Salah (£12.5m) ended his goal drought in convincing fashion with a brace in Liverpool’s loss to Manchester United, which saw their attacking form return along with some slack defending.
Tammy Abraham (£7.2m) put in a convincing audition to lead the line for Chelsea with a hattrick against Luton in a 3-1 win. The forward’s credentials will also have been boosted by the struggles of Timo Werner (£9.2m), who missed a late penalty.
And one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history was on for all of 20 minutes after Cheltenham took the lead against Manchester City in the second half, only for City to rally and score three late goals.
FPL managers who sold Salah after Liverpool’s poor performance against Burnley might now be wishing they’d held on.
Against Man United in the FA Cup, the Egyptian looked much more like the Salah of old and was a constant threat to the opposition’s goal, even against a first-choice back-four.
Salah opened the scoring at Old Trafford after latching on to a through ball from Roberto Firmino (£9.3m) to finish with a wonderful dink over Dean Henderson (£5.2m).
The pair linked up again for Liverpool’s equaliser, with Firmino feeding the ball into the box and Salah smashing it in first time.
Salah will have a lot to prove to FPL managers who may have been burned by captaining him in the last five Gameweeks.
But this performance will give fans a lot of encouragement, especially the way he and Firmino linked up for the goals.
A clearly downbeat Jurgen Klopp said Salah could take confidence from the game, despite his side losing 3-2.
“We can take things out of this game, we try to learn from every game. It’s good for Mo Salah, good for the confidence. It was a tough game. We want it hard but tonight it was not enough.”
Although Salah delivered the goods against an attacking Man United side, he faces an all-too familiar challenge against Spurs on Thursday who often deploy a low block, a system which Liverpool and Salah have been unable to get past in their last four games.
POGGY IN THE MIDDLE
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went for a change of personnel in attack against Liverpool, recalling Mason Greenwood (£7.0m) on the right and Donny van de Beek (£6.6m) in the number 10 role.
This saw Paul Pogba (£7.7m) return to staffing the holding midfield two, a role he plays regularly for France but not so often for Man United these days.
But any doubts about Pogba playing this position will have been alleviated on Sunday, with the Frenchman putting in an all-action performance.
Pogba was named BBC’s Man of the Match after making an impact at both ends of the pitch.
Encouragingly for FPL managers, Pogba playing in a deeper position seemed to get the best out of substitute Bruno Fernandes (£11.3m), who got the winner with a free-kick.
The Portuguese number 10, who was introduced in the second half, immediately had an impact on the game and was unlucky not to add to his one goal.
Pogba’s spell in the middle of the park could be very short-lived if Marcus Rashford‘s (£9.6m) injury turns out to be serious, considering he has featured on the left-hand side of the attack recently.
“Let’s hope (Rashford will be okay). His knee was bothering him. Scan tomorrow and we’ll see where we are.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
All eyes were on Manchester City as Cheltenham aimed to cause one of the FA Cup’s biggest ever upsets.
And that upset was well and truly on, after Cheltenham opened the scoring in the second half.
But FA Cup romantics were left ultimately left heartbroken when Pep Guardiola’s side rallied to score three goals in the last 15 minutes.
Special praise was saved for Phil Foden (£6.3m) who, deployed in central midfield after extensive time in the front-three this season, almost single-handedly hauled City out of trouble, getting the equaliser and playing a part in everything.
After being compared to the missing Kevin De Bruyne (£11.9m), Guardiola insisted Foden had to concentrate on being himself.
“Phil (Foden) has to be Phil and not be Kevin De Bruyne because there is only one Kevin De Bruyne. He needs to keep doing what he has being doing in terms of when we are in a bad moment or when we are losing in terms of what he gave to the game.”
As well as Foden, Guardiola praised the impact of well-performing FPL assets, João Cancelo (£5.8m) and Ilkay Gündogan (£5.5m) who were introduced as second half substitutes. It is clear to see how important the manager sees them as components of his side’s attack.
“The quality of Gündogan and João in the final third was so important. Gundo has the sense to score and with Phil and Riyad [Mahrez] in the final third we had the quality for the final pass and dribble and that’s why they came in.” – Pep Guardiola
A TALE OF TWO STRIKERS
Tammy Abraham (£7.2m) took home the match ball after Chelsea’s convincing win over Luton at Stamford Bridge.
And with a good set of upcoming fixtures, Abraham has drawn attention to himself as a possible differential option up-front, especially as he was withdrawn in the 77th minute, suggesting a Gameweek 20 start against a Wolves side he has six career league goals against.
But as one striker triumphed, another struggled again.
Timo Werner (£9.2m) looked bright in a new role in behind Abraham as part of a 4-2-3-1.
And it looked as though his luck was about to turn when he stepped up to take a penalty he won himself in stoppage time.
But the German’s penalty was saved by the keeper, with his last goal coming against Sheffield United in early November.
With his current form and confidence, few would be brave enough to back Werner as an FPL asset right now, even with his past form in Germany.
“I’m disappointed for him. He gave a lot with his performance and it’s just one of those things when things are not quite going for you.”
INGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER
The sight of Danny Ings (£8.3m) playing against Arsenal will have given every Southampton fan a sense of relief.
The England forward has struggled with injury this season, and tested positive for COVID earlier this month.
His importance to the Saints cannot be overstated, with them failing to score in the last two Premier League games Ings missed.
And his manager praised his physical conditioning in his return against Arsenal, which the Saints won 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Gabriel (£5.0m).
“Ings is absolutely important. He was, again, very active and his quality on the ball showed how important he is. To have him back, physically he showed he has not lost a lot. This is good for us.”
A fully-fit Ings can provide points against any opposition so, based on Hassenhüttl’s positive comments, then he could be a great pick-up.
NEW OOP FORWARDS?
The FA Cup fourth round showcased two out-of-position forward playing for Premier League sides.
West Ham lined up with Andriy Yarmolenko (£5.5m) up-front, and the Ukranian seized his chances, scoring a great goal in their 4-0 rout of Doncaster Rovers.
West Ham assistant manager Alan Irvine hailed the midfielder’s performance, saying:
“Certainly, it was very encouraging the way Yarmo performed (as a striker). He has played there before and we know the ability he has got and we know that if we get him through in those kinds of situations one v one with the goalkeeper he is a very, very good finisher.”
With the Hammers failing to bring in another striker after selling Seb Haller and Michail Antonio’s (£6.3m) injury struggles, then they could have to turn to Yarmolenko to play as a striker more often.
JAMIE VARDY’S HAVING A PARTY
With Jamie Vardy (£10.1m) undergoing surgery, Ayoze Perez (£6.0m) was chosen to lead the line for Leicester, over Kelechi Iheanacho (£5.6m).
But Perez struggled to have an impact on the game before being subbed off in the second half.
And Brendan Rodgers’ comments after the game suggest his time as a striker could be fleeting.
With news of Jamie Vardy (£10.1m) undergoing surgery after Double Gameweek 19, the feeling was that the Foxes frontman would miss a large chunk of the season.
But Rodgers allayed those fears, suggesting Vardy could be back a lot sooner than we all thought
“He had the operation yesterday (Saturday). Jamie was supposed to have this operation before the last round, when we played against Stoke but unfortunately the surgeon wasn’t able to do the surgery then, so we had to put it back a few weeks. He had it yesterday. The reason for doing it was because we felt it would be a week to 10 days maximum before he was back on the pitch, and then probably another few days before he would be available. That was the two-week timeline we looked at.”
If Rodgers’ predictions are correct, then Vardy will only miss three games, returning for what looks to be a very good fixture away at Wolves.
In the mean time, it was Ayoze Pérez (£6.0m) who started up-front for Leicester, not Kelechi Iheanacho (£5.6m), suggesting the former Newcastle man could feature in that role against Everton.
READY FOR WEDNESDAY
Everton put in a morale-boosting performance in their FA Cup win over Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday.
Able to field a front-three of Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.6m) at the heart of a front-three comprising of Richarlison (£7.8m) and James Rodríguez (£7.7m), they ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at Goodison Park.
The striker looked desperate for a goal throughout and benefitted from Everton’s team looking almost back to full-strength when he netted in the first half.
Meanwhile, Rodríguez put in a man-of-the-match display that produced two assists from corners and Richarlison also found the net.
With Lucas Digne (£6.0m) expected to return against Leicester, Everton’s appealing fixtures could help bring out the best in their assets once more.
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