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A TRIPLE gameweek! This last happened when Middlesbrough roamed the Premier League in 2006!
Indeed! Fantasy Premier League (FPL) was coming to the end of its fourth season (which would be won by Tommy Wilson’s “Blue Bridge Brigade” with 2,326 points), Twitter was only a two month-old unreleased prototype and the pioneering Fantasy Football Scout website was still three years from formation.Embed from Getty Images
As magnificently unearthed by @TheFPLManual there was very nearly another Triple Gameweek in February 2006 as Birmingham City’s fixtures piled up during their League Cup run, but in the end their rescheduled third Gameweek fixture at Everton had to give way to Birmingham’s victorious appearance in the final itself.
While the news of this latest Triple Gameweek featuring Manchester United is, naturally, very exciting the important thing is to remain calm, like that bull in the adverts. Take a little time out with us to explore which Manchester United FPL assets could be valuable, how many should managers try to get and what alternatives could there be.
Which Manchester United players are interesting to FPL managers?
Even though they might get a few minutes in such a congested schedule, it’s not really worth giving lengthy consideration to the merits of Shola Shoretire, Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe. Limiting the scope to any Manchester United player with greater than 1% overall ownership gives you, handily, exactly 11 candidates:
- David De Gea
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka
- Luke Shaw
- Victor Lindelöf
- Harry Maguire
- Paul Pogba
- Mason Greenwood
- Bruno Fernandes
- Marcus Rashford
- Antony Martial
- Edinson Cavani
Now, straight away we can exclude two of those as potential transfer targets: Martial because he’s injured and won’t be back for some time and De Gea because he seems to have been supplanted in goal by Dean Henderson. However, it’s useful to have their stats included in our comparisons as it tells us useful things about how their replacements might get on.
What happened when Manchester United played their Triple Gameweek 35 opponents earlier in the season?
United drew 2-2 at Leicester City on Boxing Day in Gameweek 15 having gone ahead twice through Marcus Rashford (assist: Fernandes) and Bruno Fernandes (assist: Cavani).
Six days later, in Gameweek 17 on New Year’s Day, the Red Devils saw off Aston Villa 2-1 at home. Antony Martial opened the scoring (assist: Wan-Bissaka) and a Fernandes penalty on the hour clinched the three points after Jack Grealish (remember him?) had set up a Bertrand Traoré equaliser. The Christmas programme being what it is, United had beaten Wolves with a very late Rashford strike (assist: Fernandes) in between these two games.
Another single goal, this time from Paul Pogba (assist: Rashford) was enough to vanquish Burnley before United slugged out a 0-0 draw at Anfield on Sunday January 17th as part of Gameweek 19.Embed from Getty Images
And what are those teams looking like these days?
Villa have become a shadow of their former selves as the absence of the talismanic Grealish has gradually escaped from the fantasy world into Dean Smith’s real world. They’ve managed to keep the attack puttering along, but the defence has had too much work to do and has dropped a long way from the form that had goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez in almost everyone’s FPL teams.
Leicester, on the other hand, are right on United’s shoulder in the final lap of the race for second spot. Their attack, showcasing a rejuvenated Kelechi Iheanacho, is a serious threat to anyone, but their defence is merely middling and in its last fifteen outings has only kept clean sheets against West Brom, Wolves and Sheffield United.
Although Liverpool are no longer challenging to retain the title their meetings with Manchester United are always hotly contested no matter the circumstances. Statistically in recent matches they’re sort of a “Leicester Plus”, pretty dangerous going forward but often have a mistake in them at the back. Saying that, their defensive issues have mostly been at home. They’d kept three consecutive clean sheets on their travels before giving up a late set piece header at Leeds.
In sequence, then, you could reasonably expect a couple of United goals at Villa Park and possibly a clean sheet, Leicester need the win but United would be quite happy with a draw and may play on the counter while matches with Liverpool tend to be scrappy and clean sheets seem more likely than lots of goals.
What do the stats tell me about the returns Manchester United FPL assets are likely to get?
In the three earlier matches against the same opposition Bruno Fernandes came away with 25 points. The first pair of games yielded 22 (or “Gareth Bale vs Sheffield United +1” in new money) while the Liverpool matchup brought him just the single clean sheet point to add to the two for appearance.
Here’s a table showing all the FPL point returns of the main eleven United assets (identified above) across those three fixtures with attackers in red, defenders in linen (official away shirt colour) and the goalkeeper in green:
Obviously, the points from the upcoming Triple Gameweek won’t look exactly the same as this, but the numbers do provide some benchmarks for expectations before everybody gets carried away taking hits.
First of all, it is very unlikely that any of the players, except perhaps captain Harry Maguire and whoever is in goal (probably Henderson) will play more than 60 minutes in all three games, especially if they feature significantly in the Europa League second leg in Rome. That’s why the “Best 2” column is there to set a benchmark for what you could reasonably predict as a return for each of the assets in this quickfire series of fixtures. You could add an appearance point for a late substitution in the third match if you like.
That “Best 2” metric shows something interesting. United scored four times in the Villa and Leicester fixtures, yet that clean sheet at Anfield carried the goalkeeper and the two full-backs beyond all the attackers except Bruno Fernandes who was still in his “Captain Fantastic” phase at the time.
It also shows that a ‘par score’ for the gameweek for a significant United asset looks to be 8 points (9 if you’re adding that extra one) which hopefully helps when deciding whether a -4 transfer might be worth it.
The “Mason Greenwood Situation” also needs addressing. It was literally in the game after Liverpool (a 2-1 away win at Fulham) where Greenwood began his unbroken run of 15 league appearances (playing a minimum of ten minutes in each one) that extends to the time of writing, so his 1 minute here is clearly not a reflection of what he’s likely to return in this upcoming round.Embed from Getty Images
Edinson Cavani, similarly, is likely to be a lot more involved and you could probably do a straight swap with Antony Martial’s numbers above to get an idea of how the Uruguayan might perform.
Bruno Fernandes is already the FPL community’s overwhelming favourite for the armband as the Triple Gameweek dawns and the statistics above demonstrate what he is well capable of. However, a recent members’ article on Fantasy Football Scout (whose author may seem… strangely familiar) talked about how his role in the United attack has subtly changed in the second half of the season.
Reading the whole original article (with diagrams and everything) is very much recommended, but one of the findings was that Fernandes is no longer carrying the attacking burden alone. Luke Shaw is creating more chances, Edinson Cavani is getting on the end of many of the better ones and Mason Greenwood is shooting with some venom from all over the place.
Marcus Rashford is also usually in the mix when his troublesome foot allows. This table showing the Points Per Match (PPM) for each player across the whole season shows how Rashford is well worth considering as a Triple Gameweek option:
Mason Greenwood’s PPM value is highlighted because it is only calculated over that recent 15 game run of significant appearances (over the whole season it would be 3.1). Henderson is substituted for De Gea (3.6 PPM) as he is more likely to play. It is worth pointing out, too, that Greenwood’s two FPL match Hauls (10+ points) were achieved in Gameweeks 31 and 32 and include a goal and an assist in 18 minutes at Tottenham.
The table also reinforces what good value Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan Bissaka are, though many of your mini-league rivals will probably have one of them as well, and also how surprisingly little there is between them in terms of Points Per Match over an extended period.
But Bruno Fernandes is essential, surely?
If everything falls nicely, and especially if there’s a penalty or two, the Portuguese maestro is more likely than anyone to burst through the 20 point barrier. But don’t be surprised if some of those 25 points gleaned from the initial fixtures against the same teams now get shared around more equally. Mason Greenwood could easily get a dozen or more and Cavani will probably do better than Martial did, though not significantly so.
And then there’s the tricky matter of whether, in FPL parlance, you can “get to him”. If you’ve only got one free transfer and no money in the bank you’ll need to have Mo Salah, Kevin De Bruyne or Sadio Mané to make a straight swap and be willing to part with them. That might well be the case for a Champions League final bound KDB, but Salah and Mané will have a Double Gameweek of their very own, including, of course, their visit to a weary United, followed by the cakey-est of cakey schedules to end the season while Bruno and his team-mates will be sitting doing nothing in Gameweek 36.
If you have some funds available you could use them to switch from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Raheem Sterling instead, but we’d be quite surprised if you happened to have such expensive assets still in your squad after their recent quiet spells.Embed from Getty Images
What are the prospects for other teams this week?
Some readers will be aware of the tables I tweet out (@statto99) each week based on dividing all the Premier League teams into one of six Tiers (A to F) for both attack and defence based on performance over their last four matches (a time period Mark Sutherns also often seems to favour on FPL Black Box). Strength scores (A = 1, F = 6) are assigned to each opponent and added together in the case of multiple matches. An adjustment factors in each club’s likelihood of capitalising on any weaknesses and this is the basis for the table below, revised overnight for this week’s matches following the Manchester United – Liverpool rescheduling:
The right way to think about this table is the proposed likelihood that a club will keep a clean sheet or score a goal *AT ALL* this Gameweek. It is not trying to suggest the likelihood of two clean sheets or a big attacking haul, but it certainly does offer a rough idea of the chances of a team doing well this week compared to other teams.
You will notice that not even a Triple Gameweek is enough for Manchester United to be top of the predicted defensive pile as Crystal Palace are deemed more likely to get a clean sheet from visiting Sheffield United and Southampton than Manchester United are from facing the more potent threats of Villa, Leicester and Liverpool (even if they only scored one goal each). The catch is you would almost certainly want to sell a Palace defender immediately afterwards whereas United have good fixtures in Gameweeks 37 and 38 if you can work around their Blank Gameweek 36.
In attack, however, Manchester United’s outlook for this round is confirmed as peerless. Saying that, Liverpool’s game against a fragile Southampton has them not far behind and they face very inviting fixtures for the run-in including a visit to West Brom instead of an FA Cup final-induced layoff. Everton are another team that are a good source of FPL promise both this round and in the weeks to come.
So what’s your final recommendation?
If you can find a way to get him in without forcing yourself into too many somersaults to field a sensible Gameweek 36 XI, sitting there at 6:30 PM BST on Friday evening with your FPL captaincy on Bruno Fernandes would be a very pleasant place to be.
For those who can’t reach him, or for whom it would mean dismantling too much elsewhere, you’re going to want at least two Manchester United assets, my personal suggestion being Mason Greenwood (or Marcus Rashford if you’ve got the funds) and one of Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Given how few forwards are performing well in FPL Edinson Cavani is definitely a tempting differential, but he comes with the risk that, with his minutes being managed, he only gets to deploy his undoubted class in the toughest parts of the most difficult games.
So, here’s wishing all FPL managers great success this week, but always remember that anybody can pick up an injury ten minutes into the first match of the triple or, like Harry Kane against Sheffield United, simply miss out on a goal spree almost inexplicably. Don’t forget to enjoy yourselves and remember that football more often than not does prove to be ‘a funny old game’.