Welcome back to yet another season of Fantasy Premier League football!
If you stuck with us during the exciting and sometimes sad thrill ride that was the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, great to have you back with us again. If you just stumbled upon our FPL content recently, a very warm welcome and hopefully you’ll find our regular contributions to the world of FPL both enjoyable and useful in your quest for a top rank come the end of the season.
Newly promoted Brentford will be taking on Community Shield winners Arsenal in the season opener on Friday, August 13th. In the build-up to that game, we will be taking an in-depth look at each of the 20 squads competing in the Premier League this season with a special focus on their FPL potential. In this seventh instalment, we’re shedding a light on a revamped Manchester United side and a remarkably quiet Newcastle pre-season.
MANCHESTER UNITED – FPL 2021/22 team preview
Manchester United’s second-place finish last season followed a third place in the season prior to that, which is their best back-to-back result since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club at the end of the 2012/13 season. We’re highlighting this, because it shows progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a manager who has perhaps been underestimated and overly criticized at times. Then again, group stage elimination in the Champions League and a League Cup semi-final plus an FA quarter-final is simply not enough for one of the world’s biggest clubs.
Still, progress is progress and United are clearly looking to build upon their recent seasons with the club once again shelling out the big bucks this season for new blood in the squad. After what might well have been football’s longest transfer saga, marquee signing (and former Man City promise) Jadon Sancho was finally brought in for a cool £73 million and the confirmation of Real Madrid central defender, four time Champions League winner and current World Champion, Raphaël Varane’s arrival followed soon after. Those are the kind of transfers that can galvanise entire clubs and that’s exactly what the red side of Manchester will be hoping for.
It’s also the kind of movement that, despite the heavy competition both domestically and internationally, makes silverware very close to a must and that might be a bridge too far just yet. In the Premier League, despite finishing in second place, the Red Devils never really looked like a title challenger, while it seems slightly overly ambitious for them to expect Champions League glory after not making it through the groups last season. More realistically speaking, the next big step for United would be to seriously compete for the prizes until the very end on different fronts this season. And who knows, in a sport as unpredictable as football, with a bit of luck that might actually lead to a first prize since their double (League Cup + Europa League) in the 2016/17 season under José Mourinho.
Manchester United’s tactics sheet
While United might not (yet) be at the level of the likes of arch rivals Manchester City, Liverpool and even Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel, the world-class quality on their roster is undeniable. Last season, OGS heavily leaned on a 4-2-3-1 formation, consisting of a technical, speedy front three supported by the constant creative impulses from Bruno Fernandes and left-back Luke Shaw. The signing of Sancho fits that approach perfectly and allows Solskjaer to continue building on a set-up that his players are familiar with, but it’s rumoured that he might be switching to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation as well for the upcoming season. The Varane transfer, and the speed, experience and superior tactical awareness the Frenchman brings with him, makes this a realistic possibility as well.
In terms of FPL fantasy assets, the main impact of such a tactical switch would fall on the available midfield picks, but for now, we will assume that the Mancunians will line up in their trusted 4-3-2-1 formation in gameweek 1. In any case, from a defensive point of view, not much would change for FPL managers as the backline looks set with captain Harry Maguire and Raphaël Varane flanked by Luke Shaw on the left and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the right. In goal, there is some doubt over whether Dean Henderson or David de Gea will start. Based on him making the spot his at the end of last season, our feeling is that the former will be Ole’s number one once he has shaken off the effects of covid that he contracted last month.
Even if Man United remain faithful to their 4-3-2-1 set-up, it looks unlikely that they will stick to the energetic, but barely creative double pivot consisting of Scott McTominay and Fred. While the former seems assured of a place in the starting eleven, it will probably be Paul Pogba playing next to him from the get-go this season. In front of those two, Bruno Fernandes is the absolute talisman with Sancho and ideally Rashford (currently injured) on the sides. The English forward is out for the foreseeable future with a shoulder injury though, which opens the doors for Mason Greenwood to start. Jesse Lingard (now out with covid) and Dan James are candidates as well, in theory, but we would be surprised to see them counted on as starters.
At the same time, Greenwood also comes in contention for a start up front. In the official fantasy game, the only listed Manchester United forwards are Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial. The former, though always a presence and often lethal, is probably not considered a 38-week starter, while Martial’s disappointing last season and injury niggles have seen him drop down the pecking order. Once fit again, Rashford also enters the number nine discussion. In other words, in attack, Solskjaer can pick, shift and rotate quite a lot with the available talent.
MANCHESTER UNITED – Potential FPL targets
In a season and a half of Premier League football, Bruno Fernandes (12.0m) posted the following returns:
Talk about hitting the ground running. His points tally of 244 was the highest of all players in the official game last season and no player is more instrumental to Manchester United than the Portuguese midfielder. Only Spurs talisman Harry Kane had a higher direct goal involvement for his side. Fernandes is sometimes labelled a “penalty merchant”, seeing as he takes all of United’s penalties (and usually puts them in the back of the net as well), but that’s just not right. The man is an FPL points merchant and with United’s kind set of opening fixtures in mind, we consider him almost just as near-well essential as Mo Salah come gameweek 1.
With Marcus Rashford recently having undergone shoulder surgery that should keep him out of the running for a couple of months, Mason Greenwood (£7.5m) emerges as an extremely enticing FPL pick. It’s true that rotation risk remains an issue for the 19-year old, but he looks like a prime candidate for a starting spot in gameweek 1 after his pre-season efforts. Last season, he ended with 106 FPL points courtesy of 7 goals and 2 assists, but possibly even more interesting is his purple patch of form at the end of the campaign. Six of his seven goals, as well as one of his assists, were actually recorded over the last eight games of the season. Greenwood missed out on Euro 2020 due to some injury issues and used the time to get fully fit for the 2021/22 campaign, which makes him a serious differential consideration for us.
Even though we don’t tend to be big fans of betting big on fantasy assets that are new to the Premier League, it’s hard to ignore the potential of Jadon Sancho (£9.5m) at United. Raised at Watford’s and later Manchester City’s academy, the 21-year old is no stranger to English football, while on top of that, he also has 104 Bundesliga games and 22 caps for England on his name already. He’s got more top-level experience than most players many years his senior and if there is any newcomer likely to slot right in, both in his team and in the league, it’s Sancho. The winger’s enormous transfer fee combined with Rashford’s absence make a gameweek 1 a real possibility although he has missed most of pre-season due to duties with England in the Euros. He is, after all, £2.5m less expensive than (the tried and tested) Bruno Fernandes, which can make a huge difference to your GW1 squad’s shape albeit he could well start frommthe bench in the first match. To top it off, his stats from last season: 38 games, 16 goals and 20 assists for Borussia Dortmund, including 2 goals and 3 assists in six Champions League group stage encounters. A small punt with big potential, in our opinion.
NEWCASTLE – FPL 2021/22 team preview
Hopes weren’t particularly high around St. James’ Park at the start of the 2020/21 season and that sentiment didn’t change for much of the season. Until the final stretch that is, when the Magpies started picking up some (goal-scoring) form and managed to clinch a more than decent 12th place in the league, 17 points above Fulham in 18th, but also 10 points behind Aston Villa in eleventh. Newcastle really crowned themselves “the kings of the bottom-half of the table”, so to say, something that most certainly would have been seen as a good achievement at the start of the season.
In the final stretch we mentioned earlier, during the last eight games of the season, the Magpies won an impressive five encounters and actually suddenly found themselves amongst the most-attacking sides in the entire league, stats-wise. Over that run, only in-form Liverpool, champions Manchester City and Spurs scored more than them, while both their Expected Goals ratio and the numbers of chances created ranked amongst the top four league-wide. This upturn in form was largely attributed to a change in formation and tactics, but more about that later in the Newcastle tactics sheet.
While the attack did its job by scoring a total of 46 goals in 38 games, no team between places 12 and 20 scored more, the defence was a worry for the Toon. With just 7 clean sheets and 62 goals conceded, an average of just over 1.6 goals per game, only West Brom, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United were leakier than the ambitious Geordies. Manager Steve Bruce will need to address this issue as a priority for the coming season if he wishes to avoid getting dragged into a relegation battle.
Having said that, Newcastle’s primary objective this season will be to avoid the relegation zone and subsequent battle all together, first of all. At first glance, their squad seems to contain sufficient quality to achieve that and possibly a bit more, but a few new faces wouldn’t harm their chances. In that sense, summer has been calm on Tyneside , with no significant transfer activity so far. Fringe players like Andy Carroll and Christian Atsu left the club, while defender Florian Lejeune was sold to LaLiga side Alavés for an undisclosed fee. Steve Bruce will be hoping for a (permanent) return of Arsenal loanee Joe Willock, while rumours are linking Newcastle to the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Man United defender Axel Tuanzebe and Marseille defender Boubacar Kamara, but no incoming transfers have been confirmed as of yet.
Newcastle’s tactics sheet
The Magpies started the 2020/21 campaign with their trusted four-man backline providing them with a certain defensive solidity, but also making them close to toothless in attack. Up until Bruce switched to a more expansive 5-3-2 formation, Newcastle ranked amongst the bottom five clubs for important attacking statistics such as Expected Goals and big chances created. Even though the tweak in formation did not really affect their defensive performances, it did have a very positive impact on their attacking output.
As we wrote earlier, their purple patch of form at the tail-end of the season seems to coincide with a switch to 5-3-2 with forward-thinking wing-backs. Not only did the Toon win five of their last eight games of the season, but they recorded some excellent underlying stats. Both in terms of Expected Goals and big chances created, they went from under-performers to a league-wide top-four ranking. What helped this upturn in fortunes, obviously, was Joe Willock’s remarkable patch of red-hot form. Despite starting just four times in the last nine games, the Arsenal youngster netted 7 times, a run that included goals against Spurs, West Ham, Liverpool, Leicester and Manchester City.
With Steve Bruce having stated on several occasions that his wish is to turn Newcastle into a more attacking side, it’s not crazy to assume that he will build on the successful 5-3-2 set-up. Martin Dubravka is the undisputed man between the sticks albeit may miss the 1st game or two of the season due to a foot injury, and the block in front of him is likely to be built up of Fabian Schär, Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles. The wing-back positions are for Matt Ritchie (left) and probably Jacob Murphy (right), though budget defender Javier Manquillo has an outside chance of featuring as well.
In the middle, Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden form the heart of the team with Miguel Almirón in front of them. Jeff Hendrick, the Longstaff brothers and Ryan Fraser provide them with competition. In attack, Callum Wilson is the talisman and much of Newcastle’s achievements this season will depend on his fitness. Alain Saint-Maximin floats around the former Bournemouth striker, though Ryan Fraser in particular could claim a spot higher up the pitch as well if he manages to pick up some form. Joelinton provides a different kind of alternative to the Magpie attack when necessary.
NEWCASTLE – Potential FPL targets
At £7.5m, Callum Wilson‘s price is probably a bit too steep for most fantasy managers, especially when looking at the alternatives in his price bracket, but we wouldn’t write him off straight away. Despite missing out on portions of the season due to injury, he did manage 12 goals and 6 assists for a direct goal involvement of just under 40% and a total FPL points tally of 134. Wilson is also on penalties for his side and with Newcastle facing a relatively kind opening to the 2021/22 season, with just a single game (a visit to Old Trafford in GW4) ranking higher than 3 on the official game’s Fixture Difficulty Rating, the Newcastle forward could represent considerable value.
As FPL managers, we always love a good wing-back and despite Newcastle not being the most free-scoring, free-flowing of sides in the Premier League, set-piece specialist Matt Ritchie (£5.0m) could be interesting. He blossomed on the left side of Bruce’s five-man defence and recorded a more than decent 3 clean sheets and 5 assists in just 1,347 minutes of Premier League football last season. He looks set for a starting spot for the coming season and is also in charge of penalties when Wilson is not around to take them. The big downside to Ritchie is his price tag, which seems a tad heavy considering the likes of Vladimir Coufal, Matt Targett and Kieran Tierney are also priced at £5.0m, but we’re still putting the Newcastle man on our watchlist.
Finally, a budget goalkeeper to compete with the likes of Crystal Palace’s Vicente Guaita, Brighton’s Robert Sanchez and Watford’s Daniel Bachmann this season. The budget goalkeeper bracket is a popular category every season and Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka (£4.5m) might just be one of your best options, should you want to go this road for your gameweek 1 squad. The Slovakian international is currently returning from a foot injury and will likely miss GW1, but that shouldn’t necessarily put fantasy managers off selecting him. After taking the starting spot from Karl Darlow late last season, Dubravka took 48 FPL points from 13 games for an average of just under 4 points per game. No budget goalkeeper performed better over that period. It’s also worth noting that over the 2019/20 season, he was Newcastle’s starting goalkeeper and recorded 143 FPL points, courtesy of 11 clean sheets and 9 bonus points. If Steve Bruce manages to inject some more defensive solidity into his side, Dubravka could be a useful fantasy asset.