Fantasy football tips: How do you navigate the Liverpool-Man City selection headache?

Alistair Bruce-Ball

If you’re a regular listener to the Fantasy 606 podcast then you might wonder why Chris Sutton isn’t writing this column, or more pertinently his assistant manager.

That’s his son Ollie and at the moment they’re dovetailing like Brian Clough and Peter Taylor back in the day – Ollie like Taylor spotting the talent, Chris like Clough picking the team and making it sing. They’ve seen green arrows in seven of the past nine weeks and have climbed almost a million places in the overall league in the past five gameweeks.

In gameweek 18 they played the Free Hit chip and boldly backed the Sheffield United defence to keep a clean sheet against Newcastle, which they duly did.

Michail Antonio and Raheem Sterling have been excellent signings at the right time despite Sterling being a casualty of Pep Guardiola wreaking his usual havoc on fantasy managers in gameweek 21, and Luke Shaw was an astute acquisition this week. Although this is where Clough, sorry Chris, made his one mistake, leaving the Manchester United defender’s seven points on the bench.

They’re on a roll though, which is why in this week’s episode of Fantasy 606 I asked Chris about their plans for the big game of the weekend – Liverpool versus Manchester City. Lots of managers will have multiple assets from both teams – Chris has Andy Robertson, Ruben Dias, Riyad Mahrez and Sterling for example – so do you pit them against each other or do you back one horse in the race?

The form horse is obviously Manchester City on the back of their 13 consecutive wins and rock-solid defence, coupled with the fact Liverpool have failed to score in their past three games at Anfield.

Chris says he’s toying with the idea of benching or maybe even selling Robertson and I know lots of managers are thinking exactly the same thing. Selling him would not just be because you don’t fancy Liverpool against City on Sunday but a decision based on the fact he has not had a clean sheet or an attacking return in the past four gameweeks and eats up over £7m of your budget. Trent Alexander-Arnold actually looks the better fantasy asset of the two Liverpool full-backs at the moment and you could do a straight switch but you won’t be saving any money.

Joao Cancelo is an obvious target – as previously discussed in this column – but you may already have three Manchester City players like Chris, so that will take a bit of manoeuvring in the transfer market.

James Justin and Shaw would also be great candidates as a Robertson replacement and, as Statman Dave was pointing out in the podcast, Shaw actually has the most expected assists in the Premier League in 2021, ahead even of Bruno Fernandes and Jack Grealish.

Chris already has both of them as well though so the next cabs off the rank could be Aaron Cresswell, who has eight assists to go with his seven clean sheets this season, or Stuart Dallas, who like Cancelo effectively plays as a midfielder so offers lots of attacking returns.

But enough about defenders. What do you do with a goalkeeper who has just let in nine goals? Southampton’s Alex McCarthy is the second most-owned keeper in the game behind Emi Martinez but there’s a chance Ralph Hasenhuttl could take him out of the firing line like he did with Angus Gunn when he conceded nine against Leicester last season.

Alex McCarthy dives but concedes a goal against Manchester United
Alex McCarthy endured a nightmare 90 minutes against Manchester United as his team conceded nine goals

If you are a McCarthy owner and you want to stick with him in the long term then make sure you’ve got a back-up keeper on the bench who is going to play, possibly even Fraser Forster who could come in for Southampton’s trip to Newcastle.

If poor old McCarthy is getting the boot for you then have a look at Brighton’s Robert Sanchez at just £4.4m. He’s kept four clean sheets in his past four games, with his next four opponents being Burnley, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and West Brom.

At the top end of the pitch Gabriel Jesus has caught the eye with two goals in his past two games and you’re never going to be short of chances if you’re regularly starting for Manchester City. He could be quite a nice differential at just 3.2% ownership, although it won’t be long before Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane are back as two other premium options in that department.

There are also so many in-form strikers around the £6m mark, like Patrick Bamford, Antonio, Ollie Watkins and Callum Wilson that you might be better to spend your big bucks in midfield.

And talking about big bucks in midfield, I’m certainly not suggesting benching or selling Mohamed Salah ahead of the big one at Anfield on Sunday, even if you do fancy Manchester City to win the game. Salah is going to be in my starting line-up but I’ve also got the double City defence of John Stones and Ruben Dias, so Stones could drop to the bench to reduce my risk with Vladimir Coufal getting the nod instead as West Ham go to Fulham.

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