Manchester United

This is our fix up look sharp series, which will look to profile a selection of Premier League teams for their FPL potential. We’ll give some key info on the players, talk about their first five fixtures and pick out  key individuals from that side, then offer a verdict on them at the end.

In this article, Ed (prokoptas) runs the rule over United’s FPL chances for next season.

After a disappointing first season under Jose Mourinho in terms of their Premier League performance that saw the side fall back from 2015/16’s fifth-place finish (although winning the Europa League saw them achieve Champions League football), fans will be hoping for (read: expecting) big things from Manchester United heading into next season. Here’s our rundown on the team’s fantasy prospects heading into 2017/18:

The squad

To lift an misfiring attacking unit which scored just 49 goals (1 more than 17th-placed Sunderland) the previous season, the Red Devils drafted in an all-new attacking triumvirate heading into last season: world-record signing Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. All three proved popular pre-season fantasy picks last year, yet only one (the seemingly ageless Swede) provided value, either early on or consistently throughout the season. Following the announcement of Romelu Lukaku’s mega-money signing (more on him later) and an 11.5 price tag, plus the benevolent 8.0 price point for Pogba, this year’s United bandwagon seems to have already begun – especially given the kind early fixtures on offer.

So, can we expect improved attacking returns to improve heading into 2017/18?

The short answer is: yes. Much like I noted in my analysis of Southampton, United’s chance conversion rate lagged well behind the league average last season. Across the entire season, United matched the chance creation rate of their much more prolific neighbours Manchester City (208 vs 211). However, their finishing in front of goal was wayward: from these same number of opportunities, City scored a whopping 80 goals, whilst United notched only 54.

While the forwards may have struggled to click into gear for much of last year, the same cannot be said for their backline. Long considered a speciality of Mourinho-led teams, United proved a sturdy and dependable defensive unit last season. The side produced an impressive 17 clean sheets last time around, tied with Tottenham for the league-lead. As a result, they conceded only 29 goals last year, trailing only Spurs – their best defensive campaign since the 09/10 season.

Player in focus: Romelu Lukaku

Red Rom’s reign?

After a lengthy courting process, which looked at one point to be potentially derailed by a last-ditch effort from Chelsea, the prolific Belgian has been finally confirmed as the latest in a long line of big-money forwards plying their trade at Old Trafford. With a stellar record at Everton (87 goals and 29 assists in 166 games), FPL managers will no doubt expect the big Belgian to hit the ground running. If last season proves any indication, they will not be disappointed: Lukaku finished the year with 221 fantasy points, second among strikers and just 3 points behind leader Harry Kane. In that context, he threw off the “Trollkaku” moniker once and for all.

United demonstrated the ability to sustain at least one consistent attacking option in fantasy last season, with Zlatan Ibrahimović notching 17 goals in the last campaign, finishing 6th amongst forwards and just inside the top 20 overall with 163 points. Following an early barren spell during September and October, the Swede finished as the fifth highest-scoring striker; even despite missing the final 8 games through injury. Ibrahimovic therefore represents an interesting baseline for performance heading into next year. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how Lukaku’s numbers compare to last year’s model:

The statistics suggest that the two strikers were relatively closely matched in their offensive efficiency last time around: Lukaku scored goals more efficiently, yet Ibrahimović possessed the greater number of chances. However, it should be noted that Lukaku featured within a far less productive system: United produced over 2 goal attempts per game more than Everton, leading to an additional 90 shots generated over the course of the season. Even factoring in a slight regression in goal conversion rate from the Belgian, a central role within United’s attack seems to provide Lukaku with a relatively high “floor” in terms of potential performance heading into next year.

The first five fixtures

Manchester United appear to have been handed a kind opening slate, with each of their first four games against lower-half sides from last year. A strong start is therefore expected from United assets heading into next season.

Fantasy Football Scout’s ticker rates them like this:

(screengrab from FFS website)

But how good are they?

Well, let’s see, by using the Premier League’s own “head to head” meter to gauge United’s record against those each of these teams and see if that is truly the case. Any semi-predictions come with big caveats, as we have transfers and pre-season to shake things up, but here’s 2 or 3 lines on each with some general observations.

West Ham (H): 42 games played in PL, 26w Manchester United, 11d, 5w West Ham.

Last season: MUN 1-1 whm / whm 0-2 MUN

An opening game at home to the Hammers bodes well for United’s attack; with the road side leaking 64 goals last term. As we’ll mention below, too, Lukaku loves playing West Ham, so we could well see him introducing himself to the Old Trafford faithful with a goal or two.

Swansea (A): 12 games played in PL, 7w Manchester United, 2d, 3w Swansea.

Last season: swa 1-3 MUN / MUN 1-1 swa

A potentially strong game for both attacking and defensive assets. Though much improved under Paul Clement, the Swans may struggle for traction against United. The potential loss of Icelandic talisman (and FPL darling) Gylfi Sigurdsson would be a huge dent to their attacking potential.

Leicester (H): 22 games played in PL, 14w Manchester United, 6d, 2w Leicester.

After a 2015/16 campaign that will puzzle football historians for decades, Leicester fell back to Earth with a bump last year. Manchester United carved through their defence en route to a 7-1 aggregate victory in the season series – another bumper haul may follow for United’s attack this time around.

Stoke (A): 18 games played in PL, 12w Manchester United, 4d, 2w Stoke.

Last season: sto 1-1 MUN / MUN 1-1 sto

It may not be scheduled for a rainy Tuesday night, but Stoke will surely provide an interesting test for the physicality of the new-look United side. Despite two disappointing score draws last time around, we expect the Red Devils to be well up to the task.

Everton (H): 50 games played in PL, 33w Manchester United, 9d, 8w Everton.

Last season: MUN 1-1 eve / eve 0-2 MUN

Gameweek five sees a return to past homes for both Romelu Lukaku and Wayne Rooney, who exchanged shirts over the summer. United failed to record a win over the Toffees last season, and may be hard pressed again to break through an Everton backline recently reinforced by the arrivals of Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane.

The key players

The top targets

Paul Pogba: after arriving in Manchester to much fanfare, the #POGBACK marketing campaign provided more value to its merchandising partners than to fantasy managers last time around. However, the underlying numbers provide reasons for optimism looking ahead to next year. Though limited to just 5 goals, Pogba ranked 7th among midfielders in goal attempts with 92 (just 2 behind Dele Alli), and struck the woodwork 5 times. His chance creation numbers are also stellar: producing a chance every 46 minutes, a comparable rate to creative dynamos like Sigurdsson (43 minutes) and Manuel Lanzini (48). Priced at a very generous 8.0, Pogba looks primed to take advantage of a tempting opening slate of fixtures.

Antonio Valencia: after such a solid defensive showing last time around, a United defender seems a strong candidate for a premium backline slot. We favour Antonio Valencia, who fired in the 4th-most crosses of any defender last season to accompany his clean sheet potential. However, a pricetag of 6.5 means the onus will be on us to squeeze him in to our sides.

Victor Lindelof: a cheaper route into the United backline may be found in new signing Lindelöf, who makes his FPL debut priced at just 5.5. The big Swede looks set to cement a regular spot in Mourinho’s backline and, with prices at a premium, could represent the superior value.

David De Gea: as mentioned on the pod, though we at Who Got The Assist? in no way promote an expensive keeper (the upside is too small relative to the outlay), De Gea’s guarantee of over 130 points a season (averaging at 13 clean sheets, or 132 points over the last 6 seasons) means that many will flock to the United keeper for their man in their initial teams. He has a 25.4% ownership at the time of writing – some of which will be auto-completes – but nevertheless always see high %ownership throughout the season despite his 5.5 pricetag.

The signing

Romelu Lukaku: as we discussed above, a change of shirt should improve, rather than limit, Lukaku’s goalscoring potential heading into 2016/17. He opens this year at 11.5 – matching Ibrahimovic’s price from last season – and, despite a plethora of strong striking options available, could be a good bet to finish as a top three fantasy striker once again. An incredible record against West Ham – he’s scored more goals against them (9) than any other team he’s played, as well as registering 4 assists – sees him as a shoo-in for us on Gameweek 1, and in pole position to be entrusted with the armband on day one.

The punt

A pregnant pause before destroying it this season?

Henrikh Mkhitaryan: having fallen drastically from last year’s 9.5 valuation to a much more palatable 8.0, “Mickey” may be offered a second chance by many heading into next year. Much was expected of the Armenian in fantasy circles going into last season; however, his failure to cement a regular place in Mourinho’s rotation cost him dearly, and Mkhitaryan produced just a single double-digit haul all season. His place on this list is based largely on the creative potential he displayed whilst at Dortmund, where he produced 11 goals and 20 assists in 31 games during his final season. Though he carries great risk, the talent is there for Mkhitaryan to reap potentially great fantasy rewards should he secure a regular spot in the starting XI.

The blanker

Anthony Martial: after a promising rookie campaign under Louis van Gaal in which Martial returned 11 goals and 6 assists, the Frenchman was largely marginalised last season. After notching 2 assists in the season opener against Bournemouth, it would take until week 14 for Martial to chalk up another – while producing only a single goal in the meantime. Though a lower price may tempt some, his inconsistency makes him a write-off for now.

The verdict

A solid defence, a new big-name striker, and a tremendous amount of fantasy hype over Paul Pogba…this year’s United sure smells a lot like the old one.

Look a little closer, though, and it is possible to imagine incremental improvements across the board, combined with an improvement in their chance conversion rate (as outlined here), providing the side with the push they need to move up in the fantasy power rankings. Victor Lindelöf should solidify an already impressive defensive line. Meanwhile, the presumed arrival of a defensively-minded midfielder (be that Nemanja Matic, Tiemoue Bakayoko or even Eric Dier from Spurs) should free Pogba (who is featuring in many an RMT) into more attacking positions in his sophomore season.

A key conclusion is that we are bullish on the potential of Lukaku to maintain his excellent goalscoring record. We are anticipating a meta consisting of sides built around big Rom and Harry Kane in Gameweek 1, with both being potentially very risky not to own from the outset. We’re fully behind this given the stats and analysis we’ve done, with all the signs pointing to Kaku being nigh-on essential (a word we never use lightly) in our opening squads.

Considering the kind opening fixtures afforded to Mourinho’s side, United offer real potential as a source of early fantasy points heading into 2017/18.