There were no Premier League (or fantasy) games this past weekend, as the FA Cup took center stage for the first time this season.
Top-flight clubs enter the FA Cup in the third round, which began with Tottenham's 7-0 victory at Tranmere Rovers on Friday. Manchester City also won 7-0 over Rotherham United on Sunday -- those two were the most lopsided results of the weekend. But two Premier League teams, Leicester City and Fulham, suffered the embarrassment of losing to League 2 sides Newport County and Oldham Athletic, respectively.
But enough about the FA Cup. The Premier League teams fielded weakened starting lineups, with many key players rested. Whether you watched the FA Cup this weekend or not, the last round of Premier League fixtures probably seems like a distant memory ... with the exception being the final game played.
Manchester City's 2-1 toppling of Liverpool last Thursday means we still have a proper title race on our hands, to the delight of everyone besides Liverpool fans. But what did it mean from a fantasy perspective?
Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane scored the goals for Manchester City, yet finished with relatively meager points totals of 17.5 and 18.4, respectively. Fourteen outfield players in the league finished with more points than Sane, and 20 with more than Aguero. Roberto Firmino scored Liverpool's goal, but he still finished with just 16.1 points -- 24 players were ahead of him.
The problem with this game, fantasy-wise, is that it pitted two evenly matched teams against each other, and was a virtual tie numbers-wise. Liverpool won the possession battle, but by an extremely slim margin, finishing with 50.6 percent of the ball. And the teams combined for only 16 shots -- nine by Manchester City, seven by Liverpool.
Manchester City had only four shots on goal, and Liverpool had just one more. And in terms of expected goals, it finished Manchester City 1.03, Liverpool 1.24.
We know these teams are really, really good -- not only are they the top two in the table, they're the leaders in goals scored with 56 and 49, respectively. But they're also two of the top three teams defensively. Liverpool lead the way with 10 goals conceded, and Manchester City are third at 17, one more than Chelsea. And these two teams basically nullified each other on Thursday.
Aguero took three shots, and no one else on his team had more than one. Firmino and Sadio Mane led Liverpool, but took just two shots apiece.
Is this a long-term concern? It depends on which player you're talking about.
I'm more worried about Manchester City. Even though they lead the league in goals scored, it feels like it's becoming harder and harder to predict who will score them.
In their previous six league games dating back to Dec. 4, prior to the win over Liverpool, Manchester City scored 11 goals, and they came from 10 different players. Aguero, Sane, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne each scored one. Gabriel Jesus scored two (in the same game), and the other was a Southampton own goal.
Talk about spreading the wealth! Pep Guardiola might like that balance, but I certainly don't when it comes to building my fantasy team each week.
I'm the least concerned about Aguero, who was dealing with an injury and only played in the last three games during that stretch (and came off the bench in one of them). With his goal against Liverpool, he's now scored in back-to-back games. And Aguero's still fourth in the league in shots with 66 -- four behind Harry Kane and three behind Mohamed Salah, despite playing four fewer games and more than 500 fewer minutes than both those players.
Raheem Sterling, on the other hand, has only taken one shot in each of his past two games, and four shots in his past five games. Sterling's only taken 36 shots on the season, and his current total of nine goals is nearly two more than his expected goals total of 7.11.
Leroy Sane has looked a little better than Sterling of late, taking nine shots in his past four starts. And he's taken 35 shots on the season, just one less than Sterling, despite playing more than 300 fewer minutes. But Sane's also significantly overperforming statistically, with seven goals scored but an expected goals total of only 5.49. In comparison, Aguero has 10 goals scored but an even higher expected goals total of 10.47.
As for the rest of the Manchester City players mentioned above, who knows? Jesus is clearly still second in the pecking order behind Aguero, and the return of De Bruyne from injury means playing time will be divvied up among the midfielders even more.
As for Liverpool, I still feel very confident about Salah, despite the fact he didn't score against Manchester City. He had a goal in three straight games prior to that (and an assist in each of those games as well), and has six goals in his past six league games dating back to Dec. 8. Salah is third in the league in shots with 69, third in goals with 13 (one behind Kane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) and second in expected goals at 12.66 (Aubameyang is at 12.93). Plus he's tied for third in assists, with seven. Salah has nearly caught up to Eden Hazard as the league leader in fantasy points on the season, now just 21.2 points behind.
Roberto Firmino has four goals in his past two games, with his strike against Manchester City following a hat trick in Liverpool's 5-1 win over Arsenal. Firmino's shooting numbers are also trending up -- he's averaging nearly four per game in the past five games -- and he's been better than Salah in all the peripheral categories so far this season, as my colleague Kevin DeVries mentioned here. But Firmino only scored four goals in his first 19 league games this season. I still need to see more before I'd consider choosing Firmino over Salah at Tier 1 forward.
Sadio Mane also scored a goal in that win over Arsenal, and he hit the post against Manchester City, in a wild sequence that Liverpool fans won't soon forget. But I also can't forget that Mane has only scored two goals since the beginning of November, a stretch of 13 games if you include Champions League fixtures. He also has only 22 chances created in 19 league appearances (19 fewer than Sterling, for example) which is partly why Mane has one of the lowest fantasy points per game averages at Tier 1 midfielder.
But Liverpool do have a very favorable schedule coming up. Their next five games are against Brighton, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, West Ham and Bournemouth, while Manchester City have to play both Chelsea and Arsenal during that stretch.
So you'll probably see me pick Salah a lot in the next few weeks, and I might even consider Mane on a couple of occasions, too.