The FA Cup might not matter for ESPN Fantasy Soccer players in terms of points scored, but it can be an important competition as we scout out players to consider in future matchweeks.
The competition continues to be less and less of a priority for Premier League clubs, as evidenced by the much-weakened starting lineups we saw this weekend, which culminated with Liverpool's 2-1 loss to Wolves on Monday. Jurgen Klopp sent out an almost entirely second-string side and his team paid the price, getting knocked out of the competition after their very first match.
However, it's often those fringe players who can boost their profile with a good performance, and possibly earn more starts in the top flight. Here are five players who made a case for more playing time and attention from fantasy managers:
Ilkay Gundogan, Manchester City: Gundogan had four assists (four!) in Manchester City's 7-0 rout of Rotherham United. Yes, he did it against a team just three points above the relegation zone in the Championship. But four assists is impressive nonetheless.
Through the first 21 weeks of the Premier League season, Gundogan has made 15 appearances and nine starts, and has been relatively productive, with four goals and two assists. The problem is, Kevin De Bruyne's return from injury will limit Gundogan's chances of increased playing time. When everyone's healthy, Gundogan is a clear fifth in the Manchester City midfield pecking order -- behind De Bruyne, David Silva, Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva -- and Pep Guardiola typically only starts three of these players.
Gundogan has only made 15 league starts last season, and only nine starts so far this season despite De Bruyne's long-term absence. Barring more injuries, I don't expect him to be a regular starter going forward, but he's a name to monitor should he wind up in the squad more often.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea: The 18-year-old winger got the assist on both of Alvaro Morata's goals in Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest (who are currently seventh in the Championship). This came just after Hudson-Odoi made his first Premier League appearance of the season on Dec. 26, playing 42 minutes off the bench in a 2-1 win over Watford.
The big-money signing of Christian Pulisic has overshadowed Hudson-Odoi's progress, but there's a reason why Bayern Munich are trying to pry Hudson-Odoi away from Chelsea. He was very impressive on Saturday, also taking four shots, with two on target. And it sounds like he'll be getting more playing time, especially with fellow wingers Pedro and Willian struggling with injuries.
If Hudson-Odoi gets Premier League starts -- and he did also start in Chelsea's Carabao Cup semifinal first leg against Tottenham on Tuesday -- I think he's a fantasy option worth considering, for sure.
Michail Antonio, West Ham: Antonio picked up an assist in West Ham's 2-0 win over Birmingham City (currently eighth in the Championship), continuing his resurgence over the past few weeks. He's only made 10 Premier League starts so far this season, but has had a goal or assist in four of his past six league appearances.
Right now Antonio is available as a Tier 2 defender in ESPN's fantasy format, since he 's been playing fullback at times, including against Birmingham. But Antonio plays multiple positions -- he's also lined up as a midfielder, and even as one of West Ham's two starting forwards in their game against Watford on Dec. 22. If that happens again, picking Antonio as your Tier 2 defender is a sneaky way of getting another forward into your fantasy team.
Troy Deeney, Watford: Deeney scored Watford's second goal in their 2-0 win at Woking. That's nothing to brag about, considering Woking are currently in the sixth tier of English football. But he's also coming off a two-goal, one-assist performance in Watford's most recent Premier League game, a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth.
Deeney's only started 15 Premier League games so far this season, but that includes six of the past seven. He is now up to five goals and two assists, after also scoring against West Ham on Dec. 22. Deeney's also on penalties, and this is a guy who finished in double-digits in goals in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, with 13 and 10 respectively. He's a Tier 2 forward to keep in mind in the coming weeks, with five of Watford's next six games being against Crystal Palace, Burnley, Brighton, Everton and Cardiff City.
Ademola Lookman, Everton: The 21-year-old scored one of Everton's two goals in their 2-1 win over Lincoln City, the League 2 leaders, on Saturday. Lookman also led his team in shots in that game, with four.
He has made just 11 appearances, and only one start, in the Premier League so far this season. But Lookman showed great potential during his loan move to RB Leipzig last year, racking up five goals and three assists in just 11 Bundesliga appearances, including only seven starts. He was deployed on the right wing against Lincoln City, in the spot normally occupied by Theo Walcott, who has only scored one goal in his past 18 games. Perhaps Lookman's performance will convince manager Marco Silva to give him a chance.
Everton have lost four of their past five league games, and have just one win in their past eight -- it's probably time for Silva to shake things up, and I'd be more likely to pick Lookman for my fantasy team than Walcott, but I do want to see more.