Sunday, May 29 2022

Greetings, and welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate, the most important decision of your gameweek.

Last week was my first week back after a long spell in the writer’s treatment room, and I made sure to ask for your patience and understanding as I settle back into the routine. Well, given who I nominated last week as the top choices for the armband, I may need to outright beg for forgiveness.

The past month of FPL gameplay has been the most chaotic stretch in the history of this hobby of ours, and captaincy choices were massively affected again by a pair of postponements. Interestingly, I expressed some doubt over Harry Kane as I felt Spurs were most in danger of only playing once…but I thought it was the Leicester match that was under threat. Kane indeed only played once, missing the North London derby instead. Cristiano Ronaldo, by all accounts from the Manchester United camp, was going to be fit for both of their games, but he was absent for the Villa match. Finally, the player I felt looked like a good outside-the-box selection, Emmanuel Dennis, wound up playing just the one match, and that postponement hurt the most as, unlike the Tottenham v Arsenal match being rumored as off shortly before the deadline, there was NO indication at the deadline that Watford’s attractive matchup against Burnley would be called off.

Well, to be fair, considering the Clarets had postponed four games already, I suppose the latest one could not be considered a shock. Any way you slice it, it was “single game Kane” that was the lone producer, making up for the missed derby with an 11-point return just a few hours ago. Double digit return for Trent Alexaner-Arnold’s single game, and if you look back at last week, I said he would be among the best choices, and he was.

Now comes the most awkward segue in the history of this column. As poor as my calls were last week, I personally wound up, by absolute luck and circumstance, picking the best possible player to captain in the entire league. Bruno Fernandes. “Well”. you are probably asking, and rightfully so, “why didn’t you recommend him last week?”. I have an explanation, so please hear me out.

I took a four point hit by dropping Heung-Min Son and Michail Antonio for James Maddison and Harry Kane. To be fair, both of those additions produced returns in last night’s game and had I stuck with those moves, I still would have had a decent gameweek. But I made the amateur mistake of making those transfers early, looking to avoid losing .1m on selling Son a day later. So, over the course of the next several hours, a domino effect took place. First, the Leicester match was called off. This made me activate my Free Hit chip out of pure frustration. When building my Free Hit side, hours before the deadline, Kane was still included, along with Lucas Moura. But then, the heavy rumor that the Tottenham match against Arsenal was off, I decided to scrap my Tottenham players. The Free Hit was already activated and there was a half hour to go until the deadline. Only then, simply because I had so much money to spend, did I decide to take a chance on Fernandes (I also brought in Lukaku – that’s how much cash I had to splash around). I cannot explain the rationale, but at this point, with the deadline minutes away, I was so frustrated with how yet another gameweek seemed to be blowing up in my face before it even began, I decided “screw it”. Everything is going pear-shaped, why not go the Full Monty and give the armband to Fernandes? What’s the worst that can happen, given how insane things had gone already?

So there you have it. I do feel bad for being rusty on the calls I made last week, but between an 89 point round score, working my rank up to 139k, along with the unforgettable comeback win by Spurs last night, you have to allow me to bask in some personal glow today. Good news coming from the league yesterday as well, as they appear set to alter the method by which these matches are postponed and it looks like we should be nearly out of the woods and the days of throwing our hands up in the air in frustration with all the rescheduling may finally be coming to an end. There has been talk of some clubs getting a double gameweek in the coming round, but as of this writing, none have been confirmed. Keep that in mind as we look at the Week 23 edition of Captain Obvious…

Friday Night Lights

For the second week in a row, we have a Friday night kickoff, which always makes planning for the round a little more difficult, but, as described with my series of chaotic decisions above, it is even more challenging during this period of the season. Typically, I am not interested in giving the armband to a player on Friday night because either A) he blanks and you have to spend the rest of the weekend beating yourself up about it or B) he can come good, but the rest of the weekend, a great start begins to be chipped away as other’s captains begin to add their points to the gameweek.

One of two things are needed for me to consider picking a captain on Friday night. Either the player has to be in ridiculous form or, as is the case this week, a good player is playing at home to Norwich, the best possible fixture on paper, and that is the case for one Emmanuel Dennis, or, for those who went for Watford’s other goal-getter, Josh King. The Canaries are coming off a big win that handed Rafa Benitez his walking papers, ending their run of six games without scoring a single goal. But we aren’t looking for a captain to keep a clean sheet against Norwich, we are looking to capitalize on the team with the worst defensive record in the league.

Remember, only two rounds ago, it was West Ham who had the pleasure of facing the Canaries and, based on his form and being the highest-scoring player on the club, Jarrod Bowen came through with a big brace and made it a successful gameweek for every manager who captained him. Dennis may have been quiet in recent games but he still sits second among all forwards in points on the season and you have to say the chances of him getting at least one return in this fixture are extremely high. A pair of attacking returns would not come as a shock as well. What is troubling for the Hornets is that this is a huge game for both sides and, if Norwich can build off the momentum of their win at Everton, it could be their night on Friday. Considering Watford have not kept a clean sheet all season, you have to expect goals from both sides, but if Norwich get the win, then Dennis could miss out on bonus points even if he delivers an attacking return.

World Class Midfield Maestro Is On Fire

For those who feel more confident in backing elite players from elite clubs rather than trying to capitalize on an attractive fixture alone, Kevin De Bruyne is the class player who is in classic form at the moment. He is averaging just a smidge under eight points per game over his last six, including a most-recent 11-point haul in which he scored a cracking goal in the 1-0 win over Chelsea. This week the Citizens are travelling to Southampton, where, while it is true the Saints have their games where they play very well defensively (they played City to a 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture this season), they most recently coughed up three goals to a Wolves side that had not scored more than one goal in a game since Week 10.

With a roster percentage of just 10%, this seems to be the right time to invest in De Bruyne and use him as a captaincy option for the many attractive fixtures over the next several weeks for Manchester City. The Belgian has not been much of a candidate for the armband for a large part of the season for two main reasons: his health and the spread of points around the City players, making the selection of the right player for captaincy a tricky one. Joao Cancelo has been the most dependable armband candidate for much of the season and he continues to be a decent shout, including this week. But, when De Bruyne is at full fitness, which he is, having started the last six league games, as well as in good form, which he is, scoring more points per game in the last six than any of his attacking teammates, then now is the time to look at him as a true and proper captain.

If you do not fancy rostering the expensive De Bruyne, those who currently carry the more popular, and cheaper, Phil Foden may have a decent armband option on their hands as well. The same can also be said for Raheem Sterling, who is thought to be the preferred pick to take spot kicks right now and could be due for a productive game here. Sterling has been more susceptible to rotation in recent weeks, but with an international break coming up following this game, I would expect Pep Guardiola to name his strongest side and that would include De Bruyne, Foden and Sterling. The Belgian is my most trusted weapon of the three, but Foden and Sterling have plenty of potential themselves.

Ride The Hot Hand at OT?

A huge showdown on Saturday with Top Four implications will go down at Old Trafford when Manchester United host West Ham. The Hammers have been losing their grip on their top four status lately while United continue to put in Jekyll and Hyde performances from match to match, but each of these sides have a red-hot attacking player in their arsenal, and both should be considered for captaincy – Bruno Fernandes and Jarrod Bowen. Fernandes is, of course, coming off a monster double gameweek, in which he scored a pair of goals in one game and provided a pair of assists in the other. Some may argue that, while he undoubtedly came up big this past week, he suffered an extended drought of production, and that perhaps it is a little too soon to trust him with the armband. Others would argue back that if you want to maximize points from your captain, you have to put your faith in the player a bit earlier than everyone else, or you wind up cancelling points out because so many others have jumped on the bandwagon.

With Bowen, on the other hand, the trust factor should be there after producing attacking returns now in five straight games for the Hammers and is clearly the focal point of their attack these days. He was one poor touch on a chested ball at the far post i at the very end of that thrilling game against Leeds from producing yet another double-digit return. One may wonder if missing such a clear chance to rescue a point could take a negative hit on Bowen’s confidence, but I just cannot see Manchester United doing much to shut Bowen down with current state of their defense.

Double Gameweek Guessing

As of this writing, there are no double gameweeks yet scheduled for Week 23 but it has been rumored for a while now that Aston Villa may be primed to play two matches in the coming round. Should that announcement be made pre-deadline, then of course you have to look at their side for potential captains. With his star power and immediate impact on his debut, one has to imagine there will be plenty of investment in Philippe Coutinho, but I do worry about his chances of starting both games of the double. That is not to say that he can not do damage with a single start, especially if the makeup game is against Burnley, but I would be surprised if he plays more than 140 minutes over two games.

From an attacking perspective, that might have people leaning toward Ollie Watkins, though his form has not been ideal as of late, blanking in five of his last six league games. Again though, if Burnley is the makeup game, then there is plenty of appeal along with an Everton side in transition being the other opponent for Steven Gerrard‘s men.

However, if Villa play a double against the other club they need to make a game up against, Leeds United, then my preference shifts directly to Raphinha, who would be playing a nice fixture with goals expected against Newcastle and then the potential second match against Villa. Raphinha was absolutely brilliant in the win over West Ham and how he managed to come away with only one fantasy assist and no bonus is an absolute crime. Jack Harrison may have been the headline-grabber with his unlikeliest of hat tricks, but Raphinha ran the show and was a nightmare for the West Ham defense to contend with. The Hammers may be where they are based more on their attacking prowess than their defensive showings, but they are still a pretty decent side defensively. I would say Villa’s defense under Gerrard is a cut above West Ham’s right now, but not by much, so I can certainly see Raphinha having a chance to grab returns in both games of the potential double.

Salah Not In The Pool, But Others Are

Finally, even with the absence of Mo Salah for at least one more round, one cannot ignore the potential for Liverpool players to deliver this weekend, though I am not thrilled about a trip to Crystal Palace as others may be. In fact, I made a heck of a call earlier this season that I thought the Eagles could get a result against Manchester City and, by gum, they did precisely that. They are an exciting side with tons of energy and no matter who they play, there is an attitude there that they are capable of getting a result. Obviously, with Salah out of the picture, Patrick Vieira’s men will feel even more motivated to get a result in this one.

Do not get me wrong – I fancy Liverpool to win if I am placing a bet, but it is not a confident bet. I can see Palace getting a goal somewhere between the thrilling play of Michael Olise and Conor Gallagher, so the idea of giving the armband to Trent Alexander-Arnold, or even Andy Robertson, who has actually been the more productive Liverpool fullback in recent weeks, takes a hit as it would require some sort of attacking return on their part. That leaves Diogo Jota as the most sensible pick from the Reds to back this week, but I do not think he is going to see much armband investment from the FPL community. His potential is somewhat limited in my view and when you combine that with the notion that he will not see too much backing, then there is little upside for me in giving him the captaincy. I would much rather just enjoy any sort of return he may provide.

That’s about all I have for Week 23. I think my calls this week will play out a little better than they did last week. (They kind of have to, don’t they) But hey, even if captaincy this week causes a headache, just rest easy knowing that we are a week closer to seeing Mr. Reliable, Mo Salah, back in the conversation.

Good luck, and may your arrows be green.

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