Friday, December 3 2021

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

Last week, I opened the column with admitting I had made a mistake. This time around, I am happy to report that the mistake has been rectified. Your humble writer did what many would do at this stage of the season, he played…sorry, I played…my wildcard. Any way I look at it, it was a well-timed play. I simply was sick of seeing Bachmann in goal (he gets dropped anyway), Daniel Amartey was wasting a spot, Luke Ayling just looked doomed for 1 pointers for the foreseeable future with the state of Leeds defense, Son was injured with no indication he would return, Antonio was suspended, Obafemi a useless enabler, now needing a serious upgrade with all the other issues at hand. Long explanation short – I see many FPL content creators discuss a “best time” to play the wildcard, and I am of the opinion that, at least for one’s first half wildcard, it is best to not target a time to play it. Allow for the opportunity to present itself, because inevitably, it will. If for some reason it does not, use it like a free hit chip in the last eligible round and consider yourself in great shape where no situation called for it.

Again, my situation was precisely that. I looked at every possible option I had to try and NOT use the wildcard. At the same time, I realized that if I wanted to create a team with four premium players – Alexander-Arnold, Salah, Lukaku and Ronaldo, I could never get there over a series of transfers before I would run out of cash and be stuck rostering players I did not really want in order to get those that I did. So, I fiddled with the transfer page ahead of last weekend, saw how I could build a team with those four players, and squeezed everything in without even .1m left to spare. That team is already unaffordable if I were to try and build it now. How my side will get along with this new structure in place, time will tell, but in the first week, I did the numbers…I net-profited 25 points. Ironically enough, I only kept two players, Alexander-Arnold and Salah, the latter who I gave the armband to.

Speaking of armbands, that is what this column is about, is it not? Perhaps I can subtly segue into that topic right now. Before that though, just to be clear, raving how my gameweek went is not going to be a common occurrence. I do enjoy sharing a quick summary of how my round went, good or bad…particularly the bad. I am simply attempting to be relatable. Even in rounds where I get a green arrow, I usually find some decision I regretted, and focus on it, because I am a difficult person to make happy, so I am told. So, trust me, I know some folks out there had some bad luck, even those that wildcarded themselves. Just give me a week or two, and I will be ranting along with you. But, for this one week, can I enjoy the moment? I need to honestly, the way things are going for Spurs these days.

Right. Captains.

Last week, I posed three premium options for the armband. One blanked (failure), one returned a goal but no bonus (breaking even) and the other had a nice haul (success). Because only one of the big three had a double-digit haul in Week 5, I would expect hm to be heavily invested in for Week 6, but I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s dive in to this week’s edition of Captain Obvious…

Cristiano Ronaldo – 12.7m (roster % – 47.1%)

Total points – 19 (3 Gs, 0 As, 3 BPs)

Opponent – Aston Villa (home)

It is old news by now that the person most negatively affected by the arrival of Ronaldo, at least, from a fantasy perspective, would be Bruno Fernandes. After two games, Ronaldo has nearly doubled him in points, 19 to 10, and looking at Ronaldo’s stats, albeit only two games’ worth, one would have to expect him to reduce Fernandes’ returns all season long. I just want to make the distinction though – Fernandes is a great player. It just so happened that United brought in a player and changed the dynamic, and once the game is launched, FPL can do nothing about the prices they initially set. To me, Fernandes could come into thinking at 10m, maybe 10.5. But his price is simply too steep, not only for getting lesser value in return because of Ronaldo, but because by having Fernandes, you are basically passing up Ronaldo. As always, play your squad the way you want, that is your prerogative, but, just to emphasize the point, you are going to be seeing plenty of Ronaldo in this column going forward, and much less of Fernandes.

Right, so, even though we only have two games worth of data to pull from, which is typically not enough to pass judgement on a player’s worth and outlook, Ronaldo, being who he is, manages to tell us in short order what he is all about – volume. If the Premier League were Spinal Tap, Ronaldo is the amp that goes to “11” because his shot volume is insane. Thirteen shots on target in his two games with an impressive seven hitting the target. Salah leads all players with shots on target, Sadio Mané and Michail Antonio are next with eight apiece, and then there’s Ronaldo on the leaderboard with only two games under his belt. Class plus volume equals a solid captaincy option. Add in the fact that he is playing at home this weekend, while the other two primary options are on the road, and there is much to like about Ronaldo getting a minimum of one attacking return with a reasonable chance at more.

Michail Antonio – 7.9m (roster % – 34.4%)

Total points – 39 (4 Gs, 4 As, 8 BPs)

Opponent – Leeds United (away)

Welcome back, Mr. Antonio. No one in the Premier League, perhaps in world football, got off to a hotter start to the season than the West Ham forward, with eight goal involvements in the first three games. Then, a poor showing escalated into a red card and next thing you know, you have a player that has totaled -1 points over the last two rounds. In spite of flying high and smacking straight into a brick wall, Antonio’s hot start still sees him atop the highest-scoring forwards in FPL, with a healthy ten-point edge over the next guy, Jamie Vardy. He is also still second in points across the entire game, behind only Salah. So, we know his absence was not injury related and we know he will be in the lineup this weekend, with plenty of needed rest under his belt. For those that decided to hold on to him, I think you made the right move. Sure, I could spend a transfer to bring him in for Patrick Bamford, at no cost, but it would cost be by next week with the transfer plans I have in mind. So, if you kept him, not only do you have a fixture good enough to anoint him a premium captaincy option, you will enjoy a better effect on your rank if Antonio hauls, after seeing a steep decline in roster percentage. He is still in 1-in-3 teams right now, so not having him might hurt. This is a chance for managers who currently have him to capitalize. I do think he is the best “differential” choice of this week’s “Big 3” if you think this is a good time to bet against the herd.

My hesitancy around Antonio would be one thing – did the suspension mess with his rhythm? In the match where he was sent off, he was struggling for the first time this season with having a dynamic influence on the pitch. What went wrong that day and is it possible that it lingers with his return? Maybe it is best to enjoy whatever haul he may provide and not risk an armband. Conversely, I have reason to be pro-Antonio. The biggest reason being the opposition. Leeds United’s defense is in such poor shape at the moment, they need to be looked at as a club to pick on by rostering attacking players against them. Even when they had a pretty much fully fit squad to start the season, they were hammered by Manchester United for five goals. They have not conceded that many in one game since, but they also have yet to keep a clean sheet and the injuries are mounting in the back, with Luke Ayling the latest to be in question. So what was an ineffective defense before for Leeds is currently an ineffective, patchwork defense. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I need to consider flipping Bamford for Antonio. Even if I chose not to captain him, I cannot deny that the atmosphere seems as close to a guarantee as it gets for Antonio to return something in this game.

Mo Salah – 12.6m (roster % – 57.3)

Total points – 50 (4 Gs, 3 As, 8 BPs)

Opponent – Brentford (away)

We may have to start using the phrase “Just Go Mo” at some point this season, because he looks to be in store for yet another impressive season and an every-week captaincy consideration, regardless of opposition. He now has three double digit returns in the opening five games, and another game, he game us a respectable 8-pointer. The level of consistency is unmatched. The idea of Diogo Jota being an attacking upgrade to Roberto Firmino perhaps shifting some goals his way instead of Salah’s looks rather silly. Even Sadio Mané is better form than we have seen from him in quite a while, but the results speak for themselves – Salah gets the points. He is also the best attacking Red in terms of bonus points with eight, though that does match teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Not to take anything away from the many FPL content creators out there, but I do sometimes wonder if a statistical dive is a bit unnecessary for the likes of someone like Salah. The eye test and subsequent point hauls tell enough of a story for me. What I would like to have is some previous matchup history with opponent this week, but of course, none exist with newly-promoted Brentford. This will be a very interesting match, if nothing else. The Bees are arguably the toughest defense among the three opponents facing this week’s top three picks. Three clean sheets kept already, with two of them being on the road. They have not for a second looked like a side that was overwhelmed by the opposition, not even in segments of games. They constantly look poised. I think Salah is going to edge Ronaldo in the armband rate this weekend, but not by too large a margin. Combined, I could see about 80-85% of managers backing one of the two, with Salah getting about 45-50% of the support. If you are going to go for one of Salah or Ronaldo, and one player blanks while the other hauls, well, there is the top storyline across FPL for the weekend, because that one decision will likely determine whether your week was positive or negative.

I cannot fault anyone for picking Salah this week but I also cannot help sharing my gut feeling that I am a bit concerned about Liverpool’s ceiling in this match. I will not deny that this is Brentford’s biggest test and they could cough up several goals. But, if I sense a situation where a player may only get one attacking return, with little chance for two, while other options have a better chance at two or more returns, that typically sways my vote. However, it has to be said that Salah’s midfield designation helps him even in this situation. Lets say that Antonio returns a goal and an assist, whereas Salah only has a goal…however, Liverpool would surprise no one to keep a clean sheet, so there’s an extra point, along with an extra point for scoring from midfield. In that scenario, bonus points not included, despite an additional return, Antonio only eclipses Salah by a single point. Long story short, there may be some weeks where his ceiling looks lower than others for fantasy returns, but he is the most consistent source of points in the game.

Honorable Mentions –

I wanted this to be the week to explain my “always have a weapon for Norwich” rule of thumb, but in the case of Everton, you have both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison absent. That would leave, in terms of form, Demarai Gray as Everton’s top captaincy option, and I simply cannot recommend that. I will mention it though, because Norwich are punching bags for any attack. However, bad clubs get their occasional result and this looks a rare week to not captain against them.

Trent Alexander-Arnold – This is only if Jurgen Klopp gives a clear, no ambiguity reply as to the availability of Alexander-Arnold this weekend. You may have noticed that the defender has crept on to the honorable mentions list in recent weeks and I would bet that it is more likely we see him rise up to the elite armband picks than fade out of thinking altogether. My money is that, while I think both will happen, the odds of the Reds keeping a clean sheet are better than the odds of a Salah goal. The odds aren’t far apart in my view, but I do think we will get a clean sheet. That leaves Trent immediately in the bonus point conversation and, of course, should he provide an assist, then you’ve got a diamond on your hands. Still, between the illness and the fact that a Salah goal + clean sheet is worth three more points than a Trent clean sheet alone, the defender can only make it as far as the honorable mentions. Oh, and if you have Sadio Mané instead of Salah, I would rank him here as well.

Jamie Vardy – This, to me, is the ultimate differential. He is rostered by 1 out of every 9 managers and is the second-highest scoring forward to date, so he is matching his value, but the fantasy community simply does not seem to care. Well, if you want to be a proud Vardy owner, you can even consider him for the armband and be the toast of the town in your social media circle, because I would bet on him to come good at home to Burnley. A much better than 50/50 shot at one return and I would say a better shot than Salah has at multiple returns. He is going to wind up being the player we all wish we had when this round reaches its conclusion, I feel. I don’t know, maybe he deserves to be in the top tier of choices. Mr. Vardy, if you deliver big this weekend, I will never disrespect you again.

And, the rest – Right, so I am always pleased to have fixtures that can help eliminate any thought of captaincy and naturally, the Chelsea v Man City game fits that bill. Someone is coming away with points in that match, but I will not posture as to know who. I will say, it seems prime for a tight affair rather than a goalfest, so we could be looking at the dreaded 1-1 result which is pretty much the worst scoreline for FPL managers.

Spurs and Arsenal are going head to head. Not sure who, if anyone, you would feel confident about captaining anyway. Somehow, Harry Kane is rostered by 5% of the game. Yeah, he got a goal in the midweek cup match with Wolves to give him some confidence, but it will take a couple of good results before I can trust him or Son as captains.

Ismalia Sarr – Likely the week’s number one transfer target, some may be willing to go so far as to think about giving Sarr the armband. After all, he is Watford’s talisman and they are facing a porous Newcastle defense and have the luxury of playing at home. Giving him the captaincy though might be a little “too cool for the room”. Trust me, I was happy to take his non-captained haul last week and leave it at that.

And there you have it. Another look at the captaincy debate for the round ahead. Good luck with your selection this week, and may your arrows be green.

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