Welcome back for another season of FPL captaincy debate!
Usually, that sentence begins each weekly column on this topic and ends with a simple period, but this is Week 1, and an exclamation point is indeed in order.
Here we are again. Doing what we love. Another 10 month ride on the emotional pendulum that is playing FPL. Well, if you are new to this here column, let me make the idea of this weekly feature clear: There is no decision more important in FPL, round after round, than getting the captaincy choice right. I have been playing this game a long time. Have seen myself and many other managers have fantastic seasons and then some that were lackluster. Sure, some other factors and bad luck play a part in how we do, but the quickest way to prove what made one’s season great or disappointing is armband success rate.
This realization was driven home for me a few seasons ago when I finished outside the top 100k globally. Finishing inside the top 100k was never an issue before, but I realized how over the course of that season, I was bemoaning how I got the armband wrong yet again, round after round. It was a terrible streak and I vowed to make my armband success rate better. If you are reading this, then you are a serious player. You are taking the time to gather information and make an informed decision. You want to succeed. I want to help you succeed. That is why we do this.
Again, if you are new to this, let me point out that the options I present each week are not ordered in any sort of rank. I cannot make the decision for you. The idea is to offer up the top options and take a look at what factors make them a strong candidate as well as some factors that may make you second-guess them as an armband choice. With this being Week 1, the presentation here is not running at full capacity. There is no recent league form to factor in, no counting numbers to look at from the current season. It is pretty much an empty canvas and, for Week 1, much depends on reputation and fixture.
As I am sure you are aware, there are no matches this weekend for both Manchester clubs, two teams that will, more often than not, see captaincy candidates represented in this column. Perhaps it is a bit of a small blessing then, to have two fewer clubs to worry about when narrowing down your choice for the armband. Right. It’s great to get back into the swing of things, so let’s waste no more time and look at the Week 1 edition of Captain Obvious...
Mo Salah (12.5m)
Rostered% - 29.8%
Opponent - Leeds (home)
What a surprise to see Mo Salah in the conversation...just kidding. Of course, Salah, who has been the most productive FPL player over the last three seasons, will be a top armband choice most weeks, so of course he is going to be a strong and popular play for the opening weekend, especially when you consider Liverpool play at home and are facing a newly-promoted side. Typically, that is a recipe for a blowout. Since we do not have any history against Leeds to draw from, I think the closest comparison to analyze this situation is to look back at Week 1 of last season. Then, just like now, the Reds had a home game against a newly-promoted side, Norwich City. Liverpool took the game, 4-1, and Salah came through with a goal and an assist.
Now, I am not suggesting that Leeds have a defense comparable to Norwich’s. They do not. Leeds may not be the next Sheffield United in terms of effective defending from a promoted side, but they are far better at the back than the Canaries were. Still, “far better” is still far from a defense strong enough to contain the Liverpool attack on a ground where the Reds refuse to lose. I would imagine three goals would be more realistic, perhaps only two, but Salah is a strong candidate to be involved.
Timo Werner (9.5m)
Rostered% - 47.7%
Opponent - Brighton (away)
Typically, I would shy away from giving the armband to a player making his PL debut. In my opinion, missing out on one good armband choice is better than backing a new player and getting no return. That simply is not the case here with Werner and Chelsea. I mean, if you want to back a “fun” option, then this is the one. You get the feeling with the abundance of new talent having arrived, the Blues could hit the ground running and put up a cricket score on Brighton. I think Brighton are going to concede fewer goals than last season but are still well in the bottom half of the table in terms of defending.
If you are worried about Werner’s ability to fit in, I wouldn’t be. He is a fully polished striker at the young age of 24, having averaged just a hair under 20 goals a season over the last four seasons in the Bundesliga. He also has 30 caps for the German national team, scoring a dozen goals in that span, and he is coming off his second Champions League appearance this past season, making his mark with 4 goals and 2 assists in eight games there. Honestly, it could be a huge day for several Chelsea men, some old (Pulisic) and some new (Havertz), but Werner feels the safest play as his role is the most defined. His ownership is massive, far and away the highest-owned forward in the game, so I would imagine many managers will be taking the plunge here and Werner will be among the top 3 most captained players this weekend. Anxiety loves company. You will not be alone if you captain Werner.
Rostered% - 44.3%
Opponent - Fulham (away)
Amazing what a position change can do for you. Last season, despite being one of the more consistent forwards in the game, Aubameyang’s ownership never got on a major bandwagon and often, was behind Liverpool and Manchester City options in managers’ captaincy thinking, week in, week out. Well, with both Manchester sides not playing in Week 1, Fulham as an opponent and the additional point per goal for the position switch, Aubameyang has immediately ascended to a strong armband choice. In fact, it is difficult to find any flaws in choosing him. If you were playing FPL two seasons ago, you may have recalled it was a common practice to captain whoever was playing Fulham and, looking at who they have at the back, I do not see much improvement. To be fair, only hours ago, the Cottagers have brought in Alphonse Areola on loan for a massive upgrade at goalkeeper, but with this kickoff only 48 hours or so away, I am not entirely sure if Areola plays. Should he be ready to go, it still looks promising for PEA.
While out of the top flight last season, Fulham hosted Arsenal two seasons back, and the result should entice managers even more. Arsenal rolled over the Cottagers, 1-5, and who was the star of the game? Aubameyang, naturally, with a pair of goals and an assist. A fantasy return that was matched once and not surpassed that season for the Arsenal goal-getter. So, while Week 1 is typically quite uncertain, and there are no guarantees, one cannot kick themselves for going with this option, even if he blanks.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (7.5m)
Rostered% - 54.4%
Opponent - Leeds (home)
We need to talk about Trent Alexander-Arnold. I am ready to part with the old adage in FPL of “don’t captain defenders”. I mean, I mostly agree with the philosophy, but Alexander-Arnold has broken the game. He is too deadly. Look at it this way - how many times last season did you captain a forward? You probably don’t know off the top of your head, but for many of you, the answer would be “several”. And I am sure you had your ups and downs with getting the armband right on whichever forward you chose. The point being, in your mindset, you were never thinking, “Do I dare captain a forward?”. No one thinks that. And yet, would you care to list all the forwards who outscored Alexander-Arnold last season? Here, let me do it for you…
Forwards who outscored Alexander-Arnold last season -
Hmm. Isn’t that interesting…
TAA is an armband candidate for sure this week, and will be many times over the course of the season, particularly home games against bottom half of the table clubs. I feel like most pundits would not rate him as high an armband option as I do, but this is where I part ways with the thinking around the community. Personally, I am a fan of having more than one way to get a job done. He gives you the best of both worlds - a baseline of consistency, meaning, far more often than not, he will provide a return of some sort. But he is also capable of the “Mega Score”. No, he won’t get you a hat trick, but a clean sheet and two assists is close enough. Also consider this - if folks don't think of a defender as an armband option and TAA has the well over 50% backing of managers in their squad, then captaining TAA is the only way to do more than cancel out all the other TAA's around you. This is not to suggest TAA is an easy, set it and forget it candidate. But during the course of the season, there should be a few occasions where you say to yourself "Huh. Alexander-Arnold kind of makes sense here", and you roll the dice on him. Try it at least once. If not this weekend, then another time.
Other options - Of course, Sadio Mané is capable of a big return and could take the headlines away from Salah this weekend. Call it a personal preference but I think the majority of managers out there agree - there is more of a trust factor with Salah and, when we are trying to nail a Week 1 pick, with little to go off in terms of form, I lean Salah, both as the player of the two to have in your squad to start the season with and as an armband option.
You would be on a pretty small island, but I would not mock you for backing Jamie Vardy this weekend. He is the top scoring classified forward heading into this season from last season, and he was pretty good at avoiding prolonged scoring droughts in the 2019/2020 campaign. Playing a promoted side in West Brom, I could see this being a sneaky play. The problem is - how sneaky do I want to be in Week 1?
Hit me up on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles and let me know your thoughts on who you've nominated for captain and why. Good luck with your selection this weekend and may your arrows be green (starting in Week 2, of course)