Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate!
Well, we are coming out of an international break and, according to the consensus of people who follow FPL closely on social media, everyone is hungry to return to Premier League action. If only the ongoing pandemic would be a bit more cooperative in that effort. Yes, with star players around the league leaving their respective clubs for a fortnight to join up with their respective national teams, the inevitable has happened. Several more players have tested positive for Covid-19 and as we approach the deadline this weekend, many of our FPL squads see injury flags all over the shop.
No other player has caused a shockwave due to the coronavirus over the break quite like Mo Salah. An elite captaincy option virtually every gameweek, Salah will miss the clash with Leicester and, with some other tricky fixtures for key captaincy options, mainly Tottenham versus Manchester City, this week will feature a few names that do not make the short list nearly as often. Combine that with what appears to be a week where the wildcard will be played at a higher rate than is typical at this stage of the season, and we look to be store for a very unpredictable weekend, evey by FPL standards.
It is not an enjoyable topic by any means, but one has to speculate how the pandemic could possibly influence the remainder of the PL season. The EFL has already allowed for the use of five substitutes for the remainder of the season, covering the Championship and Leagues One and Two. One would imagine the Premier League will not be far behind in adopting the same measures. But if coronavirus was enough to shut the league down entirely late in the spring, and with daily case numbers currently exceeding those from earlier in the year, one has to wonder whether the league will have to be suspended at some point before the season is over.
This is all to say that this is not your typical FPL season. For one reason or another, good managers out there are going to run into bad luck or bad timing that they could not possibly plan for. My advice would be to continue to play the game at whatever level of passion that you feel comfortable with, but if this season ends with a disappointing rank, toss it aside as an aberration. I would be using this season as a reason to try some new things, make some out-of-the-box decisions. However, just to be clear, when it comes to captaincy debate, and the purpose of this column, I am not attempting to get cute. These are still the top options around the league, based purely on the factors that play into one particular fixture in a given round. So let’s take a look at who those top names are in this Week 9 edition of Captain Obvious...
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (7.8m)
Rostered % - 57.2% (rising steady)
Total points - 57 (8 Gs, 1 A, 7 BPs)
Opponent - Fulham (away)
Let’s get the obvious reason for DCL’s consideration this week out of the way. He has eight goals in eight games, tied for the top spot in that department in the league. Adding in the assist he picked up in Week 8, and that’s an average slightly more than one return every single game. Add to that consistency, there is the fact that Everton play Fulham this week, a club I think who should be targeted as one to nominate a captain against, and it seems pretty undeniable that Calvert-Lewin is, at worst, an understandable choice.
Now for the annoying alarms around backing DCL. First, and this is probably the biggest factor, is the return of Richarlison. Despite scraping out a couple of attacking returns in Richarlison’s absence, Calvert-Lewin’s influence was only a fraction of what it was in the opening weeks with the Brazilian included in the XI. DCL has only had two shots on target total in those three games and, while Fulham may grant him and the rest of the Toffees more chances just by being Fulham, naturally Richarlison’s return would boost DCL’s captaincy case. The issue is, though Richarlison has completed his three match ban, he is currently injury flagged. With a yellow "probable" flag, before a final Ancelotti press conference can provide me further updates, I will assume Richarlison will be playing. Still, you do not have to make your final decision now. Wait for deadline day to hear about Richarlison if he hasn’t been 100% cleared by then already.
The other issue I have with DCL as a captain choice is his lack of bonus points. You would think a player who is giving you an attacking return every week would be sitting on more than seven bonus points. I mean, heck, Hakim Ziyech has six bonus points in the last two games. When midfielders can offer an extra point per goal, as well as a potential clean sheet point, one really needs strikers who not only score but rack up bonus to compete. The hope is, with a fixture like Fulham, DCL can get a second attacking return, which would all but guarantee him two or three bonus points.
Bruno Fernandes (10.6m)
Rostered % - 26.5% (rising fast)
Total points - 53 (5 Gs, 3 As, 9 BPs)
Opponent - West Brom (home)
Here we have another extremely attractive fixture on paper and of the assets at Manchester United, Fernandes seems the safest bet as a captaincy option, as he can score in open play, assist, assist a goal from a set piece or fire home a goal from the penalty spot. Against Everton in Week 8, he scored a pair of impressive goals, including one that could have resulted in an assist had Marcus Rashford’s head been an inch higher in the air. That’s right - a ball so perfect, it could only end in either a goal or an assist. That is a special kind of talent. Meanwhile, you have West Brom coming into town, mired in the relegation zone, still in search for their first win. In the last four games, Bruno Fernandes is averaging three key passes and just under four shots. He really cannot be more involved in this attack and that is what culminated in his giant return against the Toffees. He is seeing huge investment during the international break among FPL managers and, despite his ownership being relatively low, I expect a large chunk of the community to hand him the armband. Many are likely bringing him in now as a Salah replacement with the idea of immediately making him a captain. This plan could pay off huge.
But, it wouldn’t be right for me to refrain from planting at least a tiny seed of doubt regarding the Red Devil playmaker. With each passing week, it is getting harder to ignore that, for whatever reason Fernandes has had significantly more success on the road than at Old Trafford so far in his career and this season has picked up where last season left off in that regard.
Four games at home to date - 1 goal, 0 assists, 0 bonus
Four games away to date - 4 goals, 3 assists, 9 bonus
Now I am not saying that this stat alone would prevent me from giving Fernandes the armband, but it does make me wish this game was on the road. This is also an easier home game than United have had thus far. Yes, Crystal Palace aren’t a “big” club, but they came in Week 1 and shocked an unprepared United. The other three games at home have been against the London 3 - Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal. So perhaps playing at Old Trafford won’t feel so tough for Fernandes this weekend.
Jack Grealish (7.5m)
Rostered % - 36.3% (rising slower this week)
Total points - 60 (4 Gs, 6 As, 5 BPs)
Opponent - Brighton (home)
Grealish has made the shortlist before, but he is still relatively new to the responsibility of wearing the FPL armband. Thanks to a promising fixture and some of the more ever-present names on the shortlist dropping out for one reason or another, I would expect Grealish to be the best of the differential candidates in a week where we should see more of a spread and variance in captaincy choices. Folks will likely be more apt to back Bruno Fernandes, but Aston Villa’s playmaker has been very close in keeping pace with the one at Manchester United. Over the past five games, which included a 0-3 dud of a loss to Leeds, Grealish is averaging above three key passes and three shots per game. He has two shots on target in four of those five games. The second-highest scoring midfielder to date this season who will play this weekend (in other words, not counting Salah), at home to a Brighton side who are average to below-average defensively, Grealish is at minimum, worthy of one’s consideration.
What bothers me about Grealish is that, while a consistent provider of solid points in other formats, he really is a boom or bust pick in FPL. He has had a 15 point round and a 24 point round so far in the opening months, and those happen to be the only two games in which he has collected bonus points. It seems pretty clear that his underlying stats suggest there will be more giant round scores like this to come and, if he can get a big return on average once every four games, that seems a decent risk/reward bet to make. If you can handle the disappointment of a potential blank, then you could have a ton of fun backing Grealish this weekend.
Harry Kane (11m)
Rostered % - 45.3% (falling slowly)
Total points - 80 (7 Gs, 8 As, 12 BPs)
Opponent - Manchester City (home)
Those with Tottenham assets have probably noticed by now that the fixtures get really tough for the North London side over the next month, and folks are looking at life without Kane or Heung-Min Son in the interim. Personally, I am finding it very difficult to part with either despite this reality and plan to enter this weekend’s matchup against the Citizens with both of them. I mean, Kane is pacing the league with his 80 points so far this season. Playing 8 games, I am going to blow your mind with my math skills and reveal that is an average of ten points scored per game all season long. Keep in mind, Spurs lost 0-1 the opening weekend to Everton, the only game they failed to score. So all this production is really over the last seven games. When Spurs score, Kane has been involved every single time so, unless your gut says that City are going to keep a clean sheet, you have to be confident that Kane will return something. No other player in the league has taken more shots, hit the target more, or provided more assists than this man right here.
So, how afraid of a blank against City should one be? Well, it’s close. City have two clean sheets on the season. That’s well and good but not the kind of form that says “steer clear”. However, outside of the five goals they conceded to Leicester, they have not conceded more than a single goal in any game all season. If I am putting the pieces together, I would imagine Spurs’ attack to be a challenge for Pep Guardiola’s side and will indeed get a goal, perhaps two. I am not sure Tottenham can be expected to do more than that, so Kane’s ceiling this week will be lower than usual. Still, he remains an elite option for his second-to-none productivity and consistency so far this campaign.
Other options - It is simply impossible to get through a captaincy column without mentioning a Liverpool asset, but this is as about as rough as it gets for them this weekend. They have a very tricky opponent in Leicester. Liverpool are at home, so the unbeaten streak may still be alive and well by Monday morning, but I am not keen on Sadio Mané for the armband. Salah has missed eight league games for one reason or another the past few seasons and Mane has played in five of those games. He blanked in four of them, with just a single goal in the five contests. So the notion of “no Salah” somehow translating into “more opportunity for Mane” is simply unfounded. At least, that’s what history has shown to date.
Perhaps instead of Bruno Fernandes, you have Marcus Rashford in your squad or, perhaps instead of Kane, you have Heung-Min Son. Naturally, if I am anointing shortlist status for Fernandes and Kane, than the likes of Rashford and Son are not far behind and I can understand the desire to pick one of these options as your captain. I simply have them a tier below, but they certainly are capable of being the heroes of their respective matches.
Chelsea assets are getting more and more love as the season carries on, with the big new additions starting to gel nicely. As alluded to earlier, Hakim Ziyech has officially taken off in the Premier League, the star of the Blues’ last two matches. I think if you have him in your team now, you need to consider him in plus matchups for Chelsea. Newcastle are a side that Chelsea could clobber, but at the same time, this one’s in northern England on the early Saturday kickoff. I am not particularly fond of that combination and I simply feel more confident in the top four names on this week’s shortlist. But again, as I advised in the opening of this week’s column, this is a season to take some chances. Ziyech could be only at the start of what may wind up being a phenomenal year and his armband rate now will be very low. This is a chance to reap the potential benefits before everyone else climbs on board.
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.