Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. And, when I say “welcome back”, I mean “Welcome Back”! Last time we got together, it was Week 29, the first week of March. The last hints of winter fading away, spring was doing it’s thing and...then I guess something kind of happened, because suddenly we are in mid-July. In all seriousness though, it feels good to get back on the horse and return to the game I adore and I am happy to reunite with FPL enthusiasts around the world, as we see out this historically wild season. Here’s hoping, wherever you are, you and your loved ones are well, staying safe and in a position where you can dedicate some time to this little hobby of ours. Because goodness knows, in the year 2020, things are tough all over. Speaking only for myself, but assuming it applies to many of you, I need this little hobby to maintain some level of sanity.
Sigh. I miss Pochettino.
Right, so FPL in the COVID era...it has been an interesting few weeks since the restart to say the least. I am still trying to adjust watching a league where giant TV screens of nine random fans with giant heads looking on like some sort of nightmare-fueled Brady Bunch reboot. I am watching VAR implementation becoming increasingly ridiculous. And I am watching my club Tottenham tumble their way to a forgettable season with a forgettable finish. Did I mention I miss Mauricio Pochettino? Otherwise, readers out there are well aware I am sure that there are five substitutions given to each club per match instead of three. So between shifts being shortened more than usual for star players and those same players perhaps getting rested once or twice when they otherwise wouldn’t have if the league wasn’t on a hiatus and kept its original schedule, the landscape in FPL has a few extra traps installed that you will hopefully be able to avoid.
As is typical fashion, feeling somewhat out of the loop when FPL returned, I assumed I would struggle to climb the ranks and indeed felt it would have been an accomplishment to just maintain the rank I had. But FPL loves to give me results opposite of expectations. I’ve actually been doing really well since the restart with green arrows every round. So, now that I have mentioned that and have returned to giving the league my undivided attention, things will surely head back south from here.
Ahh, but enough catching up. We have loads of fixtures coming fast and furious as we near the end of the season. Let’s take a look at who the top armband options are in this week’s edition of Captain Obvious...
Bruno Fernandes (9m)
Rostered% - 27.9%
Season points - *94 (7 Gs, 6 As, 15 BPs) *joined PL in Gameweek 25
Opponent - Southampton (home)
The goal of this column is to present the handful of popular captaincy options for each round and state a case for each, so that managers out there can weigh the factors and make up their own minds. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to simply say “You should captain this guy” or even rank them in a particular order. That said, I am finding it extremely difficult to find a player as attractive for the armband as Fernandes. He is ticking all the boxes you want out of an armband candidate.
First of all, he is class. He has come right into this league, did not start his career until Week 25, and has immediately taken off. He needed about one game to get his feet wet. His PL career is only ten games in and he has accumulated 94 FPL points already. I don’t mean to brag about my elite math skills, but that is a ridiculous 9.4 points per game average. That is vintage Thierry Henry territory. Second, the Red Devils have been in great form since the restart, and they now get a home game against a Southampton side that is firmly entrenched in the midtable, safe from relegation but no chance at a spot in Europe. So, even though the Saints have been playing pretty well over the last few games, including a clean sheet against Manchester City, this has to be considered a “plus” fixture with the form Manchester United are in.
Third - and this point is so important, I needed to start a new paragraph - with the stacked schedule and rest/rotation being more volatile, I want a player who is not only in form, but is safe from the dreaded rest/one-point cameo. Bruno’s minutes are being managed. It’s pretty clear Ole Gunnaar Solskjaer wants Fernandes starting every match, as he has subbed him off early in three of the last four games, playing only 70 minutes most recently against Aston Villa. I would include some detailed stats for Bruno, but I really don’t see the need. He is at or near the top of just about every stat you would hope for - chances created, key passes, shots on target.
I believe Fernandes was the third-most captained player in the previous round, so it’s not one of those situations where you are captaining him to keep pace with everyone else. There is still a bit of a differential to him.
Who didn't make the shortlist (second-tier options)
Mo Salah (12.5m)
Rostered% - 35.6%
Season points - 223 (19 Gs, 9 As, 26 BPs)
Opponent - Burnley (home)
To those who gave Salah the armband in GW34+, well done indeed. His eighteen point haul will certainly see him backed with plenty of armband investment and, I would think, he should be the most-captained player of the week. Remember, there are dead teams out there, and a lot of those dead teams were probably abandoned with Salah as their captain. Whereas, in the case of Bruno Fernandes, you can count on those armband stats to be applied to live teams only, and those live teams are all probably in the top million global rank.
If we were mid-season and living in normal times, I would have no hesitation in giving the armband to Salah. Crowd or no crowd, Liverpool's home record is second to none and Salah is coming off a very fine performance against Brighton where he scored twice and added an assist. The first goal showed that his finishing is in form as he tucked away a Naby Keita pass effortlessly. His hustle earned him the brace, making a nice run off a defender from a corner to be in position to deliver a well-taken header. He is also seeing plenty of volume having taken 18 shots since the restart. Only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (19) has more.
But here’s the catch. The midweek game saw a rest handed to Sadio Mané, along with Andrew Robertson. Could Salah be in line for a rest in what should be a game Liverpool takes the three points from? That isn’t for me to guess for you, but it is something that has to be considered when deciding upon your captain. Remember, Manchester United will have four days between games as they play on Monday night. Liverpool are essentially only getting about half that time to recover. That said, Salah looks fit and when he is fit, his endurance levels are among the best.
Jamie Vardy (9.8m)
Rostered% - 28.3%
Season points - 195 (22 Gs, 6 As, 33 BPs)
Opponent - Bournemouth (away)
Vardy has had an interesting season since the restart. While most players have either come straight into form and maintained it, like say Willian and Christian Pulisic of Chelsea, or have yet to find their form at all (the entire roster of Tottenham Hotspur), Vardy has managed to fit a dry spell and a hot run of form in a matter of a few weeks. First, it was three straight blanks for Vardy and Leicester as a whole were struggling, failing to win any of those three games. What a difference the last week and change has made though, as the Foxes had a comprehensive win over Crystal Palace and followed it up with a respectable draw on the road to Arsenal.
If motivation is what you need to have confidence in a player, Vardy has that in spades. He is currently in position to win the Golden Boot, with a two-goal advantage over the rest of the league, and his current form that has seen him score three in the last two games, he will be licking his chops against a Bournemouth side that are not known for their stellar defensive work. Also, Leicester are losing their grip on a top four finish with United nipping at their heels. In their eyes, nothing less than three points gained against the Cherries will be acceptable.
That said, a couple of things to consider about the in-form striker. One, the Cherries are coming off a clean sheet, so it’s not like they are battered, bruised and short on confidence in the back. Keep in mind though, opponents Tottenham’s attack is in complete disarray at the moment and, even with that being the case, they should have had an opportunity to wipe the clean sheet away and win the game but a clear penalty was not awarded them. So, perhaps the recent defensive showing is a bit of a red herring. Still, expect Eddie Howe’s side to at least try and contain the Foxes, because the Cherries are three points below the drop zone. This match means a lot for them, too. Here is the other thing to consider - Vardy has not scored in this fixture the last three seasons. You have to go back to Leicester’s title-winning season to witness Vardy scoring at the Vitality Stadium.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.7m)
Rostered% - 52.5%
Season points - 223 (11 Gs, 23 As, 32 BPs)
Opponent - Brighton (away)
Remember questions like this on aptitude tests back in your scholastic days?
What number would best suit this pattern - 14, 1, 6, 14, 1, 7, ____? It almost looks like the next number should be a 14, shouldn’t it. Well, what you are looking at is the sequence of FPL returns for KDB since the restart. Is he due for a 14 point return? Quite possibly.
Let us not forget, despite Salah’s big haul in midweek, he was only able to match de Bruyne on total FPL points this season. KDB is still tied, at least, for the best season in FPL. So it is always in situations like this that I find him more appealing. Those who captained KDB this past game, despite getting seven points, are probably going to look at him as an armband failure, given the returns of the likes of Fernandes, Vardy and Salah, to name a few. Then you think back to two rounds ago where he burned all who captained him with a one point cameo off of the bench. In other words, KDB’s captaincy stock and confidence is currently low, by his standards. He is probably going to be, at best, the third-most captained player heading into the weekend, at least among managers in the top million.
So, as silly as it may sound to say, given he is the joint-best player in FPL this season to date, if you want to go against the grain in an attempt to climb the ranks, this seems to me your most rational option. We only have four rounds left to go and the most effective, or if you are unlucky, ineffective, way of making up ground in the ranks is 1) getting the armband right and 2) getting that return from a player who is NOT the most captained player that week. Otherwise, you are treading water. The numbers are there for him. Despite the non-start against the Saints, he is still at the very top since the restart in terms of key passes and shots combined (35).
Everyone else - Chelsea has been in an attacking groove since the restart, scoring at least two goals in every match this month and three times in their last two. There is no doubt that Willian and Christian Pulisic have been the pillars of the Blues recent success. Also since the restart, a once-feared Sheffield United defense has come down to Earth a bit. They just kept a clean sheet against Wolves but were conceding more big chances than any other club since the restart before the midweek result. It would be a maverick move to captain a Blue but, if you are at the point where the rank you’d be happy with is farther away than arm’s reach, you are going to have to do something against the grain. I would opt for Willian over Pulisic, as his stats show that he is clearly more involved in the attack. Only KDB has more key passes since the restart than Willian and only Aubameyang and Salah have taken more shots.
Finally, Sadio Mané. This is probably the name I am going to regret not putting on the shortlist. I have no problem at all for those who want to take a chance on him. The most important thing is, you know he is going to start. I mean, as much as a start can be guaranteed, this one is for Mane, and that means the world in picking the armband. You have to go back to weeks 24-25 to find a stretch of two straight games where Mane did not score a goal. He didn’t score in Week 34. So, set to start for sure and on a pattern where he is due to score. And he’s at home, playing Burnley? I am sitting here a Salah manager and the more I think about things, the more I wish I had Mane instead this weekend.
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.