Welcome back for another week of FPL captaincy debate. Last week was a tough one for the majority of managers out there. Raheem Sterling was the overwhelming choice across the board, and had a whopping 44.5% support among managers with a rank inside the top 10k. Kevin De Bruyne was next, with one in four managers in the top 10k backing him in a fixture against Southampton that had all the promise of huge returns. Of course, the Premier League being the Premier League, both Sterling and de Bruyne came up empty. The winners were those that went against the herd. In the top 10k, captaincy rates for the following players were - Aguero (6.5%), Vardy (6.1%), Mane (4.9%) and Abraham (3.1%). All four had returns, with the sub-5% backed Mane and Abraham having huge weeks, their 12 point returns doubled for some very happy managers. If we all just had the guts to back the incredible story that is John Lundstram.
After eleven rounds, it is fair to say we have a sample size big enough to work with when it comes to choosing captaincy options among the highest-scoring clubs. It is no surprise that it includes the current top 4 in the table. There is quite a significant dropoff from the top four versus the rest of the league in points collected and in goals scored. Arsenal are currently in fifth position, six points off fourth place. They have scored 16 goals thus far and have a goal differential of only +1. Spurs are the only non-top four side to score more, with 17 goals. There is a huge gap between those numbers and the numbers of the top four. Manchester City are far and away the top scoring side, with 34 goals, double the amount of Spurs. Leicester City are in second place with 27 goals, while Liverpool and Chelsea are close behind in a tie with 25 goals. It only makes sense to look at these clubs first for one's armband choice every week. That said, in a week where the top two sides square off head to head, this could be a time to roll the dice on a player in a non-top four side, if the form and fixture for the player are both in good standing. Or, you could look at it as a reason to limit your choice to two clubs, Leicester and Chelsea, making the selection headache a little less painful. Now that we have a solid logic established for where to look for a captain, let us go ahead and dive into the Week 12 edition of Captain Obvious...
Jamie Vardy (9.4m)
Ownership % - 29.0% (last week, 22.7%)
Season points - 80 (10 Gs, 2 As, 13 BPs)
Opponent - Arsenal (home)
The Vardy party is in full swing and, after being a maverick captaincy option in the earlier rounds of the season, he has emerged as an every-week consideration. It's kind of hard to ignore the top scoring player in FPL, coming off the heels of another return, his league-leading tenth goal of the season. His form has been blazing. We were all dazzled by his huge haul against Southampton, but he has been quite reliable altogether, blanking just once in the last five rounds and that was away to Liverpool. Quite forgivable to have a quiet day there. In fact, the Foxes as a whole have been as good as anyone since Week 3. After drawing their first two games, they have won every single match except for the loss at Anfield. Confidence is bursting with this side, much like it did in their title-winning season, and we all remember how vital Vardy was to our fantasy squads in that campaign.
So, is there a reason to pause given the opponent? In a word...no. Arsenal are fifth in the table, but it is a pretty weak fifth, as mentioned in the opening of the column. They had Europa League commitments in midweek while Leicester has no European commitments to worry about. To be fair, the Gunners sat most of their regular starters for their EL tie, but let's toss that all aside. In the last eight appearances against Arsenal, Vardy has scored eight goals, and you have to think at least some of those Arsenal teams he has returned against were in better shape than the current one. Add in the fact that this match is at King Power and Vardy can be counted on for 90 minute shifts, week in and week out, it should make a solid case that he will be the most-captained player this week, certainly among managers in the top 10k.
Tammy Abraham (7.9m)
Ownership % - 48.8%
Season points - 73 (9 Gs, 2 As, 14 BPs)
Opponent - Crystal Palace (home)
If you aren't ready for a Vardy Party, perhaps it's Tammy Time. Forgive my literary weaknesses. Right, so Abraham is coming off a big week and, with City and Liverpool facing off and this being a pretty good fixture for Chelsea, there is plenty of reason to choose him for the armband. One thing to consider is his huge ownership numbers. He is now the top-owned player in FPL, owned by just under half of all FPL managers, and keep in mind, there are many "dead teams" out there - managers who gave up at some point, who may have otherwise be owning Abraham right now if they remained active. Most of us are going to be pulling for Tammy to produce but will folks be confident enough in him for the armband? Stats say they should be. Outside of a quiet shift in Week 10 against Burnley, Abraham has been really consistent with shot attempts and shots on target going all the way back to Week 3 against Norwich. Naturally, some weeks he will have his attempts but not find the net, but he has those consistent underlying stats that you want. Odds are, the chances will be there for him, and a return is better than 50/50 for sure.
Chelsea's opponents, Crystal Palace, have been a pretty solid defense at home, though they have been tested recently by visits of Manchester City and Leicester. However, they are not much to worry about when they have to travel. They have yet to keep a clean sheet on the road this season and the odds are slim they will get their first one at Stamford Bridge, especially with the added firepower of Christian Pulisic in recent weeks. Sorry, my fellow American - it's great to see you in this kind of form and making your mark in the Premier League, but the trust factor is not there yet for armband consideration. A strike against Abraham would be if Mason Mount does not play. Mount picked up a knock in his last match and there is some doubt to his availability as of this writing. I have good reason to think he will recover in time. He's shown the ability to recover quickly already this season, making the XI after a week of doubt with an injury several weeks ago, and he's already been selected in the England squad for the upcoming international break so those who are in the know are convinced it's just a simple knock. I would likely include Abraham anyway if I knew Mount was formally ruled out, but it is still a note worth at least mentioning here.
Sergio Agüero (12m)
Ownership % - 23.9% (last week, 25.8%)
Season points - 68 (9 Gs, 3 As, 6 BPs)
Opponent - Liverpool (away)
Now we get to the big game. Liverpool v Manchester City. How will this go? Well, there is reason to have trepidation about looking for an armband among these two sides this week, but they are still going to have their fair share of armband representation, and a few of them need mentioning starting with Aguero. With this being a huge match and with Aguero playing only as a substitute in midweek to keep him fresh for this, coming off a goal last weekend and finally, being the world class sort of player who can rise to the occasion in fixtures like this, there is some merit in considering him. He had plenty of chances last week, taking seven shots against Southampton, and that was enough volume to get one of those attempts to find the net.
What worries me though is that this particular fixture resulted in a 0-0 last season, and Liverpool's home form has been so good for so long. Yes, Aguero did score in the reverse fixture against the Reds at the Etihad last season, and I would feel more confident about him at home, but it is going to take a performance that exceeds expectations for him to pay off this week. But, that is why he stays on the shortlist. He is the kind of player that can exceed expectations. Sterling, on the other hand, is coming off a poor showing against the Saints and played the full match in midweek. While most weeks, you can make a case for both being a solid captain pick, this week there seems to be room for only one, if any, and for me that choice leans Aguero.
Sadio Mané (12m)
Ownership % - 33.4% (last week, 30.9%)
Season points - 76 (6 Gs, 4 As, 11 BPs)
Opponent - Manchester City (home)
What applies to Aguero pretty much applies to Mane, though if I had both in my side, I would likely back Mane first. And, like the Aguero vs Sterling argument, I feel like there can be only one of the pair of Mane and Salah to back, and recent form has to give the edge to Mane. Like Sterling, Salah started his club's Champions League match in midweek, whereas Mane, like Aguero, was on the bench and played limited minutes as a substitute, so he should be fresh and firing on all cylinders for this monumental fixture. Mane was all over the place last weekend, taking six shots with three hitting the target, while also providing three key passes, one of those leading to an assist. It is the most combined shots on target and key passes combined in a single match for him since Week 2 against Southampton.
As mentioned previously, this fixture went 0-0 last season, so Mane obviously didn't deliver then, but it is worth noting he was also kept quiet when he started the reverse fixture at the Etihad. City have only given up one goal in their last three games, so their defense is improving versus the earlier part of their season. However, another factor to keep an eye on until we have further clarification or confirmation is that Ederson is dealing with a muscle injury and there is some chance he may miss this game. Should we know that to be true before the deadline, that certainly helps Mane's case.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.2m)
Ownership % - 40.4% (last week, 39.5%)
Season points - 74 (2 Gs, 10 As, 10 BPs)
Opponent - Liverpool (away)
It feels like only one City player should be making the shortlist this week, but in the end, I feel like de Bruyne needed to be included as well. Just prefacing it that way does not make it a very strong case for his selection, but he is not the third highest scoring player in the game for nothing. The fact is, if you believe City can do a number on Liverpool, then, like most weeks, he is the safest bet as a captain, primed to give you a return of some sort. If City score just once, odds are he will assist it, and if he doesn't assist it, there's still some reasonable shot that he scores it. True, he has only had one assist in the last three games, a drought by his standards, but he still managed to deliver a very healthy eleven key passes in that time frame.
In his injury-plagued 2018/2019 season, de Bruyne did not feature in either fixture against the Reds. But that may actually be a positive when thinking about City's scoring chances this weekend. In the two combined fixtures against Liverpool last season, the Citizens scored two goals in total. One has to imagine their chances of having scored a goal or two more would have been increased dramatically had a healthy de Bruyne been out there creating chances. The Belgian did start the midweek CL tie, but Pep Guardiola is sure to have him in the XI here and, while I can see a scenario where Sterling might be subbed off early for someone like Gabriel Jesus if City need to find a goal, I am pretty certain de Bruyne will go the distance here in any scenario barring injury.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Raheem Sterling (12.1m)
Ownership % - 37.9% (last week, 39.1%)
Season points - 65 (7 Gs, 1 A, 7 BPs)
Opponent - Liverpool (away)
Naturally, I could get the order of things completely wrong. Sterling could deliver the biggest haul of all the City options, while Aguero and de Bruyne return nothing. But in the end, I could not make a good reason to include all three in the shortlist and felt that Sterling was the least desirable of the three options for this particular fixture. However, if you have faith in him, by all means, follow your heart. In league play, he has seen a shift from the early part of the season until now to being more of an assist man than a goal man. He has registered just a single shot on target over his last three league games, though to be fair, he did score it. Compare that to his first three games of the season when he hit the target a total of seven times. Meanwhile, he was averaging just one key pass per game in the first four weeks of the season and did not register his first assist until Week 9. But, he has registered three or more key passes in five of the last six games in which he has featured.
While those stats underscore that Sterling is capable of delivering points both as a provider and a finisher, if he is trending more recently at being a provider, I feel more confident in turning toward de Bruyne for that aspect of the game.
Mo Salah (12.3m)
Ownership % - 29.1% (last week, 30.6%)
Season points - 64 (5 Gs, 3 As, 7 BPs)
Opponent - Manchester City (home)
It's pretty clear that form and fixture is why Salah is on the outside looking in. In the last five league games, he has just a single goal and no assists, and that was against far easier competition than he faces this weekend. Also, he started Liverpool's midweek cup game while Mane did not, so if we talk about the 3 F's - form, fixture and freshness - Mane has the advantage. That said, I am not ready to leave Salah off the map entirely, not just yet anyway.
Forgive me for beating a dead horse for the third time, but no one scored in this fixture last season. However, if you go back to two seasons ago, when this was still a marquee matchup featuring plenty of familiar talent on City's side, Salah scored a goal and an assist in the Anfield game. The man has the talent capable of rising to the occasion. However, it would be a maverick move indeed to back him this week. Pretty much the only thing going for a manager that captains Salah is that he would provide a massive differential should the Egyptian international come good. This round will likely feature the lowest amount of armband backing for Salah we will see all season. So, if seeing how NOT following the herd last week paid off big time, if you want to gamble on something similar happening this weekend, Salah would certainly make things interesting for you when we enter that late Sunday kickoff.
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.