Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. As I am sure you can understand, with a midweek round on tap and a quick turnaround, there is little time to waste. A quick recap of Week 14 - I had only two players featured on the shortlist, Jamie Vardy and Sadio Mané. When the stats for captaincy among managers in the top 10k were released, that decision to cut it to two felt justified as over 75% of managers in the top 10k went with one of those two options, and two million managers overall backed the pair in the entire game. One player produced, the other did not. Meanwhile, I gave shouts to City players, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling and they both found the net, proving that you can never count out options from that team and, when either hit a quiet stretch, they can wind up being excellent differential options for the armband when the general public has lost faith.
Right, when I say time is of the essence, I mean it. We need to make this short and sweet, so let us go ahead and dive into the Week 15 edition of Captain Obvious...
Jamie Vardy (9.9m)
Ownership % - 46.3% (last week, 42%)
Season points - 110 (13 Gs, 4 As, 19 BPs)
Opponent - Watford (home)
This round, I want desperately to cut the shortlist down to a single player, Jamie Vardy. However, I cannot do that in good conscious, when over half of FPL managers still don't have him in their squads. Why that is still the case is beyond me, but I am not complaining - Vardy in my side and wearing the armband has seen me climb the ranks quickly in the past several weeks. His form is so ridiculous right now, it almost seems silly to point out his stats. But, if you must know, his goal over the weekend has him finding the net for the sixth straight game, and he has ten goals overall in the last eight rounds, along with three assists and 15 bonus points. You have to go back to Thierry Henry in his prime to name a fantasy option producing like this.
Vardy is in the kind of form where fixtures should not even factor into one's decision to captain him. Sure, a trip to Anfield might give one pause, but that's about it. But, on top of everything going his way heading into Week 15, the fixture is even perfect - playing at home to the last place club in the league. Watford have just sacked their manager and are in the process of finding a permanent replacement. While the removal of a manager has shown in the past to give a club a bit of a boost, some level of improvement over what led to the manager's firing to begin with, the Hornets are still the Hornets and Leicester are blazing hot - I cannot see anything other than a convincing win for the Foxes here. While Vardy's attacking return streak will eventually come to an end, as every single player's does at some point, this does not seem the time to get cute and go against the grain. Vardy had a million managers give him the armband in Week 14. Looking at the landscape ahead of Tuesday night's deadline, I would imagine that number being closer to two million for this round. To not captain him would be a serious risk to your rank.
Sadio Mané (12.2m)
Ownership % - 40.6% (last week, 40.2%)
Season points - 94 (8 Gs, 4 As, 13 BPs)
Opponent - Everton (home)
Of course, the first-place Reds will need a captain represented in the shortlist when they are playing at home. Their record at Anfield the past couple of years has been impeccable and their season overall right now is near perfect, with a draw at Old Trafford the only occasion thus far in which they haven't come away with three points. Mane was held without a return in Liverpool's win over the weekend, along with fellow winger Mo Salah, as the defenders decided to gobble up all the fantasy points, despite not keeping a clean sheet. Mane had gone four straight with an attacking return before the blank over the weekend but the stats would indicate he is on track to get on the board again quickly. He had three key passes against Brighton, marking the sixth straight match in which he has registered two or three potential assist-makers. He also had two shots on target, when he only hit the target once in the previous two games, both of those shots finding the net.
If I am not a Vardy owner, and again, I cannot understate how criminal that is at this stage, then I would certainly think about going with Mane in a home game against an Everton side that has managed just a single clean sheet since week two. That's right, the Toffees had twice as many cleanies through the first two weeks than they have had ever since, and I would imagine that stat will remain the same once this derby is over. The only caveat I would offer though is, is that it is the Merseyside derby. Everton "should" get spanked in this match, but they might make it tighter than one would expect. Last season, these two sides combined for a total of one goal in the two derby fixtures. One goal, between two clubs over two games. Mane started both those games and blanked in his 174 minutes on the pitch. This is not to throw everyone off giving him the armband but it certainly offers food for thought.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (10.9m)
Ownership % - 23.5%
Season points - 87 (10 Gs, 2 As, 15 BPs)
Opponent - Brighton (home)
Aubameyang is the player I don't have in my squad that I wish I did heading into this round. It has been a funny season for the Arsenal man in terms of faith shown by fantasy managers. He was incredibly consistent over the first couple of months, delivering an attacking return for the first seven games in a row, yet his price stayed fixed at it's opening 11m tag. Finally, he got a .1m rise, only to see it happen at the start of a run of six games in which he had only one attacking return. That saw his price eventually dip below it's original starting tag to where it is now, 10.9m, and what does PEA do? Goes out and delivers a brace, a double digit fantasy return, the highest score in the round among all forwards. Is he trolling us or are we trolling him?
Perhaps it's the inconsistent performance of the club overall during the Unai Emery era that kept people from investing in a guy like Aubameyang. After all, paying over 10m for a player on a club that has a negative goal difference well over a third into the season seems a steep fee to pay. But while there may be plenty of question marks in other areas of the pitch for the Gunners and team chemistry is perhaps at an all-time low in the post-Wenger era, Aubameyang appears able to separate himself from all that and just score goals. You'd like to see him get more service, he doesn't touch the ball as much as you'd want to see from a player you would give the armband to, but he makes up for it by making the most of the chances he takes. Instead of relying purely on stats, another thing I like about Aubameyang for this round, and call it a personal preference, I would not blame you at all for dismissing this entirely, but I like how he is playing on Thursday night, at the end of the round with only two games on tap. It feels like having an ace up your sleeve and way to either salvage a poor round or add to an excellent round it what can be a wildly unpredictable midweek slate of fixtures.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.2m)
Ownership % - 41.2% (last week, 40.3%)
Season points - 93 (4 Gs, 10 As, 13 BPs)
Opponent - Burnley (away)
De Bruyne popped up with a goal for the second game in a row and delivered a double-digit attacking return for the fourth time this season. Now just a point behind Mane for top-scoring midfielder in the game, the Belgian proved once again why he was criminally underpriced to start the season and why he was the first player I stuck in my squad when the game went live this summer and has not budged since. You simply cannot be asked to me more involved in goals and, when you are playing on the highest-scoring team in the league, you cannot argue that he doesn't make sense as a "safe" captaincy option in virtually any gameweek. Indeed, he took six shots against Newcastle over the weekend, with three hitting the target, both season highs for him, but still showed his knack for creating chances with six key passes, the most he has registered since he had eight in the 8-0 destruction of Watford back in Week 6.
Well, if we were all salivating over City options back when they were crushing opponents like they did Watford a couple months back, what is keeping us from believing in KdB and the gang for Week 15? Is it the trip to Turf Moor? Yes, Burnley have a reputation of keeping high-scoring clubs down when they are protecting their own ground, but the last three games at Turf Moor has seen them concede six goals, and that's with a clean sheet mixed in. They coughed up four to Chelsea, which you can compare on some level to the attacking talent City has, but over the weekend, they gave up two goals to Crystal Palace of all opponents. Watford is the only side to have scored less than the Eagles. So if Palace can find their scoring shoes at Burnley, it makes one think the top scoring side in the league ought to be able to as well, and odds are De Bruyne will be involved in some way.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Raheem Sterling (11.9m)
Ownership % - 30.1% (last week, 35.0%)
Season points - 76 (7 Gs, 1 A, 7 BPs)
Opponent - Newcastle (away)
In Week 14, I said it felt like I was including Sterling in the column out of obligation more than anything, as I felt he would have his share of armband backers. Indeed, he was the 6th most captained player for managers in the top 10k, so he did have some support on his side. I also said you could make the argument that he was simply due to produce, as he had come off a horrid performance in Week 13 that saw him not take a single shot or deliver a single key pass. Well, the "he's due" theory turned out to be true, as he hit the target three times, the most shots on target he has had since opening day. He also delivered a pair of key passes, which is right on average for him after going a couple of games without one.
Still, it seems when it comes to the armband, Sterling is going to wind up off the shortlist just about every week. There have been too many games where he has been quiet and, even when he does deliver as he did last week, he is not involved enough to walk away with bonus points. Just seven BAPs on the season for a player at his price is downright bad. That said, the "he's due" theory could apply again. He was due for a return of any kind heading into last round, now he is due for a multiple return (goal/goal or goal/assist) plus bonus points kind of game. With a derby at the weekend followed by a trip to Arsenal, along with the absence of Sergio Agüero, perhaps this is the fixture where Sterling is lined up to get the big haul he is "due". Perhaps.
Heung-Min Son (9.8m)
Ownership % - 14.8%
Season points - 74 (4 Gs, 8 As, 9 BPs)
Opponent - Manchester United (away)
One regret I have from my last column was mentioning Harry Kane without mentioning Son. The moment of clarity came just before the deadline when I realized I was prepared to bring Son in for a four point hit because I was that confident of a return. I did not feel the same about Kane. Now, just to be clear, I fully expect Kane to start banging in goals for José Mourinho, but I actually think, week to week, Son is a "safer" captaincy option. After two assists over the weekend, he has become a De Bruyne-lite. His eight dimes are second only to the Belgian and he still has plenty of goal threat himself, tied with KdB in that department. Kane is more boom or bust. You are likelier to get a brace or better from the England striker in a given round versus Son, but Son rarely has a "quiet" game, whether the fantasy points roll in or not. What you want is the potential to deliver, and Son offers precisely that virtually ever game he plays, but it feels even more that way under new management. Kane deserves an honorable mention, because I will look foolish if he bags a brace this week and I didn't give a nod of some sort to him.
One may argue that no Tottenham player is really worth consideration given the other options and the fact that they are making the trip to Old Trafford. Call me crazy though, but I get the sense that José Mourinho really wants to stick it to Manchester United after his time there was a misstep in his footballing legacy. The last thing you want to do is leave Mourinho with a scorned ego. So, once again, this is more gut-calling than stat-combing, but someone from Spurs is going to have a big round and, for me, I trust in Son the most.
Mo Salah (12.2m)
Ownership % - 22.5% (last week, 23.1%)
Season points - 75 (6 Gs, 3 As, 8 BPs)
Opponent - Everton (home)
It seems pretty clear that Salah is not 100%. He was subbed off after only 68 minutes over the weekend as Jurgen Klopp is obviously doing his best to preserve the star winger for the glut of fixtures to come during the festive period. Salah's ankle may not fully be healed, and the stats against Brighton were not impressive at all. He failed to register a single shot on target, only the second time he has done that this season in games in which he has featured. He will usually pass the ball successfully 20-25 times in a typical game but had only 11 accurate passes against the Seagulls. It almost feels as though he is more a decoy than anything right now.
That said, I am still a Salah believer. I still think he is a special talent able to rise above adversity. When his initial injury caused him to miss the match against Manchester United, he has still managed to find a goal in two of the four games he has played since, with another non-appearance mixed in due to injury. So, if he can average a goal every other game when he is not 100%, then you have to think that any improvement in fitness will see an instant return of the world-class Salah we've all come to know. For now though, and until proven otherwise, he is going to be a captaincy option that is left off the shortlist, but still too good to leave out of the conversation entirely.
*Honorable mention - I had to come back and add this note in. I was thinking about it as I put this column together and then forgot until after I had published. My apologies. Anyway, it is usually not recommended as a general rule, and I do believe there are more "sensible" options listed here, but if you did want to think outside the box this round and captain a defender, I think this is the round to try it. As made quite clear, I think Jamie Vardy is in a tier of his own and any armband choice after that feels like a test of the odds. But again, more than half of you do not own him. If I did not have Vardy, but had one of Ricardo Pereira or Ben Chilwell, I would seriously think about them as maverick options. Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andrew Robertson are also not crazy ideas, though I feel less inclined given Liverpool's lack of clean sheets lately and Alisson out of the picture. And, that's right, I am going there...this could be the week you can impress your peers by backing John Lundstram. I think it's reasonable to predict the Blades chances of keeping a clean sheet is about 50/50. Adding that coin flip to a potential attacking return, and it could be the armband choice that will make you the talk of the town.
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.