Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. It does not happen often, maybe twice in a season, but last weekend was one of those instances where vice-captaincy was more than a mere afterthought - it came into play for hundreds of thousands of managers as the second-most captained player, Sadio Mané, was kept out of Liverpool's XI and given a full rest, allowing for the vice-captain to come into play rather than the dreaded one-point substitute cameo. I was one of those that captained Mane, and I was lucky to be like most who captained the Reds winger by having given the vice-captain label to Jamie Vardy. Vardy did Vardy things...again, and all was right with the world. Well, maybe not all right for yours truly - I missed out on the FPL cup festivities by one lousy point. Rats.
Right, if you recall from last week's column, I mentioned a scenario where Mane could be rested. Let's just say, I got the situation "kind of" right. I had mentioned that Mane had been playing 90 minute shifts for a long stretch and perhaps he was due a rest following the previous match where Jurgen Klopp handed full rests to the other two main players in his front three, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah. However, I felt personally that the chance of a Mane rest was relatively small. If I had to make a bet, I would have bet that he started. So credit due for mentioning the possibility of a Mane rest (I honestly had not seen a single rumor on social media or anywhere else that influenced my prediction of that potential scenario) but points taken away for stating that I felt Mane would indeed start after looking so sharp in the previous match. Much like FPL itself, it is nearly impossible to make every perfectly right. You just hope to be right more often than wrong. Let's waste no more time then and try to get things mostly right in this Week 17 edition of Captain Obvious...
Jamie Vardy (10.1m)
Ownership % - 50.7% (last week, 47.9%)
Season points - 128 (16 Gs, 4 As, 22 BPs)
Opponent - Norwich (home)
Jamie Vardy is the nicest fantasy football player in FPL history. Week after week, he was serving me well, with one attacking return after another. Last weekend, I decided to get cute, captain someone else, and Vardy still saved the day, taking the armband as a vice-captain and bagging a brace on his way to yet another giant haul. For that, Mr. Vardy, I am just going to come right out and say it - you are my captain for Week 17. I mean, how can I not repay the faith after saving my round the one week I turned my back on him? Like I said last week, he is in "Thierry Henry in his prime" fantasy form. In the last ten games, he has blanked only once, away to Anfield, while racking up 13 goals, three assists and 17 bonus points. That is an average return of 8.6 points per round over the last ten rounds. Again - that is an average. Just to highlight how ridiculous that is, let's talk about another player who is considered a captaincy option nearly every round - Raheem Sterling. Sterling has scored higher than Vardy's average round these last ten weeks only TWICE all season. Twice.
As if his consistency isn't enough, Leicester are playing at home this weekend AND they are playing one of the worst defenses in the league. Norwich has given up 34 goals in league play this season, just one less than Southampton's league-worst 35. That should result in a minimum of two goals for Leicester with a decent shot at three or more. The chances of Vardy not getting a piece of that are slim. I wouldn't be outraged if Vardy owners captained someone else instead, this game is for everyone to play it their way, but there is really virtually nothing going against him heading into this matchup.
Sadio Mané (12.3m)
Ownership % - 42.7% (last week, 42%)
Season points - 109 (9 Gs, 6 As, 15 BPs)
Opponent - Watford (home)
Leave it to the fixture-makers of the PL to take what should be an easy captaincy choice and still give us something to ponder right up until the deadline. So, after having just mentioned that captaining someone other than Vardy would not be outrageous, here is Exhibit A. While we salivate over a fixture like Leicester home to Norwich, we have an equal or near-equal lopsided matchup to consider with Liverpool playing at home to last place Watford. It is never easy, is it? Ideally, no matter which of these fixtures you put your faith behind with the armband, it will pay off either way, but let us take some time to look at the value of Sadio Mané. The good news is, we know for sure, 100% sure, that he will start after getting a full rest last weekend. He did play the full 90 in Champions League this week, but it was a Tuesday night affair, plenty of time for a player like him to recover and perform in a way we would expect.
There are a few things that give me pause over Mane versus Vardy though. For one, Watford, as bad as they have been this season, are much better defensively in the past couple of months versus the first couple months of the season, with Ben Foster being particularly impressive in goal. Second, and more on this in a bit, Mo Salah looks to be finding his form again. It is clear that Vardy is the main man for Leicester. With Salah doing well, there is a bit of a battle week to week as to who will be the star for the Reds, Mane or Salah. Yes, there are weeks where both dip into the points, but it has happened only twice so far this season, Week 5 to Newcastle and Week 12 to Manchester City. Both games were at home with scorelines of 3-1. Normally though, one shines while the other makes way and it looks like we may me back to that weekly guessing game. Mane did bag a brace in this same fixture last season though. So again, let's hope there are returns to enjoy no matter which way you go.
Mo Salah (12.2m)
Ownership % - 21.6% (last week, 21.4%)
Season points - 88 (7 Gs, 4 As, 10 BPs)
Opponent - Norwich City (home)
For weeks and weeks, I've been saying that Salah has to stay off the shortlist until he looks his old self again, and by that I mean, looks to have fully recovered from an ankle injury that has certainly led to a dip in form the past couple of months. Well, since seven days ago, Salah appears to have done just that. He looked fit and was firing against Bournemouth, going the full 90 minutes and delivering a fantasy combo meal of one goal and one assist, along with two bonus points. This is his first double-digit, multiple attacking return since Week 3. To show us it was not a fluke, Salah continued his re-emergence during midweek, scoring in the Champions League to help the Reds win their group as they now prepare for the knockout stage heading into 2020.
All of this is great news for those that stuck it out and held on to Salah while most managers over the past couple of months had done a direct switch to Mane. Just as Mane's price eclipsed his teammate's, Salah responded with a 13 point return. There has been very little movement to add him this week and I get the feeling of the 21.6% of managers that own him, a considerable amount of those are on "dead teams", teams that are not being actively managed. So, despite being owned by more than one in five managers, Salah is a hidden differential right now. As mentioned with Mane, the Liverpool duo do not get attacking returns in the same game often so far this season so if you back Salah with the armband and he delivers, it offers the possibility of gaining serious ground in the rankings. Yes, Salah blanked in this fixture last season, despite the Reds whipping the Hornets to the tune of 5-0, but go back two seasons ago, and you will find the exact same scoreline, 5-0, with Salah having perhaps the greatest game of his FPL career - FOUR goals and an assist. I cannot confirm he got the maximum three bonus points when digging though match history, but I will go out on a limb and say he did.
Tammy Abraham (7.9m)
Ownership % - 36.3%
Season points - 97 (11 Gs, 3 As, 19 BPs)
Opponent - Bournemouth (home)
Chelsea hit an unexpected bump in the road last weekend where they got thumped pretty hard by an Everton side that had been underachieving pretty much all season. It was the kind of result that might give Frank Lampard some thought to making changes to his XI, but despite the blank from Abraham, the young striker has earned his place as the spearhead of this Blues attack. The loss to the Toffees was statistically the least involved Abraham has been in any start this season, with no key passes, just two shots taken and only one hitting the target. Time will tell if this is a sign of a dip in form for Chelsea on the horizon but, from an attacking perspective, I doubt they will struggle to score at home to Bournemouth. The Cherries have not given the top clubs much struggle to score against them so far this season. Thus far, against Manchester City, Leicester, Tottenham and most recently Liverpool, Bournemouth has conceded precisely three goals in each of those four games.
Toss out the Week 14 absence due to injury and Abraham has had a double-digit fantasy return in five of fifteen games so far this season. That is level with Sadio Mané and only one less than Jamie Vardy, so the "high-ceiling" you would want in a potential captain is certainly there, along with an attractive fixture. In most weeks, he would be a highly-captained option, but because Leicester and Liverpool each have, on paper, one of their most lopsided fixtures of the season in the same round, Abraham's captaincy rate will likely be quite low, so he is my differential maverick pick of the week.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Ownership % - 12%, 20.1%, 19.2% respectively
Season points - 60 (5 Gs, 3 As, 8 BPs), 88 (5 Gs, 9 As, 10 BPs), 83 (9 Gs, 2 As, 12 BPs) respectively
Opponent - Wolves (away)
Last week, I said all three of these options were credible ones for the armband, and boy, was that an understatement. To be fair, I only gave Alli the headline, while mentioning Kane and Son, but one cannot be too displeased to have owned and captained any of this lot against Burnley. This week, I think it is right to give them all equal billing, but at the same time, all three belong off the shortlist. Hopefully, by now, you own at least one of these guys and perhaps two of them. Personally, I am making moves over the next couple of rounds to be able to roster two, but that may be due to my fan bias. Yes, the exit of Mauricio Pochettino still feels weird and a bit melancholy, but the result against the Clarets certainly brought a smile and plenty of optimism for the future of the José Mourinho era, however long it may last.
Kane took six shots against Burnley, the most since Week 1. Heung-Min Son had four key passes and scored the goal of the season (yes, there is no debate about that...yet) while Alli went from goal scorer to provider with a pair of assists. This trio should rack of plenty of points for the remainder of the season, barring injury, but I think because of the Liverpool, Leicester and Chelsea fixtures looking so appealing, this has to be a week where Tottenham options, on the road to a solid Wolves side, who are above Spurs in the table at the moment, belong a tier below the best options. I would not think it crazy to captain any of these three, so if your gut is feeling something strong, you gotta do what you gotta do. Also, while Wolves played later in midweek than Spurs did in European competition, they were in a position to rest most of their regulars, so no real advantage there for Tottenham.
Marcus Rashford (8.6m)
Ownership % - 23.8% and rising fast
Season points - 101 (10 Gs, 5 As, 20 BPs)
Opponent - Everton (home)
Welcome back to the armband debate, Mr. Rashford. Earlier in the season, I got on the Rashford train and he made the shortlist at one point, only to see his production taper off to where he had just two attacking returns in the opening eight rounds. Since then, he has been absolute butter, with seven goals and three assists in the last eight rounds. You may ask, "Geez, you are only now putting him back into armband contention?". Well, that's fair. I was ready to include him again a few rounds back, but with consecutive matchups against Tottenham and Manchester City, I felt it may have been a bit of a stretch to give him captaincy consideration. Mr. Rashford has proven me wrong, scoring 22 combined points against those two big clubs and he now sits on 20 bonus points on the season, behind only Jamie Vardy in that department, and for me, when you are among the best at getting bonus points, you are a legit captaincy option. All that said, I still cling to the notion that Leicester, Liverpool and Chelsea's fixtures are simply too good to ignore for an armband choice, so Rashford, it is good to see you in this column again, but you only get second tier for me. Check in with me next week though, when United get Watford while Liverpool have a blank and Leicester travel to the Etihad...Rashford is quite certain to be a top tier armband candidate then.
Honorable Mention: You may be asking yourself, "Where are all the Manchester City options? Where are ANY City options for that matter, and where is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, one of only a handful of FPL players to break 100 points on the season? Surely, there must be an oversight, right?". Well, sort of. With City and Arsenal going head to head this weekend, I am left with more questions than answers when it comes to captaincy potential. Mainly, what kind of result can we expect from this fixture? Because, I honestly have no confidence trying to predict it. Will City respond from the derby loss last weekend? They have just seven points collected from their last five matches. This is as pedestrian a City side we have seen since Pep Guardiola took over the club. Then you have the Jekyll and Hyde act that is Arsenal. Not only is one not sure what to expect from one game to the next with the Gunners, one is not sure what to expect from one HALF to another, as was exemplified by their comeback win last Monday night against West Ham. With the match at the Emirates and not the Etihad, it makes the call even closer for me. So, in the end, I think there are several options to choose from this week that offer more confidence in the armband debate, so the likes of Aubameyang, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, etc, just get a slight mention here, but I completely acknowledge that any of these options could turn out to have a solid week.
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.