Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. And a special "welcome back" it is, as this column returns for the first time in the new decade. Here's hoping you all brought in 2020 with a bang and best wishes for you and yours in this new year. A moment to exhale from the rigors of navigating our way through the hectic festive period was much needed. Now it is time to dive back in and manage our way to fantasy glory in the second half of the season. The gloves are off now. A double gameweek is already on the horizon, and more of them to come. FPL chips and wildcards are at the ready. This is the time of the season where one is truly tested. Luck is always going to factor into one's fantasy success, but making the most out of one's chips and wildcard, optimized during blank and double gameweeks, is a way to gain ground in the ranks where strategy can play a bigger role for you than luck. I don't know about you, but I am much more pleased with strategy and skill determining my fate in any game I play versus luck and coin flip results.
That said, I am only giving a preview of what is to come at this point. We still have a couple of rounds of "normal" fantasy football to ease our way into the chaos of double gameweeks, blank gameweeks, chips and wildcards. Personally, as a Spurs fan, my attention cannot help but be focused on fantasy results, because with Harry Kane set to be out for months and having Liverpool to play this weekend, there is not much reason to be excited about the "reality" of football right now. But, this is why I fell in love with fantasy sports in general some twenty-plus years ago. When the results of reality are not to one's liking, there's always a chance to get some satisfaction out of fantasy results. Well, that and I am also a stat geek, and playing fantasy sports fills that craving nicely as well. Right, so let's get cracking, start the new decade off right and take a look at this Week 22 edition of Captain Obvious...
Jamie Vardy (10m)
Ownership % - 49.3% (last week, 51.5%)
Season points - 144 (17 Gs, 5 As, 25 BPs)
Opponent - Southampton (home)
Vardy gave owners a double-whammy before and after the calendar flipped to 2020. In Week 20, the more than half of all FPL managers that owned him had to endure his absence as he missed the trip to West Ham to attend the birth of a child. At the time, it felt like a minimal amount of damage to one's fantasy team, since so many owned him. In fact, it seemed optimal in a way, because Brendan Rodgers had said Vardy would not play every match during the festive period. So, great! He's a new dad, gets a game off, everybody's happy now that we can turn back to him for Week 21 on New Year's Day. That was when the second whammy came down, the one that hurt a bit more. He missed a second match, this time due to injury. And that has led enough managers to part ways with him, as he experienced a price drop this week, now leaving him owned by less than half of FPL managers.
So, for those that did decide to stick with him - first, in my opinion, well done. The more that other managers sell him, the more effective he is for your rank when he scores. Nothing is certain, he could see a dip in form for one reason or another, but for my money, he has not done enough to lose my trust yet, both as a fantasy asset and as a captaincy choice. The last three rounds have been brutal, no doubt. But let's review quickly - he played Liverpool (give him a pass for a blank there), his wife gave birth (cannot fault him for that), and he had an injury which he has already fully recovered from. None of that is really form-related. Now it may have upset his routine, because it has been a while since he has found the net, and that could lead to a mindset that causes a dip in form, but for me, he has earned the right to be trusted knowing that he is fit and ready to play at home to Southampton. Now, the Saints have improved dramatically in the past month and change, most recently earning wins against the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham in two of the past three gameweeks. But, let's not forget what Vardy did to this side in the reverse fixture earlier in the season - he scored a hat trick and threw in an assist for good measure. Give me half of that 20 point return from Week 10, Mr. Vardy, and I will be a very happy camper.
Mo Salah (12.3m), Sadio Mané (12.3m)
Ownership % - 25.0%, 39.7% (last week, 24.4% and 38.4%, respectively)
Season points - 120 (10 Gs, 4 As, 15 BPs), 140 (11 Gs, 8 As, 18 BPs) respectively
Opponent - Tottenham (away)
For the record, though I have been grouping this duo together in this column for a while now, I will be giving them separate entries soon. Reason being, it was pretty much standard that in FPL, you owned one of Salah or Mane and not the other. That is beginning to change now though, as I see more and more managers looking to squeeze both players into their squad, especially with a double gamweek coming up in Week 24. In the last round, Salah and Mane did what I wish they would do a little more often, and that is seeing both get attacking returns and pretty much splitting the points evenly (Salah returned 10 points, Mane returned 8). It is really difficult to argue one player over the other as their seasons are quite similar. Yes, Mane is 20 points ahead in total on the season, but Salah missed three matches entirely to Mane's one. If you take the average points per game Salah has scored in games which he played (7.1 points) and add that number twice to his total so that he and Mane are even on games played, Mane is only five points ahead. So, with that being a virtual tie and their prices now even, there's not much one can do if a manager owns both in terms of picking who to own and, if owning both, which to captain.
If you poll people on who is having the better season, I would bet the vast majority would say Mane wins that distinction. But it really is closer than one might think, statistically. It comes down to optics really. Mane is having the best season of his career statistically while Salah is not reaching the same heights he had in previous seasons with the Reds. If fit, they are both solid armband choices week in and week out. This week is no exception. At the start of the season, playing away to Spurs may not have looked attractive for captaincy purposes, but I know all too well first hand - defensively, Tottenham are as erratic as they have been in years. They have just two clean sheets all season and Paulo Gazzaniga seems to me making more mistakes with the more time he is given. Salah had a goal in the reverse fixture earlier this season, while Mane had an assist. That could happen again, or it could be Mane scoring and Salah providing. Let's not pretend to know precisely how it winds up. But don't let this fixture scare you off of either as an armband candidate.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.6m)
Ownership % - 51.4% (last week, 50%)
Season points - 141 (7 Gs, 14 As, 19 BPs)
Opponent - Aston Villa (away)
Imagine my excitement when Vardy was not in the squad for Week 21, having giving him the armband, and knowing I had De Bruyne as my vice-captain. After all, the Belgian had just notched a 14-point haul a few days earlier and trails only Vardy in total points this season. I'm bound to get something from my strong vice-captain choice, right? Sigh...Typical FPL, a two-pointer from De Bruyne against Everton. I am telling you this though, outside of double gameweeks and blanks, I am seriously considering giving KdB the armband every week, and just keeping it on him rather than go through the selection headache. That way you know you won't miss those double-digit hauls when they come, and there will be more to come, rather than going through the roulette of picking the right player week-to-week.
This is not to say there is no merit in choosing the player who, in your mind, is the "best" choice for a given gameweek. It is more to point out there is a lot to be said about the consistency of Manchester City's attack and De Bruyne's consistent involvement in that attack. He avoids the threat of rotation more than any other attacking player on his team, he is heavily involved in potential goals even when they do not turn into goals and/or assists and City are pretty much a lock to score at least two goals a game. They've been held goalless just once this season, by Wolves, and only two other occasions did they score just one goal - losses to Liverpool and derby rivals Manchester United. Otherwise, you are certain of a couple of goals, stand a fair chance at three or more given the opposition, and the chances of De Bruyne being involved are as good as any player for any one club. So yeah, captain him against Aston Villa if you wish with confidence. Yes, he blanked last week. Yes, he could blank again this weekend. But never in your mind would you say to yourself, "Why in the world did I captain Kevin De Bruyne?" City played at home to Villa earlier this season, won 3-0, and De Bruyne had an assist. Not a giant haul, but another reliable contribution that feels a lot better than a maverick pick who blanks.
Marcus Rashford (9.2m)
Ownership % - 29.6%
Season points - 122 (12 Gs, 5 As, 23 BPs)
Opponent - Norwich (home)
On paper, this looks to be the best differential captaincy pick of the week. That is to say, if you want to give the armband to a player who's captaincy rate is lower than others in an attempt to get a big score and really help your rank, then this looks pretty tempting. I mean, when you are one of only a handful of players to score over 120 points at this stage of the season and you are playing at home to Norwich, you pretty much automatically deserve to be on the shortlist of armband options. Rashford certainly did not disappoint in the reverse fixture against the Canaries earlier this season, serving up a combo meal of a goal and an assist, a feat he has only accomplished one other time in this campaign. In the last seven league games, he has been well involved, even in the three rounds during that stretch in which he did not score or assist, averaging better than two shots on target in that time. Compare that to someone like Raheem Sterling, who seems to have gotten plenty more armband confidence from managers this season. In his last eleven games, Sterling has a TOTAL of nine shots on target.
So, what is the drawback, if any, in backing Rashford this weekend? Well, for me it is the inconsistency and resulting fantasy headaches caused by Manchester United. At times, they look really good. Let's not forget that they are the only club at the moment to hold the distinction of taking a point from playing Liverpool. But it seems they are on a rate of about 60% good, 40% frustratingly bad. And though Rashford delivered already against Norwich this season, he and the club have a tendency to rise to the occasion against the tough teams while disappointing against the struggling ones. Still, this is a juicy matchup on paper and as already stated, Rashford offers a little extra something if he does deliver, as many are going to favor the other options already mentioned here for captaincy.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Tammy Abraham (7.9m)
Ownership % - 33.5% (last week, 32.5%)
Season points - 115 (12 Gs, 4 As, 20 BPs)
Opponent - Burnley (home)
It was a close call for me, but I came very close to putting Abraham on the shortlist this week, which would have been a Captain Obvious-record of six nominees in the top tier in one round. That is how strong the field is this week. On the plus side, he seems to be heating up again. After going a stretch of seven games in which he blanked in all but one of them, he now has attacking returns in his last two. There was some trepidation during the busy festive period that he might get a rest, but he started all of Chelsea's last six games going back to early December, playing the full 90 minutes in all of them except once, when the Blues won at Tottenham. So, until Chelsea go out and buy a striker to challenge him in the January transfer window, Abraham is the main man for Frank Lampard's side.
He also has a pretty attractive fixture this week, playing at home to Burnley. Chelsea have scored four or five goals three times this season, and one of those was the reverse fixture against the Clarets. Abraham only had an assist in that one, but Burnley have shown this season that, on a bad day, are capable of being breached pretty easily, and are coming off a loss on their own ground in which they made Aston Villa look quite good. So, what has me pump the brakes, even just slightly? Well, Chelsea are still a bit erratic game-to-game, too much for my blood. They were held without a goal in each of their last two games at home, to the likes of Bournemouth and Southampton, no less. You have to go back a really long time to find the last time the Blues were held goalless at home in consecutive games. Naturally, this is not a trend that I think can possibly continue, but between the home form, coming off a lackluster 1-1 draw with Brighton, and given all the other options listed above that provide more confidence, Abraham is just out of the top tier, admittedly reluctantly so.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (10.8m)
Ownership % - 19.2%
Season points - 123 (13 Gs, 3 As, 23 BPs)
Opponent - Crystal Palace (away)
I've said it here and I've mentioned it before on social media - Aubameyang probably deserves the award for "Least Appreciated FPL Player of the Year". Only Jamie Vardy has scored more goals than him so far this season, and yet Aubameyang's price is .2m lower than his starting price of 11m. What more do you want a forward to do for you than score goals consistently? That said, I am not a fan of him this week against the Eagles. Yes, it's easy to point out that he is currently injury-flagged with an illness, and say that's enough to put one off of armband consideration. But even if he were fit, one cannot ignore how well Palace have been defending for an extended period of time. Yes, it is true the Eagles have not kept a clean sheet in their last five games, so they can be scored on, but no opponent has scored more than one goal against them in their last eight games. You have to go all the way back to, shocker, when they lost to Liverpool to find a game in which they've conceded as many as two goals. So, if the precedent is there to expect no more than a single goal from Arsenal, even though Aubameyang would be the easy favorite to score that lone goal, it just leaves the ceiling potential as a captain too low for my tastes.
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.