Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. Last week, I took a bit of a gamble. I stuck my neck out somewhat and did something for the very first time in this column - I nominated only one player on the armband shortlist. Should that player have blanked while several other premium options dipped into the points, I would have been left feeling quite foolish as I write this edition of my column. Well, good news! I am not feeling foolish at all. Though I am sure it will not take long for FPL to humble me once again. Yes, backing Mo Salah as the clear-cut captaincy choice was very good advice. Unless you got very creative and captained Robert Snodgrass, then you cannot complain when you have the armband on the otherwise highest-scoring player of the week.
Salah's 16-point haul certainly had me feeling justified for putting the spotlight on him last week, but the real satisfaction came from the fact that so many other players who are normally in the captaincy conversation came up empty. That really confirmed my belief that Salah was the only player worthy of his top-tier status. In fact, when it came to forward options, it was downright dreadful, perhaps historically so. Roberto Firmino had a solid round and would not have disappointed anyone who may have captained him, but other than that, it was a fantasy black hole at the forward position. Only two other forwards scored goals in Week 25, the less-than-1% owned Glenn Murray and the brand-new signing for Aston Villa, Mbwana Samatta. I haven't had a chance to see Samatta in action yet, but if Villa avoid relegation, then I have my FPL name for next season already in place - What Samatta You? - copyright pending.
So, what is potentially special about this week? Well, in terms of captaincy options, I think there is more than one top-tier candidate to consider this week, so it is somewhat a return to normal. However, what is a bit strange about this round is that it takes place over the course of two weekends. Either my memory is extremely poor or this is the first gameweek I can think of that covered two complete weekends. I cannot think of one in the past ten years, anyway. Whether that is accurate or not, it is no doubt rare. It will feel a bit odd to have a captain that does not play until the second weekend, especially if a popular choice plays and performs well in the first weekend. Patience is a virtue, folks. Right, so let's see who deserves our consideration in this Week 26 edition of Captain Obvious...
Mo Salah (12.7m)
Ownership % - 43.8% (last week, 35.7%)
Season points - 149 (14 Gs, 6 As, 21 BPs)
Opponent - Norwich (away)
When the game's most expensive player is in top form and playing a small club with a weak defense in a relegation battle, it may not take much research and analysis to choose your captain this week. Perhaps it is time to keep things simple. Salah's ownership has gone up dramatically in the past two rounds. The beginning of his investment was probably due more to his double gameweek. But seeing as how he delivered for that round and again last weekend, he is now entering "must-own" status. He was the most-captained player in FPL for Week 25 and you can guarantee that will be the case again this weekend against the Canaries. And by "this weekend", I mean next weekend. Like I said, this is a weird round. Right, so Salah not only makes sense as a captain due to form but also as a method of protection. If the vast majority of folks are going to captain someone and the form and fixture is there to justify it, it would be prudent to follow the herd and wait patiently for a differential in one of the next rounds. Sometimes there are solid opportunities to gain ground with a maverick decision and sometimes there are situations where it makes sense to protect your ground. This seems like a "protect your ground" situation.
Statistically, Salah is in the kind of form that gives one confidence he is not going to slow down anytime soon and the absence of Sadio Mané seems to be beneficial, if anything, to the Egyptian international. He does well sharing the role of main attacking option, but he absolutely thrives as the lone focal point. Now, Mane is looking likely to feature against Norwich, so we should soon return to a dynamic duo, but for now, Salah is in a groove, putting up a healthy amount of shots, shots on target and key passes. I may be a bit harsh in labeling Norwich as a "weak defense", they have two clean sheets in their last three games after collecting only two for the entire season before their recent defensive form. But I still see them as a defense to exploit for fantasy purposes. Keeping Bournemouth and Newcastle out is one thing, stopping Liverpool is pretty much impossible right now. The two sides played the reverse fixture on opening day, and Salah had a goal/assist combo, the first of his league-leading seven double-digit fantasy hauls.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.7m)
Ownership % - 53.4% (last week, 52.5%)
Season points - 161 (7 Gs, 17 As, 20 BPs)
Opponent - West Ham (home)
Normally I have one or two City option on the shortlist every week and De Bruyne has been featured more than any of Pep Guardiola's other weapons based on his consistency and safety. Consistent in that he is averaging a attacking return of some sort in every game he plays. He has played 24 games so far this season with seven goals and seventeen assists. I will allow you to do some quick math there. Safety in that, unlike every other player in City's squad, save for Ederson, you can count on De Bruyne to start. In fact, there are only a handful of other midfielders considered fantasy-relevant who have played more minutes than the Belgian so far this season, a short list that includes names like Richarlison, James Maddison, Jack Grealish and Wilfried Zaha. That's it. Every other midfielder with more minutes is a defense-oriented central midfielder or someone like a Dwight McNeil, a player who is attack-minded but doesn't quite deliver enough to get much love in the FPL classic game. Perhaps I am over-explaining this, but it needs to be pointed out at least once in bright, bold print - De Bruyne is NOT a part of Pep Roulette. Enough of the season has played out to make this a factual statement and any future "rest" for De Bruyne is simply an inevitable part of the game, not a standard plan by Pep to manage the playmaker's minutes.
Right, I hope I haven't jinxed it by pointing that out, but it needed to be said, especially in context with another City option that will be named momentarily. So, what is the appeal of De Bruyne after City is coming off a game in which they could not score, and scored just one goal over their past two games. Well, that's just it right there, that IS the appeal. Manchester City's attack is just too good to be held in check any longer than it already has. Pep apparently had plenty to say in the clubhouse after the Tottenham loss and I am expecting a classic City "bounce-back" performance where they put up three goals or more with relative ease. In an environment like that, De Bruyne is always a legitimate armband option. You can bank on at least one assist and likely dip into some bonus. Forgive the repetition from previous columns, but I will say it again - De Bruyne does not necessarily offer the highest fantasy "ceiling" week-to-week, even from his own club, but he has the highest "floor" of any player in FPL.
Who's been left off the shortlist (second-tier options)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (10.8m)
Ownership % - 16.6% (last week, 14.7%)
Season points - 129 (14 Gs, 3 As, 24 BPs)
Opponent - Newcastle (home)
After blanking against Burnley last weekend, along with the rest of the Arsenal attack, Aubameyang did something he had done only one other time this season - go three games without an attacking return. There is a bit of a catch here though - the forward was serving a suspension during the first two of those three games. This is to highlight the fact that even thought Aubameyang has just one goal so far in 2020, he has been having a very consistent, drought-free season. So when I see him coming off a blank and then playing at home against a mid-table side (to be fair, Arsenal and Newcastle are level on points in the table), my mind says "he is due" and I have more confidence in him as an armband candidate. PEA put up respectable stats last weekend despite his blank - he registered two key passes in the goalless draw with the Clarets. He had not had that many in the previous six games he played. He also took a healthy three shots, when, in his previous three games combined, he only took four.
Newcastle can be a tricky bunch, to be fair. They are coming off their second clean sheet in their last three games, though both of those came at home. They have only one road clean sheet since Week 3, and that was at Bramall Lane, where no one is allowed to score it seems. I lean toward an Arsenal win here but given the erratic play from both sides involved, a draw would not surprise me in the slightest. Either way, no player is likelier to score on either side than Aubameyang, and with the likelihood of a goal comes the likelihood of bonus.
Danny Ings (7m)
Ownership % - 29.0%
Season points - 128 (14 Gs, 1 A, 27 BPs)
Opponent - Burnley (home)
This selection will be a test, a battle between season-long trends and recent form. On the surface, Ings seems a very interesting and tantalizing captaincy choice, particularly for those determined to think outside the box. But here is what will give managers pause before potentially backing the Saint - Ings has gone three games without a goal, a streak of no returns unmatched since going back to the period of Week 3-Week 6. Coupled with the dip in production is the recent defensive surge by their opponents, Burnley, who will enter this matchup on the heels of back-to-back clean sheets, rather impressively keeping two big clubs, Manchester United and Arsenal, from scoring. Yes, dumping Nick Pope a few weeks back because I was not happy with Burnley's upcoming fixtures continues to haunt me.
So why is Ings in the conversation at all, then? Well, let's start with throwing his last game out of the mix. When you are playing away to Liverpool, coming away empty-handed is the expectation. The game before that, he was rested, playing only 20 minutes as a substitute against Crystal Palace. Now, we are down to just one game without a goal in which he started and wasn't playing the toughest fixture of the season. That came against Wolves in Week 23. Now the blank against Wolves had some legit causes for concern for Ings owners. He was extremely quiet in that one, taking only a single shot and not hitting the target and completing zero key passes. The Liverpool game was an environment to be a non-factor again but those stats were much more encouraging. He took a healthy four shots, right around his average and, perhaps more intriguing, completed three key passes, something he has not topped and only matched once so far this season. Southampton have a very kind run of fixtures coming up. This Burnley game will be a big factor in how much captaincy love Ings will get over the next several rounds.
Sergio Agüero (12.0m)
Ownership % - 23.9% (last week, 22.6%)
Season points - 121 (16 Gs, 4 As, 14 BPs)
Opponent - West Ham (home)
Maybe not owning Aguero myself has given me a bias when it comes to gauging his captaincy worth week-to-week. I get that feeling that if I did own Aguero right now, I would be putting him in the shortlist and be bursting with optimism. But then I stop to think about why it is that I don't own Aguero in the first place - his playing situation is just too uncertain for me to deal with considering how expensive he is. Yes, owning him for one of those gigantic rounds is the stuff that dreams are made of, but let me bend your ear with a little factoid - Aguero has had a pair of consecutive rounds this season where he completely exploded - Weeks 3 and 4, where he combined for 29 points and Weeks 22 and 23, where he combined for 33 points. First, take those two mini-runs and add them together - you get 62 points. Then, look at his total for the season - 121 points...more than half of his fantasy season has been produced from these four games, from these two "mini-runs" of form. Now, if you were fortunate enough to have him for these weeks, then perhaps you are enjoying a banger of a fantasy season. But, the truth is for many, many managers, is that they missed the boat on both of these runs and in fact were damaged by the pressure of having to buy him for fear of missing out on the next big haul.
Folks, until I backpedal and say otherwise, I no longer have that fear. The ends simply do not justify the means, which is a shame because I love being able to cheer Aguero on for fantasy my fantasy team. But I cannot endorse him at 12 million pounds when I know there is every chance that the week I buy him, Pep Guardiola gives him a rest. Six times already this season, Aguero has come on as a substitute - a situation you want to avoid for all players in your FPL XI but particularly for your captain. Remove the six games this season in which he did not feature at all, and you are looking at six substitute appearances out of nineteen games. So, that is a pace of nearly once every three games a healthy Aguero, who you shelled out 12m for, is not starting for you. And the thing is, because you pay so much for him, you feel almost compelled to captain him. Otherwise, your brain would say - "Why do I own a player this expensive if I can't even captain him". Exactly folks, exactly. Look, I am very aware a write-up on Aguero like this can make me look really foolish by the time I write the next column, but none of what I am saying here is exaggerated. These are just the facts. If you own Aguero and if you captain Aguero, you are playing a high-risk/high-reward game. Some people may enjoy that kind of gameplay, while others, namely myself for one, understand that there are risks throughout the season, and the idea is to limit them, not to invest so much into them. So, the best of luck to all managers in every decision they make, and I will not call out anyone who captains Aguero this weekend as being out of their mind...I just want to explain the trepidation I have with him as a captaincy choice.
Ownership % - 38.9%, 24.7%, respectively
Season points - 150 (17 Gs, 6 As, 25 BPs), 131 (11 Gs, 6 As, 22 BPs) respectively
Opponent - Wolves (H) v Leicester (A)
I wasn't expecting to group these two names together, but the more I thought about how these two clubs are playing each other this weekend and how Vardy and Jimenez are faring at this stage of the season, something inspired me to go with an unorthodox approach. The main thing is, Vardy has spent the majority of the season to date at or near the top-scoring player, or at least forward, in the game, and thus has had much coverage in my captaincy article, ending up on the shortlist perhaps more than any other player. Meanwhile Raúl Jiménez has been like one of those slow-burn horror movies. You know, the ones that take their time to pay off, slowly building toward a satisfactory conclusion. Jimenez hasn't had a bunch of captaincy love but has been one of those players that's been nice to have in your side. Well, after it was so easy for so long to decide which of these two was a better fantasy player and armband candidate, we have a real argument on our hands.
Vardy had 22 attacking returns (goals or assists) over his team's first 18 games. In the seven games since, only one return, an assist. Yes, he missed a pair of games to witness the birth of a child and to get over an injury, but enough time has passed where we have to say Vardy is in a real drought. Right now, I think you cannot captain him until he returns to form. But seeing as how he is still the top-scoring forward in the game and has plenty of ownership, he is going to get his share of armband investment, so he still deserves mention here. The stats do not lie. In the last five games he has played, nevermind the two he missed altogether, he has averaged just a single shot attempt per match. Not a shot on target per match, just, a shot. When things had been going well for much of the season, Vardy was averaging around four shots per game. You can't have a successful armband selection unless the player scores, and the player cannot successfully score if he is not shooting.
Meanwhile, look where Jimenez is now. He is now the third-highest scoring forward on the season, and he will soon take over the number two spot which is currently occupied by the injured Marcus Rashford. Yes, the Wolves striker was kept quiet last weekend, but he had three goals over the previous two games. One thing you really have to like about Jimenez, especially as a potential captain, is that he seems to be fixture-proof. Forgive me for not having the exact stat at my fingertips but, in a nutshell, no one in the league has a better goal rate against the top six clubs than Jimenez over the past couple of seasons. No opponent is too strong for him. His last goal came against none other than Liverpool. So, even though Leicester are not considered among the "big six", they have been in the top three in the table for virtually the entire season, which means they are playing like a big club. And yet, since the festive period, they have been considerably average. I don't think Wolves are going to be able to catch up to Leicester in the table, but I do think Jimenez has a shot at catching Vardy. He is emerging as a regular second-tier armband choice, while Vardy is descending into that same category.
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.