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Weekly Picks

Captain Obvious: Week 5

by Steve Rothgeb
Updated On: October 19, 2020, 9:04 am ET

Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate!
Right. We are coming out of our first international break and I must say the two-week layoff from the Premier League was perfectly timed, because I needed a fortnight to try and process exactly what the heck is going in football anymore. The hope was to wipe the blackboard clean and try to approach FPL from a different angle, because I have never experienced a season like this. How much of it is an aberration and how much is a sign that there are truly some major shifts going on around the world of football.

You see, when playing the fantasy game, you are working with two mindsets. One mindset is based on everything you know already about the sport and the rules of the fantasy game. You are working in “established science”. The other mindset practices in theory, the unknown, things we don’t know how they will work out but, using Mindset #1, do our level best to predict how things will work out. Mindset #2 is where the fun of playing fantasy comes in for me. But without a firm grasp of Mindset #1, it is difficult to succeed, whether in this example or just about everywhere else in life.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Mindset #1 in 2020...it’s gone. There is no baseline science. Everything we felt we could expect - forget it, it’s out the window. What has brought such chaos to this game? Goals are going in at a record pace. Games are played in front of invisible crowds. Player A got a Covid test but it was a false positive, so he’ll be ok. VAR is bringing up as many judgement call questions as it is giving answers. Everton and Aston Villa are top of the table! Liverpool coughed up seven goals to Villa. SEVEN! The’ve shipped eleven goals already this season, one-third of the way to last season’s total...in four games. It’s a madhouse, I tell you.

So how does this all relate to a weekly captaincy column? Well, frankly I am frustrated because I feel like, at the moment anyway, no amount of information is going to make your decision any easier. This is as unpredictable a time as I have witnessed following any sport. For example, in Week 4, one of my armband candidates was Raúl Jiménez. Why? Because Wolves were at home playing Fulham. Bet against Fulham, how can one go wrong. They are terrible defensively, goals are flying in around the league...nope. Doesn’t matter. City playing a promoted side? Plenty of players to get excited about for the armband with all these goals going in, right? No, not right. You get a 1-1 draw with Leeds. Remember how good Leicester looked in the first three weeks? Of course, they lose big at home to West Ham, 0-3. Why not? Nothing else is making any sense.

So, now the unenviable task of presenting the top armband candidates this week. Folks, I will tell you what I know but, personally, I do not have a clue who to back myself for this round. I think I will go with whoever is the least likely to blank. Just give me something. Please also consider the timing of this column is not ideal coming out of international breaks. We usually get some late news on the status of players, later than we would in a normal week between league games, so please, no matter what you do this week, be sure to double-check your decisions on the morning of the deadline. Right, it may take more time for me to adjust to the “new normal”, but until then, let’s look at the top choices for this Week 5 edition of Captain Obvious...

Mo Salah (12.2m)

Rostered % - 43.9% (rising steady)

Total points - 41 (5 Gs, 1 A, 4 BPs)

Opponent - Everton (away)

You cannot make this stuff up. In a given week, for the past couple of seasons anyway, you could always include Salah in the armband debate, provided he was fit, but look at how many factors are questionable about it. I am feeling a bit unconventional this week, so let’s embrace it...

Reasons to captain Mo Salah: Trust factor. He probably has it more than any other single player in the league to date. He was good before this season, he has five goals over the first four games. He’s going to have many other managers giving him the armband. In a week that is as unpredictable as I can ever recall, why not go with “Ol’ Reliable”? Trust and current form, in a nutshell.

Reasons I am put off: It’s the Merseyside derby. A fixture I typically stay away from for armband options, because derbies can be tough to gauge. With Everton ahead in the table and hosting, it’s even less appealing than usual. But how is this for being “put off”. Salah has not played in the either derby last season. Both times, according to my data, Salah was a healthy unused substitute against the Toffees. This fact did not register with me during the season, that he did not feature in either. But why is that? It’s the biggest dometic game there is in that corner of England, surely you want your star player involved. Two seasons ago, it was almost worse. He played in both and here were the scorelines for the two derbies, 1-0 and 0-0. Salah did not score or assist the only goal across these two games. 

Harry Kane (10.6m)

Rostered % - 23.9% (rising steady)

Total points - 44 (3 Gs, 3 As, 6 BPs)

Opponent - West Ham (home)

Oh yeah, England lost to Denmark last night, 0-1 at Wembley. I guess the record-breaking goalfest does not translate to international competition. Well, let’s just hope the stagnant attack on display against the Danes hasn’t rubbed off on Kane as he returns to play for Tottenham. Well, again this is another tough one to suss out. My support for Spurs lends a bias to my analysis I simply cannot help. And here’s the rub - this is not bias to hype Tottenham options more than they should be. Quite the contrary. I am an eternal pessimist. I am fully prepared to meet disappointment directly after accidentally running into optimism. And that is how things feel with Spurs. Yes, two games this season, they have put on an attacking clinic. Does it matter that they have scored one goal in two home games, while netting eleven times in two road games? And this week’s game is at home. Is that a strike against them then? Or, if every stadium is empty, does it even matter? These are the sort of questions I’ve never had to contemplate in the weekly armband debate. Things are not normal.

Just like, it is not normal for Kane to have twice as many assists as those tied for second-most in the league. He has six already and his career high is seven. What is even going on anymore? Well, here’s some promising news. Kane is still going for goal himself despite being Heung-Min Son’s personal assistant. His ten shots on target for the season is tops in the league and his nineteen shots in total is tied for the most. So he is getting volume. If he’s not scoring, he’s finding his mates. It’s a good time to trust in Kane. That said, again, for what it’s worth. Spurs have played twice at home and scored a total of one goal. They are also playing a West Ham side that, shocker, have subverted expectations themselves and are defending quite well, leading the league in least big chances conceded, while Spurs are tops in creating the most. Something will give here. I hope for your sake and mine, it goes the way of the Lilywhites.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin (7.6m)

Rostered % - 48.7% (rising fast)

Total points - 37 (6 Gs, 5 BPs)

Opponent - Liverpool (home)

If you were to ask me a month ago, “Hey Steve, what are the chances you will have Dominic Calvert-Lewin playing against Liverpool as one of your top captaincy choices in Week 5?”, I would have said, “Here is the number of a good doctor in town.” But, that is where we are at these days, isn’t it? Again, the theme of this week’s column if you haven’t been hit over the head enough times with it already is - nothing makes sense anymore. So...yes! Dominic Calvert-Lewin as a captain in FPL against Liverpool. Sure.

To be honest, I probably would have buckled under some sort of pressure and given DCL only a spot in the honorable mentions this week, but what am I supposed to do? The Reds just shipped a touchdown (with extra point) to Villa, for crying out loud. Am I supposed to then turn my back on the only player to score at least once in all of his first four games? Including one where he got a hat-trick, the very sort of high-ceiling performance you look for in an armband candidate? Nope, I cannot do it. But what about it being a derby? What about it being traditionally low-scoring in recent times? This is where my 2020 mindset kicks in. My response to that is - so what? Personally, I think DCL is not a great armband choice. Again, fully aware that experience and instinct is not up to typical standards in 2020, of all the players to get off to a hot start, Calvert-Lewin’s seems the least sustainable. I mean, I think he is going to have a great year, but I think the goals are going to spread around the team a bit more than they are right now. He is not to Everton what, say, Jamie Vardy is to Leicester, if that makes sense. He’s not on penalties either, which to me, in this day and age, is a huge strike against someone for captaincy consideration. Still though, go with your gut. There’s no denying the form.

Heung-Min Son (9.1m)

Rostered % - 30.3% (rising fast)

Total points - 45 (6 Gs, 1 A, 5 BPs)

Opponent - West Ham (home)

Much of what is appealing or unappealing about Son consists of the same factors that I already addressed with Hary Kane, particularly the matchup. You have that weird home/road split thing going on. Two home games for Son - total FPL points - three. Two road games for Son - total FPL points - FOURTY TWO. Bit of a discrepancy there. He is fourteen times more productive away from North London. I laugh as I write this, surely when the season is finished, we are not going 99% of Son’s FPL points coming from road games. But, this is the small sample size we have to work with so far in an otherwise strange season as it is.
Here’s another weird statistical anomaly - Son has double the goals Kane has, but while Kane is tied for the league lead in shots taken, Son is down to 17th in that regard. Timo “can’t find the net to save his life” Werner has more attempts then Son. So then you think, well Kane has six assists to Son’s one, surely Kane is killing it in the key passes department? Wrong again. Son has 13 key passes, more than Kane and only one shy of being tied for the league lead. So really, Kane and Son’s numbers are backwards. In “normal times”, Kane should be sitting on six goals and assist, while Son would have the three goal/six assist stat line. What matters in the end though, is that these two are the leagues dynamic duo at the moment. Both give plenty of reason to back for the armband. If you only have one of them, the decision is easy. Having both is probably a good problem to have and, though I don’t typically flat out make one pick over the other, the fact that Kane is on pens gives the edge to me if choosing between both.

Other options - Here’s another fixture that doesn’t make sense to me anymore - Leicester at home to Villa. Before the season started, I would have said Jamie Vardy is a lock to be among the best armband choices. Even after the first three weeks, I would maintain that position, and perhaps felt even stronger about it, with Leicester’s hot start. Then came Week 4. The Foxes can’t find the net, and the pushover defense they were supposed to be facing is actually doing very, very well. Honestly, I think the love for Aston Villa’s defense is a bit overblown. Yes, they are off to a hot start. But when the first 3 rounds of FPL include: BLANK, Sheffield United, Fulham...I am not sure if that is the best sample to use for a defense. They coughed up two to Liverpool but when you score seven times, no one is complaining. This will be a true test for both sides. Vardy could bag a brace, or he could only get one touch in the box. 

Want yet another facepalm-inducing topic? Okay, let’s talk Manchester City. They shipped five goals to Leicester in Week 3 and followed it up with a 1-1 against Leeds. Who are these guys? Sergio Agüero is injured, Gabriel Jesus is injured. Raheem Sterling AND Kevin De Bruyne have question marks around them as of this writing. Who are you going to captain here, Ferran Torres? And I am only half-joking. Things have really gotten out of hand when I can’t nominate a clear candidate for even an honorable mention but, if KDB is given a green light ahead of the game, I still rate him as a captaincy option, though about as low on him as I’ve been in two years.

Chelsea are at home to Southampton. Care to pick a captaincy option out of this lot? If it were the days of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba or Eden Hazard, sure. But now we have to wonder who is going to emerge as the leader of this current attack. Reece James leads the team in key passes and on the opposite end of pitch, Ben Chilwell looked fantastic in his debut (though he has a yellow injury flag to shake off). I would say “wait” before ever thinking of captaining Timo Werner again, but that’s about all I feel confident in saying. If you like Chelsea a great deal this week, I’d say go with the rep you have and see how you get along. It’s sure to provide a differential and this seems to be the kind of week where thinking outside the box is encouraged, pretty much because there is no “box” to be thinking inside of these days.

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.

Steve Rothgeb
Steve Rothgeb is a contributor for Rotoworld.com and WorldSoccerTalk.com, a self-proclaimed fantasy sports oracle, and Tottenham Hotspur fanatic. He can be found on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles.