If you love FPL, and football in general, it does not get any better than this.
The final international break of the calendar year has wrapped up. We now know the 32 countries who will participate in the World Cup final next summer. So, between now and the first day of the New Year, it is all about Premier League action. We have eleven deadlines to prepare for between now and then, the same number of deadlines we have had from August until now. So, basically, take the FPL action you have experienced over the last four months and double it over the next seven weeks, because points will be flying and decisions will have to be made on an almost daily basis. Add to the heaping helping of fixtures and gearing up for the summer's World Cup, there is the North London derby this Saturday, an early kickoff to begin the gameweek. There is so much to get excited about, why spend any time recapping what happened nearly two weeks ago now?
Short recap anyway: I brought in Leroy Sane and he somehow managed to be the ONLY City attacking player to not provide a return. Yep, it has been that kind of season for yours truly.
This week, I have a new reason to worry, and I would imagine nearly everyone reading this is in the same boat, it is just a matter of how much water your ship is taking on. I am referring to, of course, the rash of injuries around the league. Looking at the FPL transfer page, there appear to be more flags than a UN meeting. And we are talking about some big names. Remember though, international breaks tend to bring about more "injuries" than usual, especially if it is a player who has been logging loads of minutes and the international matchups have little to nothing on the line. So, do not panic too much if you have a few yellow flags. A great many of players currently yellow flagged will be seen on the pitch this weekend.
Speaking of yellow, a reminder that we are getting to the time of the season where players are approaching five yellow cards before the end of the calendar year, which means a ban. Typically, you want to avoid bringing in a player who is sitting on four yellow cards. Luckily, of the dozen or so players on four yellows at the moment, none are typical FPL standouts, with perhaps Jose Holebas the possible exception. But again, the next several weeks will have rounds coming and going at a furious pace and a player can get his 4th or 5th card in a hurry. So, among your normal duties of research when making a transfer, add one more item to the checklist and see how many yellows the player you want to bring in is sitting on.
Right, I am working on pure adrenaline here as I anticipate the North London derby and the rest of the weekend's action to follow so let's get straight down to business and look ahead at Week 12.
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD
So now it is time to look at the players to think about ahead of Week 4. As a reminder, there are four categories of players which I feel are worth mentioning week to week when making decisions about transfers....
1) Players to buy
2) Players to sell
3) Players to hold onto
4) Players to avoid buying
I will also include later in the section, my top choices for the captain's armband. While I will consider every player from A to Z, you will normally find the usual suspects there.
Right, so let's dive in...
*Just as a reminder, keepers should always be the last position to think about using transfers for, unless there is an urgent need. So, when you see who I have listed here, bear in mind that my keeper advice does not carry as much weight as the outfield positions.
Player to buy: Julian Speroni - So this would not be the transfer to turn your season around, but there is reason to go ahead and grab Speroni if you have no other concerns with your squad, and make him your second keeper. This could be the week where you can free up cash at that position and you may have reason to start the veteran as Palace host a struggling Everton side. Yes, Palace have not kept a clean sheet yet, but they really have had a tough opening schedule. Now they have trips to Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Tottenham behind them. From here until the New Year, the Eagles have a chance to turn their season around against mainly clubs in the bottom half of the table. There are always save points too.
Player to sell: Kasper Schmeichel - Three clean sheets after eleven weeks is a bit under the expectations one might have from a 5m keeper. The only reason Schmeichel is even as high as middle-of-the-pack among keepers so far is that he is fourth in saves. Well, with Manchester City this weekend and Tottenham two weeks later, even the save points will not help Schmeichel as we enter the festive period.
Player to hold: Joe Hart - We will have to wait and see what kind of football we will get out of the Hammers with David Moyes replacing Slaven Bilic. In general, I am not too optimistic given Moyes' track record in recent years, but you may as well stick with Hart if you have him to see if the defense improves. Again, this is a position to use transfers on sparingly, so if a struggling keeper has a new boss, it is probably wise to stay put for a couple of weeks and see if things improve.
Player to avoid: Jordan Pickford - This call may come back to haunt me because if I am right, it seems too obvious and, if I am wrong, well then I just ruined your day with bad advice. Everton have been disappointing this season, on both sides of the ball, but the fact remains they have not kept a clean sheet since the opening weekend. So, managers looking at fixtures and seeing some attractive matchups for the Toffees need to pump the brakes. If he were a 4.5m option, I'd say, "Give it a try", but for 5m and so many other proven options for cheaper, Pickford remains frozen out of my plans.
Player to buy: Charlie Daniels - It is the second straight week for Daniels in this spot and he may stay here for a week or two more because Bournemouth have such a favorable schedule. The Cherries have shown signs of turning the defense, which started the season so poorly, around, so there may be a clean sheet or two in store for Daniels investors. The reason you want him though is his nose for the goal. Priced under 5m and an established history of attacking returns, Daniels should find his way into your squad. He is due for goal number two this season and there's nothing better than goals from budget defenders.
Player to sell: Ryan Bertrand - The Saints opened the season with one of the friendlier schedules, making investment in their defense a popular choice. Well, now looks to be the time to wrap up the relationship with the likes of Ryan Bertrand because Southampton are going to have it tough. Bertrand is the most owned Saints defender and I don't know how that could still be the case at this point. Not a single attacking return on the season and that is why you are paying extra for him over the likes of Cedric or someone else. The clean sheets have evaporated too, with just one in the last six. On a points per game basis, Brighton's Bruno is outperforming the England international on the season. Need I say more?
Player to hold: Liverpool defenders - Well, it appears Jurgen Klopp has finally dropped Dejan Lovren from the XI and that can only mean good news for owners of any other Liverpool defenders. The Reds have been especially sound defensively at home, which is where they will be for the next two weekends beginning with a rather dormant Southampton attack visiting Anfield. So if you have a budget defender like Joe Gomez or Alberto Moreno, keep them around. We may begin to see a spike in their ownerships very soon.
Player to avoid: Scott Malone - Malone was not on anyone's radar until this past round, when he pulled off the defender trifecta - clean sheet, attacking return (assist) and maximum bonus points. That kind of haul and a price of 4.3m is enough to get managers excited, but Malone is nowhere near nailed on as a starter for the Terriers, as Week 11 was just his second start of the campaign. He should certainly start again this weekend, provided he shakes off a knock, based purely on his contributions against West Brom, but even if he gets an extended run in the side, Huddersfield have to fend off Manchester City and Arsenal's attack back-to-back following this weekend's trip to Bournemouth.
Player to buy: Wilfried Zaha - It would seem all the stars are aligned for Zaha to pay off over the next several weeks. He has shown immediate form since his return from injury, with two goals in four. He is playing in an advanced position with the absence of Christian Benteke, so given service, he will have the ball in the box with plenty of chances. His price is below what it was at the start of the season, and many felt his starting price was a bargain. Finally, Palace has a very good schedule, with four of the next six at home and the toughest of the six, according to the current table, is Brighton. Provided he stays fit, Zaha has to come good.
Player to sell: Matt Ritchie - Last week, I urged owners to hold on to Ritchie for one more round, but if he did not produce, it would be time to sever ties. Well, he blanked in Week 11 and has returned just a single assist in the last half-dozen games. One shouldn't expect Ritchie to hit paydirt every week, there is a reason he is a bargain-priced midfielder. But, given the significant drop-off in production combined with a tough schedule that includes trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge in two of the next four weeks, I think there are other options in the 6m-area that will be more helpful.
Player to hold: Riyad Mahrez - Mahrez has quietly been one of the hottest midfielders around for the past month or so, amassing two goals and three assists over Leicester's last four games. That is the kind of form that should keep owners very happy and not consider dropping him. I mention him here though because the fixtures might scare a bit. Man City and Tottenham are on tap for two of the next three rounds, two of the better defenses in the league. Remember though, we are talking about a Player of the Year here. In that magical season for the Foxes, no fixture was too tough for Mahrez to wield his influence. So stay the course and enjoy the differential Mahrez is providing you, currently owned by only 5% of FPL managers.
Player to avoid: Manuel Lanzini - Lanzini spent the majority of the first seven rounds on the sidelines, but his injuries are behind him and he popped up with his first attacking return of the season in the previous round, surely raising an eyebrow for managers. His lengthy absence and lack of returns until now also has seen his starting price fall to a very attractive 6.8m. I like Lanzini's game. Capable of providing goals and assists, I can see him one day matching David Silva-type numbers when Silva was at his FPL best. It just seems dangerous to invest in West Ham at the moment. They have a lot of talented attacking players who have goals in them, but the chemistry is not there yet. Perhaps under new management that will change, but for now, I'd much rather have Zaha at the same price.
Player to buy: Alvaro Morata - After a bit of a dry spell that was partially due to injury, Morata looks to be back in form, picking up attacking returns in the last two weeks, including most recently the match-winning goal against Manchester United. In terms of ownership %, Morata is behind the Holy Trinity of Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane. If you are going with a big front three, I think Morata should be in the mix. When I think of Chelsea attacking options, the only other to entice me is Eden Hazard and he is just too expensive for my taste. Whereas, I could potentially make up some of the loss of an Aguero not in my forward line by having a Man City midfielder. Outside of a tricky trip to Anfield next weekend, the Blues have it good for several weeks.
Player to sell: Alexander Lacazette - Lacazette makes it here for the second week running for a couple of reasons. One, there are only about half a dozen or so strikers that the vast majority of managers are using, so there is bound to be some repetition here. Second, my call last week looked spot on. Yes, he scored from off the bench, but the point is - he didn't start. Who knows if Arsene Wenger plans to use Alexis Sanchez up top again and relegate Lacazette to the bench, but I am certain the French striker's price tag is too hefty to have any doubts about starts.
Player to hold: Marcus Rashford - Rashford owners have enjoyed just one attacking return in the last four rounds and are probably nervous about the damage Romelu Lukaku owners may do this weekend, as the Belgian appears to be the top captaincy choice. I suppose the argument comes down to - "What provides more value, Lukaku or Rashford plus 4m spent elsewhere?" In my mind, I think it is about even. You can succeed with either course. But, as I watch United play, I get frustrated with Lukaku's lack of movement while Rashford seems to jump around the pitch like a flea on a hot brick. Yes, Lukaku will be in the Golden Boot race but Rashford is a solid choice as well and I'd rather focus my Man United funds at the back. Don't sell him now on the eve of a tasty matchup.
Player to avoid: Sam Vokes - Remember the brace Vokes picked up in Week 1 against Chelsea? Remember how he ended last season as one of the hottest in-form strikers in the league? Remember how he found the net in Burnley's last game? These are all good reasons to consider Vokes if you are going the way of a budget 3rd striker, but my feeling is Sean Dyche is committed to Chris Wood as his primary forward as Wood brings elements to the attack, and defense for that matter, that suits Dyche's style. Perhaps the Clarets will deploy two strikers for a stretch, allowing Vokes an extended run as a starter, but I think he will begin most games on the bench. When it comes to Burnley, stick with what they are known for - defending.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
2) Leroy Sane
3) Harry Kane
4) Mo Salah
5) Sergio Aguero
That's it from me this week folks. Please, bear in mind much can change between the publishing of this column and the FPL deadline on Saturday. Remember, some injuries are not revealed until just before the deadline. Always try to refrain from executing your transfers for as long as possible to avoid wasting it on a player who turns out to have had a problem in training. That said, if you only have just enough money for the player you are looking to bring in and that player is at risk of rising in price, then sometimes you need to take a calculated risk and hope the fantasy gods will be kind to you.
Good luck, and may your arrows be green.