How about a hand for English club football, folks?
Perhaps the Premier League does not have the distinction of containing the best club in Europe or perhaps the best two or three. But, in terms of talent and competitiveness from the the top of the table to the bottom, there is no question in my mind that the PL is the best league on Earth and the results of this season's Champions League group stage would seem to back that declaration up. For the first time, five clubs are into the knockout stage of the competition. A quarter of the PL earned a spot in the competition and now they comprise nearly a third of the remaining 16 teams.
So, congratulations to Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, and both Manchester sides. Surely, at least a couple of these clubs will make it to the quarterfinals and we are quite likely to see at least one PL vs PL matchup before the competition finishes. Manchester City has to be the favorites to win it all from the England sides, but all of these clubs are quality on their day. Take arguably the two weakest English clubs left, Tottenham and Liverpool. Spurs have been underperforming in league play thus far, but they took four points off of Real Madrid and finished with the most points in any group. The Reds, meanwhile, dropped a touchdown and extra point on Spartak Moskva. While Liverpool's defense can be Jekyll & Hyde, they proved their attack is dangerous enough to give any opponent problems.
Leading the charge for Liverpool was Philippe Coutinho, who turned in a hat trick. Sadio Mane added a brace while Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino both found the net as well. Suffice it to say, those paying attention heading into Week 16 of the Premier League are looking at these names as top options for a transfer in. The majority of FPL already owns Salah. The question now is, is it worth the investment to bring in an additional premium Liverpool attacking player, at the expense of coverage from another big club? I am not so sure. Much depends on one's current setup, and everyone's situation is unique. First, let's eliminate Firmino from the equation. If price were no object, he would be my fourth choice attacking Red and, because he takes up one three precious forward spots, leaves him out the mix for me. I am a big fan of Sadio Mane...when he is on the pitch. For the past season and a half though, he has burned me too many times, whether through injury, suspension or just being relegated to a bench weapon. That leaves Coutinho. Remember him? Remember how badly he wanted to head to Spain before the season began, how much or a certainty it appeared to be? Well, he has to be enjoying life at the moment, but who gets the chop to add him?
The clearest move may be for those that own one of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. Both have been struggling in the FPL game for several weeks and, havnig a price similar to Coutinho, could make a clean swap. I would make that move, but I would also do it with trepidation. Yes, Tottenham have not been consistent, even at home, but two home games against Stoke and Brighton in the next two rounds seems ripe for a resurgence. Manchester United does not really enter the equation because their midfield is not offering much in terms of options with Pogba injured and too much rotation elsewhere. Eden Hazard is the only Chelsea midfielder worth owning at the moment and, with his current form, dropping him would be the definition of foolish. So that leaves City's options. Again, rotation causes risk, but City are such prolific scorers, owning a Leroy Sane or Raheem Sterling, who are at risk of rest at any time, is still profitable.
Finally, Coutinho pursuers, as tantalizing an addition the Brazilian would be, remember the Merseyside derby is this weekend. Now, if this Everton side was still the one under the leadership of Ronald Koeman, I would not put too much stock in it. But, this derby has a tendency to be competitive no matter what both sides are doing in the table and the Toffees are riding the confidence of back-to-back clean sheets. Do not underestimate Big Sam. It could be just a goal, maybe two from Liverpool, so I am content with having only Salah in my side.
Right, it isn't often a specific player garners so much attention in my intro, but I had to address the Red elephant in the room before looking at the rest of the landscape for Week 16...
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: Petr Cech - I would have anointed Cech last week, but I wanted Arsenal to get their match with Manchester United out the way first, which proved to be wise as United scored three times. Prior to that, Arsenal's defense were playing their best football of the season, collecting three straight clean sheets. I would expect more cleanies to come, with Southampton, West Ham and Newcastle the opposition between now and the end of next weekend.
Player to sell: Lee Grant - I apologize. I suggested Grant was a legit option for those looking to cover up a mess at the position because of recent budget keepers losing their gig, Rob Elliot and Julian Speroni to be exact, and, based on the congested schedule, Grant would be worth an add until Butland's expected return. Well, everyone was shocked to see Butland back last weekend, rendering Grant worthless in Week 15 and going forward. Again, my bad.
Player to hold: Heurelho Gomes - Just two combined points in the last two games for Gomes, but that was with Manchester United and Tottenham as opponents. Watford actually kept two clean sheets just before that and they face some low-scoring sides in the coming weeks, including Burnley, Palace, Huddersfield and Brighton.
Player to avoid: Jordan Pickford - I advised that Pickford was trending up and he is proving me right, coming off a second clean sheet and having earned 22 points over the last two rounds. Now, people are looking at Everton defensive options. That's fine, but wait at least another round and get the Merseyside derby out the way before opening your wallet.
Player to buy: Sead Kolasinac - I have found a way to avoid paying big money for Alexis Sanchez. Buy Aaron Ramsey instead and use the remaining funds to upgrade elsewhere including Kolasinac. A Kolasinac/Ramsey combo should provide sufficient Arsenal coverage during the festive period with money to spare.
Player to sell: Ryan Bertrand - The Saints had a momentary break from a brutal schedule when they drew with Bournemouth last weekend, but owners of Bertrand or any part of their defense, beware. In the next five, they host Arsenal and make trips to Chelsea and Tottenham.
Player to hold: Jan Vertonghen - Just a quick pat on the back: Last week's defender to hold was Otamendi, and he wound up the highest-scoring defender of Week 15. Let's see if I get it right again by urging you to keep the faith with Vertonghen. Tottenham clearly are missing Toby Alderwiereld at the back and Vertonghen has scored just one point or less in the last four rounds. But, I have to feel at least one clean sheet in the next two for Spurs with home games against Stoke and Brighton.
Player to avoid: Victor Moses - When it comes to production versus starts/minutes played, there are not many defenders who provide more value than Moses, and he delivered again in a start last weekend. Will his nine-point effort spark an extended run in the side? Perhaps, but too risky for my blood. Rather, I would look the way of Andreas Christensen, who looks to have cemented a spot in central defense, is about a million pounds cheaper, and even has a bit of set piece potential in him.
Player to buy: Philippe Coutinho - Would you believe he was my midfielder to hold last week? Come on Philippe, that hat trick would have made me look much smarter had it come in league play. For reasons mentioned in this column's intro, Coutinho is fantasy's prized possession heading into this weekend.
Player to sell: David Silva - If there is one City mid I would sell right now to accommodate Coutinho, it would be Silva. Yes, the twinkle-toed playmaker is coming off of a solid round and has returned to being among the elite in fantasy after seeing a regression the past couple of seasons. Maybe I am entering the land of "hunch" too much on this one, but I he has played a ton of minutes this season and I think it will be catching up with him soon. Carrying a knock and having a derby this weekend makes selling him all the more comfortable.
Player to hold: Leroy Sane - While on the subject of City options, Sane owners are starting to wonder where the points are and may be ready to ship him out. Dropping him would not be the silliest move in the world, but City seem to have a new attacking "hero" every week and no one stays out of form for long. Sane is due.
Player to avoid: Alexis Sanchez - Of course, Sanchez is one of the best players in the league and a fantasy darling, but circumstances render him avoidable for me. First, as was already mentioned, I like the value Aaron Ramsey is returning instead, coupled with Seas Kolasinac. Furthermore though, Alexis picked up his fourth yellow card of the season last weeknd, meaning one more between now and the new year gives him a ban. He costs too much to bring in and immediately be at risk of missing a round.
Player to buy: Harry Kane - I know, I know. I am a Tottenham supporter, so believe me, I know. Spurs are not meeting expectations right now and it is hard to justify investing in FPL's most expensive player, but form is temporary and class is permanent. I cannot imagine Kane blanking in the next two very positive matchups. Here is the deal though - he is being sold more than bought this week and is on the verge of a price drop. So, wait for that drop before completing the transfer in. With two unpredictable derbies this weekend, Kane is my top captain choice after Eden Hazard.
Player to sell: Charlie Austin - For those that went out and bought Austin following the brace he bagged in his first start were sucker-punched when he didn't make the XI in the following match, but were given something last weekend when he scored a goal. Consider that return a blessing and end the experiment. Austin is not fit enough it appears to be a regular starter during this heavy fixture period, not to mention Souhampton faces some stiff competition in that time. Perhaps he will come into my thinking in the new year but he is too risky at the moment.
Player to hold: Jamie Vardy - I backed Vardy as a buy last week and he did not get on the score sheet unfortunately. Still, I backed him for more than one matchup. The Foxes face some vulnerable defenses in the coming weeks and Vardy continues to represent the best value for any of the sub-10m strikers in the game right now.
Player to avoid: Alvaro Morata - Same predicament as Alexis Sanchez. Great player, productive, no need to sell him if you already have him this week. But, he too is on four yellow cards. Yet another player too expensive to risk buying right now.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
1) Eden Hazard
2) Harry Kane
3) Mo Salah
4) Alvaro Morata
5) Philippe Coutinho
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.