Some international breaks are tough to sit through, simply because you are hungry to return to Premier League action and playing the fantasy game. This, by far, has been the worst international break on record for yours truly though - the US Men's National Team is out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986, courtesy of a phantom goal from Panama and a lackluster performance by the US against Trinidad in front of a crowd smaller than a petting zoo at a state fair. Needless to say, I am not in the best of moods. But, on the bright side, the host country for World Cup 2018 is Russia. Given the state of affairs beyond the world of football, perhaps this is a blessing in disguise that the US is not going to be involved.
I wish I could offer a witty segue back into the realm of fantasy football, but it appears I can only offer an awkward one.
Right, so welcome back fellow managers. The events of Week 7 seem like a distant memory now. Some talking points do spring to mind though. First, how about a hand for Sean Dyche and what is going on with Burnley these days. When they sold Michael Keane without signing what I felt they needed, an adequate replacement, I thought their hopes of survival were slim. Once Tom Heaton went down, I thought all bets are off. But how resilient is this side? I cannot recall watching a defensive unit as entertaining as these Clarets right now. They give 100%, throwing their bodies around and giving the opposition's attack headaches. James Tarkowski is a legit center back. Chris Wood looks perfectly fit for Dyche's system as well. By no means am I suggesting a Leicester-esque Cinderella season, but they have become the best of the blue-collar clubs and I really look forward to watching them play.
Looking elsewhere at the table, I find it shocking that my Spurs are sitting in third position. It certainly does not feel that way when you consider how poorly they have played in their temporary home. I suggested on Twitter that Spurs convert Wembley into an "away" stadium. Take down all the Tottenham banners and flags and replace them with whoever their opponent is on matchday. Make Spurs believe they are playing on the road, because they clearly look more relaxed on their travels.
That crazy idea of mine may make no difference though, as the two Manchester clubs look in a class above Tottenham and the rest of the league. These two sides are on a pace to concede about 10-12 goals for the SEASON. Not to mention attacks that are averaging better than three goals a game. Sergio Aguero out for a spell? Paul Pogba spending his days in the physio room? No problem. These clubs are blessed with depth and major talent. Maybe Chelsea can find a way to get in the mix but I can't see Tottenham catching them with their issues at Wembley. I know there's a ton of football yet to be played but it looks a two-horse race to me.
Anyway, as referenced above, I am not in the best of moods. My country is out of the World Cup. So why waste any more time talking about recent events, let's dive into the football that is to come as we hit Week 8 in FPL....
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: Nick Pope - Burnley thinks the kid is the real deal, signing him to a contract extension this week, and I have to agree with them. Back to back clean sheets home and away, as the Clarets entered the international break, and giving up only one goal at Anfield while making 8 saves was impressive as well. Three of the next five at home, with Newcastle, Swansea and West Ham the opponents. More cleanies to come.
Player to sell: Jack Butland - I like Butland's talent in real life, but Stoke are still a shaky defensive team. Butland has only one gameweek where he scored more than three points. Pope, mentioned above, has already caught up with Butland for total points on the season. When it comes to keepers, it makes sense to me to either pay the premium 5.5m for elite keepers that get many clean sheets or pay the budget 4.5m for keepers who rack up save points with the occasional cleanie. These 5m options like Butland or Jordan Pickford just seem like a waste of cash.
Player to hold: Lukasz Fabianski - The Swans couldn't keep out the Hammers in Week 7 and when you look at their position in the table it doesn't offer much comfort for owners of Swansea players. But, their defense really has been better than people are giving them credit for. If you toss out the 0-4 drubbing at the hands of a Man United side that were flying high with a fit Paul Pogba, they have a solid record and have proven they can be tough both at home and one the road. Add to this the fact that Fabianski leads the league in saves and Swansea's schedule isn't too rough, and it all adds up to keeping the faith with Fabs.
Player to avoid: Ben Foster - Foster was the ideal budget keeper of choice in most managers' minds to begin the season because West Brom had one of the easier schedules over the first couple of months. That run is coming to an end now and when you consider Foster couldn't crack the top 10 scoring keepers at this stage makes you wonder how ineffective he will be when the opposition is tougher.
Player to buy: Ryan Bertrand/Cedric - I have to stick with the same selections from this space in Week 7. The Saints still have a kind schedule ahead and the potential for clean sheets looks high. Three of the next four at home, with Newcastle, West Brom, Brighton and Burnley the opponents. Surely, there are points to be had here. Cedric at 5m is a bargain.
Player to sell: Charlie Daniels - The Cherries are coming off their first clean sheet of the season and Daniels popped up with an assist the week before that, so why dump him now? I simply cannot see, beyond a random wonder-goal that Daniels is admittedly capable of at any time, how Bourenmouth are going to get much in way of fantasy returns with three of four on the road, including Spurs, with the one home fixture against Chelsea. A switch from Daniels to Cedric should yield a nice profit.
Player to hold: Brighton defenders - There isn't much ownership among Brighton's defensive unit and they haven't raised many eyebrows with two cleanies on the season and no attacking returns from the back. But, no other club has a better run of fixtures over the next five rounds. Three are at home and all five opponents are 12th in the table or lower. If you've been using a Brighton defender as a cheap option that sits on your bench, it is time to start thinking about working them into your XI.
Player to avoid: Kieran Trippier/Serge Aurier - It could be a bit of a guessing game with these two going forward, at least in the short term. Aurier was thought to be clearly in front as a regular starter, but a red card in his debut game Trippier another chance to impress and he did, collecting his biggest fantasy haul of the season in Week 7. So why punish the player who had a great performance and reward the player who exercised questionable discipline on the pitch. I think Trippier starts this weekend and it looks good for a Tottenham clean sheet, but Aurier will probably reclaim the spot in due time and after this weekend, its a tough stretch for Spurs defensively, as they will be tasked to keep out the Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United attack in a four week span.
Player to buy: Eden Hazard - Normally I do not put much stock into one fixture when it comes to transferring a player in, but now looks a good window of opportunity to get the jump on Hazard before a bandwagon begins. With Alvaro Morata all but assured to be unavailable this weekend and Crystal Palace as the opponents, the stage could be set for Hazard to explode back onto the scene. Yes, his price makes it difficult to do a direct swap with another midfielder, but I would even be willing to support a 4 point hit to get him in. With open-play Watford and leaky Bournemouth to follow, it could be a nice run for the former Player of the Year.
Player to sell: Matt Phillips - This is another example on cashing out after a positive return. Phillips managed to provide an assist for his owners in Week 7 but I am not thrilled by a fantasy weapon that gets subbed off on 57 minutes and was a 1-point cameo off the bench the week before that. Pascal Groß has been more productive, has better fixtures ahead and has a cheaper price tag. Make the switch.
Player to hold: West Ham mids - There is very low ownership across the board for West Ham midfielders, but the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Andre Ayew and Michail Antonio have all shown fantasy relevance in the past and the Hammers have a very positive schedule that lasts all the way until September. Slaven Bilic looks to be turning things around after a terrible start to the season, losing the first three. That planted a seed in many a fantasy manager's mind that West Ham prospects were off limits. I think we are going to see a positive turn for the Irons and Everton as well. Right now, they make for great differentials in your side.
Player to avoid: Philippe Coutinho - To say "avoid a fit Coutinho" may sound like blasphemy in the FPL community, but I am basing this purely on the Reds next two fixtures. If you already own him or Mo Salah, it would make sense to hold and ride out the storm, but to invest in one ahead of Manchester United and Tottenham seems like bad timing. After the Spurs match, you have my full blessing to dip into the Liverpool attack.
Player to buy: Gabriel Jesus - Sergio Aguero's health status and timetable for return seems to change every hour. A medical professional claims there is no way that the striker can return without a minimum of a month layoff while the striker himself said yesterday that he refuses to rule himself out for this weekend. Regardless of status, Jesus should be nailed for at least a couple of weeks and City have two plus matchups at home in that time span. In his career for City and for Brazil combined, he is averaging slightly better than a goal or an assist per game. He is coming off a brace against Chile in international duty, so we are talking form, fixtures and consistency. All the boxes are checked to invest.
Player to sell: Marcus Rashford - In Week 7, I advised Rashford owners to hold and predicted United would score four goals. Not a bad call, they in fact scored four on Palace and Rashford owners did well, collecting a pair of assists and a bonus point. United are entering a testy part of their schedule, playing at Liverpool this weekend, then facing Tottenham and Chelsea in two of the following three weeks. I don't think the Red Devils are suddenly fantasy poison per say - the defense is strong and a player like Romelu Lukaku has shown in the past to produce in tough fixtures. A player like Rashford though, may not offer much over the next month.
Player to hold: Jamie Vardy - Vardy owners were likely enraged by the fact that Leicester went goalless in Week 7 against a Bournemouth side that had not kept a clean sheet until the Foxes showed up. Still, Vardy had scored in the three previous league games and Leicester have a nice run of fixtures in the next four weeks. His influence is seen in his seven bonus points, averaging one per game. The only forwards who have collected more and are fit are Kane and Lukaku, who cost 3-4m more. In an ideal world, Vardy is your third striker right now.
Player to avoid: Joselu - The Newcastle forward found the net in Week 7 and I know managers are always on the lookout for a cheap source of goals, but I think you are going to want to wait one more week before gambling on him. A trip to Southampton this weekend will be tough for the Magpies, who have been kept out of the net in three of their prior four road games this year. Wait until Week 9 if you want to roll the dice on this bargain forward. He will have Crystal Palace at home then and Bournemouth at home two weeks after that.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
1) Harry Kane
2) Gabriel Jesus
3) Eden Hazard
4) Alexander Lacazette
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.