Stag’s Take - Gameweek 22
The festive period is a dot in our rear view mirrors at this point as we trudge further into the FPL calendar and into the second half of the season. All of a sudden, the season defining double gameweeks don’t feel too far away, and our practice mini DGW24 is just around the corner.
That DGW will see the all-conquering World Club Cup champions Liverpool visit Wolves and West Ham. Whilst The Reds are at Molineux in the early half of that gameweek, West Ham face a challenging trip to the King Power Stadium to face Leicester City, who remain second in spite of a brief winter wobble.
DGW24 in focus
The DGW poses a challenging number of questions of FPL managers, the bulk of which I will do my best to deal with here. With Liverpool high-flying, it is budgetary (and maybe transfer) limits which constrain managers, as their form and capabilities are uncertain. With the Hammers meanwhile, the collective yawn which greeted the appointment of David Moyes after Pellegrini’s dismissal quickly turned to an open-mouthed wonder as the Irons struck four past Bournemouth in his first game back in charge at the London Stadium.
That said, I think the questions can be distilled quite simply to this:
Liverpool: Are three assets essential? If so, double attack or double defence?
West Ham: Can we trust any Hammers players in FPL? Who?
Liverpool assets: GW22-24 (tot, MU, wol/wham)
Most self-respecting FPL squads have two Liverpool players at this point. Some readers may have paid the ultimate price (like me) for moving from two to just a sole Liverpool representative over Christmas, perhaps by removing a defender, only for the clean sheets we always knew would come...well… came, but regardless twelve goals for and zero conceded in the last five games yet again highlights the supreme potential for points in the DGW across this Liverpool squad. Thus, I think that to go without three Liverpool players for the DGW itself is folly.
Is right now, just as they face an out of sorts Spurs, the right time to pick up a third player on a free transfer, possibly even for a hit to free up costs? That is a more challenging question. Spurs haven’t been able to come close to keeping a clean sheet in the last few gameweeks, but even with that in mind, it’s hard to see a situation where José Mourinho hasn’t concocted a special plan to smother any life out of Saturday evening’s clash, limiting Liverpool’s attraction for the weekend. A GW23 clash at Anfield against the only team that Klopp’s side couldn’t beat this season, Manchester United, appears to be another great opportunity to make another big statement like at Leicester in GW19 - where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Top Six successes may come back to haunt him yet again, just as they did in Tuesday evening’s could-have-been-seven 3-1 defeat to Man City at Old Trafford in the League Cup. This is the game to target for the triple up - just enough time for anyone to save up two free transfers to execute the transfers with ease. Sometimes we can be guilty of overcomplicating FPL decision making with layers of stats and predictions behind moves - you don’t need to dig deeply to know three Liverpool players are key. Just look at the club’s recent results and the FPL pints leaderboard for the season, where TAA and Robbo lead all defenders whereas Mané and Salah hold podium positions amongst midfielders, behind Kevin De Bruyne.
Mention of those four players sparks the next aspect of the Liverpool debate - who do you pick? First of all, to make a selection outside of those four players, Virgil Van Dijk excepted, would be an extremely maverick move laden with too much risk of being punished by members of the popular quartet. There are three factors which will see me opt for Salah, Mané, and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Firstly, his twelve (TAA) and seven (Robbo) goal contributions aside, Liverpools’ full-backs’ primary source of points are clean sheets. Five from five games in recent weeks underlines the possibility for these to come, but at best, The Reds have a 50 or 60% chance of keeping a clean sheet in each game, meaning we can only work on the base assumption that they will get one. Wolves have a habit of showing up against Top Six sides, for example. Beyond clean sheets, TAA and Robbo will have to rely on attacking returns.
The issue with attacking returns is that a “haul” of them is unlikely to come in the DGW. Watching games highlights, or even lazily looking of Liverpool’s scores this season reveals that they rarely pummel the league’s weaker sides. The Reds have scored more than twice in nine of their 20 outings this term, but four of those big results came in “statement results” against Arsenal, City, Everton and Leicester - not games where we would expect them to record their best figures but where intangible notions like motivation play a huge role. Neither a Thursday night at Molineux nor a cold Wednesday night at the London Stadium fit this bill. If just one clean sheet is a realistic hope and goals from the Reds are unlikely to come in spades, then relying heavily on the two defenders with 25% and 14% goal contribution rates for their side seems silly when Mané (40%) and Salah (29%) are viable options ahead of them. To those who will point out the similarities behind Salah and TAA’s contributions to their side A) you’re correct and that’s why you probably need TAA and; B) remember Salah should now be in charge of all penalties in the DGW with James Milner expected to miss out due to the “serious” injury (as described by Jurgen Klopp) he sustained in the hilarious 1-0 win over Everton in the FA Cup.
Finally, the Mané versus Salah debate can be reduced to a captaincy conundrum if you go ahead and own both players, and this is pretty much the only way to reap a reward from each of their goals. This is because there is rarely such a thing as a Ma-lah goal: as highlighted by Adam Hopcroft on Twitter and Tom on the Who Got the Assist podcast, they rarely contribute to each other’s scoring. In 2019, Salah was assisted just twice by Mané across his 19 goals and the Egyption assisted none of African Footballer of the Year 2019 Sadio Mané’s 25 goals. Awks. Owning one does not cover the other.
West Ham assets - Even worth considering?
Did you know that West Ham have kept four clean sheets in the eight games Lukasz Fabianski played this season? It’s a stunning statistic, which highlights just how important he is to Hammers’ results and also, as an aside, reveals the extent to which sub-keeper Roberto threw away results and caused the confidence of the players in front of him to evaporate. Even with the double gameweek removed from your calculations, Fabianski is potentially a great pick-up for the rest of the season - although the Hammers’ upcoming fixture run will present difficulties.
Outside of nets, the Hammers’ defence has some extreme value picks nailed on for the foreseeable future, with almost all Moyes’ first choice back line priced below 4.5. Budget enablers if necessary.
Further forward, the old “wait and see” approach should be taken to work out which of the GW21 heroes, if any, prove their value. Sébastien Haller and Felipe Anderson both broke goal ducks in the big Bournemouth win, but a season of disappointment can’t be washed away by one victory against the most out of form side in the division.
Jamie Vardy (Southampton H)
After a two gameweek absence due to injury and the birth of his child, the PL’s Golden Boot returns (after dropping in price!) just in time for a showdown with one of his closest, yet distant, rivals for the golden boot, Danny Ings. The Saints’s defence will be particularly motivated to show its worth against the Foxes are the ignominious result inflicted on it by Vardy and co in GW10, but even though Hasenhuttl has made great strides forward with them, there is a sense that Leicester will inevitably win out, with Vardy more than likely playing a starring role given his 48% goal involvement this term.
Marcus Rashford (Norwich H)
Rashford’s goal and assist against the Canaries earlier in the season masks a more difficult truth about his returns this season. Against the current bottom five, the England international has recorded just that goal and two assists in five outings, exemplifying United’s issues against the worst teams in the PL. Yet, in spite of that, reputations loom large in the mind and the chance of huge regrets for ignoring such an “obvious” captaincy choice will sway decisions to the point of paralysing us.
Ismaila Sarr (Bournemouth A)
No Watford player has better underlying statistics than Sarr in Nigel Pearson’s mini-revival at the London (but is it really?) club. He poses the biggest goal threat of all Hornets whilst playing on the left of the front three in spite of being classified as a midfielder in FPL. Couple that with Bournemouth’s horrendous form and you have a fantastic differential option for the armband.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.