Stag’s Take – Gameweek 31
The biggest blank gameweek of the season is upon us with just half the league’s representatives taking to the field. Many of you have planned for weeks to be in a position to play as little as seven or as many as eleven for this week; others (like me) plan to splurge this weekend with the Free Hit chip.
This column will aim to help those of you in both camps, whether you’re trying to identify a “safer” choice to cover your options or a differential option to potentially lift you above the flock.
Before we delve into a more in-depth analysis discussion, please keep in mind one thing. A different player alone is not the only route to a differential. Combinations of players and the captaincy also provide a route to standing apart – thus, some of you may think that holding Salah, Mané, and a Liverpool defender or one of those midfielders plus two defenders isn’t a differentiator – of course it is. Going on a quest to be different all of the pitch is a route to having a spine of Lossl, Mepham, Noble, and Ayoze Pérez. There is a difference between using your Free Hit or making transfers to be a little different and what can be clearly labelled as gambling. Don’t too much of the latter, Salah or Fraser are more likely to be the hero than Wijnaldum and Andrew Surman.
With West Ham coming up against Huddersfield after a run of amenable fixtures, it’s no surprise that many FPL teams have at least one goalkeeper or defender present from the club. Lukasz Fabianski is in 47.45% of Top 10k teams and that number is sure to be a lot larger this weekend.
It’s no surprise, Huddersfield are amongst the league’s worst sides on many metrics, but particularly in goal threat. In the last six gameweeks, the have recorded the second-least shots in the box and big chances in the last six gameweeks. Even the general malaise which appears to have gripped West Ham isn’t enough to detract from this; Huddersfield have not created a single big chance in their last four away matches.
Artur Boruc remains a fantastic option for those pressed for budget, although Newcastle’s recent form suggests that they are much more likely to find a way past the Bournemouth ‘keeper compared to the Terriers visiting the London Stadium.
In defence, we encounter the first half of one of the biggest conundrums in FPL this weekend; Liverpool defenders and doubling up.
The Reds have good run of fixtures, facing all three promoted sides soon including Fulham this weekend. Their strong defensive record all season means that two Liverpool defenders are present in many FPL sides, actually acting as a block for many who may want to bring in a second attacker.
For those not Free Hitting nor wildcarding in the future (a small percentage of managers), holding two Liverpool defenders looks like a prudent move as Liverpool don’t blank for the rest of the season. For the transfer users planning to Wildcard soon, I think if you have two Liverpool defenders then a sale is more likely to end in tears. Liverpool’s attack hasn’t been inspiring domestically, and thus picking a scorer feels more difficult than reaping the rewards of another clean sheet and the chance at further attacking returns from the defenders. For those on a Free Hit, I think it is important to chase the highest “ceiling” possible to maximise the benefit of the chip vis-à-vis your competitors who will be deploying it in the future; that means opting for two Liverpool attackers against one of the PL’s poorest sides.
Liverpool defenders will be extremely popular this gameweek, as will West Ham defenders for reasons already outlined above. Declan Rice and Issa Diop are the two Hammers defenders who threaten the opposition’s defence the most, but Rice appears to be much more involved in open play which shades the decision for me.
A differential option for everyone is Antonio Rudiger. As the only other Top Six side in PL action this weekend with Liverpool, Chelsea assets are inevitably attracting interest but that is usually confined to the attackers. Marcos Alonso is no longer a “nailed-on” starter and his replacement Emerson doesn’t inspire FPL managers either. Many will opt for Azpilicueta or David Luiz, but I think Antonio Rudiger will provide a much bigger threat from set pieces compared to his teammates against an Everton side who struggle at defending dead-balls. Everton follow a lineage of Marco Silva sides who struggle to shut out their opponents from dead balls and rank as the worst team in the league in this area. As an aside, I saw some concern expressed about Rudiger playing all 90 minutes in the Europa League on Thursday in a largely rotated side. However, this is the third time Rudiger has played a full part in a European fixture this season and on both previous occasions, the German took his place in Chelsea’s starting line-up up at the weekend.
A differential combination would be to bring in two Chelsea defenders – you probably won’t want to Blues attackers, so you’ll have the space. In the last six gameweeks, Everton created the least big chances of all PL sides (4) and have the second lowest xG in that period.
Even if you’re in a bid to differentiate your side, the midfield doesn’t look like an area where there is much scope to be different.
Sadio Mané is the PL’s most in-form player and one of the best in Europe in recent weeks, having scored six goals in the last six gameweeks. He has provided Liverpool’s biggest goal threat in that period, leading his team for shots in the box (13) and xG from open play (3.18). In the latter category, he ranks third best in the league and neither of the duo ahead of him feature in BGW31.
Mané’s teammate Mohammed Salah picks himself. Even the significant downturn in form he has exhibited will not be enough for me to consider not having him this weekend. The convergence in the road will surround the captaincy – I am personally going to pick based on form and choose Mané, however the majority will be opting for Salah. Eden Hazard also picks himself as Chelsea’s goalscorer in chief.
Ryan Frasers’ first returns since Gameweek 21, coinciding with Callum Wilson’s return to action in GW30, are making the Scotsman a popular choice for BGW31. His underlying statistics are not all that noteworthy – in one game against Huddersfield, Callum Wilson surpassed Fraser’s xG tally from open play in the last six gameweeks. However, against a weakened Newcastle side, these attacking statistics are less concerning.
The final slot in my Free Hit side is currently occupied by Ryan Babel. The Fulham attacker has been dangerous, at least statistically, in recent gameweeks. His single goal in the last six gameweeks is one less than his xG suggests, and he is also Fulham’s second most dangerous player (behind Mitrovic) in terms of raw shot data. I think Babel is the quintessential Free Hit pick – the stats aren’t bad, you wouldn’t want him for a long time, but Fulham’s performances against Top Six sides have been good of late and Babel facing his former club seems like a “typical” goalscorer in the “narrative” of this weekend’s game.
Jamie Vardy is the third-highest scorer in the PL in the last six gameweeks, with four of those coming in the first three games of the Brendan Rodgers era at Leicester. Because of the way he plays, living off the shoulder of the last defenders and essentially trying to score the same goal, he doesn’t get many chances but he is clinical when it comes. I think he is a “must-have” for BGW31, even if Burnley’s deep defence are the type of side which cause him trouble. For non-Free Hitters, The Foxes do not blank and have good fixtures until DGW35, so there’s no excuse not to get the former England international into your side.
The next forward slot(s) have been hotly contested on social media all week. Callum Wilson’s goalscoring return to action against Huddersfield does bode well, but I think his return is more significant because it aids Ryan Fraser’s cause rather than because of Wilson’s personal goal threat. He picked up a goal and an assist from two shots and just one key pass against the Terriers – if this wasn’t a player as popular as Wilson, say for example Ayoze Pérez, the masses would be nowhere near as tempted.
I prefer Ashley Barnes, whose stats have been discussed and overplayed in this column week by week for over a month now. In the last six gameweeks, the one-time Austrian underage international has been second for xG and fourth for xG from open play, backing those expected figures up with the third highest shots in the box tally.
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.