Greetings, and welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate, the most important decision of your gameweek.
Week 36, the penultimate gameweek of the 2021/2022 season, is officially in the books. Big results, bigger scores…points are flying thicker and faster than a locust swarm. Surely, your humble writer is ready to gush about the fifteen players he had playing twice and report with unabashed gLee about the significant rise in the rank he experienced…right? Right?
After all was said and done, a teeny-tiny green arrow for yours truly. According to the “Live Rank” website, I scored just three measly points more than the “safety score”, the minimum amount of points to hold whatever rank one enters a given round with. Now, don’t get me wrong, a green arrow is a green arrow, and I have moved up from the 70ks to the 60ks, my highest position all season, but, when you play a bench boost in a double gameweek with 30 potential fixtures to profit from, a three point gain in the ranks simply does not cut the mustard.
Of course…we know WHY my week went the way it did…
Captaincy. You may have heard about it. It is this aspect of one’s weekly fantasy game that carries just a bit of importance. A wise man once said that it is the most important decision of every gameweek. Could he be embellishing a bit?
You tell me. Week 36 had some huge swings in the ranks. Those who had a chip to use likely benefited greatly. Some may have had 30 fixtures to collect points from, some perhaps only 20 or thereabouts. But nothing factored into the success or failure of one’ gameweek more than the armband. Mainly, did you captain Mo Salah, like the majority of folks did, or did you find the courage to back someone else?
Depending on your answer should directly correlate with how your mood is heading into the next to last weekend of the season. If you captained Salah, like I did, you likely did not make up much ground in the rankings. In fact, there has to be a red arrow for every green arrow. I might be in the minority of Salah captainers who saw green. It was likely red for many others. However, if you backed just about anyone else who was worth talking about, then odds are you saw a healthy green arrow.
If you read my column last week, you might remember in my small set of elite captaincy options, I listed one player that scared me because he was not in my side and I had no way to get him in without spending points. Boy, I wish I spent those points. That’s right, I was scared of Kevin De Bruyne and Week 36 reinforced a notion I already firmly believed - just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t an actual threat.
Four goals. Not a brace. Not a goal and an assist. Not a brace and an assist. Not a hat trick of assists. Not a hat trick of goals and an assist. FOUR GOALS.
I mean, there you have it. There is the biggest moment of the season, and perhaps one of the biggest in FPL history. If you want to point to a reason, after all is said and done, as to why you finished so high or so low in the rankings, odds are, who you had captained in Week 36 will provide the evidence. It hurt not having a captained KDB. It hurt not having KDB at all. But it just hurt too much to then back Salah and his 3-point return, especially when I was so convinced about backing Joao Cancelo instead, but bottled it minutes before the deadline. I knew I already had KDB-FOMO, I could not risk further FOMO with an uncaptained Salah. Goodness me, I am so happy the round ended with a Spurs derby win with goals from Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. That helped turn a red arrow green and gave me something to celebrate in reality.
Right, I have one more chip to use and it is already activated, so fingers crossed I can get one more crack at a significant rank up. Season is winding down fast. Games start this Sunday and end next Sunday. Let’s take a look at the final double gameweek of the season, then, in this Week 37 edition of Captain Obvious…
Right, so with it being the last double gameweek of the season, I feel more compelled than usual to nail a double gameweek captain, if possible. But honestly, when you look at the players who go twice, they are all a tier below our typical armband candidates who are all playing once. So, when you weigh a double gameweek option with some single gameweekers, there really isn’t too much of a gap, so we will be looking at a couple from both camps among our elite choices, starting with the more exciting double gameweek candidates. Just so it is out there, the clubs playing twice this week are - Aston Villa, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton and Leicester City - five clubs currently sitting between 10th and 17th in the table. These are not the elite clubs, so elite players are hard to come by.
For me, I am looking for three things in a double gameweek captain this round: a club that has two attractive fixtures, a player who can be trusted to start both (no injury concerns or rotation worries), and that player has had a track record of fantasy relevance in the past. I see two or three players that fit those criteria and the first one I want to talk about is Wilfried Zaha.
Zaha has, somewhat quietly, scored seven goals in his last ten games. This includes a goal in a 26-minute shift off the bench in Week 35. He followed that up with a double-digit haul against Watford this past weekend. The form is there. When I am looking for a captain that depends heavily on goals (sparse assists, only one clean sheet point possible), I am looking for “brace or better” potential. There are a lot of consistent players who will contribute over the course of the season, and any attacking player is capable of a brace or better in a career-defining display, but there are only so many players, particularly in midfield, where you can nab a player who has a legit chance of scoring twice. Zaha is that kind of player. He has one brace already this season.
The Eagles do have to play both of their games on the road, and one will be against an Everton side, who, by midweek next week when they square off, may have way more to play for and making things difficult for Palace, but I am not to concerned. In fact, the Eagles score pretty well on the road. They have scored two goals or more away from home many times this season, including against the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, West Ham and Wolves. Zaha is also the penalty taker for Palace, which is always appreciated when looking for a captain.
Speaking of Everton. Hey, the Toffees just might survive and avoid relegation after all! With a couple of wins and a draw in their last four games, Everton are walking the relegation tightrope but now have a game in hand, a two point cushion and a massive goal difference in their favor over Leeds, the only club that can knock the Toffees out.
Things change fast in this league. Seems like only a few days ago that when looking at Everton, I could not imagine backing any of their players for captaincy due to their inconsistent, and sometimes downright poor, play. But, not only is their form swinging in the right direction, both of their games in this double are at home and the Toffees are much, much better at home than away this season. In fact, there is a bigger discrepancy between their home and away form than there is with any other team in the league. So, solid recent form, games at home, and of course, much to play for. To me, that is the recipe for creating a captain, and for me, at least if you are looking at the traditional attack-minded player to wear the armband, then Richarlison is your choice.
To no surprise, Richarlison’s production this season has been pretty erratic. He had long periods of time where he did little to absolutely nothing, which was a running theme for all of Frank Lampard’s weapons. However, there has been a more consistent output from the Brazilian international in recent weeks, delivering returns in two of his last three and five of his last eight games. He hasn’t exactly been explosive. He has had only one double-digit return since opening day and that came in the second game of a double gameweek against Burnley, which is when the “five returns in eight” started.
But Richarlison’s inconsistency could be contributed to a couple of factors that are no longer affect him. For one, as last season showed proof positive, both players benefit when Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are fit. As we have seen this season though, DCL has had a nightmare campaign with lingering injury problems, and it seemed to wear on Richarlison’s ability to be effective. DCL is still not 100%, but he did return from his latest injury with a cameo in Week 36, so he could play a bigger role in Week 37. The other issue is just the atmosphere and mood with the club. It has been a grueling campaign, with Covid interruptions, one of their most polished players, Lucas Digne, cut loose in the winter window, while the signing the DID make, Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek, haven’t exactly turned things around.
The Toffees will be hosting Brentford and Crystal Palace this week. Had this round come earlier in the season, I would not only be feeling cautious about backing a Toffee because of the inconsistency, but both the Bees and the Eagles can be tricky defenses to handle. Top tier clubs who are focused do not seem to have too much difficulty with these sides, but they can both be quite stingy if their opponent is not on top of their game. But that’s just it. Based on recent performances and what is at stake and the fact that the home crowd will give them everything they can ask for, I have to believe Everton WILL be focused and be able to score against both of these sides.
That being said, I do think that, because of the fixtures, looking for a captain from Everton should not only be considered with their attacking players. A little more on that later. Oh, one more thing to add, with Richarlison, you have, like Zaha, a double gameweek attacker who is on penalty-taking duties.
Right. Single gameweek players. Based on recent returns, how can I begin to address this group of candidates without mentioning the hottest player in the league right now, Mr. Son?
Form and fixtures, form and fixtures…that is what it is all about right? Okay, let us start with form. Heung-Min Son has ten goals in his last eight games. Son has eleven attacking returns in all in his last eight games. Son has five double-digit fantasy returns in his last eight games. Son has picked up at least two bonus points in five of his last eight games. Son has scored 93 points over his last eight games. Compare that to Mo Salah, who, in the same amount of time, has scored a grand total of - 38. And half of those 38 points came in a single game. Son is out-Salah’ing Salah.
So there is your form. How about fixture. Since Tottenham only have the one, it better be a good one, right? Either home to Watford or home to Norwich, right? Well…almost. It is not quite as appealing as that, but it is about the next best thing - home to Burnley. Now, there has to be some consideration that the Clarets themselves are in a fight to stay in the top flight, so there is plenty for them to play for in this one. But between the high Tottenham are on, on the heels of a resounding derby victory over Arsenal, with a top four spot still in sight, versus a Burnley side trying to overcome the odds without Sean Dyche around…I just think Spurs are going to have too much more on their side for Burnley to handle - and this is coming from a Tottenham supporter who carries with him a steady amount of pessimism.
Just to give a bit of concern though - the Clarets won this reverse fixture, 1-0 at Turf Moor.
I am so excited to be playing my Free Hit chip this round, as for weeks I have been looking at who to stock my roster with and, having gone several rounds without an attacking City player, my eyes have been locked on de Bruyne. Boy, I hope to bring him in at just the right time…
Uhh, yeah. A day late and a chip short…or, somewhat how the expression goes. Following a THIRTY-POINT gameweek, of course I cannot omit de Bruyne from the shortlist of top tier armband candidates. It just would not be acceptable. If you did not see the match, surely you saw the highlights. One of the Premier League’s best talents of the past decade went and had himself the biggest game of his career just a few night ago, exploding for four, count ‘em FOUR, goals against Wolves. Remember Wolves? They had, like, the best defensive record among all clubs below the top 3. At least, that was true until KDB showed up to the Molineux Stadium.
City are in the biggest fight of them all, the fight to take the Premier League title and, considering they have been bounced from both the FA Cup and Champions League tournaments, you can bet they want to hold their 3 point advantage over Liverpool and turn a somewhat sour season into one worth celebrating. Now that the glut of games are finally done with and the Citizens are down to a pair of Sundays, then you can count on Pep Guardiola assembling his strongest possible XI, rest and rotation no longer a factor, and of course, that best XI includes the Belgian maestro, de Bruyne.
Folks, I see goals. I see goals, goals, goals. People may think, sure KDB is good, coming off a big game and City are a great attack. But, in a double gameweek where City only play once and it is a road game against West Ham…surely there are more sensible, potentially lucrative options out there, right? I am not so sure. Yes, the Hammers have had a positive season, though the last couple of months have certainly seen a dip in their form.
What actually makes me think KDB could have another huge game though is that, unlike the result against Wolves, City may actually NEED to score five goals, because West Ham’s attack is no slouch themselves and City are currently in an injury crisis along their defensive line. Rúben Dias is OUT. Kyle Walker is OUT. John Stones is OUT. Ayermic Laporte is apparently 50/50. Even Nathan Ake is not 100%. I am probably blowing the situation out of proportion, Rodri dropping back into a CB role and partnered with Ake might be plenty enough to allow City to win comfortably. But just the idea that Pep’s side may actually need more than a goal or two, with all that is on the line…I think four goals is a very good guess for what they will produce - give or take one goal. Not only do I think KDB would be unlucky to blank in this one, I think he’s 50/50 at least to grab two attacking returns and a double-digit FPL score.
Just for the practical purpose in arranging this column, I felt it best to lump four Aston Villa players together. It’s not that I feel completely equal among all four about their chances this gameweek, but it is close enough, and I do feel like all four are a tier below the names mentioned already. So a brief look at all four…
Watkins - Were it not for the injury flag, Watkins would be my top choice among all the Villa candidates and he might have crept his way into the top tier of armband choices, but an injury flag is an injury flag. And in this situation, it is a scary one if you are hoping for two starts. Villa really have nothing but pride left to play for and, because they have three games over the next two weekends, and Danny Ings is perfectly capable of handling a lone striker role, I do worry that Watkins has some risk of being rested, likely the midweek game against Burnley.
Coutinho - Remember when I pointed out how insane Heung-Min Son’s production had been over his last eight games. If you want an example of the other end of the spectrum, have a look at Coutinho, who has now blanked in eight straight games. Folks, I swear, go back to my column around Week 24 when Coutinho was in the early weeks of his Villa loan spell. I said it then. This is a streaky player. He has now played 16 games with Villa. In the first eight - four goals and three assists - great production. In his last eight - nothing and nothing. Absolutely nothing. The light bulb could go on over his head at any time, and, with two home games against Palace and Burnley, that time could happen this coming week, but it would be a giant leap of faith to back that hope with the armband.
Ings - This is only if we get more definitive news about Ollie Watkins. It may not matter either way, because in recent weeks, Steven Gerrard has deployed both strikers at the same time, but clearly Ings becomes even more appealing should Watkins be left out of one of these games. It is a left-field punt, to be sure. But we know Ings has “brace or better” potential, going back to his years with Southampton. He is admittedly a reach, especially considering not many managers have him to even contemplate captaincy, but I honestly feel better about his chances than Coutinho’s right now.
Cash - Villa had a double gameweek in Week 28. Do you know what Cash did that week? He put up 29 points. An 11-point return followed up with an 18-point return. There is your evidence of what he can do with two games. So it seems only just to include him here, when Villa play both games at home and against sides that are not always looking sharp in attack. Yes, Palace are first up, and it would be hypocritical to anoint Zaha as a solid choice but also praise Cash, but the second game is home against Burnley and I just feel at least one clean sheet between those two opponents is a fair assumption. So, much like I felt about Cancelo last week, that is potentially eight points in hand right off the bat, with potential for so much more. If you are going to captain a defender this week, I think Cash is, well, money.
I know, I know, I know, I know…what are you doing, Fuzzy, backing a goalkeeper in a captaincy column. And not just any goalkeeper, but a relegation-flirting Everton keeper at that? Jordan Pickford? Really?
Hey, there is a reason I waited until the latter stages of the column to dare mention his name. For the vast majority of the season, Pickford has completely irrelevant in terms of fantasy. Even as I write this, he is not even among the top ten at his position in the FPL game, and remember, we are only talking about a twenty-player pool at any given time. Robert Sanchez has more fantasy points on the season than Pickford, as does Kasper Schmeichel and Lukasz Fabianski. Have they ever been mentioned in Captain Obvious? No. Not even close. So why Pickford now?
Double gameweeks, baby! What can I say? This is another pick that I do not see many going for no matter how hard I may try to convince, but give me some credit for being brave enough to try. To me, it is looking more and more like the Toffees are going to escape the drop and survive in the top flight with a strong finish. They may not be overly-convincing results but, with both games being at home and knowing that positive starts begin with not letting the opponent score, I think Everton are in very good shape to keep a minimum of one clean sheet between Brentford and Palace. In the last two rounds, which included three games, Pickford has hit double digit points and collected two or more bonus points. Strike while the iron is hot, I say.
There is no way I am going to leave without mentioning this dude’s name. Liverpool have just the one fixture. And it is an away game. And Salah is coming of a hugely disappointing round. And Salah has been awfully quiet for all but one game for the past eight rounds. And he is still going to be captained by a large percentage of managers, which means whatever he produces will not have as big an impact on your rank as other options would. All that said…it is still Mo Salah. Would it come to anyone’s surprise that, the week the entire fantasy community writes him off as a captaincy pick, he goes off for a 15 point or better score? I will say this, Son is now just two goals behind the Egyptian international for the Golden Boot. Oh, and the Reds are still in the title chase. I will even throw this nonsense at you - FPL, after a solid decade plus of building in popularity, is now truly a part of the English football zeitgeist. I guarantee you, following his fantasy dud of a double gameweek, Salah himself has heard people talk. “Bro, I backed you in FPL this week and I got burned so hard!”. I am telling you, the man has heard this multiple times over the past few days. He has something to prove and certainly the talent to prove it.
Right, that wraps up this Week 37 edition of Captain Obvious. Just one more round to go after this and it is yet another season in the books. This will be the last week for many managers playing whatever final chip they have left. We probably won’t see the average score as high as Week 36 was, but we should see some triple-digit scores out there - for those who get the captain right. Oh, and shout out to a friend of mine, Ryan, who I have been playing fantasy with for over a decade now. He got it all right in Week 36. Had de Bruyne, captained him, bench boosted, and walked away with 203 points, the 217th best round anyone in the world had. A 200-point round. What a feeling that has to be. I want it! I want a 200-point feeling!
Good luck, and may your arrows be green.