Captain Obvious: Week 16

Steve Rothgeb
Rotoworld

Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. This is the third column in a week's time and, after a midweek that saw me spend a few nights neglecting sleep, I can honestly say I am feeling a wee bit sluggish. Luckily, we are talking fantasy football, not playing reality football, so my eyes may feel a bit heavy but my fingers are in tip-top shape for typing. I am still trying to process how Newcastle came away with a 0-2 win at Sheffield United, then I remembered it comes immediately after I gave an honorable mention to John Lundstram as a maverick captaincy option in the last column. The Blades had Bramall Lane looking like a fortress for the first few months of the season but now have conceded five goals over their last two home games. We have seen it happen before when promoted sides punch above their weight in the first half of the season only to hit a wall and fall back down to earth. Lundstram is still a nice fantasy player to have, particularly if you bought him at 4m, but now, for me personally anyway, I feel like I can use him as a substitute without having a panic attack, whereas before it felt like he was a must-start in my XI.

Right, I can tell already that I am digressing off topic within a few sentences of this column. The gist was to acknowledge my "honorable mention" of defenders as potential armband candidates in midweek, and pointing out how they are usually not the area of the pitch to award the title of "captain". Well, the only defender I nominated that returned something substantial was Ricardo Pereira, so it's back to the "norm" of focusing on attacking players. There are a couple of clear-cut candidates and a few other exciting ones to consider for the armband so let's start to discuss them in this Week 16 edition of Captain Obvious...

 

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Jamie Vardy (10m)

Ownership % - 47.9% (last week, 46.3%)

Season points - 115 (14 Gs, 4 As, 19 BPs)

Opponent - Aston Villa (away)

Vardy scored for the seventh match in a row in the midweek game against Watford, continuing to deliver for those that give him the armband. Though, to be fair, compared to the return for those that captained Sadio Mané, this felt less like a "Vardy Party" and more like a "Vardy Small-Get-Together". While finding the net, it was his lowest score since Week 8, due to a yellow card and a lack of bonus points. Indeed, his underlying stats told a story similar to Week 11 against Crystal Palace, where he had taken just two shots and produced no key passes on his way to a goal but no bonus points. One would have hoped for more in a home game against the last-place Hornets, but can one really complain about a fantasy player who has returned for seven straight matches, is the second-highest scoring player in the game, and only just now hit the 10m price tag level? Liverpool may have an eight point lead on the rest of the league, but they should feel fortunate - Leicester have a better goal difference, scoring only two less than the Reds while conceding five less.

The round showed why going against the grain could pay off handsomely, as a whopping 82.1% of managers ranked in the top 10k backed Vardy compared to just 6.6% for the second-most captained Mane. The Foxes travel to Aston Villa this weekend. You would have to go back to Leicester's title-winning season, the same season in which Villa were horrendous, collecting just 17 points in the table on their way to relegation, so history versus opponent cannot apply here. That said, Villa are averaging one goal a game conceded at home through seven contests, keeping three clean sheets in the process, but giving up two goals to the likes of Bournemouth and Burnley. One thing that should be certain and considered - this is the third game in seven or eight days for all Premier League clubs, so there could be some rest for some major players that would otherwise be considered for captaincy. Leicester has gone with the same XI just about every game, barring injuries, but could see a couple of regulars take a seat on the bench for this one. However, you can count on Vardy NOT being one of those names. He is as safe from being rested as any player up for debate.

Sadio Mané (12.2m)

Ownership % - 42% (last week, 40.6%)

Season points - 109 (9 Gs, 6 As, 15 BPs)

Opponent - Bournemouth (away)

Mane delivered in a big way in midweek and was the player that either made or broke your round, depending on whether you captained him, or owned him at all, for that matter. He tied a season high for points with 15, and had three attacking returns (1 G, 2 As), the most he has had in a single game so far in the campaign. In the early weeks of the season, I made a point about how Mane was a streaky kind of player. Well, the key word now is "was" because this is turning into a career season for him. Kevin De Bruyne pulled to within a point of Mane last weekend for top-scoring midfielder and Mane must have taken offense, as he put on a dazzling display in the Merseyside derby. Indeed, his passing was as impressive, if not more so, than his finishing, and when you have a guy you already know has a nose for goal also delivering inch-perfect assists, the atmosphere is there for Mane to score in several ways. His career-high in assists entering this season was nine, his final year with Southampton. He is on pace to smash that with half a dozen assists by the first week of December. He is now alone as the most expensive player in the game, eclipsing teammate Mo Salah, and it is fully deserved.

So, if Mane has moved his production up a notch, with plenty of the season in the books to tell us it is not simply a nice run of form, one has to consider him a captain for virtually any fixture. Away to Bournemouth certainly offers plenty of potential. Mane had a goal in the Anfield fixture of this matchup last season while doing nothing with a substitute appearance at Dean Court, but what is enticing is how Liverpool smashed the Cherries in the two fixtures, combining for seven goals to none, four of those goals away. The only caveat I can see for Mane is a potential shortened shift. I don't think he will be rested but he has now gone nine straight league games playing the full 90 minutes, something he did only twice in the first six weeks. Jurgen Klopp could be thinking about giving him a bit of a break here, but even 70 minutes from Mane in the form he is in playing against Bournemouth should not deter those ready to captain him.

 

 

Who's been left off the shortlist and why...

 

Dele Alli (8.6m)

Ownership % - 7.1%

Season points - 51 (5 Gs, 1 A, 8 BPs)

Opponent - Burnley (home)

Don't get me wrong, if you own one of Heung-Min Son or Harry Kane and you feel that Tottenham will do well in a home game against the Clarets, both of those options are credible for armband selection. Sometimes you just have to go with what you got. But it felt a bit like overkill to put a spotlight on three Spurs so I decided to focus on one, and I do wonder if I my personal support for the club has blurred my vision. It has to be said though, Dele Alli is reborn in the José Mourinho era. Maybe Spurs won't win a trophy this season with Mourinho in charge, maybe they will miss out on the top four, but if there is one immediate success story to point to with the managerial change at Spurs it is the giant leap for Alli. He has now had attacking returns in all four games in which Mourinho has managed and looks like the Alli we fell in love with in the 2016/2017 season, when he delivered 18 goals and 11 assists.

If we are seeing a run of form that is akin to what Alli did in 2016/2017, then he is definitely worthy of armband selection. In that season, when he found his form, he went on a run of eighteen games, between Weeks 17 and 35, where he scored 14 goals and added 5 assists. We may have all forgotten it, but Alli has proven when utilized optimally, he can put up those kind of numbers for that sustained a period of time. And one has to think we have seen enough of a sample size to reasonably predict something close to that run of form blossoming right now. It has to be said, Harry Kane looks the third-most threatening player in the Tottenham attack with Son ahead of him, while Alli has now emerged as the key figure. Yes, it would be nice if he were on pens or took set pieces, instead relying solely on open play scoring, but if you haven't seen him perform during this resurgence, just go back and watch some highlight packages. He is doing magical things with the ball right now and it was enough for me to do a sideways transfer in FPL to replace Son with him this week. Only 7% ownership folks. Yes, I will look foolish if he blanks against Burnley perhaps, but wow, what a differential he is at the moment. Don't look at season points, look at points per match in the FPL transfer stat window - Alli is averaging 6.4 points per match played, behind only Mane and De Bruyne.

 

Kevin De Bruyne (10.2m)

Ownership % - 41.3% (last week, 41.2%)

Season points - 96 (4 Gs, 10 As, 13 BPs)

Opponent - Manchester United (home)

The Manchester derby is on tap this weekend and, while there are players among the best at their position in points like Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling to consider, or even Gabriel Jesus if you brought him into your squad during the absence of Sergio Agüero, I feel like the only one I trust as a potential armband candidate is De Bruyne. I know I tend to sound like a broken record when I say that the Belgian is bound to be involved in some way for the highest-scoring team in the league, and you only have to look at the midweek result to prove me wrong, as the Citizens scored four times and KdB was not a part of any of the goals. But you have to look at that result as an anomaly, as a deviation from the norm. Tell me that City will score four goals and you'll give me even odds that KdB will get a piece of the action and I will take that bet every time. Over the season, I may lose that bet like I would have this midweek but, come May, I know I will be richer than I was in August.

That said, all options for this matchup stay off the shortlist because this looks to be a very unpredictable game, even by Premier League standards. Manchester United has proven they can hang with the best in the league. They already have wins over Chelsea and Leicester this season and are the only club so far to boast taking a point away from playing Liverpool. That said, all three of those results were at home. Can they rise to the occasion again on the road, even though that road is only five miles away? They should certainly feel some confidence after having bested José Mourinho in midweek, but again, that was at Old Trafford. One stat I will lean on is that United have yet to keep a clean sheet on the road, so in the end, I am leaning toward a 2-1 City win. That may not mean a multiple attacking return from De Bruyne, but if he is involved in one goal in some fashion, he should dip into the bonus points, making him a viable, albeit not terribly attractive, captaincy option.

 

Tammy Abraham (10.9m)

Ownership % - 32.8%

Season points - 95 (11 Gs, 3 As, 19 BPs)

Opponent - Everton (away)

Yes, I am very pleased with myself for not thinking a second about transferring Abraham out of my squad when he was injured. Those that did drop him will surely be kicking themselves as he missed just one game and a few days later was back and putting up a double-digit round. He had a goal/assist combo and took home the maximum bonus, now joint-best in the league with Vardy at 19 bonus points on the season. Next weekend, he will play at home to Bournemouth and will surely be on the shortlist for captaincy in that round, provided he is fit. This weekend though, there is too much worry surrounding him. He picked up a knock against Villa, which is why he is currently yellow-flagged, but I am more worried about the fact that the Blues have a must-win game coming up next midweek against Lille, as Chelsea are currently battling Valencia for a spot in the knockout stage of the Champions League. Surely, Frank Lampard will want Abraham fit and firing for that one, so it feels like even if Tammy is in the squad for the trip to Everton, there is legitimate worry that he does not start or, even if he does make the XI, that he will play a 60 minute shift at best.

 

Mo Salah (12.2m)

Ownership % -  21.4% (last week, 22.5%)

Season points - 75 (6 Gs, 3 As, 8 BPs)

Opponent - Bournemouth (away)

It was a bittersweet midweek round for those that gave Salah the armband, or who own him in general, as he did not make the XI, that being the bitter part. The sweet part was, a lack of a cameo appearance allowed for a substitute to come on from many an FPL bench and, if you were lucky like me, you got a nine point addition from Sergio Rico. (I would have been pleased if Salah scored nine himself, so no harm done) That said, you can see why in the last column I made a point that Salah cannot make the shortlist until further notice. Yes, he was healthy enough to make the squad for the Merseyside derby and a full rest should benefit him this weekend. I say "should" but I still think there is some risk with the Egyptian international as the Reds proved they can provide plenty of attacking might without him, after putting five up against Everton. And you have to think that Jurgen Klopp is considering riding the hot hand of Divock Origi. That could potentially come at the expense of Roberto Firmino or Salah, as Origi has the ability to play central in the Firmino role or as a winger.

Then, there is the possibility, however small, that Klopp includes Origi at the expense of Mane, allowing all three of his usual starters up top to get a rest during this busy stretch of the season. If Mane had had a quiet midweek showing, I might worry about that potential a little more, but Mane was so sharp, only he is in a position to decide he is in need of a break, and I seriously doubt that is the case. Long story short, captain Salah at your own risk. I think he starts, but I am positive he will only go 65 minutes or thereabouts and if he is on the bench again, you are asking for lightning to strike the same spot twice to think he won't feature at all. In fact, in what should be a very winnable game, a non-start from Salah could be planned to get him to play 25-30 minutes to work on his fitness and test out his troublesome ankle. He makes the column due to his legacy and the fact that non-Mane owners are still captaining Salah at a rate that means he cannot be ignored altogether, but he definitely is a risky armband choice right now.

 

 

Hit me up on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles and let me know your thoughts on who you've nominated for captain and why. Good luck with your selection this weekend and may your arrows be green.

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