Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. Logistically, this week's column works out rather well. It's a very quick turnaround with the previous gameweek ending on Sunday and the coming deadline on Tuesday, so there is a bit of pressure to cover the options in a short amount of time. The good news is, this is the first Double Gameweek of the season, features only two clubs involved in two fixtures, and only one of those clubs features players that we would typically trust to wear the armband. So, this edition, I am only featuring three options with a mention of a few other options I will touch upon briefly.
In case I am being a bit too vague, let me be the last person on Earth to tell you that Liverpool and West Ham have two matches in Week 24. Both clubs hit the road for their originally scheduled fixture, with the Hammers traveling to Leicester on Wednesday night and the Reds paying a visit to Wolves the following evening. Then, a week later the two will make up their postponed match from earlier in the season with West Ham playing hosts.
Plenty of FPL managers out there have been planning for this round for several weeks and the main strategic move that the majority of managers are looking to weaponize for this round is the Triple Captain chip. The logic seems sound. It's a "small" double gameweek, where the other chips or Wildcard that could be played would not have the maximum impact with only two clubs involved and, with Liverpool being one of them, they provide a source of trusted captaincy options, week in, week out, as they continue to build on an historic season - 21 wins and a draw, 64 out of a possible 67 points. Whether you decide to play the Triple Captain or not is your call. It does not mean it is automatic at the end of the season that we will look back and say "yeah, that was the right time to use it", because you never quite know until all is said and done. Sometimes, in this game, when a move stands out as being so clear and obvious, it winds up falling short of expectations. No matter what you choose to do this week, I wish you all good Fortune. Just wish a bit for me as well, will you?
Right, Week 23 was an absolute horror show for me, a 5.4 million round rank and a crimson red arrow that saw weeks of climbing my way up the ranks come crashing down, so I am more than ready to put that nightmare gameweek behind me and present this special Week 24 edition of Captain Obvious...
Mo Salah (12.4m)
Ownership % - 28.8% (last week, 25.5%)
Season points - 133 (11 Gs, 5 As, 15 BPs)
Opponent - Wolves (away), West Ham (away)
So, with the three main options featured this week, where any one of them could wind up being the clear best choice when the dust settles at the end of the round, my approach is to spend a paragraph talking about what I like about a particular player as an armband option, and what I don't like. Let's get started, then...
What I like about Salah - When it comes to the Salah versus Mane debate, if we are talking strictly about current form, even though we know that form can flip from one game to the next, it has to be said that Salah has been the more reliable of the two in recent weeks. He has attacking returns in his last three games, something he has not been able to do since Weeks 3-6, where he had attacking returns in four straight. Remember when, several weeks ago, the knock on Salah was that he was being too stingy with the ball? Well, he has improved in that area and has actually been more generous than Mane in recent weeks. He has provided three key passes in each of his last four games. Before that run, he had gone the entire season with three or more key passes in a game just four times. So he has doubled his season total in that statistic these last four matches. True, it has resulted in just a single assist, but stats like that tend to play out fairly over time, and one assist from 12 key passes over four games should see him due to add to his assist total over these two double gameweek fixtures. Finally, Salah has the least amount of ownership among the three major options for this round, so if the other positives on his side give you confidence, then the idea of having a differential should entice you as well, especially if you own both of the giant midfielders and you want to choose the one that has the potential to be more "effective" to your rank.
What I don't like about Salah - The most glaring issue for me regarding Salah is his goal-scoring record home versus away so far this season and, gentle reminder, both of these Liverpool games will be away from Anfield. Enough of the season has played out to where we cannot simply write it off as a coincidence. Of the eleven goals Salah has scored to date, only one of them came away from home. Ten at Anfield, one away...that does not instill a ton of confidence. You could say perhaps he is "due" for an away goal, because that stat is so lopsided, but it does give one food for thought that perhaps Salah's ceiling for this round is not as high as one would desire. Maybe he does break the trend and score once away. But is one goal considered a victory if you are playing the Triple Captain chip? If he winds up with one goal, one assist and a couple of bonus points over the two games, that sounds like a fair return for using the chip, anything more would be a dream come true, anything less would feel like a failure. He has GOT to score on the road, it is that simple, because those bonus points would likely hinge on getting that goal as well. In these two fixtures last season, Salah blanked away to West Ham but got a goal/assist combo away to Wolves, so previous history has him straddling that line between an acceptable return on a Triple Captain play and a non-acceptable one.
Sadio Mané (12.4m)
Ownership % - 41.3% (last week, 39.9%)
Season points - 146 (11 Gs, 8 As, 18 BPs)
Opponent - Wolves (away), West Ham (away)
What I like about Sadio Mané - Despite Salah putting up more points in recent weeks while Mane has blanked in two straight, anyone paying attention to how the season has gone so far cannot deny that Mane is the more explosive player of the two. Double-digit hauls are what we aim for when picking our captain and, in that department, Mane has the edge, having done that six times this season to Salah's five. Mane also seem more comfortable scoring goals on the road. Yes, his last three have come at Anfield, but if you look at the first eight goals he scored this season, it was an even split with four at home and four on the road. It is a bit of a misleading statistic, but it is true - Mane has scored four times as many goals on the road this season than Salah. The question is, how much stock do you want to put into these home/away splits? The other positive I will say on Mane's behalf is that, based on his season so far, he is "due" to score in at least one of these games in the double gameweek. He has not gone more than two straight games without an attacking return this season and that is where he stands right now. Yes, technically, there was a three-round stretch where he did not score, but he was injured and did not feature in one of those games, so I am not going to count that. When he plays, his droughts have never lasted more than two games and that is precisely where he is at right now heading into Week 24.
What I don't like about Mane - While he has shown to be more dependable for goals on the road versus Salah this season, as of late, even though he leads Salah in assists on the season, there has been a recent drop-off in key passes for the Senegalese international. While Salah has averaged three key passes a game over the last four, Mane is averaging just one. Earlier in the season, Mane was providing three or more key passes consistently, but this has been his weakest stretch of the season in that department. Mane has also been subbed off early for three straight games. Before that, from Weeks 7 through 20, he played all 90 minutes in every single game (not counting the one he missed due to injury). Is this a sign that he is getting a little tired? Could that be a factor in his lack of returns in the last couple of games and, more importantly, could there be a risk that this may lead to Jurgen Klopp handing Mane a rest in one of the two games? Read into it what you will, but the last thing I would want from a Triple Captain is for that player to wind up only starting one of two games. In these two fixtures last season, Mane was a bit short of Salah's output. While Salah had a goal and an assist between the two fixtures, Mane had just the goal without an assist. Not much to glean from that, but just one more piece of the puzzle to ponder.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (7.6m)
Ownership % - 41.0%
Season points - 128 (2 Gs, 11 As, 8 CS, 13 BPs)
Opponent - Wolves (away), West Ham (away)
What I like about Alexander-Arnold - Form. Form. Form. Form. Form. Head on over to the FPL transfer page, hit the "form" tab and take a look at who's on top. It is Alexander-Arnold by a country mile, returning an average of 10.8 points per game over the last several weeks. Coincidentally, the second and third place players in that group are also Liverpool defenders, Virgil Van Dijk and Andrew Robertson. Why is this, you ask? Well, in case you've been living under a rock, you must know that the Reds are in ridiculous form defensively, entering this round with six straight clean sheets. Yes, only two of those came on the road, but they were not against cupcake opponents. They earned those at Leicester and at Tottenham. Now, it would be in line with FPL's trolling history to see this run of clean sheets come to an end right when the double gameweek arrives and we are looking for Triple Captain success, but let me make what, in my view, is a rational argument: It seems very reasonable to expect at least one clean sheet from these two games. If you know you have that clean sheet in hand, then it would make using the Triple Captain a non-failure should Alexander-Arnold add anything else to it, whether it be another clean sheet, an assist or two, or a rare but not-crazy-to-imagine goal. Liverpool's season is starting to remind me of Leicester's title-winning campaign from a few years back. The Foxes spent the first half of that season scoring goals, and winning a lot of games 3-2. Then, in the second half of the season, they rode their defense to a title, where they racked up clean sheets on the reg. Now, Liverpool have the title on lockdown, but they are still attempting a season of legendary proportions. They want to not lose. And the best way to not lose is to not concede goals. It's a fact, in these last six games, the defense has been the story for the Reds and, while I am sure they will have their occasional three or four goal explosions, my gut tells me they are going with a defense-first philosophy for the remainder of the season. It just so happens that Alexander-Arnold is also one of the best world-class attacking defenders in recent memory. Chances for points on both sides of the ball over two games, it feels, in a weird way, that a defender may be the "safest" choice for captain.
What I don't like about Alexander-Arnold - Probably the least attractive aspect of TA-A as an armband choice is the history of backing defenders as captains in FPL. It is not to say that the move has never worked. Of course it has, from time to time, for those brave enough to do it. But, it seems like whenever a defender emerges as a popular captaincy pick, the moment the community sees a reason to try it, it backfires. The most recent example that comes to mind was late last season when several managers Triple Captained Shane Duffy as he had earned some attacking returns and bonus in recent weeks leading into his double gameweek where Brighton played both their matches at home against lower-tiered opponents. It was a total flop of a move for those that did it, effectively "wasting" their chip. And there is just something about watching a clean sheet getting wiped out when you captain a defender that causes more frustration and second-guessing versus backing an attacking player that blanks. Generally, you fell a bit like an idiot for having tried it, especially when, as mentioned already, the track record of giving the armband to defenders historically has not been very good at all. Still, if the worst thing to say about Alexander-Arnold is that this move did not work well for Shane Duffy last season, well, maybe there isn't much of an argument to be made. Duffy's Triple Captain investment was a result of trying to capitalize on an average player who was in good fantasy form and had two attractive home fixtures. Alexander-Arnold is world class. There is no comparing the two.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Well, let me be a little bit more detailed. If you are sitting on Andrew Robertson or Virgil Van Dijk and do not own Alexander-Arnold, I would give those two Liverpool defenders at least some consideration. If you believe there is at least one clean sheet in the mix for Liverpool, then they are going to return you something, with van Dijk perhaps likelier to get bonus if the fullbacks do not add attacking returns, while Robertson has that extra edge in possible attacking returns, which would surely see him get some bonus point love. In my mind though, Alexander-Arnold's attacking contributions are such where I have a clear higher level of confidence that, over the course of two games, he will return me something in addition to a clean sheet or two, more so than the van Dijk or Robertson. Currently with Alexander-Arnold and Salah in my side, I am mulling over which to pick right up until the deadline. If I had Salah along with van Dijk or Robertson, I think I would not have the selection headache and simply back Salah.
Roberto Firmino - I am not going to attempt to convince anyone that captaining Firmino is a bad idea, I have seen it too many times, anything can happen in FPL. I have seen an increase in recent days in the idea of Triple Captaining Firmino, but assuming I have one of Mane, Salah or Alexander-Arnold, I feel much more confident in backing one of them first and just feel fortunate to have Firmino in my XI as an additional double gameweek player. He has blanked in five of his last seven games, so it is not like he has hit some amazing run of form to make one add him to the elite three options I have mentioned already. So, yeah, a fine player to own this week, but odds are you have a more worthy candidate from Liverpool already in your side.
Are there West Ham options to consider? Not in my view. Only their attacking players would have a shot at getting into the conversation and, from what I've seen so far this season, there has been way too much player movement in the Hammers attack. One week Robert Snodgrass is left out, the next, Felipe Anderson. I have no confidence that any one of their options will start both games and then you have to consider that one game is at Anfield, which for my money, is a place where nothing can be depended on for attacking returns. So you are really talking about one game and then two points for showing up at Anfield. I have no problem bringing in a West Ham player as a punt for the double gameweek, but the armband belongs to Liverpool options only.
Are there any single gameweek players to consider? In some double gameweeks in the past, this has been a valid question, but not the case for this round in my view, however. City travel to Sheffield United. You know how tricky the Blades defense can be, so expectations must be tempered, even for the red-hot Sergio Agüero. Spurs have a nice matchup on paper, home to Norwich, but their attack is looking for an identity and, after going goalless against Watford last weekend, nothing stands out for them. Chelsea and Arsenal go head-to-head, so that sort of cancels those potential options out. And Leicester is in bad form right now, so their assets cannot be trusted. So you look around at the other top clubs and there is not much to tempt you into thinking beyond Liverpool. Even if this were a single gameweek for the Reds, the only player I would probably feel better about captaining over the top three discussed in this column is Aguero. This is not the week to get cute.
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.