Captain Obvious: Week 31

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Steve Rothgeb
·12 min read
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Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate!

Well, last week was painful for your humble writer. But, I will at least give the FPL gods credit...they wasted no time in Week 30 delivering one knockout blow after another, starting with the game we were all ready to profit from - Chelsea versus West Brom.

Remember how you were feeling about Chelsea options heading into last weekend? They were the talk of the town, form and fixture on their side. I even dared to nominate their defensive players as armband options in what looked a high-probability clean sheet. Heck, I drank the elixir too. With a pair of Brighton defenders left from the previous round’s blank gameweek, dropping Lewis Dunk for a Blues defender I could afford looked as healthy a move as one could make. Naturally, I brought in Antonio Rüdiger, whose starting gig on the backline was looking as safe as one would want before risking a transfer.

News Flash: Rudiger is no longer in my FPL team. He never had a chance to make an appearance. However, I can at least hang my hat on the fact that he scored as much as Cesar Azpilcueta in Week 30. That game supplied many an FPL frown around the globe. Moving on to Sunday, I sat and watched my Spurs cough up a lead and a chance to go top 4, while two of my leftover blank gameweek 29 options, Heung-Min Son and Gareth Bale made one-point cameos. Bale is also no longer in my team.

You see, after only fielding ten players, and having only four score more than two points, then looking at the Week 31 fixture list, then watching Spurs blow a huge opportunity, I had all the ingredients necessary to do what any sane person would do in a situation like this - I rage-Wildcarded.

That’s right, I am on my wildcard. I put it together Sunday night and it has yet to change. Every day this week I have opened my Twitter feed and immediately closed it, because apparently several other people are on their wildcard and the last thing I want to do right now is give myself a selection headache. My guts were the ones ripped apart last weekend with a round rank near 5,000,000 - so it will be my guts that decide who stays in this wildcard. I am not recommending folks to play their wildcard in a moment of emotional duress like I did, but I am not going to deny the truth either...I feel a heck of a lot better, if only for six days or so.

Right, wildcard or not, there is still the most important decision left to be made - picking the right captain. Let’s take a look at the top options for Week 31 in this edition of Captain Obvious...

Harry Kane (11.7m)

Roster % - 48.3% (rising steady)

Total points - 204 (19 Gs, 13 As, 35 BPs)

Opponent - Manchester United (home)

Let us kick things off with a classic form versus fixture battle here. Kane came through for his armband backers last weekend, and saved many a round for managers in the process, with his 13-point return, but how many will be loyal and keep the faith against Manchester United?

Something has to give. The Red Devils have been very sharp defensively of late. They had a run of four straight clean sheets, including one kept in the Manchester derby, before conceding a single goal last weekend to Brighton. So, to expect Tottenham to put up several goals is a lofty expectation to say the least. However, I have some inside information that cannot be found on any stat sheet - my Spurs are the kings of under-performing against lower clubs while rising to the occasion in tougher fixtures. As pessimistic as I was about Newcastle last week (and that pessimism turned out to be warranted), I am strangely optimistic that José Mourinho is going to get a result against his former club here, and Kane will be the one to lead the charge. Perhaps it is the fact that Spurs blew United away in the reverse fixture this season, to the tune of a 1-6 scoreline that has me feeling positive.

Kane took a whopping seven shots last weekend and is the only player in the league to date that has taken over 100 shots on the season. He is also the joint-leader in shots on target. But what impresses me the most in an otherwise frustrating season as a Spurs supporter, is Kane’s amazing versatility. Depending on what other players are available around him, José Mourinho will deploy Kane in several different ways to fit the situation, and it does not seem to bother Kane in the least. In fact, I think, unlike most strikers who want to focus on adding to their goal total, Kane is much more a team player, looking to help in all kinds of ways, depending on the situation. And yet, despite playing deeper sometimes, tracking back to defend, holding the ball up for others, Kane still finds the time to be among the league leaders in virtually every statistical attacking category. There are better fixtures on paper than this, surely, but between reputation, recent form and roster percentage, expect Kane to get his fair share of armband investment this weekend.

Bruno Fernandes (11.6m)

Roster % - 58.1% (rising slowly)

Total points - 214 (16 Gs, 13 As, 32 BPs)

Opponent - Tottenham (away)

I understand what many of you must be thinking - of all the fixtures this weekend, are you really looking at Tottenham vs Manchester United for two different captaincy options? Well, yes. Yes, I am. Do I imagine a scenario where both Kane and Fernandes have big fantasy days? Sure. I do not think it likely, but I feel it more possible than I feel it to be an absurd notion. What I really feel is that one of them is going to hit big. Should this match have a winning side and a losing side, I have to feel strongly about the potential returns from captaining one of the players from the winning side. After all, when talking about Kane and Fernandes - these are the two highest-scoring players in the game this season. Normally, any success by either team is dependent upon a big game from Kane or Fernandes, respectively. So, in theory, pick the right winner of this game, back the player who represents them with the armband and you “should” be in good shape.

Despite losing 1-6 in the reverse fixture to Spurs earlier in the season, wouldn’t you know that lone goal belongs to Fernandes? And his attacking volume is turned up to “11” these days. In the past two games combined, he has nine key passes and five shots on target. He has actually been quite unlucky to not do more damage than he has...and he has done, by definition, more damage than any other player in FPL to date. I think his armband rate this week will be much lower than usual, so if you are looking for a differential, you could do worse than the league’s top scorer.

Mo Salah (12.4m)

Roster % - 30.4% (rising slowly)

Total points - 182 (18 Gs, 4 As, 16 BPs)

Opponent - Aston Villa (home)

After a resounding 3-0 win last weekend, it comes as no surprise to see heavy transfer activity around Liverpool players. Diogo Jota and his tantalizing price tag on the back of a brace from off the bench is the most popular transfer target this week, but when it comes to putting trust in someone with the armband, Mo Salah is still the one folks turn to, and I would expect him to be the most-captained player this week, still featuring in over 30% of FPL squads, despite having gone five games without an attacking return before finding the net last weekend against the Gunners.

Salah managed five shots against Arsenal, the most he has taken in a league game since the Reds defeated West Ham back in Week 21.

An increase in shot volume is a welcome sight to see for a player like Salah, but what may be even more helpful is the shot in the arm Jota is giving this attack. Surely, Jurgen Klopp will find a way to work Jota into the XI this weekend against Villa. If Liverpool can pick up where they left off in the second half last weekend with Jota in the mix, this is their best chance to turn their season back around and finish on a respectable note. Just three points outside the top four, you have to think if they are driven to build off the momentum of last week’s win and play good football for the run-in. Villa, meanwhile, have been showing cracks in their defense in recent weeks. After having averaged a clean sheet just about every other game, they have hit their worst spell of the season, keeping the opponent out only once in their last five. They do have Jack Grealish coming back and won convincingly last weekend against Fulham, and they also have a goalkeeper capable of heroics. No matter who does what, this looks to be a very compelling game to watch, if nothing else.

Kevin De Bruyne (11.9m)

Roster % - 19.9% (falling slowly)

Total points - 128 (5 Gs, 11 As, 17 BPs)

Opponent - Leeds United (home)

You don not even have to be a regular reader of this column to pick up on the fact that, when it comes to looking at Manchester City options for an armband choice, a healthy KDB is always tops on my list. Sadly, he is currently absent from my side, but then again, so are all other City players, despite my being on a wildcard. Other than Ederson and Rúben Dias, de Bruyne is the only City option I feel comfortable bringing in these days. Those double gameweeks a while back were torture. I felt the sting of rotation on multiple occasions. So I suppose, when building my wildcard, and considering the logjam of fixtures City have (I believe they potentially have more cup games left than league games), the last thing I want to do is invest in a player that winds up not starting. I just brought in a non-playing Rudiger last week. You have to understand my hesitation.

Leeds are likely to concede in this one, it is only a matter of how fluid City’s attack is going to be. The Peacocks have not kept a road clean sheet since Week 11 against a West Brom side that every opponent was keeping out at the time, so to expect some sort of defensive heroics at the Etihad this weekend would seem rather unrealistic. Leeds did do well in the reverse fixture earlier in the year, earning a 1-1 draw on their ground, but that was in the opening weeks of the season when City had yet to find their feet, particularly defensively. Still, de Bruyne was kept quiet in that game, if that is of any concern. As mentioned many times before, De Bruyne typically has a lower ceiling than most other armband options in a given week, but he has a higher floor. Assuming City score at least twice, odds are he is going to get at least an assist in there and maybe dip into some bonus. Then, you still always have that one-in-ten chance that he throws up a gigantic multiple-attacking-return haul. As long as short shifts are okay with you (I would imagine KDB will be lifted early on a regular basis to keep him fit for all competitions), then you have a solid option in de Bruyne.

Other options - Do you want to gamble? Because there are several other Manchester City options that “could” be the highest-scoring player of the round. May it be Raheem Sterling? Could it be Ilkay Gundogan making a return to hero-status? Is it Riyad Mahrez’s turn for a brace, or is it Gabriel Jesus, gunning for a goal in his third straight game? It’s a roll of the dice, folks. Any of these guys could explode, or any could start the day on the bench. I would only recommend gambling here if your season has completely failed you and you are looking to think outside the box for the remainder of the campaign.

As referenced earlier, it is hard to avoid the current Jota fever going around. If he happens to be your only attacking Red, then I can see a case to be made for the armband for him. He certainly has the momentum behind him and, if he comes good, will make an excellent differential, despite being such a highly-transferred in player this week. It also needs to be said at this point that Trent Alexander-Arnold is finally starting to do Trent-Alexander Arnold things, scoring nine points or more in three of Liverpool’s last four.

I am really looking forward to the West Ham versus Leicester City matchup. Mainly because I have no clue which way it will go. My personal bias still believes that Leicester are more legit and West Ham are overachieving, but every week that goes by without Jesse Lingard in my squad, it seems to be another reminder that I am not giving the Hammers the credit they are due. For the logical FPL mind, this seems a fixture best to stay away from in terms of armband options and just hope for the best with what players you have involved, but I will continue to show some loyalty to Jamie Vardy and mention him here. This is a HUGE match, and I feel like every time Leicester are in the spotlight, Vardy shines brightest.

Finally, you would hope that any club facing Sheffield United in a given week will automatically create a solid armband option, especially a club the size of Arsenal, but alas, after getting spanked and held goalless last weekend, it is hard to imagine anyone willing to take the plunge on a Gunner, who do not feature any players with high roster percentage. The closest I can get to backing someone is Alexandre Lacazette. He had scored in his previous three starts before getting shut down along with the rest of his teammates against Liverpool last weekend.

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.