Greetings, and welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate, the most important decision of your gameweek.
Sonny! Yesterday my life was filled with rain! Sonny…
And then, there were three. Three gameweeks to go. You can feel the end of the season approaching. It kinda feels like that last day of vacation somewhere, where you are technically still on vacation, but the focus is on packing your bags and getting your affairs in order, so that you can then be ready to head out after enjoying one more beautiful sunset.
Maybe using a little poetic license to chronicle our final approach in the 2021-22 season is a result of feeling giddy about such a productive gameweek for your humble writer. Bah. Who am I kidding? It has EVERYTHING to do with feeling happy about the week that passed.
In Week 35, the “safety score”, as in, the number of points I needed to reach in order to “break even” and hold rank, was 47. Your boy tossed up a lovely 72 points. I enjoyed a positive change in rank of nearly 33%. That’s right, I shaved off nearly a third of my rank and have now catapulted back into respectability with a current overall rank of 72k. Even the bench worked out for me, as Gabriel Martinelli came in with his six-point haul to replace an absent James Maddison. Even though that is precisely the sort of outcome you want out of having a bench and having a replacement ready for a surprise no-show…I swear, it NEVER actually works out that way, but in Week 35, it did.
The funniest thing is that the player I transferred in did not even play. But he was my SUB2 anyway, as I dropped Rayan Ait-Nouri for West Ham’s Ben Johnson, to free up a bit of cash for one more transfer before the upcoming MEGA-double gameweek 36. It may seem silly to use a transfer on a player you never intended to start that week when I could have been more prudent and saved the transfer so I had two to help me this time around, but the player I was dropping was at risk of a price drop and, when you are talking about players who cost 4.2m, you really don’t want to lose any further money on an investment like that.
The Fuzzy Warbles squad is basically down to one transfer beyond whichever defender at 4.6m or less I want to bring in for Fabian Schär this week. My bench boost chip will be activated and, with the exception of West Ham’s Johnson (who plays Norwich, which is why I justified his inclusion…one game v Norwich is about as potentially lucrative as two games for most players against your average opponent), everyone has two games to play. So, in all, 15 players will be involved in a total of 29 potential fixtures. When one factors in the captain, technically we are up to 31 potential fixtures. This is the week most of us have been waiting for.
But let me point out, as is my habit, that my success last week and for the week to come, is still going to come down to getting the captain right. Heung-Min Son totally saved my bacon last week and backing him with the armband made the difference between another ho-hum small-arrow-gameweek to a 33% climb in the ranks. These are nervous days ahead. The way I see it, with the huge side I am putting out this week, and then following it up with a Free Hit chip the following week, where I will max out again on double gameweek studs, finally wrapping up with a final Week 38, I still think there is a chance I could finish as high as 20k, which I would be ecstatic about, considering the struggle this season has been. But it can only happen if I nail the captaincy - at least two really good ones and an “okay” one. I cannot afford any blanks. I could just as easily plummet to 125k or so if I screw up with the armband.
Twelve of the leagues’ twenty clubs will be playing twice. Odds are, without even trying, your squad is loaded with double gameweek players. Since it is such a special week, I will go ahead and do a team reveal before we look at this week’s top captaincy options…
Robertson, Cancelo, Alonso, *Tomiyasu, B Johnson
Salah, Son, Coutinho, Maddison, Martinelli
Kane, Pukki, Dennis
(*Tomiyasu currently my top replacement pick for Schar with my free transfer this week)
All things considered, I am pretty happy with the club I built over the past several weeks to prepare for the big week to come. And I didn’t shoot myself in the foot, either. While there have been a couple of red arrow weeks in the past several rounds, overall, my rank is as high as it has been all season and I would estimate, since the planning of Week 36 began, I have shaved 25k off that overall rank. Would I make some changes were I to use my Free Hit chip this week? Sure. There is one player I do not have that I sure wish I did, and I would probably change a few other names to ones from the same club that I prefer a little more. For example, having come off a rest last weekend, I would prefer to have Trent Alexander-Arnold over Andew Robertson heading into GW36, but considering I had the right weapon last week, I cannot complain and will just hope for the best. So to find out who that one player is, stick around for approximately 4.8 seconds, because that is about how long it will take for you to know as we kick off this Week 36 edition of Captain Obvious…
In case your wifi has been down the past couple of days and you are just now logging on, and the first thing you wanted to log onto was my column, first - thank you very much. Second - you likely are aware that Manchester City were eliminated from the Champions League by Real Madrid. With Chelsea facing Liverpool in the FA Cup final next weekend, City find themselves without any tournaments left to play. They are down to their final four league games with a one-point edge over the Reds in the league table.
That said, let me apologize for being shell-shocked after last week, when I had nominated De Bruyne as an elite captaincy option in Week 35, only for him to not only be omitted from the Starting XI, he did not feature at all against Leeds. Now, the upside is, because he stayed rooted to the bench, it was not a total catastrophe. Your vice-captain would have come into play and if Son was your captain, well then happy days. No matter who it was though, one cannot be too displeased about the De Bruyne misfire when it did not result in the ultimate game of torture - a one-pont cameo.
What can I say? The manager that has a reputation for surprises pulled yet another one off against me. Sure, City have enough talent to get a win against Leeds without the Belgian star. Sure, I understand you want to have your best players you plan to play against Real Madrid fresh…but apparently the strategy did not pay off. De Bruyne was even taken off early in the Champions League semi-final, apparently in an effort to preserve him for the weekend as City are still looking to win the league title.
Trust my take as far as you can throw it, at least, based on not seeing a De Bruyne benching coming but I think the days of seeing KDB not in the XI in the 2021-2022 season are officially over. City aren’t winning the Champions League. City aren’t winning the FA Cup. They have a one-point lead over Liverpool in the league table. To not win the league title would be seen in the eyes of City as a season of failure. They MUST win the league and they MUST get everything they can out of De Bruyne to give themselves the best chance of doing it. Yes, there are four games in two weeks. For a large section of the season, you might want to rest a player for one of those four games. But, until City either clinch the title or clinch NOT winning the title, there is NO WAY for Pep to keep De Bruyne off the pitch, barring injury.
I tell you, not having De Bruyne this week is really tough to deal with. City will have two attractive fixtures - home to Newcastle followed by a trip to Wolves. With Joao Cancelo as the only City rep in my squad, it feels like there are a ton of points to be had that will be left out on the table from City by the time this gameweek is over, but a lack of De Bruyne stings twice as much, because I see him as the one player from that side that you captain. There is still danger in backing City options because Pep likes to rotate, but in many situations, it is just to feed the mouths of comparable players. Sterling, its your turn this week, but next week, I am giving your spot to Foden. Mahrez, its your turn this week, but next week, I am giving your spot to Jesus. Sure every player has his own unique set of attributes, but no one is as difficult to replace and not to expect skip a beat as De Bruyne is. He’s my best bet for who to battle Salah captainers with this week.
How is that for a segue?
Remember how I was talking about the silver lining to the cloud that was the absence of Kevin De Bruyne being that he did not come on for a dreaded one-point cameo? Yeah…that’s exactly what FPL’s best player did to those who decided to captain him last week. What is this? What kind of league benches their best players right in the middle of a neck-and-neck title fight? Sheesh.
For those that backed Salah last week - my deepest condolences. Honestly. I have been there. As much time and passion as you put in this game over the course of nine to ten months, to know that the difference between where you are and where you wish to be comes down sometimes to a choice between a Heung-Min Son or a Mo Salah for captain really can be a difficult pill to swallow. Obviously, had Jurgen Klopp decided to start Salah, we could have a different story on our hands. And let us not forget - Tottenham were coming off back-to-back blanks against their opponents, so it wasn’t like ignoring one of their attackers for captaincy was some sort of boneheaded oversight. It was simply really bad luck.
On the bright side - you have to come to the logical conclusion that Salah’s chances of being a healthy player benched for consecutive league games whilst in the middle of a title race are positively ZERO. Like De Bruyne, there should be a complete lack of fear when it comes to wondering whether or not he starts this weekend. However - unlike City, the Reds will have to play FIVE games in a two-week span instead of four, as they squeeze in their FA Cup final next weekend. Not to mention, the weekend after this busy fortnight, a Champions League final to play. So, one could present a valid argument that Salah could be rested somewhere along the way.
Looking at the fixtures, if I had to guess which match Salah starts on the bench, it worryingly goes to the second game of this double gameweek against Aston Villa. That midweek match is sandwiched between two very tough (and high-profile) games against Tottenham in league play this weekend and Chelsea in the FA Cup final next weekend. The other possibility is resting against Southampton the following midweek, but the Villa game makes more sense when thinking about optimal rest time. I am not saying it is a given. Far from it. But it is at least something, considering we just saw him rested last weekend and the Reds are still in line to win every major competition they’ve been involved in this season. Salah has amazing stamina. We have seen him play through this heavy a load before. In fact, if I had to put down a bet, the only game Salah would not start down the stretch is a league game if the title has already been decided before the final game. And, considering nothing can be clinched this weekend, it would stand to reason that Salah will indeed start this coming midweek against Villa. Now, his minutes may be managed, but we all are pretty confident that a 70-75 minute shift from Salah will yield some productive results. Basically, fingers crossed he plays 180 minutes in the coming round, but brace yourself for something closer to 150 minutes and feel very disappointed if it winds up being closer to 120.
Here comes the Son! And I say, “He’s alright.” Folks, I cannot begin to do appropriate justice if I attempt to descrIbe the euphoria of not only backing the perfect captain in an FPL gameweek, but to have that captain be a player on the club you support. I had cake AND I ate it. Even went back for seconds. It was glorious.
So, of course, coming off a fantastic display where the South Korean bagged a brace and threw in an assist on his way to a 19-point round, naturally with a double gameweek lined up in front of him, there is no way I could leave Son out of the elite picks for captaincy this week. But, let me try and keep the mood around here realistic - I am not as confident in him for this round as I was for the last round.
Part of my reasoning comes simply from feeling like the chances of Son lighting up the scoreboard for a second straight round are not too high. It is just a natural occurrence for me…outside of the very best players at any given time during the past decade or so, I tend to worry about a repeat performance. But maybe I am not being fair. Maybe my club bias is getting in the way. Maybe Son IS one of the very best. And when I am talking about the very best, I mean the top two or three players in a given season. Son is second behind only Salah in total points this season. Technically, he is in that top tier.
So, I suppose that is where the other part of my reasoning comes in - the fixtures. Away to Liverpool followed by the North London Derby is about as tough as it gets. Normally, you would probably include Manchester City in that mix, but considering how well Spurs have done against the Citizens in recent years, Liverpool followed by Arsenal may just be the toughest back-to-back game assignment Tottenham could possibly as for. That said, when you are talking about the top players in the league, fixture difficulty does not carry so much weight, because these players are elite to score against any side at any time…multiple times. Liverpool have the best defensive record in the league right now, have kept the most clean sheets, but they played to a 2-2 draw against Spurs in the reverse fixture this season. Arsenal are tied for the fourth most clean sheets, and considering that they began the season getting shredded before Aaron Ramsdale eventually took over for Bernd Leno, that is pretty impressive. The Gunners took a 3-1 win in this reverse fixture.
All things considered, I think Son has a better than 50/50 chance for a return in the coming round, which is about all you can typically ask for when looking for a solid captain. I am just no sure if this is the week to expect double digit hauls from each of his games. Spurs should see some goals, but my expectation would be that one game will be a little more Kane-heavy while Son does better in the other. And I think there are limits on both of these games. I do not see Spurs putting up four or five goals anywhere to create gargantuan fantasy scores. Instead, like in their reverse fixtures, a goal or two should be more fitting, which means, even if Son is involved, he will likely flirt with double digits (in the 9 to 10 range) rather than achieve anything like the 19-point haul he put up last weekend.
Let me just be right up front about this…I am thinking about it.
Listen, the game has changed over the years. Just a few years ago, it would be pretty crazy to think about backing a defender for a big double gameweek when you have options like Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne playing twice, but this season has had so many double gameweeks, and elite defenders are giving you two ways to do damage, I have really come around to liking the idea of backing one of Alexander-Arnold, Robertson or, in this case, Cancelo, if I like the fixtures, and the risk of the player starting just once is slim. Because Liverpool are still busy with a couple of competitions, and Spurs being a tough fixture among their two games, I do not really fancy either of their fullbacks. Cancelo, on the other hand, is looking mighty attractive.
It really comes down to what I think City are going to do fresh off the heels of a disappointing exit from the Champions League this week. Are they going to have their tail between their legs or are they going to be inspired to go out there and finish strong and give the club another league title. My gut says that the latter is much more likely, and of all the high-scoring clubs in the league, I think City are most likely to put up four or five goals in a game. I also think that Newcastle and Wolves are two opponents that City can keep a clean sheet against. In my mind, I see Cancelo starting twice and getting at least one cleanie. With no bonus or attacking returns, that is eight points right there. Eight points for pretty much showing up this week with a chance to add so, so much more. Did you know he has only one assist in league play since Week 22? Cancelo is DUE for an attacking return. I’m tellin’ ya, the more I think about it, the stronger I am leaning his way.
I know, I know…why do I lump players together like this? Please, allow me to explain. I just see a lot of similarities between Kane and Mane this week. To me, they are the Plan-B options to Son and Salah, respectively. As in, should you have neither Son nor Kane in your squad but you DO have one of these teammates, then they deserve consideration. It comes down more to how you feel the club is going to perform. If the club is to perform well, then we can expect enough points to spread around to feed Kane and Mane, too. In fact, I would argue, especially in the case of Mane, if you feel the club will prosper, then these figures may actually be more beneficial for your needs. You see, because this duo are seen right now as “second fiddle” to their more productive teammates, their armband percentage will be quite low this week, making them potentially lethal differentials.
It just might be the stroke of genius to get that rank up you are looking for or to gain considerable ground on that mini-league rival of yours you have been chasing since Halloween last year. I would say, if you are at or near the rank you are comfortable with, maybe this duo is not the one for you, maybe you play a bit more conservative and stick with the herd. But, if you are sitting right now, I don’t know, 60-80 points short of your mini-league rival or an overall rank target you are trying to reach, then one of these players might be exactly who you should be looking at this week, because time is running out to gain ground by matching the moves of everyone ahead of you.
Ok, Fuzzy, I have seen you sit on the fence before, but this is absolutely nuts.
Yes, I know, I know. It seems like I am not putting my neck out there and nominating a lone Chelsea player for you to get behind with the armband this week. Honestly, I really feel like it is a gut call for any FPL manager to make. I will simply give you my thoughts. First, as I said a couple of rounds back for Chelsea’s previous double gameweek - backing one of their wingbacks is a high risk/high reward proposition. If you went with Reece James then, you sulked on a two-point return. If you went Alonso, you were feeling mighty smug with a 19-point return. But the honest truth is that those scores could have easily been swapped in another round, and it may very well be this one, we just don’t know. James seems way too risky to me, because we have seen him not only get rotated before but he is a fragile player, which is why he may get rotated more than we would like.
Alonso is a different story. He began the season as the starter, starting the first six league games, but that was due more than anything to the unavailability of Ben Chilwell. Chilly returned, got his spot back, and Alonso did not play a minute over the next six. Then we saw Alonso get the spot back and make a dozen straight starts. But then we got a five game stretch where he was benched. Now we are back to a stretch of six straight starts. So the question is, will his recent run in the XI continue til the season’s end, or are we on the cusp of another stretch of absences? My gut says his job is safe, but things can get weird around this time of season. I think once Chelsea clinch a top four spot, there is added risk for a rest, but I don’t think that can happen until at least Week 37 so I am feeling pretty confident he will start both in Week 36, and if that’s the case, then we could be in store for a similar return he put up two rounds back, as the Blues have a pair of excellent fixtures that should yield a minimum of one clean sheet between Wolves and Leeds.
As far as the attacking options go, I am just not that gung-ho about any of them for captaincy, though I do admit, I would not mind having one of Mount or Havertz in my XI this week. I definitely have more trust in Mount as a steady, consistent provider of returns, as well as being at lesser risk of a rest, but I do concede that Havertz has the higher ceiling with his “brace or better” potential in any given game. My issue is, we have nearly completed this season, we have had many double gameweeks, and we have many weeks where we have put Mount and/or Havertz on the big stage for a huge haul…and it never seems to come. If it did come, I must have missed it. But neither of these two have had one of those rounds that made me regret not having them on my roster. Perhaps this is finally that round, because boy, the fixtures are sure tantalizing enough.
Right, that about wraps up the column for this week. You may have noticed there are some omissions here. Leicester have a double gameweek, so does Everton. And in the case of both, there are some attractive fixtures one can possibly do well with, but in the end, in a round as big as this, I have to knock those options down an additional tier. When you have the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs all playing a double gameweek, with all the talent contained in those sides, players who we typically look at as the top armband options in a standard week anyway, it seems to me best to limit my choice this week to someone from one of these top clubs.
Good luck, and may your arrows be green