Greetings, and welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate, the most important decision of your gameweek.
Welcome back, as well, from the latest international break. As usual, anticipation of a weekend of FPL action is extra-heightened after a two-week layoff, but, as you are about to find out with this week’s column, your humble writer is somewhat getting a three-week break.
I have been doing this column for a few years now, so I have had dozens, if not, somewhere around 100 chances to look at the FPL landscape, find the candidates for captaincy, and look at the reasons why giving the player the armband looks a good decision, as well as why you may want to second-guess said player. Some weeks, it is a monumental task. There can be up to half a dozen candidates in the top tier alone, and each player has his own custom ‘good idea/bad idea’ turn in the barrel. The process can fill up most of my day.
This is not one of those weeks. In fact, if memory serves (it often does not, so why am I even using that phrase), there has never been a gameweek with so little to say. And yet, I am driven to spend around 1500 words talking about the easiest decision you will have to make all year, because that is what I do.
The other day, I finally was given the opportunity to get my first “jab”, and I was stuck in a queue that lasted for several hours, most of the working day really. The first hour was painful. Standing at the back of a line that, once you got to the front of, was only to get the chance to move to next line. In hour two, standing mostly motionless and quiet and refusing to look at my phone, I decided to do something that apparently had not yet occurred to any of the hundreds and hundreds of people there - I started talking. At first, I just started talking out loud about the situation - a tinge of frustration in my words, surely, but for the most part, I was saying what a lot of folks were thinking, and I cracked jokes. Eventually, I started doing crowd work. “Hey, what do you think?”. I got a couple of takers. Once I realized I had opened a couple of people up, I started chatting about anything I can think of, doing my best to keep people “entertained”. Well, it worked out nicely. Yes, we were shuffling along a line for hours but, once I started flapping my gums, the time flew by. After sharing at one point about how I am a writer, a gentleman from Kentucky named Steve asked if I planned on writing about this very experience. I said, “Not in particular, but I will make a note of it, so I remember, and maybe it will be used to tell a story down the road."
Well, Steve, here it is. You have just helped me through the introduction to this week’s column, and I proved once again that the gift of gab, while sometimes a curse, can just as often be a blessing. That gift should really come in handy this week, as I focus on only one player. Right, let us get down to business then and dive into the Gameweek 8 version of a weekly write-up that has never been as aptly named as it is right now - Captain Obvious...
Mo Salah - `12.7m (roster % - 61.6%)
Total points - 70 (6 Gs, 4 As, 11 BPs)
Opponent - Watford (away)
Right, so let us get the one “concern” about Salah out of the way first. Let us nip this right in the bud. I have made mention of it myself before, and I admittedly felt the sting of it already this season - I am talking about the “Curse of the Early Saturday Captain”. If you are not familiar with this “lore”, it is pretty simple - any time you give the armband to a player who has the Saturday local lunchtime kickoff, that player will blank. Or, if they do not blank, they maybe get you a 5 pointer while whoever you backed for vice-captain scores double that or more. Either way, the agony that backing a player with the armband during this particular kickoff time is well-documented. Like I said, I myself feel apprehensive when I do it. Only two rounds ago, I felt rather confident in backing Ronaldo with captaincy, knowing that he had the Saturday lunchtime kickoff. I thought I might escape doom on a technicality, though, as there were TWO fixtures playing during this time, so perhaps the curse would become confused.
Apparently, no confusion whatsoever. Ronaldo blanked and, more than any other second-guessing fist-pounding-the-table rationalizing I could do about my bad luck, I kicked myself for backing the early captain. You see, it is not just the damage of low points. It is the feeling you have to carry for the remainder of the weekend, while all these other opportunities you could have gone with, one by one, make you feel even more regret. This game can really get into your head. When you notice a pattern, particularly a negative one, whether there is any logic to it or it is merely coincidence, you see if happen enough times, you start to believe. Well, let me give the reading public some advice that I need to hear myself - Liverpool play Watford in this Saturday’s lunchtime kickoff and...there is no curse.
The one argument I can entertain as to why a player does not perform up to expectations simply because of the time and date of fixture is that perhaps such an early kickoff throws off a player’s matchday routine. Whatever preparations a player might normally conduct on a matchday probably cannot be carried out fully or has to be condensed in some fashion. As much of a mind game managing your FPL side can be, those players battle with their own mind games and all it takes for even the best players in the league to have a quiet day is a slight dip in focus.
Now, time to build the bridge as to why you ignore all of that and captain Salah this week. First, let us say, for the sake of argument, Mo Salah gets you a 2-3 point return at Watford. It will be the LEAST damaging blank any of your captain choices have ever been. The reason is simple. Unless you are really, really in the mood to be a maverick...if you really want the opportunity to share that screenshot on Twitter of your giant armband haul from a player no one else captained, then rest easy with Salah knowing that he will be the top-captained player of the week. And, if you break it down into tiers, his armband rate is bound to be higher and higher up each benchmark rank point you go. In other words, his top 100k manager captaincy rate will be higher than his top 1M. His top 10k rate will be higher than his top 100k rate, his top 1k rate...you get the point.
Let us simply look at it this way. For some inexplicable reason, Salah is still only rostered by about three out of every five managers, meaning nearly two out of five do not have him. If you happen to be reading this right now and you are part of that “two out of five” group - I confidently advise that you put all other plans aside until you go out there and roster Mo Salah. Now, I cannot back this up with any hard data, so take this conjecture with a grain of salt, but, to add one more colloquialism to the point, I would bet the farm that every manager in the top 300k, let’s say, has Salah on their squad. Conversely, out of the nearly 8.4 million managers playing this game, I am willing to bet that, assuming the manager is active and at least moving injured players out and so forth, that the bottom 2 million in rank are all without Salah.
I mean, just look at his production so far. He has over 50% more points on the season than the SECOND-BEST midfielder (70 points to Saïd Benrahma’s 44). Now, when you consider that, in many weeks so far, you can take Salah’s points and double them, then he is simply in another galaxy in terms of production compared to not only fellow midfielders, but all players in the game. The gap seems destined to only widen as the season goes along. Here is another hot take, and I know this would apply to me - odds are, if you set the armband on Salah in Week 1 and never moved it, versus hopping around to other options here and there, you would be sitting on more points and a higher rank than you are now. This is not to say that one MUST “always captain Salah”, but, we are now at the point where I feel you default to Salah as soon as the next round opens up, and then allow for a series of unforeseen events to unfold that might cause you to consider someone else.
No longer does a new round begin and you go “well, Salah is away to Chelsea...player who-cares-his-name is at home to Newcastle and he got on the scoresheet last weekend, so…” - just stop right there. We can all agree that Manchester City and Chelsea have the best defenses in the league, right? I mean, we cannot include Liverpool in the conversation because that is the one side Salah cannot play. So yeah, City and Chelsea, two teams with defenses so strong, that much banter on social media talks of going with double defense from both sides in your FPL team. Just set it and forget it because you cannot score on them. Salah has played both of these sides once already this season...and scored on both of them. He has already been one of the best talents in world football for the past half decade, but so far this season, he is outdoing even his own previous elite success. Tell me you saw how he broke Ayermic Laporte’s ankles in Week 7. Or, did the international break cloud your memory?
Now, next week, we will be facing a tougher choice. Allow me to briefly skip ahead. In Week 9, Liverpool travel to Old Trafford to play a top four side while Chelsea are at home and playing, hands-down, the worst defense in the league - Norwich. Assuming Romelu Lukaku is fit, he WILL demand your consideration for the armband against the Canaries. But you should still be on the fence about it, unless something goes terribly wrong with Salah this weekend. We can get more into it next week, how United’s defense is not exactly stellar, et cetera, but the point is, there is no standout fixture for another premium asset to contest Salah THIS week, in my opinion. Lukaku is facing a promoted side. We typically like that, and it is one of the reasons we wanted to bring him in for Chelsea’s fixture run. But we have seen Brentford outperform everyone’s expectations and the game is at Brentford. This weekend though, Liverpool are playing a promoted side not nearly as dangerous as the Bees. The Hornets have much less sting about them. (see what I did there) Watford’s defensive record is pretty shoddy. They do not have a clean sheet yet on the season. And they have had a pretty nice run of fixtures in which to do it, including Norwich and Newcastle, but every opponent has scored. It would be hard to imaging the Reds not scoring at least a couple at Vicarage Road.
Compounding matters, and perhaps in Salah’s favor, is that Watford are in the middle of a managerial transition, as Claudio Ranieri will be watching on with his first game in charge. Given this fixture, I do not think Ranieri has any master plans to shake things up immediately. This is a match he has to be expecting a loss, but will be telling his new soldiers to “go out there and show me what you can do”. This could light a fire under a player or two’s bottom, and perhaps Ranieri will find a way to tighten things up defensively as he settles in, but it is hard to imagine anything other than a dominant performance by Liverpool this weekend.
I think I have exhausted my case for the one true candidate this week, but to summarize - going with Salah and he blanks will not hurt as bad as other blanks, so the damage is comparably small, even with a worst-case scenario, because the vast majority of managers ranked above you will have him captained, also. If you want to pick spots here or there to bet against him with a differential, as I was mentioning Lukaku against Norwich next week, then that is fine and dandy, but for this particular round, I just feel the risk of missing a potential Salah haul in an attempt to go against the grain is simply too great to try it. Some people like to gamble, stay out of the herd, and I fully support that mentality. But some weeks, you just have to admit, only one thing makes sense.
Honorable Mentions -
Must I reiterate? Again, for this week, this section is only for those who insist on attempting to be the most clever manager on the planet. So while some of the players to follow may be honorable men themselves, their mention for Week 8 is not-so-honorable. Very quick bites on these folks…
Romelu Lukaku - question marks around fitness, but, if he is given the green light ahead of the deadline, there should be goals in that fixture. However, even if fit, his recent form has not helped confidence.
Jamie Vardy - Might be a bit controversial, but I think Vardy is a better option to have in your squad than Lukaku this weekend, even if Lukaku is fit. Despite playing away to United, the Red Devils look set to be without both of their starting center backs and they have only one clean sheet on the season as it is. Vardy, meanwhile, is ripping it up right now, scoring at least one goal and collecting at least 8 fantasy points in four of the last five rounds.
Cristiano Ronaldo - Some folks are going to captain him. And truthfully, of all the players to consider that is not named Salah, it could pay off and at least equal what Salah does. When you have a goal rate like Ronaldo has had for the better part of two decades, it is okay for a player of his caliber to look at and say, “Right, blanked the last two. What are the chances he blanks three straight?”. You know another haul is coming from the guy. If it happens to be this week, well, I personally won’t be seeing his points doubled, but congrats in advance to you if that move works out.
Heung-Min Son - I like the fixture, playing a questionable Newcastle defense. But, a few factors here. One, while Son stays consistent, Spurs as a whole are still not gelling together, so I feel like his ceiling is low. Second, and I know this all too well, the Magpies have a history of getting results against Spurs. Third, this is not just any home game for Newcastle. This is the first one under new ownership and the crowd I would expect is going to be absolutely insane at St. James’ Park. So that is a “no” for me.
Man City assets - Finally for the true blind better who enjoys a life of anarchy, go ahead. Pick a City player, and good luck to you. I mean, at home to Burnley...that fixture is delicious. However, do keep in mind that about eight different players trying to earn one of five attacking spots are all capable of being “the guy” this week. Honestly, I feel Joao Cancelo is City’s best armband candidate, but, just like everyone on the team not named Ederson or Rúben Dias, I have to worry about whether he starts every time Pep drops the team sheet down on us. To be fair, I prefer avoiding high-anxiety situations, but I understand that some folks love a roll of the dice. I have no doubt City put up a win and score 2+ goals this weekend, so there is a double-digit fantasy haul in there somewhere.
And there you have it. Another look at the captaincy debate for the round ahead. Good luck with your selection this week, and may your arrows be green.