After checking out the machinations behind the Free Hit chip ahead of Gameweek 35, we now delve a little deeper into the approaches open to Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers for the reduced slate of fixtures.
First, a reminder that, with the FA Cup semi-finals taking place this weekend, we are limited to the following fixtures:
Gameweek 35 Schedule
West Brom vs Liverpool
Watford vs Crystal Palace
Arsenal vs West Ham
Stoke vs Burnley
Man City vs Swansea
Everton vs Newcastle
As discussed in our previous article, many managers had therefore pinpointed this Gameweek as the best time to play their Free Hit chip.
This tactic involved Wildcarding in either Gameweek 32 or 33 to load up on the sides who play twice in both Double Gameweek 34 and 37.
That affords the freedom to freshen up their squads temporarily to take advantage of this weekend’s reduced slate.
However, we are also aware that, by this point, other FPL managers may have already wielded their Free Hit chip and we have therefore factored that into our thinking when considering the strategies available.
In the first of two further articles, we look at the targets in defence, both for those with and without their Free Hit chips.
The Free Hit Chip Targets
The Free Hit chip already gives Fantasy managers a distinct advantage for Gameweek 35 given that they have total freedom with unlimited transfers right up until the deadline.
But those with the chip active can also seek to maximise this scenario by pinpointing players with very favourable weekend fixtures who are likely to be ignored by non-Free Hit chip rivals.
With five of the 12 teams to feature in this weekend’s slate set to play twice in Double Gameweek 37 – Arsenal, Man City, Newcastle, Swansea and West Ham – those without Free Hit chips can focus extra trades on form players who they expect will start three matches over those Gameweeks. In doing so, they can spend points on transfers in the hope that the extra fixture will help repay the investment.
Obviously, there will be some crossover in terms of targets for the Free Hit manager and the “chipless”.
Taking Man City as an example, the likes of Nicolas Otamendi and Kyle Walker may well be named on Pep Guardiola’s teamsheet from this point onwards, starting with a very favourable home encounter with travel-sick Swansea.
Both offer considerable attacking upside as routes into the league’s most resilient rearguard – only Marcos Alonso has scored more goals than Otamendi’s four, while Walker’s tally of six assists is just one off the summit for defenders.
Similarly, for Arsenal, Shkodran Mustafi remains seemingly immune to rotation at a time when Arsene Wenger has swapped his full-backs due to their ongoing Europa League campaign. The German international has played all but 18 minutes from Gameweek 20 onwards and has chipped in with three goals and an assist ahead of a visit from West Ham.
Arguably, though, outwith that trio, the appeal of most defenders with considerable upside in Gameweek 35 will mainly be exclusive to those with the Free Hit at their disposal.
Man City captain Vincent Kompany is expected to start Sunday’s title party at home to the Swans but, given his injury history, Pep Guardiola could well manage the Belgian’s minutes over their subsequent four league fixtures. Kompany has a goal, an assist and two clean sheets in his last five league outings.
Rested for last week’s loss to Newcastle, Hector Bellerin is another short-term option who looks likely to start Gameweek 35 but not necessarily every league fixture that follows. A total of two first-team outings in the previous five league matches is likely to deter those without Free Hit chips from taking a punt on the Gunners’ right-back.
Elsewhere, teams without a Double Gameweek 37 are the ones most likely to be overlooked by non-Free Hit chip managers.
With that in mind, the likes of Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Burnley can offer in-form solutions across the positions for those set to play their Free Hit chip.
Priced at just 4.0, Kevin Long benefitted from Ben Mee’s absence to claim a double-digit haul in the first of the Clarets’ two Double Gameweek 34 matches. Ragnar Klavan is likely to come in for Liverpool’s trip to West Brom given that Dejan Lovren is a minor doubt for next midweek’s Champions League encounter with Roma.
The Reds have conceded five times in their last 12 in all competitions, which could also promote Loris Karius and Virgil van Dijk in some managers’ Free Hit plans if Jurgen Klopp shuffles his full-backs. The Dutchman offers a goal threat to increase his points ceiling and, given Lovren’s fitness issues, may well start at The Hawthorns.
Elsewhere, Stoke’s Jack Butland is the number one keeper for saves (102) and BPS points (419) since Gameweek 15. That suggests save points will be on the menu at least for the visit of in-form Burnley and, if the Potters can earn a shut-out, Butland’s potential points may even push double-figures. Along with Everton’s Jordan Pickford (4.9), he arguably has the highest points ceiling of any Gameweek 35 active goalkeeper.
Toffees left-back Leighton Baines is another target likely to be the exclusive of Free Hit managers. He has 19 points in his three home matches since returning from injury in Gameweek 30 ahead of a visit from Newcastle.
Similarly, Patrick van Aanholt has the attacking threat to reward short-term investment. Palace go to Watford in Gameweek 35 but, like Everton, do not offer a double to come, which could see the Dutchman largely ignored by those without the Free Hit active. Over his last six matches, Van Aanholt has scored twice and fired eight attempts on goal, with five shots on target – more than any defender.
The Non-Free Hit Targets
As mentioned above, players such as Otamendi, Walker and Mustafi will appeal to managers regardless of the Free Hit being active.
Crucially for those without the chip, both Man City (SWA whu HU & BHA sot) and Arsenal (WHU mun BUR & lei hud) are ranked as the top two defences for points potential in our season ticker. This boosts the chances of gaining a refund on any transfer “hits” taken to acquire them.
Investment in the other three teams with a Gameweek 35 and Double Gameweek 37 – Newcastle, Swansea and West Ham – has less immediate appeal, with all set to hit the road this weekend.
Of those three, the Magpies’ remaining schedule (eve WBA wat & tot CHE) is rated as the most favourable and fourth overall defensively.
Away to Everton on Monday night, Jamaal Lascelles has found the net three times this term and is their likeliest source of points from the back. At 4.2 to the centre-half’s 4.8, though, Paul Dummett is the cheaper option.
Lukasz Fabianski (4.7) is sure to deliver save points at least for Sunday’s trip to the Etihad and will then offer three home matches (CHE bou & SOT STK) in the final three Gameweeks.
If you’re not in the market for a keeper, though, at 5.1, Alfie Mawson (two goals and an assist) is the attacking option in defence, with Federico Fernandez (4.5) the budget-friendly pick.
West Ham’s remaining schedule (ars MCI lei & MUN EVE) hardly looks conducive to clean sheets.
But Angelo Ogbonna (4.2) could appeal as a squad filler, particularly for those with a Bench Boost chip planned for Double Gameweek 37. Meanwhile, Aaron Creswell (4.9) is the luxury item in David Moyes’ backline, having produced seven assists over the season, a tally matched only by Ben Davies among defenders.
In the final part of this series, we will move to assess the attacking options appealing ahead of Gameweek 35, again attempting to cater for both Free Hit managers and those using transfer hits to reinforce their squads.