In his latest column, three-time top 5k finisher Az looks at the strategies to consider as we get ready for seven Gameweek deadlines in the space of a month.
I’m writing this on December 1 and having just received the news that the Aston Villa v Newcastle game, originally set to be played on Friday, has been called off.
In a way, it’s remarkable that, given the situation that’s happening across the globe, this is the first Premier League game to be postponed this season. Hopefully, it will be the last.
With many people holding two to three assets from Aston Villa and/or Newcastle, this comes at a bad time for our squads, especially as the focus for many is on juggling around their heavy hitters.
For a lot of managers, there simply isn’t the wiggle room to consider shifting the likes of Jack Grealish (£7.7m), Emiliano Martinez (£4.8m), Ollie Watkins (£6.1m) and Callum Wilson (£6.5m) for one week only. All of these players have decent fixtures and are doing enough to justify their selections in our teams. It’s a shame to have to be putting out fires when we are trying to maximise the points potential.
As we look for ways to give our FPL squads the best possible chance of returns during an unpredictable month, one way of playing is to turn relatively defensive. This means ensuring that our teams are strong and healthy and that we can dip into our benches if and when needed.
Alternatively, people might be looking to go for the jugular. This means trying to juggle heavy hitters and squeeze out as many points as possible during this busy period. While this poses a considerable risk, it of course may lead to huge returns if you can nail it.
Time to strengthen the bench?
The news of the postponement at Villa Park does serve as a bit of a wake-up call that a bench of players who at least play regularly for their teams seems a pretty good idea going into the festive schedule. With Tyrick Mitchell (£4.0m) now seemingly doomed to watch on from the sidelines, many of us are down to just two players on our FPL benches.
The continued threat of coronavirus, as well as a packed winter schedule, means this may need to be addressed. Many of us are carrying players who seem likely to be at least in some way rotated over Christmas. For example, any of the Manchester City assets, Reece James (£5.1m), Timo Werner (£9.5m) and maybe even now Liverpool midfielders, with Diogo Jota’s (£6.8m) emergence, all look a little vulnerable. Now might be a good time to make sure you are prepared for any omissions.
Upgrading Mitchell to a £4.5m defender may seem a bit boring, but it might put you in good stead in the weeks to come. Stuart Dallas (£4.5m) looks the standout option at this price point for me. Five goal attempts over the last four Gameweeks puts him up with the likes of Reece James (£5.1m) and Ben Chilwell (£6.2m) and Leeds have a great run of fixtures to come, with only Manchester United looking like a potential banana skin right up until January 2.
Luke Ayling (£4.5m) is also a consideration, with the right-back boasting nearly double the number of penalty area touches (13) compared to Dallas over this time. However, despite promising stats, he has yet to register an attacking return this season, whereas Dallas already has a goal and an assist.
If one of the Leeds defenders doesn’t float your boat – or you already own one – then the other options to turn to are Arthur Masuaku (£4.5m) or Vladmir Coufal (£4.6m). I really like how West Ham are currently set up under David Moyes, who is doing a fantastic job when many (including myself!) had written them off.
Both Coufal and Masuaku have just 2.3% ownership at the time of writing, and once Manchester United are out the way this week, have a great run of fixtures right up until the end of January, with only Chelsea in Gameweek 14 looking like a good time to bench whichever defender you bring in.
Going for broke
The less conservative strategy at this stage is to accept whatever state our “fringe” players are in and really try and hammer the assets who have the biggest upside.
Mohamed Salah (£12.2m), Kevin De Bruyne (£11.7m) and Bruno Fernandes (£10.8m) all delivered in Gameweek 10. Many view these three as the “holy trinity” – players we should get in our squads no matter what.
However, is this perhaps doing a disservice to the likes of Harry Kane (£10.9m), Son Heung-min (£9.5m) and Jamie Vardy (£10.2m), who have all had stellar starts to the season? For many, these are the sacrificial lambs as people look to pastures new.
I feel that a case can be made for any combination of the above, which really reflects how exciting this season is, with so many players being worthy of our consideration. However, out of all the options, I really do feel that Fernandes has done enough to make him immune from any form of “hokey-cokey”. If you don’t have him, he’d be the one that I’d look to get in before he’s out of reach.
While the likes of Jota and even Riyad Mahrez (£8.3m) may be good value for their price – and this is how you should look at them, not as “coverage” for their more prestigious team-mates – I worry that the bubble could burst at any minute and we could be left with egg on our face.
Salah and co look set to continue to deliver points all season. The trick is going to be knowing when these hauls are likely and when to get on them.
I brought in Vardy this week and a poor Leicester performance is making me consider whether he can really keep pace with the other players in his price bracket. An away game at Sheffield United, who have made the worst start to a Premier League season from any team in history, looks a good match-up for the Sheffield Wednesday fan so I’m not panicking just yet.
But, depending on whether you think Brighton is a tough game, Vardy’s fixtures are a lot less rosy thereafter and so the short-term pick of the Englishman may prove to be a costly one. He looks set to depart my team after being given little time to truly impress.
With no Salah or De Bruyne in my squad, and both with Fulham on the horizon, I am getting jittery. I think Son and Kane who will simply struggle to match De Bruyne and Salah over the next five Gameweeks, until Spurs themselves play Fulham in Gameweek 16. But moving these players out will require a hit, so timing feels like everything. For those that made the move before the Chelsea stalemate, well played. I think this was the time to do it.
With games against Arsenal and Crystal Palace next, it feels risky shifting out the Spurs assets, so if you think they can continue to deliver points, then holding might be a sensible strategy. That said, can you really afford to ignore the upside of both De Bruyne and then Salah against Fulham?
It’s hard to argue with a move for De Bruyne this week, which may be even better if paired with plans for another switch to Salah for the Gameweek after. Jiggery-pokery at its finest.
I’m toying with the idea of acquiring Mahrez for the Fulham game, which would mean ignoring De Bruyne entirely and looking for a way to bring in Salah for Gameweek 12.
Getting a City player in feels a priority this week and a rest for the Algerian in the Champions League and some very, very promising comments from Guardiola about how “players who score will start” certainly bodes well for his chances of a start against the Cottagers.
This means I could hold on to both Son and Vardy this weekend and potentially move them both on next week to get Salah and Bamford, who have Fulham and West Ham respectively in Gameweek 12. Alternatively, I could lose Son this week and keep Hakim Ziyech (£8.3m) for his home match against Leeds.
Salah is the player who I’m coveting for the long term. Simply put, not owning him in my squad just feels… wrong. Okay there is the increased chance of rotation now that Jota is doing such a good job, but put simply, the Egyptian has proven over the last few seasons that he is the player most likely to register huge returns and if I’m ever torn between who to captain, he’s my go-to.
As a captaincy option, while I’m happy with Fernandes if I need to, games against Fulham, Palace, West Brom and Newcastle in quick succession provide a perfect platform for the Liverpool double-up of Salah and Jota. City’s fixtures do also remain excellent, but there is the higher chance of rotation, a slight risk of De Bruyne dropping deeper to control the midfield in “tougher” games and from what I’ve seen from Man City, the high likelihood of a spread of points across their very capable forward line.
Turning my back on last season’s top FPL performer doesn’t feel great and I know what he’s capable of. But you can’t have them all and this feels like something we are all going to have to put up with this season. Hopefully, we’re about to see the Mahrez of old who is more than capable of scoring 200+ points this season if he plays a decent number of minutes – although I also appreciate that he’s someone that can cause misery for those who take the punt on him. We’ll see what happens.
Whatever you decide to do, good luck for the following weeks. It’s going to be a wild ride.