Tom Freeman has finished inside Fantasy Premier League’s top 1k a staggering five times in his career. He is back with his latest column outling his plans for Double Gameweek 26 and beyond.
So, where were we? The last time I checked in, Gameweek 23 had drawn to a close and I sat just outside the top 300k overall.
I talked up Burnley’s prospects ahead of their double, specifically focusing on Matthew Lowton (£4.5m) and Johann Berg Gudmundsson (£5.4m), and also touched upon Lucas Digne (£6.1m) and Raheem Sterling (£11.6m).
Since then, it’s all been a bit meh for my own team with no real rank movement, but for context, here’s how Gameweek 25 shaped up:
So, in this my latest column, I’m going to discuss my Gameweek 26 Wildcard and also run through my chip strategy. I’m not quite ready to share my final team as I’ll be tinkering right up till deadline, but after reading this you should know which players I’m leaning towards.
Firstly, it’s probably best to talk chips.
The original plan had always been to follow up my Gameweek 16 Wildcard with a Free Hit in 18 and Bench Boost in 19. However, the fixture rearrangements that were announced on New Year’s Eve involving Burnley, Manchester United, Manchester City and Aston Villa, plus Leeds United and Southampton later losing their double, meant that I shelved that strategy.
So now, after much deliberation, I’ve decided to Bench Boost in Gameweek 27. Why 27? Well, I don’t want to hold too much value on my bench for too long after Wildcarding, and I also want to target two specific fixtures which I’ll come to later.
This new strategy of course effects the way I build this Wildcard, and as a result, there has to be some sacrifices as I attempt to spread funds around the squad. I’m pretty sure it won’t be for everyone, but I hope by reading this, you can at least see why I’ve included some players and dismissed others.
I should also point out that I still have my Free Hit and Triple Captain chips available, and plan to use the former in either Gameweek 29 or 33.
Emiliano Martínez (£5.3m) is a bit of a no-brainer in goal, given Aston Villa’s fixtures.
Though the team’s overall level has dropped in recent weeks he’s still making lots of saves. In fact, over the last four Gameweeks, he’s comfortably ahead of any other keeper in the division:
The second spot is harder to decide on, but for now I’ve landed on Sam Johnstone (£4.5m).
West Bromwich Albion have looked much better in recent matches, now that their new arrivals have been properly integrated into the starting XI. I am realistic though, and do expect more save points than clean sheets.
Alphonse Areola (£4.5m) and Alex McCarthy (£4.5m) are other names I considered, and may still turn to, but for now, Martínez and Johnstone are in my draft.
A Manchester City double-up makes a lot of sense here, given that their 10-point lead at the top of the table has been built on a solid defensive platform. That’s seen them concede just nine goals in their last 23 Premier League games, which is pretty remarkable.
However, given my OR and the fact I’m playing catch-up, I’m tempted to double-up in midfield which would give me the opportunity to pair Kevin De Bruyne (£11.8m) with Ilkay Gündogan (£6.1m).
Going in with one City defender, which would be either João Cancelo (£6.1m) or John Stones (£5.2m), does come with risk though.
For example, the advantage I gained from Sterling’s goal against Arsenal was pretty much wiped out once they registered a clean sheet. I’ve just got to hope we see a bit more rotation in the coming weeks. It’s probably wishful thinking, but it does feel like I’ve got to at least try something different.
Elsewhere, I’ve also found a spot for differential Ricardo Pereira (£5.9m) who took up an advanced role as a right-winger against Aston Villa.
There was talk that Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers had put Timothy Castagne (£5.7m) and Pereira on the same side to double-up on Jack Grealish (£7.6m), who eventually missed out. However, I don’t buy that, and these comments from Rodgers after the game do suggest it’s a tactic we might see more of:
“It’s been something I’ve been waiting to do for quite a long time, but this is the first period where both of those boys were fit to play. They’re different types. Because of how we play, they find themselves in that attacking third of the pitch quite a lot. Tim will run more without the ball and penetrate, and Ricky’s one who can be inside and manipulate the ball. I just thought that combination of those two, because Ricky is comfortable coming inside, he can turn, he can pass, he’s very aggressive when he attacks. I thought the two of them were very good and combined well together.” – Brendan Rodgers
Pereira finished the match with 33 final-third touches, more than any other player on the pitch. He also took three shots, twice testing Martínez, and took up some nice position’s infield which you can see on his touch heatmap from the game below:
I also like Digne, who is currently owned by just 8.8% of FPL managers.
Everton’s defence isn’t exactly watertight right now, but Tom Davies’ (£5.2m) recent performances and the return of Allan (£5.2m) offers encouragement that they can add to their total of five Premier League clean sheets.
It’s also worth noting that their opponents on Monday night, Southampton, have conceded the highest number of chances from their right-flank over the last six Gameweeks, and will be without Kyle Walker-Peters (£4.7m) and Oriol Romeu (£4.5m).
Luke Shaw (£5.1m) and Antonio Rüdiger (£4.6m) are also in my thoughts, I’m just not convinced now is the time to invest given their immediate schedules.
The biggest decision here is that I can only pick one of Bruno Fernandes (£11.6m) and Son Heung-min (£9.5m).
Potential reasons for losing arguably the best asset in the game include fixtures (che + cry, mci, WHU, blank) and the fact I probably won’t captain him until at least Gameweek 32. Despite this, Fernandes usually finds a way to return so I need to think this through carefully.
The alternative is Son. I’ve heard some say he isn’t in form, which is probably fair, but tougher fixtures can do that to a player and we are talking about one of the league’s most clinical forwards. There is potential to do well beyond the double too, with games against Crystal Palace and Arsenal to follow.
City duo De Bruyne and Gündogan will be included, and I’m also considering Harvey Barnes (£6.9m).
The 23-year-old has already netted 13 goals in all competitions this term, and I see him getting plenty of joy down Arsenal’s weaker right-flank this weekend. James Maddison (£7.3m) being out isn’t ideal, but I’m hoping it won’t disrupt their flow too much.
Above: Harvey Barnes’ xG shot map in 2020/21
However, if I decide on Fernandes over Son, I might need to drop down to a cheaper option in this slot, someone like Ademola Lookman (£5.0m), Bukayo Saka (£5.2m) or Bertrand Traoré (£5.9m).
This of course means I can’t fit Mohamed Salah (£12.6m) in, which is kind of scary, but if there is ever a time to leave him out it’s probably now.
Since beating Palace 7-0 back in December, Liverpool have played 11 Premier League matches and won just two. The injury to Jordan Henderson (£5.4m) is a further setback, and my feeling at this moment is that I’ll make a move for Diogo Jota (£6.6m) once fit. The Portugal international recently returned to full first-team training, and it’s hard to argue against the value he offers when available, having scored nine goals in his first 17 appearances.
Harry Kane (£11.1m) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.7m) are obvious inclusions given their respective schedules, and it’s likely I’ll hand the former the armband too.
The final forward spot is still up for grabs, which unfortunately means I have to lose Patrick Bamford (£6.9m) who has been in my team since Gameweek 1, and is one of the few highlights of my season so far.
I’m looking at Mbaye Diagne (£6.0m) as a possible replacement, who has made a big impact since he joined West Brom and has been getting shots off in some good areas.
Above: Mbaye Diagne’s shot map (shots on target in green) since making his debut in Gameweek 21.
In fact, no forward has registered more big chances since he made his debut, despite sometimes looking isolated.
Other options include Michail Antonio (£6.5m) and Ollie Watkins (£6.5m), and it’s likely I’ll make a late call on that one.
THE BENCH BOOSTERS
As I mentioned earlier, I’m planning a Gameweek 27 Bench Boost with an idea to focus on two fixtures.
West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United
Albion have put in a couple of much improved displays against Man Utd and Burnley in recent weeks, and appear to have found a system which seems to be working. Signing a proper holding midfielder in Okay Yokuslu (£4.5m) is huge for them, and that improved defensive setup means I’m willing to take a risk on differential Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.5m).
Following Semi Ajayi’s (£4.8m) red card at Burnley, the on-loan Arsenal man shifted out to a wider attacking role, which manager Sam Allardyce has hinted we might see more of in the coming weeks. I don’t have any stats to back it up, it’s more of an eye test thing, but for just one match I’m willing to give it a go.
West Ham United v Leeds United
The second matchup I want to target involves West Ham United, who are now in the top four and have a few players tailor-made for a Bench Boost.
Opponents Leeds United have now conceded eight goals from corners this season, a league-high alongside Sheffield United. Jannik Vestergaard (£4.7m) almost added another earlier this week, and given that the Hammers approach is largely based around crossing, I’m considering Craig Dawson (£4.5m). He’s already scored two goals in 10 games this season and always carries a threat from set-pieces.
I also think Marcelo Bielsa’s side can struggle against players who run directly at them, which is why I like Jesse Lingard (£5.9m) who has looked lively since moving to East London.
Above: midfielders sorted by shots since Jesse Lingard made his West Ham United debut in Gameweek 21.
So, I know this Wildcard won’t be for everyone but I hope having read this, you can at least understand why I’ve chosen the squad I have.
Also, before I sign off, earlier this week I was fortunate enough to join fellow Pro Pundits Lateriser and Zophar again on The FPL Wire.
We talked strategy, Wildcards and captains, plus loads more.
The chat complements this column, and goes a bit deeper into some of the players and teams covered, so if you’re into that kind of thing please check it out on the link below…
I’ll update you on how it’s going next time I check in, but for now, thanks for reading and best of luck in Double Gameweek 26.