It feels as if the midfield template is shifting as we head towards Blank Gameweek 29, which means Fantasy Premier League managers have some tough decisions ahead.
Whenever highly-owned expensive players go through periods of bad form or have unappealing fixtures, we are faced with a tough choice. Either we double-down and keep the faith, or we move on our big hitters for a differential option.
There are pros and cons to each choice, of course. You could either sell a big name just as they score a huge haul or you might end up late to the next party if you hold on too long.
- Bruno Fernandes – owned by 60.2%
- Son Heung-min – 52.1%
- Mohamed Salah – 41.4%
- Ilkay Gundogan – 37.0%
- Jack Grealish – 23.9%
- Harvey Barnes – 18.8%
- Tomas Soucek – 13.2%
Either way, there are plenty of reasons to ponder shaking things up when you consider that Liverpool are out of form, Manchester United hit a difficult spell of fixtures from Gameweek 27 onwards and, even though they are doing well, both Manchester City and Chelsea are experiencing a fair amount of rotation under Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel.
Leicester assets have been popular but their growing injury crisis, which recently claimed James Maddison (£7.3m) and Harvey Barnes (£6.9m), is off-putting to say the least.
And let’s not forget that Blank Gameweek 29 plays a big part in what to do with the midfield template considering Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and do not play in that round.
The aforementioned circumstances should lead us to Tottenham Hotspur who enjoy relatively favourable fixtures in the short-term and face Aston Villa in Blank Gameweek 29.
While Jose Mourinho’s men have recently endured a period of uninspiring form, one man appears to have turned all that on its head: Gareth Bale (£9.3m).
The Welsh international racked up a massive 19-point score with two goals and an assist against Burnley and, even with those handy fixtures on the horizon, only 0.9% of Fantasy managers own him at the time of writing.
Could he be the answer to our premium midfield dilemma in the coming weeks? Let’s find out…
Watching Bale slowly find his feet over the last few weeks has been an enjoyable experience for Spurs fans. Coming off the bench against West Ham in Gameweek 25, he single-handedly took the game by the scruff of its neck and nearly did enough to earn Spurs a point. Then in the second leg against Wolfsberger, he came on to yet again have an immediate impact.
The big question is whether or not Mourinho is prepared to start Bale regularly enough for him to become a reliable Fantasy asset. Thankfully, his most recent post-match comments were promising indeed.
There is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition. There is not one, but now he is better than ever, I’m just pleased for the team because he helped the team to win. I’m happy for him.Jose Mourinho
The Spurs manager has clearly been easing Bale back to full-strength over the last month or so, with managed minutes in both the Premier League and Europa League. His withdrawal on 69 minutes against Burnley was an indication of the importance his current performances have earned him in Mourinho’s eye.
When Bale came off on Sunday, the match was comfortably won although even during the final 20 minutes his absence was notable. In my opinion, he will be in the starting XI for Thursday’s trip to Fulham.
Bale in Gameweek 26
But who would make way?
But, with so many FPL managers still invested in a cluster of midfield options, who would be the best asset to make way for the Welsh wizard?
Even with the fixture swing, FPL managers are reticent to sell Fernandes, still the top-scoring Fantasy asset this season. He has returned in four of his last five Premier League matches, even with a fixture against Manchester City in Gameweek 27, his long-term appeal is too strong.
Son is potentially the obvious choice although he put in a very good display against Burnley registering two assists, two bonus points and was unlucky not to have scored himself.
And, given Son also plays in Gameweek 29, FPL managers will surely be reluctant to move him – which leaves the likes of Mohamed Salah (£12.6m) and Ilkay Gundogan (£6.2m) as potential makeweights for Bale.
Manchester City have yet another Double Gameweek after the current one ends so it is very difficult to justify selling Gündogan.
The fact that he missed out on the starting XI against Wolves arguably makes his Double Gameweek 27 credentials even stronger, as it suggest he will play significant minutes in the Manchester United and Southampton matches now he’s got some rest under his belt.
So… does that mean Salah is the one to replace with Bale?
Bale v Salah
When you compare Bale and Salah’s performance data for Gameweek 26, Bale comes out on top in 57% of areas with the Welshman winning +8 key to Salah’s +1.
Bale registered more touches than Salah, received more passes than him, had a greater shot accuracy than him as well as creating a chance more often than Salah. All this in just 69 minutes where as Salah played the full 90.
It is worth saying this is not a perfect comparison. When you look at the two players over the last four Gameweeks things do shift to Salah’s favour overall, but the end result has been similar despite the Welshman playing fewer minutes: Both have scored twice but Bale has two assists to Salah’s none.
Over these last four matches, Bale received a pass every 1.7minutes in comparison to Salah’s 2.3 minutes. He also has a great goal involvement, better retention stats and has won all of his aerial duels, while Salah has only won a third of his.
With Spurs playing in Gameweek 29, and on the back of two good results in the Europa League, an exceptional performance against Burnley and a spirited second half against West Ham, a swap for Salah is something I am considering.
How many Spurs are too many?
Still, given the ownership stats for Kane and Son, owning Bale on top seems a lot of investment in Spurs. Neither of the two usual suspects is a differential on their own, although are more so when owned in combination – 20.9% of all FPL managers have the two of them right now.
LiveFPL.net graphic on % ownership for Kane, Bale and Son
Adding Bale to a Spurs triple-up is an incredibly differential move, something only 0.06% of the game. A great way to make your Spurs players differentials, especially heading in to Gameweek 29 as the number of fixtures will make them popular picks.
That said, even as a Spurs fan, spending £29.9m of your FPL budget on the our attackers feels a lot, likely too much especially as we are yet to see if this performance in the first fixture of Gameweek 26 will be replicated against Fulham.
However, ahead of Gameweek 29 owning a combination of Son, Kane and Bale, potentially with Sergio Reguilón (£5.5m) as a means to balance the budget could be a good idea especially when we consider how many teams blank in Gameweek 29 as well as other factors which are currently playing in to my thinking.
As someone who is heavily invested in Spurs, making the move from Salah to Bale feels risky especially as we haven’t yet seen a consistency of starts in the league just yet.
Should Bale start against Fulham in the second game of Double Gameweek 26 and if managers want to invest in him for Gameweek 29 then doing it ahead of the Gameweek 27 deadline feels wise as Bale could get as much joy out of the Palace defence as he did the Burnley backline.
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