What a nice feeling this is, to have a deadline almost 48 hours after the press conferences. Time to relax and reflect. This is, of course, unless you are on a Free Hit. For those of us using this chip, we all have another 48 hours to overthink things!
For my final article this season, I’ll share some thoughts on Free Hit drafts heading into the deadline at 10.30am BST on Sunday. More specifically, I want to talk about what options we have to calibrate the risk profile of the Free Hit, taking into account your rank goals or mini-league state. I’ll go from the straight bat, forward defensive to the ‘six in the stands’ draft. Remember though, the riskier your shot, the higher the likelihood of getting out.
With good reason, I see seven players locked in most Free Hit teams. These are:
- Jordan Pickford
- Matty Cash, Lucas Digne
- Mohamed Salah, Son Heung-min
- Richarlison, Danny Ings
One could argue that Philippe Coutinho or Ollie Watkins could make it, instead of say, Digne, if they were nailed to start both games. But with Steven Gerrard’s comments yesterday on Watkins’ availability for the Crystal Palace game, it reduces the appeal for both players on a Free Hit: Watkins for obvious reasons but I say Coutinho as well because if Watkins does indeed return against Burnley, there is a risk Villa play two up top with Emiliano Buendia in behind. I’m not suggesting this will happen, I’m just saying it’s a risk. I should also add that for those not on a Free Hit, both Coutinho and Watkins are easy holds. Both could play 120 mins+, which may be enough.
The above seven take up about £61m of the budget. Add another £16.6m for the four bench spots and we have a total £77.6m spend. How can we calibrate risk for the remaining £25-27m?
The safe draft
Using the remainder of the budget to add the two highest owned defenders and a high owned forward is the safest Free Hit draft in my view. There is limited upside but also very limited downside. I have essentially used up the remaining budget on Harry Kane, Jooa Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold (or Andrew Robertson, for those with a low team value).
With this team, I own four of the five most owned players in the top 10k. The missing one is Bukayo Saka, who you can cautiously back against given the tougher fixture on paper away to Newcastle.
A word on Kane v Kevin De Bruyne. Despite the Belgian’s unreal performance versus Wolves in midweek, I am backing Kane. I think with Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez likely coming back into the fold, it will change De Bruyne’s role back to the assister. He may do splendidly there as well but when you also add the fact that West Ham are playing their final home game, I expect the Hammers to put in a disciplined performance and stay competitive till the end.
Kane on the other hand will be on a high after the strong outing in the north London derby. Spurs can smell fourth place, and this should mean a strong performance at home to Burnley to keep the pressure up on Arsenal, who themselves have a tough away game at St James’ Park.
The bold draft
In the next version, let’s take away the 86% owned (in the top 10k) City defender, Joao Cancelo. This draft turns him into Diogo Jota or Luis Diaz depending on whoever gets fewer minutes in the FA Cup final on Saturday. To fund this, it also removes Kane or De Bruyne to a 0.27%-owned Jamie Vardy, who doubles vs Watford and Chelsea. If somehow we get news pre-deadline that Vardy starts the Watford game, it may be worth going there.
This gives the draft more upside, both from an effective ownership perspective but also in the fact that it attacks the Southampton fixture that Liverpool may use to make a final push to close the goal difference on Man City.
The very bold draft
The next draft removes another 86% owned (in top 10k) defender in Alexander-Arnold and upgrades Jota to De Bruyne. Is it high risk? Yes? Could it pay off? Of course.
While this team looks really good on paper, I do worry about only having one player in a well-owned Liverpool team against a Southampton side that have looked dire recently. When you add that “risk” to also not owning Cancelo and Kane, two popular players in non-Free Hit drafts, you are indeed in very high-risk/high-reward territory.
The ‘YOLO’ draft
Want to throw everything into this Gameweek? Don’t care if you lose 20-50k in rank, as long as you can tell the grandkids you tried? Well, then sell Mohamed Salah for Sadio Mane. The money saved can go into upgrading Vardy back to Kane, so you’ve got four big-hitters from Liverpool, City and Spurs all in one draft. For those that can’t get to this because of team value, can downgrade Vitalli Mykolenko or Cash to the centre-backs from those teams eg. Mason Holgate and Tyrone Mings.
There are, of course, many other variants to the Free Hit in Gameweek 37. One can add James Maddison, Anthony Gordon and Coutinho and/or change the formation. I stuck to the paths that I have been considering the most. It’s fair to say that I am currently looking at variants #1 and #2, but that is because I am currently ranked at 9.5k, which is close to my end-of-season goal.
Lots may counter this piece and say, you should simply pick the team that scores the most points. To them I say, I think all these teams score similar points. What differentiates them is the volatility in rank change if things work out better or worse than the expectation.
Good luck whatever path you choose. We’re nearly there, folks!
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