Usually in this space, I moan and complain about a break in the Premier League action, especially when there’s an international break. But I think I speak for everyone when I say: Phew.
In the course of 31 days, we rattled through eight separate Premier League gameweeks that included an end to Manchester City’s win streak, the loss of Coutinho, and the triple captain disappointment that was Harry Kane. But now, after that 10-day FA Cup break, I think we’re ready to jump back in.
Amid all the chaos that was Gameweek 22, my recent December picks performed extremely well. My top performers were Marc Albrighton (goal, assist, two bonus points) and Aaron Cresswell (clean sheet, assist, two bonus points), while Davide Zappacosta also picked up an assist, Karl Darlow recorded a clean sheet and Jesse Lingard continued his roll with another goal.
Without further delay, here are the bargain hits and misses ahead of Gameweek 23. I’m welcoming all suggestions and debates on Twitter (@gastelumEPL) and hopefully I can include your thoughts here in this column.
All of the stats used in this column come straight from the Premier League on a weekly basis. Our friends at FPL.com take the data from a thousand private leagues, all of which consist of eight teams, in order to minimize the impact of data from public leagues where autopick drafting is more prevalent.
Of course, it’s just a sample size, so it’s not hard and fast; but it should give us a good idea of the tendencies of FPL Draft leagues and managers. Remember, the waivers deadline is a full 24 hours before the first game of the week, and the lowest-placed team in your league gets the first pick.
One-week Pick (OWP) - When a regular is suspended for a match, ineligible to face his parent club as a loanee, or his fill-in looks to deputize for only a week while the regular nurses a minor injury, this is where to find some replacements. They should only be looked at when you really need help at a position that week alone, and not looked at as long term plays. Best for salary cap leagues with unlimited transactions, not so much for draft leagues.
Short-term Pick (STP) - When a regular faces a multi-game suspension, an injury layoff lasting 2-5 weeks, international commitment, etc., this is where you look for players that can offer more beyond one week but do have a limited shelf life in most cases. Worth using a waiver claim or spending a bit more of your free agent budget (FAAB) than the One Week Buys. Can be useful in salary-cap format as long as you are comfortable with possibly needing to transfer them out in a few weeks.
Long-term Pick (LTP) - When a regular is either facing a month or more out or has lost his spot seemingly to someone better, these are the players that emerge as potential long-term investments and are therefore the most valuable of the group and worth paying up. Great for any format, but especially valuable in draft leagues with limited waiver claims.
GK– Alex McCarthy (Southampton)
This isn’t so much of a “go out and get him” pick as much as it is putting a new keeper onto your radar, especially for Fraser Forster owners. Forster, a perennially strong goalkeeper pick in FPL and a top contender to start for England at the World Cup this summer, was pulled in favor of Alex McCarthy following a dismal 5-2 loss to Tottenham in Gameweek 20 in which the No. 1 looked sluggish and slow in goal to the tune of a Harry Kane hat-trick.
Since, Mauricio Pellegrino has opted for McCarthy, a former QPR and Crystal Palace keeper who received exactly zero minutes behind Forster last season. But in his first game, he gave the manager something to think about with a man of the match performance with his clean sheet against Manchester United. He has started another game since and now looks to put serious pressure on Forster. I don’t expect it to last but I would keep an eye on him as a potential option if he continues to beat out Forster.
DEF- Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Here’s a move that has come about a year late for Liverpool, but nonetheless, I couldn’t be more excited to see van Dijk with his new side and I’m not even a Liverpool fan. The only downside is that Coutinho has jumped ship in the middle of a Champions League campaign, but I am one to argue that van Dijk’s arrival will have the same, if not more, of an impact than Coutinho’s departure. Finally, the club has a world-class defender to lead a beleaguered backline and support that scintillating attack.
Statistically, the Liverpool defense hasn’t been all that bad; their worst performances have come in spurts. Only five teams have conceded less goals than the Reds and their nine clean sheets are tied for fourth in the top flight. I only expect those stats to improve with the arrival of van Dijk for a world record fee for a defender (£75 million.) Better yet, we now have a bona fide starter to choose from along the Liverpool backline for when the schedule opens up. But Van Dijk is available in only 32 percent of our latest FPL Draft sample, so check your waiver wires now before it’s too late.
DEF- Jamaal Lascelles (Newcastle) 22.7
In case someone in your draft league has already snapped up van Dijk, allow me to put you on to a defender with an eerily similar skillset. As Newcastle captain, Lascelles has been the one constant this season in the Newcastle defense barring one injury that kept him out for five games. His absence had such an impact on the team that during said five-game stretch, the club conceded 15 goals—half of its current total for the season. But in the six games since his return, the Magpies have only conceded seven.
Things have turned around defensively for Newcastle since an inspiring performance in a 1-0 loss against Manchester City in Gameweek 20 as the club has recorded two straight clean sheets coming into the weekend home match with Swansea City, another promising fixture. Lascelles picked up a minor knock last week, so keep an eye on that, but I would regard the captain as a long-term pick available in nearly 80 percent of our FPL Draft sample and an excellent option to consider as a fifth defender.
MID- Andros Townsend (Crystal Palace)
Believe it or not, Townsend is Crystal Palace’s top scorer in Fantasy Premier League so far this season with his goal and five assists. The former Spurs attacker is showing his former potential in a World Cup year with a shot at breaking back into the England team. The winger has been in top form of late, recording a goal and three assists in his last five Premier League starts.
Update: Since writing this column, Townsend went down with an ankle injury in the club’s 2-1 loss to Brighton in the FA Cup on Monday. If you have Townsend or are considering him, keep an eye on the injury update this week, but chances are Townsend won’t be available this week. Depending on the severity of the injury, Townsend could still be a solid short-term pick as an attacking midfield option off your bench and is available in nearly three-fourths of FPL Draft leagues.
FWD – Andy Carroll (West Ham)
I’m kicking myself for not picking up Andy Carroll during the double gameweek last week because I nearly pulled the trigger. The former Newcastle star was at his very finest in a Gameweek 22 win against West Brom, scoring both of West Ham’s goals in a must-needed last-second win in front of a raucous home crowd. But then a minor injury limited him to only five minutes in the next game against Spurs, highlighting my reservations in the first place.
But as long as he stays healthy, Carroll appears to be a great option for FPL Draft managers looking for to take a high-reward risk in a third forward. Carroll is taken in only nine percent of our FPL Draft sample and looks like your best shot at a massive differential. He’s back to health now, and if Carroll stays healthy, David Moyes will look to him to lead the club out of the relegation battle and an offensive slump—something Carroll is surely capable of doing.