Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. Boy, did I pick a bad time to hit the "Back" button on my webpage during my first attempt to write this column. I've been doing this for several years and, once or twice, I have had to republish because of system issues, but I can safely say this is a first. One tap of the finger in the wrong place at the wrong time and POOF!, goodbye two hours of work. It just goes to show, none of us are infallible, and FPL has a way of reminding us of that nearly every week. So, like a disappointing round in fantasy, with a glowing red-arrow staring you in the face, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and live to fight another day. So let me take a crack at the 2.0 version of this week's column. Winky-face emoji here.
Right, last week's captaincy debate was filled with several attractive candidates, as most of the clubs who are flying high were matched up against sides wallowing in or around the relegation zone. Jamie Vardy crushed the armband stats though, with over two million managers backing him in the FPL game and a landslide 71.2% of managers captained the Leicester striker among those ranked in the top 10k. The round however, belonged to those that had patience and faith in a pair of world-class players, as Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne lit up the gameweek, the latter only captained by .3% of managers in the top 10k and was actually sold by more managers before his season-high 19 point haul than in any other week this season, except Week 8, the one game he missed out due to injury. So remember folks, and this can apply to more things than fantasy football during the holiday season, patience is a virtue. And also, perhaps less poetic, Salah and de Bruyne are world-class players. If they are fit, they are armband candidates, always. Unless, of course, you don't have a game to play, such is the case with Liverpool this weekend, so Salah and Mane owners will have to look elsewhere.
With that and with the next round coming on Boxing Day, let me go ahead now and wish a happy holiday to you and yours. My Christmas Day will have time spent getting the Week 19 column ready, and no, I do not consider that a tough break, but a great present waiting for me under my tree. It brings me joy to share what information I can with you all season long, especially during the holidays. So, enough with the sappy sentimentality, let's press on with the Week 18 edition of Captain Obvious...
Jamie Vardy (10.1m)
Ownership % - 51.3% (last week, 50.7%)
Season points - 133 (16 Gs, 5 As, 22 BPs)
Opponent - Manchester City (away)
While Vardy grabbed the lion's share of armbands across the FPL landscape last week, he did not deliver what we had hoped. But the thing that can be frustrating about managing your FPL squad is also the same reason why we love to watch the Premier League - you never know what to expect and the moment you think a certain result is "guaranteed", you are in for a sobering surprise. That said, let's not spoil the Vardy Party altogether. He did give us an attacking return, for the ninth straight game, mind, as he provided the assist for the lone goal in a surprising 1-1 draw at home to Norwich. Vardy wasn't invisible in this match, he had a healthy five shots and two of those hit the target, making it seven times in the last eight games he has hit the target at least twice. What we are anxious to see is how the Foxes respond to a surprise draw after winning eight games on the trot and they have (what should be) a much tougher opponent this weekend in Manchester City.
The matchup, away at the Etihad, along with a smaller-than-expected return in the last round, will likely see a significant drop in armband support for Vardy, though not as much as one would expect had Liverpool's fixture with West Ham been rescheduled. Despite delivering week after week, and City's defense being perhaps as weak as it has been in the Pep Guardiola era, there is some historic support for trepidation. The Foxes haven't earned a positive result at The Etihad since their title-winning campaign of 2015/16. Even in that 1-3 win, Vardy did not have an attacking return, and no Fox delivered in this fixture last season with the Citizens winning 1-0. That said, Vardy did score in a 5-1 loss two seasons back and does have a hat trick against the Sky Blues on his resume, albeit at home. City's defense can be scored upon. There is a reason why their highest-scoring fantasy defender so far this season has less points than Aaron Cresswell. (Yes, that is a fact) And the center back pairing of Nicolás Otamendi and Fernandinho is not what Pep envisioned over the summer. That said, to their credit, they did get the job in their most recent result, keeping a clean sheet against Arsenal on the road.
Harry Kane (10.9m)
Ownership % - 19.6% (last week, 19.2%)
Season points - 84 (9 Gs, 2 As, 12 BPs)
Opponent - Chelsea (home)
In another expected turn of events last weekend, I had pointed out the merits of not one, not two, but three Tottenham assets, and none of them were involves in the two goals that were scored in the late win over Wolves. To be fair, I did nominate all three as second-tier options, leaving them off the shortlist. So why would I have the nerve to push Harry Kane into the shortlist this week, when Spurs have a tough derby matchup against a top four side? Well, for one, Chelsea are struggling, having lost four of their last five games, keeping just one clean sheet in their last eight.
What's more, and granted, it is a small sample size, Spurs attack has looked very sharp in their first two league games at home under José Mourinho, averaging four goals in those two games. Kane's numbers have looked very strong in those contests, particularly in the assist department, as he has combined for eight key passes in those two matches that led to three assists. He also scored a goal, so that makes for two attacking returns on average at home with Mourinho in charge. Again, in fairness, it is a small sample size and if Chlesea were in better form, I may bump Kane down a tier in the captaincy debate. For what it's worth, Kane scored a goal in this fixture last season, despite the 2018/2019 campaign being the least productive one Kane has had in half a decade.
Marcus Rashford (9.1m)
Ownership % - 27.9% and rising fast
Season points - 103 (10 Gs, 5 As, 20 BPs)
Opponent - Watford (away)
I said it last week, and I am a man of my word - Marcus Rashford is definitely worthy of a spot on the shortlist this week, with Liverpool not playing and matchups like City v Leicester and Tottenham v Chelsea on the docket. No player has seen more investment than the United forward in recent weeks, as Rashford's price has gone up from 8.4m in Week 10 to its current 9.1m tag, averaging about a .1m increase every single week, to where now more than one in four managers have his as a weapon. Well, I would imagine those managers are feeling very good about owning him for this coming round, despite the fact that he is coming off a rare blank last weekend.
That blank was by no means due to inactivity for Rashford though. He took a healthy six shots against Everton with three of those hitting the target, both of those underlying stats just one short of his season-high in any game this season. There is not much to glean from his history against Watford. Last season, he missed this fixture serving a red card suspension and the season before that he was not a regular starter and only featured as a substitute at Vicarage Road. Due to other fixtures and a lack of Liverpool options, Rashford is very high on my list of arnband candidates, so much so that I could see a four point hit to fit him into your squad a calculated risk worth taking. The one thing I will say though to balance out the argument is that Watford are much improved defensively in recent weeks. They kept a clean sheet in their last home game, and though they lost 0-2 on either side of that result, they were both on the road against the top two sides in the league, Liverpool and Leicester. When you combine that with the fact that United seem to play better against the top sides and slip up against the weaker sides, there is a chance that what looks to be a "can't miss" captaincy choice could wind up in disappointment. That said, I am quite nervous going into the weekend without him in my side.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Ownership % - 13 %, 22.6% (last week, 12%, 20.1% respectively)
Season points - 62 (5 Gs, 3 As, 8 BPs), 90 (5 Gs, 9 As, 10 BPs) respectively
Opponent - Chelsea (home)
This London derby could go any number of ways, but based on recent form, where Chelsea have lost four of five, facing their roughest form under Frank Lampard, while Tottenham are on the upswing, and certainly feeling positive after snatching a late winner on the road to Wolves, I have to lean toward Spurs players as captaincy options while turning my back on the Blues. I hope that does not come back to haunt me, but even with my bias toward one club, I am being as pragmatic as any neutral fan would be in terms of who to feel confident about with the armband.
As was stated under the Harry Kane selection in the shortlist, last week was a bit of a surprise in that Spurs were able to win on the road and score a couple of goals, but none of the "big three" attackers were involved in any fantasy returns. Still, that has not deterred managers from investing in the club, as all three are being bought up this week, with Heung-Min Son having risen in price once during the buildup to the Chelsea match and Alli and Kane projected for a price rise as well by the time the Saturday deadline comes. Kane, Alli, and Son are all capable of doing something special in this fixture. It could be Kane firing a 30 yard blast into the roof of the net, Son making a surging run before delivering a clinical finish, or Alli making an acrobatic move to set himself up for a score. All three were heavily involved in Tottenham's previous home game, so I find no fault in a manager giving an armband to any of them, if they only have one of these three in their squads.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.3m)
Ownership % - 41.8%
Season points - 116 (6 Gs, 11 As, 16 BPs)
Opponent - Leicester (home)
I was down on City options last week, in a rare round where no one player made the shortlist, as I had a difficult time foreseeing the outcome of their matchup with Arsenal. Well, if you felt confident of a comprehensive City win, then you may have struck gold with the armband, as the Belgian midfielder produced his best points total of the season with 19, and fellow candidate Raheem Sterling hit double-digits himself with a 10 point return. The Citizens took advantage of the rudderless ship that is Arsenal. That ship may now have its commander in Mikel Arteta, but his appointment has yet to be announced as of this writing. Back to City though, am I being too pessimistic about De Bruyne by not including him in the shortlist. Honestly, perhaps. As I said before, he is a player you keep in your squad, as he has shown his original starting price to be well undervalued, he is always involved in creating chances, and any run of non-returns will be short-lived, provided he is fit.
Still, last weekend's result aside, with City winning convincingly and Leicester only able to draw at home to Norwich, it has to be said that for an extended period of time, Leicester has been the better of the two clubs and owners of the best defensive record in the league, with just eleven goals conceded through their first seventeen games. My projection for De Bruyne in this matchup is one assist and 0 or 1 bonus point. That is by no means a disaster captaincy return in what is a tough week to find a trustworthy player to back, so you have my blessing if you want to back him. I would just temper my expectations with the chances of a double digit score rather low.
Honorable Mention: This week, I was tweeted at by a fantasy manager who wanted my thoughts on his plan on buy Jack Grealish and then give him the armband. My response was, after seeing his squad, that I have more trust in a return from the likes of Jamie Vardy or Heung-Min Son, but, that if there was ever a week to think outside the box and give the armband to a player that normally is not in the conversation, this is the week. Other examples of players I might like to give a look for captaincy include Raúl Jiménez, who has been consistent and has a pretty good matchup against Norwich, WilFred Zaha, who has three goals in his last five games and is playing Newcastle, and Danny Ings, who had scored in five straight before last week's blank, and he hit the post in that blank against West Ham. On paper, this has the makings of one of the lower average round scores of any gameweek this season, so if you want to spice things up a bit and perhaps hit paydirt in the process, this may be a good week to get creative with the armband.
Hit me up on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles and let me know your thoughts on who you've nominated for captain and why. Good luck with your selection this weekend and may your arrows be green.