Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. Right about now as I write this, most of you are in slumber, with visions of sugar plumbs dancing in your head. But now you are up, gift-wrapping paper is strewn all over your living room and there is a disagreement between two of your family members over whether "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie or not. Let me just put the argument to bed - it IS a Christmas movie. It is set during Christmas, the holiday lends to both the atmosphere and the plot of the story, a bad guy is wearing a sweatshirt with "Ho-Ho-Ho" written on it...it's a Christmas movie. The real question is, why has this become a hot topic over 30 years later?
Meanwhile, the question I will be asking myself, bringing things back to FPL, is "Why did I pick this week to bring a player in on an early transfer?". Week 18 was an emotional roller-coaster to say the least. On paper, it was looking to play out like a nightmare. I had two key Liverpool players benched. Big clubs were playing each other, making a high-scoring round look next to impossible. I didn't have Marcus Rashford, which had me nervous. And, as the round got underway, my transfer in, Matt Targett, was a one-point bust. Despite all that I had moved up about 80k in the ranks once the round was over. And yet, it still played out like a disaster in my mind. With one match to play, I was on a green arrow with three players to go, including captain. My Spurs were set to take on a struggling Chelsea side and I had visions of a top four spot for Tottenham in time for Christmas.
The result: Chelsea spanked my team, yet they did it without either of my fantasy reps, Mason Mount or Tammy Abraham, having any attacking returns. My one Spurs rep, Dele Alli, who was given the armband, as I tried to go for a differential, wound up being the worst-possible choice of any of my starting XI players, with a one-point, yellow carded stinker. But the cherry on top of this holiday no-fun sundae? After executing transfers for the last few weeks for the purpose of targeting a specific player to bring in while I could still afford him and be happy with the rest of my squad, I finally got my wish and made an early, Saturday transfer in of Heung-Min Son, who is now out of my squad with four points spent after picking up a three-match ban. It was the worst way to end a round in recent memory and, I am pretty sure, the first time in a decade of FPL ups and downs where I transferred in a player who would get a three-match ban before I even got to use him. I suppose for those that captained Son, it could be said they got it worse. But there is something extra unnerving about spending several rounds to set up a specific transfer only for it to explode in your face because you risked bringing him in one day too soon.
Right, so while I attempt to clean out the remnants of coal dust left in my stocking, let me get back into the Christmas spirit by presenting the Week 19 edition of Captain Obvious...
Jamie Vardy (10.1m)
Ownership % - 51.4% (last week, 51.3%)
Season points - 142 (17 Gs, 5 As, 25 BPs)
Opponent - Liverpool (home)
Vardy saw his captaincy percentage take a significant dip for Week 18, and the Leicester striker once again delivered, scoring a goal and taking the maximum bonus despite Leicester taking a 3-1 loss. It's not often that the lone goal-scorer of a team that loses by a 3-1 margin gets any bonus, and if he does, perhaps one point. But that is the magic of Jamie Vardy this season, as he on pace now for over 50 fantasy points from bonus alone. Despite having an attacking return now in ten straight games, managers are STILL going to be apprehensive about making him their captain this week because Leicester get another tough fixture when the host Liverpool.
This may be the time to look at captaining Vardy as something of a differential, then. Sure, it's a tough fixture. But Vardy's scoring streak has lasted so long, you have to go back to the reverse fixture, when Leicester lost at Anfield, to find the last time he did not deliver. Now, this match is at home, and let me point out something quite promising about his chances. Last season, Vardy missed this fixture because he was serving a suspension. But how is this for the previous three games at home to the Reds dating back to Leicester's title-winning season - three games, FIVE goals. Liverpool are coming off of back-to-back clean sheets, so their defense is in good form at the moment, but past history and the fact that the Foxes are ten points behind the Reds despite being neck-and-neck in goal difference makes me believe that if the league were to balance itself out over the course of the season, Leicester is due to hand Liverpool their first loss.
Harry Kane (11m)
Ownership % - 20% (last week, 19.6%)
Season points - 86 (9 Gs, 2 As, 12 BPs)
Opponent - Brighton (home)
Despite having blanked in his last two, and failing to deliver an attacking return in four of his last five, Harry Kane's price went up since the last deadline. Folks are believing in a Tottenham revival since the appointment of José Mourinho and the 5-0 drubbing of Burnley certainly brought a lot of buzz. However, there have been bumps in the road with the new boss, taking two losses against clubs in the "Big Six", both former clubs Mourinho managed, no less, and Tottenham were very fortunate to escape with a late winner at Wolves. The Burnley result is the only one so far that has been extremely positive. So, when we look at Kane as a potential armband candidate this week we are looking at two things. One, the absence of Son, while certainly not beneficial for the club overall, could theoretically see a tic up in chances of attacking returns for Kane. The other factor to consider is playing Brighton at home, a fixture which is as close to the Burnley matchup that Spurs have had in recent weeks. The Seagulls have not kept a clean sheet since Week 11 against Norwich, and the Canaries at that time couldn't score on anyone. Spurs should win this, as Mourinho is no doubt incensed following the Chelsea result. The question will be - how convincing a win?
Tammy Abraham (7.9m)
Ownership % - 36.1%
Season points - 101 (11 Gs, 3 As, 19 BPs)
Opponent - Southampton (home)
Abraham eclipsed the 100-point threshold last weekend, albeit quietly with a two point return. In fact, he has now blanked in three straight, his longest drought of the season. His underlying stats in recent weeks are starting to become a concern. In the last eight games in which he has played (he missed one due to injury during this stretch) he has registered only seven shots on target. He has scored three goals during that stretch but averaging less than one shot on target for that length of time. In contrast, for the first two and a half months or so of the season, Abraham was regularly hitting the target two or three times a game.
That's the bad news. The good news is this - Chelsea are at home. Chelsea are buzzing after a big win over a London rival after a poor run of form. Chelsea are facing the joint-worst defense in the league in Southampton. If you put those factors together and can buy into the notion that Abraham is "due", this could be a very profitable differential armband choice for Boxing Day.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7.9m)
Ownership % - 18.5%
Season points - 105 (11 Gs, 3 As, 18 BPs)
Opponent - Bournemouth (away)
Aubameyang has been the only consistent attacking player for Arsenal this season, so it is no surprise to see him included in the captaincy column when the Gunner have a good matchup. If things were a bit different though, I likely would not be including him in the shortlist and had him settled in the second-tier of options for the armband. However, there are two things that have me very interested in him this week, though admittedly, both factors do not guarantee a big return. For one, this will be the first match with Mikel Arteta fully in charge. I am expecting to see the best Arsenal have to offer for the managerial debut. For two, Bournemouth are completely decimated by injuries at the moment, especially at the back. Their entire preferred back four for most of the season will not be fit for this one, or, as is the case for Diego Rico, will be missing to serve a suspension. Even when Bournemouth are at full fitness, they are not known for being very good defensively. That said, they are coming off a clean sheet this past weekend. This is a matchup that is such a slam dunk where I would feel the need to transfer Aubameyang in at all costs if I didn't already have him, but if I DID have him in my side, I would like to take a chance on him with the armband.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Mo Salah, Sadio Mané (12.2m each)
Ownership % - 22.9% and 36.6%, respectively
Season points - 104 (9 Gs, 4 As, 13 BPs), 115 (9 Gs, 7 As, 15 BPs) respectively
Opponent - Leicester (away)
Now that Salah has found his form again, we have a weekly duo of Liverpool midfielders to consider for the armband, and just about every week, we will see them on the shortlist, as they are elite and it really comes down to luck as to which one you own (you most likely don't have both) and then which one has the bigger fantasy day. For this round though, it felt right to do two things - group them together and leave them out of the shortlist. Don't get me wrong, these are two of the very best fantasy options, there is a reason why they share the most expensive price tag in the game, so if your heart is telling you to go for one of them, I cannot stop you by saying "that makes no sense." All I can say though, is that, in my mind, this is probably the toughest fixture the Reds are going to have all season. Are we looking at a club poised to go undefeated? It is possible, but I don't think so. I am seeing a draw here or possibly a first Liverpool loss. Salah and Mane have the ability to score in any fixture, but this particular one is the game I have the least confidence in them in. Still, they certainly belong in the conversation.
Marcus Rashford (9.1m)
Ownership % - 28.5% (last week, 27.9%)
Season points - 105 (10 Gs, 5 As, 20 BPs)
Opponent - Newcastle (home)
Week after week, I want to keep telling myself "It is merely an aberration. This trend cannot possibly sustain itself." And yet, it does. What I am referring to is how Manchester United continue to do very well against the clubs above them in the table, the elite of the Premier League, while consistently disappointing against the smaller clubs below them in the table. Last weekend against Watford was no different, and Rashford has made me look pretty silly this season, seemingly ranking him high for his blanks and ignoring him for his big returns.
As United seem able to only deliver against the big clubs, such is the case for Rashford. The young forward has a brace against Chelsea this season, a top four side, goals against Leicester and Liverpool, the two best sides in the league, a goal away to Sheffield United, a tough place to score, a goal away to Manchester City and a brace against Spurs. Rashford's record against the smaller clubs is pedestrian at best and, if listed in its own compartment, would make one think he is not an armband candidate at all. United lost to Newcastle 1-0 in the reverse fixture earlier this season. Now, I cannot emphasize this enough - nothing is for certain in the Premier League. Rashford could very well deliver on Boxing Day, which is why he is being written about instead of being ignored entirely. But based on how things have gone this season, you can hopefully understand why I have him a tier below the best options for this round.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.4m)
Ownership % - 46.7% (last week, 41.8%)
Season points - 120 (6 Gs, 11 As, 16 BPs)
Opponent - Wolves (away)
Normally, I do not give an exact projection of an individual player's return for a given game, but for whatever reason in my last column, I did precisely that with De Bruyne, and I have to say, I nailed it. He was coming off his best fantasy return of the season but I only had him in the second tier of options, surmising that he would do no better than a single assist and get no bonus, or, at most, one bonus point. That is how the round played out to a tee and, like pointed out in the last column, that is not a captaincy failure, but a pedestrian return that kept him off the shortlist.
Now, for Week 19, I will not give a specific prediction of his returns once again. I mean, in this volatile game we play, if you hit a prediction perfectly, you get in and you get out of that game, because something is bound to make you look foolish soon enough. What I will say about KdB's armband outlook is that I see this matchup as being quite "similar" to last week with City traveling to Wolves. Take what you want from that, read the tea leaves if you will. As I have said before, players of De Bruyne's class and style are armband candidates every single week. But some weeks, the expectations are a bit more subdued than others. So, like I said, I am looking at this matchup as something similar to the game against Leicester last time out.
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.