Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. Not to get all poetic on you, but I am watching the sun set outside my window for the final time this decade as I write this. On the one hand, it makes one dwell on the events of the last ten years, and get quite introspective. On the other, it is reminding me that I need to get cracking on this column in time for tonight's festivities. So, with the last of column of 2019 and of the decade, this very special decade where fantasy Premier League morphed from a passionate hobby to a fully realized occupation, I would like to extend a Happy New Year to you and yours. Have a great celebration, wherever you may be, and let's look forward to another decade of FPL high jinks. (I swear I thought "high jinks" was one word, but spell-correct has told me otherwise. See, time to learn one last thing before the end of the 2010's)
Right, we will return to our regularly scheduled broadcast in Week 22, where there is a bit of down time to watch some game tape and do a more thorough analysis of captaincy options. But, I still want to take a second to share my latest heartbreaking FPL decision. With a half hour left before the Week 20 deadline, I sat there with a free transfer that I could have put in my pocket. Instead, I thought it was wise to use it by doing a sideways move to replace Sadio Mané for Mo Salah, as I felt the latter was less at risk of a rest and I wanted as many players like that in my XI. As you all know, it would have wound up being a much better result to have held Mane. But here is where the knife was twisted even further for me. Remember how I just said that I wanted to count on players that were destines to start and not to be stuck with a rested star player in Week 21? Well, Kevin De Bruyne met that need, and I had the armband on him until I made the Mane to Salah transfer. Not only did I throw away a transfer, not only did I lose out on Mane's points...I blew a chance to get De Bruyne's 14-point haul doubled as I gave Salah the armband. I am too traumatized to do the math, but one move cost me at least 20 points and I would have been a lot happier right now had I fell asleep an hour before the deadline or if my internet connection went dead. So there you have it, one more horror story to squeeze in before the calendar flips. Now then, let's wipe the slate clean as we get our fantasy game ready for 2020 with this Week 21 edition of Captain Obvious...
Jamie Vardy (10.1m)
Ownership % - 51.5% (last week, 51.5%)
Season points - 144 (17 Gs, 5 As, 25 BPs)
Opponent - Newcastle (road)
It really was best-case scenario for Vardy owners and those that captained him in Week 20. Between not having had a rest all season, Brendan Rodgers quoted as saying the striker would not start every game of the festive period and a new baby on the way, all three factors met, and in a round where most of folks' vice-captains started and, in many cases, delivered. No harm done. Now, with a third game in six days for most players in this hectic week, so many armband options will come with a cloud of uncertainty regarding rest, but not Vardy. That is an incredibly comforting aspect of his appeal as your captain in Week 21 and should see plenty of armband investment by those paying attention for that very reason.
In a normal round, in a typical one-game-per-week schedule, Vardy would already have plenty of appeal, given his FPL-best points production, consistent form and decent matchup, the sometimes-good, typically not-that-great Newcastle United. The Magpies have had some good performances in the first half of the season and they have had some duds. But they are quite fortunate to see themselves currently at 11th position in the league table. They have a -10 goal difference on the season, compared to Aston Villa's -11 GD, with the Villans currently stuck in the relegation zone. Vardy had no problem earlier this season in the reverse fixture. He has had a brace or better in four games so far in this campaign, and one of those was against this opponent.
Mo Salah (12.3m), Sadio Mané (12.3m)
Ownership % - 24.4% and 38.4%, respectively
Season points - 110 (9 Gs, 4 As, 13 BPs), 132 (10 Gs, 8 As, 18 BPs) respectively
Opponent - Sheffield United (home)
Both of these Liverpool stars belong on the captaincy shortlist, though Mane is clearly the more attractive option of the two, coming off a better performance against Wolves. The finish on his match-winning goal was sublime and he is showing no signs of slowing down what is shaping up to be his career-best season. Both took two shots in Week 20 with both hitting the target on one of them. Salah, though, was less stingy than he was in his previous game, supplying three key passes to Mane's one. Liverpool are going to score more than once in most games, and will look to do so against a solid Sheffield United defense, who held the Reds to a low scoring 0-1 win at Bramall Lane earlier this season.
Given both went the full 90 minutes against Wolves, both would seem equally susceptible to a rest against the Blades. There is good news and bad news for those worried about either of these options not starting this weekend. The good news, they are playing the one fixture on Thursday, so they are given an extra day of recovery compared to most clubs heading into this round. The bad news - they then have an FA Cup game against their derby rivals Everton less than 72 hours later on Sunday. With an eye on taking every trophy they can and the league title looking all but sewn up, along with their impeccable home record and plenty of options like Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri to turn to, one could see how this might be a game where one or both start life on the bench. They also have some tests in league play immediately after the FA Cup tie, with games against Tottenham and Manchester United back-to-back. Just to emphasize, this schedule does not mean it is a given that one or either player are rested, but it does create some logical speculation that it could happen.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.5m)
Ownership % - 50% (last week, 48.2%)
Season points - 139 (7 Gs, 14 As, 19 BPs)
Opponent - Everton (home)
In my last column, I had De Bruyne on the shortlist despite having yet played his Week 19 fixture. Hopefully, you caught Pep Guardiola mentioning after that game that the Belgian was subbed off early to preserve him for the match against Sheffield United. If I had that information for Week 20, I would have been even more bullish on him in the captaincy argument and, as you may have read in the intro to this week's column, I was all set to get his big points haul against the Blades doubled...until I didn't. De Bruyne's stats are just ridiculous, particularly over the past seven games. We all know he is one of the very best creator of chances on the planet, and his league-lead in assists is testament to that fact. But, he is getting plenty of chances to score himself, taking an average of four shots per game over the last seven games. That is very healthy for the league's top forwards, nevermind a midfielder.
So, the consistency, a home game, a big haul in the last round...everything statistically is making De Bruyne look like an attractive armband option against the Toffees. The only concern, like every other player who started in Week 20 is - will he get rested? My very confident guess is "no way". Manchester City are also involved in FA Cup action this weekend, but instead of playing another top-flight club like Liverpool having to play Everton, the Citizens will be playing at home against Port Vale - a midtable side in League Two. You can bet your bottom dollar that game will be one where all players in the squad who have been non-starters most, if not all, of the season, will be given this game to run out and see some competitive action while the likes of De Bruyne may be left out of the squad entirely. If looked at that way, then De Bruyne will have ten days to recover between games, so expect him to start on New Year's Day.
Harry Kane (11m)
Ownership % - 20.7% (last week, 20.6%)
Season points - 102 (11 Gs, 2 As, 16 BPs)
Opponent - Southampton (away)
The honeymoon period for José Mourinho, if there ever was one, has faded away as Tottenham once again played below their expectation levels, taking only one point off of last-place Norwich in Week 20. It has to be said, it comes as no surprise to me that he has scored in consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 6 and 7, as the absence of Heung-Min Son has required the English striker to pick up the slack. He had multiple key passes and multiple shots on target against the Canaries, the last time he did that was in the 5-0 win over Burnley in which he scored twice and had an assist. Yes, it seems Kane can be counted on against sides in the bottom half of the table and Southampton is one of those sides, though to their credit they have been playing much better in recent weeks.
That said, Kane scored against the Saints already this season in the reverse fixture, so I have every reason to include him on the shortlist for Week 21. The only lingering question, and yes it is a reoccurring theme, is whether or not there is any chance of a rest. Well, you may have remembered that I included Dele Alli along with Kane in the last column and this week, he is nowhere to be found. I think Mourinho may make some changes and may hand Alli a rest following the underwhelming draw at Norwich. Kane, for me though, seems the most trustworthy outfield player to start for Spurs. The defense needs addressing, but until they Mourinho can find a way to fix that, he needs to lean on his main supplier of goals. Spurs play Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Sunday, which seems the right time to hand Kane a rest.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Tammy Abraham (7.9m)
Ownership % - 32.5% (last week, 36.1%)
Season points - 110 (12 Gs, 3 As, 20 BPs)
Opponent - Brighton (away)
I've got five names on the shortlist and I see a significant drop-off after that. Abraham is probably the closet to cracking the shortlist and I suppose that makes him the "best of the rest", but I do have my issues with him. While he did score in Week 20, the trust factor is not all the way back there for me as a top tier armband selection, and that goes for the rest of Chelsea's assets. That said, even though he played the full 90 minutes in the previous two games making a third start in a week a little dicey, it is difficult to imagine that they will make too many changes, among their every-week starters anyway, following the big derby win over Arsenal and a chance to play their fringe players, Michy Batshuayi for example, in the FA Cup home game against Nottingham Forest at the weekend. Frank Lampard needs to get the side back on track and maintain their lead in the top four, so I am expecting an Abraham start but also prepared to see him subbed off after 70 minutes.
All three of these options will be squaring off head to head when the Gunners host the Red Devils in what I suppose could be considered the crown jewel fixture of New Year's Day. I am expecting all three to start in this big game - Rashford played just a bit over an hour in Week 19 so he has had some rest, but did looked pretty gassed when he scored for United at the end of their win over Burnley. Meanwhile, Martial is in top form with three goals in his last two and Aubameyang is as vital to his club's chances as any one player probably is this season, so his inclusion would seem safe. It is just another one of those tough-to-call matchups for me, where all three could dip into the points or all go quiet. Rashford's record against the Big Six, and United in general's record, has been solid, but while Arsenal may be considered a member of the Big Six, they haven't looked it lately, or for much of the season for that matter, having taken just two points from their last four. United seem to have more confidence at the moment but, in a vacuum, I think Aubameyang is the most dependable captaincy option of the trio. It's a gamble on either one, but one you are allowed to make if have a strong gut feeling. The upside is, the armband rate among FPL managers for these options should be pretty low, so you have a nice potential differential on your hands.
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.