Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. You know, FPL can tend to lead to overreactions where one game can make people forget about a long-running trend and positively lose their minds. If there is one player capable of creating that environment but it is actually legitimate and deserved, let's go ahead and get this out of the way, it's...ahem...AGUERO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And...exhale. It did not take long into this new decade to be reminded who the best player in FPL had been in the previous decade. Sergio Agüero was fit and firing in ways only he can, putting up a ridiculous 20-point round, nearly 25% of the points he had for the entire season entering the game against Aston Villa. As a neutral observer, one cannot help but get a thrill watching Aguero dominate the way he did last weekend, but this breakout game does come with a catch. Most of us have been making transfers with little concern about funds. As long as one was comfortable owning just one of Mo Salah or Sadio Mané, the lack of production and playing time for the likes of Harry Kane and Aguero made life pretty easy when selecting the front three. In fact, I am beginning to see why Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not had the love that his production should reflect: if you could survive without him, you can have three productive forwards for under 10m each (provided you owned Jamie Vardy long before now), allowing for a killer midfield and a couple of elite defenders. But now we cannot help but pay attention to what Aguero does going forward. Either you are super-excited (an injury to Marcus Rashford and a suspension for Aubameyang opens the door for many managers to fill the spot with Aguero ahead of this weekend) or you are super-nervous, like me, as you attempt to see how long you can go before Aguero is a must-own. I have a current front line of Vardy, Ings and Abraham and I cannot justify a double transfer and spending points to fit Aguero in just yet. Who knows though, writing this article could talk myself into it.
Right, the Aguero Show may be back on the air but there are still a plethora of armband options to consider so let's dive right in to the Week 23 edition of Captain Obvious...
Kevin De Bruyne (10.7m)
Ownership % - 52.6% (last week, 51.4%)
Season points - 150 (7 Gs, 16 As, 19 BPs)
Opponent - Crystal Palace (home)
Last week, I mentioned that I was considering putting the armband on De Bruyne and leaving it there until further notice, as my luck with picking the right captain was beginning to get under my skin. Well, it will take a while to see if I stick to my guns on that strategy, but I did back him last weekend and I felt pretty satisfied with the result, despite the fact that the Belgian was only the fourth-highest scoring attacking player on his own team in Week 22. Still, the logic I used last weekend was in full view. That logic being - City has the most dangerous attack in the league, can be counted on for at least two goals in a game virtually every single week, with a chance of a lopsided score at any time. That big score came against Aston Villa, and it is no surprise De Bruyne played a part in two goals, on his way to adding to his league-leading and record pace-setting sixteen assists.
You could not be as unselfish as De Bruyne was last weekend. It was the first time this entire season that he did not take a single shot himself in a game he started. There is a bit of a concern about whether this trend will continue in terms of his captaincy potential. The previous game, he took only one shot against Everton, failing to hit the target. Before that, he had gone a long time where he was consistently taking four or five shots a game. We cannot expect six goals a game every week from City, and it should be noted they are taking on a Palace side that has not conceded more than one goal in their last nine games. But with their front three combining for all six goals against Villa, Pep Guardiola's side may attempt to execute the same style of play where De Bruyne is strictly providing and not taking shots himself. Still, sitting atop all FPL players on points this season, De Bruyne deserves plenty of armband investment this weekend. The ceiling may be a little lower than one would like but the floor for him remains high.
Jamie Vardy (10.1m)
Ownership % - 50.7% (last week, 49.3%)
Season points - 149 (17 Gs, 6 As, 25 BPs)
Opponent - Burnley (away)
Leicester is trying to navigate through the roughest patch of their season to date. After losing only twice in their first seventeen games, they have lost three of their last five, having just lost at home to Southampton last weekend and dropping below Manchester City to third in the table. Vardy was able to get an attacking return however, assisting the lone goal for the Foxes. There has been some strange transfer movement with him in recent weeks. He saw a price drop and a dip below 50% ownership, due to missing two consecutive matches, but those missed matches were due to a birth of a child and a minor injury. He was bound to return soon enough and, after one five-point return, has now seen a price rise this week and back over the 50% ownership threshold. Sometimes, you just need to know when it is too late to transfer a player out, with the worst being behind you. There is bound to be a least a few managers who sold him, losing whatever value they may have built on his selling price, only to buy him right back at a higher price. This is not good management.
Right, so the big question is, are we starting to lose faith in Leicester and therefore, Vardy, based on their dip in form in recent weeks? It is certainly a situation to monitor as the title is pretty much settled and, barring a complete collapse, they should be able to glide to a top four finish. So there is a chance they have lost some momentum and it can show itself in results like the one against the Saints, a match they should have done better than they did. That is why this weekend is huge. The Foxes are taking on Burnley. The Clarets have a reputation under Sean Dyche to be a tough defense to crack, but several times this season they have looked pretty poor executing their defense-first gameplan. How Leicester responds this weekend will say a lot about how to feel about them for the foreseeable future. It could be argued that it is more important they win convincingly with Vardy not getting an attacking return than it is for Vardy to return something, like he did last weekend, in a negative result, when it comes to his appeal as a captain moving forward. Just one point behind De Bruyne for the top-scoring FPL player honors though, Vardy belongs on the shortlist and will see plenty of deserved investment this weekend.
Mo Salah (12.3m), Sadio Mané (12.4m)
Ownership % - 25.5%, 39.9% (last week, 25.0% and 39.7%, respectively)
Season points - 126 (10 Gs, 5 As, 15 BPs), 143 (11 Gs, 8 As, 18 BPs) respectively
Opponent - Manchester United (home)
Next gameweek, which by the way starts on Tuesday evening, these two will be featured in separate sections and broken down as much as possible as the double gameweek for Liverpool will make the Captain Obvious column almost exclusively about them. (Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson will get their due time as well) But for now, the Liverpool duo remain neck and neck when it comes to the armband debate, with Salah closing the gap a bit on Mane for total points on the season after returning an assist for the lone goal scored in the win over Tottenham. On the season now, on a points per game basis, Mane is sitting at 7.2 per game while Salah is at an even 7.0. Neither of these players fade out or dominate the other long enough to feel like there is anything more than luck behind picking the right one if you own both. This is what is going to make the double gamweek so pivotal for managers. Do you make room for both so that you are "guaranteed" to have the player that scores highest, or do you just cross your fingers that you have the right one and at least can forego the selection headache in picking the right one to captain.
But you see what I've done? I am already putting the cart before the horse, looking ahead to Week 24. The question is, how do these options look going into the weekend against Manchester United? Well, there is one key stat that I think deserves more attention than any other, and it is a rather simple one - the Red Devils are the only side to so much as draw with the Reds this season. That may give them a shot of confidence. But, two things going against that notion - one, this is the Anfield fixture and Liverpool are simply invincible at home (until they aren't, of course) and the loss of Marcus Rashford certainly does not help United's chances. There seems to be a key tactic to at least giving one a shot to solve the Reds and that is playing three at the back. United did so in the draw earlier in the year and, in recent games, Wolves held them to a single goal as well as Spurs, playing three at the back. This gives me a bit of trepidation in giving either Mane or Salah the armband this weekend, but both still deserve a spot on the shortlist, with Salah having a slight edge over Mane, in my view, for managers who own both players. He has most recently been the hotter of the two, for what it's worth, and I think I have made it clear throughout the season that it is not worth much - one is capable of outperforming the other in any given match.
Sergio Agüero (11.8m)
Ownership % - 14.1%
Season points - 102 (13 Gs, 4 As, 11 BPs)
Opponent - Crystal Palace (home)
Right, this is the entry you all have been waiting for, yeah? Well, what can I say? I will be heading into the weekend without Aguero in my side and it has me on pins and needles. I think he is an excellent armband option and this is not simply a kneejerk reaction to his 20-point haul from last weekend. Let me make the case that goes a bit deeper. First, experienced FPL managers are well aware of this fact: A fit and firing Aguero is always an armband option. The phrase "Always Captain Aguero" has been shared around the FPL community for nearly a decade for a reason. He, unlike any player in the game, can make a manager turn their squad upside-down to get him in when he is going good. What matters even more though is the timing of this recent explosion. If you look at the schedule for City between now and when the knockout stage of the Champions League gets underway, they have a very kind set of fixtures and some breathing room between games where rotation may not be as necessary for Pep Guardiola as it is in other parts of the season. Plus, last weekend showed us that it is not simply down to whether Aguero plays instead of Gabriel Jesus or vice versa. Pep can start them both and cannot help but be overjoyed with the outcome of having done so, putting up that crooked number against Aston Villa, with all six goals coming from their front three.
The other factor to consider for Aguero, and this is especially true now, perhaps more than it will ever be for the rest of the season, is that having him as a captain with his ownership as low as it is can be the biggest weapon one can use to climb the ranks. Just looking at feedback from social media in the last round, where clever managers who brought Aguero in and gave him the armband ahead of the Villa game, there was well-deserved boasting of gigantic leaps in their respective rankings. This potential to shoot up the ranks is only as effective for as long as his ownership is low. And remember, of the 14.1% that currently own him, some portion of that has to consist of "dead teams" from early in the season. The ownership of managers you are trying to pass in the ranks is even lower. So, owning him right now is huge, captaining him right now is even bigger. And though predicting how Pep Guardiola will line his men up match-to-match, if I am playing 4-D chess with him, I have to think he is going to turn to Aguero this weekend and for several league games to come.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Tammy Abraham (7.8m)
Ownership % - 34.2% (last week, 33.5%)
Season points - 115 (13 Gs, 4 As, 20 BPs)
Opponent - Newcastle (away)
Folks are beginning to get back on the Tammy train, with a slight increase in ownership this week on the heels of grabbing an attacking return in his third straight game. It is understandable why so many managers lost confidence in the month of December. He had a stretch of seven games where he blanked in six of them, and the final two games of that dip in form, he did not register a single shot on target. Frank Lampard did not think twice about giving him a rest or seeing what Michy Batshuayi could do though, and patience appears to have paid off for the manager, as Abraham looks to be back in the consistent form we enjoyed for much of the first half of the season. He still feels like a second-tier option to me, however, as he and the Blues head north this weekend to take on Newcastle United.
Chelsea are coming off of a comprehensive win at home against Burnley, finding the net three times. That is the sort of result you expect from a club of their size and stature. But Burnley's defending lately has been erratic at best, making the attack of several of their recent opponents look sharp. I want to see another convincing result and healthy-looking attacking against the Magpies before Abraham has a chance to move up a tier in the captaincy debate. Before the win against the Clarets, the Blues had scored an average of just one goal a game in their previous six games. That is a sustained amount of time for an under-producing attack like Chelsea's. So, while last weekend was certainly a positive step for them, let's give them this weekend to show if it is the beginning of a new trend or an aberration within the trend they were setting before playing Burnley.
Danny Ings (6.8m)
Ownership % - 25.4%
Season points - 123 (14 Gs, 1 A, 27 BPs)
Opponent - Wolves (home)
Ings has made his way into this column before, but I have to own up to the fact that I have not given him enough credit, because he should have been featured in the second tier of options more than he has. Here we are, 22 weeks in the books and only Vardy has scored more goals than Ings and Ings leads all FPL assets in Bonus Points with 27. After scoring only once in the first six league games, the Saints striker has a baker's dozen in sixteen games. Amazing consistency over a very long period of time. Take out the Chelsea match in Week 19, where he was rested and made a 21-minute cameo, and Ings has blanked just once since Week 11. Why did I wait too long to show him more respect? Well, in the early weeks of his form, I was worried about another Pukki situation. Here you had a player finding the net enough to draw one's attention, but the club's attack has to depend so heavily on him. There are going to be weeks where he doesn't get the service and Southampton limp their way to a poor result. That simply has not been the case for Ings though and it's time for him to be considered more often.
Last week against a Leicester side with a pretty good defense (only Liverpool have conceded less goals on the season), Ings not only stepped up to the challenge, he put up his most impressive stats of the season to date. He took NINE shots, three more than his previous best in the campaign, hitting the target five times. Were it not for a yellow card, he probably would have received at least one bonus point. Now he takes on a Wolves side that has not kept a clean sheet in seven games, he has his home crowd there to back him up and he scored against Wolves in the reverse fixture, where he had taken his previous season-high of six shots, on the way to a nine point return with maximum bonus in a 1-1 draw. A similar outcome seems pretty realistic to imagine this weekend.
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.