Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. Well, the first of the Double Gameweeks is in the books and, with so many managers deploying their Triple Captain chip, it was a memorable round indeed, with results ranging from ecstasy to misery and not much area in between. Whether you used the Triple Captain or not, the fate of your round was decided on one main factor - did you give the armband to Sadio Mané or another Liverpool player. If the answer is "someone other than Mane", you likely enjoyed the results. If you backed Mane though, well, this can be a rough game sometimes. I was covered either way. If I was unlucky enough to own and Triple Captain Mane, I at least could fall back on enjoying the holiday I was in the middle of during Week 24. I was off the digital grid for a full week and only yesterday did I get to check in and see the progress or damage my FPL team executed.
Happy to report - a successful round. Despite taking a negative eight point hit which involved bringing in two players who combined for two points (one didn't even play) I still managed a round rank in the 150k range and saw my overall rank move into the mid 200k's. Nothing to brag about, but this is much closer to a level of respectability I can live with. With the rest of my chips still available, the optimism is there to finish with a rank somewhere in the 5-digit range, which is pretty much my personal standard for the past decade. I will take that in a heartbeat and prepare for a number one overall finish next season.
Right, I've been spending the last couple of hours getting caught up on the goings-on around the Premier Leauge while I was away and preparing for captaincy talk and I must spill the beans early here: there are not many attractive options this week as compared to most. I will do my best to make the case for the few on my radar in this Week 25 edition of Captain Obvious...
Mo Salah (12.6m)
Ownership % - 35.7% (last week, 28.8%)
Season points - 149 (12 Gs, 6 As, 18 BPs)
Opponent - Southampton (home)
When I said there are not many attractive options this week in the intro, I was not kidding. Based on form, fixture and health, there is one option that clearly stands out most and, perhaps more so than any other round to date, there is not a close second choice. So Mo Salah IS the shortlist this week.
If you read last week's special double gameweek captaincy debate, you would have seen that in the Salah vs Mane argument, I was leaning Salah. Now, I won't say that I say an injury for Mane coming, but the main negative I had with him was fitness. The fact that he suffered a non-contact injury lends some credence to that notion, though again, I am not suggesting I saw the future or anything like that. If you have been a regular reader of the column this season, you will have also been reminded a few times over that, while folks tend to jump between Mane and Salah as their lone Liverpool midfielder representative, the numbers should eventually be very close and that, barring injury, it is probably best to stick with one, use your transfers in other areas, and ride out the cold streaks. As we enter Week 25, Salah has now surpassed Mane on FPL points after trailing for nearly the entire season. The two stars are only sixteen minutes apart on total minutes played in the league this season and just two fantasy points separate them.
That said, with Mane a huge question mark this weekend as of this writing, Salah fit and in form and playing at home this weekend to Southampton, there is no need to play the guessing game. Salah is the most trustworthy armband choice this weekend, hands down. True, the Saints have been a much better side for the past couple of months than they were in the autumn of 2019, but when you look at the other armband choices this week, there are so many more question marks. The numbers are very healthy for Salah, both as scorer and provider, averaging around five shots a game in his last few while supplying 2-3 key passes. That kind of involvement is what led to his goal/assist combo against West Ham and, though that was a nice haul on the road, Salah has better production at home. Assuming Mane is out, Salah will be the focal point of the attack and if that means anything comparable to his shift against the Hammers, then it should be a good weekend for him.
Who's been left off the shortlist and why...
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (10.7m)
Ownership % - 14.7%
Season points - 127 (14 Gs, 3 As, 24 BPs)
Opponent - Burnley (away)
Right. It is probably dangerous to be so confident in Salah as the top option this week, so let's talk about the rest of the potential choices out there that offer some legitimacy. I do like Aubameyang as a potentially effective differential this weekend. He is returning from his 3-match ban in Week 25 and that means two things - 1) his ownership is even lower than it normally is (which was already rather low considering his production this season) and 2) even for those that DO own him already, he may not elicit much confidence as an armband choice simply due to his lengthy absence from the scene. For some players, missing multiple games for any reason could lessen their case for captaincy, as one may be aware that those players can be less trustworthy when their rhythm is interrupted. I do not get that feeling from Aubameyang though. His consistency is vastly underrated and he seems to always keep his head healthy no matter what is going on around him. Whether the club's overall performance is lackluster or their is a managerial transition, Aubameyang, to the delight of his owners, seems to pay no mind.
So then you look at the opposition in Burnley. Yes, they have impressed for the past couple of games, winning 2-1 at home to Leicester and most recently a road clean sheet and win over Manchester United. Admittedly, I did not get a chance to see the United match, so I am not sure how much the result had to do with inspired defending from the Clarets or if it was simply United under-performing against opposition they are supposed to beat once again. My gut tells me it is likely the latter. What I do know for sure though is that Burnley's defense, though recently getting the job done, has been prone to getting lit up against the "bigger clubs" this season. One could argue that Arsenal is not one of those clubs, based on their position in the table. But, they are a member of the "big six", nonetheless. What has Aubameyang done against the Clarets recently? Well, this may convince you more than anything else - the forward scored a goal in the reverse fixture earlier this season and, even more appealing, he bagged a brace in BOTH fixtures against Burnley last season. Sean Dyche does not seem to have a recipe to stop Aubameyang, so he looks good for a lone goal with an opportunity for bonus or more.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (7.6m)
Ownership % - 42.4% (last week, 41.0%)
Season points - 128 (2 Gs, 12 As, 9 CS, 14 BPs)
Opponent - Southampton (home)
Yes, Mr. Alexander-Arnold, you are a defender. But you deserve a ton of respect and a place in the captaincy conversation. Perhaps it is personal bias. I took the plunge and gave the Liverpool right back the Triple Captain last week and, thanks to a healthy, satisfying return, I suppose I feel some loyalty to the idea of including him here, in a week where, again, I am very bullish on any options save for one. Here's what you need to know: Alexander-Arnold has a return of some sort in his last eight games. He has 72 points in that time, which gives you a nice, decimal-free average of nine points per game. With that kind of form and playing at home, how does one marginalize Alexander-Arnold as a captaincy option? I just don't think you can afford to overlook him at this point.
In case you have been living under a rock, Liverpool have given up one single goal over their last nine games, and it is no surprise that it came from Raúl Jiménez, who only seems interested in finding the next against the toughest opposition. So, to be playing at home against a mid-table side with the run they are on, odds are quite good that Liverpool can keep another clean sheet. Let's say, and I am admittedly throwing numbers from out of thin air here, that there is a 66% chance the Reds keep a clean sheet this week. That seems conservative enough. Then, let's say that based on his track record this season, Alexander-Arnold has a 50% chance of an assist. (He has 12 in 24 games, so that is right on point) Between the clean sheet potential and assist potential, one would have to deduce that it would be extremely unlucky for TA-A to not get a return of some sort. And, of course, the potential is also there for him to get returns on both sides of the ball. I still favor attacking players most of the time, but given the current climate, I have no qualms whatsoever about making Alexander-Arnold a captain against the Saints.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.7m)
Ownership % - 52.5%
Season points - 159 (7 Gs, 17 As, 20 BPs)
Opponent - Tottenham (away)
Sheffield United proved to be a stingy defense once again, holding Manchester City to a single goal in the last round, a feat most clubs cannot dream to pull off against such a lethal attack, but one goal was enough for City to win and enough to make De Bruyne owners happy once again, providing his 17th assist in the game. Now, what is strange to me, is that there will likely be less confidence in De Bruyne in a fixture like "away to Spurs" versus "away to Sheffield United". That simply should not be the case. Spurs have collected only three clean sheets all season. That is the same amount as Norwich City. Home or away, it simply does not matter, Spurs give up goals, and sometimes pretty cheap ones at that. If City are playing with any kind of swagger, they could go back to putting up another crooked number with several of their players dipping into the fantasy points. True, Tottenham have Hugo Lloris back, but there is still much to prove defensively from Spurs.
If you are a fan of consistency and low-risk, high floor armband options, there may be perhaps no one better to fit your needs than the Belgian midfield maestro. Take the gameweek before last against Crystal Palace for example. Yes, he did not register an attacking return and, if you captained him, you would have been disappointed. But, if you were following along, watching that match, you would not have been frustrated by your selections lack of involvement. KdB had six key passes and took six shots in that game against the Eagles. That is LOADS of involvement. He simply is human, and like every other world-class player, cannot deliver the fantasy points every single game. But, there is no denying that the potential to do something, perhaps a couple of things, in any given match, is there for De Bruyne. His captaincy rate may be a bit lower than normal this week, so it could be a good week to back him as a pseudo-differential. He had a pair of assists and an 11-point haul against Spurs in the reverse fixture.
Sergio Agüero (12.0m)
Ownership % - 22.6%
Season points - 119 (16 Gs, 4 As, 14 BPs)
Opponent - Tottenham (away)
When Aguero is going good, he finds ways to help his owners even when it seems impossible. Despite his electric form of late, Pep Guardiola was doing Pep Guardiola things and sat Aguero out of the XI in Week 24. Aguero then comes on for a 23-minute cameo and gets a yellow card for his brief time on the pitch. A disaster for his owners, right? Nope. Aguero found the net in his substitution role, a match-winner at that and gave his owners a sigh of relief. Still, what are we to do about Aguero both as an FPL asset and a captaincy option going forward. I was honestly expecting several starts before a rest for Aguero, given his form is on fire and that, for a large chunk of the season, he was out injured, so fatigue should not be a factor. I suppose Pep is convinced that his team is so deep with talent, he can afford to rest FPL's "Player of the Decade" (yeah, I am giving Aguero that title. Come at me.) like it's no big deal. One would "think" missing the FA Cup last weekend, given a full rest, on the heels of a 23-minute cameo, he is bound to start this weekend. Hold everything though, because Aguero started and was not taken off until after the 90-minute mark as City edged past rivals United on aggregate this midweek to make the Carabao Cup final while Gabriel Jesus got pretty much a full rest.
So, when it comes to what Pep decides to do against Spurs this weekend - beats me. It would seem Jesus is very likely to start given his rest for the Cup semifinal just a couple of nights ago, but that doesn't necessarily mean it comes at the detriment of Aguero. Both strikers have started matches together recently, and with great outcomes, so it could be Raheem Sterling that makes way. It is a tough call. We all know what Aguero is capable of and if you captain him at the right time, it can erase so many mistakes you might have made throughout the season in one giant haul. With a bit of extra luck, it also comes at a time when his ownership/captaincy percentages are relatively low. I think the best thing to do is pick your spots for giving him the armband. It has to be said, he does have a great track record against Spurs. (that's not a stat that requires referencing, just believe me, as being a Spurs fan, I know all-too-well) It comes down to this, I think. If I own Salah and Aguero, I am going with the safety of Salah, no question. If I have Aguero, no Salah, but some of the other options mentioned here, I would just go with my gut. Do you want to play Pep roulette or not?
Jamie Vardy (9.9m)
Ownership % - 42.0%
Season points - 150 (17 Gs, 6 As, 25 BPs)
Opponent - Chelsea (home)
Look at this. Poor Jamie Vardy way down in the second-tier of options when I normally have him prominently displayed in the shortlist. Well, this is what happens when you return a total of eight fantasy points over the last six rounds. It just shows how special of a season the Leicester striker had been having until this recent rut, as despite the dip in production, he is still the highest-scoring forward the game and second to only De Bruyne for highest-scoring player in all of FPL. I can understand why he has been getting sold lately. It is not just his lack of returns, but Leicester's dip in form in general since the festive period. And they now have to take on a Chelsea side in huge matchup between two sides currently in the top four that are looking to gain some momentum after experiencing their fair share of slip-ups in the past month or two. A rather unpredictable matchup this appears to be and, though Vardy played a substitute role in midweek that should see him in line to start this weekend, we are all wondering how effective he can be after seeing a couple of injuries slow him down lately.
Personally, while I do have trepidation over seeing him as an armband choice this weekend, I still think managers are giving up on him a bit too fast. If we are talking about form when he actually does play, it has not fallen off a cliff by any means. He has only started and played full shifts in two of the past five league games and returned an assist in one of them, so, effectively, when only considering matches he starts and does not get injured in, Vardy is in no attacking drought at all. Now we have him coming back this weekend, seemingly ready to go the distance in a marquee matchup. We could definitely see something special from him that would put him right back where he belongs in next week's column, at the top of the captaincy shortlist. You may want to wait until then before risking the armband on him. He did blank against the Blues in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
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.