Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. It seems like Week 25 has taken nearly the entire month of February to complete, but it has finally ended and now we shift from a drawn-out, two-week-long round to about 48 hours of preparation for the next gameweek. Normally, this would be the perfect situation for me to complain. However, with a gameweek rank inside the top 100k and a healthy climb in the overall rankings, in an amazing twist, I am positively content.
Yes, for your humble writer, this is feeling like the peak of the FPL season. For the last three rounds, just about everything has been going well - transfers, bench/start decisions and, most importantly, nailing the captain. I realize I am jinxing myself by putting this in print, but that is the nature of the job. I am willing to risk good Fortune to make a point to fellow managers out there. And that point is this - captaincy success rate is the key to success or failure in FPL, more than any other factor. I mean, sure, you have to have some good players in your team and you need to move guys in and out when they are injured or the form is completely gone. But, as long as you are putting out an XI featuring at least six or seven players we all know and use, and eleven players feature, you may not see yourself #1 overall in the world, but you should be right there in the pack with a respectable rank. The real make-or-break factor is captaincy success rate.
You could take two "example FPL teams", two very similar sides - if "Team A" is nailing the captain 50% of the time while "Team B" is only hitting it at 25%, then there is not much Team B can do to catch Team A. Team A can bench the wrong defender, waste a transfer on a player that does nothing for them week after week, while Team B is doing everything right...Team A is still going to be in a better place by the end of the year. I guess what I am driving at here, and perhaps this is a bit controversial -- I think FPL would be a better game without the armband. Perhaps I am choosing now to say it in this column because it is not coming from a bitter, personal place. I'm on cloud nine with my rise in the ranks the past three rounds and it is due to getting the captain right. But for me, despite feeling the recent benefits of this aspect of the game, it only seems to shine a light on the fact that it diminishes so much effort in other areas of management. It is just a personal preference, but I feel there is too much weight on the captain. Too much research and attention to other areas of the game are marginalized by one weekly decision.
Don't get me wrong, I still love this game. And, like any other game I enjoy playing, I accept the rules as they are and do my best to put myself in an advantaged position based on whatever the rules may be. This is just food for thought, perhaps something to ponder for future seasons. We have seen changes to how bonus points are awarded over the years and other rule changes or new features added to the game like the chips, so perhaps there is a way to tweak the game in a way where we can take a little of the weight of captaincy and not allow it to be the difference between success or failure in a season filled with so many decisions not related to the armband.
Right, I will get off my soapbox and steer this ship back on course. We have a dozen rounds to go, so let's make them count, starting with a look at the Week 27 version of Captain Obvious...
Mo Salah (12.8m)
Ownership % - 45.0% (last week, 43.8%)
Season points - 168 (14 Gs, 6 As, 21 BPs)
Opponent - West Ham (home)
This should be an interesting week to see how many people back Salah for the armband. He went into the last deadline in top form and much was expected in a matchup with Norwich. So, for him to come away empty-handed and then you have Sadio Mané returning with a goal to complicate matters more, we should see a dip in captaincy investment for Salah this week, but how much? I think he will remain the most-captained player this weekend, but it will not be a landslide. That could be good news for those with patience enough to keep with him after his blank. Looking at the stats, it is probably the wise thing to do. It is not like Salah was invisible against the Canaries. His involvement was consistent with what we are used to. In the previous three games where he did deliver attacking returns, he had numbers like this:
Shots - 4, 5, 4
Shots on Target - 2, 1, 1
Key Passes - 3, 1, 3
In the game against Norwich: Shots - 4, Shots on Target - 1, Key Passes - 1
As you can see, not his best volume in Week 26, but hardly a significant dropoff. For me, especially considering the Norwich game was away and this weekend's opponents, West Ham, are a home game, I think you keep your trust with Salah and he deserves to remain on the shortlist. He was taken off after a 72-minute shift against Atletico Madrid in midweek, so he should be as safe as anyone to start, especially the extra recovery time he has playing the Monday night game. Oh, by the way, West Ham are in the relegation zone right now.
Kevin De Bruyne (10.8m)
Ownership % - 53.6% (last week, 53.4%)
Season points - 175 (8 Gs, 18 As, 23 BPs)
Opponent - Leicester (away)
This should be a very intriguing game, both in reality and fantasy. Both these sides have some marquee players that frequent many an FPL team, but for me, I only see one player from either side that I trust enough for a captaincy choice this week, at least among the elites, and that's Mr. Dependable, Kevin De Bruyne. This will really be a test of Leicester's mettle for the remainder of the season. They have just one win in their last five and have seen City move four points above them. Jamie Vardy has been positively invisible lately. Were this game at the Etihad, I would be even more bullish on City this week. However, the Foxes have not shown me anything to suggest they will passively allow the Citizens to march all over them on their own ground this weekend, though the final scoreline could lead one to believe that.
Twenty-seven weeks into the season, and I have to admit, I am running out of new ways to advocate for De Bruyne. He's the highest-scoring player in the game and is coming off another double-digit haul. Of course, he makes for a logical armband choice. What may provide more insight is to make a case for him following a week where he blanks. The stats continue to add up - six key passes and two shots on target. The Belgian had six key passes in his last two at home. He is up 18 assists already. Assuming he doesn't miss more than a month because of injury, he will surely smash the single-season record in that regard. Twenty-six total returns (8 goals, 18 assists) in 25 games played, so if you captain him in a week he blanks, it is simply bad luck. His game is such where he is a legit option in every game, with a possible exception of playing away to Liverpool. So yeah, normally a player who is on the road against a team third in the table is not going to make my captaincy shortlist, but De Bruyne is no normal player.
Who's been left off the shortlist (second-tier options)
Danny Ings (7m)
Ownership % - 31.9% (last week, 29.0%)
Season points - 135 (15 Gs, 1 A, 28 BPs)
Opponent - Aston Villa (home)
What a difference a week can make. In my last column, I had Ings as a second-tier armband option despite the fact that he had collected no attacking returns and a depressing five fantasy points combined over his previous three games. The form was not there. What was there for me, though, was two things - his role, which continues to be the focal point for Southampton as much as any one player is for any other club in the league right now, and the fixture, playing a Burnley defense that, while sometimes very organized and effective, has their flaws. Honestly, I may have gotten a bit lucky with the call. His goal was from the only shot he took the entire game and, after looking to be on the verge of playing provider in the previous game against Liverpool in which he had three key passes, he had none against the Clarets.
So, I am actually a bit more apprehensive about Ings as a captain heading into this weekend than I was last weekend. The volume simply has not been there lately. In his last four games (which is basically three games if you add up the minutes) he has had only one additional shot on target to go with the one that resulted in last week's goal. Two things make me feel good about him as a captain this week - 1) he still looks in form when finishing. If he can just have the chance to shoot, I feel confident that he feels confident. 2) At home to Aston Villa is a fixture I can get behind. The Villans are slipping back into poor defending habits, having conceded five in their last two games.
Sergio Agüero (12.1m)
Ownership % - 23.7% (last week, 23.9%)
Season points - 123 (16 Gs, 4 As, 14 BPs)
Opponent - Leicester (away)
I have to admit, credit for my recent success has to go toward getting my captain right but if there is a runner-up reason for my climb in the ranks, it has been my discipline in avoiding the Aguero bandwagon of the last few weeks. Yes, I was miserable seeing those 33 points he put up in a two-round span and not having gotten them, but I could not justify paying his price tag and turning my squad upside-down to fit him in. It felt like the classic case of chasing points and, after blanking in the last round, it has to be said that is precisely what it was for many managers, as Aguero has now had more net transfers out than in leading up to this weekend's deadline.
I said it before and I will say it again - Aguero is a legend. If we are sitting around talking about FPL 30-40 years from now, we will all be sharing our memories of the "Aguero years". And when he plays, you want to have him. The problem is, it is hard for City players to get their fantasy production to match their price tag and at 12.1m, Aguero is the prime example of this. For a 12m player, you want someone who is armband material every week, and, in the case of Aguero, that is true. The problem is he doesn't play every week. It is a gamble that I might be willing to take for 10m but not 12m. He is a huge gamble, maybe one that makes sense in the final weeks of the season if you need a hail mary to get to the rank area you want, and go all out. But over the course of the season, despite acknowledging that on any given day, he can score four or five goals and bring the league down to its knees, the risk of him not starting, combined with the occasional blank when he does, makes him off-limits for me. That said, I have to put myself in the mind of those that own Aguero right now. For those, he still needs to be considered for the armband. For what it's worth, the volume was there last week, with six shots taken. So the question for owners is, if I have him and I don't captain him...then why do I have him?
Raúl Jiménez (7.8m)
Ownership % - 27.0% (last week, 24.7%)
Season points - 131 (11 Gs, 6 As, 22 BPs)
Opponent - Norwich (home)
Despite blanking in his last two games, Jimenez's ownership has been steadily on the rise, due probably more to a nice run of fixtures for Wolves coming up more than anything else. This is not to say that Jimenez isn't enjoying a fine season...he is. The club is doing well too, just having seen off Espanyol in the first leg of a Europa League knockout matchup, 4-0. If you are willing to back a player who hasn't had a recent return to give you confidence but is getting the service and volume to make you think a goal is coming soon, then Jimenez fits your criteria. In the last round against Leicester, he took a very healthy five shots. Problem being - none of them hit the target.
Assuming he gets his bearings back this weekend, he looks a good bet to score on the Canaries this weekend. Forgive with gut assumptions over recent stats and trends, but between Norwich's defense respectfully holding Liverpool to a single goal and Wolves being held goalless in the last round, both of those outcomes seem out of character. With Norwich on the road and Wolves waiting in their den, adrenaline still pumping from their Europa League dominance, I am expecting two or three goals from Nuno Espírito Santo's side. With Diogo Jota and Rúben Neves combining for all four last night, Jimenez will be thirsty to join the party.
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.