Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. Do we really have to discuss the events that unfolded in the last round? That was downright painful. After Saturday's games, I was sitting on eleven points from six players. I took to Twitter to publish my disastrous round thus far, and received replies from folks who had it even worse. I had not realized, since it was a very late match, that the two most replied upon Manchester City assets, Sergio Agüero and Kevin De Bruyne, came up blank, with those who captained Aguero especially sucker-punched with a 0 (x2) return.
Well, perhaps the best medicine has become available to help heal the wounds of Week 27. This weekend, we have only eight matches on tap. Between teams who aren't playing and a few other factors I will explain, there is a very limited number of legit captaincy options I see for Week 28. That means only a few names to discuss and a chance to return to the healing process. Let us go ahead and spill the beans about the weekend ahead. There is one general question to ask yourself with two camps of thought: To Liverpool or not to Liverpool?
First, a gentle reminder, here are the clubs who are NOT playing this weekend - Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Sheffield United. Just missing City alone cuts the captaincy debate down significantly, though given the results of the past weekend, many of us are probably relieved to not back a Citizen with the armband. It also leaves Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang off of the table, who is coming off his third brace of the season.
Then, you look at the state of some of the other teams we look to often for armband material, and many of the situations simply are not appetizing. Chelsea are a prime example. Playing Bournemouth, I would expect a win for the Blues and a player or two to return a captaincy-worthy amount of points. However, things are a bit weird for the Blues despite coming off a big derby win over Spurs last weekend. Oliver Giroud, Ross Barkley and Marcos Alonso are now back in the mix after fine performances. Willian, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic are not armband material due to rotation risk or injury. Then there are teams with potential candidates playing each other, with a difficult matchup to predict, making an armband choice very risky and lacking in the confidence department. This includes Everton hosting Manchester United and Tottenham hosting Wolves.
So yeah, this could be the week, if you are not interested for whatever reason in backing a Liverpool player, to get creative and go for a player normally overlooked. I will mention a few of those names as we get started with the Week 28 version of Captain Obvious...
Mo Salah (12.8m)
Ownership % - 45.2% (last week, 45.0%)
Season points - 175 (15 Gs, 6 As, 21 BPs)
Opponent - Watford (away)
So, who do you have, Mo Salah or Sadio Mané? Odds are, you have one of them and I will assume they will comprise the top two highest-captained players for the coming round, with Jamie Vardy a possible contender to have more backers than Mane. A few of you out there do own both Liverpool midfielders, and even a few more may be using their Free Hit chip this weekend to help compensate for the blank fixtures, with Salah and Mane in their team. Well, the good news to take away from last weekend was - it is possible to get a return from both and not be burned by choosing one Red over another. However, statistically, Salah is looking more consistent of a threat at the moment. After having blanked the previous round, managing a single shot on target, Salah stepped up and hit the target three times against West Ham. He also provided a key pass, which he failed to do against the Canaries in Week 26.
Salah is right in the middle of the sort of form that demands armband attention. In the season's second half, which would be Weeks 20-27 (that includes an extra rescheduled game, so nine games in total), Salah has not gone back-to-back games without an attacking return. Three times in that span, he has had returns in the double-digits. Rest or rotation should not be a factor for any Liverpool player, as they continue their attempt at an undefeated season. It was a rare fixture-free midweek for the Reds - no cup games, no European commitments. So expect to see the usual suspects in the XI for Jurgen Klopp against Watford. The Hornets have hit a bit of a wall recently, more of that to follow in the write-up for the next candidate, but their most recent 0-3 defeat to Manchester United gives one reason to think Liverpool are capable of a three-goal output, which can only mean good things for any potential FPL captains in the side.
Sadio Mané (12.4m)
Ownership % - 24.2%
Season points - 160 (13 Gs, 8 As, 19 BPs)
Opponent - Watford (away)
Welcome back to the shortlist, Mr. Mane. After missing two games completely and only playing 62 minutes over the past four rounds because of injury, Mane made his first injury-free start since Week 23 and all he did was score a match-winner in the late stages of a come-from-behind win for the undefeated Reds. You want to talk about a team of destiny...With a return to fantasy prominence, the race to buy Mane back begins, as his ownership is hovering around 24% as of this writing. I would expect that number to creep up to 25% by the deadline, so you are looking at one in every four managers with Mane in their side, where as Salah's ownership sees him closer to one out of every two managers. So, if you own Salah and Mane and admit that either could outperform the other, perhaps you want to make your decision based on ownership. With much more ownership, Salah is going to secure many more armbands than Mane. If it is a differential you want, then Mane is your man. If you want to "play it safe", then Salah makes more sense.
The stats for Mane show that, while he is back on the scoresheet, in two straight games mind, he doesn't appear to be at his peak level in terms of threat and involvement. To be fair, Sadio Mané need not be at his peak in order to produce. Still, it is something to observe and consider in the captaincy debate. He scored his goal with his only shot on target and did not provide any key passes in his 89 minutes on the pitch. We are used to see him being more of an assist threat while also taking a stab at the goal himself a bit more. Quite often, a game or two is what a player who is returning from injury needs to get back to the place he was before. So, assuming Liverpool are ready to put in another expected solid performance, chances are that Mane will look even more a threat than he did Monday night against West Ham.
Who's been left off the shortlist (second-tier options)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (7.7m)
Ownership % - 31.9% (last week, 29.0%)
Season points - 163 (2 Gs, 14 As, 18 BPs)
Opponent - Watford (away)
How often does one back a defender when they are playing away, coming off a game in which, at home, they conceded twice? Trent Alexander-Arnold is not your typical defender and, even when talking about the best second-tier options for captaincy this week, I still think Liverpool, and Alexander-Arnold, need to be looked at first. So yeah, two goals conceded by the Reds in the last match, but the defender notched a pair of assists and took the maximum bonus for his efforts. That is the appeal of backing a special player like this - the very real possibility of an attacking return or a clean sheet, multiple ways to get to where you want to be.
In terms of clean sheet potential, there is a fair chance. The Hornets have had a recent dip in form with their attack, going without a goal in their last game and scoring just once over the span of their last two. To be fair, both those games were played away from home and Watford will now have the benefit of playing at Vicarage Road, but it is going to take something quite special from Nigel Pearson's men to go from being spanked by the Red Devils last weekend and find the grit to out and respond by finding a result against a club that no one else can. But even if Troy Deeney wipes out the cleanie in under five minutes, Alexander-Arnold's attacking threat will always linger. Monday night, he was quite busy, even for his standards, delivering six key passes, one short of his season-high for a single game. His five accurate crosses were also one short of his season-high. With all factors considered, I think TA-A will have his highest captaincy rate of the season this weekend, though I still feel it will be less than 5% of managers, so he makes for a very intriguing differential.
Jamie Vardy (9.7m)
Ownership % - 36.5%
Season points - 156 (17 Gs, 6 As, 25 BPs)
Opponent - Norwich (away)
Jamie Vardy could score a hat trick against the Canaries. I am not saying he will, but I am acknowledging that he could. It would not be Vardy's first hat trick of the season and it would not be the first time Norwich's defense gets knocked around. However, there is nothing from recent form to suggest that this is a reasonable prediction and, even though I am expecting him to convince a million managers to give him the armband this week, I am not at all confident about him as a captain. As mentioned in the intro, this seems a week where you back a Liverpool player or you get creative and go with an inspired pick. Vardy seems to fall in that no man's land of "I guess he's got a good fixture, so, okay". Hardly inspiring.
It has been quite depressing to witness, but since that holiday week of Christmas and New Year's, Jamie Vardy has completely lost his FPL mojo. It has been nine straight rounds without a goal. That's a quarter of the season. Hard to believe considering how money he was in the first half of the campaign. It has gone from land speed record to a splat on the windshield for Vardy. In Week 26, he hit rock bottom, failing to shoot once, nevermind hit the target, nevermind score, and he also had no key passes. He was, according to the numbers...not there. In the loss to City, there was some effort to return to relevance, as Vardy managed to take four shots, but the quality was not there, with none of the attempts hitting the target. It also has to be said that we have seen over the past couple of months that Leicester do not have to rely so heavily on Vardy for attacking production. Harvey Barnes has really picked things up during Vardy's cold streak. One game, Ayoze Pérez had a brace. In another, Youri Tielemans had a pair of assists. This is not the case of say Jack Grealish with Aston Villa. Villa would be lost without Grealish. The Foxes can manage to get results without Vardy. That said, I am sure Brendan Rodgers and company are anxious to see a return to form for the England striker.
Everyone else - Cost, ownership, stats... I don't know. But I do think there are some interesting names to consider as a maverick pick in a round where it feels like Liverpool or bust - Diogo Jota and Raúl Jiménez deserve mention. Wolves are doing well right now, I just don't particularly like the fixture. Robert Snodgrass has been in pretty good form and has a much kinder fixture this week than when he had to play Liverpool Monday night. It cannot be denied that Bruno Fernandes has gotten off to a flying start for United. If you were an early buyer and enjoying the returns, I can imagine wanting to feel even more smug by giving him the armband this week, but away to Everton, I am not in love with that fixture. Speaking of the Toffees, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have been pretty dependable, but again, it is a tricky fixture this week - United have kept three straight clean sheets. And finally, as ridiculous as it sounds...his ownership is quite low...but I really wish I had Marcos Alonso in my XI. I expect he deserves another start and his attacking contributions last weekend were vintage Alonso, back when we actually did consider him for the armband.
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.