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Weekly Picks

Captain Obvious: Week 29

by Steve Rothgeb
Updated On: March 6, 2020, 10:13 am ET

Welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate. Last week, I think I made a really good call. Turns out, it feels like too good of a call, when I suggested that Week 28 looked to be an opportunity to stray from the herd and back a maverick pick instead of one of the usual suspects. Boy, was I right and boy do I wish I was wrong. 

When I refer to the "usual suspects", I am referring to names like Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero and Jamie Vardy. These were the most captained players of that round. What did they return?

Salah - 2, Mane - 2, Vardy - 0, KDB - 2, Aguero - 0. And Aguero's was a HARD zero. At least if you captained Vardy, there's a chance the armband switched to someone not in this group that actually returned something.  I mean, Week 28 was absolutely painful. I finished the round with 22 points and watched my rank plummet back down to a six-digit number. I also had the thrill of watching my Spurs lose to Wolves, after having lost to RB Leipzig and before stumbling out of the FA Cup with a loss at home to Norwich. Add to that the panic of a virus going around, stock market tanking and a few other issues, and let's just say I am ready to move on. Good grief.

I will say that, as bad of a round as it was for me personally, last week's column was pretty spot on. Not only did I promote the idea of going with an outside-the-box pick, I was down on backing Vardy and Aguero for the armband. I then threw out some names of players I think were going to have a big week - Diogo Jota and Raúl Jiménez, Bruno Fernandes, Marcos Alonso...three of those four names had double-digit returns. I supplied an excellent shortlist of not-often-captained players. Here's hoping that spoke to you, and you had a better round to me. I mean, I had 22 points. Surely, you could not have done worse.

Right, so here we heading into another mini-double gameweek, with two clubs playing twice, Arsenal and Manchester City. They have their regularly scheduled opponents over the weekend then face each other next Wednesday night. So, clearly, the weight of this week's column will lean heavily toward double gameweek options, and with only two clubs playing along with a couple of other factors, the list is quite small in my view. Enough with the hinting, let's get to the nitty gritty with the Week 29 edition of Captain Obvious...

 

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (11.1m)

 

Ownership % - 24.0% and climbing fast

Season points - 150 (17 Gs, 3 As, 29 BPs)

Opponent - West Ham (home), Manchester City (away)

Well, folks here is your shortlist. Column finished. 

Okay, okay. I know I need to go a bit more in depth. Let us start with the simple reasons and build from there. I will emphasize this more as the column goes on but, for me, I look at Arsenal and see one player that is armband material and that is Aubameyang. I look at City and see nothing but risk. A possibility for reward? Sure. But right now, Aubameyang is fit, nailed-on, in good form, and his second game (home to WHM) is a favorable one while no one player for City can check all of those boxes. (but a couple of their players will still get mentioned here) So yeah, I don't rate any of the other Arsenal options based on track-record of performance while I am down on City's options because of injury, rotation, or anything that may possibly eat into a player's pitch time.

Right, so there really is no need to dive deep into the stats here. Aubameyang has had double-digit fantasy returns four times so far this season. One was against West Ham in the reverse fixture, where he had a goal and an assist, so recent performance against opponent looks good, another happened just this past weekend when he bagged his third brace of the season. So history versus opponent and recent performance are both looking good for Aubameyang. Sure, the away trip to the Etihad for Arsenal's second fixture makes this feel less like a double gameweek and more like a 1.5 gameweek, but Aymeric Laporte is set to be absent again. so City are prone to conceding a goal, maybe two at home.

Lastly, I will make this silly argument - Aubameyang "deserves" the armband. I have mentioned it a couple of times throughout the season, but when it comes to lack of investment or interest versus actual production, no player seems to have been insulted this season than the Arsenal forward. He has been quite consistent this season and yet his price tag has spent the vast majority of the season at its starting price or lower. Even with him being clearly the most coveted weapon to have going into this weekend, his price has only just reached a tick over his starting tag and is still owned by less than one in four managers. It may feel like owning him will be cancelled out because everyone else will, but right now, the numbers say different.

 

 

Who didn't make the shortlist (second-tier options)

 

 

Mo Salah (12.8m)

 

Ownership % - 44.2% (last week, 45.0%)

Season points - 177 (15 Gs, 6 As, 21 BPs)

Opponent - Bournemouth (home)

I didn't even have a chance to make mention of it in the introduction this week - Liverpool lost a game. They lost to Watford. They lost 0-3 to Watford, it wasn't even close. Man, this has got to be a good week to be an Arsenal fan. You had last weekend off, got to kick up your feet and watch your club's record of an undefeated season remain intact and unshared, you see off Portsmouth in an easy FA Cup tie midweek then get the spotlight for Week 29, with a double gameweek and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the name on everyone's mind. But I digress...

I am supposed to be talking about Mo Salah and, more to the point I suppose, talking about single gameweek options instead of double gameweek options. With Liverpool playing at home against a Bournemouth side currently sitting in the relegation zone, you bet your bottom dollar, the likes of Mo Salah deserve consideration despite the lack of an extra match. The loss to Watford and the wind removed from the sails of a potential undefeated season is precisely the reason why the like of Salah and Sadio Mané will be given less investment this weekend than they would have otherwise, because otherwise we would all be arguing how playing at home to Bournemouth in only one game is just about as potentially lucrative as City's away derby trip plus home game against Arsenal combined.

It comes down to two things - the main thing is, do you want to risk a single-game captain in a double gameweek and, if so, do you believe Liverpool bounce straight back after what was not a nail-biting, last-second loss, but a comprehensive 0-3 beatdown at the hands of Watford - a game in which Salah had no key passes, took two shots and never once hit the target...and those are better numbers than what Mane produced. I think Liverpool will thrash the Cherries and have no issue backing one of the Reds money midfielders for captaincy. I trust those options more than I do City's double gameweek options, or any of the Gunners not named Aubameyang.

 

 

 

Sadio Mané (12.4m)

 

Ownership % - 24.3% (last week, 24.3)

Season points - 162 (13 Gs, 8 As, 19 BPs)

Opponent - Bournemouth (home)

When I said Salah outperformed Mane last weekend, I wasn't kidding. Statistically, Mane had his worst game of the season against the Hornets, and I mean his entire game, not just the key stats that give you points in FPL. Those key stats were all zeros: key passes, shots on target, shots...but even in other areas of the game, duels won, tackles, successful dribbles...all of the stats were below his usual output. He was, in all respects, invisible. I play in a league that counts virtually all the stats, and Mane's 6.3 points from the Watford game was by far the lowest of the season for a game he played from start to finish. To compare, looking back at the last game he played in which he did not score or assist, in that scoring format, he had 13.6 points against Manchester United - more than double what he managed against Watford. So yeah, something went horribly wrong for Liverpool across the board last weekend.

So here's the breakdown. If I had a team without Aubameyang or Salah, but owned Mane, Mane would probably be at the top of my captaincy list. But, I would likely spend my transfer, possibly four points if necessary, to bring Aubameyang in and captain him before I would go with Mane. So, with a bit of 4-D chess, I would say Salah, then, is a much better choice than Mane if you want to back a Liverpool option. In the reverse fixture, Liverpool beat the Cherries 0-3. Salah had a goal/assist combo meal while Mane did not feature at all. Mane did score on the Cherries at Anfield last season, but Salah still had a better record versus opponent, also with a goal in that game and then a hat trick at Dean Court.

 

 

Kevin De Bruyne (10.7m)

 

Ownership % - 49.6%

Season points - 178 (8 Gs, 18 As, 23 BPs)

Opponent - Manchester United (away), Arsenal (home)

This was supposed to be the option to challenge Aubameyang for your captaincy this week. Ahh, but that injury flag. De Bruyne is currently dealing with a shoulder issue, a slight tear or sprain in a ligament apparently, so his status for the gameweek is in doubt. Already a KDB owner, learning of this injury dampened my mood somewhat about his double gameweek prospects, but I don't think it is a major injury and I have faith he will feature in some capacity over the the course of the round. City's fixtures are not exactly attractive, as good as a club as they may be, as they have to play the away game of the Manchester derby and then taking on Arsenal. The Citizens are catching United at perhaps precisely the wrong time. United look as good as they have in quite a long time, with Bruno Fernandes giving them the piece they were lacking in their attack while their defense is peaking as well, having conceded just a single goal over their last four league games.

However, while two matches against high-profile clubs may not be one's preference for a potential captain to go up against, the tough fixtures may actually work in De Bruyne's favor. If this weekend's fixture was, say, City at home playing Crystal Palace, I think Pep Guardiola takes no risks and gives De Bruyne at least a full rest for that first game. But, no one wants to lost a Manchester derby and we know how vital the Belgian midfielder is to getting positive results for City. My best guess is that he will play somewhere between 90-120 minutes over these two games. I think he starts against United and is lifted shortly after the hour mark and, against Arsenal, something similar. This is pure, uncut speculation on my end. If you feel it will play out differently and it makes KDB look more/less attractive, then react accordingly. The bottom line is, the shoulder knocks De Bruyne out of top-tier consideration but does not remove him from the equation entirely. 

 

 

Nicolas Pepe (9.2m)

 

Ownership % - 4.4%

Season points - 85 (4 Gs, 6 As, 8 BPs)

Opponent - West Ham (home), Manchester City (away)

This would definitely be the differential of the week. For much of the season, Pepe has been little more than a disappointing pick in fantasy draft leagues, very little interest in the FPL classic game once his honeymoon was over and we weren't seeing the kind of fantasy returns we would expect from a player at his price. Well, it may have taken several months, but Arsenal's double gameweek may have come in the nick of time for Pepe's coming out party. Until the previous two league games, Pepe had not had attacking returns in consecutive games in his first season of PL action. In fact, up until a couple of weeks ago, he was not even starting. From Weeks 11-20, he played a shift of sixty minutes or more only twice. He was simply untouchable in FPL classic.

The last two games however, against Newcastle and Everton, has seen a dramatic shift in Pepe's influence. For a start, he has three assists in his last two games, doubling his season total. Before two games ago, he had a season high of four key passes on three occasions. He did that now in each of the last two. Arsenal desperately need a secondary option for goals to help Aubameyang and Pepe has done that better the last two games than he or any other Arsenal player has done all season.  All this said, I think you only consider Pepe as a clear strategical differential. In other words, your rank is horrible, your tired of treading water with the same players everyone else has and you want to roll the dice on a boom or bust play.  Personally, I think it's risky and he wouldn't even be in the debate were it not for the last two games. I mean, he has four goals, six assists in 1,519 minutes on the pitch. For comparison, Anwar El Ghazi has four goals, five assists in 1,646. Pepe's rate is a little better, but would you even consider El Ghazi as a DGW captain, even if he played both games at home against Norwich somehow? Probably not. Recent form and a double gameweek means he deserves to be in the conversation. But for me, I see him as a nice weapon for this round, but would give the armband to someone else first and not go from ignoring Pepe to immediately anointing him the most trustworthy captaincy choice in my squad. Once again though, if you are desperate and want to hit a potential jackpot, his 4.4% ownership, form and double gameweek are the necessary ingredients.

 

 

Everyone else - This was the section last week where i knocked it out of the park. Did any of you go out and pick up and/or captain Marcos Alonso like I suggested? He nearly matched my entire team's round score last week. Right, let's touch on a few other names here. First, Jamie Vardy. I felt bad doing it, but I couldn't in good conscious include him any more than a mention here, and that mention is to say - I don't trust him with the armband until further notice, regardless of fixture. That has been my stance for a couple of weeks now, ever since the Wolves game, where his stat line had zeroes across the board. He is clearly not in a good way, and though I imagine he will be among the most-captained players this week who only play once, I cannot think of one solid argument to make in his favor. I do hope he proves me wrong, he is still in my squad. Even though he tanked along with the rest of his teammates, Trent Alexander-Arnold has the potential to hit big in his one game. Not for me though. It's one thing to captain a defender, it's another to do it in a week where other options have two games. Otherwise I would be talking more about Matt Doherty. He, along with Diogo Jota and Raúl Jiménez certainly have the opportunity to make a splash this weekend. Wolves are flying high and are at home to Brighton. I am ready to take a chance on Bruno Fernandes, because I do see some armband potential there, but not the week of the Manchester derby. Danny Ings could return to form home against Newcastle. In a different-looking week, I would probably have more of an argument for him, but you probably own at least one of the players that were featured in-depth this week, and I would turn to them first before Ings.

 

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.

Steve Rothgeb
Steve Rothgeb is a contributor for Rotoworld.com and WorldSoccerTalk.com, a self-proclaimed fantasy sports oracle, and Tottenham Hotspur fanatic. He can be found on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles.