The FPL game is not for the faint of heart. It can be a volatile roller-coaster ride, filled with ups and downs, twists and turns. It just so happened that Week 9 was not so much your classic roller-coaster design. It was more like one of those rides where you start at the very top and just free fall until the end.
Yes, Week 9 was tragic for most. It has the lowest average round score of the season to date with 43 the median number. However, based on average, it was still within the realm of "normal". We've had an average round score of 44 back in Week 4 and the highest average round through the first nine weeks is only 52 points, so we are looking at a range of "good weeks" and 'bad weeks" having less than ten points separate them. So, forgive me if it appears I am writing hyperbole, but Week 9 was the worst round I have had in a decade. Nineteen points. NINE-TEEN. You never want the word "teen" in your round score. Adding to the misery of this historic occasion is the fact that I am only one week removed from playing my wildcard. The first week with my new squad resulted in a green arrow, but it wasn't a round so good one would immediately declare a wildcard success. Naturally, the wildcard should be played with multiple weeks in mind. But I think it is safe to say, even though only two weeks have passed on this wildcard, it has been an epic failure. When I think of the players I had before the wildcard, like Benjamin Mendy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, it is impossible to find a silver lining. Not only was my wildcard wasted...it assaulted me.
So, while there is no positive spin to put on my personal experience, there is an area of FPL I can feel good about - this column. My suggestions in recent weeks have had a high percentage of success. If only I had about four or five free transfers every week, maybe Week 9 would have been a different story. Ahead of Week 8, I touted Hector Bellerin for your defense. Try as you might, you will not find another pundit talking him up at that stage. Since then - three assists in two matches. Last week, I suggested getting Mendy back in your sides, and, well, perhaps not as courageous a call as Bellerin, he immediately delivered double digit points. Only nine less points than my entire XI managed. Gee...what a lovely way to look at it. Andre Schurrle was my midfield call and he paid off instantly.
That reminds me. Before looking ahead to Week 10, let's talk about Fulham for a second. Specifically, the defense. We all knew they weren't very good. None of us own any of their many ineffective pieces in our classic FPL squads. But, we may be witnessing one of the worst defenses in the PL era. It is time to start making picks based on their opponent. THis week, they host Bournemouth. The last game the Cherries played on the road, they put four past Watford. The last time Fulham played, they conceded four to Cardiff. TO CARDIFF, people! So, while standard philosophy dictates that you typically transfer players with more than one game in mind, we may need to make an exception for the Cottagers. Just an FYI, Liverpool host Fulham in Week 12. If ever there was a case to use Triple Captain in a non-double gameweek, this may be it. If you don't have Mo Salah at the moment, just make sure you have him for that one. You have enough time now to plan it without penalty.
Right, I am admittedly still shell-shocked from an abysmal week. "There's nowhere to go but up", I believe is the expression? Let's take a look at Week 10:
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD
So now it is time to look at the players to think about ahead of Week 4. As a reminder, there are four categories of players which I feel are worth mentioning week to week when making decisions about transfers....
1) Players to buy
2) Players to sell
3) Players to hold onto
4) Players to avoid buying
I will also include later in the section, my top choices for the captain's armband. While I will consider every player from A to Z, you will normally find the usual suspects there.
Right, so let's dive in...
*Just as a reminder, keepers should always be the last position to think about using transfers for, unless there is an urgent need. So, when you see who I have listed here, bear in mind that my keeper advice does not carry as much weight as the outfield positions.
Player to buy: Mathew Ryan - We are well into the season now, so there won't be many surprises at the keeper position but Ryan has emerged as one. Still at his budget starting price of 4.5m, he has kept back-to-back cleanies that included five bonus points in total. If Brighton's schedule was rough going forward, I may write off the recent form, but in reality the Seagulls have one of the better group of fixtures in the league, hosting Wolves this weekend and getting Cardiff and Huddersfield in two of the following four.
Player to sell: Wayne Hennessey - This pick will remain the same as last week. A frightening run of fixtures that started with Everton away, the Eagles now are tasked with a schedule of Arsenal home, Chelsea away, Tottenham home, Man United away. Wan-Bissaka owners should be held by all owners as a bench option and ride out this tough stretch, but all other Palace options should be getting shipped out.
Player to hold: Kasper Schmeichel - Schmeichel has been one of the least-productive keepers so far this season, and owners will feel buyer's remorse for putting 5m into him, when so many 4.5m options could have surpassed his contribution. A trip to Arsenal this weekend looks to be another fruitless endeavor for clean sheet hopes, causing owners to look to replace, but immediately after the Gunners, Leicester have one of the nicer schedules. Opponents like Brighton, Burnley and Cardiff should benefit the Foxes.
Player to avoid: Jordan Pickford - Every year, there is a troll in the game, looking for any opportunity to do you wrong. Pickford has been that player for me. I had him for the first six weeks, and he was the worst starting keeper based on points after that stretch. I ditched. 12 points in those six weeks I had him...23 in the the three weeks since, including his giant 15 point haul against Palace. Maybe there is a jinx with this guy, but I see the Toffees play Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool in three of the next five - ALL three on the road - and I say "no thanks".
Player to buy: Ricardo Pereira - I appear to have more confidence in Pereira as a fantasy weapon than most pundits and, considering Leicester's not defending all that well, I can understand the lack of love. But, after only two clean sheets in their first nine, I have to think the Foxes will improve on that rate with the fixtures they have for the next month and change. A prospect at his price, playing out-of-position, who can legitimately return points on both sides of the ball with a kind schedule and relatively low ownership? That is everything I look for in a defender. Now, Pereira just needs to deliver.
Player to sell: Burnley options - It is not so much a reaction to giving up five goals last weekend. Good defenses can get ripped apart by Manchester City. But the season as a whole has shown a significant dropoff in defending for the Clarets. All of their regulars are below their initial starting price and they will likely continue to fall with Chelsea up next, then three of the next four away from Turf Moor.
Player to hold: Trent Alexander-Arnold - Two weeks, two-non appearances for the young talent. This would normally sound the transfer alarm but I have faith that TA-A will be back in the mix this weekend. The big factor is the return of Dejan Lovren and how that has allowed the flexible Joe Gomez to play right back. Lovren may have sealed his spot for quite some time, grabbing max bonus in his two starts, both resulting in clean sheets. So the call is to say TA-A is preferred to over Gomez. The pair are both young and full of energy, so there could be rotation here and you may want to find a replacement for TA-A in the near future. I just cannot bring myself to drop him ahead of a home game against Cardiff.
Player to avoid: Cedric - Thanks to a clean sheet and maximum bonus, Cedric had one of the better rounds by any defender in Week 9, is quite cheap at 4.4m, and a home date next up against Newcastle looks attractive enough. But boy, oh boy, you want to talk about a volatile player? Cedric had a great Week 4 in which he assisted and kept a clean sheet for a 12-point haul. ALL other weeks combined, comprising seven rounds and Cedric started them all, he totaled four points. FOUR. His highest score in those seven games - 1 point. So, while there will be a good round sprinkled in every couple of months, in general, Cedric has been fantasy poison.
Player to buy: Mo Salah or Sadio Mane - Between injuries and some tricky fixtures, many managers have parted ways with one or both of these dynamic players but it is time now to rely on the bread and butter of the Liverpool attack. Salah has already shown himself heating up and Mane returned midweek, no worse for the wear, playing a full shift and scoring a goal in Champions League. I expect a proper beatdown against Cardiff this weekend and you must have at least one of these guys. Preferably, you can have Salah. But for those who own Eden Hazard, that may prove too expensive to pull off. (I would hold on to Hazard in spite of his injury flag). Both of these option are armband material this weekend as well.
Player to sell: Anthony Knockaert - I made a bad call on Knockaert last week, suggesting you hold on to him, and he completely throws a pie in my face by picking that same week to not feature for the first time this season. People are excited about his home form and Brighton are playing on their ground this weekend, so a return to the XI for Knockaert would not be a shock-aert. (Sorry) My problem is, they host Wolves, and I see a 0-0 on the cards, which would mean another blank for this midfielder. Then, Brighton are away for three of their next four. True, there aren't many great options below his 5.5m price, but I would swap him for someone like Kenedy and pocket the extra cash.
Player to hold: Ryan Fraser - The last four weeks have been rather quiet for the popular Fraser, with only an assist, a couple of clean sheet points and no bonus in that span. But, as mentioned in the opening of this column, managers have to start picking on the Fulham defense. Fraser gets to face the Cottagers this weekend and he and the rest of the Cherries attack are likely salivating over the matchup as we speak. Do not give up on him now. But, if he does blank in this one, it may be time to start thinking about cashing out.
Player to avoid: Kevin De Bruyne - The world-class Belgian is back for City, but, not only is it likely too soon to invest in him, it may be a poor investment in general. Last week was ridiculous for City's midfield. David Silva, Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva all had attacking returns, and yet, it was Fernandinho who had the best round of them all. I by no means suggest this is a typical result, but I want to see de Bruyne's role in all of this. I like him because, when fit, he is likely to avoid the rotation minefield more often than others. But, is he going to produce if playing a deeper role? I think at this point, my favorite option of the bunch is Bernardo Silva. At least, with his price tag, it does not hurt as much when he doesn't start and the fact that he has started seven of the first nine is a good indication that he is returning good value.
Player to buy: Callum Wilson/Josh King - Two options near each other in price and production, the strategy to bully Fulham's defense continues here. Take your pick. Personally, I lean toward King because of his spot kick duties, but admittedly, Wilson can be more explosive with a few braces already in his PL career. If the fantasy gods are in a fair mood, both of these guys are going to find big attacking points this weekend. Pick your favorite.
Player to sell: Harry Kane - Suggesting selling a player like Kane is like asking to get mugged in Central Park. But, business is business and I cannot justify a player that goes for 12.5m when you have not one, but two Bournemouth options who have kept pace with him at nearly half the price. Maybe the return of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli will help, but, even when they were fit earlier in the season, something has been off with this Tottenham attack. It seemed to benefit Lucas Moura at the detriment of everyone else. With Spurs getting their Champions League aspirations trampled on midweek and hosting might Man City at the weekend, it's difficult to picture Tottenham getting anything from this game.
Player to hold: Glenn Murray - Murray took a tough knock to the head last week, ending his day just 15 minutes into the contest with Newcastle but, despite his current injury label, I would expect the veteran to be back in the XI against Wolves. Even though I don't see goals in the contest, Brighton's fixtures and Murray's production are both strong enough to withstand a potential quiet Week 9 and stay the course for gameweeks to come.
Player to avoid: Bobby Reid - Credit to anyone who had Reid in their XI last week for his 12-point return, but I am sure the three of you have already been praised by friends and neighbors. Yes, we all want that cheap third striker that can act as an enabler while still getting decent returns, but the 5.2m Reid may be a little too cheap for your side. I'd hate to beat the drum again, but Cardiff's goal explosion was more about the inability to defend by Fulham. Cardiff will revert back to their weak-attacking ways against the Reds this weekend.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
1) Mo Salah
3) Sadio Mane
4) Eden Hazard
That's it from me this week folks. Please, bear in mind much can change between the publishing of this column and the FPL deadline on Saturday. Remember, some injuries are not revealed until just before the deadline, and there are usually a few extra surprises in this regard coming out of an international break. Always try to refrain from executing your transfers for as long as possible to avoid wasting it on a player who turns out to have had a problem in training. That said, if you only have just enough money for the player you are looking to bring in and that player is at risk of rising in price, then sometimes you need to take a calculated risk and hope the fantasy gods will be kind to you.
Good luck, and may your arrows be green.