Oh, so that's what a green arrow looks like!
Yes, fellow fantasy fanatics, October 2016 was one of the roughest months of fantasy football ever endured by yours truly. Thankfully, Week 10 showed at least a temporary vision of hope for the remainder of this season. Big names from big clubs are putting up big numbers, as evidenced by the four-goal outputs last weekend from Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. There were also enough clean sheets to go around so that most managers were offered at least a taste. Overall, the average round score was 58 points, much higher than it had been for the previous several weeks and, considering I was able to only field 10 players, one of which was Darren Fletcher, I have to feel pretty good about an 81 point return. No thanks to Bob Bradley, who kept both of my cheap defenders, Jordi Amat and Stephen Kingsley from helping out no-show Theo Walcott and never-show (don't ask why he is still in my squad) Brendan Galloway.
But hey, this is the trade I am willing to make. I will take occasional blanks from barrel-scraping defenders, or 1 pointers from 5th midfielders...as long as all the money I saved in owning them pays off on the expensive talent I am counting on. Now, the direction of my squad is pretty clear. This week, address the problem that is Brendan Galloway, because I can no longer count on a Swansea defender coming in off of my bench. When this week ends, we have another international break coming. Next thing you know, we will be entering the tail end of November and headed for the festive period. Now is the time to start planning for that period. There are three deadlines in eight days between gameweeks 15-17. It is time to start thinking about which players look certain to start all of those games. A player like Raheem Sterling might need to make way soon.
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, it is pretty hard to look past the A (Aguero) or the Z (Zlatan).
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: Tom Heaton - There aren't too many FPL players I have mentioned twice already in the column this season, but this will be the third time I will suggest buying Heaton. He proved once again at Old Trafford last week that he is the kind of keeper you buy, start every week, and never worry about the position again. He will either get you save points, a clean sheet, or both plus bonus points pretty much every week. The Clarets also have a kind run of fixtures ahead. If you have a more expensive keeper, sell him now, pocket the cash and roll with Heaton.
Player to sell: David de Gea - de Gea is a great keeper and he will, barring injury, finish around the top of the fantasy scorers at the position at the end of the season, but he is the perfect example of a "premium priced" keeper that simply isn't needed. United are not going to be helped with the loss of Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia, so clean sheet chances have to take somewhat of a hit. But the schedule is pretty tough right now too. Swansea away this weekend isn't too formidable, but Arsenal, West Ham, Everton and Tottenham, their next four opponents, lowers one's confidence in the Red Devils defensive efforts.
Player to hold: Loris Karius - Fixtures mean a lot when hunting for clean sheets but when one talks about Liverpool's defensive record so far this season, fixtures do not seem to make much of a difference. They have only kept one cleanie so far this season, but it belongs to Karius. Some fantasy managers may have thought it wise to buy Karius at his sub-5m price for a cheap route into the Reds defense, seeing some attractive fixtures ahead. All of this remains true. Give him three weeks. Karius has Watford and Sunderland at home in that span. If Karius doesn't deliver after that run, give up on him.
Player to avoid: Victor Valdes - Valdes is coming off of his second straight clean sheet, picking up 16 fantasy points over those last two weeks. He is on fire, right? Well, Boro have improved defensively of late, but it would be a stretch to think it will continue with a trip to Man City, a home game against Chelsea followed by a trip to Leicester. Keep in mind, Valdes has only 27 points on the season, so thinking the 8 point average over the last two weeks as a sign of a trend is not a good idea.
Player to buy: Christian Fuchs - Leicester have been terrible away from home so far this season, but bear in mind, outside of the opener at Hull, they have had to travel to Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham. The 1-1 draw at Spurs showed signs of turning things around defensively on the road, so when you look at their next four opponents - West Brom, Watford, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, there is reason to think the Foxes can get points from the back, whether home or away. Add in Fuch's penchant for dipping into attacking points, and it is hard to ignore his appeal.
Player to sell: Ben Gibson - Only eight FPL defenders have scored 40 points or more on the season and, somewhat quietly, Gibson is one of them. Two clean sheets on the trot for Boro has helped him reach that status, along with a goal scored earlier in the campaign. It is nice to see Middlesbrough start to show some of the defensive clout that made them such a tough club to score on in the Championship last season, but the schedule suggests the defense will not be a source for points. Some may see a way to bench Gibson for the next three weeks, using a bench alternative instead, but if that select group does not include you, you are looking at Man City away, Chelsea, then Leicester away. Yikes.
Player to hold: Gareth McAuley - McAuley has a high ownership percentage, mainly due to the hot start he got off to, scoring a goal and keeping two clean sheets in the first three weeks. He went quiet from that point forward, and the Baggies have yet to earn a cleanie since Week 3. He did score another goal recently though and, despite the chance of a clean sheet away to Leicester somewhat slim, West Brom then have two of three at home to Burnley, Hull (away), and Watford. If you have a decent option to use over McAuley this week, go for it. But you will want to keep him for the weeks ahead.
Player to avoid: Jose Holebas - If you have been starting Watford defenders the last three weeks, especially Holebas, you have been grinning from ear to ear at the returns. So, it is difficult to rationalize selling any of them now. However, if you are looking to add one now, you have probably missed the boat. Fair play to the Hornets in keeping three cleanies on the trot, but let's recognize the opposition - Middlesbrough, Swansea and Hull. This week, they have Liverpool, next week they have Leicester. Holebas is especially dangerous to add now, as he is one yellow card away from suspension. (That said, Diego Costa has been one card away from suspension for weeks and just keeps helping fantasy managers)
Player to buy: Joe Allen - I wanted to pick Allen for this spot last week, but instead decided to highlight teammate Marko Arnautovic as a "player to hold", feeling that promoting Liverpool midfield coverage a priority. Well, assuming you have filled your Reds obligation by now, let's talk Allen. Do not be fooled, Allen is not going to "pull a Capoue". Will he deliver points at the rate he is currently on? No. But FPL is all about a player's production versus his price. Unlike Capoue, Allen is playing in the hole behind the striker, so he is advanced positioning is going to give him much more consistent involvement in the attack than Capoue could ever do. He is scoring goals, he is dishing out the assists. He is the 5th midfielder you want for the future and can really help out your club in that role when others miss a week or two (Sound good, Walcott owners?)
Player to sell: Michail Antonio - Ahh, how times have changed. It seemed not too long ago, Antonio was the "player to buy" from my point of view, and he produced returns immediately thereafter. But, things began to fall apart for him. The Hammers, as a unit, were in poor form during a nice run in their schedule and Antonio's value took a massive hit when he had to revert to playing right back, severely cutting into his involvement in the final third. With Andre Ayew back in the fray and no other real sharp options at right back, it looks as Antonio is back there to stay. He will still grab a few goals this season, but between his lack of production lately, his position on the pitch and a tough schedule ahead for West Ham, he is everything you don't want in a fantasy option now.
Player to hold: Liverpool midfielders - I say this tongue-in-cheek after listing "Liverpool midfielders" as my Player to Buy last week. My point here is, when the Reds mid you own doesn't provide returns in a given week, (last week it was Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and and absent James Milner that broke fantasy manager's hearts) do not make the mistake of playing Reds Roulette with your transfers. Everyone is going to get a turn on this merry-go-round at Anfield over the course of the season. Stick with the mid (or mids) you have now unless you have 2 free transfers and cannot think of any other improvement you can make with one of them.
Player to avoid: James McArthur - There are about four other Palace attacking players to consider buying for your FPL team before McArthur. To be fair, last week's brace gives him a very healthy four goal tally at the quarter mark of the season - great for a 5m priced midfielder. But, this is one of those rare glorious returns from a holding midfielder that come too few and far between to make them look like smart fantasy buys. Wilfried Zaha only costs .3m more. If you want to invest in a cheap mid from Palace, go there instead.
Player to buy: Callum Wilson - At this point, buying the best fantasy player from the club who is playing at home against the likes of either Hull City or Sunderland, and using transfers every week to continue having a prospect playing one of those two clubs looks like a pretty savvy strategy. This week, it is Wilson at home to the record-setting lowly Black Cats. Playing away to Stoke the week after gives investors more reason to salivate. Wilson is the maverick captain option this week as well.
Player to sell: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Just...it's over. Zlatan is Zlatan. He could win the Golden Boot by scoring twenty-two goals in the final 8 weeks of the season, but he just cannot find the net right now. The stats show he is involved but he has lost the finishing touch. It is a risk for anyone to suggest selling a player that is capable of going on a scoring rampage at any time, but you have shown him enough faith now, current owners. Cut bait. If he gets hot again, you can buy him for cheaper than his original asking price.
Player to hold: Charlie Austin - It has been two straight blanks for Austin, but he faced some tough competition..well, at least Chelsea is tough defensively. Manchester City are a work in progress. Any time a forward goes more than a couple of weeks without scoring, it gets a manager's finger itchy to pull the trigger, but I would keep faith in Austin. He is away to lowly Hull this week, then the Saints have three of four at home. The only road fixture in that group is Crystal Palace, who concede to everyone, so the Saints are pretty much playing the next five at home.
Player to avoid: Olivier Giroud - I could really be eating my words with this call. It is not as though I scoff at the notion that Giroud is capable of building off of his brace as a substitute last week, it is just that I am not 100% convinced Wenger will start him this weekend. Providing that threat last weekend as a substitute may be the perfect role for Giroud to play in the North London derby. A trip to Old Trafford the week after the NLD doesn't entice me either. I would rather monitor Giroud over these next two gameweeks and then think about buying starting in Week 13.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
1) Sergio Aguero
2) Kevin de Bruyne
3) Diego Costa
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. Press conferences from managers may reveal late news that can cause some of the picks I have provided to be reconsidered. 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.