The Boxing Day round is behind us and we are headed for Gameweek 19 now, the final round of the first half of the season. My, how time flies when we enter the festive period.
Week 18 was an overall success, utilizing the strategy I described in my last FPL column. I decided to hang onto Diego Costa and bench him, dropping Harry Kane instead for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Playing a 4-4-2, I got clean sheets from two defenders and an assist from another. There was threat of peril when Theo Walcott was an absentee for Arsenal, and my squad was stretched to the max, as Jordi Amat, who I had ready to use in a starting role, also didn't feature, and, of course, the unavailable Costa. But, two West Brom bench players came on for two points apiece and, most importantly, I gave the armband to Ibrahimovic. I have to tell you folks, this game is 50% about picking the right captain.
It should be quite the rollercoaster ride over the next two rounds. Several clubs will be playing on just a 48 hour turnaround from one round to the next, so there is bound to be a slew of relied-upon FPL stars getting a rest. Again, this is where the right armband choice is so crucial. Maybe this week or next, you are unfortunate enough to only manage fielding ten players, or nine. But, if you captain the right person, it can make up for the surprise benching. Just about the only player I would imagine is guaranteed to start each of the next two games (not counting keepers) is Sergio Aguero, since he has been spending the majority of December sitting in a comfortable chair.
For now, I am going to attempt to ride the consistency of Costa and the form of Ibrahimovic before I turn back to Aguero. I could be rushing to get Kun in before the ball drops in Times Square on New Year's Eve, but, let's see how long I can get away without his services. In the meantime, I will shave some cash off where I can to get the extra money for Aguero ready. This week, the choice was simple - drop Walcott, who has been ruled out again, and replace with Lallana, who, on a points per games played basis, has only been outscored this season by Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard.
Right, 2016 is about to take a hike, so let's get this party started...
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: Petr Cech - Last week I said "hold" to those that own him, this week, I encourage non-owners to buy. If you have gone super cheap at the position and Jordan Pickford is one of your two keepers, now may be the time to open the wallet. Arsenal's fixtures are great for a long stretch.
Player to sell: Jordan Pickford - Latest news points to Pickford missing the next six weeks, so it is obvious he is ready for the chop in your squad. The reason I mention him is, if you bought him at 4.0m, you will want to sell before his first price drop post-injury news if you want to profit .1m from owning him.
Player to hold: Fraser Forster - No one likes to see a keeper who costs over 5m ship four goals at home, but do not panic Forster owners. The Saints hit a dip while Spurs enjoyed one of their occasional goal frenzies. Saints are solid defensively, usually, and fixtures are favorable for them.
Player to avoid: Joel Robles - Maarten Stekelenburg had kept only one clean sheet since Week 4 and Robles managed to match that total in one start as the Dutch keeper missed out with injury. One might gather that Robles has earned a chance to hold onto the gig. If he were in 4m-4.3m range, I might consider. But I still need to see better from the Toffees defense and more confidence that Robles has won the job.
Player to buy: Cedric - After coughing up four to Spurs, not many will be rushing out to get a Saints defender. But, now's your chance to own one for under 5m and they have a great schedule going forward.
Player to sell: John Stones - This being the final FPL column of the year, I figure it is fitting to say, just one more time, "Sell John Stones". He started last week and City kept a clean sheet, right? Yeah, he left early with a knock. The defender everyone needed to have when the season began has been a failure.
Player to hold: Ben Gibson - Middlesbrough's defense will surely be tested against an improving Manchester United attack this week, but, if you can manage to hang onto Gibson, Boro's fixtures get very tasty from Week 20 on.
Player to avoid: Gabriel - If you jumped on Gabriel early, you've managed to get six starts from a budget Arsenal defender, though he only mustered one clean sheet in that span. He probably starts this week, but Shkodran Mustafi is working his way back to fitness. Too late now for the Gabriel train.
Player to buy: Adam Lallana - It was a headache before, deciding which Liverpool attacking player to invest in with so many options but, with Coutinho injured, Mane off to ACON soon, Firmino being inconsistent, Milner dependent solely on pens... Lallana, coming off his seventh goal, makes it an easy decision now.
Player to sell: Kevin de Bruyne - He has the traits to explode and do it for an extended period of time, but the Belgian simply isn't meeting his value. For players above 10m, you want production virtually every week and the capability of multiple scores. Just two goals all season and two assists in his last six matches simply isn't getting it done.
Player to hold: Gylfi Sigurdsson - If you bought Siggy about three rounds ago, and many did, you were filled with anticipation over his potential. The form was there and upcoming opponents were far from intimidating. So what's the Icelandic sensation do? Go three straight without returns. Hang in there, Siggy owners. If he doesn't get something in these next two (Bouremouth and Palace), then feel free to ditch.
Player to avoid: Kevin Mirallas - It was looking like a potential banner season for Mirallas, who opened the campaign either scoring or assisting in three of Everton's first four matches. He then went in a major drought until a goal last week in the Toffees win at Leicester. Could this be the spark of another run of form? Frankly, I do not trust it and I am not a fan of a fantasy player who consistently gets subbed off around 75 minutes every start.
Player to buy: Sergio Aguero - Here me out. Ibrahimovic is still my forward to buy, as he was last week. But, if Aguero returns straight back to elite goal-scorer right away, now is the chance to buy him before the rest of the league feels obligated to piggyback on. Beware though, you are buying his reputation more than his form, so there is risk in opting for him over Zlatan or Costa.
Player to sell: Fernando Llorente - If you own him, be happy you got a goal from his 45 minute appearance last round, but the forward position at Swansea, and their attack in general, has many question marks. I don't expect goals every week from my 3rd striker, but I do expect close to 90 minutes.
Player to hold: Salomon Rondon - I can never bring myself to buy Rondon in the FPL format because I just cannot feel confident investing in attacking players from a Tony Pulis side. It's been a couple of quiet weeks for Rondon and this week, he may find it difficult with a trip to St. Mary's, but, if you hang on, the Baggies have home matches against Hull and Sunderland in two of their next three. Could be lucrative.
Player to avoid: Andre Gray - Gray was the budget striker everyone was expecting big things from when the season started, but it has been a season marred by Twitter antics and a lack of faith from manager Sean Dyche. After a recent run in the side, his potential finally broke through with a goal against Middlesbrough in the last round. With a home game against Sunderland up next, some might see the appeal. I would shy away for now though. Things get tough immediately after the Black Cats and I want a larger sample size that Gray is back to scoring goals like he did in the Championship last season.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
2) Diego Costa
3) Sergio Aguero
4) Alexis Sanchez
5) 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, which is Friday night. Remember, some injuries are not revealed until just before the deadline. 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.