My, how quickly things have gotten interesting since I last left you. Another round of FA Cup ties has thrown a wrench in the fixtures. As we prepare for the coming weekend with four clubs not playing, most of us will be able to field a full XI without having to go crazy spending points or playing one's wildcard.
Well, as we let the current take us down the river of another season, the water is about to get seriously choppy.
The news itself comes as no surprise. Heading into last weekend's FA Cup round, it was inevitable that more blank gameweeks would be created by clubs in the top flight who won their tie, and we knew already that the blanks would fall in Week 28, as those clubs play their next cup fixture. Now, with the current round of the FA Cup (almost) complete, we can confirm that at least 10 of the league's 20 clubs will not play in Week 28. That number could grow to 12 clubs off and only eight playing, depending upon the result of Manchester City's replay with Huddersfield on the 1st of March.
The twist is, Manchester City have announced that should they push on past Huddersfield in the cup, then they may make up their postponed match, which would be against Stoke City, on an earlier date the the original schedule. In other words, City and Stoke could possibly have a double gameweek in Week 27 before each having blanks the following weeks. If the league has any influence on the fantasy game, another option would be for FPL to move up the Week 28 deadline, so that the City v Stoke match still falls under the umbrella of Week 28 and eliminate the possibility of an early double gameweek.
Depending on the makeup of your FPL squad, Week 28 could be a complete disaster. Let's take a look at which clubs will be out of the picture, starting with this week as, at least, three of the four clubs blanking in both week's 26 and 28.
Week 26 clubs not playing: Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton
Week 28 clubs not playing: Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Leicester, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Sunderland, Tottenham, Watford (possibly Manchester City and Stoke City as well.
For the sake of seeing it all in front of you, here are the eight clubs that will play this week and in Week 28...
Clubs playing both weeks 26 & 28 - Bournemouth, Burnley, Everton, Hull, Liverpool, Swansea, West Brom, West Ham
So, while every manager may have their own unique way of navigating their way around this stage of the season, it is universally-agreed upon logic that, for the next couple of weeks, you will want to use your transfers on players who are free of blanks, dropping players with blanks simultaneously. As is the case most years, the clubs with the most fantasy assets to choose from are the clubs that are progressing through the cup and creating these blank weeks. So, while we all want to be able to field a full XI every week, we need to be reasonable. Having a team filled with players from Bournemouth, Burnley, Hull and Swansea may serve you well in Week 28, but you will be looking rather exposed come Week 29. Looking at the eight "safe" clubs, the two from Merseyside look the most appealing for investment. Everton and Liverpool should be the two clubs that dominate the "ins" of the FPL transfer market.
Naturally, my picks this week will reflect this news. It sort of makes my picks a bit easier, practically predestined, but as we start to get confirmation of double gameweeks down the road, the clubs to target will quickly do a 180 degree turn. It will be all about investing in players with double gameweeks to come while letting go of those boring single gameweek options.
Strap in kids, the ride is about to get a little bumpy. Let us dive right in with a look at Week 26:
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: Eldin Jakupovic - Hull have survived their four-week nightmare schedule and have come out of it looking so much stronger defensively. January additions have led the Tigers to two clean sheets in those four tough matchups, with uber-budget Jakupovic racking up the points at the keeper position.
Player to sell: Victor Valdes - It is rather common for me to take a player I advise to "hold" one week, and label him as the one to "sell" the following week. I felt Valdes was worth holding one more week and it paid off, as a respectable defense at home held out Everton. Now though, Boro play the next two away and then have a blank. Enjoy last week's haul and drop.
Player to hold: Lukasz Fabianski - Swansea are definitely hitting their stride right now as Paul Clement has made a real difference since his appointment. Outside of Gylfi Sigurdsson though, FPL managers have kept away from the Welsh side for fantasy purposes. If you happen to own one of their defensive assets though, like Fabianski, then I would advise to hold. One may see a trip to Chelsea this weekend as a reason to drop, but play your second keeper if possible. Swansea's fixtures take a huge turn for the better following this weekend, so expect little this round but have optimism going forward.
Player to avoid: Tom Heaton - Heaton sees himself in this spot for the second straight week. Despite a brave performance in which the Clarets earned a draw with table-topping Chelsea, Heaton did not have a huge haul at Turf Moor. We all know the club's prospects are night and day when talking about playing at home or on the road and Burnley begin the first of four straight weeks away from home this weekend. Is he worth keeping? Sure. But buying now makes little sense.
Player to buy: Seamus Coleman/Leighton Baines - It looks rather clear to me that, between current form and a lack of blank gameweeks ahead, Everton provides the best source of defensive investment. Coleman and Baines in particular are the most appealing, as they offer attacking returns to go along with clean sheet potential. I am a Baines owner myself, but would love to have Coleman too. Three of the next four at home for the Toffees against Sunderland, West Brom and Hull.
Player to sell: Stoke defenders - Erik Pieters is the only Potter defender with an ownership above 2%, so this advice may not be applicable to too many readers. I still think it is worth noting though because, despite having no blank gameweeks on their schedule at this time, the fixtures ahead are too brutal to ignore regardless. They have a trip to White Hart Lane, a trip to the Etihad and are hosting Chelsea over three of the next four.
Player to hold: Swansea defenders - Maybe you are like me and still have Jordi Amat taking up space as a non-playing 5th defender, in the side since the season started, but if you happened to pick up another budget Swan along the way that is now a regular in the side, like a Kyle Naughton or Alfie Mawson, you are in good shape. The Swans gave up two goals last week, but give them a bit of a pass playing at the Etihad. In general though, they are improving under Paul Clement and they have some very attractive matchups ahead. So don't just hold them, use them.
Player to avoid: Winston Reid - While West Ham may be free from blank gameweeks, they have not exactly set the world on fire defensively this season, though, to their credit, they are a better unit than they were in the opening months of the season. That said, I would not opt for Reid as a defender to lean on through this tricky part of the schedule. Three of the next five are on the road and one of the two at home is against Chelsea. Throw in the fact that Reid is already on eight yellow cards and you have a classic case of "avoid".
Player to buy: Sadio Mane - While Leicester City flounder as they realize the importance of the departed N'Golo Kante, Liverpool felt a similar effect, albeit a sample size version, when Mane left for the AFCON tournament. The Reds sputtered in attack during Mane's absence but his return has seen them explode again. In form, no blanks, and when Liverpool's attack is hitting its stride, their fantasy options are fixture-proof.
Player to sell: Junior Stanislas - I have really backed myself into a corner with Stanislas. I promoted him as a "buy" and bought him myself a few weeks back, as he was in good form and had a proven track record of being tremendous value when he gets pitch time. Then Eddie Howe had to go and drop him for two matches straight, not even getting a chance as a sub off the bench. The way the Cherries are going right now, Howe could easily stick Stanislas back in this weekend and the midfielder could produce. That would make me happy because I am stuck with him. If you have the chance to move him though, do it.
Player to hold: Christian Eriksen/Dele Alli - This dynamic midfield duo were all the rage a month or so ago but the well has since dried up. Now we know that Spurs are not playing in Week 28, Eriksen and Alli's stock is falling even faster than it already was as neither scored above a "3: in the last three weeks. If you own both, I can understand giving up on one of them now, but I think it is dangerous to dump either with two home games ahead of the blank. At least see how this week goes before getting rid.
Player to avoid: Robbie Brady - What a delightful free kick goal against Chelsea in Week 25 by Mr. Brady, showcasing his set piece skills. He may wind up being one of the most important January signings as Burnley look determined to stay in the top flight for a consecutive season. As discussed earlier though, the Clarets spend the next month playing on the road. Brady could make for a nice budget midfield option for the run-in, but let's get these next four rounds out of the way first.
Player to buy: Romelu Lukaku - This one is an absolute must. Of all the big forwards in the game, Lukaku is the only one that is "blank-free" over the next few weeks, Everton has a very kind schedule with three of their next four at Goodison, and, in case you had forgotten, the last time Lukaku played at home, he scored four goals. Over a knock he picked up last week, he is ready to rock against last place Sunderland.
Player to sell: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Before you say "Duh, he doesn't play this week", allow me to explain. There are many managers who are faced with the reality that they may need to drop a player they would normally keep in order to field a complete team this week. I shudder to think what a a fantasy XI would look like with Zlatan, Alexis Sanchez and Kevin de Bruyne on the bench. The point here is, of all the big names you may have where you are forced to drop one, I think Zlatan is the one. United's blank in Week 28, giving them two blanks in three sealed the deal. Plus, once those blanks have passed, you will probably get to buy him back at a cheaper price than you sold him.
Player to hold: Salomon Rondon - Since his hat trick in Week 16 against the Swans, Rondon has been terrible. The striker has not scored a goal since and provided a single assist in the nine matches since. It would be hard to believe that anyone is still invested in him. But, the reason there was interest in the last month or so was because of a blossoming set of promising fixtures on the horizon for the Baggies. They play the next two at home. If you have Rondon, I would keep him around for those. He seems to have a knack for an occasional outburst of points and he seems to be due for the next one.
Player to avoid: Christian Benteke - Only one forward scored above five points in Week 25 and he does not have a game this weekend so there aren't too many kneejerk options to ward you about avoiding. I mention Benteke here because, were it not for Palace's blank in Week 28, I would be more inclined to look his way as an option. But, despite a potential haul at home this weekend against Middlesbrough, a trip to the Hawthorns followed by a blank makes avoiding the Belgian easy.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
2) Harry Kane
3) Diego Costa
4) Eden Hazard
5) Sadio Mane
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 Saturday morning. 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.