Well, the international break went pretty much as expected. Took myself off the grid for a week, got some rest relaxation and allowed all the stress of managing FPL to escape through my pores. At least, I think that's what happened while soaking in hot springs. Either way, I am back feeling refreshed and positive. There is no problem ol' Fuzzy can't handle now that the batteries have been recharged.
Except for this Sadio Mane problem.
It was always going to be too much to ask to get through an international break with my FPL squad intact. As you are likely already aware, Mane broke his thumb while in action for Senegal and, while he has already had surgery, there is some doubt as to his availability this weekend in what is a very attractive fixture for Liverpool fantasy options, away to Huddersfield Town. With it being his thumb, a part of the body that a footballer can largely ignore, save for keepers of course, there is a real chance he will not miss any time. It will likely be a player decision, so odds are Mane will be in the XI or completely out of the squad. I would imaging very little chance of him being on the bench and making a cameo. So, at least that particular scenario should not haunt current owners.
It is a tough call for me, personally, because before the injury even occurred, I had it in mind to switch him out for Kevin De Bruyne. Mane had blanked in four straight while De Bruyne is poised to return in some capacity this weekend, with his price tag (9.7m) as low as it will probably ever be. With Mane set to drop in price this morning, if not, surely before the deadline, and having no extra cash in the bank, if I wanted to make this move with one free, easy transfer, it would have to be now.
In the end, I have the bottled the move and saved the transfer. And this is despite the fact that a Twitter poll had 73% of my followers telling me I should pull the trigger. So, if you happened to vote that way and are reading this now, the least I can do before diving into this week's picks is offer my explanation.
Mane has blanked in four straight. This is TRUE. However, let's keep in mind that three of the four opponents were quality - Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City. Pool averaged one goal for each of those games. So the entire attack suffered from tough opposition and some blanks had to be expected. Also, bear in mind that Mane has shown in his career to be quite a streaky form player. He was hot in the first four weeks, scoring in all of them, then four straight weeks of blanks. Could he be due to flip the switch back again? Well, maybe its not as predictable as "every four weeks", but when your next two opponents are Huddersfield and Cardiff, the environment to hit form again and see the Reds put up three or four goals on the board is set for Mane to get a piece of the action.
Then there is the case of De Bruyne. Well, the worst thing about not getting him now is that he will pass Mane in price and make it more difficult to replace him. But, thinking long and hard, that simply isn't enough to combat the negatives about him. The first obvious one is, we cannot be sure that Pep starts him straight away. I would bet he does, but like most lineup decisions from Pep, you can never feel to comfortable with your gut. Another factor that really has been around longer than any is that KdB's role under Pep does not appear to maximize the Belgian's fantasy production. With a deep-lying role, he runs a risk of being a Modric-type. World class, but the man behind the pass before the pass before the goal. Don't get me wrong, De Bruyne is world class, and can score from just about anywhere in any way. But in the wingback system with two deep lying central midfielders, we have seen a surge in assists from those fullbacks like Benjamin Mendy. Christian Eriksen appears to be suffering from a similar fate. He is still the creative force behind Spurs, but fullbacks like Kieran Trippier are getting the assists while the front men get the goals. Eriksen's first six games returned no goals and two assists, well below the average consistent returns we have seen from him over the last half-decade. So I think with the likes of De Bruyne and Eriksen, the bulk of their fantasy returns will come directly from set pieces while open-play production takes a dive to far for premium players like that.
Now then, the fail safe. Let's say holding Mane this week turns out to be the wrong move. Well, by not using a transfer, I will have two at my disposal next week. I can make up the .1m in a double move where I just downgrade a bench enabler that has little chance of ever making my final XI anyway. Again, with a home game to Cardiff, if Mane is playing, I cannot bring myself to drop him in front of a fixture like that.
So there you have it. To De Bruyne or not to De Bruyne. That was the question, and I think I answered it. Now, the fantasy gods will simply do whatever they feel like doing. Until the day of reckoning comes, let us take a look at the rest of the league's have's and have not's ahead of Week 9 :
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: Rui Patrício - Patricio was my keeper to buy in Week 8 and he goes on to a huge round that left him the second-highest scoring shot-stopper, only two points behind Ederson, who costs over a million more. Wolves are the most lethal promoted side I've ever seen and it looks like there is no better budget value than to roster three of their guys. Patricio, a defender (preferably Doherty) and Jiminez as your budget forward provides serious bang for your buck.
Player to sell: Wayne Hennessey - Hennessey got off to a great start, at one point reaching the top of the keeper list in points. But, when you look at Palace's fixtures ahead, you realize how favorable they were in the first eight weeks. Here are your next five for the Eagles - Everton away, Arsenal home, Chelsea away, Tottenham home, Man United away. If you have two starting GKs, then you can just bench Hennessey but if he's your only option, then you have my rare blessing to spend a transfer at this position
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: Asmir Begovic - Coming off a clean sheet and facing Southampton and Fulham in the next two rounds all sounds good for Begovic. But I am not buying it. I believe more in the Cherries' ability to explode in attack, like the four they put past Watford, than I do in their defensive abilities and their results this season reflect that notion. Even with the clean sheet, Begovic wasn't tested enough to earn a single save point and hasn't sniffed a single bonus point in Bournemouth's two clean sheet results this season.
Player to buy: Benjamin Mendy - Not much to say here. He was 6.5m at his peak before injury. He's fit again, got a clean sheet in his first game back and you know after having more recovery time over this break will only help him get back to his attacking ways. Buy him at 6.2m. All you have to do is cross your fingers he stays fit, otherwise it's an addition that cannot help but be beneficial to your squad.
Player to sell: Jose Holebas - Normally, I would not let a one-match ban be the deciding factor in cutting a player, but for Holebas owners, I think the time has come to cash out and replace him. The form had already been dipping. In the first four weeks, he averaged a whopping 8.5 points per game. In the last four, that number crashed as hard as one can imagine - two total points, or, half a point per game. The Hornets hot start seems to be dying down squad-wide and Holebas will likely be the first to ten yellow cards before 2018 is up.
Player to hold: Newcastle options - I said it last week and I will stick with it this week, and probably at least one week more. The Magpies have a great run of fixtures and if they expect to rack up some points, the defense will need to step up. While they've kept only one cleanie in the last six rounds, I have to expect two or three over the next month or so, with Brighton, Southampton, Watford, Bournemouth, Burnley and West Ham carrying them into December.
Player to avoid: John Stones - Stones was fantastic in the goalless draw between City and fellow powerhouses Liverpool, so much so that he earned two bonus points along with his clean sheet. You would think that would merit another start for the young man, if not a run of starts. But, the question marks around City are never going away at some positions. With center back, its Ayermic Laporte and whoever Pep feels like partnering with him. Stones may have jumped to the most-preferred out of himself, Otamendi and Kompany, but you are asking for a headache if you are attempting to find a cheap route to the Citizen's back line.
Player to buy: Andre Schurrle - The fact that Schurrle is currently priced below his starting price might be one of the more baffling FPL-related facts I've ever encountered. I mean, he's averaged a goal every other game for the last six weeks. I am not sure how much more production one can reasonably expect from a budget midfield option. He's a real winger, which I've decided is how to stack your midfield in most situations. Yes, Fulham do not boast the front three of a Liverpool or Chelsea or Manchester City, but it's quality in relation to their price tags. I do not want use a forward spot on Mitrovic or Vietto but I'd love to have Schurrle as my MID#4. The only mid in FPL who has taken more shots than Schurrle is Mo Salah, so the opportunities are consistently there.
Player to sell: Lucas Moura - Lucas is another case of a player whose first four weeks are massively different than their last four weeks. The Brazilian was ripping it up right out of the gate, but we are now on four straight blanks. I worry that he may his place. Even when he was scoring goals, his style of play seemed to clash at the detriment of those like Eriksen, Alli and Kane. Heung-Min Son was absent in that first month and, even with Alli out, Erik Lamela has done all he can to earn a PL start. I would cash in now and take whatever profit you earned from owning him.
Player to hold: Anthony Knockaert - There was some buzz around Knockaert heading into the Week 8 deadline, mainly because he was scoring consistently in home games and the Seagulls had one on tap. Well, he did not produce in that match against West Ham, and three of the next four are on the road for Brighton. But, unless you can switch him out for Schurrle without punishment, I would give him a bit of a leash, seeing what he does against Newcastle and then home to Wolves in Week 10 before bailing.
Player to avoid: Man United options - After their dramatic comeback win over Newcastle last time out, there is much to be excited about in their midfield. Anthony Martial is finally getting regular playing time and has paid off the move with a goal and assist against the Magpies. Juan Mata was given a rare start and scored immediately. Even Alexis Sánchez, only making the bench in Week 8 and was completely off the squad in Week 7, came in as a sub and scored the match-winner. Has José Mourinho finally figured out who his best players are and where to play them on the pitch? Maybe. But no need to react just yet. A trip to Mourinho's old stomping grounds, Stamford Bridge, will be a tough test. So let's watch that match play out and re-evaluate these options for Week 10.
Player to buy: Alexandre Lacazette - The Frenchman has either scored or assisted in six straight games. Yet, it was only after this most recent round that his price has risen above its original starting price. Still, with a tag below 10m, and getting this kind of week-in, week-out production, it's safe to say his price remains a bargain. His form is there, the team's form is there, the fixtures aren't too bad. It is time to cut one of Kane or Aguero for this guy. I doubt you can roster all three.
Player to sell: Wilfried Zaha - Yes, I am going to pick on the Eagles, both in defense and now in attack, because they are looking at a really rough patch in their season. Zaha is carrying a knock, but will likely feature. Still, I say you cut him. His attacking points have come against soft defenses while he goes absent against the stronger opponents. The next several weeks features almost exclusively only stronger opponents. I like a switch to Mitrovic or Josh King in that 3rd striker role.
Player to hold: Alexsandar Mitrovic - Speaking of Mitrovic, owners are getting a bit nervous with one goal from him in the last four rounds. But, as was mentioned with Schurrle above, I am bullish on Fulham's attack and, while I would rather get my coverage in midfield with the German, those who already own Mitrovic should stick with him for their coverage ahead of some tasty matchups.
Player to avoid: Yoshinori Muto - Have Newcastle finally found a striker they can depend on weekly? Muto certainly stated his case by making the most of his first start by notching his first PL goal. I like the idea of a budget third striker who is trending up and has good fixtures but you can have Raul Jiminez for the same price and the difference between the two is not even close. Jiminez will start at least 35 games this season if he's healthy and has already returned attacking points in five of the first eight rounds. Meanwhile, Muto could easily drop for Joselu or Salomon Rondon at any time.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
1) Eden Hazard
4) Mo Salah
5) Harry Kane
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.