Welcome to the halfway point of the season!
Boxing Day provided one of the more thrilling rounds of the season, as some big names had some huge scores and plenty of captaincy options paid off. My picks leading into Matchday 19 were mostly on point too, with highlighted players - Hugo Lloris, Lucas Digne and Paul Pogba - all delivering and were at or near the top scorers at their respective positions. Another point I made in the last column was that the landscape was ripe to go with two budget forwards and have more money devoted to midfield. Not a single forward returned a double-digit score in the last round, while no less than TEN midfielders were able to manage it.
There are many story lines taking different turns during this festive period, but nothing is more intriguing than what is going on in the town of Manchester. It seems only days ago, because technically it was, that there were two established truths: 1) Manchester City were a force no one could catch and 2) Manchester United were destined to underachieve without a managerial change. Well, the atmosphere around these two clubs have swung wildly in the opposite direction. City inexplicably have lost two straight, dropping below Tottenham in the table, while United were showing the kind of swagger we have not seen since, dare I say it, the days of Sir Alex Ferguson. We have certainly seen a quick response from fantasy managers, as the most-purchased players heading into Week 19 were all from United, while City players were dropping like flies.
What is my take on the two Manchester clubs? Well, I think City are going to find their feet rather quickly and get back on track. We will have to wait and see if this two-match slip up will cost them a title. At some point, Liverpool have to struggle to open the door for Pep's side to reclaim the top spot. I think defensively, none of their assets are worth owning right now. That area of the team I would imagine can be left alone until we see a fit Benjamin Mendy again. I am not ready to give up on their attack though. I am still sticking with the one premium forward model for FPL squads, so with Sergio Agüero not feeling essential, he can be avoided. That leaves only the midfield. Pundits are saying recent struggles for City could be attributed to over-rotation, of not having a settled side that has developed chemistry. I tend to agree. If Pep sees it that way, going forward, perhaps we can be a bit more reliant on the likes of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane keeping their place week-to-week. I own Sane right now and not Pogba, so believe me, the temptation is there, but I am going to brave another round without a shiny new Man United asset.
Speaking of United, as I said in the last column, Pogba is the player you want. It is clear he is a focal point in the new-look attack, and he will be the first name on the team sheet every week. Yes, we have seen positive displays from the likes of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, but we also have to see how United line up once Romelu Lukaku and, yes, Alexis Sánchez return. Add Anthony Martial into the mix, and it is clear that not every mouth can be fed. The recent results are no fluke though. I think once Lukaku returns, we all need to take a long look at him. Having one of Pogba or Lukaku may be what is a minimum require for United coverage in the second half of the season.
Right, I have said too much already with such a short turnaround, so let's get to the have's and have not's for Week 20. I always mention this at the end of every column, but let me drive the point home early here for this round - with very little turnaround time and the timing of this column, the status of injuries around the league is much more unclear than usual. There may have been knocks picked up on Boxing Day that haven't even been mentioned yet. Plan your transfer move for as close to the deadline as possible and check our injury news one last time before committing...
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: Hugo Lloris - Spurs are racking up fantasy points all around the team and I cannot help but nominate Lloris for a second round in a row, considering Tottenham play the three promoted sides over the next four rounds.
Player to sell: Rui Patrício - Remember when Wolves went on a five-game run where they kept four clean sheets? I do too. It is why I bought Patricio. Well, it has been a nightmare since, with only one cleanie in the last eleven. Patricio has scored more than three points once in that stretch. Playing on the road against Spurs and City in the next three, now is the time to finally say "Goodbye".
Player to hold: Allison - Do not get cute. Yes, Liverpool have a test ahead, playing Arsenal and Manchester City over the next two, but that is no reason to sell any of their assets. Twelve clean sheets in 19 games, folks.
Player to avoid: David Button/Jason Steele - A 4.0m keeper is about to land a starting gig this weekend. The problem is, no one is positive who it will be. Button would seem to have the edge, but is also only recently recovered from injury. It is a no-thanks situation for me. Even if you guess right, it is only a temporary role for the anointed starter and the fixtures are not kind with Everton, Liverpool and Man United in the next four.
Player to buy: Lucas Digne - I promise, I am not being lazy here. It just so happens, like with the keeper position, the top player in my mind to add this weekend is the same as it was for the Boxing Day round. The Toffees have a great run of fixtures carrying them well into 2019. Given that and Digne's form, I predict he will be close to the highest-scoring defender between now and Week 27 when Everton get City on the schedule. Andy Robertson-type production for 1.5m less.
Player to sell: Man City options - As mentioned in the opening, if I am thinking about parting with City options based on recent form, I am starting with the defense first. Pick any of their legit options, and you can find a better prospect for cheaper. If not Digne, then Trent Alexander-Arnold or Ricardo Pereira. I doubt you have all three of these, so if you have a City defender, I would drop for one of those options.
Player to hold: Kieran Trippier - What a bounty of talent Spurs have at right back. Kyle Walker-Peters with three assists in a half? Good grief. And you know, Serge Aurier isn't too shabby when he is fit and playing. But we all want to see Kieran Trippier do his thing, perhaps the best crosser from right back in the league. Owners who saw the exploits of Walker-Peters and fear Trippier will have to play his way back into the side. I doubt it. I think he plugs right back in this weekend.
Player to avoid: Matt Doherty - I would have lumped Doherty in with the likes of Digne, Trent A-A and Pereira, but Wolves fixtures get in the way. I would seriously consider selling him for one of the options listed but I certainly would not be buying him right now.
Player to buy: Felipe Anderson - In the last column, I advised holding on to Anderson and that owners need to cope with the fact that West Ham are going to be inconsistent. Well, hopefully no one reading this column sold him. While I maintain the inconsistency is still there, this is still a good time to buy. It is not a case of chasing points from his brace in Week 19, it is more that West Ham play Burnley at the weekend and the Claret defense is so poor right now, they need to be exploited on a weekly basis, much like Fulham needed to be in the pre-Ranieiri era.
Player to sell: Sadio Mane - Fair warning - I am completely aware this call could blow up in my face in a major way by the end of the day on Saturday. That is the kind of player Mane is though. In some matches, he is absolutely electric, and he can pop up with games like that at any moment. But there is a major issue with consistency. I have seen too much of him lately being a peripheral figure in the Pool attack. Given what other mids are doing right now, you have to sell.
Player to hold: Richarlison - Richarlison owners will probably feeling the biggest sting from the Boxing Day round, as he missed out the Starting XI through illness while the Toffees steamrolled over Burnley's terrible defense, but he managed to score in a cameo anyway. All signs point to a return to the XI this weekend, so even though many midfield options blew up in the last round and the temptation to switch Richarlison out may loom, I would stick with him and these fine fixtures ahead for Everton.
Player to avoid: Heung-Min Son - This is a very tough call to make, because with Son's sizzling form, it almost makes me want to forget about the fact that he will be departing the club temporarily in January for the Asian Games. Apparently, Spurs and South Korea worked out a deal to keep the superstar around with his club for the Week 22 clash with Manchester United. Still, that means you would be buying him now for a run of only three games, and that United game could be a tough one.
Player to buy: Harry Kane - You have to have a part of Tottenham's attack now. There is no avoiding it any longer. Considering their form and fixtures, I think it best to pay the premium on Kane, which will provide a solid captaincy option along with consistent returns. As long as you can feel satisfied with budget options at FWD2 and FWD3, you should still be able to afford a strong midfield along with the Tottenham talisman.
Player to sell: Callum Wilson - The schedule is brutal for Bournemouth right now, and it comes as no surprise that Wilson has gone quiet. There are many options at his price or cheaper offering better form and fixtures. The only Bournemouth player worth holding through this rough run is Ryan Fraser. Wilson will score here and there, but not with the regularity that shot him up to the second-most owned forward in the game.
Player to hold: Alexsandar Mitrovic - I sold Mitro ahead of the Boxing Day round, and boy was I sweating through that early kickoff between Fulham and Wolves cause Mitrovic was all over the place, with countless chances to score. He was very unlucky to score. I would stick with him and see if that volume of touches in and around the area continues. With a fit Ryan Sessegnon back in the mix, it could provide that extra attacking element needed to get Mitrovic finding the net again.
Player to avoid: Jurgen Locadia - Hey, congratulations to you Jurgen, you were the top scoring forward in Week 19, surely an accomplishment to warrant attention from fantasy managers, right? No, not really. Locadia scored once in his debut season last year and now has one in his second campaign. It's still mainly the Glenn Murray show as far as fantasy forwards from Brighton go.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
1) Mo Salah
2) Harry Kane
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 with the quick turnaround from the midweek and holiday distractions, there is less injury news to guide us than usual, so prepare for one of your substitutes perhaps getting into your XI this week. 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.