Welcome to the run-in.
Here we are, back from the season's final international break and on the cusp of a seven-week stretch that will see us through to the end of the campaign. The final three rounds will feel pretty standard and familiar, but the next four comprise the most important month of the FPL season.
Over the next four rounds, starting this weekend, we have two super-sized double gameweeks, with a mini-double gameweek and a blank gameweek sandwiched in between. Wildcards, Free Hit chips, Triple Captain chips and Bench Boost chips, which the majority of seasoned managers have been wise enough to sit on since the end of last summer, will now be wielded with such regularity over the next month, every round has the potential to see your ranking fluctuate like you've never seen before.
For many of us, it makes sense in this round, Gameweeek 32, to either play your Wildcard or your Free Hit chip. Coming out of a blank gameweek, it would be hard to imagine anyone naturally set up with an XI full of double gameweek players because all of those options, with the exceptions of Fulham and Chelsea players, did not have a fixture in Week 31. The bench boost chip, for me, makes more since in the other super-sized double gameweek, which is in Week 35. By using a Free Hit or Wildcard ahead of Week 35, you can theoretically set up a squad of 15 players, all with two matches and all earning you points with your Bench Boost, turning a normal round that consists of returns from eleven players and increasing that to a potential of returns from THIRTY players. That's not just a double gameweek, that is nearly a triple gameweek. This is when you can not only break the illustrious 100-point round barrier, you can come close to or possibly eclipse the 200-point threshold.
Don't worry about me - I have no delusions of grandeur. The fantasy gods have made it pretty clear by this stage that it was not meant to be a magical season for ol' Fuzzy Warbles. If you are listening, fantasy gods, this is not an attempt at reverse psychology...or, is it?
Right, so last round, I presented my picks in a ranking format, rather than using my traditional buy/sell/hold/avoid approach, and I think it makes sense to continue to do that for the next four rounds. This method should be more beneficial to those playing a wildcard or Free Hit chip than the traditional approach would but still offers the best picks for those winging it with a standard transfer or two.
The main objective in choosing players this week is clear - focus on clubs with two matches and ignore (for the most part) clubs who only play once. I say "for the most part", because in a situation like mine, where I am playing my wildcard, I am strategically picking a few single gameweek players that will comprise my bench this week but have a fixture in the upcoming blank gameweek and a double in Week 35. The club to focus on for this strategy is Southampton, as they are the only club with this distinction. It makes sense to look at the Saints to complete your bench because they are cheap enough to where you won't have too much money locked into your bench but still have some players that can return some goods during these tricky weeks. Yan Valery and James Ward-Prowse will be on my bench this week.
Otherwise, it is time to target the ten clubs with two fixtures this round, which include: Brighton, Cardiff, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Watford and Wolves.
Also, keep in mind as well that only two of the clubs with a double this week will play in Week 33, Chelsea and Crystal Palace. So, it makes sense to give options from those clubs more weight if you are using a wildcard, as they will help you navigate the tough blank gameweek to come. If you are using a Free Hit, well, that factoid makes no difference, so there is no need to factor it into your selection. For the purpose of my rankings here, Chelsea and Palace options will be given a slight boost, considering there are going to be many using a wildcard but also that many will use the Free Hit chip.
Right, so much to consider, but rather than chasing our own tails, let us get down to brass tax and serve up the best options heading into Week 32:
*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.
1) Ederson - Top side with a double also plays two cupcake opponents (Fulham and Cardiff) so City options will dominate all positions this week.
2) Kepa Arrizabalaga - the clear second choice, Chelsea also have two nice fixtures (Cardiff and Brighton) as well as the benefit of a fixture in the next round.
3) Vicente Guaita - Two big factors - 1) one fixture in their double is home to Huddersfield and 2) they have a fixture in the next round.
4) David De Gea - Capable of a double clean sheet in this round, but price and no fixture next round bumps him down a peg.
5) Matt Ryan - Brighton is the only side with a double this round, another in Week 34 and again in Week 35. The volume alone should give him enough opportunities to pay off.
6) The rest - Of the five other keepers on a double, there is a huge dropoff in my opinion. Lloris should be considered a nice weapon when Spurs open their stadium against Palace, but the other fixture is Liverpool away. The other options are from pretty poor defenses. Goalkeeper is a position where any one of them could have a monster game with saves or a penalty stop, but I would limit my options to the first five on this list.
1) César Azpilicueta - When you want some kind of guarantee in a double gameweek, go with Azpilicueta. There is no more reliable defender in terms of starts for a club of Chelsea's stature. Maybe not the highest ceiling among defenders, but certainly the highest floor.
2) Aymeric Laporte - Laporte has been the most consistent presence in City's defense, so if you are not rolling with Ederson in goal, Laporte is the next best option for City defensive coverage.
3) Victor Lindelof - Lindelof has seen plenty of buzz heading into this round with what appears to be nailed-on status, a defense that has been solid, decent fixtures and a good price.
4) Jeffrey Schlupp - Schlupp seems to have settled into Palace's XI, serving up assists in three straight between Weeks 27-29. Budget price and has a fixture in the next round.
5) David Luiz - If Azpilicueta cannot fit into your budget, but Luiz can, then I would take my chances with Luiz. Some chance of starting only one, but relatively safe.
6) Ashley Young - Young has earned the respect of OGS and has really been unlucky to not get an extra attacking return or two in recent weeks.
7) Lewis Dunk - In good form and Brighton have three double gameweeks on the horizon. I may be ranking him a few spots too low.
8) Marcos Alonso - This is a true roll-of-the-dice, all-or-nothing pick. There is plenty of reason to think Alonso will not start both games. But, we also know how lethal he can be when playing. He was back in the XI in the last league game, so if you want to risk a dud for a shot at a big potential differential, this is your guy. Expensive though.
9) Kieran Trippier - The trip to Anfield really lowers the stock of all Spurs in this gameweek, but the home opener at their new stadium could compensate for that. I wouldn't recommend him, but he is another non-template, outside-the-box option with potential.
1) Eden Hazard - I may get some stick for ranking Haz above Sterling, but it's the guarantee of starting both games, barring injury, that gives the edge to Haz for me. Both should be in your squad.
2) Raheem Sterling - Is there any reason to comment here? Crazy good form, crazy good fixtures. The only downside is the potential to start just one. Considering his form lately though, he may do more in one game than most do in two.
3) Paul Pogba - Pogba is looking like United's best rep from an attacking perspective. Should be nailed for both starts, and involved heavily in their attack. These three mids, for me, should be the foundation of your squad this week.
4) David Silva - Whether you pair him with Sterling or opt for him instead of Sterling due to budget limitations, Silva is a solid weapon to have this round. I think he starts both, but perhaps playing around 70-75 minutes each.
5) Luka Milivojevic - The penalty master. Can he get another chance from the spot? It's rather unpredictable but at least there is comfort in knowing he will play 180 minutes.
6) Diogo Jota - Some worry of rotation with the still cup-tied Wolves, but Jota is in top form, so he can be worth the risk. A goal and two assists over his last two games, one of which he only played half the match.
7) Gerard Deulofeu - A sneaky budget option that can help upgrade other areas of your squad, Deulofeu is in good form at the moment and Watford play at home to Fulham - which, in itself is like a double gameweek for attacking players.
8) Heung-Min Son - This is my differential pick of the week. Everything heading into this round is a strike against Son. He was dropped in the last game. Spurs lost a game they shouldn't have. But Son has had a tremendous season. The international break may be just what the doctor ordered. I think he starts both and returns something.
9) Anthony Knockaert - Knockaert could be the perfect 5th mid for you. He is in top form, with goals in three of Brighton's last four. While he was in and out of the XI all season, recent form should guarantee a start in both games this round. He could potentially settle into your side as well, as Brighton have two more double gameweeks to come after this one.
10) Anthony Martial - Coming back from injury, Martial hasn't fully established himself back in the side, coming on for a short appearance in United's last match. But, he's had that cameo and the international break to get back up to speed. Too risky for my blood, but I recognize the potential.
1) Sergio Agüero - Not having a healthy Aguero in a double gameweek is the definition of FPL insanity.
2) Harry Kane - The trip to Anfield looks bleak on paper, but there have been more cracks in Liverpool's defense lately than the first half of the season. Hard to picture him NOT scoring in Spurs' new stadium opener versus Palace.
3) Raúl Jiménez - Jimenez continues to outperform everyone's expectations, pacing the forward position at the moment in terms of form. Six goals and two assists over his last eight games. Still making a mockery of his price tag.
4) Gonzalo Higuaín - Higuain hasn't exactly taken the PL by storm, but he has been relevant enough to warrant talk of a spot in a fantasy XI this week as a differential.
5) Marcus Rashford - Nursing an ankle problem at the moment, you will surely want an update on his status before the deadline. If news sounds better, then I'd have him ranked third. If news sounds bleak, I probably avoid him altogether.
6) Troy Deeney - Deeney has been doing well as of late. Watford was seeing lots of rotation up top for a while but Deeney's form looks to have given him a firm grip on a starting gig. I like him or Deulofeu as budget options this week, but would not carry both.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
3) Eden Hazard
4) Paul Pogba
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. 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.