Stag’s Take – Gameweek 32
The final international break of the Premier League season is behind us, leaving just seven gameweeks remaining to be contested. The upcoming double gameweek looks set to deliver big tallies across the board, but as all the blanks and doubles so far this term have shown us, looks can be deceiving. The vast majority of “active” FPL managers are deploying their Free Hit chip for the coming weekend, so this column will hope to help those managers who are still tinkering with unlimited transfers as well as my compatriots who are trying to make one to three transfers bridge the gap.
Learn from my foibles
In Blank Gameweek 31, I spurned my Free Hit as I scored just 41 points, 15 more than the global average and a mere seven north of the average score in the Top 10K. I’m classifying that result as a failure.
As you pick your Free Hit team, you need to consider a question: “what is success for this chip?” If you’re sole aim is to win a mini-league, then perhaps you need to ensure you have sufficient differentiation from your rivals so that you have scope to gain. If you look at things from a global perspective, you need to ensure you have genuine differentiation from the teams around you, particularly if you’re vying with active managers in the Top 250k or so.
In BGW31, I was guilty in the end of going too close to the template and freezing rather than outlandishly going too close to the sun and burning; there is a middle ground you should seek to get to. Don’t be afraid of a single gameweek Arsenal player at home to Newcastle, don’t be afraid of Neil Etheridge who is likely to face a penalty against City or Chelsea, don’t be afraid of a punt on Troy Deeney. Do something different! The sides I am seeing on social media are dominated by triple Man City (I agree), triple Man Utd (I agree to a lesser extent), lots of Chelsea (understandable), and then perhaps a brave inclusion of Shane Duffy, Luka Milivojevic, or similar standard FPL sundries – but the Top Six are not the be-all and end-all. In BGW31, it wasn’t Callum Wilson who shone, it was Josh King, Ryan Babel pounced on a Van Dijk mistake, James Maddison finally delivered, Mark Noble fired from twelve yards and Kepa proved to be the top scoring ‘keeper thanks to a penalty save in a 2-0 defeat. Don’t be afraid to include three or four names off the beaten track; if you don’t, you’ll be no better off that the non-Free Hitters who will obviously be aiming to own Sterling, Hazard, and Sergio Agüero too.
Another error I am seeing repeated time and time again in Free Hit drafts is managers stretching to allocate as much of their budget as possible on the field. Don’t forget, we’ve just had an international break and players may return with unreported injuries and suddenly miss a game. Try to have at least one decent sub on the bench in addition to a trustworthy 90 minute man, you never know what is going on behind the scenes at Premier League training grounds.
I’m going to do my best to guide FPL managers towards a Free Hit squad which covers the essential bases but still maintains a shred of differentiation.
The Big Guns: Chelsea and City
With Chelsea and City’s fixtures, at least one clean sheet seems likely and thus it couldn’t hurt to make an investment at the back to benefit from such an occurrence. Beyond Hazard, no Chelsea attacker has the underlying stats nor the results to pull your attention away, though of course with City’s riches of talent, there are compelling arguments to pick up a second attacker.
First of all, consider the Chelsea situation. In their last ten PL outings, only Eden Hazard has managed to reach five or more goal involvements (3G, 2A). They are not scoring like a Top Six team, and that includes a range of matches where their stats are buffered by a 5-0 drubbing of Huddersfield. Contrast that with their defence, which has not covered itself in glory by any means since the turn of the year, with just two assists in ten, but the underlying stats are okay in that period, even when it includes conceding four at Bournemouth and six (still unbelievable) to Manchester City: they have conceded the third least shots in the box in the period (62; behind the imperious City and Liverpool) and have the fifth lowest xG conceded. Their DGW32 opponents Cardiff (A) and Brighton (H) have been two of the weakest teams in the league in the last ten gameweeks, scoring the joint-second least goals in the period (both 8, though Cardiff played nine games and Brighton just eight). Two Chelsea defenders are far more likely to reward you than any combination of attackers, and Sarri’s aversion to rotation is good news too. If you have the budget, David Luiz rules the Chelsea backline in terms of both xG and xA since GW22, whilst Antonio Rudiger provides a budget entrance into the line-up.
Manchester City have delivered some impressive performances in their last ten games, yet only Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling have scored more than three PL goals in that time. It’s no surprise then that they are the only players in Pep’s system who have had more than twenty attempt on goal since GW22. Of the “other” attackers, only the Silvas have stats which reveal an underlying threat to opponents. “El Mago,” or David to his family, is third for attempts (14) and attempts in the box (12) in the last ten games, averaging a shot every 28.5 minutes. D.Silva has also been the architect of City’s chance creation, leading the team for chances created (19) and “big” chances created (5), leading to four assists.
Surprisingly though, you can count the difference between the Silvas in each of those metrics on one hand. B.Silva has had just three less attempts in total and in the box, and coincidentally, the Portuguese has created just three less chances too. Over the last ten games, there is very little to separate these “third best” City attacker options. (Note: the Silvas have played similar minutes in the period analysed.)
Like the Chelsea defenders though, I can’t help but feel that the smarter money is on ensuring you have a City defender in your side. Neither Fulham nor Cardiff have impressed going forward this season so the chances that a clean sheet comes are high. It seems like it’s much more rational to expect one clean sheet from a defender rather than to punt on an attacker. Amongst City’s centre-backs, rotation isn’t a problem like it is further up-field or at full-back, which fortifies the argument for investing in defence further. Aymeric Laporte is the safest pick unless you consider Ederson, whose position is secured like no other player in Pep’s line-up.
Who are this week’s Babels and Nobles?
Much more pertinently, how do you differentiate your team?
Neil Etheridge – Ederson and Kepa are likely to keep clean sheets, but their teammates in defence come with added benefits which means picking up one of them is a viable option. That is not the case at Cardiff, where Etheridge’s heroics have been vital this term. As I noted earlier, the odds of the Bluebirds conceding a penalty is high in DGW32, but there is no ‘keeper in the PL I’d rather have facing one than Etheridge.
Shane Duffy – Remarkably, Duffy seems to be finding his way out of Free Hit squads because of Brighton’s second DGW32 fixture against Chelsea, but that follows a clash with Southampton at the AMEX. Duffy is a constant aerial threat for the Seagulls, taking more shots inside the box than any other defender since GW22 (14). Ten of those attempts came from crossed corners, a source of supply which won’t dry up in Albion’s two games.
Jeffrey Schlupp – Schlupp’s emergence in many Free Hit squads may make him less of a differential than he perhaps should be, but his underlying statistics and recent scores must be recognised. The Ghana international is third for shots in the box in the last ten gameweeks and has the highest xG in the division in that period too, scoring once and picking up three assists too even though he created just one big chance. Assists have proven to be Schlupp’s main source of attacking returns, but in truth he has been lucky to pick these up. Two were “fantasy assists” (not recognised as real assists but assists for FPL purposes; eg. winning a foul) but Schlupp doesn’t even spend enough time in the final third to suggest he can keep picking these up, spending less time in the final third (88 touches) since GW25 than the likes of Yan Valery, DeAndre Yedlon, Nathaniel Clyne, and Charlie Taylor. Even Schlupp’s teammate Patrick Van Aanholt is much more dangerous, getting forward more (118 final third touches since GW25), creating approximately the same number of chances but of a higher quality (PvA has created three times more big chances (3)), and lagging behind in shooting statistics by fairly negligible margins.
Sadio Mané – If you’re on a Free Hit, don’t sell the most in-form player in the league. A mix of international break worries and an encounter with Spurs are putting people off Mané, but when he’s facing Kieran Trippier, anything could happen.
Andreas Pereira – A fantastic enabler for your side who I think should play at least 100 minutes in DGW32. By all accounts, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was very disappointed with United’s 2-1 defeat to Wolves in the FA Cup before the international break and I expect there to be changes in his team selection as a consequence. Furthermore, United have had quite a few attackers out injured; with relatively good fixtures, I suspect players like Lingard and Herrera will be eased back into action rather than forced to play over 150 minutes. Barcelona are on the horizon…
Lacazette, Vardy, or Jiménez – The opportunity to own Rashford, Kane, and Aguero has driven Free Hitters spare crazy but don’t forget that there are other strikers in good (and sometimes better!) form too.
Since the “casuals” are now being spoon-fed Free Hit teams on every site, here’s my attempt at sample DGW32 FH squad which balances differentials with essentials.
DEF: Laporte, Luiz, Duffy, Boly, PvA
MID: Mané, Hazard, Sterling, Jota, Andreas Pereira
FWD: Aguero, Rashford, Quaner
Total: 101.9 at current prices.
Sergio Agüero (Fulham A, Cardiff H)
I expect that I will be handing the Triple Captain to Sergio Agüero for the upcoming week’s fixtures. Quite simply, the Argentine is City’s main goal threat and City create more chances for their attackers than any other team in the division. They face two of the worst defences in the league. I am opting for the Argentine over Raheem Sterling because I fear Sterling’s minutes will be reduced with his international duty exploits in mind. Whilst Sterling was scoring for fun against the Czech Republic and Montenegro, Aguero had a chance to get some valuable rest.
Eden Hazard (Cardiff A, Brighton H)
The jump to third best for captaincy is a huge one. City’s attack has been much more prolific than Chelsea’s all season. Save for a few weeks in December, the Citizens have also avoided delivering disappointing performances back-to-back – you never know what Chelsea will serve up. Hazard is Chelsea’s best attacker in terms of both goals and assists, he will more than likely be the protagonist in any success the Blues have, but honestly I don’t see a strong argument to trust the Belgian over the City duo.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.