Captain Obvious: Week 35

Captain Obvious: Week 35

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Greetings, and welcome back for another round of FPL captaincy debate, the most important decision of your gameweek.

Week 35 is finally wrapped up after a makeup game on Thursday night, meaning it is another one of those weeks where Friday is the only full day of preparation between rounds, so your humble writer is tasked with addressing the week that was, then looking at the week ahead, with a very short turnaround. The goal is to keep things brief in the intro and get into the thoughts and analysis of the top captaincy picks for the coming round, but we will see if I can manage to limit my wrapup details.

The gameweek pretty much was the equivalent of being on a treadmill for six straight days. A feat that requires plenty of work and effort, plenty of struggle and emotional fragility. Yet, at the end of that grueling performance, you realize you haven’t actually gotten anywhere. It could have been worse – my rank is higher now than it was yesterday before the Chelsea/Manchester United match, but after all that happened, my rank went virtually unchanged – just a 0.18% decrease. Thank you, Marcos Alonso.

Bringing in Alonso was a stroke of genius on my part. I took a four point hit to get him, upgrading him from Matt Doherty and creating the funds by downgrading Che Adams to Teemu Pukki. Pukki would not have a party in Week 34 but boy, did Alonso smash it. A 19-point return, which was the highest score of the round for all players not named Jesus. Only 1 in 9 managers have Alonso currently in their side, so he is making for a lovely differential at the moment.

Had this round taken place earlier in the season, I think I would be buzzing about Alonso’s score more than feeling glum about not moving up in the ranks, but such is the state of things right now. There are only four rounds to go, and my final rank goals are getting further out of reach. There is no time left to tread water or take a red arrow. I have to get on a solid green arrow run. And I suppose my mood is also set to “melancholy” because I cannot stop thinking about how much better things would have gone had I taken a risk with the armband this week. I admitted it in last week’s column – Chelsea representation for their double gameweek was a solid investment, but as far as captaincy was concerned, giving the armband to one of their defenders, based on how the season has planned out, I thought was too much of a risk. And I suppose I am not completely wrong in still thinking that way. A lot of managers invested in Reece James (currently 17.6% owned compared to Alonso’s 11.2%) and look what happened there. Injury keeps him out of one game and he gets a 2-point return in the other. That result is precisely what I was frightened by had I backed Alonso with captaincy.

In the end though, I really should appreciate the move to bring in Alonso more. I sold away six points – two points scored by Che Adams and four points for the penalty of making the extra transfer. Coming back my way were two points from Pukki and then Alonso’s 19-pointer. So, some quick math right here and, yeah, that is a 15-point single week profit out of the transfer market. That is solid, indeed. Some people are lucky to get 15 additional points with using any of their chips.

Now, the calm before the storm. Week 35 is an odd one, in that, there is nothing odd about it at all. With all the blank gameweek and double gameweeks we have been bombarded with down the stretch of this season, it feels a bit strange to have a standard 10-game round with every club playing once. No longer can we cherry-pick from a small pool of double-gameweek players and, as I have been talking about for the past few weeks, if you want to make significant strides in your rank, no longer can we just “set it and forget it” with the armband on Mo Salah. Salah is still, and will continue to be, a fine captaincy choice, but the urge to bet against him and the herd mentality of FPL is strong.

After going through the fixtures and looking at all the players, it seems to me that this gameweek is WIDE OPEN when it comes to who to pick for captaincy. There are some solid names with solid fixtures, and no one person stands out clearly. However, I did manage to narrow the elite option down to three. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves and officially dive into this Week 35 edition of Captain Obvious…

Kevin De Bruyne

11, 9, 6, 9. Those are the returns for the last four rounds for the Belgian midfielder. He is in solid form right now and we have plenty of track record to go by that should make us feel confident about backing him for the armband this week, as Manchester City have a solid fixture that should see a bare minimum of two or three goals – a trip to Leeds.

Now, let me say the scary news up front so as to get it out of the way. Leeds’ defense…is NOT as bad as it has looked for much of the season right now. They are on a run of back-to-back clean sheets and have given up just a single goal over their last three games. That is not only “not a bad defense”, that is as good a defensive record as you are going to find over the last few rounds. So, it is understandable that those studying what the opposition has been up to before settling on a captain might be a bit put off by Leeds’ recent defensive upswing.

However, I think the Peacocks will be in for a rude awakening this weekend. No to take anything away from their recent form. It has been a disappointing season for Leeds no matter how you slice it, so you have to respect a club that dug their heels in and put up these positive results, when they could very easily have sputtered down the stretch. You see this sort of patch of form for clubs in their situation every season, but it usually comes down to being able to avoid a club like Manchester City. Now that they have some cushion between themselves and relegation, I get the feeling that their impressive recent defensive form is about to be put to the test.

Those past three results for Leeds came against Southampton, Watford and Crystal Palace – all three clubs in the bottom third of the league. All with as many, if not more, “downs” than “ups” this season, it is not a grand leap to picture Leeds being matched up with these sides over three rounds and coming away with points. It was their attack that let them down really, with a 0-0 and a 1-1 scoreline resulting in two draws out of those three games.

The reason I am focusing so much on opposition than De Bruyne himself is that what can possibly be said about De Bruyne that has not been already? With Manchester City clinging to a one-point lead for a title this season, it is not a question in my mind whether De Bruyne starts this weekend. He has to. However, we have to weigh in the fact that Manchester City will play the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid this coming midweek, so, as has been done many times before in similar circumstances, Pep Guardiola may well remove De Bruyne after about 70-75 minutes to manage the stamina of arguably his most important weapon. That should be the only worry for those thinking about captaining him. If you can tolerate the likely scenario where he comes off early, confident that he will be plenty productive in his time on the pitch, then it is all systems go. If the notion that a player is very likely to be out of the match for 15-20 minutes, then this may not be the captain for you.

Mo Salah

Yes, of course Salah makes the shortlist again. And this is where I should probably keep things short and sweet so I can churn this column out in good time.

After missing out on his giant haul two rounds back, I personally had to back him last week for fear of a repeat. As discussed in the intro, I had a round where wheels were spinning but I wasn’t really getting anywhere and Salah’s six-point return was a perfect reflection of that – not a blank, but a bit short of the kind of haul you come to expect from the Egyptian international. He was nearly-impossible to ignore in a home game against Everton.

This time around, Liverpool will be traveling to play Newcastle and I am trying to come up with reasons to NOT back him, because I want to be able to gain ground with someone who is not so heavily invested by everyone, and this is the best I can do – two things…

First, and I know this can be seen as some as the silliest reasoning one can possibly apply to their decision-making, is that Liverpool are playing the early Saturday kickoff. I DESPISE the early Saturday kickoff when it comes to captaincy. I do not have any data to point to, I can only go my memory, but every time I back a player, or even a team, in the early Saturday kickoff, things always go pear-shaped. Most recently, I remember avoiding backing a Tottenham player in Week 33. In a game that was at home against Brighton and given the great form the attack was in for Spurs heading into that match, there was every reason to feel confident about backing Harry Kane or Heung-Min Son. The only reason I eliminated either from my mind was that they were playing the early Saturday kickoff. The result? A 0-1 win to Brighton. Again, is this all superstition? Is it all coincidence? None of it really matters to me. I felt this way before that Spurs game and the result of that game only reinforces my stance.

The other factor that could help me back someone other than Salah this week is that, like Leeds, Newcastle are fresh off of back-to-back clean sheets, so they should not be so easily pushed around by the mighty Reds. I tell myself that, but really the situation for both Newcastle and Leeds are very similar. They are both matched up against the best sides in the league who are in a dogfight to win the title. Odds are the quality of Liverpool and City will win over the recent form of Leeds and Newcastle.

Heung-Min Son

When you check the Form guide on the FPL transfer page, there are only three players who are averaging over eight points per game in recent weeks NOT named Gabriel Jesus, and, surprise!…they comprise the three elite picks for captaincy this week – De Bruyne, Salah and Heung-Min Son.

Now, with Son, or even Harry Kane for that matter, what you have here are two players that have blanked in back-to-back weeks while their club, Spurs, failed to score in those two weeks. The stock is way, way down. Confidence from FPL managers is way, way down. Which is why I think backing someone like Son could be a masterstroke. I remember the last time Son went quiet for a couple of games. There was an attractive fixture for Spurs ahead and, at the time, it was Kane and Dejan Kulusevski that were racking up all the points, so my take was – “Back Son”.

Reason being, and you can go back to where I said it then – Son is such a solid, steady, dependable player. And Spurs are such a Jekyll and Hyde club. The way I see it, between Son’s personal lack of returns and Tottenham’s struggles, both are due for a bounce-back when Spurs host Leicester City this weekend. The Foxes are yet another side coming off a clean sheet, a 0-0 versus Aston Villa, but Leicester did concede in each of their previous six and, in general, have not been a stout defense this season. So, going into this matchup, both Tottenham and Leicester are coming off 0-0 results. Again, if one can buy into the idea of things balancing out, there should be goals this weekend. There certainly were in the reverse fixture, when Spurs came away with a 2-3 win.

Since Week 12, Son has not gone three straight games without a return. Before these last two games, he had a three game run of 15, 12 and 21 points. So, in his last five, Son has either blanked or hit double digits. Boom or bust. I think he is due to boom. I do not see him and Spurs busting for a third straight game.

Honorable Mentions

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo made last week’s column, as he was given two games in which to do damage, and my rationale was that a player of his caliber was worth trusting given two games. He scored in both games of United’s double gameweek and, in his previous appearance before that, he got himself a hat-trick. The form is there right now for Ronaldo.

This is one heck of a coincidence, but make that four candidates in a row I have nominated for the armband this week, taking on an opponent who kept a clean sheet in their previous game. United will be hosting Brentford this weekend, who prevented Spurs from scoring in Week 34. Brentford have gotten better defensively the past month or so, but their clean sheets only come at home. The Bees have not collected an away cleanie since getting one against Wolves back in Week 5. I would imagine United will find the net here and Ronaldo seems a prime candidate to go a scoring binge down the stretch to give him some impressive final numbers while United sputter to a disappointing finish. It seems like a script that has written itself.

Philippe Coutinho

He has blanked in five straight, but when you have the talent Coutinho possesses and you get a home game against Norwich, you start to think that run of blanks is about to come to an end.

Right, so this is insane – make that FIVE straight players I am nominating this week for captaincy, all from different clubs, who are ALL playing an opponent that kept a clean sheet in their previous game. Villa had that goalless draw with Leicester last weekend. Surely, they get back on the score sheet when Norwich come to town. It is a good spot to add three points to the table at this late stage of the season. With Liverpool and Manchester City comprising two of their final four opponents, there may not be too many chances for Villa to add points to their table position. After losing at home, 0-3 to Newcastle last weekend, the Canaries are officially done. I can see Villa putting up a similar scoreline.

Harry Kane

Finally, nothing too surprising here. Generally, if I think that Son is a good pick for captain, then Kane is likely in the conversation too, and vice versa. For me though, I do have Son as a better option right now. However, if you have a squad that features Kane and not Son, I would not use transfers to get rid of of one for the other. Kane is a solid weapon as well if you can buy into the idea that Tottenham are due to bounce back from their last two goalless outings.

Think of Kane/Son like you would Reece James/Marcos Alonso. Both are capable but only one may explode while the other does nothing. I did not feel strong enough to include two Spurs in the top tier of choices and I lean toward Son if given a preference, but again, to have Kane and no Son is not a tragic situation. It has been a run of five straight games without a goal for Sir Harold. I am a believer in the “he’s due” theory when it comes to elite players. Kane is elite and he is certainly due.

My goodness – six players nominated this week and all six are playing clubs who kept clean sheets last weekend. Such an odd, odd scenario. Right, that about wraps up my thoughts looking around the league this week. Next week, we have a MASSIVE double gameweek to contend with and, as soon as you blink, this season will be history. The number of decisions you are going to make for your team this season has dwindled down to an amount you can add up and total. So, with these few decisions you have left, make them good ones!

Good luck, and may your arrows be green.

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