Long live the King! Long live the King! Long live the King!
As we enter the middle of March, I recently had a reminder alarm go off in my head. "Hey, a new Game of Thrones season should be starting soon." When winter turns to spring, that is when "winter is coming" to the seven kingdoms. So, to my utter dismay, I looked up the premier date for first episode of the new season and...it's in July. Every past season, it started in April. What a bummer.
The last couple of gameweeks have not gone swimmingly and a distraction of dragons, sword-fighting and Whitewalkers would have helped ease the pain a little bit. But, it is only fitting that a letdown of a double gameweek followed by a truncated Week 28 schedule and the realization that one of my favorite TV shows is unexpectedly delayed was all saved by the man who would be King. Josh King, to be exact.
After my Aguero Triple Captain experiment ended in a red arrow and a 10k drop in my overall rank, I entered Week 28 with my FPL side in complete chaos. It took a 12 point hit to get just nine players out there. One of the players I brought in was Fernando Llorente, who left just before halftime in Swansea's loss and provided just one point. Everton grabbed the weekend's only clean sheet- naturally I had Leighton Baines as my Toffee defensive representation and an injury to him gave me one point. I brought in Sadio Mane as part of my 12 point hit, giving him the armband, and all he returned was appearance points x 2. I even planned my transfers in such a way that I had exactly enough cash to upgrade Llorente to Harry Kane this week for my free transfer, only to have that plan ruined. Forgive me for sounding like Captain Hindsight here, but I am only repeating what I said out loud the moment team news for Tottenham's FA Cup tie with Millwall was released: "Why is Kane starting? If we can't beat Millwall without Kane, then we shouldn't even be in this competition. Naturally, Kane gets injured early while Spurs managed to unleash six goals on Millwall after he exited the match. It should have been a complete B-side XI: Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Carter-Vickers, Davies, Winks, N'Koudou, Janssen, Onomah, Sissoko.
Tottenham were lucky to turn to Kane so often last season, rarely getting rest, and that lack of rest may have contributed to the club's fizzling out of the title race down the stretch. As we enter the final 10 weeks, what better time to give Harry a breather than a home game against a League One side? Is my personal feeling for Spurs coming through here? Absolutely.
Here is my attempt to look at the bright side. The Kane injury is a tough blow as a Spurs fan but at least early reports suggest his ankle is not as damaged as it was earlier in the season when he missed five straight league matches and the international break coming up after this weekend will give him some recovery time while the league is put on hold. As far as fantasy goes, much more went wrong than right, but at the end of the day, I dropped 20k over the two weeks, from 45k to 65k and, with ten rounds left to play, wildcard and bench boost chips still in hand, a goal of finishing inside the top 10k still feels realistically possible.
It is time to get back to a nice normal schedule for the next several weeks, so let's start by breaking down Week 29:
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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, it is pretty hard to look past the A (Aguero) or the Z (Zlatan).
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: Jordan Pickford - How good are Sunderland at keeping clean sheets? In a nutshell, "not very". But, with Pickford back in the mix, I am ready to invest once again in the budget keeper. If the Black Cats are lining up for their annual last-minute relegation survival routine again this season, then it will be players like Pickford that will help FPL managers win mini-leagues. If you have no urgent moves to make, this week is a good time to buy and use as your second keeper. But, feel free to start him in a home game against Burnley if your other keeper has a tough matchup.
Player to sell: Simon Mignolet - As poor as Claudio Bravo has been at City this season, he has at least shown some signs of improvement over the months. Liverpool are not in the same boat. Loris Karius was supposed to oust Mignolet for the job, but neither keeper is doing a good job and the defense in general give up way to much at the expense of their attack. Liverpool could have been this year's Leicester - winning 3-2 matches in the first half of the season, then leaning on the defense in the second half. The Reds still depend on the attack. The defense is why they have no title shot.
Player to hold: Lukasz Fabianski - It's one of those weeks where it's difficult to find a relevant nominee for this spot, but Fabianski, who is owned by less than 4% of FPL manager, comes closest to fitting the bill. Most people avoid him because if you want to invest in clean sheets from the Swans, every regularly-starting defender is cheaper. That said, if you have the Polish shot-stopper already, you may as well stick with him as the Jacks look to be on the upswing, despite last weekend's loss, and the fixtures are favorable.
Player to avoid: Darren Randolph - Perhaps the biggest "newbie" mistake is reacting to a keeper's score in a given round when that keeper makes a penalty save. Randolph is this week's example. Yes, his 10 point haul was equal to what Eldin Jakupovic, Artur Boruc, Simon Mignolet, Tom Heaton, Ben Foster and Fabianski scored COMBINED last weekend, but he also conceded three times. The West Ham defense has been generally poor, with only the occasional look of competence.
Player to buy: Kyle Walker - Tottenham are past their blank and now have a long run of fixtures that look to offer plenty of clean sheet potential. Add in Walker's attacking ability and this looks like a very profitable investment. Walker makes the most sense to buy out of the lot. Danny Rose is injured. Toby Alderweireld is not returning value for his inflated price tag and Jan Vertonghen, try as he might, offers no attacking potential. Buy Walker and you may keep him for the run in as Spurs still have a double gameweek in hand.
Player to sell: Craig Dawson - Get ready, I am being mean to West Brom players this week. It is kind of hard not to be judgmental coming off a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Everton last weekend. Normally, when it comes to defense, I am prepared to weather the storm for West Brom prospects, knowing they deliver good value over the course of the season. But, Dawson particularly stands out as the man to drop, not just because the Baggies have two tough matches in a row against Arsenal and Manchester United, but Dawson is on nine yellow cards now, one more away from suspension. So, he is someone you will want to move out eventually anyway, you may as well do it now.
Player to hold: Harry Maguire - Oh, the irony. I nearly bowled a "300" last weekend, jumping on Maguire and teammate Eldin Jakupovic as the defender and goalkeeper picks to buy. Both were on a clean sheet in the 90th minute against Swansea last weekend only to see none other than Alfie Mawson - my defender pick from two weeks ago - wipe the cleanie away. Close, but no cigar. Still, anyone who watched Hull last weekend can see that they are vastly improved defensively and owning a Tiger at the back just makes fiscal sense, given that almost all their starters are super-cheap. Maguire remains the pick of the litter though, with his ability to bomb forward and take his attempts on goal.
Player to avoid: Phil Jagielka - There were several surprise additions and omissions from last week's team sheets around the league and Jagielka getting handed a start was one of the surprises. The veteran helped the club to a win and the only clean sheet kept in Week 28, so does this mean we should be buying? He is only 4.6m so that would be a great bargain if we knew he was set for a run in the XI. The problem is - we don't know. Considering the Toffees face two tough tests on the road after this weekend - away to Anfield and Old Trafford - I am going to let time tell whether or not Jags is "back" before I look his way.
Player to buy: Andre Ayew - Ayew has not started a game since 2016, spending the majority of this calendar year out of action due to injury. What would give me the nerve to suggest buying him now? He has made three appearances from the bench since returning from injury, averaging about a half hour each game, and he has either scored or assisted in all three of them. In my view, the match fitness is clearly there and the form is unquestionable..it is time for Ayew to be unleashed by Slaven Bilic. Sofiane Feghouli should be the one to make way. And, if something were to happen to Andy Carroll (more a matter of "when" than "if") you have a potential midfielder playing up top, something Ayew has plenty of experience doing. Opponents this weekend, Leicester, have shown recent improvement, but their road form is still quite poor. Ayew could be a great differential for your side, and this is the chance to get in before the bandwagon starts to fill.
Player to sell: Nacer Chadli - Chadli has been the ultimate "way in-form, way outta-form" player this season. His arrival at The Hawthorns was an immediate success and Chadli was a fantasy darling, scoring four goals and adding two assists over a four-match span. Then, he went missing for a long time. From Weeks 9-21, he registered no goals and no assists, and Pulis had a habit of yanking the winger after the hour mark week after week. Chadli teased us again more recently, scoring or assisting in four games of a five game stretch. The last two weeks though, the Baggies attack has been dormant, failing to score at home to Crystal Palace...which is almost hard to do. West Brom has reached great heights this season but something tells me they will start to drift back to a lower mid-table side down the stretch. So, while I think they can still provided value at the back, I have no faith in their attacking options for the run in.
Player to hold: Liverpool midfielders - The Reds scored a pair of goals last weekend, nothing new for them. However, they managed to spread the production around to the more unpopular figures in FPL. Divock Origi had an assist, while the goals came from Emre Can and...yes...Georginio Wijnaldum. The same Wijnaldum I advised to NOT buy last week if you were shopping for help in your midfield. In a 38-match schedule, you are going to get a couple of results like this. I see it as an aberration, not a trend. The same familiar faces will be leading the way down the stretch, so hold on to your Coutinho's and Mane's. Remember, this season has proven that a trip to the Etihad is not a bad thing for attacking players from City's opposition.
Player to avoid: Kevin Mirallas - Perhaps Mirallas has earned a spot back in Ronald Koeman's XI. He helped his club with an assist from the bench in back to back games before getting the start last week and scoring against West Brom. That would make one think he has earned a spot. However, Koeman has shown to keep his attacking midfield options on a bit of a carousel, with even Ross Barkley having been dropped on a couple of occasions. Bottom line: I like this weekend's fixture (hosting Hull), I like the form Mirallas is in and I like the price tag. But, all of those positives are outweighed by one con - his playing time.
Player to buy: Jermain Defoe - I welcome Defoe back to my FPL side this week with my free transfer, replacing Fernando Llorente. Defoe has been good to me and one of the most dependable commodities in the game this season. The Cats play three of their next five at home, hosting Burnley this weekend. The Clarets defense on the road has been dreadful and this will mark their fourth straight league game away from Turf Moor, traveling to the northern reaches of England. Now, consider the percentage of goals scored by Sunderland which involve Defoe and, for me, a goal from the veteran is almost a guarantee. A brace would come as no surprise. I will let the rest of the FPL community gush over Manolo Gabbiadini and seriously consider a maverick captaining of Defoe this weekend myself.
Player to sell: Salomon Rondon - At this point, what is a Rondon owner waiting for? Yes, West Brom are flexing more attacking might this season than we had in previous years with Tony Pulis at the helm and yes, Rondon has the ability to explode, as is proven by the hat trick he delivered back in mid-December. Problem is, that's the last time he has scored a goal. A dozen games have gone by since, and that is a legit drought. I didn't feel it right to advise dumping him ahead of Week 28, when so many clubs had blanks while West Brom played, but now that we have passed that week (a round in which he only made a 15 minutes appearance as a substitute) it is safe to say he needs to be dropped. The only danger: His drought has gone on for so long, a random explosion this weekend will leave me with egg on my face. But, a good performance would be at the hands of Arsenal, so it's a win-win for this writer.
Player to hold: Andre Gray - Buy Defoe, hold Gray. That sums up my thoughts of the Sunderland v Burnley matchup this weekend. There will be goals. Gray's hauls have been spotty. He has only scored once in the last six league games, but he bagged a brace in that one. He has missed six matches through injury or suspension but has still outscored the likes of Christian Benteke this season. Despite a frustrating quiet stretch, I would advise Gray owners to give him one more chance to explode this weekend.
Player to avoid: Manolo Gabbiadini - All I am asking for folks is to wait one more week. Thousands of managers raced out to buy Gabbiadini after his explosive first two performances. It was a classic case of paying for yesterday's points. Next week, the Saints start the first of back to back home games against Bouremouth and Crystal Palace - a great reason to buy the Italian talisman. But, this weekend, Southampton travel to White Hart Lane, a ground where even the best attacking opponents usually struggle to tally a goal. Wait one more week.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
1) Romelu Lukaku
2) Diego Costa
3) Jermain Defoe
4) Alexis Sanchez
5) Sergio Aguero
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 Saturday morning. 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.