Captain Obvious: Week 1

Greetings, and welcome back for a brand new season of Premier League action, another dive into the world of FPL and, for your humble writer, a first chapter of my weekly column, Captain Obvious.

For those familiar with this concept, bear with me for a second. Pretend it is a gameshow you really like and you have to wait a minute for the host to explain things to those new in the audience.

Right. I set out to make a captaincy-focused column a few years back because, after having played this game for so long, I realized what differed between a “successful” season of FPL versus a disappointing one. And I found that, no matter how well you work the transfer market, no matter how well you pick who to start or bench, and no matter how effectively you use your “chips”, the number one decision that will determine your success in this game, week in and week out, is getting the armband right as often as you can.

Though you have the freedom to assemble a billion different combination of players in your squad, the fact is, only about 40-50 players are “coveted” at any given time, and you will find that a large percentage of your squad is similar to so many other mangers’, particularly when it comes to those high-profile expensive weapons, which consists of players you would consider “captaincy worthy”, so it makes it all the more important to captain the right one in a given week, because your big names that are on so many other manager’s rosters, uncaptained, are pretty much going to cancel themselves out when looking at how your rank will be affected.

Just to make one very important thing clear. The idea of this column is not to rank players for the armband. I am not a Fortune teller and if I knew the best captain every week, then I would probably be living a life similar to that of Biff Tannen. What I can do is look at the matchups every week and present a shortlist of players, as few as two or three, as many as five or six, that I think represent the best choices. I will then make my best case for each, both pros and cons. We will also be keeping track of transfer movement and roster percentage of these players, recent form, total goals/assists/bonus points updated every week, and much more. However, with this being the first week of the season, this edition of the column will be a little unorthodox and hopefully, for you and me, a lot less stressful.

You see, I think it is a good idea to not take the Week 1 captaincy choice too seriously. It is not one to overthink or get too cute with. We will have thirty-seven more opportunities to rack our brains and stretch our thinking caps to their limits, but for Week 1, the focus should be more about building your team entire, and once you have, go with a top player who has proven to be a solid armband choice in the past. For me, that leaves two options…

Mo Salah – 12.5m (roster % – 50.7)

Opponent – Norwich City (away)

This will be the most captained player this week. That does not mean he will score the highest, but it does mean he makes a safe pick as a captain just for his high captaincy rate alone. The more people that back the same player and that player does not deliver a good return, the less negative impact it will have on you, because you are in the same boat with so many other people. Conversely, if a player has a very high armband rate and you choose to go against the herd, and your option fails while the popular option hits…then you can see a real blow to your rank.

Now, this is not to discourage anyone from taking chances and going against the most popular choice. In fact, I completely embrace as much diversity in this decision as possible, it simply makes the entire aspect of the game more exciting. When you have a strong gut feeling, go with it, unless there is information that comes to light that causes you to reconsider. But remember, this is your team, you are the manager, and a manager has to know when to play it safe and when to put their guts on the line.

That said, again, I feel with Week 1, it would be more wise to be conservative. Yes, you could finish with a Top 10k round if you were to captain, say, just as an example…Mason Mount. Mount is not a terrible player by any means. He should start in what is a nice matchup, at home to Crystal Palace. And if Mount were to bag a brace and max bonus, your giving him the armband could see you sitting top 5k globally after Week 1 – which would be fantastic. However, you can captain someone like Salah, get a disappointing return, but still finish with a solid round score and rank, as you still have ten other players to influence your outcome.

I suppose the simplest way to put it is – while it would be great to get off to a fantastic start, I find it more important to avoid getting off to a lousy one, and the best way to avoid that is to follow the herd this week. So if you have Salah, in your squad, whether he blanks or bags a brace, giving him the armband is a solid play. The game’s most expensive player, coming off a season with 22 goals, one shy of a Golden Boot…and yet, in his four years at Liverpool, his “worst” FPL season.

And let us not escape the obvious, something that would be the first thing to mention if we were in mid-season column form…check out the matchup. Liverpool take on newly-promoted Norwich City. The Canaries, during their stays in and out of the top flight, have been pretty consistent about one thing – they do not defend very well. Even an improvement from the side we last saw two seasons ago would still likely see them with one of the very worst defensive records by the time this season concludes. How is this for a bit of history – In Norwich’s last stay in the Premier League two seasons ago, they played in Week 1…Liverpool, of al clubs. What did Salah do in that game? A goal and an assist as the Reds dropped four goals on the Canaries. That wraps up the deep stat portion of our take on Mo Salah. We will dig deeper as the season goes on, but yeah, there are two clear choices for the armband this week, and he is one of them. Who is the other, you ask?

Bruno Fernandes – 12m (roster % – 49.2)

Opponent – Leeds United (home)

Welcome the the least surprising reveal in history. Yes, in a Week 1 shortlist of two candidates, its down to Salah vs Bruno for me. Interestingly enough, when you add the roster % of both players, it comes out to 99.9%. Which means, there are at least 100 or so managers out there who have neither player. I want to meet these people. I want to ask if they are doing okay.

Of course, the reality is, many managers, myself included, have both Salah and Fernandes, which means there is more than only .1% of managers who are going without either. Considering Kevin De Bruyne is currently injured, Harry Kane’s status at Spurs is in limbo, and Raheem Sterling at 11m is just plain silly, I cannot imagine how a manager is able to spend their budget and NOT include at least one of Salah or Fernandes. But hey, it is not for me to judge.

Getting back on track, we have Bruno Fernandes, the TOP overall scorer in FPL last season, In his first full season with Manchester United, Fernandes was at times playing at a level above everyone else, putting the Red Devils on his back. Returns were not as consistent in the second half of the season, but while Salah may be “King on the wing”, Fernandes is the “Maestro in the middle”. You want a perfect pass or a perfect finish? Fernandes does it all. And he should find himself on the captaincy shortlist nearly every week as long as he is fit. United have a very kind run of fixtures in the first two months, so unless he blanks the first three weeks, he should be among the top 2-3 captained players globally every week for the foreseeable future.

Right, so let us talk about matchups. Leeds are a good side on the upswing, right? Certainly thought to be a tougher opponent on paper than Norwich is. Well, what if I were to tell you that United have played Leeds at Old Trafford once before with Bruno in the lineup. It was Week 14 of last season, Manchester United won, 6-2, and Fernandes had his best fantasy output of any game in the entire campaign, scoring a brace and adding an assist to go along with his customary haul of bonus points. Leeds tend to play wide open which makes for exciting football, and Old Trafford should be buzzing at noon on Saturday.

Should there be concern over the absence of Marcus Rashford and the likely absences of Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani? Quite the contrary, I feel. United do have depth in attack and the likes of Mason Greenwood could easily finish a Fernandes assist while Luke Shaw could easily set up a Fernandes goal. Maybe the goal expectancy from United drops with the missing players, maybe they are more likely to score two or less than three or more, but the likelihood of Fernandes being involved in the scoring – that expectancy should be on the rise.

Right, so those are the two players who make the most sense to me to choose from for your Week 1 armband but, as I typically do, it is always good to touch on some “honorable mentions”.

Heung-Min Son – Most will be put off by the matchup as Spurs play the defending champs this weekend, but Son did score in this fixture last season…and the season before that. And no matter what shakes out with Harry Kane, Son appears to be taking the mantle as the team’s leader. Just a mention this week, but I feel we will see plenty of Son in this space during the season.

Sadio Mané – This would certainly be the biggest of all differentials in Week 1. Mane’s roster percentage is extremely low. But he is not cheap and the odds are, if you have him, you are opting for him over Mo Salah. If you have that belief in Mane to prefer him to Salah, then you should have no qualms about giving him the armband if you think the Reds are going to maul Norwich.

Jamie Vardy – Many nice budget forward options to begin this season, so if you decided to splurge 10m on Vardy, then you must have faith that he will be giving returns straight away. By that logic, with a home game against a Wolves side that took a step backward defensively last season, then Vardy seems to have earned at least a thought for captaincy.

Danny Ings – Ings’ roster % shot up big time as soon as he made the move to Aston Villa, and how can you question it. He moves to a side with more goals in them, he scored in his preseason debut and Villa’s first three fixtures are extremely attractive. With only 4 points for a goal among forwards, I am always looking for “brace or better” potential when looking for a captain from that position and playing against Watford with this new-look Villa attack, I like Ings’ brace potential here.

Finally, areas that may look good on paper but I am not feeling a captain choice – Everton and Arsenal. Both sides have good fixtures and you would favor them to collect three points this weekend. I just find it difficult to trust any individual player from these sides. If Dominic Calvert-Lewin were fully fit, then I think he would make the cut of honorable mentions.

Right, so again, try not to rack your brain too hard on this week’s armband choice. It’s a festive weekend, the league is back, fans will be in the stands to make some noise. If your captain let’s you down this weekend, do not fret. We have a long way to go.

Normally, I sign off with “May your arrows be green”, but with Week 1, that simply does not apply. So, until next week, I offer a simple “Good luck” to you all!