Captain Obvious: Week 2

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

Can we go ahead right now and simply bask in the beauty that was Gameweek One?

Everything went right, particularly for your humble writer. Most folks were able to near or pass the coveted 100-point threshold, always a special achievement in a non-double gameweek. So, what was the impetus for such a high average score? Well, all you have to do is look back at my Week 1 column.

In it, the emphasis was to keep the decision simple, and while most weeks, there are anywhere from three to six viable captain options, only two stood out as clear choices. So, the advice was to narrow your selection down to one of Mo Salah or Bruno Fernandes. And this is why most of us are smiling this week. Because, there was no wrong pick between them. Sure, Fernandes scored a bit more, but I don’t think managers who have both rostered and Salah captained are complaining. I certainly am not. I went with the Liverpool weapon and finished with 107 points, an overall rank that is a five-digit number (90-something thousand), and even some promise left on the bench as Luke Ayling’s six points went unused. Add to that the results of reality football – Arsenal losing to a promoted side while Spurs defeated the defending champs…and it feels all too perfect.

Folks, I have some good news and bad news. The bad news is – Week 1 WAS too perfect. This game simply is not this easy. If you are expecting to be in the neighborhood of 100 points most weeks, and getting 30+points from your captain…then you may want to retire right here and now. There will be a dozen or so rounds where you will only score half as many points, but it will still be a “decent” round compared to the rest of the FPL community. Picking a captain will become increasingly more difficult as well. If Kevin De Bruyne was not working his way back from injury and if Harry Kane was settled and starting for SOMEONE, then we just doubled our armband options, as that duo are usually in the conversation every week when fit.

So that’s where the good news comes in. Kane is still in limbo. De Bruyne may return to the XI for City this week, but armband investment should be minimal considering his start is not certain (as of this writing). Another potential candidate, Romelu Lukaku, should see plenty of ©’s next to his name as the season goes on, but playing away to Arsenal and Liverpool the next two rounds, we may have the luxury to ignore him in the armband debate for now. So, guess what? This week’s advice is precisely the same as last week’s. I promise you, again, it will not remain this simple. But, we are in full “It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it” mode for the time being.

Well then, let us take another look at the two clear choices once again, and round things out with some honorable mentions in this Week 2 edition of Captain Obvious…

Mo Salah – 12.5m (roster % – 55.8, last week – 50.7)

Opponent – Burnley (home)

Right, let me make a bold statement here: there is absolutely nothing wrong about backing Salah this week. Not a single solitary thing. Starting the season with a road game, he knocked home a goal and, perhaps more promising, he dished a pair of assists. Last season, in the assist department, his numbers were way down, registering only five the entire campaign. Compare that to the season before when he hit double-digits (10). If we are getting a 20 goal season from Salah AND a bump up in assists, then just hope he stays fit, because this season could be explosive, even by his standards.

Early doors to be analyzing data too much from only one game, but Salah took a healthy league-tying five shots along with four key passes, a combination of chances that betters even our other candidate, Bruno Fernandes. The data that intrigues me even more is the matchup and the location. Allow me to explain…

You may have noticed something in Week 1…I believe they call it “crowd noise”. Yes, stadiums were packed around England and, for the most part, the home teams used the palpable enthusiasm to their benefit. In Week 2, all teams that played away in Week 1 will have their home opener, and I am leaning on players with a home game while considering what to do with my armband and transfer. Salah and the Reds are playing their opener at Anfield.

This could be a bloodbath. Arriving to Anfield will be Burnley, one of the few home teams that lost last weekend. The Clarets hold a distinction that no Liverpool player is going to forget this week…they broke the Reds home undefeated streak last season with a 0-1 shocker. A loss that pretty much dashed any hopes for a title run for Pool. Now, with a full crowd, in their home opener, coming off a comprehensive win with Salah doing the business…well, I cannot imagine a much more pleasant scenario to have faith of a points haul.

Again, nothing is automatic, he may very well blank, but if you choose Salah as your captain, you cannot say you made a bad decision.

Bruno Fernandes – 12.1m (roster % – 56.9, last week – 49.2)

Opponent – Southampton (away)

Speaking of opponents…if you were to tell me that two of the three clubs to be relegated this season are NOT among the three that have been promoted, I think Burnley and Southampton would be my picks. This is a club who, while making some interesting additions this summer, seem to be selling more talent than they are bringing in. This is particularly the case in defense, as the Saints got off to a poor start in that department, giving up three goals to Everton in Week 1.

If you recall last season, then you may remember when these two matched up at Old Trafford for a 9-0 result. That is not a typo…nine goals. United were only able to score three in the reverse fixture at St. Mary’s. What I am trying to say here with no subtlety is that the Saints have a woeful defense and no one in the past year has exposed them more than the Red Devils. Now, we add in a transformed Paul Pogba and perhaps a first start for Jadon Sancho, and this, too, could be another extremely lopsided score.

The saving grace for the Saints is if they can catch an early break or two and, most importantly, feed off of what will hopefully, for them, be a rowdy crowd on England’s southern coast. Honestly, I can see crowd support helping Southampton stay in the game for the opening 45 minutes, but this has all the signs of a second-half goalfest from United, which has always been their trademark going back to the days of Sir Alex Ferguson.

United arguably have more attacking weapons than Liverpool. Obviously, to expect four assists on a regular basis from PogBa would be foolish thinking, but clearly the style of play against Leeds unlocked something in him, and I would expect Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to try an implement similar tactics against a Saints side who should be easier to punish than Leeds was. Daniel James may give way to Sancho’s first start, while Victor Lindelof may see his run in the side end after one match with Raphael Varane ready to slot in. This United side is simply loaded and, most importantly, they look to have a very healthy chemistry. Southampton are in deep trouble.

So, why does Fernandes get the lone armband nomination, when PogBa had a huge day and Mason Greenwood was sharp? It is pretty simple. There is an established trust with Fernandes. We have seen him haul 20 points or thereabouts before. We know, despite all scoring coming from goals, he is equally adept at collecting assists, finishing second to only Harry Kane in that department last season. He is just a complete attacking player, with tons of weapons around him facing a club with a patchwork defense. You gotta like it.

Will this be another week where both of these choices will deliver returns you can be happy with? Let us hope so. But do not overreact if you pick one and he blanks. Just go back to that feeling you had in Week 1 and we will give it another shot in Week 3.

Right, so here is a list of honorable mentions, for those who insist on going against the grain…

Heung-Min Son – He led off this section last weekend and delivered, scoring a lovely goal to win it for Spurs and looks to adequately provide the attacking leadership left behind by Harry Kane. Away to Wolves, new manager Nuno Espirito Santo will be looking to impress facing his old club.

Sadio Mané – Mane blanked last weekend so I would expect managers who opted for him over Salah are spending this week swapping the two with their transfer. However, if you are the 1 in 25 people that have him, well, he is certainly a differential that can do damage. Haven taken three shots and provided three key passes against Leeds in Week 1, he was involved, and could be considered “due” against the Saints.

Riyad Mahrez – It might be better to suggest “City representative”, because it is all pretty much the same. At home to Norwich, you almost have to at least partially consider a City attacking weapon if one is in your squad, whether it be Mahrez, Raheem Sterling or even Ferran Torres. With Ilkay Gundogan nursing a fresh injury and Kevin De Bruyne only now returning from his own, the midfield looks safe enough to avoid. Still, there is always the element of risk when backing a Pep player. If there is a time of the season to feel safest about your player, such as Mahrez, to be safe from rest or rotation, it is now, as the fixtures are coming just once a week for the time being. That said, after being held goalless in the Community Shield and again in Week 1, Pep Guardiola could really shake things up, which could make you a very unhappy camper.

Danny Ings – Ings was actually a bit fortunate to get on the scoreboard with a late penalty converted, but hey, being on pens is part of the appeal in fantasy. While Villa did not come away with a win last week, this is another example of a club’s home opener giving me optimism for a convincing win. We already saw Newcastle cough up four goals last week on their own ground. No reason to think Villa can do something similar on their own ground.

Michail Antonio – I debated whether to include Antonio despite a fantastic opening weekend, simply because Leicester are a formidable opponent, coming off clean sheets against City in the Community Shield and again in their Week 1 opener. But, I will bang the drum one more time – the home opener situation, which is what West Ham has, really has me feeling bullish on good players playing in front of their fans for the first time in 18 months or so.

And there you have it. Relish the results of Week 1, temper expectations somewhat this weekend, keep it simple with an armband choice between the top two candidates unless your gut demands otherwise, good luck, and may your arrows be green.