Captain Obvious: Week 5

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

I made a mistake.

I made a mistake and I want to explain myself. In my mind, heading into the Week 4 deadline, I stuck to my guns and said, “No one player is bigger than the game.” I would like to amend that statement now and say “with the possible exception of Ronaldo.”

I cannot front, folks. Week 4 was the first real punch in the gut this season for your humble writer, but seeing as I have an outlet to vent my frustrations, as in, this here column, well I feel fortunate to be given the opportunity to explain my blues away.

Everything was going smooth to start the season. Heading into GW4, I had two free transfers and a rank in the 200ks. In a word, my club was “healthy”. I had made one early transfer to kickstart the “three transfers for -4 points” plan I had in my mind the moment GW3 ended, dropping Tsimikas for Conor Coady before the Liverpool left back dropped in price. No harm, no foul. In fact, the three transfers I made collectively netted me an eight point profit (4 point hit included) versus making no moves at all. My bench was weak, and I did not have much wiggle room to do much about a 4m Daniel Amartey, who had not lost his gig yet or a 4.5m Michael Obafemi, who is clearly just a non-playing enabler that was still hanging around. So, I looked for three moves that would immediately pay off in the short term (Week 4) and hopefully provide decent returns for a few weeks. However, none of the moves I made involved removing Heung-Min Son, whose mysterious calf strain left me in a panic. You see, it was about this time last season that José Mourinho had pretty much ruled Son out, which caused me to transfer him out, and Son proceeded to play and put up double digit points that weekend. I did not want to get burned the exact same way two years running. I would rather be wrong twice, but at least in a different way. So I kept him. The other transfers I made were dropping Danny Ings and Billy Gilmour for Raúl Jiménez and Demarai Gray. Again, with Ings blanking and Gilmour dropped/rested, these moves earned me extra points, thanks mainly to Gray’s late Monday night contribution.

Here was my GW4 XI: Bachmann, Alexander-Arnold, Shaw, Coady; Gray, Son, Fernandes, Salah; Jimenez and…sigh, Antonio. With a bench of Foster, Ayling (1 pt, which came in for Son), Amartey, Obafemi. I even had a successful captaincy choice in backing Salah, with Alexander-Arnold the only player to score more in my side. But despite netting positive gains, these moves paled in comparison to just saying «to heck with it, get Ronaldo now, worry about the rest of this mess later». I thought I was being «responsible»…yuck.

In the end, my rank slipped from the 200ks to the 400ks. Not to mention reality football, where the whole weekend started off horrifically for my Spurs, so I had no outlet to turn to to take my mind off of the rest of the FPL community reveling in their Ronaldo success. Fair play to all who got him in any way that they did. Even an eight point hit would likely see one break even at worst, and its one less thing to worry about going forward in terms of getting Ronaldo.

Time will tell what I plan to do, but here is what I know: My goalkeeper stinks. Son has to go. Antonio is suspended (shout out and condolences to those who gave him the armband. I had a bad week, but there’s always examples of tougher luck being had). Amartey and Obafemi need attending to. Shaw’s fixtures are about to get tough. Meanwhile, the likes of Ronaldo and Lukaku haunt not only my dreams, but my waking life as well. If only there was something to be done to fix it all, or, at least fix it all in my mind until the next round plays out. Are you thinking what I am thinking? For fans of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, there’s a classic phrase delivered by the character, Charlie. I cannot quote the man in this space, but fellow fans know exactly what I am up to. Can I get a «Yee-haw»?

Just to sum up, when I have good weeks in FPL, I will never go into as much detail as I do when things go south. Let’s face it, it’s more entertaining to hear about someone else’s misFortune. I feel it is mutually cathartic and completely relatable to spew my guts here after a bad week. So, prepare to see more reports of agony in the future. But no offense, I am hoping intros like that are few and far between. Onward and upwards as they say. Wipe that Week 4 slate clean and settle in for the Week 5 edition of Captain Obvious…

Cristiano Ronaldo – 12.6m (roster % – 39.8%)

Opponent – West Ham United (away)

Fancy seeing this lad’s name here, am I right? Yes, Ronaldo is back. Yes, he is elite and has immediately shown why a player has gone from, in terms of FPL, non-existent to rostered by what will be over 40% of managers when the deadline comes on Friday. He showed his knack for delivering multiple attacking returns, a major quality you look for in a captain, in the Newcastle win. He is clearly the focal point of this loaded United attack and, despite the occasion not coming into play, he was even anointed the club’s penalty taker prior to the match (not sure if that applies to every match or just his debut, but positive news for him regardless). I still feel like he is not the “set it and forget it” FPL player so many folks make him out to be but, much like his record while at Madrid and most recently Juventus, when playing the weaker sides of the league, which Newcastle are, CR7 tends to do the bulk of his damage. It was madness to be without him for that fixture last weekend. This is captain Obvious, not captain Hindsight, right? Well, of course, he is going to make the shortlist for armband debate after firing that opening salvo, but let me annoying enough to explain why those backing Ronaldo should at least have something to think about.

Mainly, look at the two goals he scored. The first was a poacher, as he was on the side of the box that a mishandled ball by an inexperienced keeper bounced to for a put back you would expect from any professional forward. The second was a low blast that, again, a more experienced keeper may have been able to thwart. It did not require a quick-reflex full out stretch, the ball actually whizzed right by him within arm’s reach. This is the extent of “fear-mongering for Ronaldo” after one game – the fact that his two goals were not necessarily indicative of a player who is in tip-top form for the foreseeable future. Opponents, West Ham, are coming off their first clean sheet of the season while their attack will certainly suffer with no involvement from the suspended Antonio. Home/away splits are beginning to have relevance again, now that fans are back in the stands, but when it comes to Ronaldo, every stadium he plays in will be at least a partial home game for him, as every stop he makes this season will see his share of supporters on hand. Of note, Ronaldo started United’s midweek CL group stage game and he scored their only goal. So, fitness is solid and with more time to rest than he did for the Champions League, he can be safely depended on to start. He will also undoubtedly challenge for the title of “Most captained player” in Week 5, which can be advantageous if your player blanks. It hurts a lot less when a couple million people blank along with you.

Romelu Lukaku – 11.5m (roster % – 28.1%)

Opponent – Tottenham (away)

While praise is due to those that brought all other plans to a halt once Ronaldo entered the picture, for me, the true heroes are the managers who decided to roster and captain Lukaku instead. He equaled Ronaldo on points, so no ground lost there, and, one could argue going forward that, for the next couple of months, Lukaku is the better option of the two and can be had for a million pounds less. I am beginning to think Lukaku may be the only “essential” forward, joining Alexander-Arnold as the only essential defender and Salah as the only essential midfielder and I will tell you why. Chelsea, as a club and their aspirations this season, look very, very strong. Fantasy points aplenty should come raining down from that squad. The issue is – Tomas Tuchel is the second-coming of Pep Guardiola. Rotation is going to be a headache for so many managers. The one outfielder I feel can be counted on to play the most is Lukaku, so not only does he present a solid armband option nearly every week but, by giving him the armband, you are essentially getting double Chelsea cover without ever having to worry (well, never say never) about a surprise no-show. He is fit, he is firing, and after their latest win, he is establishing himself as the alpha among several all-world players. His value to me right now is akin to Sergio Agüero’s when he was starting regularly for City in his best years and rest/rotation was a rare issue.

Yet, I feel Lukaku will not see much love because of the fixture the Blues have this week – a road derby tie with Spurs. If you asked me this time last week about this fixture, I would have some reservations. Tottenham were top of the table, and had kept clean sheets in all three games, including against Manchester City. However, that was then, and this is now. Now…Tottenham’s defense is in crisis. Eric Dier went limping off with a leg injury and is a question mark. Davinson Sánchez still is waiting to get a 100% clean bill of health after his absence last weekend. Cristian Romero should be finally available for his first start, but he is new. Emerson is just settling in and Japhet Tanganga is suspended. Ideally, you want to see a backline with a little more chemistry than this. Spurs may be able to make do against the smaller clubs while that chemistry builds, but they could be ripe for the plucking against a club as strong as Chelsea. Perhaps another Lukaku brace will be out of reach, but getting one goal here with the chance to add more looks a reasonable prediction.

Mo Salah – 12.5m (roster % – 54.5)

Opponent – Crystal Palace (home)

Mentioned briefly while discussing Ronaldo, just to remind those that stick to following the Premier League alone, the group stage of the Champions League is now underway, so with the weekly timing of this column, it will make things a bit tricky when talking up players that still have a match ahead of them. However, fortunately, as was the case with Ronaldo, Liverpool and Mo Salah have their midweek match already out of the way and there are no reports of injury or an alarming dip in form to report. Instead, a glowing report to add to the appeal for Salah as a captain this week as, like Ronaldo, the Egyptian international found the net in his midweek showdown with AC Milan.

Salah proved for me, and many others last week, why he is such a solid captain option, week in, week out. You see, if you did not have Ronaldo or Lukaku in your squad, like me, you were probably feeling pretty exposed. But Salah was able to get his goal on Sunday and help cancel out much of the pain that had carried over from the previous day. He seemingly got robbed of at least one bonus point (x2 for us captainers), but he still saved many a manager from having a painful week turn completely miserable. Now, they do have an interesting opponent in Crystal Palace this week, who have much momentum themselves, particularly in their attack, after a comprehensive 3-0 win over Spurs last weekend. This is a situation though where playing at home should really benefit the Reds. All that Palace momentum built defeating a Spurs side that, let’s face it, was on a soft three-wins-in-three run will likely fade quickly once the opening whistle is blown at Anfield. Salah has had exactly two shots on target in all four matches to date and is averaging a tic over three key passes every game. Very consistent as well – there has yet to be a game where he has not had multiple chances to both score and assist. I think we see more of the same here and a minimum of one attacking return a reasonable expectation.

Honorable Mentions –

That’s right, I have only three players on my shortlist this week, which means there is good news and bad news. The good news is, theoretically, less options means less of a selection headache and a better chance of picking the right one. The bad news is, naming only Salah, Ronaldo and Lukaku should be sending a warning signal to all managers who have perhaps only one of these players in their side. Until further notice, I do not see a way to keep up or climb the ranks without rostering at least two of these players. Ideally, you find a way to fit all three in if you can. I know this can appear as a kneejerk reaction as all three delivered in Week 4, but it is earnest advice. Between the damage players like this are capable of in any given fixture, and now the roster percentages of Lukaku and Ronaldo being significant, to roll without these top-tier players is playing with fire.

Trent Alexander-Arnold – You knew it had to happen sooner or later. Traditionally, defenders are not thought to be very good captaincy options, as they tend to have low ceilings and, unless you have the luck on your side to pick the one week to captain Shane Duffy for his two headed goals, you will find yourself frustrated when a wiped out clean sheet 10 minutes into your afternoon can spoil all optimism in a hurry. But, here is how you work around that philosophy when handling TA-A…you simply have to view him as a midfielder that just so happens to get an extra four points for you if the Reds keep a clean sheet. Unlike just about any other defender in the league, should a clean sheet be wiped out, there is genuine optimism still to be had that Alexander-Arnold can produce an attacking return and still make the armband backing a success on some level. I will probably pick my spots when I will use the armband on TA-A, mainly home games against sides that I would expect a better than 50% chance of a clean sheet. That WOULD have been my thinking about Palace this weekend until the number they did on Spurs. Gallagher looks fantastic as a midfield maestro, Zaha is waking up out wide and now they have a legit target in the box in Edouard. So I am only going to go with an honorable mention with this one, but I am already thinking about him for next week when the Reds take on Brentford.

Sadio Mané/Diogo Jota – Expecting a couple of goals from Liverpool, so if you happen to carry one of these assets, the are worth considering as well. Just when we start to forget about Mane, he gets points. He is one goal short of being a top-five scoring midfielder on the season. And of course, he is a massive differential. Though he is a solid player to have in your squad, I am less sold on Jota as an armband option. Even as good as Liverpool may be, he seems to me the fourth-best armand option on his own club.

Patrick Bamford/Raphinha – Despite getting beaten rather handily and the attack looking weak in the 3-0 loss to United last weekend, Leeds are one of the clubs seeing the most transfers in for FPL managers this week, mainly because this marks the beginning of a beautiful run of fixtures. Surely, this side is better than their record after four weeks would indicate, and it is always a good thing to get ahead of the pack and bring in players BEFORE they explode, instead of reacting afterwards and chasing points. If you are a Leeds believer, you are certainly looking forward to the weeks ahead, but as far as anointing a captain from their two main weapons, I think that crosses the line of being a little too cheeky, particularly in the case of Bamford, who may or may not have accidentally leaked his own potential hamstring injury. Hey, it was a podcast, there have been no statements from the club or any other news to corroborate the “pinging” hamstring mystery as of this writing, so make of that what you will. At minimum, it should give managers pause to transfer Bamford in, who is a popular pick to replace the suspended Michail Antonio, and wait for any supplemental news right up until this week’s early deadline, to be sure he is available to play. That said, even if Bamford were fine, and Raphinha appears to be as well, despite a very nice matchup against Newcastle’s porous defense, I would be wary of finding your captain here.

Manchester City – Sigh. That’s right. I cannot even pick a player’s name to put here. I mean, how can you? Name a City player, and I will name a player that scored double digit FPL points one week and was benched the next. The lack of nailed-on players there is maddening and now, with Champions League games in the mix, the art of guessing right on Pep is about to become even more impossible. What we do know is, we can now add Kevin De Bruyne back into the conversation. Honestly, betting on City for me is like all those casino games where the house always wins. You might get lucky here or there backing one for the armband, but in the end, you are asking for trouble. There is one strategy I find that at least gives me some confidence that my City pick will at least start, and that is, take a look at the squad from the midweek game. Find a solid player who was benched. Odds are, they are then going to play the weekend. For this week, I would have the most faith in Gabriel Jesus, who did not start against RB Leipzig and is having a productive season to date. Again, if you enjoy the thrill of guessing on City, home to Southampton is one of those fixtures where it could really pay off.

And there you have it. A tough Week 4 is ancient history. A productive Week 5 is just around the corner. Good luck with your selection this week, and may your arrows be green.