The long awaited return of Premier League football following the international break is nearly over. Ahead of Gameweek 5, an in-depth discussion of the following FPL topics is provided:
- The return of 3-4-3?
- Sergio Aguero: The best option or one of many good premium picks?
- Captaincy: Gameweek 5 and Beyond
- Premium Player Plans
- Defenders: A Dearth of Options
- My Team & Transfers
The return of 3-4-3?
With four gameweeks of the season gone, there is a reasonable, if not yet conclusive chunk of information, data and football to look back on and base FPL decisions from. Purely in terms of points scored, most premium picks have delivered as three attackers from both Liverpool and Manchester City as well as Jamie Vardy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are inside the top 11 point scorers. All eight players have scored at least 180 points in at least one of the last two seasons.
Premium players like these doing well is to be expected – it is the cheaper performing players that are intriguing. The remaining three players inside the top 11 point scorers are all forwards costing between £6.7m and £7.2m – Ashley Barnes (£6.7m, 27 points), Teemu Pukki (£7.0m, 37 points) and Tammy Abraham (£7.2m, 28 points). If this trend continues, it will be difficult to make a long-term argument for owning a premium forward, especially with Salah, Sterling, Mane and De Bruyne delivering in midfield and with Sebastian Haller, another mid-priced forward, also off to a great start. However, over short-term fixture chunks of four to six gameweeks, opting for the likes of Sergio Aguero or Harry Kane can be justified by captaining them several times. Such is the promise of at least five budget forwards, the appeal of premium options such as Aguero and Kane for the captaincy and the absence of any defenders amongst the top 11 point scorers, it could well be that the recently derided 3-4-3 formation is once again the way to go.
However, this assertion is based on just four weeks and is merely intended to highlight what we have seen so far this season. The season-long value argument of premium defenders still remains, if and when clean sheets begin occurring for the players and teams in question on a more regular basis. Regression amongst forwards is also likely, given that 13 of them have scored two or more goals, but only Sebastian Haller and Marcus Rashford have not exceeded their xG.
Despite featuring for the equivalent of three full games, Sergio Aguero reigns supreme as the top points scorer after four gameweeks. But given Aguero’s quality in front of goal, does the likely regression amongst performing forwards apply to him? During his last two seasons, the Argentinian scored 21 Premier League goals on each occasion. In 2017/18, he scored from every 4.476 shots and managed a goal for every 0.774 xG. The following season, these values were 5.619 shots per goal and 0.863 xG per goal. This difference is no surprise as top quality strikers will exceed their expected data on a consistent basis. Aguero’s finishing ability and positional awareness are explained further by there being a total of 1072 goals scored from 9633 shots in the 2018/19 Premier League season, at a rate of 8.986 shots per goal – far less frequent than his average of a goal roughly every five goal attempts over the last two seasons.
In 2019/20, Aguero has taken just 2.167 shots per goal and has scored a goal for every 0.46 xG that he has produced. Even by his standards, he has made an unimaginably good start to the season. With Norwich up next, it is certainly not the time to sell Aguero, but beyond a short-term punt, it may not really the time to buy him either. Long-term, Raheem Sterling is likely to be a better option than Sergio Aguero in the Manchester City attack, in view of the pair’s comparative FPL performance over the last two seasons. Sterling’s claim will be enhanced further if the budget forwards are able to continue their current consistent stream of points.
In summary, Aguero is and always will be an excellent FPL option, but he may not be the best.
Gameweek 5 Captaincy
Despite doubting his long-term FPL credentials, Aguero is certainly a worthy hold and viable captain option this week in a straight shoot-out between Liverpool and Manchester City attackers. In Liverpool’s favour is the Anfield factor – no side has won there in the league since Crystal Palace in April 2017, whilst just four teams (Manchester United, West Brom, Stoke and Manchester City) have stopped them from scoring in their last 41 home league games.
On the other hand, Norwich are weaker than Newcastle defensively and the Canaries are plagued by defensive injuries with holding midfielder Tom Trybull and up to four first-team defenders unavailable. Particularly concerning is the lack of centre-back options with Timm Klose’s season all but over due to a knee injury and Christoph Zimmermann and Grant Hanley currently doubtful. With this enforced central defensive weakness in mind, it is difficult to look past Aguero as the standout Gameweek 5 captain option for those that own him. But as always, the unpredictability of a single fixture ensure that backers of Sterling and Salah amongst other attackers in these two matches could well be more heavily rewarded.
Premium Player Plans
Looking ahead, Manchester City attackers are likely to be the go-to captain options for many. Following Norwich away this weekend, they are at home four times in their next six, facing Watford, Wolves, Aston Villa and Southampton, who have mustered just two wins in 16 matches combined. The remaining two fixtures in that run are less clear cut, with both coming away, to Everton (Gameweek 7) and Crystal Palace (Gameweek 9). Most FPL teams will surely feature one, probably two Manchester City attackers, leaving the remaining spot up for grabs over this period.
The fixtures in Gameweek 7 and 9 for notable high priced players are as follows:
Kane/Son: Southampton (H), Watford (H)
Aubameyang/Pepe/Lacazette: Man Utd (A), Sheffield Utd (A)
Salah/Mane/Firmino: Sheffield Utd (A), Man Utd (A)
Certain team structures will have the luxury of Son, two Manchester City attackers and Salah or Mane, but for the majority, it is likely to be a choice between one of the above group of seven for that third premium slot. Given Salah and Mane’s quality in front of goal, it is difficult to argue against opting for either one for the captaincy in Gameweek 7, followed by a Manchester City attacker in Gameweek 9. However, there is certainly an opportunity to differentiate during this period by buying Kane in a week or two, as a result of his cheaper price, more favourable fixtures and almost identical shot rate to Salah this season (13 vs 13 in total and 9 vs 10 in the box).
This ultimately informed a late change to my own Gameweek 4 wildcard team with Aguero selected instead of Salah to take advantage of City’s fixtures, with the option of buying Kane in a few weeks time. Fortunately, a total of 16 points were gained as a result of the switch as well as the extra cash funding Barnes to Haller. This move may backfire in future gameweeks, but it highlights the potential of thinking slightly outside the box, especially on wildcard when unlimited transfers are available. Salah undoubtedly remains a magnificent FPL asset but it is always worth exploring alternative player combinations if the fixtures align like they have done for Aguero and subsequently Kane. Similarly, Arsenal’s fixture swing will open up the possibility of bringing in one of their front three at some point, all of whom are capable of being captaincy contenders in certain matches. The message here is to focus on blocks of fixtures for premium assets – they do not have to be season keepers.
Defenders: A Dearth of Options
One of the questions submitted this week was in relation to the best premium and budget defender options. The popular picks in these brackets are currently there for good reason with a £4.2m John Lundstram playing in midfield difficult to ignore alongside the likes of Lucas Digne and Trent Alexander-Arnold as premium picks. With only four defenders scoring more than 20 points so far and none able to match the aforementioned trio’s underlying attacking potential, very few options have emerged at this stage. There should hopefully be more clarity in this regard once a few more gameweeks have passed.
One possible opportunity did emerge following Aymeric Laporte’s unfortunate injury in Gameweek 4. As one of just three first-team centre-backs at Manchester City, the path is now clear for Nicolas Otamendi to start on a regular basis like he did in the 2017/18 campaign. Pep Guardiola has hinted that the likes of Kyle Walker and Fernandinho could feature there but this will only be to provide cover when necessary. Otamendi and Stones will be the first choice pair for the foreseeable future. It is this coupled with their more favourable run of fixtures that edges Otamendi ahead of the equally priced Joel Matip, who will have to contend with competition from Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren. Owners of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko have the option of a simple switch to Otamendi when the opportunity arises. Aside from Otamendi and already popular picks, there really is not a defender worth recommending, illustrated by my watchlist consisting of just the City defender amongst those in his position.
My Team, Transfers & Mini-League
To finish, here is a quick look at my team and transfer plans. Gameweek 4 brought in 64 points on wildcard, with the late Aguero and Haller switch paying off straight away. Had the captaincy landed on De Bruyne or Aguero instead, a good week would have turned into a great one, but regardless, no complaints can be made with a green arrow from 547k to 385k.
Initially, the main concern heading into Gameweek 5 was James Maddison, with Leicester set to face three of last season’s top six in the next four gameweeks. However, their comparatively excellent start to the season as opposed to upcoming opponents Manchester United and Spurs suggest that they could be two very close games, with Leicester getting plenty of chances to score. With Todd Cantwell then able to cover the Liverpool away fixture in Gameweek 8 for Aston Villa’s visit to Carrow Road, the reasons to offload last season’s most creative player diminish further. A superb run of fixtures then begins in Gameweek 9 to just before Christmas. Therefore, Maddison stays and he is arguably one of the standout mid-priced midfield options as only he and De Bruyne and ranked inside the top 10 in their position for both goal attempts and chances created. Alternatively, and at more budget-friendly prices, Daniel James, Alex Iwobi and Mason Mount have all performed admirably in their opening few appearances of the season. Opting for one of these three in the short-term before switching to Maddison for Leicester’s fixture swing would be my preferred strategy in this price bracket.
Finally, for those still wanting to join the mini-league, it will stay open for a while longer in order to allow new followers a chance to enter. The code to join is ay9eij, with a 32 team cup competition during the final seven gameweeks of the season run alongside the usual season-long league format.