After three solid, but unspectacular gameweeks to start the season, I have decided to use the first wildcard chip ahead of Gameweek 4. As mentioned in the Gameweek 1 team selection article, the initial plan was to wait until the second international break to take advantage of fixture swings for the likes of West Ham and Manchester City. Ultimately though, the costs of waiting until then outweighed the benefits and the last thing I would want to do is stick stubbornly to a prior plan for no logical reason.
Reasons for Wildcarding
- Premium Switch: Offloading an underperforming Timo Werner for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by moving funds into midfield, which would have only been possible for an eight point hit.
- Issues Elsewhere: Allan Saint-Maximin, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Eric Dier appear to be poor selections and are losing value. With triple Everton in situ facing Liverpool after the international break, Gameweek 5 would have been tough to navigate. Bringing the wildcard forward a week allows for a similar team but at cheaper prices, potentially saving up to £0.5m on player purchases and sales.
- Emerging Opportunities: Reece James, Leandro Trossard, Harvey Barnes and Che Adams had put up promising underlying numbers in 2019/20, but with limited game time. The quartet have been firm starters for their clubs so far, providing an opportunity to jump on them at hopefully bargain prices.
There are still plenty of unknowns at this early stage of the season, meaning that an early wildcard requires a bit of forward planning to avoid being exposed to developments during the season. A non-negotiable for me was a fully playable squad, selecting 15 useable assets rather than 11 plus fodder. The condensed schedule, potential player unavailabilities, as well as the admittedly small possibility of postponed matches due to COVID provide enough justification for this. But there is also the situation with Gameweek 18 and 19 to consider, that many are saving a wildcard for. Five fixtures from Gameweek 18 will move into Gameweek 19, forming a blank and double gameweek, with five and fifteen fixtures in respectively. The free hit chip will be needed for one of these gameweeks for most FPL managers, but without a wildcard, I will not have the same ability to plan around the specific fixture arrangements. Having four additional options from the bench provides that bit of extra flexibility to navigate the blank gameweek with 11 players and then free hit in the double gameweek. This is a long way away and might seem strange to be considering in Gameweek 4, but it is merely another example of why a fully playable squad is even more important this season compared to any other .
I have opted for a 3-5-2 formation, aided by recent developments regarding Rhian Brewster‘s move to Sheffield United. At £4.5m, Brewster provides an ideal budget bench option that may be used occasionally to cover poor fixtures or unavailable players. A further five players come in at under £5.0m, with Emiliano Martinez and Alex McCarthy providing two playable options in goal, alongside defenders Stuart Dallas, Tyrick Mitchell and Charlie Taylor. Martinez and Dallas will be the most frequent starters of this group, as I believe them to be the best options at their price points.
Anyone who watched Arsenal’s post-restart games will be aware of what an accomplished goalkeeper Martinez is, confirmed by his 2019/20 save percentage of 81% [Fantasy Football Scout members area]. Clean sheets and penalty saves will not continue at the rate of his first two Aston Villa appearances, but his side’s recent defensive improvement (11.51 xGC in last 12 Premier League games) along with the aforementioned save potential is the perfect mix for a budget goalkeeper. There is also the added bonus of a double gameweek to be confirmed in the future. But in gameweeks that Aston Villa have particularly unfavourable fixtures, Southampton’s McCarthy provides an alternative, such as this gameweek when West Brom visit St Mary’s and Liverpool travel to Villa Park. A second playing goalkeeper has the added benefits of potential price rises and covering an injury or run of poor form for one of the two at just £0.5m more than a non-playing £4.0m option.
Meanwhile in defence, Stuart Dallas was part of a Leeds side that recorded the lowest xGC in the Championship since records began in 2014/15. His attacking potential was highlighted in Sunday’s win over Sheffield United, playing in midfield as Leeds switched from a 4-1-4-1 shape to a 3-1-3-3. Dallas’ advanced role that saw him manage three goal attempts and a 0.34 xG in that match will not be a weekly occurrence, but the potential upside at just £4.5m is clear. Similarly to Martinez, he will be left on my bench this week, as Manchester City visit Elland Road. Budget pick Tyrick Mitchell has a similarly tough test against Chelsea on Saturday, which means the third cheap defender had to have a favourable match-up in Gameweek 4. Burnley’s Charlie Taylor fits that bill.
At the other end of the price spectrum are three premium captaincy candidates. Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne were no-brainers for me due to their combination of both high ownership and points potential. Alongside them is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who provides a captaincy alternative in favourable fixtures. Gameweek 8 is one such example, when Arsenal host Aston Villa and last season’s top two face off at the Etihad. As an Arsenal fan, there is perhaps an element of bias in this pick, but with injury doubts hanging over the likes of Jamie Vardy, Heung-Min Son and Christian Pulisic, the premium bracket is a bit lighter than usual. Additionally, Aubameyang is a proven 20+ goal, 200+ point asset, with added potential as a midfielder this season. Having him, De Bruyne and Salah is a potentially powerfully differential to teams that can only accommodate two of the heavy hitters in midfield.
So far, nine players have been picked with budget picks in goal (2), defence (3) and attack (1) alongside three premium midfielders.
Budget Picks: Martinez, McCarthy, Dallas, Mitchell, Taylor, Brewster
Captain Picks: Salah, De Bruyne, Aubameyang
The intention is for these players to be largely set and forget. Possible injuries or drops in form would of course change that, but they are in the low priority sale category. Where I intend to be active with my transfers is with the six remaining picks, moving them in and out based on fixtures and their underlying statistics. These picks consist of two defenders, two midfielders and two forwards, that will stay if they look likely to deliver returns in upcoming gameweeks, but otherwise be sold.
Defenders: Andy Robertson and Reece James
Midfielders: Harvey Barnes and Leandro Trossard
Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Che Adams
Aside from Robertson, none of the other five are proven long-term FPL picks. Their underlying statistics are promising, with James racking up 0.24 xGI per 90 in 2019/20 and the attacking players all totalling between 0.45 and 0.64 xGI per 90. With favourable fixtures on the horizon for all five for a varying number of gameweeks, the hope is that they all translate those numbers into a consistent stream of FPL points. There are an abundance of potential options at their price points though, which allows for straightforward switches when needed.
Robertson’s position in this category is slightly different, being solely in relation to fellow full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. If I was picking one for the season, it would be Alexander-Arnold, whose underlying numbers have tended to edge Robertson’s over an extended period. But in recent matches, more specifically post-restart, the case for Robertson being the number one Liverpool defensive option has grown since taking more set-pieces. That trend is analysed superbly in an article on the Liverpool website, but in short and from an FPL perspective, Robertson has a route to points that was less prevalent previously now that he is taking more set-pieces. At £0.5m cheaper than Alexander-Arnold, the choice is no longer as clear cut, if only picking one of the duo as I am. However, it is a shift that I will be monitoring over the next few weeks and I have no issue making the switch from Robertson to Alexander-Arnold if needed.
Before revealing the lineup ahead of Gameweek 4, it seemed appropriate to touch on the lack of Wolves players, ahead of their favourable fixture run. Raul Jimenez is the obvious standout option, but now at £8.6m, he is edging into the premium forward category. At a starting price of £5.5m in 2018/19 and £7.5m in 2019/20, he was a no-brainer, scoring consistent points at a budget and then mid-priced valuation. I cannot deny that he remains a great option, especially over the next five or six gameweeks as Fulham, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Southampton all visit Molineux. But similarly to Danny Ings, a case can be made for either owning or not owning, with their obvious credentials on one hand counter-balanced by the sacrifices required to own one or both of them. For example, I could have Jimenez, but that would mean not owning a Liverpool defender or not having a third premium midfielder. Essentially, Jimenez will most likely score very well for his owners, especially in the short to medium-term, but I hope my alternative route is slightly more fruitful.
I also considered including a Wolves defender, but ultimately opted against owning one for similar reasons; there are other options that I marginally prefer. It is rare that Wolves concede seven goals in just two games and there is a chance Nuno Espirito Santo makes a change in defence ahead of the Fulham match. Romain Saiss and Ruben Vinagre have hardly covered themselves in glory in those matches and I do feel confident picking the former and certainly not the latter, who could be on his way out of the club. Nelson Semedo’s attacking numbers of 0.02 xG and 0.06 xA per 90 at Barcelona were distinctly average and having only watched him on a handful of occasions, I do not feel confident backing him ahead of Reece James. That could change in the coming gameweeks, as could the Jimenez decision, as and when I decide to seek different targets.
Gameweek 4 Team
With the above selections made, this is how the team lines up ahead of Gameweek 4. In future gameweeks, the bench will generally be comprised of McCarthy, Brewster, Lewis and Mitchell, but they will all be used at times to cover unfavourable fixtures or injuries.
In a gameweek that has many good but no standout captain option, I tend to see it as an opportunity to make gains on your rivals. This is part of the reason why I have picked Aubameyang too, as he provides a slight differential to Salah and De Bruyne in the premium midfielder bracket but with a proven track record. Aubameyang is my edge, to try and gain a few points on other teams, but in the knowledge that there is likely to be a fairly wide captaincy spread which will limit the damage of him blanking and Salah or De Bruyne hauling. Against a Sheffield United side without a point yet this season, missing the injured Jack O’Connell and still getting used to life without Dean Henderson in goal, there is more than a case for an Aubameyang haul this weekend.You have to pick your moments to be a bit different in FPL; hopefully this is the right one.
Stats obtained from Understat unless stated otherwise.
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