FPL managers were dealt a spanner in the works on Friday with the news that Kevin De Bruyne will miss the next 4-6 weeks after picking up a hamstring injury in Manchester City’s GW19 win over Aston Villa.
The Belgian is currently owned by 23.4% of managers, who will have to weigh up a number of intriguing options as his replacement. In this article, I will attempt to wade through the minefield of candidates and assess their strengths and potential limitations.
Raheem Sterling (£11.4m; 7.1% tsb)
Sterling has had a patchy season so far, but will be hoping to step up in the coming weeks and become City’s main man in De Bruyne’s absence.
The winger has 5 goals and 5 assists so far in the league this season, having returned to goalscoring form with a glorious free kick in City’s convincing 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the first half of DGW19.
That goal was Sterling’s first since GW14 and was much needed for the Englishman after he missed a penalty in the previous game against Brighton.
I would describe Sterling’s recent underlying numbers as solid but unspectacular. In the last 6 gameweeks he has recorded 11 goal attempts, 9 of which have been inside the penalty box. He has had 2 big chances in the same time period, which is a little underwhelming for his standards.
There are, however, obvious appeals to trading De Bruyne for Sterling. Firstly, Sterling walks into 3 tasty fixtures in the next 3 gameweeks. A trip to West Brom in GW20, followed by a home game against Sheffield United in GW21 are as good as they get, before a slightly tougher trip to Burnley in GW22.
These are games where you would expect City to rack up the goals, and we know that Sterling can be explosive, particularly against lesser opposition.
Secondly, Sterling is a very similar price to KDB, meaning your team structure will stay the same and you will have an easy route to get De Bruyne back when he returns from injury. Finally, Sterling has started 8 out of the last 9 league games and was given a rest for City’s trip to Cheltenham in the FA Cup on Saturday, so you would expect him to start the next two games.
I fatally owned Sterling for BGW18 so already have him amongst my ranks for GW20, but if I didn’t then I would see him as a very tempting KDB replacement. The main question mark around him is whether he will get the chances with De Bruyne – who is City’s creative maestro – out injured.
However, I think City have enough quality players in the final third to create a high volume of chances even in De Bruyne’s absence, which should see Sterling get plenty of opportunities in the coming games.
The fixture against West Brom in GW20 is particularly appealing. The Baggies have had a torrid time at the Hawthorns so far this season, conceding 17 goals in their last 4 home games. They also have the second worst xGC (expected goals conceded) over the last 6 games, with the metric suggesting that they should have conceded 12.39 goals over their last 6 games.
These defensive frailties mean that Sterling is not just an attractive KDB replacement, but a genuine captaincy option this week.
Ilkay Gundogan (£5.5m; 6.5% tsb)
Ilkay Gundogan has emerged as a surprise FPL option in recent weeks. The German midfielder has enjoyed a sustained run in the Manchester City team in an advanced role and has helped himself to 5 goals in the last 7 league games.
His change in role from a sophisticated, defensive-minded holding midfielder to an advanced, goalscoring midfielder has been a game-changer for a City side that are unbeaten in their last 10 league games.
The change in role has also yielded Gundogan some impressive underlying statistics to go with his goals. He has notched 18 goal attempts in the last 6 gameweeks, with 13 of them coming in the penalty box. 7 of these goal attempts have been on target, with 4 of them being recorded as a “big chance”.
These numbers have combined to give Gundogan an xG of 2.49 over the last 6 games, which shows that he is over-performing as he has managed to score 4 goals in that time. However, the difference between the two numbers can partly be explained by the fact that his goal against Palace was a screamer that recorded an extremely low xG.
One of the major strings to Gundogan’s bow is that he is almost certain to be on penalties in De Bruyne’s absence, after converting from the spot against Villa last time out after De Bruyne had gone off.
The other major advantage over picking Gundogan over someone like Sterling is the difference in price. The German weighs in at just £5.5m, which gives you funds to fit another premium into your squad. However, his major drawback in my opinion is the fact that he takes up a valuable Manchester City spot.
If Sterling starts to explode or you want De Bruyne back then it is difficult to get to them from Gundogan without multiple hits. He also blocks triple City defence, which is becoming increasingly popular on FPL Twitter.
Heung-Min Son (£9.7m; 58.4% tsb)
Son is enjoying his best Premier League season so far and continued his remarkable consistency with his 18th FPL return (an assist) in Spurs’ GW19 win at Sheffield United.
With the exception of a 13 point haul against Leeds in GW17, the South Korean has fallen off a bit in terms of his FPL output and explosiveness, but he has still ticked along with 34 points in the last 6 gameweeks.
Son actually has the most big chances out of any midfielder in the last 6 gameweeks, which is an astonishing stat considering he has recorded just 11 goal attempts in total in that time.
This stat shows that because of Tottenham’s counter-attacking style, Son won’t get a high volume of shots. However, he is capable of getting into good goalscoring positions and getting high quality shots on goal, as shown by the fact that he has an xG of 2.32 in the last 6 gameweeks.
His xG actually shows that he has been unlucky not to have scored more FPL points of late, with Son under-performing his xG by 1.32.
Spurs now enter a mixed run of Premier League fixtures, but I think the games will suit Son. Liverpool are the visitors to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in GW20. The Reds are on a horrible run of form at the moment and whilst I expect them to dominate possession, they could be vulnerable to a trademark Tottenham counter-attack.
Spurs then travel to another possession-based, attacking side in Brighton. I think the Seagulls style of play will suit Spurs and Son in particular as they like to play out from the back, which could present Tottenham with chances from the high press or from turnover in midfield.
In GW22, Spurs face an out of form Chelsea side, before an extremely appealing home tie against West Brom in GW23, where Son is likely to be one of the standout captaincy options.
James Maddison (£7.1m; 9.8% tsb)
Maddison is back on the radar of FPL managers after averaging 9 points in his last 3 league games. The English midfielder seems to be going through a rich vein of form, having also scored another goal in a man of the match display against Brentford in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Players like Maddison are confidence players that often go through these purple patches, before going quiet for a few weeks afterwards. To me, this makes underlying statistics less meaningful for them, as you are able to assess whether they are in form or not simply by watching them.
Maddison has been playing with a certain swagger that only an in-form number 10 can play with in recent weeks.
He was a constant thorn in Chelsea’s side in GW19 and deservedly got on the score sheet, finishing cooly after latching onto a long ball. Leicester will be without Jamie Vardy for the next few games through injury, so the onus will be on Maddison to continue to put himself in those goalscoring positions in order to help fill the immense void left by Vardy.
In truth, Maddison’s stats don’t jump out of the page at you. He has had just 1 big chance in the last 4 gameweeks and has an xG of just 0.54. However, there is no doubt that he is in brilliant form at the moment and I am backing him to thrive on the responsibility of being Leicester’s main man for the upcoming games against Everton, Leeds and Fulham.
Jack Grealish (£7.7m; 36.5% tsb)
Grealish is another FPL asset in the Maddison mould, although he has been much more reliable than his fellow countryman this season. Watching Aston Villa without owning him is an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and he was at his brilliant best in Villa’s win over Newcastle in GW19.
Non owners that day were perhaps lucky to get away with a 6 pointer for Grealish, but they were certainly reminded of what a dangerous FPL asset he can be.
Grealish’s assist for Bertrand Traore against Newcastle showed how much of a clever footballer he is. Despite every Newcastle player defending in their penalty box, he was still able to find Traore with pinpoint accuracy.
The main concern for Grealish is that he is dangerously close to a suspension. He must avoid a yellow card against Burnley in GW20 and Southampton in GW21 if he is to escape without a ban. I think this might be enough to put me off him as I don’t want to spend two transfers on my KDB replacement.
However, there have been numerous cases of FPL assets tiptoeing the yellow card tightrope for numerous weeks but continuing to dodge it and rack up the points, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw another case of that here. If he does avoid a ban, Grealish looks a great asset with the prospect of double gameweeks for Villa on the horizon.
Featured image source: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/man-city-bruyne-sterling-gundogan-16810621 (no copyright intended).