Attacking GW36 and Beyond

In this week’s preview, we look at what to do with Leicester assets ahead of their blank fixture. Should we hold? Who are the best replacements should we look to sell? With only three weeks to go, we also look at the best ‘one week punts’ for those on free hit or looking to maximise potential upside in FPL GW36.

At the time of writing we have five fixtures remaining in double gameweek 35, with the eagerly awaited Man Utd vs. Leicester fixture tonight (Tuesday). With a third of the round still left we are already turning our attention to GW36, there is little time to pause for breath with less than 24 hours between the conclusion of the current week and the deadline of the next one.

It has been a manic season, fixture postponements for all manor of reasons has left us with a congested end to the campaign. The fast paced gameplay of recent weeks is FPL at its best or worst depending on your perspective, we are at least nearing the end of a season that will live long in the memory for both good and bad.

GW36 is the final gameweek this season (we hope) that will feature either a double or a blank, the last awkward fence to jump before the home straight flattens out. There are number of talking points this week, with Man Utd, Leicester, Chelsea, Arsenal and their opponents all blanking.

The Leicester assets are a particularly hot topic, with many of us carrying at least two of them, and their fixtures take a complete nosedive for the final two weeks. The natural instinct is to move them on, but with a number of their players in good form and highly owned it is a potentially risky move even if they have tougher matches ahead. Picking the right replacement is crucial at this stage, with so many appealing options it could be a difficult decision to get right.

With a number of big hitters blanking this week there has been plenty of talk in the FPL community on which GW36 assets to target. Liverpool and Man City both have plum fixtures and look prime to target, rotation is a concern as always so picking a certain starter with enough upside is potentially a huge weapon with so few matches remaining.

In the following article we crunch the numbers on which players look most likely to haul this week, while assessing the data that may help beat ‘Pep Roulette’.

What should we do with Leicester Assets? Who to replace Vardy and Iheanacho?

We are at a bit of a crossroads with Leicester, the blank gameweek has resulted in Kelechi Iheanacho (£6.3m), Jamie Vardy (£10.3m), James Maddison (£7.3m) and Timothy Castagne (£5.8m) being four of the top ten most transferred out players ahead of GW36.

It is hard to make a case against moving them on. Despite recent good scores from the likes of Iheanacho and Castagne, you won’t find many advocating them as great options with Chelsea and Spurs as their final two opponents.

I will keep this point brief; the only one I would possibly hold onto is Iheanacho. At his price he is easy to bench this week and he is still in the midst of an incredible hot streak, even in the tougher games he remains Leicester’s most likely route to a goal. While I agree there is little upside against Chelsea, the Spurs defence has been very poor of late and I fully expect points for Iheanacho in GW38.

In the case of Vardy, Maddison, and Castagne, it is a much easier decision: sell. I took a gamble that Vardy would outscore Harry Kane (£11.8m) from GW33-36, a gamble that has just about paid off but not without some frustration along the way.

Castagne has performed well since his return to right back, but an injury to Jonny Evans (£5.6m) saw the Belgian fill in at centre back against Newcastle and he is expected to continue there in the short term. Maddison has recently returned from injury but has not looked near to full fitness yet and it is likely he will continue to have his minutes managed.

In summary, these players have probably given us their best already and the decision to move them on is the most logical one. Clearly they have the ability to do well even in tougher games, but as we shall discuss below there is more upside to be found elsewhere.

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We’ll focus on Vardy and Iheanacho, the highest owned of the four. The table above is filtered by expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes over the last six gameweeks. Kane leads the way with an average of 0.79. With a fixture against the seemingly on the beach Wolves, there appears to be a good case for bringing Kane back in this week.

As I’ve said in previous articles, I would never stop someone from going for Kane as we know how powerful an asset he can be. I do believe this week that it could be potentially shrewd to look elsewhere though.

If we filter the table to include only the last two gameweeks (since Kane’s return from injury) then the Tottenham ace is actually second bottom for xG, only above Richarlison. There has long been a suggestion that Kane is slow to get back into full flow following time out, perhaps we are seeing this again? It’s also fair to say that Spurs as a team are faltering as the season draws to an end, with their hopes of Europe virtually over.

While Kane may be chasing the golden boot there is little to keep his colleagues motivated at this stage. This was certainly apparent in GW35 as they were completely dominated by Leeds (who also have nothing to play for). While I can see Kane scoring against Wolves, I would not be confident of a haul. Spurs have only managed 12 big chances in their last six matches, the eighth least in that time. Wolves have only conceded ten despite their inconsistencies, the eighth best.

As strong an asset as Kane is, I would see him as more of a shield pick at this stage, as there are a number of attackers who appear to have more upside at this stage of the season.

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The table above shows the raw data per 90 over the last six gameweeks, filtered by shots in the box (SiTB). Chris Wood (£6.4m) is not only tied with Kane for xG but also leads the way for SiTB per 90 and big chances. The Burnley man is experiencing his own purple patch and scored again in GW35 versus Fulham.

Personally, I see Wood as more of an option for GW38 against the hapless Sheffield United defence. With fixtures against the improving Leeds backline and top four chasing Liverpool beforehand, I wouldn’t be confident in the New Zealander continuing to find the net with the same regularity. While both Liverpool and Leeds have it in them to give up chances, I would not consider either a defence to target.

If we take GW36 in isolation, the standout asset has to be Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.6m). The England striker has scored in consecutive games since returning from injury and also had a header blocked on the line against West Ham in GW35.

While his numbers are at the middling to lower end of the players we are looking at, DCL is the focal point of the Everton attack. If you are backing them to score in any given game, it is likely he will be involved. The Toffees have arguably the best fixture of the round, with a home tie against already relegated Sheffield United.

The Sheffield United defence is perhaps the worst in the league, their recent data certainly puts them in that category. The Blades have an expected goals conceded (xGC) total of 11.56 over the last six matches, resulting in 12 goals conceded and on average they have been expected to concede every 49.2 minutes in that time.

As far as upside goes in a single week it is hard to look beyond DCL, and he is also a strong differential captaincy shout. Although Everton are not known for producing great attacking data, neither were Crystal Palace who could have scored more than the two goals they managed in GW35.

I would take attacking data out of the equation in this situation, a we know DCL is a proven scorer and we know that Sheffield are about as obliging as it gets. If we don’t look beyond this week then it is hard to find a better option than Calvert-Lewin.

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After discussing GW36 in isolation, it is worth noting that with so few transfers left, the optimal strategy is to bring in assets that have value beyond just a single fixture. While DCL looks prime for this week, I believe there are better bets for the the final three games as a whole.

Patrick Bamford (£6.3m) is the standout in my opinion. Leeds continue to produce strong performances despite their season being all but over and Bamford returned to the scoresheet against Spurs last week.

The deciding factor is the opposition Leeds face, rather than Leeds themselves. The table above shows the worst sides for minutes per xGC over the last six gameweeks, Leeds’ remaining opponents Burnley, Southampton, and West Brom all feature, having lost to the Yorkshire side by a combined aggregate of 9-0 in the reverse fixtures.

With West Brom relegated and Burnley and Southampton with seemingly nothing to play for, these fixtures look superb for Leeds. It looks as though the recently injured Raphinha (£5.4m) and Kalvin Phillips (£4.9m) are likely to feature this coming week, with the majority of Bamford’s best weeks coming when both have been on the pitch.

The methods and mentality employed by Leeds’ boss Marcelo Bielsa appears to have negated the effects of having nothing at stake, with Bamford and co still producing on the pitch despite their recent fixtures having little meaning in the context of their season.

Backing a seemingly motivated side against three teams that have shown defensive weakness all season seems wise, especially given this weakness is unlikely to improve in matches that now carry no jeopardy for them.

I would pick Bamford slightly ahead of West Ham’s Michail Antonio (£6.4m). Although I am a big fan of Antonio, I simply believe Bamford and Leeds to be capable of scoring more goals in the coming weeks. West Ham face the inconsistent Brighton in GW36, and while the absence of Lewis Dunk (£4.9m) appears to be a significant boost for the Hammers, it must be said that Brighton have fared okay when their captain has missed out previously this season.

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Brighton continue to post strong defensive numbers, their xGC total of 5.06 is the fourth best over the last six matches, and they have conceded half the number of big chances as Leeds’ opponents Burnley. While it could be argued that Brighton’s possession heavy style favours the counter attacking West Ham, I would always be wary of trying to target the Seagulls as quite honestly you never know what you are going to get.

Burnley have a reputation as a tough defence, but this season we have to look at them through a different lens. The Clarets are the sixth worst team for minutes per xGC over the season, suggesting they have been a defence to target. Despite Turf Moor being tagged as a fortress, they are still sixth worst for minutes per xGC at home.

Everton’s willingness to concede possession to West Ham revealed a potential weakness in the Hammer’s gameplan as they struggled to breakdown the Toffees’ defence. It is likely that West Brom will yield control of the ball to West Ham in GW37, and while WBA are a team to target it is possible that this type of game will limit the potential upside for Antonio and co that week. Leeds’ style of play is far better equipped to deal with the likes of Burnley and West Brom.

Both sides have equal upside in the Southampton game. The Saints’ high line suited Leeds perfectly in the reverse fixture and is likely to allow West Ham plenty of space in behind to play to their strengths. I will likely target Antonio for that GW38 fixture provided West Ham still have something to play for, but overall Bamford’s fixtures appear to offer more upside and as such he would be my top pick to replace Vardy or Iheanacho this week.

One Week Punts (Liverpool vs. City)

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The absence of the well owned Leicester, Man Utd, and Chelsea from the coming gameweek has opened up a world of transfer possibilities. Barring Manchester United who could rotate in GW38 for the upcoming Europa League final, these sides do not have great fixtures to end the season and it is more than logical to look at players with more points potential.

Liverpool and Man City have arguably the two best fixtures this week, playing West Brom and Newcastle, respectively. Both the Baggies and Magpies are among the poorest defences over the season and in recent weeks, and now have nothing to play for with the relegation race already decided.

Liverpool are chasing the top four, while City will continue to play with freedom after securing the title with three games to spare. There appears to be the makings of two big wins and potentially some hauls for their respective assets.

The above table shows the top attacking assets from both sides, sorted by minutes per expected goal involvement (xGI) over their last six matches. It is a week to bring in Mo Salah (£12.7m) if you are one of the few that don’t own him, but we will primarily focus on the other assets on the list.

Riyad Mahrez (£8.0m) is currently the most transferred in of the group this week. A rest against Chelsea in GW35 has lead many to assume he will start away to Newcastle. Although it is difficult to predict Pep, it does seem safe to punt on Mahrez given his lack of involvement in the league of late.

When he starts, Mahrez is often explosive. Four of his five double digit hauls this season have come against sides in the bottom half and with Newcastle last for minutes per xGC in recent weeks it seems like the ideal week to bring him in.

Phil Foden (£6.0m) is another one who has been difficult to pick this season due to lack of consistent minutes. However, when he does play he can be explosive, and he has managed 15 attacking returns and four double digit hauls despite playing around only half of possible minutes.

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The above table was created by @anna_woodberry and tracks the minutes of City assets since the last international break. While Foden and Mahrez have featured regularly in that time we can see that they have hardly featured in the league games either side of City’s Champions League semi-final second leg. While any prediction of Pep’s lineup is still an educated guess, logic and the information available to us suggests Foden and Mahrez will both start against Newcastle.

If price is an issue, then Foden is significantly cheaper and as such is easier to fit in. If you have the funds, I would pay the extra for Mahrez given he appears to be City’s penalty taker and of the two is ultimately more guaranteed of minutes in any given week. Such is the explosiveness of Mahrez that I would consider him one of the leading captaincy options for the coming week.

Despite the clear upside in a move for Mahrez or Foden, the data supports a move for a Liverpool asset instead. Sadio Mane (£11.7m) has had, by his own admission, his worst season at Liverpool. The Senegalese winger has struggled for consistency this campaign and his stock has significantly fallen among FPL managers.

Mane has improved his stats of late and in fact leads the charts for big chances per 90 among the players selected. His goal at home to Southampton came at the perfect time for GW36 free hitters and he is very much in my thoughts for the coming gameweek and beyond.

Diogo Jota (£7.0m) continues to post amazing numbers despite not finding the net in 305 premier league minutes. The Portuguese forward is likely to be rested in Liverpool’s clash against Man Utd, and as such one would assume he starts against West Brom.

Choosing between Mane and Jota seems easy. Their stats are similar, only one is significantly cheaper. The issue with Jota has always been minutes. No one can confidently say he will start all of Liverpool’s remaining games, whereas it is much more likely that Mane does. For those downgrading Vardy to a cheaper option, the money is likely to be there for Mane and with his top 10k ownership a full 57% lower than Jota’s, it seems a reasonable punt to take if you can afford him.

Couple that with the fact that West Brom are significantly weaker down Mane’s side than any other area, conceding over 30% more chances down their right flank than on the opposite side. The ingredients are there for a big week for Mane. He is getting big chances more frequently than the other players in our list and is playing a defence that is not only poor, but also favours players in his position. Liverpool are also under pressure to keep winning with a top four place on the line and with West Brom down it is unlikely they will offer much resistance.

Ultimately, the asset best suited suited to your team is the one that’s best for you. I would not sacrifice elsewhere to stretch for the more expensive Mane or Mahrez, but if the money is easily available then both look superb this week.

Despite Mane edging the data, I would pick Mahrez as the best one week punt due to his history of hauling against weaker defences and the possibility of him being on penalties and set pieces. Foden and Jota are great options for those with less money and both look set to get minutes this week. However, I see higher upside for their more expensive colleagues if you can stretch to them.

Half the trouble with Mahrez is knowing when he will play, but in a week where a start looks almost certain he presents an opportunity that is very difficult to turn down.

*Underlying statistics and tables obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Scout. Man City rotation data obtained with permission from Anna Woodberry*

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