5 days ago
For some FPL managers, this is the week we've been waiting for. The Gameweek 31 Wildcard. The chance to attack some obvious fixture swings for the final 8 gameweeks of the season and try to turn our ranks from poor to average, average to good, or even good to great. But if you're anything like me, the performances of some of those teams with the fixture swings in Gameweek 30 might have scared you senseless. I'm less sure now about who will be in my wildcard than I was going into GW30 – and that means the decisions have become much tougher. So how do we play it?
I'm going to outline 10 of the questions that are running through my mind as I tinker with the wildcard right now. Maybe blogging it out will help me to reach some of the decisions that are tantalizing me at the moment, and maybe they'll help you too. Please let me know on twitter at @rpick86 if it helps, hinders, or what your thoughts are. Let's get stuck in!
Forster plus one? Or a rotation?
Goalkeeper seems a logical place to start – and its also a difficult place to start. The fixture swings have presented us with a myriad of options on wildcard. Arsenal and Bernd Leno have a nice fixture run and he's probably at the most value-friendly price of the 'bigger' goalkeepers at £5m. His North London rival Hugo Lloris is far less reasonably priced at £5.6m but he has the added temptation of a double gameweek. The problem with that is that it's followed immediately with a blank and the cheapest playing goalkeeper Fraser Forster (£4m) also blanks in that week. That means either booking in a goalkeeper transfer which isn't ideal or starting with a pair of goalkeepers that costs over £10m. Robert Sanchez, as an example, plays Sheff Utd when Lloris blanks and could be a clever way of navigating if you have the budget available.
For me, there are 3 other stand out options. Edouard Mendy is coming off the back of conceding 5 goals against West Brom which is hard to fathom, but Chelsea's defensive record prior to that makes it feel highly unlikely that they are suddenly going to become awful defensively. Rui Patricio could be a viable option but as we'll discuss with Wolves later, it's fraught with danger and his price tag is off-putting. My current personal preference – and the man I tipped in the predictions article – is Kasper Schmeichel. He tends to be good for save points, and Leicester have a fantastic fixture run from Gameweek 32 to 35.
All the options mentioned are potentially good options, which will you go for?
A lot of potential options – but are any of them worth it?
If you'd asked me prior to Gameweek 30, I would definitely have had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in my wildcard. It was the gamble I was going to take, particularly with the fixtures as they are for Arsenal for a sustained period. But after what can only be described as a disgusting performance against Liverpool, I'm not sure I have the nerve to go through with it. Alex Lacazette might be a cheaper alternative but the question is whether you favour him over Jamie Vardy which might be difficult to do.
If you look at the other midfield options alongside Aubameyang, Odegaard is unproven as an FPL commodity and Bukayo Saka is suffering with injury unreliability. That leads you back towards the defence, which has now been hit by injury problems for Kieran Tierney and David Luiz.
That might just open the door for a bargain differential. Rob Holding (£4.2m) seems like a lock to take the right-sided centre-back role in the absence of Luiz and he didn't let anyone down earlier in the season. He might be one that has to sit on your bench until you have a luxury transfer available if he loses his place, but at his price, it doesn't feel like the worst thing in the World.
It might all hinge on Nuno.
We've already mentioned Patricio and I think he's too expensive, particularly when the defenders are cheaper. So I would take him off the table. But Wolves have some kindly priced defensive assets and an incredible short-term run of 5 fixtures that are very difficult to resist. The problem is that Nuno seems to have a fascination with unnecessarily reverting back to a flat back 4. I have absolutely no interest in Wolves defensive assets in a back 4, but I have interest in AT LEAST one if they are in a back 5. Conor Coady (£4.8m), Romain Saiss (£4.9m) or, if you are feeling particularly mad, Nelson Semedo (£5.2m) could all be options we consider. The problem is that I don't think Nuno is going to give us an indication of his intentions, so it's a gamble.
Moving further forward, the options become a little clearer. Pedro Neto (£5.7m) is the standout option and the standout footballer. He can be a huge frustration to own as it always feels like he should get more points than he does, and there are a lot of other options at his price point that might have tougher fixtures but have been more proven and productive over the season. Ruben Neves (£5.1m) could be a good 5th midfielder option to sit on the bench. He's netted goals and is on penalties so could be a good enabler.
I'm expecting to go in with 1 defender and Neto/Neves are on the watch list – what are you going to do?
Double defence, double midfield, or double nothing?
There is absolutely no doubting the fixture swing for Liverpool now. Wins and clean sheets against Wolves and Arsenal made FPL managers consider whether Liverpool could enjoy a huge run at the end of the season. That was sent crashing a little in the humbling defeat in the Bernabeu to Real Madrid in the Champions League. But the fact is that Liverpool won't be playing Real Madrid in their upcoming FPL fixtures. The biggest debate for me is whether you take double defence or double attack. It feels like a choice between 4 assets.
Nat Phillips (£4m) could be the perfect enabler if he retains his place in the XI, and the temptation to gamble on Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.3m) desperately trying to secure a place in Gareth Southgate's squad for the Euros is going to be hugely tempting for many.
Then we move to the two massively tempting midfield options. Diogo Jota (£6.9m at time of writing) feels like the most obvious pick for wildcarders. It's very hard to justify spending the extra on Mo Salah (£12.4m) over Jota, but it's much easier to justify going for both. Liverpool's defence hasn't been reliable but you have to expect goals in the fixtures coming up.
Is the double-up the right play?
It might be spinning faster than ever...
Rotation from Pep is always bad. But surely it's about to become worse than ever? The Premier League title is practically secured and City are now entering the crunch stages of the Champions League. Surely that will become the priority? It opens up a couple of possibilities. Do you gamble on the players not starting regularly in the Champions League such as Aymeric Laporte, Ferran Torres and Sergio Aguero? Do you try to play safe with the most reliable City asset in Ruben Dias?
It's one of the toughest questions to answer. Pep Roulette prediction is usually a mission in fallacy. But I am tempted to take a one-week punt on a City midfield or attacking asset for their home game with Leeds before switching to Son or Vardy for GW32. Could it be the gameweek where Raheem Sterling comes good? Is this where Aguero's successful swansong begins?
Tread carefully – but going with no City at all feels wrong. Bear in mind their blank in GW33 particularly if you are intending on heavy Spurs ownership and don't have a free hit.
Tough fixtures; great asset.
As was said on Planet FPL this week, there aren't many assets that are more fun to own than Raphinha. In any given week, you don't know whether you're going to get 2 points or 20 points. Leeds next three fixtures are horrendous (Man City, Liverpool, Man Utd), but I can't pretend that I'd be surprised if he got attacking returns in any of them. I think now is the time to move away, at least temporarily, from Patrick Bamford and Stuart Dallas, but Raphinha is definitely an asset that can be held through on the bench, or even starting. If you do sell, you will 100% want him back for the final few gameweeks of the season.
He's on fire – but can it continue without Rice and Antonio?
Jesse Lingard, take a bow. I'm not sure anyone expected the renaissance of Jesse to be as extreme as this. "J-Lingz" has been outstanding since the move, has had multiple double-digit returns and only one blank. West Ham still have some lovely fixtures and he's priced at £6.3m. What's not to love?
Well, the fear is the injuries that the Hammers have started to feel. With Declan Rice ruled out, and Michail Antonio limping off against Wolves, we have no real visibility or understanding of whether the absence of both players combined will impact Lingard's output. My personal feeling at the moment is that I won't own him on wildcard and will wait out West Ham's next 2 games to assess his adapted role and see whether either of the injured players return. If they do and he still looks good, he could be the perfect replacement for Heung-Min Son when he blanks in GW33.
But I have absolutely no problem with people taking the gamble that Lingard will continue to thrive.
Could Maddison be the play?
Fixture runs don't come much better than the one that Leicester have after they play West Ham in GW31. Even West Ham showed signs of creaking against Wolves with the tame boys in gold recording an xG of almost 3 - suggesting the loss of Rice might yet still be felt. So a Leicester attacking asset feels like a certainty on wildcard. The difficulty is which striker you go for, or whether you go for both. Form and price suggest that Iheanacho is the play. Jamie Vardy has scored once in his last 17 games, and Iheanacho has thrived. The risk with that is that if Maddison and Barnes both return, Iheanacho might lose out. Vardy is also a proven FPL commodity over multiple years and surely it's a matter of time before he is back on the goal trail. He threatened it against Sheff Utd. Both seem perfectly viable.
The alternative could be a differential punt on James Maddison. My feeling at the moment is to go with 1 attacker and Maddison, alongside one defensive asset. The only decision for me is to go with the current form of Iheanacho or the historic data of Jamie Vardy. I'm leaning Vardy but that could change. Defensively, I think Schmeichel, Fofana and Castagne are the best options depending on your structure and how much budget you have available.
It might depend on your rank...
If you are wildcarding from a position of strength, there's no doubt that Bruno Fernandes will make up a part of your wildcard. His ownership and performance dictate that. But if you are wildcarding in a position to gamble, is there any chance that you could go without him and swing against the crowd? The difficulty with that strategy is going to be the fixtures with Burnley and Leeds in GW32 and GW33 where he feels like one of the top couple of captaincy options. I don't think I can go through with leaving him out for those two fixtures but am giving genuine consideration to hopping on and hopping off and trying to gamble against the crowd to improve my rank.
It's going to take guts to leave him out and it could backfire. Massively.
It's a double but who?
Spurs are the fly in the ointment when it comes to wildcard strategy due to their double in Gameweek 32 against Southampton and Everton. That makes Harry Kane and Heung Min Son almost a must, but are there any other assets from Spurs that we are going to want on wildcard? The more I look, the more I think there isn't. Gareth Bale and Lucas Moura are probably the only ones that you could consider from an attacking perspective but they are likely to share minutes and have absolutely no guarantee of two starts in the double. As discussed earlier, if you can afford to go with Lloris and Sanchez as your goalkeepers, that might be the right play. The other option is Sergio Reguilon, but it's an expensive price to pay for a defender that doesn't seem likely to get many clean sheets. My feeling right now is that I will go with the 2 attackers and leave the third asset, but if you pick the right third option, it could be a great play.
Those are the ten questions playing on my mind most as we build up to the Friday deadline. What are the last dilemmas you have on your wildcard? Hit me up, let me know, and good luck with this crucial point in the run-in.
The latest addition to the DraftGym crew, FPL veteran and the Debate grandmaster.