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EPL Game-Week 24 FPL Player Picks: The Pivot

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It’s the first (mini-)double game week of the season, bringing a change in thinking.

Liverpool FC v Sheffield United - Premier League
Do you dare risk captaining someone other than one of this pair?
Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images

For the season until now, our way of thinking as FPL managers has been mostly with a long-term view of things.

[NOTE: The game week begins on Tuesday, like tomorrow, so don’t delay setting your teams!]

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EARLY REASONS FOR LONG-TERM THINKING

  • TRANSFER LIMITATIONS: With only one free transfer per week (two maximum if you don’t use the prior week’s), FPL generally punishes impulsive, week-to-week decision making. A -4 point penalty may not sound like much if you take a hit here or there as needed, but taking them regularly adds up to a world of pain.
  • THE STAGE OF THE SEASON: We all would love to embrace short-term thinking whenever we can, as far as grabbing a player with a favorable match-up or stretch in the schedule. But early in the season, other issues can take priority: grabbing a player who is simply on fire and looks like a good value the rest of the way, getting rid of a player who hasn’t performed how you expected, etc. After all, there’s plenty of time for your players’ poor schedules to turn around. As well, early in the season, we’re looking to build team value. A player whose price you expect to rise a lot is important to have in your team at a lower cost.
  • CHIP STRATEGY: We get only five chips all season. One of the wildcards is use-it-or-lose-it in the first half, and many FPL managers played that in the opening four or five weeks. With an eye to double game weeks, which historically come late in the season, the strategy is generally to hoard the remaining four chips for when they should pay off the most.

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THE PIVOT TO SHORT-TERM THINKING

Normally, we could wait until a while later for our transition from long-term to short-term thinking to kick in. Now though, we have an earlier than usual double game week, throwing a wrench into our plans. Generally we don’t see double game weeks until at least Week 28 or so, as a result of FA Cup and Carabao Cup fixture congestion. But Liverpool’s participation in the Club World Cup forced the EPL schedule makers into giving Liverpool and West Ham a blank in Week 18, and now the double comes already in Week 24. Given the early mini-double, it’s time to start the process now, because:

  • THE FLIP SIDE OF THE STAGE OF THE SEASON: When a star player gets injured or suspended earlier in the season, say when there are 25 or 30 games left to go, missing one or two (or three) games isn’t such a huge deal. Now, though, there are only 15 games remaining (16 for Liverpool and West Ham). Missing a couple/few games is not a problem that you can just shrug off any more, rather it’s a vital chunk of what’s left. There have been a number of injuries / suspensions / benchings to key players such as Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Arsenal’s Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Tottenham’s Harry Kane, and Bournemouth’s Diego Rico throwing more wrenches into many squads. If you have only one of them, you don’t need to panic, but if you have two or three in that department, it’s going to force your hand. Similarly, in terms of dropping a player with a daunting fixture list or adding a player with a favorable schedule, that becomes all the more vital when there aren’t many games left in the season. And with respect to player value, it’s not as big of a deal. Player prices simply don’t have time to rise all that much when you get later in the season.
  • THE FLIP SIDE OF CHIP STRATEGY: Most fantasy managers have four chips left in their pockets, and only a little over a third of the season remaining to use them. Eventually we’re going to have to start putting them into play, and it will have to come in four different game weeks since we can’t use more than one of them at the same time. You don’t want to find yourself at Week 35 with all of your chips left and putting them into play merely as necessity, so go ahead and start thinking now about when using them can pay off.
  • THE FLIP SIDE OF THE DGW: Many fantasy managers dropped Liverpool (and West Ham) players ahead of their Week 18 blank, and now have been adding them back recently ahead of the mini-DGW24. After Week 24, though, it’s a return to single game weeks for a while, so it may become time to drop expensive Reds for other players again.

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THE STRATEGY FOR THIS WEEK

Most FPL teams already have at least one or two Liverpool players. Right now investment levels are significant for Sadio Mane (selected by 41% of FPL managers), Virgil van Dijk (41%), Trent Alexander-Arnold (40%), Mo Salah (27%), Andrew Robertson (20%), Roberto Firmino (12%), and Alisson (10%). If you don’t have the full allotment of three Liverpool players, getting there has to be your priority.

WHICH PLAYERS AND POSITIONS SHOULD YOU TARGET?

Let’s run over the three basic options this week with respect to Liverpool:

  1. Getting the Two Heavy Hitters in Midfield: Nabbing both Sadio Mane (£12.4m) and Mo Salah (£12.3m) will be everybody’s dream, but their high price tags will make it difficult to fit the dynamic midfield duo in. If you can squeeze only one of them in, it’s a tricky call, but I’d prioritize Salah over Mane since the Egyptian will be on penalty kicks (especially given injury worry for James Milner). If you are having trouble finding a way to get both Mo and Mane in, don’t worry, there are two other excellent fall-back options:
  2. Grabbing Forward Roberto Firmino: If you can’t afford both Salah and Mane but don’t want to miss out on a second Liverpool player on offense, Roberto Firmino (£9.3m) is a solid way to go. Since Week 19, Bobby F. has scored three times, compared to twice each for Mane and Salah. On top of that, Liverpool has two away games for the DGW, and Firmino has thrived on the road this season, amazingly having scored all seven of his goals away from Anfield.
  3. Targeting Defense/Keeper: After keeping only two clean sheets in the first 15 weeks, the Reds have since delivered seven straight shutouts on the defensive end. With that in mind, having two or perhaps even all three players in defense / keeper makes an awful lot of sense. In defense, Virgil van Dijk (£6.4m) is the safest choice as the player least likely to be rested by Jurgen Klopp. If you’re willing to take more of a risk, Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) and Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) offer more attacking potential. In net, Alisson (£6.1m) has scored 52 points in the past seven games, the same as van Dijk and more than Robertson, so the brilliant Brazilian net minder shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Alisson Becker - Liverpool FC - Premier League
Alisson has more than made up for lost time lately.
Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Much will depend on the particular circumstances of your team. Originally my plan was to fit in both Salah and Mane, and I would have needed to take a -4 point hit in Week 24 to do so. But after Marcus Rashford’s injury during the FA Cup fixture on Wednesday, I changed course by dropping Rashford and adding Firmino for Week 23. If forward has recently become a problem spot for you with Rashford, Kane, Joshua King, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Ashley Barnes, or Diogo Jota, then Firmino may be your answer as well.

If you are instead saddled with Jan Vertonghen or Diego Rico who have suffered ineffectiveness and/or benching, then defense may be your priority. If you have a problem spot at keeper such as Lucasz Fabianski, Tom Heaton or Aaron Ramsdale, then Alisson can be your saving grace.

WHOM SHOULD YOU CAPTAIN?

Captaining one of the Liverpool stars will be a no-brainer, and with Mane and Salah being two of the highest scorers in the game, they will be the automatic favorites in that department. Again, of the pair I would lean toward Salah as the likely PK taker should that benefit arise.

Salah or Mane will be the safest pick. If you find yourself chasing your mini-league leader, you may be more willing to take a risk. In that vein, Trent Alexander-Arnold stands out as the best option, or alternately Andrew Robertson. If either defender can get two clean sheets and provide something on the offensive end as well, he could easily outscore the attacking stars. Otherwise, Firmino has as many braces (1) as Mane this season, and only one fewer than Salah, plus he’s been a beast on the road, so the third member of the “Big Three” could also be an intriguing alternative.

WHAT ABOUT WEST HAM?

Liverpool have two away fixtures, while West Ham has a home and away split. Why is the attention on the Reds?

Because West Ham is in 16th place, compared to 1st place for Liverpool. And because West Ham is not only facing top side Liverpool, but also third place Leicester. Liverpool will be clear favorites in both games, whereas the Hammers will most decidedly be underdogs. On top of that, the team’s injury situation on offense is a mess, with Felipe Anderson (£6.6m) and Michail Antonio (£6.9m) both being doubts, and Manuel Lanzini (£6.2m) recently returning from injury and having a poor fitness history.

If you already have three Liverpool players and have a free transfer or two left over, it could be fun to roll the dice on a Hammer, and one benefit is that it won’t cost you much. Of the options, midfielders Mark Noble (£5.0m) and Robert Snodgrass (£5.2m) stand out as the most interesting. Noble is on PKs, and Snoddy is always a decent bet to score or assist when he’s on the pitch. With respect to Noble, Leicester actually has conceded the joint second-most PKs in the league (five), but Liverpool haven’t conceded any, and West Ham don’t draw many (two). With respect to Snoddy, he’s facing two of the best defenses in the league.

Mark Noble - West Ham United - Premier League
Cheap PK specialists don’t pay off often, but when they do, it’s beautiful!
Photo by Arfa Griffiths/West Ham United FC via Getty Images

As for defense/keeper, West Ham will be unlikely to get a clean sheet in either game, and it would be no surprise to see them give up at least two goals in each. At forward, Sebastian Haller has scored only two goals since Week 9. Generally speaking, a single game from someone on one of the other 18 teams is more attractive than two games by any West Ham defender.

HOW ABOUT SINGLE-GAME PLAYERS?

The only reason you should be targeting single game players to add to your team is if you are already stocked up on three Liverpool assets. Even so, if you already have three Reds, you may want to hold onto your free transfer unless you’re having trouble getting up to a full complement of starters. As mentioned, you may want to change course again following the double week. After all, Salah, Mane & Co aren’t nearly as attractive when they’re playing only one game per week, especially if you’ve paid at or around retail for them recently.

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WHAT ABOUT CHIP STRATEGY?

As mentioned, most FPL managers have four chips left in their pocket. Should we consider using any of them this week, or hold off?

BENCH BOOST: Ideally you will want to use your bench boost in a double game week that has enough teams playing twice that you can have your starters and your bench players give you the possibility of maximum returns. This is merely a mini-double game week. It’s advisable to hold off.

FREE HIT: Apologies for repeating myself, but ideally you will want to use your free hit in a double game week featuring enough teams playing twice that you can have all of your starters get the double return. This is merely a mini-double game week, and on top of that, West Ham players aren’t particularly attractive. It’s advisable to hold off unless your team is decimated by short term injury problems.

SECOND HALF WILDCARD: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but ideally you will want to use your second half wildcard in a double game week featuring enough teams playing twice that you can have all of your starters get the double return. Alternately, if it doesn't look like there will be three full double game weeks to get the full advantage of using the bench boost, free hit and second half wildcard in separate DGWs, it may make sense to use the second half wildcard a week ahead of a DGW when you have designs on using the bench boost. Again, this is merely a mini-double game week. It’s advisable to hold off unless your team is wracked with long term problems.

TRIPLE CAPTAIN: Ideally you will want to use your triple captain on a superstar player in a double game week featuring two appealing match-ups. Mo Salah and Sadio Mane are certainly worthy superstars, but it’s not the perfect scenario since both of Liverpool’s fixtures are away and one of them is at the Molineux, which is never easy. But we have up to four chips remaining, and we can’t be sure of how many fully stocked double game weeks there will be the rest of the season, so that is really the main argument for using it now. Why not go ahead and toss it into play now when you can get two games from an elite FPL player?

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[NOTE: Player prices and stats came from the official Premier League fantasy site and the official Premier League site.]

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Have you made the pivot to short-term strategy yet, or are you still sticking with a longer-term view of things? How many Liverpool and West Ham players do you have in your team this week, and are you using one of your chips? Answer the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments!

Poll

How many Liverpool and West Ham players do you plan on having in your FPL team?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    None, call me crazy, I don’t care
    (12 votes)
  • 2%
    One
    (10 votes)
  • 6%
    Two
    (23 votes)
  • 62%
    Three
    (231 votes)
  • 19%
    Four
    (70 votes)
  • 1%
    Five
    (7 votes)
  • 4%
    Six, I always take it to the max
    (15 votes)
368 votes total Vote Now