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Game-Week 26 FPL Player Picks: Lady Luck

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Which players can keep a lucky streak going, or help turn fortune your way?

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane - Liverpool - Premier League - Anfield
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have recently personified the stark divide between good and bad luck for FPL managers.
Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

Most things in life are a combination of skill and luck, and fantasy football is no exception. Back in the fourth round of the FPL Cup competition, I finished even with my opponent but lost on the second tie-breaker, most goals conceded. But that wasn’t the bad luck; the real misfortune was that a starter I had in my team and my opponent didn’t, Jack Grealish, earned the stupidest imaginable yellow card in the dying seconds of added time in a game that wasn’t even close.

Liverpool and West Ham had a blank in Week 18, so many of us shed our teams of those assets at that time. With a mini-double game week in Week 24 for that pair of teams, most of us looked to load up on the maximum of three Reds for our fantasy sides. I had held onto only Trent Alexander-Arnold all season, so in Week 22 I wanted to bring in a second Red, either Mo Salah or Sadio Mane. Both are expensive midfielders, and it was a tough choice I agonized over, fairly close to a coin toss, but ultimately I leaned toward Salah. My plan for adding my third and final Red was to wait until Week 24, take a -4 hit and bring in Mane.

But as often happens, circumstances dictate plans, not the other way around. Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford got injured ahead of Week 23, so I dropped my star forward and replaced him with Roberto Firmino. As for mini-DGW24, I wanted to play my triple captain chip, and Salah and Mane were the obvious choices; I had only Salah, so obviously I went with the Egyptian superstar.

As noted by “the Scout” on the official FPL site, Mane and Salah were the two most captained players in Week 24, accounting for more than 2 million armbands between them; it was the same story, but to an even greater degree for the top 100 managers, 40 of whom went with Mane and 39 of whom picked Salah. A plethora of worldwide managers played their triple captain chip; of those doing so, Mane led the way with that honor from 270,000 managers followed by Salah with 220,000.

As it turned out, Weeks 24 & 25 ended up being about the starkest example of blind luck playing a part in fantasy fortunes imaginable. Mane, as we all know, suffered an injury early in the Reds’ first game of DGW-24 at Wolves, finishing with 1 point. Salah played 84 minutes but failed to make an impact, ending with 2 points. Not a big difference. But while Mane was unable to pass fit for the second game at West Ham, leaving him stuck on 1 point, Salah scored a goal, added an assist and earned the full bonus, finishing with 16 points for the game week. The triple captaincy pushed it to 48 points, representing half of my 96 point haul for GW24.

Then in Week 25 with Mane remaining out, Salah exploded again for a brace to cap the 4-0 win over Southampton, which brought a return of 16 points, providing a 32-point tally from the captain’s armband (accounting for nearly half my GW25 total of 68 points). That’s a two-game total of 80 POINTS from Salah via the triple captaincy in Week 24 and regular captaincy in Week 25! For FPL managers who held onto Mane and refused to add Salah, instead captaining someone else such as Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, Jamie Vardy, Raul Jimenez, Tammy Abraham, or Jack Grealish who failed to do anything, the pain only magnified.

If I had added in Mane instead of Salah in GW22 and triple captained Mane in DGW24 before captaining KDB or Vardy in GW25, I would have gotten only 7 points instead of 80 from the captaincy — a difference of 73 POINTS — in the past two game weeks. Thanks to Salah’s brilliant exploits, I moved from a global rank of #89,838 with 1,331 points before GW24 all the way up to #20,769 worldwide with 1,495 points after GW25, a jump of almost 70,000 spots within the top 100,000!

Do I consider myself lucky? You bet I do! I just as easily could be cursing Lady Luck had I picked Mane over Salah, but instead I’m praising her polite presence as Frank’s famous song pleasantly runs through my noggin.

How can we keep our lucky streak going for those who bet on Salah... or reverse bad fortune and grab a good break for those who were stuck with Mane?

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[NOTE: This is a bizarre game week running from Saturday, February 8 through Monday, February 17.]

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LOOKING AHEAD TO BLANKS IN GW28

Danger ahead! Four teams — Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Sheffield United — do not play in Week 28. You’ll want to ask yourself four questions:

  1. How many players do you have from the four teams that blank in Week 28?
  2. Looking at your team now, how many players will be available for your XI in GW28?
  3. How many free transfers do you/will you have available to use from now through GW28?
  4. Are you planning on playing your second half wildcard or free hit chip soon, or waiting?

Your upmost priority will be to make sure you have 11 possible starters for Week 28 (and ideally 12 with one extra field player just to be safe, since it’s never a surprise to have an unexpected absence due to rotation or injury). There’s plenty of time to prepare, leaving absolutely no reason to take an unnecessary zero in Week 28. Due to the upcoming blank, most fantasy teams will not be able to add anybody from Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City or Sheffield United, so that is why you will not see players from those teams mentioned in my Player Picks below. (As David also noted in his Fantrax Player Picks article, there is imminent fixture congestion due to Europa League or Champions League tilts for Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham, and Wolves in addition to Arsenal, so players from those teams may also give you some pause in GW26 & GW27.)

While I would avoid adding players from Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City or Sheffield United due to the GW28 blank, I’m not advising dropping them en masse from your fantasy team unless you need to in order to get to a full complement of starters. For instance, I’m holding onto Kevin de Bruyne and Dean Henderson whom I’ve had all season, providing me with excellent value as their prices have risen. They will prove even more worthwhile when they are rewarded with a future double game week (unless KDB is rested in EPL games for outside competitions as feared). I also have Jack Grealish and will consider holding onto him as well, but since I do not have him at a huge discount I would not have a problem dropping him if necessary.

CHIP STRATEGY

Unfortunately, we don’t yet know when those doubles will come. When they do arrive, it’s not absolutely necessary to have players from those teams which will feature twice already, as many fantasy managers will look to add them using the wildcard or free hit chip. On that note, I advise planning ahead now so that you do not feel the need to use your wildcard or free hit chip in GW28. Being able to hold onto those chips in your back pocket for later use, since there may be multiple double game weeks on the horizon, should prove advantageous.

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GOALKEEPERS

Dean Henderson is on fire, with three double-digit efforts in his past eight tries pushing him to the top performer at the position with 111 points. If you already have him, great, keep rolling with him. But as mentioned he’s got a blank in GW-28 plus he’s ineligible to face parent club Manchester United in GW-31, so it doesn’t seem like the best idea to burn a precious transfer to bring him in. If you are in need of a keeper, there are some other good options.

Alisson (£6.1m, Liverpool at Norwich)

I’m not a fan of paying premium for keepers. But if you have money laying around, I can see the argument for Alisson. After all, he has kept clean sheets in 9 of his past 10 games, averaging 6.9 ppg in that brilliant stretch. On top of that, the Reds enjoy a very favorable run of upcoming fixtures: at Norwich, v. West Ham United, at Watford, v. Bournemouth, at Everton, v. Crystal Palace.

Martin Dubravka (£5.0m, Newcastle at Arsenal)

Dubravka has two clean sheets in his past three games, and enjoys a very long run of attractive fixtures following the trip to the Emirates: at Crystal Palace, v. Burnley, at Southampton, v. Sheffield United, v. Aston Villa, at Bournemouth, v. West Ham. But if you want to add him this week, it could pay off. This Gunners’ offense is not nearly as prolific as it used to be; after suffering a clean sheet at Burnley, Arsenal is tied for only the 8th most goals in the league, the same as Aston Villa and just one more score than Southampton.

Nick Pope (£4.6m, Burnley at Southampton)

After hitting double digits in two of his past three games, Pope is second in scoring at the position with 105 points. He should be able to keep his form up since the Clarets’ next three fixtures are pretty favorable: at Southampton, v. Bournemouth, at Newcastle.

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DEFENDERS

If you have Sheffield United’s John Lundstram and/or Crystal Palace’s Martin Kelly who seem to have suddenly been banished to bench duty, the big question is whether you should drop him/them. Due to the need for 11 sure starters in GW28, the answer is yes. If you have other pressing issues for GW-26, you don’t necessarily have to do it now, but it is very likely that you will need to do so by GW-28 (unless either/both magically return to starter status). The longer you hold onto them, the more their value will drop as other fantasy managers say goodbye, so the sooner the better.

Thankfully, there are many attractive budget options to replace them. As with keepers, my targets are Liverpool, Newcastle and Burnley.

Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.6m, Liverpool at Norwich)

43% of global FPL managers have the Reds’ right back already, so this is for the other 57%. What the deuce are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? In the past 12 games, TAA has been a dynamo with 1 goal, 8 fantasy assists, and 8 clean sheets, racking up 92 points, an average of 7.7 ppg. TAA has the most crosses in the league, and only Kevin de Bruyne has more assists and big chances created. As mentioned in the bit on Alisson, Liverpool enjoys a long run of attractive fixtures, so the joy should keep on keepin’ on.

Matt Ritchie (£5.3m, Newcastle at Arsenal)

Last season as a midfielder, Ritchie had 2 goals, 8 assists and 10 clean sheets but was able to translate that into only 110 points. Meanwhile, Leicester defender Ricardo Pereira had the identical line — 2 g, 8 fa & 10 cs — but for him that was good for 146 points. Ritchie’s reclassification from midfielder to defender this season should pay dividends, but fantasy managers hesitated to add him at the start of the season when Newcastle faced a daunting schedule, and his injury after three games made that point moot. Now that he has returned to fitness and started the past three games, it’s time to start thinking about adding him if you haven’t already.

Ritchie boasts three clean sheets so far in his six games, and while that 50% clean sheet rate is surely going to decline, he should chip in with some goals (especially if he’s the primary PK taker as expected) and assists. After all, in those six games Ritchie has five shots (one SOT), 44 crosses and 1 big chance created. As mentioned in the bit on Dubravka, Newcastle’s upcoming fixture list is very attractive especially following the trip to Arsenal. Even if Ritchie fails to record a clean sheet against the Gunners, he always offers offensive potential.

Matt Ritchie - Newcastle United - Premier League
Is it finally time to take advantage of Matt Ritchie’s positional change this season?
Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images

James Tarkowski (£5.1m, Burnley at Southampton)

With 1 goal, 2 fantasy assists and 9 clean sheets, Tarkowski offers a little bit of everything. As mentioned in the bit about Pope, the Clarets have a good run of fixtures in the near future.

Jamaal Lascelles (£4.2m, Newcastle at Arsenal)

If you can’t afford Ritchie, Lascelles is an excellent fall-back option. He doesn’t have quite the same appeal on the offensive end, but he will chip in with the occasional goal and he should be able to rack up some clean sheets the rest of the season.

Charlie Taylor (£4.2m, Burnley at Southampton)

A la Ritchie and Lascelles with the Magpies, Taylor offers a nice budget alternative to Tarkowski if you’d like to add a Burnley defender but are short on scratch.

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MIDFIELDERS

Mo Salah (£12.7m, Liverpool at Norwich)

Following my introduction, how could the Egypt superstar not be in the player picks at midfield? As mentioned for Liverpool, the fixtures from GW26-31 look quite friendly, and Salah is in a brilliant run of form with 8 goals and 3 fantasy assists in his past 10 games.

Son Heung-Min (£10.0m, Tottenham at Aston Villa)

Son has scored in each of the past two games, bringing his tally to 16 goals + fantasy assists (7 g, 9 fa) this season in only 20 appearances, averaging 5.5 ppg. By comparison, the considerably more expensive Raheem Sterling has only 13 g+fa (11 g, 2 fa) in 23 games, averaging 5.0 ppg. Now the dazzling winger goes to Villa Park to face what is usually a very accommodating Lions’ defense.

Harvey Barnes (£5.9m, Leicester at Wolves)

While star attacker Jamie Vardy has been struggling lately, Harvey Barnes has stepped up to lead the Foxes’ attack. Barnes has scored in each of the past three games, adding a fantasy assist and averaging 8.7 ppg in that stretch. It’s not just a matter of finishing luck, as Barnes has actually been more active with 9 shots (5 SOT) in the recent trio of games, compared to only 5 shots (4 SOT) for Vardy. The next pair of fixtures is not the most favorable — at Wolves, v. Manchester City — so if you want to wait to add Barnes, I wouldn't blame you. However, as we well know, sometimes it’s more about a player’s form than the competition, so if you’re up for taking a chance, the risk could prove worth it.

Leicester City v Newcastle United - Premier League
Recently it has turned from the Vardy party into the Barnes banquet with Leicester City.
Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City via Getty Images

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FORWARDS

Roberto Firmino (£9.6m, Liverpool at Norwich City)

Insanely, all 8 of Bobby Firmino’s goals have come on his travels. Now two of the next three games are attractive affairs away from Anfield, at Norwich this weekend and at Watford in Week 28.

Danny Ings (£7.0m, Southampton v. Burnley)

It’s no slam dunk predicting how Southampton v. Burnley will turn out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see nil-nil, nor would 3-2 be much of a shock. More importantly perhaps than this weekend, both teams enjoy good fixture runs a bit beyond (for Burnley) and even longer past that (for Southampton). After scoring 13 times in 16 games, Ings has failed to hit the net in his past three tries, but those were tough match-ups: home to Wolves and away at Crystal Palace and at Liverpool. I like Ings to get back on track as the schedule turns friendlier.

Chris Wood (£6.2m, Burnley at Southampton)

Wood has 3 goals and 1 fantasy assist in his past five games, and as mentioned frequently, Burnley has a nice run of fixtures in the near term.

Jay Rodriguez (£5.7m, Burnley at Southampton)

Should I just call this the Claret Player Picks Edition? If you’re really looking to save money and are up for a more speculative pick at forward, Rodriguez scored at Manchester United in Week 23 and then came within a whisker of doing likewise against Arsenal in Week 24. JayRod has been attacking at will with 11 shots (4 SOT) in his past four games in Ashley Barnes’ absence, and Barnes doesn’t look like he’ll be ready to return any time soon following hernia surgery.

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[SOURCE NOTE: FPL player prices and fantasy scoring information come from the official fantasy Premier League site; most other statistics come from the official Premier League site.]

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Have you been lucky or unlucky recently? Which player(s) are you looking to add this week, or are you hoarding your free FPL transfer to have two available next week? Do you have a plan of action set yet for the GW28 blank? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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