Premier League: Life without Lukaku

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” or so the saying goes. As fantasy managers find something to pass the time this weekend, many are reviewing and preparing their squads for the upcoming DGW, as we have 9 week of play remaining. Riding the success of three green arrows into the international break, I feel my squad has turned the corner and I’ve gained nearly 500k spots, positioned at 1.1m with 1400 total points. Not ideal, but it’s been a challenging season. To think, I had this all figured out after GW6 sitting at 29k, on the back of three green arrows.

Bold moves may mark the start of GW30 as I prepare my strategy and transfers through GW34. I am without a WC, which I activated in GW21 to rebuild my team as I was struggling with just 3 green arrows out of the previous 10 weeks. While I am holding my FT until late next week, we wait and watch the international matches in hopes EPL players stay in form and more importantly, healthy. Seamus Coleman has already been lost for the rest of the season due to a broken leg. That is one transfer I hadn’t accounted for.

Plans for GW30 now include 3 transfers; Sanchez, Lukaku and Coleman out for Vardy, Mane and Fuchs. Yes, you read that right, I plan on moving the most in form forward, Lukaku. The next two matches are away to Livepool and Man United, two games in which he didn’t return points earlier in the year. In fact if you look over his Merseyside Derby stats, he has just two goals since joining Everton. His home performance is stronger than on the road, with 12 goals in 13 matches at home versus 8 goals in 14 matches on the road. He’a also created 3 more chances (20) at home than on the road. His shot accuracy remains constant at 66% in both cases.

Introducing Vardy will be the first time the Leicester man has made an appearance on my squad. His form and that of the Foxes has been lacking much of the year, as they push to stay clear of the relegation zone. Since Craig Shakespeare has taken the reins, Leicester has been undefeated in 4 games, advancing to the quarterfinals in the UCL and now 6 points clear of relegation. Vardy has been reborn, so to speak with returns in his last 3 games, including 3 goals. Up next for the Foxes, home tilts against Stoke City and Sunderland. Based on form and fixture, Vardy could put together to solid performances.

“The Vardy Experiment” will only be for 2 weeks, as I plan on getting Lukaku back for GW32, when the fixtures turn more favorable for Everton. As for Sanchez, Arsenal need his performance to excel in order to secure a top 4 finish. Much like Vardy, running a starting XI without Sanchez is a risk that I could take. Selected by just 26.2% of fantasy managers, does that make him essential? Fantasy Football Geek shows us that just 40% of the top FPL managers (10) he follows has Sanchez. Combine his number with that of the top 10k fantasy managers and Sanchez still misses the 50% cut for being “essential” in our fantasy squad. Conversely, Mane is owned by 90% of the top managers he followed and 54% of 10k manager, making his inclusion “essential.”

Statically, Sanchez has the advantage over Mane in many categories on the comparison matrix at Squawka.com. That doesn’t come as a surprise. Both midfielders have scored 34 points over the last 5 game weeks. Sanchez a bit more consistent with a single no return against Chelsea. Mane scored 29 points hitting braces in two games and no returns in the other 3 games. On the pitch, we all know Sanchez IS Arsenal, his involvement is key to their success. Mane is a cog in a talented midfield with Coutinho, Lallana, Miler, Wijnaldum and Firmino. You take a gamble when you transfer in one of the “big three” (Coutinho, Mane, Firmino) that they follow through from week to week with returns, while Sanchez carries a better consistency.

While I swore off Mane after last time, I swore I wouldn’t go without Sanchez after posting The Sanchez Effect. Now it appears the tables could be reversed…again! Thankfully we have another week to wait and watch, to work on our strategy to get through DGW34 and beyond. Sanchez due to his high price tag doesn’t allow me the necessary budget to make the necessary moves to get me through GW34. Mane, however, does. Not that I will let that sole fact be the deciding factor.

Premier League: GW29 Retrospect

Hopefully I haven’t spoke too soon, as it appears my season is turning around. GW29 marks the third week in a row I have received a green arrow. This is just the second time all season I have put a streak of this duration. With the international break forthcoming, hopefully my starting XI can keep the streak going into GW30. While it was a good showing in GW29, it could have been much better. The captain selection and injury coupled with an ineffective defender cost me a few points. Add to that the fact I took an -8 point hit (4th in 5 weeks) to get the necessary players in.

Over the last 3 weeks I have recorded scores of 69, 42 and 78 to improve my overall rankings by 445k,  from 1.6m to 1.1m. Currently on just 1400 points, I will need to average about 66 points/week in order to reach my updated goal of 2000 points. Not out of the question, but just when I feel I have the game figured out, it takes a turn and smacks me upside the head. I am trying to ignore what happened to my team the last time I put together my three green arrows, as it was followed by three red arrows and a drop of nearly 700k, which didn’t stop until GW27 following five red arrows.

The ankle injury to Kane with an unknown return date meant I held my forwards for another week, led by the red hot Lukaku. Unfortunately I made the decision not to captain him this week opting for Sanchez against West Brom. For 90 minutes of the game, it appeared to be the right decision, as Lukaku accounted for just a single assist. In extra time, Lukaku found the back of the net twice and finished the week on 16 points including 3 BPS. For a second week, Llorente was highly ineffective up front against Bournemouth returning nothing. All the hype and expectation of Gabbiadini lasted just 31 minutes when was removed with a groin injury.

Llorente now finds himself on that short list to be sold, even though Swansea have good fixtures over the next 4 out of 6 weeks. Potentially making his way into my squad will be Jamie Vardy, the Leicester front man scored his 3rd goal in 3 games with an 11 point return. Two outstanding match ups, Stoke and Sunderland both at home await after the break. My only concern at this point is coming up with the necessary budget to make this transfer happen. Currently I am 0.8m short. However Sanchez was withdrawn early due to injury.

Speaking of the midfielders, this was one of my most productive weeks all season long. Amazing to see the difference when there is some consistency at this position. Playing a 3-4-3 I started Alli, Eriksen, Sigurdsson and Sanchez with Snodgrass on the bench. After 7 straight weeks of returning points, it would Sigurdsson to let me down this week. In reality, Swansea was dominated all game long by the Cherries and had difficulty putting together any sort of sustained attack.

I tuned into the Spurs game with halftime approaching and was thrilled to see Eriksen and Alli each with a goal and expected this to continue in the second half. A bit of disappointment when I saw the final score of 2-1 in favor of Spurs and no further goals from my “dynamic duo.” Out of Arsenal’s blank week I decided to run out Sanchez with the captain’s armband. Guess I should have stuck to Lukaku, playing at home as opposed to Sanchez at WBA. After losing points on Sanchez throughout the year I felt confident with him. Sanchez returned a goal and 3 BPS for 9 points, which doubled to 18 points. This was a strong effort but bested by Lukaku in the late game.

Defensively I have improved with the addition of Coleman for GW23 and Valencia in GW29. Mawson is still a bit of a question mark, but with a dreadful performance on Saturday he might be relegated to my fourth starter. In Mawson, a manager must rely on his ability to score, as Swansea has managed only 4 CS on the season. Mawson had 4 goals in his last 9 games before Saturday. An own goal and conceding another, Alfie finished with a -1 point.

His defensive partners were much strong, led by Valencia who picked up an extra time strike for 8 points. Coleman and Everton finished off Hull with a CS and 6 points. It would be Burnley’s Tom Heaton to lead all my defenders with 10 points on the back of a CS and 3 BPS. Not sure Heaton will see the start in GW30 against Spurs, as Jakupovic will return to face WHU. The ineffectiveness of Brunt and ongoing injury to Friend are causing problems and limiting my options. I am transferring both players, however even with WBA’s tough schedule I would be willing to keep him over Friend. Watching Boro yesterday, I was impressed with the new look under Steve Agnew, so Friend (if and when healthy) could flourish in the starting XI. Yet if his calf injury continues I will be forced to move him in favor of another starter. Currently he’s listed as “MAjor Doubt” with a expected return of April 2, which means he might be available for GW30 vs Swansea.

As we work our way to GW34 and potential DGWs I am hoping to position my squad to take advantage of players with multiple games. Currently I have 7 players on my squad who will have DGWs but would like to increase that number to 9 or 10 players. Arsenal and So’ton lead the way, each with 3 games to make up due to blanks. Chelsea, Man U, Man City, Spurs, Leicester and Sunderland each have 2 games with Watford, WBA and Boro each having a single game. Opportunities are there, even without my second WC, it appears I have time to make the necessary transfers.

Sitting with two injuries and on eve of the international break, I can only hope that Sanchez and Gabbiadini either don’t play or are limited and return to their respective clubs ready to play. I don’t plan on making any snap decision until the night before GW30. The last thing I need is another player to down to injury during the break and be sidelined on their return to the EPL.

Premier League: GW28 Retrospect

Looking at my score 42 points, I shouldn’t be pleased with another sub par performance. On a weekend in which there were just 4 games played and running out just 10 starters, the weekend average came in at just 19 points. However, I took a -4 point hit to bring in Coutinho for Sterling, in hopes of his strong underlying stats pulling L’pool through the home match against Burnley. It was also a weekend I took a chance and strapped Coutinho with the captain’s armband. Actually my wife made the decision for me. Saturday after the matches I exclaimed, “So glad I didn’t captain Llorente, just one point.” Yet that statement came back to bite me in the ass when Coutinho played just 59 minutes and scored me just 1 point. Lukaku was never really in the running for me, to wear the armband, but in hindsight was the best option I had. On the back of GW27 and GW28 I have strung 2 green arrows together for the first time since GW5 and GW6! It’s been THAT long!

Starting up front I decided to run out Lukaku and the newly acquired Llorente, fresh off a brace last weekend. It should have been a good match up for Swansea, but Llorente fell to injury at 44 minutes and was substituted. Lukaku however returned has third goal in 3 weeks, along with an assist and 3 BPS as he totaled 12 points. Captained by 776k managers, I noticed this his score made up the bulk of their weekend final scores. With Gabbiadini transferred in on GW26, he’s played just a single game out of the last 3 weeks, but I’ve been high on him since his the move to So’ton. Expecting good returns after the Spurs match in GW29, as well as upcoming DGWs.

Speaking of Spurs, without an EPL match today, Harry Kane left after 32 minutes due to an ankle injury that could potentially end his season. Devastating news for Spurs fans, as well as managers, like myself who picked in him last week or were going to bring him in for GW29. That move, now on hold as we wait the outcome of the medical evaluation, but crutches and a boot were not a good sign. That opens up the door for another option up front. Do you bring Costa back? Two goals in his last 2 games. Defoe? Three good fixtures the next 3 weeks, but no returns since GW24. Deeney is always an option, at 6.8m, he’s found his form with 5 goals out of 6 games. Aguero? Giroud? Vardy? Are the Foxes for real? The news on Kane might mean it’s time to move back to a 3-5-2 with very strong midfield options.

Josh King was an option when I looked at my transfers before GW28. A favorable match up against West Ham, who has leaked goals all season. It appeared I made the right decision as King pushed his penalty shot wide right to start the game. I gave myself a small pat on the back for going with Coutinho instead in a home match against Burnley. Well, I found myself shaking my head in the aftermath, as King dropped a hat trick for 18 points and SHOULD of had 5 goals (when coupled with the Afobe PK that was saved). Even saw a website that had him as the top captain pick! Sticking with L’pool seems to be feast or famine, as I doubled up with Mane and Coutinho (captained) and got stuck with a combined 4 points! Didn’t think it could get much worse on the back of not captaining Llorente and the game King had. Snodgrass might be falling out of favor at West Ham as Feghouli and Antonio started. I am considering transferring him this week in favor of King, who could be used in spot starts. Snodgrass did come in at 60 minutes for a single point.

Sigurdsson was also on the short list to be captained, but felt there were better options. Even though Clement’s team took a step back this weekend in a 2-1 loss, Sigurdsson continue to produce results. It was his 4th straight game with an assist (7th straight return points),  3 goals and 6 assists in his last 9 games. Many had tagged Mane to have a big game coming off his game vs Arsenal, but like Coutinho, he disappointed mangers and didn’t return. However, after Man City in GW29, L’pool has a run of good matches to the end, starting with the Merseyside Derby in GW30.

Eriksen, in FA Cup action this week had 3 assists and a goal against Millwall. I am now considering doubling up with Alli again, which I did earlier in the year when Kane was rather ineffective up top. Not sure Janssen will be a direct replacement for Kane…could be Son. We will have to wait and see.

Defensively I am pleased with Coleman and Mawson, as both players returned points this weekend. Coleman provided an assist and Mawson a goal and a bonus point. A total of 14 points, but all is not as it appears defensively. Brunt needs to be moved, Friend is still injured and So’ton hasn’t kept a CS since GW11, which means Yoshida needs to go, even though he is my budget defender at 4.2m. Still considering doubling up on Everton defenders with Funes Mori but that move is still 3 weeks away. Walker at 6.4 would my highest price defender, but the possibility of no Kane up front, might damper that move. Chelsea was a “sure thing” but with no CS in the last 5 games they might see relief with Stoke and Palace in the next 2 weeks. Finally, Valencia flashes on my radar again, first time since I sold him for GW9. He’s returned 3 assists in his last 6 weeks coupled with 3 CS. Some questions need to be answered up front for United with Zlatan now suspended. But they do have 4 good matches coming up; MID (A), WBA (H), EVE (H) and SUN (A).

Hopefully these two green arrows are the start of the “good run” I have been chasing all season. Looking ahead, it’s time to start thinking about the DGWs, should be some productive players featured in GW34 (maybe GW37) that could push managers to finally activate that second WC and break out the triple captain chip. For me, moves will cost me more points as I look to make moves in order to my ascent up the global ranking. It hurts to take -4 and -8 point hits, but I’m always hopefully I can break even on these weekly moves. It’s been 11 moves the last 4 weeks costing me 24 points. Unfortunately, I have given up chasing the 75k finish I had last year. I would need a Leicester City miracle to break the top 100k. As long as I can finish strong, I will be pleased.

Captain’s Armband

Through 27 game weeks I have been sorely disappointed in my overall performance as an EPL fantasy manager. Much like fantasy (NFL) football, which I have participated in for 36 years, luck always plays a factor. This season luck has not been on my side, struggling through most weeks as I continue to look to turn my season around with just 11 weeks remaining. Initially I cited a single point during the season, which I transferred out Alexis Sanchez and felt as if that move cost me the season. After looking at the data and presenting it in the Sanchez Effect, last week, Sanchez has only earned an addition 59 points through 27 weeks an average of just 2.1 points/week. Not really what I expected. figuring the total would have been greater, I looked elsewhere to bottom line why my squad is doing poorly.

This week I turn my attention towards the captain’s armband, which is given to a player each week and doubles their point total. This decision has led to many average weeks being turned into great weeks. But how have I fared over 27 game weeks? Let’s check the numbers against who was  selected as captain and vice-captain and who were the recommended captain choices based on a poll totals from two different fantasy football sites I frequent.

When the numbers are viewed in a spreadsheet format the results provide a telling story that doesn’t really favor my decision on who to give the armband to. In 13 out of 27 weeks (48.1%) I owned and started the player who was recommend in website captain polls (WWW1 & WWW2). There were 5 weeks (18.5%) I owned the player selected in the website polls but selected a different player to captain. In just 9 weeks (33.3%) I didn’t own the poll captain selection with 6 of those weeks taking place since GW20.

In those 9 weeks if I would have owned the poll selected captain I would have scored an additional 80 points. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Alexis Sanchez accounted for 44 points. Sergio Aguero accounted for 30 points, while Harry Kane just 6 points. What this doesn’t take into account are players who had good weeks but weren’t tapped as the top poll captain selection or one of the Dream Team players for the week.

I believe what this chart tells me is that along with having poor luck this season, my decision making has been terrible. I look back on the season and ask myself, “Why did I start <insert player>?” Reading through my weekly Premier League Retrospect articles provides an insight I didn’t have last year. Some of the decisions were based on budget, while others were based on form and fixtures of players selected. This doesn’t come as a surprise but unlike last year I have not been able to establish any sort of consistency or even put together a 5-7 week run of green arrows. GW4 through GW6 has been the best run I’ve had all season, returns of 56, 69 and 69. GW2 and GW7 are the only times my final score exceeded 70 points with 72 and 78 respectively. It’s just been a difficult year. The last finger I can point before point it towards me would be examining defensive units, as we recall a clean sheet was hard to come by early in the season, which cost many manger points.

Premier League: GW27 Retrospect (Part 2)

How else do I sum up this first DGW, which I activated my Triple Captain Chip on Sergio Aguero? Disappointing…very disappointing. Much like my entire season, this single action reflects just how poorly my squad has played this season. While there have been some good decisions made, the frustration in seeing a player not perform has cost me more points and used up one of my most important chips. Add to that, the fact Pep decided to rest Raheem Sterling against Stoke, after chipping in with an assist days earlier versus Sunderland.

Depending on what fantasy sites you call upon to help, one that I fancy on a regular basis, Fantasy Football Geek indicates I have the proper players in place. “The core players are then 8: Aguero, Lukaku, Sigurdsson, Sterling, Mane, Coleman, Brunt and Alonso. Starting to look like more of a template now which is understandable going into the blank and double weeks.” The only difference being that I dropped Alonso in favor of Mawson, since he was playing. So it appears I am in good company when it comes to being frustrated.

Starting at the back, I missed Heaton being benched due to a late illness, which automatically slotted Jakupovic in as the starter at the conclusion of GW28. While he did get me a save bonus, it was nullified as Hull gave up 3 goals to Leicester. Moving forward, I still plan on sticking with this duo, as Jakupovic will start GW29, home to Swansea. In fact, I see 3-4 games in which Heaton will give way to Jakupovic based solely on match up. However two of those games are home matches and Burnley still plays very tough; Spurs in GW30 and Man U in GW34.

Defensively it was a nightmare…again! Just 3 points from my starting 3 defenders; Brunt, Coleman and Mawson. The only bench option would have been Yoshida, but he returned just 1 point as well. Still waiting on the health of Friend, but Boro has been leaking goals, even at home and don’t expect him to be much of a factor. Mawson was introduced for Alonso in order to free up the budget to bring Aguero in. I figured Swansea had a good shot at a clean sheet and Mawson has scored in 2 out of his last 5 games, yet Swansea has only kept 3 CS on the season. For Mawson it’s about his offensive production.

Brunt, Friend and Yoshida are on the short list to be moved. WBA has a nasty run of fixtures and I am looking to potentially double up on Everton, introducing Funes Mori with the next 2 matches at home against WBA and Hull City. Outside of the L’pool and Man U in GW30/GW31, Everton then face Leicester and Burnley at home. Four great home matches! At 4.8, I might keep Brunt just because he is an offensive threat, as a defender playing OOP as an attacking midfielder. I had planned on bringing Alonso back, but Chelsea hasn’t kept a CS in the last 5 games and Alonso had accounted for a single goal since GW21.

The midfield has been my Achilles heel all season long. Seemingly I am always a week early or week late when shuffling players. There has been no consistency in my midfield play all season and its reflected in my overall score of just 1292 points and the fact I am still globally ranked at 1.5m. Not where I expected to be.

My midfield has been settled for the past few weeks. Snodgrass, Mane and Sterling were brought in GW26 to couple with Eriksen, the longest tenured player since GW21 and Sigurdsson with Swansea now facing a favorable run. Out of GW27, Sterling will be the only player not to make the cut. The fact Pep will continue his rotation leaves Sterling as a risk, which will cost potential points. With the Spurs scoring 7 goals in the last 2 games Eriksen has picked up 13 points on 2 assists in GW27, his first points since GW21. He’s a catalyst for Spurs but his returns have me questioning his form but Spurs have a good schedule through the end of the season. Chances are with Spurs in form I will hold Eriksen through his spell.

As much as I don’t want a Liverpool midfielder I will stick with Mane into GW29. He comes off 13 points (goal/assist) in the 3-1 win over Arsenal. One tough match in GW29 away to Man City and after that…L’pool have a nice run of games through GW35. Sigurdsson also appears to have good fixtures ahead after picking up his third assist in as many games. Just want to see more goals from him. Snodgrass is currently on the outside looking in as my 5th midfielder. I have transitioned back to a 3-4-3 with the in form Gabbiadini now starting as my third.

I have been keeping an eye on Kamil Grosicki, since he made the move to Hull, I have been impressed with the Polish international, only problem is Hull doesn’t score much. That said, Grosicki has returned 2 assists in his last 2 games, along with a fair amount of dead ball responsibility. If I move for him it will be Snodgrass to make way.

Up front I am still feeling the effect of picking up Gabbiadini in GW26 with a blank, followed by another 2 weeks later. Not a wise move on my part, still he did return in GW27, which keeps him as an in form forward headed into GW29.

Due to the fact the Toffees had games the past 3 weeks I have been running with Lukaku, he secured his 6th goal in the past 3 games, in a 3-2 loss to Spurs. Two favorable home games against WBA and Hull means Lukaku will continue to see playing time. For GW30/GW31 it’s possible I will move him in favor of another as I don’t like the Liverpool and Man U match ups.

As for my “man crush” he completely crushed me and the other mangers who brought him in and activated the Triple Captain Chip. It wasn’t bad to see him pull 21 points after the Sunderland game, hoping he would add a goal or two to that tally. It was the exact opposite. Man City was flat and played to a 0-0 draw against Stoke City. The plan had backfired, even though the run up to the DGW indicated it was a great situation and Kun could potentially “go Newcastle” on either opponent. It comes as no surprise he will not factor into my squad in the near future. I am planning on shipping him out by Friday in favor of Fernando Llorente, who will most likely get the captain’s armband against Hull. GW29 could be interesting depending on how Llorente plays as the following week Swansea visit Bournemouth.

Harry Kane is on a very short list and most likely be brought in for GW29, depending on my budget. I don’t want to sacrifice Lukaku the next 2 weeks and want to hold Gabbiadini through GW32, after Spurs in GW28; Palace (H),  Bournemouth (H) and WBA (A). Potentially a GREAT differential leaving Kane (TSB 20.4%) sidelined in favor of lesser owned TSB 8.8% Gabbiadini and 10.4% Llorente. Not sure I have balls of steel to make that decision or not.

After Wenger’s decision to bench Sanchez in GW27 his spot in my starting XI is no longer guaranteed. Previously I mentioned the exclusion of Sanchez being my turning point in the season, one in which saw nothing but a string of red arrows. As the leading scorer, 187 points and at 11.5m, an uncertainty surrounds Alexis looking forward to GW29. Plans were to bring him in after the blanks game weeks, but that decision is now in doubt. Options to replace him; Hazard, 29 points in his last 4 games, Alli, 2 goals in his last 2 games or Pedro, 28 points in his last 3 games. Bringing in Hazard hits my budget, but would still allow me to move for Kane, leaving 1.0m ITB. Introducing Alli means I would triple up on Spurs with Eriksen and Kane. A risky move, but any offensive points SHOULD belong to me, right? Pedro at 7.1m isn’t a guaranteed starter, worse he rarely seens a full 90 minutes, finishing full games just twice (GW18 and GW21).