Fantasy Premier League managers have been handed a Christmas dilemma this year as a number of popular defenders pick up festive injuries.
Ben Chilwell (£6.1m) and Reece James (£5.3m) are both “doubtful” to face Arsenal and Aston Villa according to Frank Lampard while Tariq Lamptey (£4.8m) has been ruled out of Gameweek 15 with an ongoing hamstring problem.
But it is not just about finding direct replacements for these players. With the Blank and Double Gameweeks now announced, it is time we let those fixtures guide our transfers…
Replacements for injured defenders
Rúben Dias (£5.7m) looks like the number one option in my books if you are hunting for a defender. This season, Manchester City are playing two defensively minded midfielders and Pep Guardiola is definitely looking to build from the back.
Not so long ago, Raheem Sterling (£11.4m) mentioned how Dias is emerging as a vocal leader in the dressing room and talking about the impact he’s made which reminds him of Vincent Kompany. Guardiola was of high praise for the centre-back as well and he looks the most nailed Manchester City defender to me. These quotes from Guardiola recently are very encouraging:
“Ruben has helped us a lot to be solid and he has settled perfect with John [Stones]. It’s incredible [the defensive solidity] – that is how we can still be there. Knocking on the door of teams above us. We need it to be stable and maybe one day players will be fresh to score the goals. Ruben [Dias] doesn’t make a single mistake, he is always focused. He is able to lead the line, the same with John [Stones]. Our club bought an exceptional defender – especially for the personality. What is important when you buy a player is that you have a feeling they will be settled for the next years. And we are pretty sure [that] Ruben will give us big moments.” – Pep Guardiola
Dias has started every Premier League game he has been available for this season and is a threat from set pieces as well.
But, more importantly, Manchester City have kept four clean sheets in the last six games. Don’t let the Everton and Chelsea away fixtures put you off. Without their recognised full-backs, they are not quite the same attacking beast while Frank Lampard has showed us this season that he has learnt his lessons from last year and is adopting a very conservative approach against big teams.
The one thing I like about going for a Manchester City defender (or two) right now is that they have a fixture in Blank Gameweek 18, they have a playable single fixture in Gameweek 19 and they have a great schedule from Gameweeks 20 to 22.
So the state of your team after Gameweek 20 is in good shape if you own some Manchester City assets and it might likely save you a Free Hit chip in Gameweek 18 if you feel like saving it for later (more on this later).
John Stones (£4.9m) is an option too if you ask me bust he doesn’t inspire as much confidence in terms of starts as Dias, having dropped out in Gameweek 13. That said, the one game he missed since Gameweek 10 (when Stones reclaimed his place) is the only time City actually conceded, so Guardiola should understand his importance to the team by now.
Whether you go for Stones depends on how you rate him as a player. At the point, if he continues playing this way, he will remain City’s starting defender.
There are two other things in Stones’ favour. He is naturally right footed which helps in a partnership with Dias (Laporte is naturally left footed). He is also a great passer of the ball which helps the partnership and in addition, helps Stones get bonus points as well. He has pulled in a total of four across his last two starts.
West Ham have one of the best combination of fixtures in Double Gameweek 19, Burnley and West Brom at home, as well as an appealing run of matches beyond that. Accordingly, I would highly recommend Vladimir Coufal (£4.6m).
Aaron Cresswell (£5.2m) is an option as well but in the last six Gameweeks, Coufal has created 13 chances compared, while his more expensive colleague has fashioned just six, now deployed in a deeper role since the switch back to a back-four. Therefore, Coufal is also more likely to get assists, and bonus points for chance creation.
I think we should be talking about the Liverpool full-backs too. They showed us in the win at Crystal Palace that a glimmer of their former glory is still there.
Like Manchester City and West Ham, the Reds have two home games in the Double Gameweek and boast three decent fixtures before that, so I think if you move early enough, Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.2m) can be a handy differential.
I still prefer Andrew Robertson (£7.2m) purely based on eye-test though. The simple fact is that the left-back is just spending a lot more time in and around the box this season and, due to the fact that he’s making so many overlapping runs, his likelihood to assist is very high. In addition, he also remains on certain set pieces.
There is a lot of chaos and confusion around the Blank and Double Gameweeks but, if you ask me, any good Fantasy manager worth their salt sees this as an opportunity and not a hindrance.
If you want to get up to speed with what is the current state of play, I recommend going through this article on the website.
As for my chip strategy, you can read my initial thoughts on the Blanks and Double Gameweeks here. For your information, I have already used my first Wildcard.
Initially, I was thinking about Free Hitting in Gameweek 18 since I have a not so great team for Blank Gameweek 18 and then attack Double Gameweek 19 (without a bench boost). I am now thinking about saving my Free Hit Chip in Gameweek 18 because of three reasons:
- Apart from Manchester City and, to some extent, Spurs, very few fixtures look exciting for Fantasy managers
- If, in the next few weeks, I am buying Spurs assets (they have great Gameweek 16 and 17 fixtures) and Manchester City assets for their aforementioned kind schedule, then I don’t really need much else in Gameweek 18 and I can see myself somewhat getting by in that Gameweek.
- It looks likely that we will have a big Double Gameweek in Gameweek 26 and a big Blank Gameweek in Gameweek 29. Since I will likely be Wildcarding in Gameweek 24 or 25, Bench Boosting in Gameweek 26, I don’t want to spend transfers between Gameweek 26 and 29 focusing on Blank Gameweek players.
Just so you know, this strategy is specific to my team only and you should do what suits your team the most.
Zophar, BigManBakar and I have covered the Blank and Double Gameweeks in depth in this week’s episode of The FPL Wire (embedded below for your convenience). We discuss Gameweek 18, 19 and what strategies would be worth going for depending on whether you have your first wildcard in hand or not.
As for my own team, I finally had a good round last Gameweek, scoring 88 points, having signed Anthony Martial (£8.7m) and captained him.
As I already owned Bruno Fernandes (£11.0m), there was enough insurance to go for the higher upside with Martial. As you guys know, this is just how I play the game and genuinely how I most enjoy playing it.
For me, there is no point playing this game if you don’t back your own gut feeling. It was good to see a non-template move finally pay off. I jumped from 2.95 million to 2.24 million and I’m hoping this is a start of a good run.
While I’ve got you, I would like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas. See you on the other side of the madness!
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