The Gameweek 20 captaincy debate, if we can call it that, has only been about one Fantasy Premier League asset thus far: Bruno Fernandes (£11.3m).
His omission from Manchester United’s starting XI in an FA Cup win over Liverpool, which he still managed to get the winning goal in, has only made the clamour to captain him even stronger ahead of a plum fixture against Sheffield United.
Injuries and/or significant loss of goal-scoring form has hurt the usual challengers for the armband with Kevin De Bruyne (£11.9m) and Jamie Vardy (£10.1m) unavailable while Mohamed Salah (£12.5m) has blanked in five successive Premier League matches – all good news for Fernandes.
That said, does an injury to De Bruyne open up some differential options in the Manchester City side? Are there perhaps some outside picks up for grabs from the less popular teams? That’s what the Captain Sensible article is here for.
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Manchester United v Sheffield United
As expected, the clash between the current Premier League leaders and the rock-bottom Sheffield United is our Gameweek 20 headline fixture.
The Blades did record their first win of the season against Newcastle but looked defensively suspect once again as they shipped three goals to Tottenham Hotspur in Double Gameweek 19.
Interestingly, the last three Premier League meetings between Manchester United and Sheffield United have averaged nearly five goals per game, as they were the first Premier League side to test themselves against Chris Wilder’s men without Dean Henderson (£5.2m).
The Blades’ struggles this season have been highlighted on multiple occasions and are reflected in the league table, as they sit bottom with only five points on the board. As their chances of surviving in the Premier League have become marginal, we have seen a slight change of their mentality. It was particularly evident against Newcastle as, during the second half, viewers had the opportunity to enjoy watching a front-three consisting of three recognised strikers in Billy Sharp (£5.5m), Rhian Brewster (£4.5m) and David McGoldrick (£5.2m).
The poor league position Sheffield United have found theirselves in means that they can no longer go into matches against the top teams hoping for 0-0 draws.
With that in mind, we could expect them to show some ambition at Old Trafford, even if it was at the expense of a potential heavy defeat. This required switch of mentality already cost them a point against Leicester City back in December. Wilder’s men were holding onto a 1-1 draw against a top-four contender and yet they showed a willingness to go for a win.
As presented below, with only minutes to go as many as seven outfield Sheffield United players occupied Leicester’s half, making themselves vulnerable to a counter attack; which is exactly what happened after John Fleck (£5.6m) was dispossessed in the middle of the park:
Fleck is about to misjudge the flight of the ball and take a heavy touch in a crucial area of the pitch
Fleck is dispossessed by James Maddison (£7.2m), who already looks to get Vardy involved
The 2019/20 Golden Boot winner takes his chance emphatically, kicks the corner flag and secures the three points for his team
Similarly, despite finding themselves in decent position after an early McGoldrick goal in their last Premier League outing against Manchester United, Sheffield continued to press higher up the pitch, which resulted in conceding three goals against the current league leaders:
Victor Lindelof (£4.8m, on the ball) attempts to find Marcus Rashford (£9.6m) with a through ball above the line of defence
Rashford takes a soft touch to control the ball, before putting it past Aaron Ramsdale (£4.6m) and making it 1-1
Before Sunday’s FA Cup action, I would have been licking my lips over the prospect of Rashford playing against this defence again. Unfortunately, he might not be able to repeat his Man of the Match performance of the Gameweek 13 at Bramall Lane, as he picked up a knee problem in the win against Liverpool:
“Let’s hope (he’ll be okay). His knee was bothering him. Scan tomorrow and we’ll see where we are.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
With Rashford’s potential absence, the chances of Anthony Martial (£8.8m) starting have increased. Over the last four weeks, only three strikers have recorded more big chances than United’s number nine. Also, only Roberto Roberto Firmino (£9.3m) and Harry Kane (£11.2m) registered more touches in the box than the French international.
Last four matches
That said, the Frenchman is far from the form of his life and could continue to be deployed in the wider position, considering Edinson Cavani (£7.8m) is in contention to start once again after his recent impressive performances – although whether he can start three matches in a row remains to be seen at his age.
With all those factors considered, Fernandes remains as the prime captaincy candidate from Manchester United. The Portuguese international has now delivered 33 Fantasy points in his previous three home games (a massive improvement on what we saw at the start of the campaign) and was given a bit of a breather in the FA Cup at the weekend.
Last four matches
Fernandes also remains on top of the Goal Threat charts among all FPL midfielders, recording more goal attempts than any other in his position over the last four weeks.
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City
The Citizens may have battled through against Cheltenham in the FA Cup, thanks to late goals from Gabriel Jesus (£9.1m), Phil Foden (£6.3m) and Ferran Torres (£6.9m), but they now face a long spell of Premier League meetings without De Bruyne.
“Kevin De Bruyne, like the doctor said after reviewing the scan, will be four to six weeks out.” – Pep Guardiola
The absence of the Belgian is sure to have an adverse effect. Since he arrived at Manchester City have a Premier League win percentage of 69.1%, a loss percentage of 14.3% and 2.2. points per game. Take him out of the picture and those numbers change to 63.8%, 25% and 2.0 points per game respectively.
Pep Guardiola’s men may have preserved their 17-match unbeaten run in all competitions at the weekend and extended their run of successive wins to 10 matches but who was the last team to avoid defeat against them? West Bromwich Albion.
Last four matches
With the De Bruyne out for the foreseeable future, the eyes of many Fantasy managers have turned towards a certain German international. Over the last four weeks, no midfielder has registered more goal attempts in the box than Ilkay Gündoğan (£5.5m).
However, some caution needs to be applied when considering the German as a captaincy asset. While Gündoğan could provide plenty of value given his recent form, underlying statistics, potential penalty duties and great price, the German international’s deeper role could count against his “explosive” Fantasy potential.
That should not discredit the former Borussia Dortmund man as a Fantasy asset though; not at all, he is certainly an interesting punt considering his price. Despite that, putting the armband on Gündoğan feels like a stretch too far. His form could be just temporary, the sample size when looking at his attacking output is still small and he does not have a history of consistent and explosive returns. HIs role in Manchester City’s penalty pecking order stands out more to me than the underlying statistics at this stage. That might change if he were to sustain his output over a longer period.
I would feel more comfortable backing Foden or Raheem Sterling (£11.5m) although neither is necessarily a surefire option either. The former has also posted impressive underlying statistics recently. As presented above, he ranks fourth among midfielders for shots from inside the box in the last four Gameweeks. Worryingly, however, the English youngster completed 90 minutes in the FA Cup and he still seems to remain far from nailed in the Guardiola puzzle. That said, if you were prepared to take a risk, I think Foden can go big, if he starts.
Meanwhile, Sterling was given a full rest in the FA Cup but his statistics are far from encouraging. In the last six away matches, Sterling only registered eight shots on goal, ranking 42nd among all midfielders, below the likes of John McGinn (£5.5m) and even Ruben Neves (£5.2m).
Also, some Fantasy managers might be put off by Sam Allardyce’s likely set-up for their meeting with Manchester City. After conceding five goals in their last two matches, West Brom may arrive at the Hawthorns with a defence-first approach on Tuesday.
The former England manager’s side often show some attacking promise against mid-table opposition, but sit deep against the traditional ‘big-six” teams. If they manage to avoid conceding an early goal, this could turn out to be a long afternoon for Guardiola’s men without their most insightful chance creator.
Elsewhere, in-form West Ham visit local rivals Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. After rewarding his owners with 18 points in the Double Gameweek, Michail Antonio (£6.3m) is certainly an interesting differential captain option this week.
Antonio has registered a higher expected goal involvement (xGI) than any other FPL forward since returning from injury. And, going into the match, both Roy Hodgson and David Moyes will feel that there are three points available in this clash, which could create exactly the sort of open game that would make Antonio a promising prospect – especially with James Tomkins (£4.5m) ruled out through injury.
Also, Leeds United will visit Newcastle United which, on paper, this seems like a decent opportunity for Patrick Bamford (£6.7m) to get back on the scoresheet. However, with Steve Bruce’s job on the line we might see a cagey affair especially as Marcelo Bielsa’s team has limped to some poor results of late. Meanwhile, Bamford has not scored an open-play goal since Gameweek 13, although that was against (you guessed it) Newcastle.
In the biggest game of the weekend, Tottenham Hotspur will host Liverpool and this seems also like the most difficult match to call. The struggles of Jurgen Klopp’s team – especially the attacking assets – have been well-documented, as they are yet to score a Premier League goal in 2021. Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho isn’t renowned for a particularly attacking approach in those types of games, therefore a low-scoring affair appears to be on the cards.
Summing up, Fernandes is this week’s runaway captaincy candidate in my opinion. I have found it difficult to find a case against handing him the armband, especially considering the lack of alternative options and massive backing in the Fantasy community.
Antonio makes a rare appearance in the top-three list this week, as the match against Crystal Palace could be an open one and the Englishman appears to be in great form since returning from his injury.
Foden closes the list of the best three captaincy options for Gameweek 20, despite question marks over his start. However, as long as he makes the starting XI, he should take over the role of both the goalscorer and the creator in De Bruyne’s absence, just like he did in the FA Cup, making him an intriguing outside pick for this week.
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