FPL Draft: Fixtures favour Villa and Leeds

Fantasy Draft is a game that requires more careful planning compared to its popular cousin, FPL. 

In FPL we have chips to help us out and we aren’t limited to a small pool of players to choose from. And if we’ve used up our quota of Wildcards and Free Hits, or simply don’t fancy using them, we can take hits.

In Fantasy Draft we are more exposed to the vagaries of luck.

In an eight-team league, the best 120 players are invariably no longer available. So if one of our marquee players gets injured a like-for-like replacement isn’t possible.

One strategy to get ahead is to look beyond the immediate fixtures. Shift our focus away from the upcoming Gameweek to the horizon, in the hope of identifying teams and players that our rivals aren’t yet considering.

Teams to Target

In Gameweek 22 eight teams play twice – barring any postponements (Burnley v Leicester the most likely to be called off) . 

Most Draft managers will be looking to bring in players from Brentford, Brighton, Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs and Watford ahead of Thursday’s waiver deadline. Burnley and Leicester too until we hear otherwise.

But which of those offer the best prospects in the long-term? And should we be considering others?

Matches remaining from GW23
19Burnley, Everton
18Aston Villa, Brentford, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton, Spurs, Watford, Wolves
17Arsenal, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Man Utd, West Ham
16Man City
15Chelsea

Burnley have played just 17 matches so far and will have 19 fixtures to fulfill from GW23 onwards, presuming they play twice in GW22.

So based purely on the volume of matches, the likes of Matthew Lowton and James Tarkowski could prove canny picks.

However, a Wolves defender would be my preference.

Bruno Lage has retained the defensive solidity often associated with them under Nuno. Six clean sheets in eight matches shows that they are in good form. 

Arguably they have been overlooked in Draft because they are cheap in FPL. Price doesn’t matter in Draft but we are often influenced by it subconsciously. That certainly appears to be the case in my league with several ‘Old Gold’ players available.

Time Shift Trick

A useful way to plan ahead is to shift the season ticker forward one GW. 

Best fixtures over the six Gameweeks from GW23

Aston Villa sit top for the six matches from GW23 onwards thanks to an appealing run that starts with Everton, Leeds, Newcastle and Watford.

They are also guaranteed a fixture in Blank GW30, which clashes with the FA Cup quarter-finals, because, along with their opponents Arsenal, they were eliminated in the third round. 

As there are no chips available in Draft, this is important information to help us plan for the weeks ahead. For this reason, despite Arsenal having two blanks in the next five GWs, I’ll be holding onto Kieran Tierney and benching him when he’s without a match.

And the news gets even better for Aston Villa as they could have a Premier League fixture on the weekend of the FA Cup fourth round ties, following the upcoming international break. This match could be added to GW23 or 24, depending on whether the GW24 deadline is brought forward.

The likes of Emi Buendia and Philippe Coutinho (once added) are players to target on waivers even though they don’t have a double in the next round of matches.

Vitalii Contribution

Everton are worth mentioning, too. Like Burnley, they have to complete 19 matches between GW23 and the end of the campaign. And they face Newcastle and Leeds before GW26.

Lucas Digne has made clear that he wants to leave, which makes new-signing Vitalii Mykolenko an intriguing option in defence. Everton are one of the teams I expect to improve defensively and Mykolenko offers some attacking threat.

The Ukrainian international produced 0.32 goals and assists per 90 during his best season with Dynamo Kiev, in 2019/20. And a look at his highlights reel suggests that he likes to drive into the box more than Digne did. 

He lined up as a wing-back in a 3-4-3 formation on his Everton debut, the 3-2 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. It’s a position which tends to benefit defenders.

Despite not knowing much about him, my hope is that the 22-year-old could become a player in the mould of Matt Doherty, Marcos Alonso or Patrick van Aanholt in their prime. Wishful thinking undoubtedly but we have to move early in Draft.

On the downside I’ve a slight concern that, although very good at tackling, he likes to go to ground too often. As the great Paolo Maldini once said:

If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he collected the odd yellow card.

Marching on together

Beyond Coutinho and Buendia, a Leeds midfielder is perhaps the next best option.

Ismaila Sarr is not expected back until after the international break having left the UK to join up with Senegal for the AFCON. And Watford’s fixtures on his return are not particularly appealing: West Ham, Brighton, Aston Villa, Man Utd.

When fit, however, he’s a nailed starter and an important player for Watford. The question is when will he be fit?

Despite joining his national team in Cameroon, the latest quotes suggest that he is unlikely to play. Indeed, he’s reportedly in Spain receiving treatment on his knee. Speaking to The Athletic, a Senegal Football Federation source revealed:

He is not close to returning — he is very far from returning. Being injured like this, it’s not easy to be totally recovered to come (to AFCON). For the time being, there is no way that he can stay here.

Leeds duo Jack Harrison and Daniel James might be safer acquisitions. 

Along with Raphinha, they’ve featured prominently in the Whites’ attack: James often in a central or advanced position with Harrison down the left. But the squad has suffered with injuries and Covid cases, and we can anticipate more competition for places up front, especially with Patrick Bamford returning to fitness. 

It will be interesting to see if both can hold down a first team spot. Those who watched the documentary on Leeds, “Take Us Home”, will know how close they were to signing James before his move to Manchester United. Bielsa clearly rates him. While Harrison, having been on loan from Manchester City for three successive seasons, finally signed a permanent contract last summer.

Slim Pickings

Up front, Teemu Pukki faces Watford in GW23 and Norwich also have several outstanding fixtures to reschedule. So he might be worth considering if he’s available and you need a forward. Although after the trip to Vicarage Road, Crystal Palace, Man City and Liverpool are much harder opponents.

My Team

At the moment I’m happy to hold what I have in defence, despite the presence of Harry Maguire. Wolves and Burnley provide alternatives, Mykolenko too, although I feel none are better than my current crop.

Up front, I’m hoping that Richarlison will be fit to play soon. Together with Abdoulaye Doucouré, he could prove a valuable member of my squad

I’m disappointed that Jadon Sancho hasn’t proved a better pick, and I think it’s about time to admit that he’s not as good as his wage packet would suggest.

Although if I was to lose a player in midfield to accommodate one of the Villa or Leeds options, then it’s more likely to be a Man City player. When they play they are great picks, but there’s little point in owning a bench player.

Pep Guardiola mentioned Ilkay Gündogan had been troubled by a back injury, so that might be a reason he’s been less used of late. When on the pitch, however, he takes up great positions in the opposition penalty box. 

If I miss out on Coutinho, which is likely as I’m not in the bottom four of my Draft league, then I would rather have a rotation pick from Man City than Leeds. 

Before the waivers deadline I’ll be seeking the thoughts of Leeds fans on their best starting XI when they have a fully-fit squad. If Harrison or James are likely to be regulars, I’d want one of them in my squad.

Good luck with your decisions in this challenging period!

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