Uncertainty is returning to the Fantasy Premier League during its busiest period.
The recent Covid outbreak at Tottenham Hotspur has already led to their Europa Conference League tie being called off and could lead to the postponement of their match against Brighton at the weekend.
Is this just the tip of the iceberg, could more teams become affected?
With the spectre of fixture disruption looming overhead I’m forced to rethink my moves in FPL Draft.
In Draft, where budget isn’t a consideration, we can use our subs bench differently to how we would in Fantasy. It’s no longer a place just to put our cheapest squad member.
Instead, we can use it to feature rotating pairs or to take a few risks, such as buying an injured or out-of-favour player who, when fit, is an excellent option.
However with the changing landscape I feel the need to reduce the number of players who aren’t nailed on first-team choices: luxury picks who could do very well when they start, like Christian Pulisic, but are by no means certain to start.
Another consideration is to select a spread of teams, making sure I have no more than two players from one side. The thinking here is to limit the damage any fixture postponements may have on my squad.
Thankfully, in this respect, my team is already well balanced: I have no triple-ups and just four double-ups with two players from Chelsea, Liverpool, West Ham and Everton.
Team Report & Risk Assessment
A disappointing defeat to Glen Meadowcroft, who benefitted from Emile Smith Rowe shooting into an empty goal while David de Gea lay injured on the ground (thank you Fred!), was followed by my Draft XI getting the top score in Gameweek 15. That’s now three wins in four.
Currently I have two first-choice ‘keepers in Kasper Schmeichel and Nick Pope. Both guaranteed starters even if clean sheets are proving hard to come by. And they are my only players from Burnley and Leicester, which is a good thing given that Leicester are reporting a few Covid-related illnesses.
Gameweek 16 – Defenders
Emerson Royal is normally first choice but, as mentioned, Tottenham’s match is in doubt.
Lucas Digne is a bigger concern. Dropped for Everton’s comeback win over Arsenal on Monday night, reportedly for confronting manager Rafael Benitez over tactics. It’s unclear if that was a one-off punishment or longer term, but with the Toffees putting in a good performance I think it’s unlikely he gets an immediate recall.
Gameweek 16 – Midfielders
The main risk in midfield is the aforementioned Pulisic.
He came off the bench to assist Timo Werner as Chelsea drew 3-3 against Zenit St Petersburg, which could be taken as a good sign that he will start against Leeds United. But the front-three Thomas Tuchel put out in Russia of Lukaku, Mount and Werner, could all be considered first-choice.
As an alternative, Martin Ødegaard is available in my Draft league. Not only has he started the last three matches for Arsenal and scored twice, but he put in a good performance at Goodison Park, finishing with a match-high three shots in the box.
Although Mikel Arteta’s tendency to rotate his line-up creates some doubt over his starting spot, he nonetheless feels more likely to get 90 minutes than Pulisic.
And a word or two on Demarai Gray: he was perhaps the only Evertonian to impress against Liverpool but I felt he was fortunate to get a nine-point return against Arteta’s side – all three of his efforts on goal were from outside the box and he registered no touches in the opposition penalty area. Something to keep an eye on but at least he’s guaranteed to start.
Gameweek 16 – Forwards
After debating the merits of Werner, Richarlison and Roberto Firmino in my last article, I settled on Firmino.
However, seeing Richarlison score and have two goals disallowed for close offside calls and then watching Timo Werner score twice and provide an assist in yesterday’s UEFA Champions League tie, I’m still not sure I’ve made the right decision!
Firmino seemed to have the best balance of explosive returns – witness his 20-point haul against Watford this season – and pitch time. Unlike Werner at Chelsea, Firmino only has one direct rival for his position in the shape of Diogo Jota and historically he’s returned more points than Richarlison: 162 points per season to Richarlison’s 141.5, in slightly fewer minutes – 2,704 per season to 2,858 minutes.
Fingers crossed that trend continues.
He’s the one injured player I’m happy to keep hold of as he’s expected back in action soon. Speaking ahead of the Everton game on 30 November, Jurgen Klopp said that Firmino was a week away from returning to first team training.
So while he’s perhaps unlikely to feature against Aston Villa, I’m hoping he could be available for their home match against Newcastle next Thursday.
Of my thirteen outfield players, two – Emerson Royal and Firmino – look set to miss out, while Digne and Pulisic aren’t certain to start.
Digne is therefore on the chopping block and I have a decision to make between the upside of Pulisic versus the slightly more nailed Ødegaard. That is, if none of the managers below me in the table decide to prioritise the Norwegian on their waivers.
And I don’t have an easy fixture this week either as I face league-leader Sam, adding a bit of extra pressure to my moves.
It’s fair to say that Sam annihilated me when we met in Gameweek 9 as her team scored a whopping 96 points.
Her midfield triumvirate of Mohamed Salah, Mason Mount and Phil Foden were in outstanding form with career-best returns from the two England internationals and a second-biggest-career haul from Salah.
Worryingly for me it seems like the wrong time to play her again with Mount recording back-to-back double-figure scores after recovering from a dental problem, and Foden set to overcome an ankle issue.
The performance of those three is likely to have a big bearing on the outcome of the match as they combined for 66 points when we last met.
Can Pulisic match Mount? Will Ilkay Gundogan outdo Foden? These could be two of the key battles between our squads.
Otherwise my forlorn hope is that Salah stays reasonably quiet…