FPL Draft: Opportunity Knocks

New signings and Double Gameweeks present Fantasy Draft managers with an opportunity to improve their squads for the remainder of the season.

Ahead of Monday’s 18:15 GMT waivers deadline, which players should we be prioritising and are there any under-the-radar picks our rivals might not be considering?

Let’s start with taking a look at which teams have the potential to do well based on their fixtures.

Remaining Matches

Burnley still have half a season to play from Gameweek 24, while Everton, Leicester and Spurs also have some catching up to do.

Nick Pope remains my preferred pick from Sean Dyche’s team. When considering the strength of their upcoming opponents: Man United, Liverpool, Brighton, Spurs, Crystal Palace and Chelsea, at least he can bolster his tally with a few save points.

New signing Wout Weghorst is likely to prove popular among Draft managers, especially given the limited options among the pool of forwards.

The positive for Weghorst is the number of matches Burnley have to play and that he looks to be a good fit for their style of play. The downside is that unappealing run of fixtures – it could be a slow start for the Dutchman.

18Everton, Leicester, Spurs
17Arsenal, Aston Villa, Leeds, Newcastle, Watford, Wolves
16Brighton, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Man Utd, Norwich, Southampton
15Man City, West Ham, Brentford

Remaining fixtures (from GW24)

Favourable fixtures beyond the upcoming Gameweek

One of my preferred tricks with Draft, given the difficulty of picking up the best players if you are not bottom of your league, is to shift the fixture ticker forward one GW.

I used this technique to identify Wilfried Zaha before GW23, and it is pleasing to see him along with another of my picks, Riyad Mahrez, chosen among Tom’s three differentials on Fantasy Football Scout.

Best fixtures over the five Gameweeks from GW25

Crystal Palace remain second for the sequence of five matches up to GW29 but it’s Brighton, after their blank in Gameweek 24, who jump to the top.

Sexy Seagulls

A kind upcoming run sees the South-coast side take on Watford, Burnley, Aston Villa and Newcastle in addition to having a Double Gameweek in 25.

The Seagulls have kept a modest six clean sheets in 22 matches, but their underlying stats suggest they’ve been unfortunate not to have kept more. 

Neale summed up their appeal:

A respectable if unremarkable 11th for Opta’s expected goals (xG) in 2021/22, Albion really come into their own at the other end of the pitch: the Seagulls have a lower expected goals conceded (xGC) tally than all bar the top three … Brighton are also an impressive fifth for the fewest actual goals conceded this season. Only once, against Manchester City, have they conceded more than two goals in a single game.

In addition they’ve allowed their opponents just 30 big chances, the joint-fourth best record in the Premier League this term, and they rank joint-fifth for shots on target conceded. Impressive stuff.

Among their defenders, Marc Cucurella stands-out with his chance creation stats – only the Liverpool full-backs have created more among defenders since he made his debut in GW4 – but in the likely event that he’s already been snapped up, Lewis Dunk and Joel Veltman offer alternative routes into Graham Potter’s preferred backline. 

The pair have started the vast majority of matches they have been available for. Indeed, Dunk’s only benching came immediately after he returned from injury.

Tariq Lamptey is a slightly riskier pick given his rotation risk, although he appeals from an attacking point of view.

Admittedly none of those players are particularly sexy picks. But they have a decent chance of adding to their clean sheet tally from GW25 and you don’t need to be sexy to succeed, as Graham Potter will testify.

Getting a Brighton defender now and putting them on your bench in GW24 could be a wise move if your squad is already in decent nick for the next round of matches.

Team Assessment

As ever, the decision on which players to target in waivers depends very much on your current squad. 

Looking at my crop of outfield players I’m happy with my forward line:

Odsonne Edouard is perhaps surprisingly available in my Draft league given his form and Crystal Palace’s upcoming fixtures. But as a Zaha owner and with Richarlison, Antonio and Firmino all in place – and having decent fixtures for their respective sides – I’m reluctant to double up on the Eagles’ attack.

The other player I would consider is the aforementioned Weghorst, but again I’m reluctant to lose one of my front three for an as-yet-unproven asset.

Defensive Dilemmas

Defence is slightly trickier. 

I’m keen to hold onto both Kieran Tierney and Antonio Rudiger despite their upcoming blanks – both players will miss Gameweeks 25 and 27.

Rudiger has scored two goals this season and kept nine clean sheets helping him to third-place in the defender standings with 102 points. His total of 27 shots also ranks third among defenders.

Nonetheless he does miss three of the next four GWs, so I could take a chance and replace him but then I’d be relying on my rivals ignoring him.

Royal Uncertainty

In order to keep both players I need to ensure my other defenders are certain starters, and there’s now some doubt about Emerson Royal’s place in the Spurs XI.

Matt Doherty is challenging the Brazilian for the right-wing-back role and Conte even mentioned that it’s a position new signing Dejan Kulusevski could occupy.

Thankfully Emerson had a good game in the FA Cup against Brighton, and Conte had some encouraging words for him after the match:

I would like to keep hold of Emerson for one round at least, given his attacking threat. Otherwise a move for one of the following is on the cards – if they remain available in GW25:

The Likely Lads

The alternatives in my Draft league are a Brighton defender, especially as they double in Gameweek 25, Vladimir Coufal at West Ham, Rayan Ait Nouri or perhaps Emerson’s teammate Cristian Romero.

Under Conte, Spurs rank second for expected goals conceded with their score of 9.16 bettered by only Manchester City’s 8.36.

Indeed, since the Italian’s arrival only Wolves have shipped fewer goals with six to the Lilywhites’ eight.

While that might be a tick in Ait Nouri’s favour, it’s worth noting that Wolves have massively overperformed during that period: their expected goals conceded is 14.62 so they arguably should have let in nine goals more.

In other words, such defensive resilience is unlikely to be sustained. Bruno Lage’s team face Spurs, Leicester and Arsenal twice in their next four matches, reducing their prospects of further shut-outs.

Despite having played more matches than most, West Ham have a decent run and Coufal has contributed three assists this term. Although the Hammers’ look less likely to keep clean sheets than Spurs, Brighton or Wolves.

Midfield Prospects

Four of my midfield slots are locks for the time being, with Martin Odegaard the only player I’d consider releasing.

He’s my second Arsenal player and I’d prefer to keep hold of Tierney out of the two. Ultimately benching three players in GWs 25 and 27 feels too many. Ideally I’d like to have one sub.

But perhaps it’s a risk worth taking.

The main replacements under consideration are Dele Alli and Ismaila Sarr

I’m not certain what to make of Liverpool new-boy Luis Diaz, or Lucho as he’s known in Colombia.

The joint-top scorer at last summer’s Copa America alongside Lionel Messi, he’ll be competing with Sadio Mane for a spot on the right of Liverpool’s front three.

Although Mane could be shifted more centrally to accommodate the new signing, I think it’s more likely Lucho is used as a sub for the remainder of the campaign. Especially with competition from Jota, Firmino and Salah for the attacking berths in Jurgen Klopp’s front line.

This could be a mistake but he’s a player I’m going to overlook for now.

Martin Odegaard

There are good reasons to keep hold of Odegaard: 

Since GW14 only Kevin De Bruyne has created more goal-scoring opportunities than the Norwegian with 25 chances to Odegaard’s 24 – and the Belgian has played one more match.

Despite those two blanks in GWs 25 and 27, Arsenal have two home matches in Gameweek 26 while their next nine encounters are all rated at three or below in the Fixture Difficulty Ratings. Plus they are guaranteed a match in GW30, which clashes with the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Dele Alli

Over his 150 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, when he played more than 45 minutes, Alli averaged 5.2 points per match and was directly involved in 94 goals.

This compares favourably with Odegaard who has returned 4.2 points per match for Arsenal when excluding brief run-outs.

During his best season, Alli played centrally often alongside Harry Kane, with Son Heung-min mainly used on the left-wing. In 2016/17 he was presented with 22 big chances, the joint-most among midfielders, level with Alexis Sanchez.

A comparison of Alli and Son’s shot heatmaps from that season highlight the great positions Alli was taking up.

Dele Alli (left) Son Heung-min (right) shot heatmaps 2016/17

In later years, with Son’s emergence as the preferred foil for Harry Kane, Alli found it hard to establish a new role in the Spurs team.

However, Everton could present him with that opportunity playing with Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

There have been several false dawns with Alli under Mourinho and then Nuno, but could Lampard be the manager to help the erstwhile England international rediscover his best form?

During his best spell in 2016/17 Alli produced over 10 points per match, considerably better than Odegaard’s finest six-match period.

And, as noted above, Everton have 18 matches remaining, one more than Arsenal.

It’s a risk because it’s been a while since we’ve seen Alli perform to the levels he’s capable of – and patience may be needed as he adapts to life at a new club. But he offers more goal threat than Odegaard and that potentially means more FPL points.

Ismaila Sarr

The final player I want to touch on this week is a player I’ve been monitoring for a while, Ismaila Sarr. 

I firmly believe that he’s Watford’s best chance of avoiding relegation and it was encouraging to see him start the final of the AFCON. He also provided the assist for Sadio Mane’s goal in Senegal’s semi-final win, after appearing as a second-half sub.

That suggests his knee injury might at last be behind him – Roy Hodgson will certainly hope so.

Although Hodgson’s pragmatic style is unlikely to favour Sarr, I wonder if the 23-year-old will become Watford’s talisman like Zaha was for Hodgson at Palace.

Ideally we’d like to hear an update from the new Watford manager on Sarr ahead of the waiver deadline: has he been rushed back by Senegal? Is he fully fit? Does he feature prominently in Hodgson’s plans?

For the time being I’d place him behind Alli and Odegaard in my midfield pecking order but that could change soon.

Good luck with your decisions for Gameweek 24.

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