Usually during these cup breaks, the emotional state of your average Fantasy Premier League manager lies somewhere between quiet reflection to outright boredom. Not this time…
Emotions were already high after when Brunt and Evans owners lost their collective minds when West Brom’s late equaliser was credited to Gareth McAuley.
The eventual release of a video explaining the call quieted the conspiracy theorists, but it set the tone for a tense couple of weeks.
🎥 Conclusive proof.February 15, 2017
FA Cup fixtures, for so long virtually ignored by FPL devotees, suddenly became all-important - deciding as they would which teams would miss out in GW28.
Then, as if things weren’t complicated enough, we had this bomb dropped on us...
🚨 POTENTIAL DOUBLE GAMEWEEK for @ManCity in GW27 🚨
STK (h) https://t.co/78uELaenqm— FPL (@OfficialFPL) February 22, 2017
So let’s look at the four most crucial questions being asked this week in FPL.
As a general rule, I never sell a player with the intention of buying him back soon afterwards - why commit a future transfer to a player you already own, when the FPL gods will invariably find a way to land you with a bigger headache when that week comes around?
Mind you, it’s not hard to see why game’s top scorer has become the second-most transferred out player this week. The prospect of having an £11.7 player facing two Blank Gameweeks (BGW) with a tricky trip to Liverpool in between has seen the appeal of Alexis Sánchez dip considerably.
While it’s certainly reasonable to sell now, especially given the options that Liverpool playing GW28 has now opened up, there are two factors that should give FPL managers pause for thought.
Those prudent enough to have brought the Chilean early at around £11m are now effectively being “punished” and stand to lose team value by selling him (don’t look for any sympathy, lads!).
Also, unless managers intend on banking £2m or so, the temptation will be to spread that Sanchez cash around the team, making the task of bringing him back in GW29 (which, let’s face it, you will want to do) pretty awkward.
So if you have a lot of value “tied up” in Sanchez and your team is pretty well set up for GW28 anyway, consider holding him. Otherwise, sell - and sell this week.
In the case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (MUN, 11.5), it’s not as clear-cut. Already one of the FPL’s most consistent scorers, that hat-trick against St Etienne hinted at potential for big returns.
Price is less of a factor, and do you really want to be without him for that plum tie against Bournemouth at Old Trafford?
Bournemouth have conceded 21 goals in their last 7 matches. Looking forward to captaining Zlatan in GW27 when many will have sold him #FPL— #FPL General (@FPLGeneral) February 15, 2017
Wait until after that to sell, if at all.
Of course, if you’re planning to use your wildcard on GW29 or soon after, the decision to sell players like Sanchez and Ibra becomes much easier, but more on that later.
An impressive performance against Tottenham has made Sadio Mané (LIV, 9.3) comfortably the most transferred in midfielder this week.
The 2nd goal by Sadio Mane shows how much the front 3 coordinate to got for the 'kill' when they nicked the ball of Spurs. stunning attack! pic.twitter.com/s2BzuartF1— Samuel #JFT96 (@samsgyan) February 12, 2017
Delve deeper into the stats over the last two matches Mane has played 90 minutes in, however, and there’s plenty of encouragement for those suspicious of this sudden clamour to get the Senegalese speedster into their team over his Anfield teammates.
If the “pick and stick” mantra on Liverpool players this season holds true, you need to ask yourself if Mane is worth that extra £1m outlay?
His 83.3% rate of shot accuracy in his last two games is impressive, but unsustainable.
Liverpool are a different team when all of the quartet of Mane, Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana play together, and this table shows that while Mane is making the most of his chances, there is at least the potential there for others to improve.
Shot-happy Firmino now looks like a fixture in that ‘false 9’ position, and given his recent injury, Liverpool’s 16-day break could see Coutinho return to something resembling his early-season form.
It would be nice to delay this transfer and have time to assess Coutinho in particular, but if you’re going to buy a Liverpool midfielder, it HAS to be done now to take advantage of that Leicester fixture. Time to go with your gut!
Hopefully by now you will have restricted your recent transfers to those six teams (now eight) who definitely play in GW28, but in all likelihood you won’t have 11 players on that virtual pitch when it finally comes around.
Don’t worry, very few managers will be able to do it either. If you can get 8-10 out, you’re doing just fine.
Navigating these blank Gameweeks has often been more about the players you can’t sell as much as who to buy. The likes of Matt Phillips (WBA, 5.8), whose form has gone off a cliff, and Andy Carroll (WHU, 6.3) are hanging on like grim death in our squads, simply because it doesn’t make sense to move them on.
Andy Carroll "maybe" has a chance of facing Watford: "I was expecting him to train in Dubai but it is a bit slower than we expected." #WHUFC— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) February 23, 2017
So as we continue to plan for the truncated GWs 26 and 28, the best value can probably be found in defence.
Hull’s inviting fixture list and new-found defensive solidity makes them an easy choice, with attack-minded Harry Maguire (HUL, 4.4) the standout pick.
If you don’t have a playing goalkeeper, the cut-price Eldin Jakupovic (HUL, 4.1) is a no-brainer, too.
The only slight downside here is that it reduces your overall points potential in GW 28 if you also have Swansea attackers.
With three home ties in the next four against goal-shy sides like Sunderland, West Brom and Hull, Everton defenders like Funes Mori (EVE, 4.7) are attractive - but then there’s those trips to Spurs, Liverpool and Man United to contend with. By all means keep or bring in one Everton defender - but two is overkill.
A 15-point return put Alfie Mawson (SWA, 4.5) firmly on the FPL radar, but if Swansea are to begin returning clean sheets, they won’t be starting against Chelsea this week.
Moving into midfield, by the time GW27 comes around, it’ll be hard to make a case for not having Gylfi Sigurdsson (SWA, 7.5) in your squad. Swansea’s fixtures ease considerably and with returns in five of his six matches under Paul Clement he’s a pick for now and the future.
If Siggy’s out of your price range, enabler-in-chief Tom Carroll (SWA, 4.2) remains one of FPL’s best-kept secrets.
Speaking of secrets, blank-proof players like Manuel Lanzini (WHU, 6.3), Oumar Niasse (HUL, 5.6), Robbie Brady (BUR, 5.5) continue to fly well under the radar. Owned by 1% or less, they could reward those willing to take a punt.
Elsewhere, Robert Snodgrass (WHU 5.8), who created six chances in the previous Gameweek (joint top with Zlatan) and Andre Gray (BUR, 6.1) remain solid picks..
Incidentally, any shopping for West Brom assets needs to stop now.
The ones you have will serve you well during the blanks, but the Baggies are looking at a nightmarish run of fixtures after that, facing four of the Premier League’s current top six from GW29-34.
Well, first things first - we don’t know for certain that Man City will have a Double Gameweek (DGW) soon.
They must first overcome Huddersfield in the FA Cup, and that’s by no means a given - so don’t make any moves this week.
But if it does happen, then it definitely makes sense to have one City player to captain, especially given the relative lack of armband options in GW27.
The good news is that you don’t actually need to disrupt your current Blank Gameweek planning too much to do it! Taking a -4 hit to bring in a DGW player to captain is a perfectly legitimate move - after all, you’re replacing a player who scores once with a player who scores four times.
Of course, when we think of DGWs, one name always springs to mind, right?
Yes, it looks like whoever decides these fixtures has conspired to bring us a new twist in the ongoing soap opera that is Sergio Aguero (MCI, 12.7) this season.
Aguero's demise in English football lasted about as long as an X-Factor Winners career...— FPL_Fly🔻 (@FPL_Fly) February 22, 2017
Conveniently affordable for Sanchez sellers, he’s back in the starting 11 and his reputation alone will be enough instill the fear of God in your mini-league opponents, which should, if nothing else, provide you with plenty of entertainment.
Downsides? Well, it will mean banking that Sanchez cash on the presumption that the DGW happens, as well as committing £12.7 on a player set to face Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea in GWs 29-31 (again, early wildcarders need not worry here).
Consider instead investing in one of City’s in-form midfielders - Raheem Sterling (MCI, 7.8) or Leroy Sané (MCI, 7.5), whichever one floats your boat.
Sterling has contributed to 25 goals in all comps this season, 3 more than Kane and 6 more than Alli. Only 4 fewer than Ronaldo.— Adam Bailey (@adambailey__) February 22, 2017
While they lack Aguero’s potential for explosive returns, both are scoring consistently and their price makes them more palatable to keep through those tough three fixtures. Late wildcarders in particular will be delighted to have them for City’s tasty run of games from GW32 onwards.
And if you have any Stoke players, consider yourself lucky and hang on to them.
Remember - when you’re planning for these blanks and double Gameweeks, you’re basically playing the percentages. A player who plays three games will score more than a player who plays fewer, right?
You see the problem, don’t you? With all your careful planning, there will be players who buck the trend and outscore those blank-proof recruits of yours - usually it’s Jermain Defoe (SUN, 7.9). It’s inevitable - so just dust yourself off and stick to your gameplan. It should pay off in the long run (well, most of the time!).
And if it feels like you’re not quite getting it right with your transfers over the next three weeks or so, don’t worry - that’s exactly how everyone else feels, too!
It may be tempting to wildcard in GW29 to refresh your team after all that BGW planning, but think carefully before you commit to doing it now.
We may have a bumper DGW in GW37, which could reward patient managers who wildcard in GW36 and then use Bench Boost to field four DGW substitutes - that’s eight extra scorers, almost like having an extra Gameweek!
It’s incredibly tight, but I’m tipping Philippe Coutinho (LIV, 8.2) as the Liverpool midfielder to plump for as they prepare to face managerless Leicester.
His price point, assist potential and recovery from injury just about shade it.
Liverpool loanee Lazar Markovic (HUL, 5.4) has impressed since his arrival in January.
Lazar Markovic did a thing! pic.twitter.com/04keZi1DwW— justin lew block (@JBlock49) February 11, 2017
His price could be kinder, but blank-proof status and just 0.2% ownership makes him a potential big-scoring differential.
Hot property until recently, Spurs midfielders like Christian Eriksen (TOT, 8.7) and Dele Alli (TOT, 8.8) have gone off the boil, blanking in their last three league matches. The fact that their dip has coincided with an injury to marauding full-back Danny Rose is probably no coincidence.
Danny Rose [knee] will not feature for Tottenham this weekend. The full-back is said to be a "number of weeks away" from a return. #COYS— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) February 22, 2017
Some short-term appeal lingers courtesy of a home tie against Stoke, but midfield alternatives from Liverpool, Swansea and West Ham are looking ever-more tempting.