The week in Fantasy Premier League: Sizing up Zlatan replacements

After a week of speculation around whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic would play both of Man United’s GW34 fixtures, we all got our answer in dramatic fashion last night.

The big Swede landed awkwardly before hobbling off with what looks like a nasty injury.

And so the rush to replace one of the most popular players in FPL begins!

Having scored against Sunderland and Chelsea recently, a late winner against Anderlecht seems to have catapulted Marcus Rashford (MUN, 6.5) into ‘obvious replacement’ status in the eyes of many.

But while the price is right, Man United’s starting line-up remains easily the most unpredictable in the league - a situation only compounded by their Europa League survival.

With Wayne Rooney back and Zlatan’s replacement Anthony Martial playing for his United future, a consistent run as lone striker for the 19-year-old could be a case of wishful thinking.

UPDATE: When asked if Rashford could fill in for Zlatan, Mourinho responded: "He cannot play every game."

For those yet to board the Harry Kane (TOT, 11.5) bandwagon, the transfer is a relatively simple one.

The Spurs marksman costs a mere £0.1m more and it feels like a move that must be made at some point anyway.

Similarly, Romelu Lukaku (EVE, 10.5) provides a reliable replacement for the remaining few yet to snap up the 24-goal forward - and some pocket change to boot!

But these two are the safe, highly-owned candidates - let’s look at some intriguing short-term options for those who still have a wildcard in their back pocket.

 

Mid-price forwards with big-time potential

With three goals in his last four games, Christian Benteke (CRY, 7.2) has become one of the form strikers in Premier League.

Joint top with Sergio Aguero for shots in the box (16) and shots on target (7) over the last four GWs, the Belgian is in confident mood ahead of Palace’s DGW ties against Spurs and his former club Liverpool.

Despite some distinctly underwhelming performances this season, you would think that even Alvaro Negredo (MID, 6.2) couldn’t conspire to blank against Bournemouth and Sunderland in DGW34.

Prospective owners should be encouraged by the fact that since the departure of former manager Aitor Karanka, Negredo's ‘threat on goal’ stat has rocketed - averaging 75, just behind Benteke’s 78 (thanks FPL Statto for that little nugget).

Of course, those without their wildcard must think more long-term. For them, the promise of a Double Gameweek or two should ease the nerves considerably.

Forgotten by many since his injury, 3.6%-owned Manolo Gabbiadini (SOU, 6.5) could prove a masterstroke for canny FPL managers willing to take an early punt.

Although a trip to Chelsea may not seem ideal, but the Blues have stumbled of late, and haven’t kept a clean sheet since GW22!

Ignore the doubters who say Austin and Long will steal his minutes - ‘Gabbi’ will be ever-present in that Southampton team for the rest of the season.

The Olivier Giroud (ARS, 8.1) bandwagon has clearly seen better days, but he could yet be an unlikely saviour for anyone needing a mini-league miracle.

 

Although injury has kept Danny Welbeck on the sidelines, after one goal in five games, you would imagine his days as Arsenal’s lone-forward are numbered. The same goes for Alexis Sanchez (albeit for reasons which elude understanding for all but one lone Frenchman) clearing the way for the 2.6%-owned frontman.

Though much maligned, Giroud has plenty of goals in his locker given the right conditions - including those four in consecutive mid-season games - and should be relatively fresh given his recent lack of gametime.

Often when one high-priced forward gets injured, the instinct can be to replace him with another - but that cash can just as effective when spent on your midfield.

 

Players auditioning to replace Alexis Sanchez

After frustrating loyal FPL owners for three weeks, Alexis Sanchez (ARS, 11.5) finally stopped the rot with a goal against Middlesbrough.

His disinterested performance was still enough to persuade many to sell, although Arsene Wenger’s decision to roll the dice with a 3-4-2-1 formation at least gave owners hope that a new, more central role could yet jolt the Chilean into life.

But with tempting alternatives like Eden Hazard (CHE, 10.4), Leroy Sane (MCI, 7.6) and Roberto Firmino (LIV, 8.6) ready to take up the cause for your team, all eyes will be on Sanchez in the days ahead.

For more on this, and much more besides, have a listen to my guest appearance on this week’s FanFeud podcast, alongside FPL Stag, Fantasy Pest and host FPL Marple.

 

Gambling on low-owned midfielders

Of course, for those running out of time to make up ground in their mini-league, these big-name players are strictly off the menu. Now is the time to start gambling on low-owned alternatives and hope the more obvious names grind to halt.

Luckily some exciting options have emerged - all with ownership of less than 5%.

Andros Townsend (CRY, 5.8) has been central to Crystal Palace’s recent resurgence, registering an average of seven points in his last six games, including returns in his last three.

He’s created 15 chances in that time (second only to David Silva) which are now blossoming into assists, thanks to Benteke’s spike in form.

His price comes in at £0.2 less than Wilfried Zaha, despite scoring five more points than his well-owned teammate since GW27.

Owned by just 1.1% of FPL managers, Marco Arnautovic (STO, 7.1) has looked dangerous in recent matches.

 

His three upcoming ties against Swansea (A), West Ham (H) and Bournemouth (A) will hold little fear for the Austrian, who was unlucky not to add to his 12-point haul against Hull.

Although Kamil Grosicki (HUL, 5.5) hasn’t quite managed to turn his early promise into consistent returns, Hull are excellent at home and the Polish international could fill his boots against a Watford side with 40 points and nothing to play for.

 

QUICK TIP

There’s really no worse feeling in FPL than buying a player, only to see him injured before he even has the chance to score you some points (just ask the 81,000 new Zlatan owners, they’ll tell you).

But this is the fate that could await anyone bringing in Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal or Man City assets this week. All four must first play what should be pretty intense FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday and Sunday before they even set foot on a Premier League pitch in midweek.

That’s not to say you absolutely shouldn’t bring in any players from these four, but if money isn’t a factor, at least consider banking that free transfer and holding out until GW35.

 

BUY

The prospect of a Double Gameweek, followed by a home tie against Burnley, makes Christian Benteke (CRY, 7.2) hard to ignore, at least in the short term.

Failing that, for those willing to gamble on his fitness, Eden Hazard (CHE, 10.4) remains an ominous presence for the weeks ahead.

His blank against Man United may have seen him temporarily drop off the radar, but he remains one of the few viable Triple Captain options left, and will surely run riot against the likes of Boro (H), West Brom (A), Watford (H) and Sunderland (H) during Chelsea’s title run-in.

 

TRY

Similar to Phil Jagielka recently, Hull’s Harry Maguire (HUL, 4.4) has celebrated goals in his last two games. However, unlike the Everton defender’s freakish scoring run, however, Maguire has some potential to keep this going.

 

Despite having more shots and attempts in the box than any FPL defender since GW15 (according to FantasyFootballScout.co.uk), Maguire’s ownership has somehow stayed at a mere 0.5%.

There’s nothing like a goal from a defender to turn your Gameweek around, and right now, he’s the man most likely - all for a bargain £4.4m.

 

GOODBYE

A five-match barren run has seen one-time Mr Consistency Diego Costa (CHE, 10.3) punish many early wildcarders. He’s even gone back to his old ways, picking up three yellow cards in the process.

He’s still owned by over 30% of FPL managers, but with the likes of Benteke and Jamie Vardy on offer for less, that surely can't continue for much longer.

 

Top of the League

Gameweek 33 saw long-time leader Brian Haugh make up some ground on Mervyn Glasgow and GForce Allstars in the Official Irish Examiner League. With similar high-priced players in both teams, it looks like defenders and mid-priced midfielders could decide this one. Exciting stuff!

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