The week in Fantasy Premier League: Essential Eden Hazard and the problem with Salah

As we search for some certainty in this short life, Fantasy Premier League is really the last place any of us should be looking.

No sooner had Alonso, Mendy and Robertson been ordained as ‘The Holy Trinity’ of premium defenders than all three failed to reward the faithful.

Owners of Benjamin Mendy (MCI, 6.5) at least had the consolation of a personal apology from the defender after his absence from the Man City squad - although we’re all still at a loss as to why.

We were even treated to the glorious sight of Marcos Alonso (CHE, 6.8) momentarily becoming one of us - tweeting snarky comments to the Official FPL account when things didn’t go his way.

This week also saw the market fortunes of the only player to have risen £0.3m in a single week this season come full circle. The £0.1m profit made by the more enthusiastic sellers Theo Walcott (EVE, 6.6) came as cold comfort considering those paltry three points and pair of wasted transfers.

It was also a week of mixed emotions for owners of the new top scorer in the game - Eden Hazard (CHE, 10.9).

They may have rejoiced at his demolition of Cardiff, it was also tinged with a nagging feeling of regret.

It wasn’t just that so many had stopped short of captaining him; it was the sobering realisation that their secret weapon suddenly wasn’t so secret anymore. If only he could have continued to tick along - a goal here, goal and assist there - but instead his headline-grabbing hat-trick denied them the gleeful satisfaction of watching their mini-league rivals dither over his inclusion.

Despite being restricted to cameo appearances at the start of the season, Hazard is now the only player to boast attacking returns in every Gameweek so far, and seems on the verge of forming an effective partnership with Olivier Giroud (CHE, 7.8).

Could it be that the Belgian is finally about to shake off that “mercurial” tag by adding some consistency to his game?

With so many managers now scrambling to buy, one of the more obvious routes to owning him is provided via a player who has been lacking that very quality of late.

We need to talk about Mo Salah

There’s always been a certain focus and expectation around the most expensive player in FPL, and with good reason. When your sale allows a manager to buy literally any other player in the game using two transfers at most, you really need to pull your weight.

The fact that Mohamed Salah (LIV, 13.0) has yet to see his price drop is a testament to the level of faith - and fear - he inspires. But after three matches without a goal or assist, that's now at breaking point for many.

A detached reading of his underlying stats will tell you that the Egyptian is “due”. But stats can sometimes lie (otherwise known as 'The Tadic Effect'), and anyone watching Salah's recent performances will tell you that he’s just not firing on all cylinders right now (however considerable those metaphorical cylinders may be).

Could it be his troubles with his national FA, a perceived rift with his teammates, or the kind of innocent problem that affects we mere mortals, too?

He was always a shot-happy, bonus-dodging player, but his current goal conversion rate of 8.7% is cause for concern, especially when compared to his 22% rate in the previous season.

The fact that Liverpool face a porous Southampton defence next has convinced many to hold - but these so-called easy games can be a real bear trap in FPL terms. 

While they seem to offer the prospect of big points hauls, their very status as winnable games makes them likely opportunities for player rotation - particularly in Champions League weeks. Owners will find some comfort in the knowledge that this didn’t happen last year - although that Liverpool didn’t have Xherdan Shaqiri (LIV, 7.1) pushing harder for inclusion with every performance.

It’s a big decision to make, one that will surely have profound implications for our seasons. If you’re still struggling, try asking yourself - is Salah a player I am happy to captain at least half of the time? 

If the answer is “no”, it might be time to spend that money elsewhere, either this week or next.

Just don’t feel that you necessarily have to sell him to fund moves for the likes of Hazard, Romelu Lukaku (MUN, 11.0) or an under-the-radar Raheem Sterling (MCI, 11.0) ahead of City's current list of upcoming victims.

First consider if you can cobble the funds together by opting for some of the new breed of cheaper players who have been lighting up FPL of late.

Rise of the cheapies

It was the welcome sight of FPL darling Aaron Wan-Bissaka (CRY, 4.1) coming off their bench that prevented many Mendy owning from a full-scale meltdown last week. The Palace right-back is owned by just under a quarter of FPL managers - one can only assume the other 75% have a good reason not to?

Ryan Fraser (BOU, 5.7) confounded injury doubts to record his second double-digit points haul of the season so far. The Cherries play Burnley on Saturday, who have conceded a table-topping 30 chances on their right flank.

Depending on what approach you take with his stats, Raul Jimenez (WOL, 5.5m) is either a terrible pick, or an inspired one. The Wolves man must be the envy of strikers around the league - chance after chance is laid at his feet, and he need only convert one to keep his place.

Finally, many have dismissed the potential of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (SOU, 4.4), saying that he won't score those 'worldies' every week - but isn't that what was said last week, too?

While it’s true that his previous scoring record means we can't expect regular returns, we can at least give him credit for being a regular starter who likes a shot, playing for a reasonably attack-minded team. Paying £4.4m for that in FPL is not to be sniffed at.

QUICK TIP

FPL managers were handed some tough lessons by Ryan Fraser last week. 

Those who sold him on the basis of his injury doubt lost out on probably the best value midfielder in the game currently.

Those who benched him found out what most of us have also had to learn the hard way - that being to always pick the first 11 that you want to play. Bench cameos are always possible but they’re rare - just because a player might be on his team’s bench doesn’t mean he should be on yours, too.

BUY

Eden Hazard (CHE 10.9) is not simply heavily involved in Chelsea's impressive attacking play - he is the focus of it.

Despite playing relatively few minutes, he has received more passes in the final third than any other midfielder - his 179 dwarfing second-placed David Silva's 119. He's similarly top for both touches and passes in the final third, successful take-ons and that most crucial of attacking stats - goals.

His manager’s reaction to this? 

Comments like these from club managers should either be music to the ears of those who own Hazard, or menacingly loud alarm bells to those who don't. If you're not hearing either, you're just not listening hard enough.

TRY

Matt Doherty (WOL, 4.4) has been generating a lot of buzz this week, having leapfrogged Marcos Alonso (CHE, 6.8) to the top of the defenders' table when it comes to shots in the box.

With Wolves facing against Man United in GW6, many FPL managers are keeping their powder dry for now, but be warned - the attack-minded Ireland international won't be available at this price for long.

GOODBYE

At some point in the season, Harry Kane (TOT, 12.4) will become a major factor. The various merits of how and when to acquire him for our FPL sides will be discussed at length here and elsewhere, that's just a given.

This is not that time. 

Top of the League

What's this? A new name at the top of the Official Irish Examiner League (join code: 19990-119302)? Yep, it's Kevin Barber and his Westbrom 18, who are top after Gameweek 5 after - you guessed it - a Hazard captaincy and Ryan Fraser return. Brian O'Callaghan's Longballmerchants are up to second as last week's leader Emmett Hickey sees his FredTheRed side slip to fifth.

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