The week in Fantasy Premier League: #NoSalah and breaking the defensive template

After all the agonising among Fantasy Premier League managers over who should replace the suspended Richarlison, Gameweek 4 left us with one demoralising conclusion - we never should have sold him in the first place.

In retrospect, the Walcott debacle had an air of inevitability about it, although the speed at which it arrived was really something special, even by his standards.

He wasn’t the only letdown. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (ARS, 7.2) was another popular pick - his new devotees got a one-point cameo for their troubles. Even Pedro (CHE, 6.8) owners were made to sweat for his points after Willian started against Bournemouth.

In the meantime, Richarlison (EVE, 6.6) went about transforming himself into Brazil’s new golden boy as he prepares to take on Arsenal’s absentee full-backs in GW6.

In other news, it was the turn of Ederson (MCI, 5.6) to become the focus of that vaguely creepy (yet undeniably useful) preoccupation the FPL community has with due dates of footballers' pregnant partners, before he helpfully announced that the little one had arrived.

We also saw the emergence of a potential dream out-of-position midfielder playing as a striker. 

Unfortunately, he plays for Cardiff and has all the hallmarks of a classic an FPL “trap”. But with wildcards very much in play this week, enablers are more in demand than ever - and for once the defence is to blame.

Three's a crowd

An overused term in FPL, an “essential” player typically refers to high-profile, in-form attacker scoring big numbers. Now consider a different definition - a player who is posting similar points and stats to comparably-priced players, but with the capacity for superior returns for the same actions as the others.

I refer, of course, to Marcos Alonso (CHE, 6.8), Benjamin Mendy (MCI, 6.4) and Andy Robertson (LIV, 6.1).

Their stats compare favourably to the top-scoring midfielders in their price range, but with six points available for goals and four for clean sheets (compared to five and one for midfielders), there is little logic in not owning them.

Comparison courtesy of Fantasyfootballfix.com

Mendy himself seems well aware of this and his proclaimed loyalty to his FPL owners - however superficial - is strangely thrilling.

Alonso has become the highest-scoring player in the game, and is so attacking even his own teammates are taken aback.

Yet for all its appeal, owning what has recently become known as the ‘Holy Trinity’ of premium defenders is both expensive and unfamiliar. So here's a blasphemous thought - it could be time to ditch Robertson.

With seven fixtures in the space of 23 days for Liverpool, rotation isn’t just a worry - it’s an inevitability, and high-octane players like Robertson are particularly vulnerable.

Roberton, unlike the others, has seen three clean sheets contribute to his 32 points, unlike Mendy’s two, and one for Alonso. Although Liverpool have been impressive defensively, clean sheets against the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Man City will be harder to come by, along with the bonus points that come with them.

Of course, if you currently own the Liverpool left-back you’ll surely have bigger problems than transferring out a player who is performing well. But if you’re planning to buy him at this stage, you must be at least open to the possibility that you could be setting yourself up for that most deadly of FPL traps - chasing points.

For those managers, and those on a wildcard, going without could be the kind of brave call that turns out to be the making of a season.

Money can be made by replacing him with the one defender who is already making the case for inclusion in that alternative definition of “essential” - José Holebas (WAT, 4.8).

No defender has taken more corners or completed more crosses than the Watford left-back, and he matches Robertson for chances created.

Watford’s next three matches (MUN, ful, ars) are tough, admittedly, but none of these defences have looked particularly solid this season, and if you're brave enough to keep him off the bench, his attacking returns could see you through to Watford’s more promising October fixtures.

The Hornet’s defence is better than you may think, too - only Man City can match their eight shots on target conceded so far this season, so clean sheets aren’t completely out of the question.

Saving £1.2m will only get you so far though. The path to the biggest windfall of all can be found by letting go of another Liverpool star.

#NoSalah?

The most-owned player in the game until recently, Mo Salah (LIV, 13.0) has done enough to keep owners on side, but relatively few non-owners have been persuaded to dismantle their side to bring him in.

Now, a single blank Gameweek has seen the Egyptian’s net transfers slip into the red for the first time this season, and FPL managers are openly admitting to thinking the previously unthinkable - going without last season’s top scorer.

The fact that teammate Sadio Mané (LIV, 10.0) has outscored him thus far doesn’t bode well for Salah’s FPL prospects, but although the Senegalese forward is looking like he could be set a standout season, his current output seems ripe for regression.

The aforementioned fixture congestion is a factor to consider also.

Although Salah is about as fixture-proof as they come, his minutes are likely to be managed. Xherdan Shaqiri (LIV, 7.1) replaced him against Leicester and can look forward to more involvement after his performance in Switzerland's friendly against England.

This lessens Salah’s appeal as a captain - surely what you pay that £13m for - all at the time when some viable alternatives, in addition to Sergio Agüero (MCI, 11.3), are starting to emerge.

Eden Hazard (CHE, 10.7) boasts attacking returns in every game so far this season, and if the Belgian has indeed added consistency to his explosive points potential, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with - starting with Cardiff on Saturday.

All but ignored at the start of the season, Romelu Lukaku’s (MUN, 11.0) underlying stats paint the picture of a player primed to reward those willing to take the plunge. He’s fired a shot on target every 36.6 minutes so far this season, bettering both Mitrovic (40) and Aguero (55.8).

There's also a nice little fringe benefit of owning Lukaku. Should he really hit form, you're almost guaranteed a massive increase in his value as millions of Man United fans buy him out of an adorably misguided sense of loyalty. He’s a safe harbour in these turbulent times of rotation, too - the 25-year-old is so nailed on, Mourinho probably has his name already printed on the teamsheets to save time.

By contrast, Alexandre Lacazette (ARS, 9.4) only completed 90 minutes for Arsenal for the first time in the last Gameweek. However, his advanced and central positioning, reasonable pricetag, low ownership and upcoming fixtures make him an appealing differential.

In the end, the wildcard will be a key factor in any decision to keep or sell Salah.

Selling Salah in a normal Gameweek means you will need at least another transfer to spend that extra cash on another single player, whereas selling on a wildcard allows you to spread that money across as many new additions as you like.

Similarly, if you sell the Liverpool star without a wildcard in your back pocket, and panic to get him back when he scores his next brace sets in, you’re looking at a -4 hit at least to do it.

So if you’ve already used your wildcard, it’s probably worth keeping him for now until you have more information; and let’s face it - he’s not exactly doing that badly anyway.

QUICK TIP

Hey - have you had a chance to check out the FPL "What-if Machine"?

It tells you how much points you'd have if you hadn't made any transfers whatsoever!

So never, ever use it...

BUY

It’s going to be a long afternoon for a Fulham defence that has already conceded nine goals, as well as a league-worst 47 shots conceded in the box.

The lingering spectre of Pep Roulette aside, expect Sergio Aguero (MCI, 11.3)  to fill his boots, particularly after his rest and new-found fitness.

TRY

If you’re looking for a Ryan Fraser replacement, or just a bit of excitement in your life, I have just the man for you!

Barcelona graduate Adama Traoré (WOL, 5.5) really caught the eye against West Ham last week, thanks to his relentless addiction to taking on players.

 

Should the Wolves speedster and record signing start getting some regular starts, his FPL points potential is considerable.

It’s a punt, of course, and he could very well end up being the bane of your life - but for £5.5m, he does bring one guarantee at least - it won’t be boring!

 

GOODBYE

Never again.

Top of the League

An impressive 66 points in what was a low-scoring Gameweek saw Emmett Hickey and his FredTheRed side soar to the top of the Official Irish Examiner League (join code: 19990-119302) with 327 points. Sam Gribben and Dara Craigie are his closest challengers on 315 and 310 points respectively.

Look out for Irish Examiner news reporter Joe Leogue, who has jumped into 8th place, with former champion Brian Haugh just behind in 9th.


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