It only had four fixtures, but Gameweek 31 saw armies of Fantasy Premier League managers celebrate one of their highest scoring weeks of the season.
Of course, that was almost exclusively down to Mo Salah (LIV, 10.7), who produced a performance that will live forever in FPL folklore.
Mo Salah as captain (58 pts) has scored more than my whole team has in 57% of the preceding 30 GWs, in case you were looking for context on both the state of my team and, conversely, his performance. #FPL— Peter Blake (@math_safe) March 17, 2018
That 58.8% of active managers who captained the Egyptian King enjoyed a 58-point return from him alone - that's 12 more than the total score of an average team that week.
It wasn’t the last surprise FPL had in store for us. On March 22, the Premier League finally announced the fixtures for DGW34. The decision to grant two fixtures to just eight teams rather than the expected 12 forced managers right back to the drawing board.
Now it seems that we’ll have to wait until GW37 for that “big” Double Gameweek, and even that isn’t 100% certain.
It’s unlikely, but the Premier League could throw another curveball in our direction and shoehorn a fixture or two into an earlier Gameweek. That would mean another week to use the Triple Captain chip, which in turn would free up more options for Bench Boost and Free Hit chips in the process, to the delight chip-hoarders everywhere.
We’ll know for sure by next Tuesday at the latest, they’ve assured us.
If all of this feels a bit overwhelming, you're not alone - it can even be a bit much for those who do this kind of thing for a living.
Reall struggling with my WC plans this week. Still yet to decide whether I'll BB in 34 or 37. Using free hit earlier in the season and the fixtures falling the way they have has made things tricky. My head is fried and it's only Monday 🙃— FPL General (@FPLGeneral) March 26, 2018
A former England international DMed me yesterday to ask how the Free Hit chip works 😏— Ben Crellin (@BenCrellin) March 29, 2018
But for FPL veterans, this is our time to shine. With a bit of patience and thoughtful planning, even struggling managers are almost certain to see their rank improve, overtaking those who have either given up now or are about to.
It’s already happening. Harry Kane was the second most popular captain (9.4%) among "active" squads last week, despite Spurs not having a fixture - and Salah did his bit for the cause, too.
I capped Firmino over Salah.
I quit. Ok bye#PS8— FPL Updates&Tips (@FPLUpdates_Tips) March 17, 2018
The FPL community is now awash with individual strategies based on what chips are left and when is best to play them - it’s not easy making sense of it all.
So, given that it basically allows us to remove an entire Gameweek from our thoughts altogether, perhaps the most straightforward way to come at this is from the perspective of your Free Hit strategy, with a few bits of wildcard, Bench Boost and Triple Captain strategy poking their heads up along the way!
”But I’ve already used my Free Hit!”
Well then, you probably need to prioritise teams who have a fixture in BGW35.
Unfortunately, this probably means avoiding most of those teams with two fixtures in DGW34 - Brighton, Chelsea, Leicester, Man United, Southampton, Tottenham and Bournemouth.
And here is the Ordered Schedule:https://t.co/BjKY4n4SsY
(It's basically my schedule spreadsheet merged with my categories spreadsheet) pic.twitter.com/k2F1V49ePo— Ben Crellin (@BenCrellin) March 22, 2018
“Prioritise” is the key word here, though. Hold on to the must-have players from those listed above and don’t let the promise of extra fixtures completely dictate your transfers.
For those not wildcarding until GW36, the extent to which you need to bring in these BGW35 players will naturally depend on how many you have in your squad already. Certainly, any injured or non-starting players from teams without a fixture in BGW35 need to be jettisoned, posthaste.
Burnley players could solve a lot of your problems. They are the only team with two fixtures in DGW34 as well as a fixture in BGW35 - and they aren't bad fixtures, either (wba, wat, LEI, CHE, sto).
Their away form has improved recently after an indifferent spell, and the return of World Cup hopeful James Tarkowski (BUR, 4.5) has helped shore up their defence.
People assume because Tarkowski plays for Burnley he must be a ‘hoof-and-hope’ defender. Far from it.
Despite scoring three goals in his last 74 minutes of football, Chris Wood (BUR, 7.2) hasn't risen in price yet and he’ll surely fancy his chances at a doomed West Brom tomorrow.
Elsewhere, Huddersfield have only one fixture in DGW34 and also miss out in BGW35, so their players should be in your crosshairs at some point.
There are some attractive prospects among the teams with BGW35 fixtures, particularly Arsenal, Man City, Newcastle, Swansea and West Ham, who all have a late-season Double Gameweek to look forward to.
Although they are definite ‘holds’ before their trip to Everton, be cautious about loading up on Man City players.
Facing Spurs and United is never easy, but even beyond that, the outlook is uncertain to say the least.
You'd expect City to have the league wrapped up by the end of GW35 at the latest, at which point we’re sure to see some degree of rotation. Even if Liverpool halt their Champions League progress, Pep could reward senior players with an occasional pre-World Cup rest.
David Silva will get a pat on the back and a one-way ticket to Spain. The likes of Yaya Touré (MCI, 6.0) or even Phil Foden (MCI, 4.7) could eventually emerge as bargains, we just don't know.
When it comes to Arsenal, a goal against Watford has made Shkodran Mustafi (ARS, 5.4) one of the most transferred-in defenders over the last few weeks, presumably by managers who haven't had to endure owning him at any point over the previous three months or so.
But you can’t argue with those fixtures, so for anyone determined to buy an Arsenal defender, it's worth spending the extra 0.1m for the better long-term goal threat offered by Nacho Monreal (ARS, 5.5), should he prove his fitness.
In midfield, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (ARS, 7.7) seems to be growing into his role. Any move for the cheaper Aaron Ramsey (ARS, 6.9) would be ill-advised however, as his minutes are being carefully managed as Arsenal look to the Europa League to salvage their season.
There are no such concerns for owners of the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ARS, 10.6). He has struggled to score against the big teams since his arrival, but the Gunners are only playing one of them for what is traditionally their favourite part of the season.
Arsenal's trend of strong finishes to Premier League campaigns revealed. 💪March 27, 2018
Elsewhere, a Swansea defender like Kyle Naughton (SWA, 4.6) or Federico Fernández (SWA, 4.6) is viable if you can rotate them out for the tougher fixtures, and midfielder Sung-yueng Ki (SWA, 5.0) has been posting some impressive numbers at home lately.
Free Hit in BGW35
Using it to skip a Blank Gameweek has long been seen as the default use for the Free Hit chip, and although the smaller roster of DGW34 fixtures has dented its appeal for BGW35 somewhat, it remains a reasonable and relatively stress-free strategy.
Brighton, Chelsea, Leicester, Man United, Southampton and Tottenham all have two Double Gameweeks on the horizon, so feel free to stock up on players from those teams right away.
When it comes to Chelsea and Spurs however, consider holding off until after they play each other on Sunday.
Now owned by fewer than one in 10 active squads, Romelu Lukaku (MUN, 11.4) has been quietly getting it done, and is a viable captaincy pick for DGW34 before, in all likelihood, most teams swap him out for Harry Kane (TOT, 12.7).
Romelu Lukaku has been directly involved in 14 goals in his 14 appearances this calendar year.
10 goals ⚽
4 assists 🅰️
On top of his game. pic.twitter.com/EG2sGghJQE— Indy Football (@IndyFootball) March 17, 2018
Leicester’s run of fixtures has seen Riyad Mahrez (LEI, 8.9) and Jamie Vardy (LEI, 8.8) deservedly attract a lot of interest.
Brighton’s Pascal Gross (BRI, 6.0) has been in our thoughts for a while. Being a key player in a relegation-threatened team, he's a purpose-built end-of-season asset for FPL.
Glenn Murray (BRI, 6.0) is an option too, but you’ll need an exit strategy before Brighton's gruesome final three fixtures.
Once BGW35 has passed, Arsenal, Man City, Newcastle, Swansea, West Ham and Huddersfield can join your list of Double Gameweek teams to choose from (I say Huddersfield only to be technically complete, you understand - they play Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal in their last three).
Free Hit in DGW34
There is an undeniable logic to using a Free Hit on Blank Gameweeks, and it’s probably what FPL Towers had in mind when they came up with it - but what if we used it for a Double Gameweek?
It may seem unorthodox, but the fact that the guy who seems to spend every waking hour thinking about fixtures is planning to do it should offer some comfort.
I'm gonna Free Hit in DGW34, Wildcard in GW36 and Bench Boost in DGW37.
Here's my personal transfer planner spreadsheet.
Dark green = transfer in
Light green = bench
Yellow = captain
White = don't own
? = sell/bench in GW35 pic.twitter.com/qXdj9N3fZt— Ben Crellin (@BenCrellin) March 24, 2018
You’ll need to have a few players in place already for BGW35 to even attempt this approach - but if you do, the points ceiling on offer is exceptionally high.
In this scenario, you should focus your transfer attentions on Arsenal, Manchester City, Newcastle, Swansea and West Ham - all teams who will play in BGW35, and also enjoy a Double Gameweek after that.
Free Hitting in this week does mean ruling out some Triple Captain candidates like Romelu Lukaku (WBA, bou) and Eden Hazard (sot, bur), however.
You could Free Hit in a likely DGW37, I suppose, but that week is probably better suited to either Bench Boost (plenty of teams to choose from) or Triple Captain (Kane V wba/NEW or Mahrez V WHM/ARS).
Pochettino on Kane: "He is doing very well. Every day he is improving. We need to assess him, it is still a few days until the game. I think it is difficult now to say yes or no. If not this w/e, maybe next but the most important is we are so positive about his recovery." #COYS pic.twitter.com/lNctiF5onl— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) March 29, 2018
There’ll be many twists and turns to come in the remaining weeks, so wildcarders should look to build a fairly balanced, nimble squad. It may be tempting to take an early punt on Harry Kane, but it’s just not worth it away to Chelsea - keep some money in the bank to get him in later.
Everyone’s situation is different of course, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ARS, 10.6) is about as good a one-size-fits-all player as you’re likely to find.
Still less than 10% owned, he ticks a lot of boxes and has the potential to deliver big scores.
Defensive collapses away to Arsenal and Liverpool have kept Watford defenders off the radar, but home ties against Bournemouth, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Newcastle should prove more fruitful.
If you’re looking for a cheap enabler in a blank-free team, you won’t find better value than Adrian Mariappa (WAT, 4.2m).
Adrian Mariappa (DEF £4.2m) has played every minute of Watford's last 7 games.
Crystal Palace (H) pic.twitter.com/THm7eiKoIA— Gameweek 38 🏆 (@Gameweek38) March 26, 2018
How about everyone you bought for BGW31 who let you down? There's no shortage of candidates there...
🎓 ⚠️ WILDCARD ACTIVE ⚠️
Just expelled Wilson, Choupo, Richarlison & Mounié.
So Happy! pic.twitter.com/0B2mFYWfRt— FPL School (@fplschool) March 17, 2018
Top of the League
Kevin Fahy's renamed Repeal Madrid stay top of the Official Irish Examiner League this week. The likes of Stanislas, Tosun and Firmino helped propel his Free Hit team into the world's top 100 with an impressive 114 points.
It as you were in the top three, with Eoin O'Brien and Seamus O'Dowd leading the chasing pack.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved