Albert Einstein once said: “in the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity”. Last week saw Fantasy Premier League managers given all the “opportunities” they could handle.
One by one, premium players that had become part of the furniture in our teams began dropping like flies - not that many of those left standing fared much better.
Gameweek 30 did see some outstanding performances from some players, however.
David Silva (MCI, 8.0) is now a clinical finisher, apparently. Kenedy (NEW, 4.7) finally turned all that attacking potential into points, and Heung-Min Son (TOT, 8.2) decided to start scoring away goals and became Tottenham’s star striker, all of a sudden.
Outstanding displays from Mkhitaryan, Mahrez and Wood all saw them enhance their reputations also. The problem with this tantalising array of stellar FPL options? Not one of them has a fixture to play in GW31.
That hasn’t stopped some FPL managers, with the likes of Son, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ARS, 10.5) and Romelu Lukaku (MUN, 11.3) already rising in price, despite their enforced absence until GW32.
🤕 With Kane and Aguero injured today, transfers in for Lukaku and Aubameyang are soaring...🛫
All of these players have a blank in Gameweek 31. None of these players have an FPL fixture until 30th March, which is three weeks away 🤦♀️ pic.twitter.com/P7bmkSHPox— Fantasy Football Community (@FFCommunity_) March 11, 2018
This has some FPL veterans scratching their heads, but rather than blaming clueless casuals, it’s likely that most of these are Free-Hitters who have successfully beaten the price rise. It’s still a risky strategy, but when those Free Hit teams revert to their natural state, those in-form players will be safely in place - and at a reasonable price, too.
Managers probably felt their hands were forced, as injuries to just two players suddenly threw the entire FPL landscape into disarray.
Replacing Kane and Aguero
FPL managers waited patiently for solid injury news, but in the end, it only confirmed what was widely expected - that Harry Kane (TOT, 12.8) will be out for quite some time.
Harry Kane is currently undergoing rehab after suffering an ankle ligament injury at Bournemouth last weekend. The England striker is targeting a return to action next month, potentially against Man City on April 14. #COYS pic.twitter.com/COvgpu3fW5— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) March 15, 2018
The #Kanexit train is leaving again, with many managers more than happy to jump on board this time. The Spurs marksman has frustrated as much as he has delighted this season, and although his replacement may well do the same - or worse - at least it will drain a little less of our precious transfer budget.
Although the surprise injury to Sergio Agüero (MCI, 11.8) is more short-term, the return of Gabriel Jesus, as well as the prospect of meaningless league games and pre-Champions League rest, means his value as an FPL asset was hanging by a thread as it was.
Managers who spotted this and were hoping to beat fellow Aguero owners to the punch by deploying Aubameyang as their secret weapon in GW32 have seen their plans scuppered. Suddenly, the market is awash with cash, and the Arsenal striker has become the default pick for that premium striker slot.
While some have gone for a big-money replacement (the sight of £5m in the bank can be too much to bear), others have taken the canny move of going for a GW31 striker before upgrading later.
Managers who have chosen not to use the Free Hit chip this week need to get a bit creative.
Going without the Free Hit chip
For those of us who have spent weeks carefully planning our transfer strategy to have a healthy contingent of players to field in BGW31, this is when it’s supposed to all pay off.
As it turns out, such has been the abject performances of some of the players expected to shine in 31, the best we can hope for is to claw back some of the points we could have scored if we’d simply ignored it.
Decided to make the sensible move and bring in Walcott over Mahrez. The last 5 mins (Walcott goal changed to OG, Mahrez goal added to his earlier assist) have been my season in a nutshell.— Always Cheating Fantasy Premier League (#FPL) (@hailcheaters) March 10, 2018
Double-figure hauls from Theo Walcott (EVE, 7.1) and Callum Wilson (BOU, 5.9) in GW25 convinced many to bring them in, before they both blanked in every Gameweek since.
Even Xherdan Shaqiri (STO, 6.4) seems to have gone off the boil.
Shaqiri has not managed a shot in his last 2 games.
Will Everton make it 3 in 3?
GW29❌March 14, 2018
A rare consensus in the FPL community has been to have three Liverpool players in place, but even that carries some risk.
The Reds have Champions League quarter-finals on the horizon, and although Klopp is unlikely to rotate much against Everton in GW33, their GW34 tie against Bournemouth is a concern. Players like Mo Salah (LIV, 10.6), Roberto Firmino (LIV, 9.5) and Andy Robertson (LIV, 4.9) in particular could have their minutes managed.
Those opting not to Free Hit at least have one weapon at their disposal - the “-2 hit”.
This concept basically states that if you’re replacing a non-playing player with one you expect to at least score two appearance points, you are, in effect, just take a -2 hit rather than a -4.
Managers who plan to wildcard straight afterwards can run wild with this mini-hit strategy, while others will have judge if they’re happy to keep each extra player for the medium or long term.
Be careful about taking a hit for a defender, though, this lot aren’t the best at keeping clean sheets.
Clean sheets for BGW31 teams this season
West Brom 7
Palace 5March 15, 2018
So despite the lack of fixtures, there could yet be some nihilistic thrills to be had in GW31.
There are inviting options - but some bear traps, too.
The GW31 Gamble
The freedom to make once-off punts can make FPL managers believe in a lot of things.
Seeing as Nathan Aké (BOU, 5.1) is the most transferred-in defender this week, the prospect of Bournemouth keeping what would be only their third clean sheet at home all season is apparently one of them.
Sure, they are playing West Brom, who haven’t scored in their last three away matches, but can The Cherries offer the resistance as Chelsea, Man City and an improved Watford home defence?
Further up the pitch, the likes of Josh King (BOU 7.0) and Junior Stanislas (BOU, 5.9) are better placed to exploit the Baggies brittle defence and return big scores.
Most goal attempts (shots inside the box) over the last 4 GWs of the midfielders:
1.) Stanislas - 16 (7)
2.) Salah - 14 (13)
3.) Mané - 14 (10)
4.) Mahrez - 13 (5)
5.) Pritchard - 12 (5)
6.) Eriksen - 12 (4)
7.) Son - 11 (8)
8.) Gudmundsson - 11 (6)March 13, 2018
Florent Hadergjonaj (HUD, 4.5) has been attracting some attention in the FPL community this week, as much for the brave efforts at pronouncing his name as the seven chances he created against Swansea.
It’s a stat that should be taken with a pinch of salt though - the Swiss created just three in his six games before that, and we’re unlikely to see Huddersfield play another match quite like this one for the rest of the season.
30 - Huddersfield attempted 30 shots vs Swansea City without scoring today, the most by a team without a goal in a Premier League game since Man Utd v Burnley (38 shots, 0 goals) in October 2016. Wayward. pic.twitter.com/IYBiVZmZBV— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 10, 2018
The potential return of Mamadou Sakho (CRY, 4.6) could make Palace defenders viable once more, in the shape of either Sakho himself or the attack-minded Patrick van Aanholt (CRY, 5.1). We’ve been here before, though.
Those planning using their Free Hit will never forgive themselves if they don't include Wilfried Zaha (CRY, 6.8) - a player so suited to this new chip it should be really just be named after him.
When it comes to captaincy, Mo Salah (LIV, 10.6) will probably break FPL records for the proportion of active managers giving him the armband, and who could blame them? He’s facing a team who have lost seven of their last eight away matches.
🧔🏻| Mo Salah (last six home games):
GW20 - 9 pts 🅰️🅰️🛡
GW21 - 14 pts ⚽️⚽️2️⃣
GW23 - 11 pts ⚽️🅰️1️⃣
GW26 - 15 pts ⚽️⚽️3️⃣
GW28 - 10 pts ⚽️🅰️
GW29 - 8 pts ⚽️🛡 pic.twitter.com/JGj7RXichz— Fantasy Football Community (@FFCommunity_) March 13, 2018
This, by its very nature, presents a golden opportunity for those brave enough to opt for a differential captain, though. Van Dyke, Mané, Mounie, Baines and Shaqiri all have the potential for double-figure returns for those who seize the opportunity.
Maybe that Einstein fella was on to something after all.
With all the ties being played on Saturday, Gameweek 31 will be over before you know it. But don’t let the excitement get the better of you - waiting until at least Monday night will give you more information about the upcoming fixtures.
Here's the schedule for next weekend.#BGW31 - All four fixtures are on Saturday afternoon.#BGW35 - All Blanks will be confirmed by 7pm on Sunday (drawn QFs go to ET and pens instead of replays).#DGW34 + #DGW37 - New dates for all of the Blanks could be announced on Monday. pic.twitter.com/7qx91osgAe— Ben Crellin (@BenCrellin) March 12, 2018
If you’re looking for one more GW31 player, now is the perfect window to bring Luka Milivojevic (CRY, 4.9) into your squad.
The Palace captain always has a penalty in his locker, and with the return of a player as clumsy in the box as Zaha, a few more could well be coming his way.
The only GW31 player to register a double-digit score last week, Leighton Baines (EVE, 5.6) could be a dark horse for the weeks ahead.
With Wayne Rooney off penalty duty and Gylfi Sigurdsson set for an extended absence, Baines' dead-ball deliveries raises his points potential considerably.
The Toffees could do with keeping a clean sheet now and again, but another leader like Seamus Coleman joining Baines from the treatment room, perhaps their new-look defence could manage it?
Alexis Sánchez (MUN, 11.6) and Paul Pogba (MUN, 7.6) have been completely out of sorts for United since the arrival of the Chilean at Old Trafford. Until Mourinho finds a way to get the best out them, they’re a liability in your FPL team.
Top of the League
A 66-point Gameweek might not sound like much, but on Gameweek 30 it was simply stellar, and enough to shoot Kevin Fahy’s Mayo Vallecano straight to the top of the Official Irish Examiner League. Unlikely heroes like Matt Ryan and Jamaal Lascelles made the difference, forcing long-time leader Eoin O'Brien back down to second place.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved