Captain Picks

Jumpers for Goalposts
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There is one thing you can be certain of on the #fpl chat each week and that is people will always be debating who to pick as their captain each week.

PremierFantasyTools posted a tweet recently showing the most successful FPL managers last season in terms of points collected from their captain picks. Jan Sienkiewicz picked up an amazing 657 points from his captain picks, which works out at an average of 17.3 points each week!

He took time out from his schedule this week to catch up with me and we discussed how he managed to nail his captain picks so often last season and what strategy he has when it comes to picking who to give the armband to.

Firstly, how did you do overall last season?

I finished the 2019/20 season 67th worldwide, as well as 1st in Poland. It was my 7th season playing Fantasy Premier League and even though my previous rankings had been respectable and consistent (43k, 33k and 51k in the three seasons beforehand), there has always been an element in my game that halted my progress.

I believe that a large part of last season’s improvement and success came down to my captaincy picks. Out of the 2,485 points I gained in the last campaign, a whooping 26% of them were scored by my captains! It goes to show that despite all the new chips in the game the captaincy still remains a key aspect of Fantasy Premier League strategy.

Were you aware you were getting good returns from your captains most weeks?

When I learned about the number of points from my captains I was definitely pleasantly surprised. I was obviously aware that my team was doing well as a whole, but I certainly didn’t realize that captaincy played such a pivotal role in this success.

There were some standout picks that have been stuck in my mind, particularly Aguero away to Villa in GW22 (40pts). Perhaps such fond memory comes down to the fact that Kun was barely owned by anyone at that time as – if I remember correctly – he was just coming back from an injury and there were doubts over his minutes. Taking that risk, however, paid off handsomely. People either struggled or hesitated to buy him for the next fixture as well (Palace at home), in which I captained him once again and he rewarded me with another haul (26pts in a 2-2 draw).

Even though it wasn’t Aguero’s best season in general, the decision to bring him in before (avl CRY) and captain him for both fixtures when his ownership was at an all-time low, turned out to be a season-defining moment for me as I moved from 5,405th to 262nd place in only two weeks.

What’s your approach when it comes to picking your capt? What do you take into consideration?

I decided to highlight my decision to captain Aguero because it’s a great example to show the thought-process behind some of my captaincy picks over the season.

Points scored by player

First of all, I always look at the fixture list and start from there. I am not a hardcore adherent of the “fixtures over form” theory; however, if there is a premium player in my team with an easy match I will always consider him for the armband – even if he hasn’t been in outstanding form in previous weeks. This is reflected in the teams I captained my players against throughout the season:

Opposition ClubTimes Captain
Brighton & Hove Albion6
West Ham5
Crystal Palace2
Aston Villa2
Sheffield United1

As presented above, I have been usually targeting:
1. Teams that were experiencing defensive struggles throughout the season
2. Teams that are known for trying to play an attacking style of football that’s easy on the eye even in tougher fixtures, which often results in heavy losses.

There has been one common characteristic of Graham Potter’s Brighton, Pellegrini’s West Ham and Farke’s Norwich – I could ALWAYS trust them not to park the bus in bigger games. I can’t stress enough how important it is to try and predict the way in which a football match is going to develop rather than just look at the red/green colours on the fixture difficulty rating.

Following this train of thought, I was never tempted to captain a player against Burnley and only did so twice against Crystal Palace and once against Sheffield United. Managers like Dyche, Hodgson and Wilder have built their reputation on rock solid defences and they will rarely ask their players to open up when losing 0-1 or 0-2. Those are the type of teams that I hardly ever target with my captains.

Moving on, let’s have a look at some of the key GW22 fixtures:
Tottenham v Liverpool
Aston Villa v Man City
Leicester v Southampton

I did own Mohammed Salah at that time – however, he was never an option for me in GW22 because of the reasons presented above. I expected this game to be a tight affair given Mourinho’s tactics and it turned out to be one, as Liverpool edged a narrow 1-0 victory.

Prior GW22 I had a big decision to make as Harry Kane got injured and Jamie Vardy was the prime replacement candidate – or the most popular one, anyway.

However, I decided against buying Vardy for a number of reasons. First of all, I believed that the hype around his Southampton fixture was by far over the top. The 9-0 demolition from earlier in the season was still fresh in people’s mind, but at that moment in time the Saints’ defensive form was on the up, while Leicester were beginning to struggle offensively. Another factor that many FPL managers overlooked was Southampton’s motivation to get revenge – which they did in the end by winning 2-1.

This felt like the perfect moment to trust a hot Manchester City team who were visiting a defensively struggling Aston Villa side. I believed that the upside of captaining Aguero was much higher given the ownership numbers and considering how I thought both games could pan out, despite the general feeling and advice around the FPL community that captaining anyone else than the Leicester striker would be unwise (narrator: it wasn’t)

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The lesson learned from that magnificent weekend was to always back myself when feeling strongly about how certain games may look like, as well as to keep trying to get ahead of the curve in weeks where there is one “standout” and most popular captaincy option who I have some doubts about.

For half the season you largely trusted either Salah and Sterling, how did you decide which to pick each week?

Indeed, I trusted those two the most with my captaincy over the season. Here are the exact numbers:

Includes Salah TC chip in GW16 vs Bournemouth

A vast majority of my captains were midfielders (71% of picks), which I believe is the most logical and sound tactic and it’s backed up by simple maths – an extra point for a goal and potentially a CS compared to forwards means they can get more points.

In the upcoming season there is a discussion to be had about the value of strikers, as some seem under priced this year and the Fantasy Premier League creators are certainly trying to bring the forwards back into contention by lowering their prices. However, the strikers will be still less relevant for me when looking at my options for the armband as nothing has changed in the points awarded for goals and CS category.

The 9 times I captained Salah I believe to be quite self-explanatory, as he’s the most prolific player in the best team in the country. Mo’s minutes have never been a problem and his selfishness is a thing of beauty for his FPL owners. Mohammed Salah has almost been a mainstay in my team, while Raheem Sterling is someone who I used to buy and sell depending on form. There are a few players in the league that are consistently inconsistent and I believe that one of them is Raheem Sterling. Getting rid of him in the right moments, mainly based on eye-test (as his stats will be always good given that he plays for the most attacking team in Europe), proved to be a solid tactic over the season. Whenever I felt that he’s getting back in form I didn’t hesitate to trust him with the armband, as his explosiveness is unmatched by anyone else in FPL.

Looks like you had some one game punts as captains, what made you decide to go for someone not one of your regular picks in those weeks?

Sometimes I just fancied a change, especially in gameweeks where most of the top teams were playing each other. Rather than trying to predict a match that I was seriously uncertain about I would just pick someone with a favourable fixture and high upside.

What was your reason for using your triple captain chip on Salah in GW16?

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Liverpool were facing a seriously struggling Bournemouth side and Salah was coming up against Diego Rico. Rarely do I feel so strongly about a fixture but I just expected a demolition from the Reds that day – I was in fact a bit disappointed to see them win only 3-0. The Triple Captain is a chip that doesn’t hold much value in my opinion, so I rarely bother to keep it for the Double Gameweeks as we often fail to get two favourable matches in the Double and our candidates rarely start both games anyway due to fixture congestion. Using the chip early on an easy fixture saves a lot of stress; I have done it with success for the second season running (Salah haul vs Cardiff in 18/19) and I may do it again next year.

One captain pick that stands out was Hudson-Odoi in GW9, can you explain that one?

Embed from Getty Images

I opted to buy and captain Hudson-Odoi vs Newcastle in GW9 because I was struggling to predict most of the key matches that week, including: Man United v Liverpool, Crystal Palace v Man City or Sheffield v Arsenal. I thought it would be difficult to nail a captain in any of those matches so I decided to bring in two Chelsea assets (Abraham and Hudson-Odoi) who had an easy fixture. I ended up captaining Hudson-Odoi because there were strong indications that he would start as a #10 and as I mentioned above, I usually try to go for a midfielder rather than a striker in 50/50 captaincy calls. His effective ownership was also close to 0% so I was hoping to make ground by giving him the armband. I scored 18 points from him in the end.

Finally, help us all out. Who is your capt pick for GW1 this season?

Mohammed Salah or Sadio Mane. They tick all the boxes, really. Liverpool will face a Leeds side that I trust to try and attack – last time I saw them against Arsenal in the cup they attempted to gain initiative and press high up the pitch away at the Emirates. If the ownership numbers stay as they are (Mane 12%, Salah 31%) and I end up with both in my team for GW1, then I will probably captain the Senegalese. There’s almost nothing between those two and in 50/50 calls I often give the armband to the less popular option. Either way, it will be one of the Liverpool midfielders.

Thanks for your time Jan and good luck for the season ahead. If you want to follow Jan on Twitter, click here: Jan Sienkiewicz

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