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After a few recent, quiet games a bandwagon of “BruNOT!” began to roll with regard to the captaincy in FPL. A similar “NoMo!” bandwagon had already careered out of the village and is currently being fished slowly out of the river. This challenge to orthodox FPL captaincy thinking was highlighted last week in Episode 20, “Relentless”, of the excellent FPL Black Box podcast where, 57 minutes in, Az and Mark were pondering Manchester City’s recent absolute refusal to concede a goal, moving Az to suggest,
“With captaincy, you’re looking for reliability. If you captained a player who got 6/7 points every week for the season, I think you’d take that because we get so many blanks… If you’d captained Dias every week for the last 7 or 8 weeks your rank would be soaring.”
Well, this raised our eyebrows to the point where the ceiling was in structural danger and we rushed to the nearest spreadsheet to consider this proposal. Bruno Fernandes has the most Hauls (10+ points) of any FPL asset this season with 9 from his first 21 games. If you’re looking for ultimate consistency, he’s also got the most Returns (5+ points) with 13 from 21 games. So looking retrospectively at the season so far he was clearly the best captaincy option in any theoretical gameweek, either for getting a big score or as a safe option. Obviously, gameweeks aren’t theoretical, and he would have been a pretty lousy choice in GW1 when his team didn’t have a fixture, but you see what we’re getting at.
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Ruben Dias didn’t play for Manchester City until GW4 and from then until GW21 he scored 97 points. Over the same period Fernandes collected 148. Dias matched Bruno for Returns (5+ points) over that period with twelve, but the key difference was in the Hauls of 10+ points – Dias got only one while Fernandes got eight, the most of any asset in FPL. That lone Haul for Dias came in double GW19 when he scored 11 and 7. A City team-mate also got their only Haul that week with a 6 and a 7 for a total of 13. That same player, like Dias and Fernandes, also amassed exactly a dozen returns since GW4 and scored only 6 fewer points than Dias over that 18 gameweek stretch, but I doubt many FPL managers will suggest captaining Ederson regularly unless Pep finally does put him on penalties.
Since October, the only thing that has been deemed more inevitable every single week in FPL circles than Dias scoring from a set-piece has been Cancelo getting a big score from all those crosses, through balls and touches in the box. And yet… he has exactly the same number of Hauls as Dias. And Ederson. Just the one. He swerved the DGW19 jamboree thanks to a 19 minute cameo in the 4-0 dismissal of Crystal Palace, but made up for it a week later with a 17 pointer from the 5-0 rout of West Brom.
Then he was left out entirely against Sheffield United, played just long enough at Burnley to get his clean sheet and finally got the full 90 at Anfield but in that period has not added to his… checks notes… one goal and two assists over the whole season. A mere 25 (TWENTY-FIVE) defenders have scored more goals than Cancelo this season (including John Stones) while 13 have more assists and another baker’s dozen have the same including Matt Cash, Alex Telles and Darnell Furlong. Since first appearing in GW5, Cancelo has scored a total of 92 FPL points.
So, looking at the first half of the season as a whole, captaining Cancelo equals captaining Dias equals captaining Ederson but any of those is a much less good choice as a strategy than captaining Bruno Fernandes. Or, indeed, Mo Salah. Or Patrick Bamford. But something has definitely wobbled the faith of experienced FPL managers in the standard ‘captain a Big Hitter’ approach, as Mark explained:
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“I always look at the captaincy and go, ‘Who is the most likely to get double figures?’. I never say, ‘Who’s going to get me 6 points? It might be the wrong approach…'”
What seems to have been the catalyst for these shadows of doubt? Across GWs 15-20 Salah ‘blanked’ every time and Fernandes had three ‘blanks’ out of four through more or less the same period. While Mo and Bruno spent a month bringing in 3 points per gameweek, defenders in Birmingham, East London, Leeds and across Manchester were laughing in the face of their opponents’ puny attacking efforts and often adding an assist, a goal, or a triple bonus to their FPL booty. Individual gameweek setbacks can sting, but, when precious double points go begging for the fourth or fifth time in quick succession, the appeal of a safe harbour is naturally very strong. Could captaining a defender consistently, especially an attacking one, ever be a wise option?
Over on the ScoutCast (number 364), guest Josh was thinking back to last year’s dominant Liverpool rearguard and especially its flying fullbacks, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. TAA scored 210 FPL points last season bringing back 21 Returns and 8 double figure Hauls. He was the highest scoring defender in the game and the four players that outpaced him were all midfielders: De Bruyne, Salah, Aubameyang and Mané. Andy Robertson got even more Returns than Trent, his 24 being the most of anybody in the whole game with Alexander-Arnold’s 21 making him equal second alongside KDB, Mané and Raul Jiménez. Nevertheless, that optimal consistency still left Robertson 29 points behind Trent’s total as Robertson could only turn a Return into a Haul on one, solitary occasion.
Whatever may happen in one or two isolated gameweeks, it seems to be an inescapable fact of FPL life that there will always be some attackers who can keep pace with the 5+ point Returns of the most impressive defender or goalkeeper over a handful of fixtures and then gradually accelerate away from them thanks to the assists, goals and bonuses that bring the double digit Hauls. Except, very occasionally, when a defender has a season like Trent Alexander-Arnold in 2019/20 that matches all but the top two or three attackers because he is effectively playing and scoring like one of them (15 assists and 4 goals in Trent’s case). The odd set-piece header from a centre back is always welcome, but isn’t going to cut it in terms of long term captaincy even if you’re only conceding one goal every two months. But Az did make one specific point that we still haven’t properly addressed:
“… If you’d captained Dias every week for the last 7 or 8 weeks your rank would be soaring.”
City had no fixture in GW16, but from GW17 to the end of GW22, the last before Az was speaking, Dias’s returns for each gameweek were 2, 18, 7, 6, 8, 6, a total of 47 points. Over that specific period that gives Dias the equal second highest total FPL points, jointly with John Stones and 1 ahead of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. After that comes James Maddison on 45 and then Bruno Fernandes, joint sixth with West Brom’s Matheus Pereira on 42. Joao Cancelo comes in 9th with 39 points, one place and one point behind Tomas Soucek.
So there is some truth in Az’s assertion. Captaining Dias across those specific gameweeks would have been the (equal) second best choice you could have made, albeit by pretty thin margins. Over that period the leading defenders have their noses inches ahead of a posse of high scoring midfielders with eight FPL points blanketing all eight of them.” Choosing Fernandes instead of Dias would have left you worse off in this specific set of games, but only by 5×2 points and this is while Bruno was having his worst run since he came into the league and Dias was hitting the heights.”
And we still haven’t mentioned who was top. Of course, it was a midfielder. Ilkay Gundogan to be precise who was eight points clear of Dias and Stones on 55. Across any reasonable stretch of games it appears you can always find at least one attacker who will be outscoring the leading defender, though it may not always be one of the established Big Hitters. As Mark wisely said in the Black Box podcast,
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“Don’t let price skew our thinking too much.”
So, although a buccaneering defender can top the captaincy charts in a particular gameweek, over a block of games we should always be looking to captain that prize attacker with consistency of Returns but also with the potential to Haul. As Gundogan is showing, their recent track record might be an even better guide to what they’ll do in the next game or two than their historic exploits. Some readers will know that at the start of this season I wrote an article analysing the 19/20 campaign’s data to build a simple system for identifying elite FPL transfer targets based on three criteria – the ABC criteria as we call them – which are as follows:
A) Get Returns (5+ FPL points) in at least three of their team’s six most recent matches
B) Get a Haul (10+ FPL points) in at least one of their team’s six most recent matches
C) Play at least 410 of the available 540 minutes
Those criteria could be used to give you a shortlist within your FPL squad for your captaincy choice in any given week, though you’ll obviously need more information to make your final decision such as is any player an inury doubt or a rotation prospect and which players (if any) have a double or blank gameweek. You’ll likely also be interested in the strength of their opposition. In another article I proposed a system of Tiers to classify teams according to their recent defensive and attacking performances and the latest Tier rankings will be posted on my Twitter account @statto99 in good time for the next gameweek deadline.
The current ABC criteria list for each FPL position, updated after the end of GW23, is presented below. For each position you can see the number of Returns (5+ points) for each listed player across their team’s most recent six matches. Those shown in their team colours also have at least one Haul (10+ points) in that run of games and if your captain choice regularly comes from a player meeting the ABC criteria as the season progresses we hope it will help make captaincy decisions more of a success and less of a trial.
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