In his storied career as a professional footballer, a certain striker from Sweden has been consistent about one thing - Zlatan does what Zlatan wants.
Apparently, what Zlatan wants to do is troll the entire FPL community.
When the double gameweek fixtures for Round 34 were confirmed, the first thought in the vast majority of manager's heads was, "Right, well I have to have Zlatan that week". It made all the sense in the world at the time, and continued to right up until about 12 hours ago. Manchester United squeezed past Anderlecht in the Europa League but just as time was winding down, Zlatan suffered a knee injury. He was able to exit without need for a stretcher, but the preliminary prognosis for him is that it is a season-ending injury. For certain, he is not starting two games in Week 34. Maybe news on Zlatan will be more positive with an update later on Friday, but even in the best case scenario, he's no longer an essential figure for the gameweek. In fact, having bought him last week, I am considering dropping him for a hit. In fact, it's all but certain I will. I am just going to wait until the last minute before I make a move.
It was a comedy of errors leading up to this moment. Last Saturday morning, I was happy to see Wilfried Zaha did not go up in price the night before, which meant I could make the transfer I had planned with just enough funds. So I go the transfer page, bring Zaha in and...I am 0.1m short. Reason? James Morrison, the 5th mid in my side who I dropped for Zaha, went down 0.1 that same previous night. So that "forced" me to go with a second option in Andros Townsend - a pill made less bitter for me to swallow after seeing him in the Eagles' XI for Week 33. After getting burned by the Morrison price drop, I carefully monitored the price of Townsend and Morrison, with the objective of waiting until the last possible moment to make the transfer. Last night, before I went to sleep, i checked the transfer movement and saw that Townsend was in the "+70% to a rise" area, and I got nervous. What if there was a surge in Townsend purchases while I am asleep and I wake up the next day locked out of my plan? I wouldn't forgive myself. Keep in mind, I am hours ahead of Europe, so I went to sleep right about when United's EL tie kicked-off. One last thing before bedtime, I brought in Townsend. I looked at my side and nodded my head in affirmation - THIS "was" a sick Week 34 XI....
Heaton; Baines, Ward (x2); King, Townsend (x2), Son, Alli, Alexis; Lukaku, Kane, Ibrahimovic (x2) - All Out Attack chip active.
All that without taking a points hit, maxing out my bank (105.7m in squad, 0.0 in bank), and working my way around a bad week for 3 of my defenders - Nyom (blank GW), Amat (doesn't get pitch time anymore, simply an enabler) and Yoshida (away to Chelsea, not an attractive fixture but at least provides one bench option should a surprise absence in the XI occur). But Zlatan had to go and ruin a "perfect" looking team. Now, I will spend four points to replace Zlatan, it will be for someone who costs nearly 5m less, so all that cash is in the bank instead of in my team, and I am left with a dilemma for captain choice. I cannot really opt for a defender and just bench Zlatan. With no money in the bank, and only Nyom or Amat serving as realistic options to drop, there isn't a viable option for me which I can afford with the possible exception of George Friend.
In essence, this is a sham of a double gameweek. Only three clubs have it. One gets Tottenham for their second game - not exactly a friendly matchup for fantasy hauls, the other has the Manchester derby along with a trip to the fortress that is Turf Moor. Well, Middlesbrough presents a kinder set of opponents - Bournemouth and Sunderland, two clubs capable of shipping three goals in a match to no one's surprise - BUT, it's Middlesbrough, and they have the weakest, least dependable attack for fantasy production in the league.
In the FPL desert, we are starved for points. There appears to be an oasis just up ahead for Week 34, with three clubs on the double, but it is merely a mirage. Will there be a player or two who scores huge from the double gameweek? Naturally. But, you just get the sense it will come from unlikely-to-somewhat-unlikely sources. I can see Palace keeping an unexpected clean sheet while James Tomkins heads in two goals and gets the max bonus in another. Or Marouane Fellaini turns back the clock four years and scores three goals over United's two contests. You just know it will be something like that. After all, this is the Premier League, where the unexpected should be everyone's expectation.
That's enough hullabaloo from me. Let's get down to business for Week 34...
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TO HAVE AND TO HOLD
So now it is time to look at the players to think about ahead of Week 4. As a reminder, there are four categories of players which I feel are worth mentioning week to week when making decisions about transfers....
1) Players to buy
2) Players to sell
3) Players to hold onto
4) Players to avoid buying
I will also include later in the section, my top choices for the captain's armband. While I will consider every player from A to Z, it is pretty hard to look past the A (Aguero) or the Z (Zlatan).
Right, so let's dive in...
*Just as a reminder, keepers should always be the last position to think about using transfers for, unless there is an urgent need. So, when you see who I have listed here, bear in mind that my keeper advice does not carry as much weight as the outfield positions.
Player to buy: David de Gea - The keeper situation is unclear for Middlesbrough, so it's between Palace and Man United for a double gameweek keeper. If money is no object, I lean de Gea, mostly due to United's recent result against Chelsea. That said, Wayne Hennessey is not a bad choice either, though keeper would be the last area of the pitch I look at for exploiting this particular double gameweek.
Player to sell: Thibaut Courtois - He missed the match against United last weekend. Even if he is OK for Southampton, it has been ages since Courtois kept a clean sheet. 10 gameweeks to be exact.
Player to hold: Artur Boruc - Between now and Week 37 - no club has a better set of fixtures that does NOT feature a double gameweek than the Cherries. Home to Middlesbrough, Stoke and Burnley in three of the next four weeks, with a trip to Sunderland thrown in for good measure. I'd keep Boruc despite Bournemouth averaging three goals conceded over the last three weeks.
Player to avoid: Victor Valdes/Brad Guzan - Valdes' fitness is touch and go recently and there is too much uncertainty heading into a double gameweek for a position that should have 100% certainty.
Player to buy: Ben Gibson - In a double gameeek rife with questionable investments, Gibson seems the safest player to bring in, certainly from the defender position. Boro has kept two clean sheets in their last four, and Gibson nabbed 2 bonus points in each of those contests. Boro's success hinges on defending and the second match of Boro's double, home to Sunderland, looks the strongest clean sheet odds for any fixture among the double gameweek clubs.
Player to sell: West Brom defenders - The only club with a blank, it seems an obvious decision here. Helping the choice though, is that there is little reason to keep a Baggie defender around for their double gameweek in Round 37. They get Chelsea at home, then Man City away that week, hardly appealing for clean sheet hunters.
Player to hold: Hull defenders - A bit alarming to ship three to Stoke as the Tigers did last weekend but hey, half of the back four got in the points, with Harry Maguire scoring from an Andrea Ranocchia assist. Home to Watford and Sunderland two of the next three weeks, there is bound to be points among Hull defenders, whether attacking or defending.
Player to avoid: Patrick van Aanholt - van Aanholt is a fantasy darling. If he had been fit for some time heading into this gameweek, I would be all over him. But, he only returned from an injury that kept him out for over a month last week, appearing as a sub. His pitch time for Week 34 is simply too risky, especially when Palace have another attack-minded left back available in Jeffrey Schlupp.
Player to buy: Wilfried Zaha/Andros Townsend - Zaha makes the "buy" choice out of the midfield for the third week running, and it has all been because of good form and building up to this double gameweek. Townsend makes for a fine alternative though. I allowed my bank to make the choice for me (Townsend) but just be sure to have at least one of these two in your midfield this week.
Player to sell: Theo Walcott - Walcott caught fire in Weeks 30 and 31, scoring in each match, but has since seen an early substitution in Week 32 and no appearance to speak of last week.
Player to hold: Josh King - There's a reason you held him for last week's tough matchup, away to Spurs. Now, despite a single gameweek for Bournemouth, they are at home to Middlesbrough and King is the best bet for the Cherries to get attacking returns. Just amazing value these last several weeks.
Player to avoid: Ander Herrera - A goal and an assist against Chelsea last weekend, Herrera would certainly come into thinking ahead of a double gameweek with a very affordable price tag. I worry though, with the options Jose Mourinho has in midfield, and Herrera coming back from an injury just a couple weeks ago, that Herrera only starts one of the two. That and, while having shown the ability to deliver assists on occasion, last week was his first league goal of the season.
Player to buy: Marcus Rashford - Three goals in his last three matches across all competitions, so the form is there. Will he start both games of the double, given his long shift on Thursday night? Well, there is no guarantee. But, he will surely start one and, at minimum, make an appearance in the other. This is a short term buy, but remember, everything is short term at this stage of the season, especially if you are still holding your wildcard. So the investment has enough potential to risk a short-term buy. Benteke is a fine, clear alternative. However, Palace also have a couple of legit options in midfield while United...not so much.
Player to sell: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - No need to hold him. His double gameweek appeal had vanished and United's fixtures coming up for the run-in are really tough. It is worth a 4 point hit to roll the dice on another option.
Player to hold: Romelu Lukaku - He eclipsed 200 points for the season with another goal last week. Like that rotisserie grill machine thing I remember being sold on an old info-mmerical, when it comes to Lukaku - Set it and Forget it.
Player to avoid: Alvaro Negredo - I could sit here and tell you all the single gameweek strikers to avoid buying, but what good does that do? Negredo has potential as does any DGW option, but I simply cannot trust the Middlesbrough attack. They make bad opposing defenses look good. It's Rashford or Benteke for me.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
1) Christian Benteke
2) Wilfried Zaha
3) Harry Kane
4) Marcus Rashford
5) Andros Townsend
That's it from me this week folks. Please, bear in mind much can change between the publishing of this column and the FPL deadline Saturday. Remember, some injuries are not revealed until just before the deadline. Always try to refrain from executing your transfers for as long as possible to avoid wasting it on a player who turns out to have had a problem in training. That said, if you only have just enough money for the player you are looking to bring in and that player is at risk of rising in price, then sometimes you need to take a calculated risk and hope the fantasy gods will be kind to you.
Good luck, and may your arrows be green.