As we move into the first Gameweek of the most hectic period of the year – with 4 Gameweeks in little over a week – it’s time to look at the captain picks again. I go for an all midfielder line-up for the second successive week.
1. Kevin de Bruyne (vs BOU H)
Why de Bruyne?
With most of the top teams having fixtures with varying difficulty, there’s only one team which have a genuine plum fixture. To make things easier, it’s also the team which have scored 8 in their last 2, and a remarkable 56 in 18 this season – Man City. It’s hard to look past a City asset this week. My top choice amongst the lot is the only constant amongst Pep Guardiola’s madness of rotation – Kevin de Bruyne. Indeed, de Bruyne has started every single league game so far. To put that into context, no other City midfielder or forward has done so.
de Bruyne has been playing himself into some form lately. The Belgian maestro, with 113 points, is the 2nd highest points scorer in the game, and at 25.5% ownership, the highest owned City asset. It’s his recent form that makes him all the more attractive as a pick. de Bruyne has scored 3 and assisted 1 in the last 5, with his only blank coming against the meanest defense in the league – Man Utd. He has also picked up 3 10+ point hauls during the same period. That’s one of de Bruyne’s best assets. With his consistency, he has a low floor. And with how good he is with bonus points, even a singular goal is usually a 10-point haul.
He’ll fancy his chances against a Bournemouth side, who are again beginning to become embroiled in a relegation battle. The Cherries have had their fair share of defensive problems this season. Those problems were perhaps best underlined last week, as Liverpool thrashed them 4-0 on their own patch. The worst thing was, that they were lucky not to go for 7 or 8. They’ve conceded 15.1 shots per game this season, only second to Burnley. And they haven’t had the best of times at the Etihad Stadium either – their 2 previous meetings here have seen them lose 5-0 and 4-1. Terrifyingly, those were sides which didn’t have a patch on this City juggernaut.
If you don’t own de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, or whatever other City player you own is a worthy alternative. However, the reason I went for de Bruyne over say the in-form Sterling, is the security that he’ll start. We’ve learnt it well enough in the past season and a half never to second guess Pep Guardiola. The last time people thought Sterling was a top captain pick was against Burnley home. He had been hooked off early in the mid-week Champions League game, while Sane played 90 minutes. Defying thought, Sterling did not get a minute in that fixture while Sane played 90 again. If you own de Bruyne and Sterling, go for the safer pick. If you captain Sterling, choose your vice captain carefully.
2. Mohamed Salah (vs ARS A)
Although on paper, Arsenal away might seem a difficult fixture, but for Liverpool, it’s not. The last 4 meetings between the two sides have seen the Reds score 13 goals – 4-0, 3-1, 4-3, 3-3. You can expect goals in this game, and you can expect Salah, this season’s top goalscorer, to be at the forefront again. With Liverpool knocked out of the Carabao Cup, hence getting a rest mid-week, and in an important game for their top 4 hopes, you can expect him to escape Klopp’s rotation for this one.
Salah’s form is perhaps next to none. The Egyptian winger has 135 points for the season, highest by a considerable margin. His form has been scarily consistent, yet explosive. He has scored 10 goals and 2 assists in his last 10 games, blanking only once in this period. Salah has also returned 4 double digit hauls in this period, showing that he’s just as explosive as consistent. His big game pedigree is undoubted too – he’s scored 3 goals in 5 encounters against last season’s top 6. The ones which he did not score in saw him hooked off at half time, while the other saw an inspired David de Gea deny him. Salah, with 8 goals away from home, is also the top away goal scorer.
Klopp’s men to tend to stand up better in the bigger games. In general, they perform better against sides who don’t park the bus, and leave them with space on the counter. Arsenal, at home, eagerly in search for 3 points to reinforce their top 4 hopes, will do just that. This is perhaps why this fixture has historically yielded so many goals too. It seems like Salah will also be up against Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who seems to be Wenger’s left-back of choice in a 4 at the back. Although he’s done alright so far, a rookie, who had 2 minutes of Premier League experience before last Wednesday up against the most fearsome winger in the league – scary stuff.
If you don’t own de Bruyne/Sterling/Sane/Aguero, it can’t really get safer than Salah. He’s owned by 57.8% of all teams. The outfielder with the next highest ownership is Kane, 19% behind at 38.8%.
3. Paul Pogba (vs LEI A) – Differential Punt
As the differential punt for this week, I’m going for Pogba. Although he may not have any form per se, coming off a 3-game suspension – he’s kept his consistency throughout the season. In the 8 games he’s played this season, he’s only failed to deliver twice. A longer hiatus previously – 8 weeks due to a hamstring injury – didn’t deter him either. He returned from his injury with a 13 point haul against Newcastle, and got a goal and 4 assists in 4 games before his suspension. The Frenchman has also galvanised Man Utd when he has played. The Red Devils have scored 24 goals in 8 games with Pogba – a goals per game close to Man City’s – and only 15 in 10 without. He marked his return to action with an assist midweek against Bristol City.
Although Leicester have done okay so far under Claude Puel, their defensive issues are clear to see. They’ve conceded 6 in their last 3, with the most scathing indictment coming last week – a 3-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace, a side that had scored a grand total of 0 away goals previously. They’ve conceded 14.7 shots per game this season – only lower than Burnley and Bournemouth. The Foxes have had troubles at home as well, conceding 13.4 shots per game at the King Power Stadium – again third highest, only lower than Bournemouth and Swansea. They’ve not found it easy against the Red Devils either, losing each of their last 3 encounters against them – 4-1, 2-0, and their last match-up at the King Power ending in a 3-0 defeat.
Although Pogba is definitely a hail Mary captaincy pick at 11.2% ownership – what’s a differential punt if not that?