Five talking points ahead of Gameweek 12 as FPL breaks free from international breaks
It's as easy as 123 for fantasy managers with a solid four months to expire until the next international break from the Premier League.
Ahead of Gameweek 12, these are the main issues facing FPL bosses as we look forward to the upcoming busy winter schedule as international fixtures take an extended break:
Another international break, another lesson not to make transfers early. However, managers (including myself) can be forgiven for jumping the gun due to the rapidly rising price of one Eden Hazard (now £10.1m).
The star of the show in Chelsea's 5-0 demolition of Everton, the Belgian is easily the most transferred-in player ahead of GW12 with nearly 240,000 new owners. This would likely be well over half a million if it weren't for not one but two injury scares for the forward during the international break.
Having replaced Manchester City star Kevin de Bruyne with a half hour left during a friendly against Holland last Wednesday week, Hazard suffered a heavy tackle which seemed to leave the diminutive winger in pain. However, it was quickly known that no real injury was sustained:
Then, much to the annoyance of FPL bosses, former Everton manager Roberto Martinez decided to risk Hazard in a World Cup qualifier against minnows Estonia. Sure enough, the 28.4%-owned midfielder had to be replaced in the 73rd minute after sustaining a more serious-looking knock:
Afterwards, Martinez described it as "just a knock on the calf", though conflicting reports on the nature and seriousness of the injury mean Antonio Conte's press conference ahead of Chelsea's trip to Middlesbrough on Sunday is highly anticipated as we strive for confirmation on the status of FPL's highest-scoring player. This tweet from the man himself, however, looks promising:
Meanwhile, both Alexis Sanchez owners and sellers (as well as Arsenal fans, of course) endured a torrid international break as injury reports ranged from six hours to six weeks. In the end, Sanchez missed a Chile friendly last week with a hamstring injury but starred against Uruguay, netting a brace over 84 minutes of playing time to hand La Roja three points.
Today, Arsene Wenger was quite coy on Sanchez's chances of playing, with Arsenal set to assess him tomorrow morning before the manager picks his squad. The Frenchman has said the "honesty of the player" is essential when considering the "risk" of playing him. Sanchez would likely play against Manchester United on one leg if he was picking the team so unless travel worsens his injury, he seems more likely to feature in than sit out the Old Trafford clash:
The enduring lesson from all of this is that it's almost always better to hold off on international break transfers until the players get back to the UK, though it all depends on which you value more: rapidly evaporating £0.1m's or peace of mind.
No fixtures blues for Chelsea
Chelsea's aforementioned five-star performance against Everton at Stamford Bridge answered a growing question that was asked ahead of GW11 - are the Blues fixture proof?
Conte's charges answered with a resounding ‘YES’ as they tore through a previously solid-looking Everton defence. Ronald Koeman was without midfielder/Duracell bunny Idrissa Gueye, a loss which he compounded into a grave mistake by attempting to match Chelsea with a 3-4-3 formation of his own.
The result was an absolute hiding as the Londoners ate the Toffees for dinner, as FPL managers quickly moved for Chelsea assets across the positions.
Again, international injuries struck as Diego Costa left the Spain squad last week with a suspected groin injury. However, an extremely well-followed Blues account on Twitter reckons that the Premier League's top scorer is likely to feature at the Riverside Stadium:
Not surprised that #Chelsea think Diego Costa will be fit for Boro. Injury blown out of porpotions to sell stories, it's been ridiculous.— Chelsea HQ (@Chelsea_HQ) November 11, 2016
Again, Conte's press conference will be essential to fantasy planning. If both Hazard and Costa do feature, there are certain to be more injury sweats over the busy Christmas period as the deadly duo unsurprisingly make up the top three most-fouled players in the division:
Most fouls suffered in the Premier League so far this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 12, 2016
J.Allen (25) pic.twitter.com/caQFI7eesc
The captaincy conundrum
Following GW12 is another round of Champions League fixtures which always lead to doubts over the minutes of top FPL assets, particularly strong captaincy contenders. With Leicester City and Tottenham assets struggling to break into the thoughts of FPL bosses, it is Sergio Aguero and the aforementioned Sanchez who will cause the most headaches before this Saturday's 11.30am deadline (and a few after that, too).
City, after an inspirational victory against Barcelona last time out, travel to Germany to face Borussia Monchengladbach. Pep Guardiola's side sit three points ahead of their opponents - a victory will secure the Citizens' spot in the next round. Meanwhile, the already-qualifed Arsenal host Paris Saint-Germain in a tie that will almost definitely decide which side finishes atop the group.
Aguero is a certainty to play on Wednesday, then, while Arsenal can ill-afford to risk finishing second in Group A. However, the Argentine striker only played 45 minutes of friendly international football over the break as he gears up to face a Crystal Palace side without a clean sheet so far this season. Sanchez's possible issues ahead of Saturday's early kick-off have been well documented, so Aguero looks the safer option if you are deciding between the South American pair for the armband.
With Chelsea's two star FPL men also injury worries, safe captaincy options for GW12 are thin on the ground. Could Romelu Lukaku be the answer as Everton look to forget their Stamford Bridge beating by piling more misery on Swansea and Bob Bradley at Goodison Park?
Lean, Red, goalscoring machine
Of course, after putting six goals past a sorry Watford at Anfield in GW11, Liverpool attackers must also be considered in the armband debate. Of the three contenders, Roberto Firmino clocked just eight minutes over the break as a substitute in Brazil's friendly win over Argentina, while compatriot Philippe Coutinho played the majority of both Selecao games.
Sadio Mane played a full 90 in Senegal's only match of the break (a 2-1 loss to South Africa) as he returned to Melwood early. Adam Lallana, meanwhile, could feature against his old side though owners have every right to be worried:
It will take a brave manager to captain a Reds attacker in what looks a tough away fixture, though Liverpool's goalscoring prowess against a Saints side that shipped two goals to Hull City last time out should mean points for owners of Anfield assets.
Another question asked here recently was whether or not doubling up on two of the above four Liverpool attackers was a viable tactic for the run up to Christmas - the spanking of Watford, added to a juicy fixture list devoid of any European trips, means double Liverpool cover in attack should continue to pay dividends.
A break from internationals
Rejoice! Over four months (123 days from today) to the next international break:
125 days until the next international break 🙌— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) November 15, 2016
125 days until the next International break. What a time to be alive.— Football Funnys (@FootballFunnys) November 15, 2016
Of course, with no international breaks come midweek fixtures and the dreaded Christmas rotation period where a playing squad of 15 is necessary for managers to navigate the hectic schedule. Still though, too much FPL is always better than no FPL, so good riddance to international fixtures for what will be an eventful few months in the Premier League.