Returning to analyse the best FPL captain options for Gameweek 4, I strip this week’s debate to its bare, premium midfielder essentials. Once again, Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling battle it out for the chance to carry the burden.
Looking in-depth at their fixtures and underlying statistics, as well as digging up other useful data, I aim to help you come to an informed decision on who to captain in Fantasy Premier League Gameweek 4.
Mohamed Salah (£12.5m)
Burnley vs Liverpool
Just as he managed in the previous two seasons, Salah has contributed with four attacking returns in the opening three gameweeks. It’s a testament to his consistency that he’s the only player to have featured in all of my ‘captaincy analysed’ articles thus far.
Amazingly, more than 350,000 managers sold the third highest scoring midfielder in the game in preparation for Gameweek 3, a large number favouring Sadio Mane on their Wildcard. The logic is there, but it’s fairly short-sighted investing £12.5m in a player only to ditch them after two weeks, especially when some sellers had a two-transfer buy-back plan already in place.
Burnley away looks an easier fixture on paper than the one he just netted a brace in, although it has downsides. Unlike Arsenal, who dangerously attempted to pass it out from deep and overall encouraged an open game, Burnley will have no qualms with sending it into row Z if needed. They’re almost guaranteed to utilise a low block crowded with defenders.
This is exactly what Liverpool struggled to deal with versus Southampton, as Hasenhuttl set up with three combative midfielders in front of a flat back five to break up play out of possession. This was an extreme version, but it worked wonders in limiting Salah’s influence.
Although impacted by Liverpool’s efforts in the Super Cup in midweek, his numbers were evidently poor in the 78 minutes he played against Southampton. Hasenhuttl’s men were quick to double-up on Salah and suffocate his space and, as a result, he managed just one big chance, two penalty area touches, 0.45 xG and 0.02 xA.
When up against Arsenal the following week, he played in an identical position, but was awarded much more freedom to create and shoot. Compared to his frustrating afternoon at St Marys, the Egyptian managed three big chances, 11 penalty area touches, 1.56 xG and 0.47 xA.
He’s certainly a captaincy option this week, but it’s worth noting that the match which sparked the 350,000+ sale of Mohamed Salah in FPL looks like it’ll be similar to Gameweek 4’s fixture.
Like Southampton, who nullified Salah but shipped goals to Firmino and Mane, Dyche’s last match against Liverpool saw Salah’s colleagues benefit from the attention he received. Indeed, both Firmino and Mane grabbed a brace in their 4-2 win against the Clarets back in March.
In my opinion, it all comes down to your faith in Liverpool and Burnley. If you’re confident that Liverpool can score early on, opening up the game and the floodgates for more attacking returns, then go ahead. If they loosen them up early, there’s a good possibility of multiple returns.
However, if you have confidence in Burnley doing a job on Liverpool and absorbing the pressure with extremely limited possession until half-time, then one of the Man City assets might be a better option. There’s nothing worse than hitting that post 60 minute frustration and watching your FPL points dwindle away.
Mane and Firmino, as mentioned above, often profit from the defensive resources exerted on Salah. So if you’ve already sold him, this duo are next in line for captaincy alongside the Man City contingent who act as alternatives to Sterling.
There’s a reason Salah is given so much attention by the opposition, which is why he features as my first choice from Liverpool. But one thing is for sure; I wouldn’t advise looking beyond Liverpool and Man City for captaincy this week.
Raheem Sterling (£12.2m)
Man City vs Brighton
In the Salah section I mentioned “if you have confidence in Burnley doing a job on Liverpool and absorbing the pressure with extremely limited possession until half-time”. This is something I can’t see Brighton doing versus Man City, which is one of many reasons Sterling is on this list.
Although Graham Potter gave Pep Guardiola a scare in the FA Cup last season, it was more a case of going out all guns blazing rather than holding off the pressure. Then managing Swansea, his side scored two early goals, before Man City eventually found their feet to flip the game on it’s head.
Sterling didn’t find the net himself in that game, but he was a key figure in this match. After replacing Leroy Sane in the 58th minute, Man City went on to score a goal every 10 minutes thereafter (68th, 78th, 88th) to secure the win.
Potter will be aware of him, but there’s not much hope in stopping City these days. Since the start of the 2018/19 season, they have won 26 of their 29 matches at the Etihad, scoring 102 goals – an average of 3.5 per game.
Unlike Salah, there’s less of a reliance on the game playing out according to plan. Man City have been winning at half time and full time in their last four matches against Brighton, while Sterling has scored or assisted during the first 45 in four of their last five matches in all competitions.
These relentless returns are largely down to his hard work behind the scenes. Over the years and with the help of numerous managers, the most evident being Pep Guardiola, Sterling has transitioned from a creative winger who chips in with goals to an out-and-out goal scorer.
The improvements in his shot accuracy and conversion rate throughout the years is downright frightening for opposition defences and the more he finds the net, the more his confidence will increase. His 2019 conversion rate will likely drop as the season unfolds, but nowadays he goes into every match expecting to add to his tally, rather than wanting to.
Sterling leads the Premier League for penalty area touches (29), total big chances (7), shots inside the box (12) and expected goal involvement (3.66). All this, despite being classified as a midfielder and banking an additional two points for every goal and/or a clean sheet if you captain him versus Brighton.
Just like I said in my Gameweek 1 captaincy article regarding Salah at home to Norwich, if you have Sterling and don’t captain him at home to Brighton, you should really ask yourself why you own him in the first place.
If you don’t own Sterling at this stage, you need to try and work him into your squad quickly for obvious reasons. However, if there’s no route to do this ahead of GW4 without tearing up your squad or taking more than a -4 transfer penalty, De Bruyne and Aguero are solid alternatives for captaincy alongside Salah.
Gameweek 4 Bookies Dream Team