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09 Aug 2018 by Colm Hayes

FPL Gameweek 1 – Captain Picks

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The long-awaited return of Fantasy Premier League sees the almost-as-hotly-anticipated comeback of TSZ’s Captain Picks. Ahead of GW1, the burning question for many managers is ‘Mo Salah or No Salah’. With the help of the FPL community, we assess the Egyptian’s armband credentials along with four other options worthy of consideration before Friday’s 7.00pm deadline.

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Mohamed Salah (£13.0m) vs WHU (H)

With two goals and two assists since beginning pre-season on July 25, the 2017-18 FPL top scorer is showing no ill effects from the shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final.

The runaway captain poll leader, Salah comes up against Manuel Pellegrini’s new-look West Ham side. The Hammers have conceded eight goals in seven pre-season ties against a variety of opposition.

On Tuesday, Pellegrini said: “We need to improve our defending but we need creating players because for me, the best way to defend is to keep the ball. We bought Jack Wilshere (£5.0m), Felipe Anderson (£7.0m) and Andriy Yarmolenko (£7.0m) to do that."

While this makes the Hammers more attractive from an attacking point-of-view in FPL, it could play right into the hands of Liverpool’s pressing game. Apart from playing 4-4-2 with Chicharito (£6.5m) and Marko Arnautovic (£7.0m) up top in West Ham’s final pre-season game, Pellegrini has mainly implemented his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation.

Of course, pre-season is only a rough guide to teams’ prospects. But Pellegrini’s admission, combined with Salah’s showings so far, make the Egyptian an obvious captain choice for a gameweek where there is little reward to be had for taking a risk with the armband.

For those going without Salah (52.5% ownership at the time of writing), Sadio Mane (£9.5m) – who could be on penalties – and Roberto Firmino (£9.5m), who scored against Torino on Tuesday, are further solid captain picks in the Reds’ ranks.

Alexis Sanchez (£10.5m) vs LEI (H)

For managers who are taking a risk, Sanchez represents a calculated gamble. The Chilean played a decent amount of minutes at centre-forward over the summer, producing his pre-season total of two goals and one assist in that role.

Romelu Lukaku (£11.0m) returned to training on Monday but will feature for “20-25 minutes” at most. Marcus Rashford (£7.0m) is Sanchez’s main competitor for the striker’s role against Leicester on Friday night, in Jose Mourinho’s usual 4-3-3 set-up.

The England forward has only clocked up 65 minutes of pre-season action, however, all in the Red Devils’ friendly loss to Bayern Munich on Sunday. Mourinho also experimented with a 3-5-2 system in the off-season, a formation that would guarantee Sanchez a central attacking role.

With the creative Juan Mata (£6.5m) another likely United starter, Sanchez represents a viable but risky option up against a Foxes outfit set to be without Harry Maguire (£5.5m) in defence.

Christian Eriksen (£9.5m) vs NEW (a)

The Dane boasts the perfect FPL blend of having played enough World Cup minutes to stay match fit, but few enough to return to club action on July 25.

Eriksen produced one assist across three pre-season ties, getting almost 180 minutes under his belt. Up against a Newcastle side plagued by in-fighting and with a manager who is “really worried” after a poor pre-season, Mauricio Pochettino’s men should add to Rafa Benitez’s woes at St James’ Park.

Creator-in-chief Eriksen will be pivotal for a Spurs squad without any new faces in the ranks and just welcoming back several squad members who had long stints in Russia.

Harry Kane (£12.5m) could not ask for a better opening fixture in which to break the supposed ‘August curse’ but having only returned to training on Monday, pitch time is likely to be an issue for the striker in GW1. Pochettino said: “We are not going to take risks if some players are not ready to compete.”

Sergio Aguero (£11.0m) vs ARS (a)

The Argentine blasted his way into thousands of GW1 drafts after bagging a brace against Chelsea in the Community Shield on Sunday.

While he will undoubtedly share minutes with Gabriel Jesus (£10.5m) over the season, Aguero looks set to start away to Arsenal in GW1. Pep Guardiola described the striker as having arrived in pre-season “so sharp, so good”.

The City boss added: “At the end of last season, [Sergio had a] knee operation. He suffered in previous years with a little bit of a problem but Ramon Cugat made the perfect surgery and now he feels free.”

A ‘freer’ version of Aguero is a tantalising proposition for FPL managers, despite the issue over pitch time. The Gunners, another club with a new boss in Unai Emery, will probably line up in a 4-3-3 against the Citizens (who are likely to use the same system, despite Guardiola stating that 3-5-2 is a viable option this season).

With Sead Kolasinac (£5.0m) out for at least two months and Nacho Monreal (£5.5m) a doubt due to a knee injury, Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.5m midfielder) could start at left-back alongside new Arsenal centre-half Sokratis (£5.5m) and goalkeeper Bernd Leno (£5.0m).

Differential choice

Josh King (£6.5m) vs CAR (H)

The Norwegian is another forward who did his FPL ownership (6.3%) no harm with a recent brace, which came in a 5-2 win over Marseille. King also grabbed an assist in that tie, along with two more goals over the course of Bournemouth’s pre-season.

Eddie Howe mostly deployed a 3-4-3 last season, though 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 are other potential systems. With Callum Wilson (£6.0m) and Jermain Defoe (£6.0m) both vying for minutes, King looks set to play in either a wide attacking position or just off/behind a central striker.

Cardiff City boss Neil Warnock fielded centre-half Sol Bamba (£4.5m) in midfield for the Bluebirds’ final pre-season friendly, a 2-1 defeat to Real Betis.

The Cherries will fancy their chances of scoring against an already stretched Cardiff side, with expected penalty-taker King a strong candidate for FPL returns.

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