For fantasy managers, the last few gameweeks have felt something akin to the curious prelude at the beginning of a cycle sprint race. FPL has almost ground to a complete standstill over the previous month or so as managers conserve their resources for the final mad dash, but following the cessation of a fairly abject Gameweek 30 (the average score of 41 being the joint-lowest of the season) we can finally, finally switch our full attention to GW31 and beyond.
Saturday 17th March
Bournemouth vs West Brom (15:00)
Huddersfield vs Crystal Palace (15:00)
Stoke vs Everton (15:00)
Liverpool vs Watford (17:30)
Eagle-eyed managers will notice that this weekend’s Premier League matches – or what remains of them – are the reverse fixtures of Gameweek 1.
Only four of the GW1 ‘Dream Team’ will likely feature this weekend. Starting as he meant to go on, Mohamed Salah (£10.6m) registered a goal and an assist in Liverpool’s rollercoaster 3-3 draw at Watford – his first of 13 double-digit hauls to date this season. Fittingly, and perhaps ominously for this coming weekend, Roberto Firmino (£9.5m) and Sadio Mane (£9.4m) were also on target in that six-goal thriller at Vicarage Road.
Zanka (£4.5) and Jonas Lossl (£4.6m) were beneficiaries of Huddersfield Town’s surprise 3-0 win at Selhurst Park, while striker Steve Mounie (£5.8m) found the net twice in the same game.
The highest-scoring asset in GW1 though, was West Brom’s Ahmed Hegazi (£4.7m). A goal, a clean sheet and three bonus points led to over a million FPL managers drafting the Egyptian defender into their teams over the next couple of gameweeks. The Baggies, of course, are a very different prospect now to the team who sat above Manchester City and Liverpool in the table after two matches.
Wayne Rooney (£7.2m), who missed his third penalty of the season on Saturday and is without a league goal in three months, was the match-winner in Everton’s 1-0 victory over Stoke back in August.
There are seemingly three approaches to Gameweek 31: those who will be deploying their Free Hit chip, those who have steadily stockpiled non-blanking assets over the last month and who will again be transferring in other players with a fixture this weekend, and those – knowingly or otherwise – who have ignored the gameweek altogether.
Regardless of strategy, questions remain over which players to bring in for GW31 and beyond.
The collective move towards three Liverpool assets for this Saturday’s hugely appealing home fixture with Watford is clearly warranted. Three of the five GW31 players with the best points-to-minutes ratio this season are Liverpool squad members: namely Messrs Salah, Firmino and Mane.
While Bakary Sako (injury) and Oumar Niasse (loss of starting place) are unlikely to make a significant dent on Gameweek 31, Bournemouth’s Junior Stanislas (£5.9m) and Callum Wilson (£5.9m) – both returning around five points per 90 minutes played – are names worthy of consideration, especially given that the Cherries entertain rock-bottom West Brom on Saturday afternoon. Stanislas in particular is in a rich vein of form, with three goals and two assists from midfield in his last seven games.
Steve Mounie’s points-to-minutes mean matches Wilson’s, while Theo Walcott (£7.1m) – the scourge of GW31 planners everywhere following five successive blanks in front of goal – is, despite his loss of form, nevertheless returning 4.88 points for the equivalent of every full game played. An injury picked up on Saturday doesn’t look like keeping the former Arsenal man out of action for Everton’s trip to Stoke.
Though budgets may not quite be so tight given the paucity of big-money players in action this weekend, there are still bargains to be found ahead of GW31.
Huddersfield ‘keeper Jonas Lossl is pound for pound the best value-for-money player (23.91 points per million of his current price) with a fixture this weekend, ahead of Everton’s Jordan Pickford (£4.9m).
Despite his spiralling cost, Mohamed Salah remains a relative steal taking into account his consistently high returns this season.
With only one goal between them in 2018, Abdoulaye Doucoure (£5.5m) and Richarlison’s (£6.0m) appeal is waning by the week; their impressive early-season form the chief reason why the Watford midfield duo remain, on the surface, cost-effective options.
Two assets with more notable recent form are Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri (£6.3m) and Jack Butland (£5.0m). The Swiss midfielder registered three goals and seven bonus points in February, while Butland has himself recorded three clean sheets, nine bonus points and nine save points in his last seven starts.
Despite having scored over 50 points more than any other player in FPL this season, it is peculiar to note that Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is only joint-fourth in terms of bonus points accrued this campaign. Indeed, Salah does not even top the BPs table for players with a game this weekend. That honour falls to his teammate Roberto Firmino, who has racked up 26 bonus points to date. Salah has however registered more bonus points (15) at Anfield this season than any of his teammates. Sadio Mane, interestingly, has recorded one solitary bonus point on Merseyside in 2017-18.
With a home fixture against Crystal Palace this weekend, FPL managers should recognise Huddersfield defender Christopher Schindler’s (£4.7m) aptitude for collecting bonus points at the John Smith’s Stadium – including one from last weekend’s stalemate against Swansea.
Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri has also hit double figures in bonus points on home soil this season, an apposite statistic given that Paul Lambert’s men take on woeful travellers in the form of Everton this Saturday.
Finally, for FPL managers willing to throw caution to the wind in an attempt to quickly improve their overall rank, there are numerous under-the-radar assets that could potentially prove to be explosive differentials this weekend. Moritz Bauer (£4.5m), Seamus Coleman (£6.4m), Adam Smith (£4.8m), Alex Pritchard (£5.4m) and Orestis Karnezis (£4.5m) are all likely starters for their clubs this Saturday, despite being owned by less than 1% of all FPL managers.
Stay tuned to these pages over the coming days for more GW31 analysis, including projections and predicted line-ups.