Blank Gameweek 18 Preview

Free hit time

After a full week of worrying about postponements, fixture movements and circuit breakers, it looks like GW18 is going ahead. Blank GW18 offers us just 6 fixtures. However, there are several, contrasting ways of approaching them and this feels like the most pivotal GW of the season so far. Battle lines have been drawn between: Free Hitters and non-Free Hitters; those who are attacking the GW and those that just want to make it through; and, those that have banana on their pizza (it’s a thing) and normal people.

Most of us have decided what camp we are in FH wise. Or in plenty of cases our squads have decided for us. This article won’t be weighing up the merits of each side. It’s too late for that. Instead, I will look at another angle which hopefully helps in finalising that FH team.

A good friend of mine targets fixtures aggressively when playing FPL. He picks a side in each game and this helps decide his starting XI, some transfers and even his captain. It even leads to him benching one team’s premiums, when he fancies the other team, in a heavy weight clash. It’s not an approach I favour week to week, but it maybe be perfect to incorporat into our Free Hit strategy.

So, the plan is to look at each match individually, decide how each team stacks up vs each other and review some of their FPL options in the process. Finally, I will speak about some other ideas that I incorporate when Free Hitting. Even if you won’t be using your FH this week, hopefully this may help with any transfers you have, or even when you come to use your own FH.

#1 Sheffield Utd vs Newcastle

It really isn’t a glamourous opener to the GW and this looks like a low scoring affair. Winless Sheffield Utd are the league’s lowest scorers with just 8 goals, and Steve Bruce’s Newcastle could never be described as free scoring.  Both teams rank in the bottom 5 for goals scored, goal attempts, big chances and expected goals (xG). Callum Wilson has scored as many goals as the entire Sheffield Utd team this season.

Looking at defences and both are also in the bottom 5 for goals conceded and expected goals conceded (xGC). So, it really is a case of 2 very stoppable forces, coming up against 2 very movable objects. It points to a drab affair and not one that lends itself to many FPL picks.

Verdict: I could see 0-0 here or a single goal in it either way. In their last 4 games, Shu have conceded 5 goals to Palace, Burnley, Everton and Brighton. Newcastle have scored just twice in the same time frame.

Options: Shu are an avoid for me. Unless you are including budget enablers like Brewster (£4.5m) or Burke (£4.3m) to sit on your bench.

Newcastle do not offer much better but have a few options. I would happily consider Darlow (£5.0m) in goal. He has covered for Dubravka, more than admirably in the last 16 league games. I think he is still safe for a start here.

Fernandez (£4.7m) or Clark (£4.5m) look to be the safest route into their defence. While neither have offered great attacking threat this season, both are capable from set pieces. A Fernandez goal, clean sheet and 3 bonus is the kind of dream result, you could only get on a FH.

Finally, Callum Wilson (£6.5m) will make his way into many forward lines this week. While his early season purple patch quickly ran it’s course, he still has 12 attacking returns this season. 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 6 starts and on penalties, he is by far the most likely match winner in this one.

#2 Burnley vs Man Utd

BGW18 was made more attractive for many, with the late addition of this one. Utd will go top with a win here and will be keen to do so, before facing Liverpool in GW19. Their away form has been superb, and they have averaged 3 goals a game on the road.

Utd’s defence has not been great but this is counteracted by the fact that Burnley have scored just 9 goals this season. With no disrespect to Burnley, this one is all about Utd (FPL wise) and I can see options at both ends of the field.

Verdict: In saying all of that, Burnley are a tough nut to crack. After a shaky start to the season, they have got their house in order. Since the return of Ben Mee in GW8, only Man City have scored over 1 goal vs them. While Burnley nicking a result would not shock me, you have to back Utd on a FH. If Utd scored early, destroying Burnley’s game plan in the process, I could see a comfortable win. However, I’ll go for a safe 2-0 Utd.

Options: Bruno (£11.3m) has been a monster this season, particularly away from home. He has 5 double digit hauls in his 7 away games, is on penalties and is at the heart of everything good Utd do. He is a must for all FH teams.

I would like Luke Shaw (£4.8m) in my FH team. He seems to be getting into better attacking positions and his delivery is as good as it has ever been. With talk of a recent knock and an able replacement in Alex Telles (£5.5m) I will probably avoid.

Harry Maguire (£5.4m) will be my route into the Utd defence (if I have one). No defender has had more shots than him this season (21). However, he has not registered a big chance and scored just once this season. Still, I can see a Utd clean sheet and you’d have to think he’ll get his giant head, on the end of another attacking return, before the season is done.

Many will then be tempted by one of, Rashford (£9.6m), Martial (£8.7m) or even Cavani (£7.8m), depending on how punty you are feeling. I couldn’t put you off any of them. However, they all come with risks and unless you think Utd will beat Burnley comfortably there may not be enough points to go around.

#3 Wolves vs Everton

I’m not feeling this one on my FH so will keep it brief. I can see another low scoring affair. Everton do not score many anyway, so may struggle with DCL ruled out and Richarlison a doubt. Even though Nuno can’t seem to decide between a back 3 or 4, the Wolves defence is generally tight. It has to be, as they are another that are far from prolific in attack.

Verdict: I can see a 1-0, 2-0 for Wolves here. They do not concede many at home. Everton could be missing their 2 biggest goal threats and the Rodriguez returns have dried up following some injuries.

Options: Saiss (£5.1m) offers points potential in defence and attack. He seems to be back in favour having started the last 6. He has also scored twice in his last 3 games. In the 6 games since he returned to the fold, no defender has had more shots than him (11).

Neto (£6.0m) has proven to be value this season with 4 goals and 5 assists. He has a double digit haul in him and could be a decent FH differential. Biggest problem with him, is the alternative midfield options, both above and even below his price range.

#4 Man City vs Brighton

Get 3 city. They are finding form at the right time and are playing a Brighton team, who are made for them.

Verdict: I can see City winning this one by 3 or 4, probably to nil.

Options: KDB (£11.7m). We all know how good he is and he reminded us last time out, with a 13-point haul vs Chelsea. Like Bruno, a must on your FH.

Stones (£5.2m), Cancelo (£5.8m) & Dias (£5.8m). All look nailed for this one and the defensive double up looks like the safe play. I prefer Cancelo for his attacking threat. While the returns may not have materialised, he looks so dangerous and on the verge of a haul, in most games. He has started 11/12, so is as secure of a starting place as one can be in a Pep team.

Feel free to take a punt on any of their other midfielders or Jesus. It may lead to disappointment but there will always be a few, who gambled on Bernardo’s 16 pointer. Do not be one of the hopeless romantics that find it hard to resist Sergio Aguero on a FH. He has been self-isolating. Ignoring this fact, he has played 31 minutes in the last 10 and will not start this game out of nowhere.

#5 Spurs vs Fulham

Added just today, it keeps Son and Kane in the game. I wouldn’t be fooled by the name; Fulham are a different team to the one that started the season. Something changed in GW11 for The Cottagers. Since then, they beat Leicester rather comfortably, conceded just 2 to City, played Liverpool off the park in spells and have conceded just 5 in their last 6. This includes those games vs City and Liverpool.

In those 6 weeks they have allowed the fewest shots, fewest shots in the box and only City have given up fewer big chances. They are not the kind of team, that Spurs traditionally excel vs and could frustrate them. I wouldn’t be shocked if it played out like the Spurs vs WBA game, where it took a late Kane header to break the deadlock.

Verdict: Spurs should still be too good, and Kane and Son will unlock tighter defences than this Fulham one. I’ll go 2-0 Spurs.

Options: Kane (£11.0m) & Son (£9.8m). They have 38 attacking returns between them this season. Their ownership will be huge, for FH and non-FH teams alike. Even if like me you could see Fulham frustrating them, I don’t think we can afford to avoid this pair. At least one is essential, and you’ll sleep better with the double up.

Dier (£5.1m). Spurs are tight, he is nailed. With no attacking returns and 1 bonus all season, he is a dull pick.

#6 Arsenal vs Palace

@James_FPL has covered this one brilliantly already. You can read his article below. https://fplconnect.blog/2021/01/11/to-arsenal-or-not-to-arsenal/

Random FH thoughts

Template does not have to be a dirty word

Don’t worry about your team being too template. Pick the team you think will score the most points. Don’t worry if everyone on Twitter seems to have the same team. They don’t, there are subtle differences that could be the difference. Even if they were identical, Twitter is a tiny bubble.

You are seeing the same drafts, from the same 50 accounts. There are nearly 8 million teams, many of these don’t even know there is a deadline on Tuesday. Your aim is the same as any other GW: to get as many points as possible, get the best GW rank you can, and to beat the average by as much as you can.

You are not trying to beat everyone with your FH

Similar to the above. Players can get bogged down with trying to make sure their team beats all other FHs and those not on FH. They fear that if they can’t, they may be wasting their own FH. It is impossible to beat every combination and every strategy.

Again, pick the best team. Many managers above you have used their FH, are saving it and some do not even know it exists. There is serious ground to be made. There will be FH teams that outscore yours. There will be players not using theirs, who have set up well and will also outscore you. You can’t beat everyone but you can outscore plenty of them. Don’t let this fear lead to you picking too many differentials, whilst missing out on some ‘obvious’ points.

Do not be afraid to gamble on a handful of results

For me the FH is not the time to diversify. Usually, I am reluctant to have a budget keeper and defender from the same team. FH is about maximising the points. So, if you think Newcastle will get a clean sheet, double up on their defence. If you think Utd will hammer Burnley, pick Bruno and Rashford etc. Don’t spread your squad thin for the sake of diversification. This is obviously trickier in COVID times, where you may not want to have too much exposure to any one game. There are only 6 games, we’re going to have to gamble a bit with that.

Have a squad

FH is usually about getting as much value into your first 11 as possible. However, as there has never been a bigger risk of a game being called off, at short notice, have a playing bench. There are plenty of playing enablers that will allow you to do this comfortably.

Mitchell, Brewster, Burke, Smith Rowe, Mari should all offer you minutes at budget prices. I’ll probably have 1 decent sub and fill the rest of my bench with them. This is team value dependent off course.

Don’t try to force your luck.

Every year we see FPL players nailing long shot, Hail Mary picks on their FH. It’s not something you can force and if you try to predict these too hard, you will weaken your FH team. You don’t need lucky picks to nail your FH, you just need some of your picks to get lucky.

As mentioned above, the likes of Harry Maguire and Roman Saiss are solid picks, as they offer good clean sheet potential. If one or both manage to nick a goal you are now sitting on some big gains, without getting too fruity with your picks.

Super-duper differential punts

Ok, finally, there is never a better time to take a punt than on your FH. You are limited to just 6 fixtures and a small pool of players. It is for one game. You never have to see these players ever again. Some players like Saiss are good solid punts but they are not hero makers. If you are really feeling lucky, why not try one of my below, super-duper differential punts.

David McGoldrick (£5.2m)

With 4 goals to his name, he has already doubled his tally from last year. A brace vs Man Utd in GW13 gave us all a taste of what he can do. He’s nailed, his link up play is better than average and so is his technique. He has been known to take a penalty. If any one is going to help Sheffield Utd to their 1st win, it will undoubtedly be my favourite non-scoring forward David McGoldrick.

Gylfi Sigurdsson (£6.8m)

In a close game vs Wolves, he has the class to be the decider. Set pieces, including penalties and capable of a worldie. Both his goals this season have come in his last 5. Everton could be missing a few of their attacking talisman and Gylfi could be the man to stand up and be counted.

Gabriel Jesus (£9.1m)

He has not scored since GW8, and has recently suffered with COVID. However, he was one of the 5 players subbed off in the FA Cup. This holy quintet included nailed starters in Cancelo, Dias, KDB & Rodri. Looks likely to lead the line and bagged a goal and 2 assists, the last time he played Brighton. There are worse punts.

Joelinton (£5.7m)

I can’t, I just can’t………….

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