Hot or Not – Gameweek 26 Preview

In this episode of Hot or Not, we preview FPL Gameweek 26. We compare the impressive Harvey Barnes to alternative options, and help you to decide which of the premiums you should prioritise.

Double gameweek fever is showing no signs of subsiding, as GW25 is coming to a close we now look ahead to what is officially the biggest double gameweek in FPL history. The 17 fixtures in GW26 put it one clear of the previous record of 16, held by GW37 from the 2017/18 season.

As discussed in last week’s preview and my own wildcard draft, it is vital to nail key decisions in double gameweeks as the point variance between good and bad is amplified by the extra fixtures.

GW25 has thrown up a few unexpected questions, the recent statistical regression of Aston Villa finally hit home as they were beaten 2-1 by Leicester and Villa’s own Jack Grealish (£7.7m) missed the game due to injury – he is now a doubt for GW26.

Leicester’s James Maddison (£7.3m) limped off after 63 minutes, with the early prognosis suggesting the Foxes are likely to be cautious in their use of him in the short term.

Premium assets once again dominated the conversation. Bruno Fernandes (£11.6m) and Raheem Sterling (£11.6m) continued their recent good form, while Mohamed Salah (£12.6m) blanked as Liverpool lost a home derby for the first time this millennium. Harry Kane (£11.1m) put in a lively but fruitless performance in Spurs’ away defeat to West Ham.

The movement of premium assets will be high on the agenda for FPL managers this week, especially with GW26 representing the last and most viable opportunity to deploy any remaining chips.

Barnes or Bust? Replacements for Grealish and Maddison

We start with so far the two biggest injury stories to come out of gameweek 25. With a combined overall ownership of 52.3%, Grealish and Maddison are sufficiently popular that their potential absence from the coming gameweek will cause the majority of managers a headache.

At the time of writing we do not have exact confirmation of the type or severity of either’s injury, although the suspicion is that Grealish may miss around a month and Leicester are likely to be careful with Maddison given his history with injuries.

Thankfully, we are blessed with options of similar price and quality should the worst happen with either player. Based on ownership I will assume most of you own the heavily eulogised Ilkay Gundogan (£6.1m), although if you don’t and have a spare Man City space then he is an obvious pick to go for.

Harvey Barnes (£6.8m) is in my opinion the best man to deputise, with eight returns in as many games and back-to-back double digit hauls in GW24 and 25 (see image below). The Leicester winger has started every game since GW13, demonstrating his importance to Brendan Rodgers’ side and has 14 attacking returns for the season, only two off matching last campaign.

Barnes’ nine shots in the box (SiTB) over the last four matches ranks joint top for midfielders, tied with Gundogan and Leeds’ Raphinha (£5.4m). He is joint third for big chances (2), and his 31.5 minutes per chance ranks fifth of all midfielders with regular minutes in that time.

Barnes has also shaken off the tag that he is a poor finisher, something that has dogged his last two seasons. Indeed, the Foxes man has typically found the net with only 10% of his shots in the past, this season he has increased this to 16.4%, and over the last six gameweeks he has further improved to 18.8%.

To put it simply, Harvey Barnes is taking shots close to goal and converting them at an average of one in every other gameweek. With Leicester ranking third for total shots and seventh for expected goals (xG) over the last six gameweeks, Barnes is also in a side likely to continue to create for him.

Leicester also have a good double ahead against Arsenal and Burnley that starts off arguably the most appetising run of fixtures that any side has left this season.

There are a plethora of options that one could consider to replace Grealish or Maddison, but none of them are as hot as Barnes right now. Mason Mount (£6.8m) emerged as Chelsea’s stand-in penalty taker during their 1-1 draw with Southampton, a quality treated as gold dust across the FPL community, but he has had half the number of SiTB of Barnes over the last six.

Chelsea and Leicester are virtually identical for xG (8.46 – 8.19) and minutes per chance (6.7 – 6.6) over the same period and both have very favourable fixtures in the short and medium term. With so little between the teams the logical move is to pick the best player, and with Mount unlikely to be on pens full-time and carrying less open play threat, Barnes wins out.

Pedro Neto (£5.7m) is another name in the conversation as Wolves have finally found some form in the shape of four games unbeaten. Neto’s pair of returns in that time has once again drawn attention to his qualities and with a strong fixture swing post GW29 and a double in GW26, there is an argument for going in early.

Despite this turnaround, Wolves still rank in the bottom five teams for SiTB and big chances over the last six matches and with two of those being against the obliging Crystal Palace and Leeds defences it is fair to cast doubt on Neto’s prospects.

His recent goal conversion of just 7.1% also suggests that he requires a high number of chances to find the net, something Wolves are unlikely to offer with any regularity.

Even compared to his teammate Maddison, Barnes stacks up well. Should Grealish be out but Maddison be passed fit then FPL managers will likely be left wondering which Leicester man is best.

Over the last four gameweeks both have four returns each (2 goals, 2 assists) and alongside Jamie Vardy (£10.1m) they are Leicester’s most important attacking threats.

Being the set piece taker Maddison does carry the greater assist threat, but in all other areas Barnes wins comfortably. He shoots more frequently in the box and therefore has higher quality chances more consistently. He also has more touches in the box and as a result is more likely to be the one receiving a pass in a dangerous position than the one playing it.

With the difference between a goal and assist being two points for midfielders it makes that extra goal threat incredibly valuable. Regardless of price, Barnes’ results are impressive. In my opinion, there really are no other contenders for a spot in our teams should Grealish or Maddison be ruled out.

In fact, I’d argue he should have a place even if both are fit.

Prioritising Premiums

We can’t fit them all in, but how do we decide which big hitting assets to go for?

In last week’s article, we discussed now Raheem Sterling is now arguably a better pick than Mo Salah, the debate still remains hard to settle as both returned in alternate weeks.

Given the abundance of cheap, high performing midfielders and forwards, it is likely that most sides will feature three premiums, or a maximum of four. The mixture of double and blank gameweeks necessitates balance, a spread of funds to allow flexibility rather than a premium heavy squad.

With many of us having wildcarded in GW25 or looking to wildcard or carry transfers into GW26, the right selection of premium assets is as hot a topic as its ever been.

Over the season Fernandes, Kane and Salah reign supreme on a number of fronts. They are the highest scorers, highest shot takers and among the best for minutes per chance.

Two of the spots in my side are non-negotiable, Fernandes and Kane have to be there. It is important when picking premiums to consider long-term performance rather than just short-term underlying numbers. With 25 and 24 goal involvements respectively, the two are clear of Salah (20) and are the most consistent assets across the season.

When considering captaincy, or indeed triple captaincy for a double gameweek the obvious place to begin is to look at the assets most likely to return more than once or in multiple games. Both Fernandes and Kane are averaging more than one return per start for the season, the epitome of consistency. To look at excluding either from our teams is just not an option, in my opinion.

In Gameweek 26, Fernandes faces away trips (his bread and butter) to Crystal Palace and Chelsea, while Kane plays at home to Burnley and away to Fulham.

Despite the tougher Chelsea tie, Fernandes comes into the week as one of the most viable captaincy options, having managed seven returns in his last four. United are famously stronger away from home under Solskjaer, they top the league for big chances and goals this season, while also being in the top five for xG away from home.

Kane may have failed to score in GW25, but his four SiTB is the most of all forwards this week and it is a surprise he was not able to find the net. Despite a recent injury layoff, the Tottenham ace does not appear to have slowed down and now has arguably the best double of all teams in GW26.

Having returned in both reverse fixtures, Kane has proven he can find a way past the famously stubborn Burnley defence and recently improved Fulham backline. Even throughout Spurs’ recent struggles he has continued to post good numbers and find returns, like Salah he is still performing well even if his teammates are not.

Fernandes and Kane are too hot to drop, the risk of missing their hauls is too great given the potential damage, and given the frequency of their returns it would be short sighted to get rid of them in order to utilise funds elsewhere. They are likely to be the two most captained players in GW26 and as such are a pair that can both help you gain rank and shield against losses.

The final reason that I see Kane as a brilliant option is that he is possibly the best captain choice in GW27 (against Palace) and also plays in GW29 (against Villa). Therefore, you can keep Spurs’ talisman throughout this period.

As the table above shows, Fernandes and Kane are still far above the rest for output over the last four gameweeks. However, it is far closer for the third premium spot. I covered Salah vs Sterling at length last week, but in short it is very close and perhaps due to City’s form versus Liverpool’s it is Sterling who is currently the better asset.

With the return from injury of Kevin De Bruyne (£11.8m) there is a debate to be had of whether Sterling or Salah have a place at all. With no short term data to go off, we have to use what we know of KDB as an overall asset.

Despite injury he is up there with Fernandes, Salah and Kane for minutes per chances and goal attempts, his 14 big chances created, three goals and ten assists in just 17 starts is a perfect example of how likely he is to return in any given week.

As last season’s highest points scorer he certainly deserves our attention and over the season he betters Sterling on expected goal involvement per 90 minutes (xGI/90). Couple that with the fact that his ownership among the top 10,000 managers is just 0.9%, this looks to be a great opportunity to jump on a historically world class asset at a time where his returns can equal a significant gain in rank.

Consider also that the Belgian is likely to regain penalty duty, having been the assigned taker before his injury and having seen his teammates have mixed success in his absence.

For those with a spare Man City space it makes complete sense to gamble on KDB returning to his pivotal position in the City setup. He is more likely to return on average than Sterling, and City’s fortunes are far more certain than those of Salah and Liverpool.

City have four straight home fixtures, doubling in GW26 and GW27 versus West Ham, Wolves, Man Utd and Southampton. It is worth waiting to see what minutes KDB gets in the Champions League this week before deciding on a move, but provided he’s healthy we can expect him to feature heavily going forward.

Based on the above, at this current moment in time I would look at prioritising Bruno, Kane and KDB.

Our captaincy metric will cover the premium picks in more detail later in the week, so keep an eye for it. I will again be discussing my transfer thoughts on my twitter @THE_FPL_T throughout the week, the third premium spot is one of my top priorities so if you are interested in hearing more on the Salah/Sterling/De Bruyne debate then drop me a follow and join the conversation.

*Underlying statistics and tables obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Scout*

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