In this article, we assess the best budget forwards and defenders ahead of FPL Blank Gameweek 29.
by @thefplt (currently ranked 35k).
With gameweek 28 almost over we now cast our eye toward gameweek 29, the week with only four fixtures, the latest hurdle in this truly unique and unprecedented FPL season. As a reminder, the four fixtures are presented below.
80% of managers ranked in the top 10k have already used their free hit, so the vast majority will look to use transfers to navigate GW29. It is likely to be a week with a low average, but undoubtedly there will still be players who stand out and catching their points could result in significant gains.
The template has been pretty firm for a while and with the well owned Spurs, Villa and Leeds featuring this week it is likely that most will have those sides strongest assets covered.
The key to success is likely to lie in making the decision between going for the safer, well owned players or taking a calculated risk on a differential.
We can’t just disregard the following weeks either, close to 60% of high ranking managers have used their second wildcard so any moves for GW29 will also have to take later weeks into account.
Injury news has again struck in the lead up to an important gameweek. Heung-Min Son (£9.6m), Patrick Bamford (£6.8m), Bukayo Saka (£5.3m), Bertrand Traore (£5.9m) and Dan Burn (£4.2m) are all now doubts for the blank gameweek.
Some of the above were brought in or had been planned transfers purely due to their involvement this coming week. FPL managers across the world are now scrambling to put a team together, and where seven or eight was previously seen as a good number to field it will be tough for many to get there without unwanted transfers or hits.
In the following article, we will compare potential picks across the week and try to help you find some hidden gems or identify when it’s okay to go a bit more template. We will also take a look at some one week punts, for those with a wildcard left, and for those without we will try to find players that strike a balance between potential points in GW29 and the rest of the season.
Bamford Injured? Who are the best budget forwards?
I will start by saying that I expect Bamford to be fit, having seen the incident live it didn’t look more than an impact injury. However, it was clearly painful enough to see the Leeds man subbed off early.
Owners should wait as long as possible before deciding on a move and hope for some clarity from Marcelo Bielsa later in the week.
Should Bamford be ruled out then a decision will need to be made, if it sounds as though he is likely to be fit for Leeds’ GW30 match versus Sheffield United then it makes sense to hold him through the blank. If he is ruled out or there is at least doubt beyond GW29 then it probably makes sense to look elsewhere.
Even if you do not own Bamford, this discussion of budget forwards could be useful for those looking to field more players for the blank gameweek.
There are a number of players to consider, statistically Michail Antonio (£6.6m) looks the most promising and of the options available he is the most proven FPL asset. His 0.70 expected goals per 90 minutes (xG/90) and 0.74 big chances per 90 (BC/90) over the last four gameweeks ranks top of the group I am considering (below), his xG/90 is actually top of all forwards with regular minutes in that time.
In my opinion, this is not one to overthink. If you don’t already own Antonio then he is the outstanding candidate to replace Bamford. He plays in the best team out of the similarly priced options and despite having a tougher GW29 fixture against Arsenal he is still likely to have chances to score.
West Ham’s run to the end of the season is reasonably good, and further improves from GW34. Immediately after the blank they face Wolves, who are third worst for shots in the box (SiTB) conceded and fifth worst for xG conceded (xGC) over the last four weeks. They then face the inconsistent Leicester defence and leaky Newcastle backline. In fact, their only game against a definitively tough defence comes against Chelsea in GW33.
It really is no contest, while fit Antonio is great value and represents a team in good form who have favourable fixtures. In FPL, that is exactly the type of combination we love.
For those with Antonio or looking for a shorter term pick then there are other options, if we isolate GW29 on its own then Josh Maja (£5.5m) and Neal Maupay (£6.1m) have arguably the best fixtures.
Maupay’s 6.45 touches per 90 minutes and 1.74 SiTB/90 over the last four ranks highly among the options selected, my major concern is his 0.13 xG/90 which is incredibly poor. Maupay seems acceptable as one week punt versus the obliging Newcastle defence, a side he managed three attacking returns against in the reverse fixture. It is really only a move I would make if I had a way to immediately move away from Maupay (e.g. Wildcard in GW31) as long term I don’t consider him an option.
Maja looked to be one of the better picks going into GW29 but a no-show against Man City has now cast doubt over his place in the lineup. If he does play then I expect him to find joy against a Leeds side who are the worst team in the league for xGC away from home over the season (26.61).
The doubts about his start would be enough to put me off, however. At this stage of the season we want players who we can be sure will get consistent minutes, especially in a one off week.
Ollie Watkins (£6.6m) has been a popular pick throughout the season and is currently the highest owned of the six players we are looking at. Transferring him in would defend against the template and with Villa likely to have another double gameweek at some point (reasonable chance of a double gameweek 30) there appears to be good reason to get him.
However, Watkins’ numbers have sharply declined in the time that teammate Jack Grealish (£7.5m) has been out injured.
As we can see above, Watkins with Grealish (left) posts far better per 90 numbers than without (right). We also see a huge drop off in SiTB/90 (2.8 vs. 1.8) and shots on target (1.5 vs. 0.8). Watkins has also failed to register a big chance since Grealish has been out of the team.
The regression is significant, and with Villa’s tough short term run I believe things are unlikely to improve for Watkins.
Despite his good recent numbers I don’t see Joelinton (£5.7m) as a viable FPL option. We’ve seen him post respectable numbers throughout the season without converting. Couple that with Newcastle’s reluctance to attack for long periods and Brighton’s ability to defend well when at their best, then the Brazilian is unlikely to offer much at all.
Rodrigo (£5.7m) is intriguing in the sense that he is likely to fill the void left by Bamford should the Englishman be ruled out. If he is afforded the same service as his colleague then there is potential for him to do well, however he is almost certainly a transfer waiting to happen. It is a move I would consider if I had a wildcard in GW31 planned, but otherwise I don’t see the value.
Antonio is the clear standout, in my opinion. He strikes the perfect balance between posting good stats and having the fixtures to continue performing. Although Arsenal will not be the easiest fixture it is worth dealing with in order to have Antonio for the juicy run that follows. He represents a far more reliable pick than the alternatives and West Ham are likely to be fighting till the final day as they aim to finish in the European spots.
While Watkins is likely to be a popular transfer in this week I believe the stats show that he is becoming less appealing as the weeks without Grealish go by, and it makes sense to avoid him at this stage given his higher ownership.
As a one week punt I would only consider Maupay and Rodrigo based on their fixtures and assurance of minutes, both have potential to do well but should still be considered risky picks and I’m not sure they offer enough to convince me that their easier games make them better picks than Antonio this week.
Quite a number of the FPL twitter community took a punt on Dan Burn with a view to using him to help navigate GW29. With Burn’s involvement now in doubt there may be a need to replace him. Regardless, defensive transfers are likely to be popular this week as the current consensus is that clean sheets are on the rise.
With Stuart Dallas (£5.0m) being owned by more than 60% of the top 10k I won’t list him as an option, as there are alternatives to him for those who are not keen on the Leeds defence.
Creative defenders are in vogue right now, with the majority of this season’s highest scoring assets having earned their points by combining clean sheets with assist threat.
Aaron Cresswell (£5.8m) leads the way so far, his 135 points the result of a stunning campaign in the West Ham backline. The set piece wizard continues to create chances and with the aerial prowess of his colleagues his party trick is likely to carry on yielding assists.
Cresswell’s 0.63 big chances created (BCC) dwarfs all other candidates for this coming week and ranks near the top of defenders over the last six weeks. At 22% owned among the top 10k he is still differential enough to impact our ranks and provides an excellent alternative to the template double City defence.
As mentioned with Antonio, West Ham have an excellent run ahead and are still fighting for league position. Having something to play for at this stage is crucial as it reduces rotation risk and ensures that you can rely on your asset giving their all.
While Arsenal up next is not the easiest of fixtures, West Ham then play the blunt attacks of Wolves and Newcastle in two of the three after. Additionally, West Ham’s next three opponents all rank in the bottom six for xGC from set pieces over the last six gameweeks, suggesting that Cresswell’s high assist threat will be heightened further in the short term.
At the risk of favouring West Ham again, I am recommending Cresswell as the top defensive pick to transfer in this week, there is still potential for points versus Arsenal and his long term prospects look excellent. Quite frankly it’s a mystery as to why his ownership is so low and while it remains so the potential gains are still very good.
Kieran Tierney (£5.2m) reminded FPL managers of his ability with an assist in Arsenal’s 2-1 North London Derby win over Tottenham. The Scot was highly touted in pre-season and while he has had moments of popularity he has largely remained a differential throughout the season.
Recent fitness issues have further pushed Tierney out of fantasy reckoning but with four straight 90 minute showings it appears as though the worst is behind him.
I like Tierney, his open play threat and advanced position makes him one of the most creative defenders when fit, and Arsenal’s good end of season fixtures will allow him the platform to finish the campaign strongly.
Arsenal have been posting good numbers lately, their xGC of 5.76 is third best in the division over the last six gameweeks.
However, Arsenal have proven themselves to be error prone, in fact their three errors leading to goals is the second worst in recent weeks and with West Ham’s aerial strength and the busy Antonio pressuring them, I wouldn’t be confident of a clean sheet.
While I rate Tierney’s prospects I don’t trust his teammates to defend competently all the time. I may look to bring him in at some point but in the short term Cresswell and West Ham have proven themselves more trustworthy and reliable. Cresswell’s set piece also gives him more strings to his bow than Tierney and therefore more routes to a return in any given week.
On A Budget?
While Cresswell is the overall standout, I would consider Joel Veltman (£4.3m) to be the best of the budget options. The Dutchman is posting superb numbers lately, 0.96 chances created and 0.32 big chances created per 90 over the last six ranks highly among all defenders regardless of price.
He is also providing strong goal threat, his 1.11 SiTB/90 ranks second of all defenders with regular minutes over the last six gameweeks. His 0.32 big chances/90 also places highly and the crucial thing to note is that he outperforms all of his Brighton teammates for the statistics listed above.
Brighton have arguably the best fixture for clean sheet probability this week, with a home tie against Newcastle, and given the Magpies’ defensive fragility the odds of an attacking return are arguably better than other defensive picks.
In Veltman we have the defender with the best underlying stats, in the best fixture of the gameweek, a really strong option as a one week punt and cheap enough to bench in the weeks after.
Given the strength of the Leeds attack and also the weakness of their defence in away fixtures, it is hard to predict a clean sheet for either them or Fulham in their tie. Neither Villa or Spurs seem safe bets given the potency of each of their attacks and West Ham versus Arsenal is also a tough game to call, Brighton on paper look the most assured of a clean sheet.
For Burn owners it is again a case of wait and see. If he is ruled out then it makes complete sense to make the sideways move to Veltman and retain a stake in the Brighton defence in what could be a great week for their assets.
Of all defenders, Cresswell is the standout pick. West Ham’s fixture run and his consistent returns throughout the season, coupled with his surprisingly low ownership make the left-back a virtual must own at this stage of the season.
It is again a case of not overthinking things, not only do you get a home fixture in GW29 but also an immediate run against some weak attacks and set-piece susceptible defences. Cresswell is perhaps more of a shield pick than a differential, but there are times when going with the crowd is the smart thing to do and in this case I will likely bring him in as soon as possible before his ownership rockets.
On the budget side of things, and as a one week option, I believe Veltman to be the best pick. If you are free hitting or plan to wildcard soon after the blank week, I would strongly consider him given the strength of his fixture this week. There just isn’t an asset at his price or close that has the same ceiling this coming week. With most of us likely fielding less than 11 players, it is smart to target the best fixtures available.
I will be back later in the week with a free hit draft article (Wednesday or Thursday), where I will cover the above options further while also considering others that look good value for GW29. Keep an eye out for that!
*Underlying statistics and tables obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Scout*