In the following article we look at the best picks for playing the free hit chip in FPL gameweek 29. We establish an optimal line-up while also looking at alternatives in areas where there isn’t a standout pick.
With 80% of the top 10k managers having played their free hit, the chip is a surprising differential in a week where the vast majority of players will struggle to field a full 11.
GW29 is likely to be somewhat of a hit-fest, with managers spending points to either get to a full team or to cover perceived gaps in their squads. Being able to play a full side and without taking a hit to do so has the potential for massive upside, in a week where the average is expected to be low there is likely to be the opportunity for significant rank gains.
With only four fixtures to choose from there is likely to be a solid template this week, as most managers are well invested in Leeds, Spurs and Aston Villa already, while Brighton and West Ham players are already among the most transferred in so far.
The advantage of the free hit is clear. You can cover the template picks while having room to be differential and without the need to stress over the impact any moves will make to future gameweeks. Picking 11 players from just four matches is actually a harder task that it sounds, getting the free hit right is absolutely crucial this week.
Earlier in the week I covered which assets I believe are best to bring in for GW29 (see the article here), the caveat being that my selections focused on players with potential in the weeks that follow and not just for this week in isolation. In a similar vein, my fellow writers have considered the best defensive options, and the likely bandwagons.
While my recommendations are still good picks, I am only including one of them in the free hit draft. I have selected what I believe to be the most optimal 11 available, to do this I have made a few assumptions.
I am assuming that Patrick Bamford (£6.7m) will play against Fulham. His injury appeared to be the result of a heavy fall and shouldn’t put him out of action, although it is best to hear from Marcelo Biesla before deciding for certain.
Secondly, I haven’t included Dan Burn (£4.2m) and Heung-Min Son (£9.6m) as the initial reports indicate that both have suffered muscular problems and as such are unlikely to feature at the weekend. Again, if we hear to the contrary then both should be considered for selection in a free hit team.
Lastly, I have only selected a starting 11 and left the substitutes blank, as these spots are normally filler in a free hit. I’ve also under spent, leaving a lot of money in the bank rather than looking to max out, a mistake commonly made with the free hit as managers feel obliged to use all available funds. Price does not always equal quality.
I will start with some notable omissions. I haven’t included any Arsenal attackers, most obviously Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.4m) and Bukayo Saka (£5.3m), due to the recent rotation and disciplinary issues of Aubameyang. Saka is currently flagged on the FPL site and as such represents too much of a risk to pick.
If we discover that Aubameyang will play, as with Son and Bamford should they be fit, then he should be included in the team on the strength of his recent attacking statistics and Arsenal’s good away numbers.
I’ve also left out any Aston Villa attackers, the absence of Jack Grealish (£7.5m) has significantly damaged their output and with Bertrand Traore (£5.9m) also doubtful it is hard to back them to score big. Spurs also tend to sit deeper away from home, suggesting there will be less space in behind for the Villains to counter into.
No West Ham you ask? While I would transfer in Aaron Cresswell (£5.9m) this week as part of a longer term strategy, I wouldn’t pick him in a free hit. Arsenal are the fifth best attack for expected goals (xG) away from home over the season, while West Ham are mid table for expected goals conceded (xGC) at home and actually have a better defensive record in away matches.
Additionally, Arsenal are the third best team for xGC in away games over the season, suggesting that there will be a lack of opportunities for the West Ham attack. Again, I would recommend moves for Michail Antonio (£6.6m) and Jesse Lingard (£6.1m) if they are part of a longer term strategy with the Hammers’ great post-GW29 run in mind.
I am also ignoring Newcastle altogether, there isn’t much justification needed here as I can’t see them keeping a clean sheet and picking a goalscorer from their injury ravaged side is a near impossible task.
Emi Martinez (£5.4m) – An easy pick. Although Villa are probably not that likely to keep a clean sheet against Spurs it would still be too big a risk to leave out the highest scoring goalkeeper. His top 10k ownership now exceeds 80% and is likely to increase further this week, with Son likely out then one wouldn’t completely discount a Villa clean sheet and given the fact he is likely to make a few saves I would use Martinez as a ‘shield’ pick to protect against a possible haul.
Lewis Dunk (£5.0m) – Christmas came a week early for Dunk owners as the centre back scored his fourth goal of the season in Brighton’s 2-1 win away to Southampton. Given Brighton play Newcastle, the league’s worst team for set piece xGC away from home, you wouldn’t back against further joy for Dunk. With the Seagulls being the league’s best side for xGC at home a clean sheet seems incredibly likely too.
Newcastle are also a very poor attack, their xG of 10.68 is the worst of all teams in away matches, the Magpies have only scored three goals in their last eight away games and only four open play goals away from home all season.
Joel Veltman (£4.3m) – The Dutchman is a good pick for many of the same reasons Lewis Dunk is. Brighton’s fixture versus Newcastle appears to be absolute gold dust from a defensive perspective. Veltman has offered plenty going forward of late, his seven shots in the box (SiTB) is the second most of all defenders in the last six gameweeks and the most of any featuring in GW29. His two big chances in that time also ranks highly and against such an obliging defence as Newcastle’s you wouldn’t bet against an attacking return.
It is worth nothing that Veltman was deployed as part of a back three against Southampton. If utilised in this fashion again one would suspect a drop off in attacking output, but given how differential double Brighton defence will be this week and the likelihood of a clean sheet I would go with Veltman regardless.
Stuart Dallas (£5.1m) – Like Martinez, Dallas represents a form of protection against the template. The Leeds man is the league’s highest scoring defender, with five goals, and across the season he has the third most shots and big chances of defensive assets. Leeds are the best team in the league for SiTB away from home this season and in recent times their xG away from home (8.08 in last six away) is the fifth best of all teams.
Fulham are a solid defence and rank highly across all metrics over the last six matches, it’s not beyond them to make things tough for Leeds. However, as seen in home matches against other strong attacks (Man Utd, Leicester, Spurs, Man City) they are still likely to concede, and with Leeds’ ability to create chances against virtually any opposition I’m backing Dallas to have opportunities in the game. I’m not brave enough to predict a Leeds clean sheet, although their numbers have greatly improved lately. Ultimately, Dallas’ strength is in his attacking threat and given his enormous ownership I consider it too great a risk to go without him.
Keiran Tierney (£5.2m) – I covered Tierney in this week’s Hot or Not article, but to recap I believe he is a good pick for this week and the weeks beyond. Now fully fit, Tierney is a 90 minute man in an Arsenal defence that has been posting strong away numbers all season. Their xGC away from home is among the best this campaign and continues to rank highly in recent times, their total of 5.76 over the last six gameweeks is the third best in the league. With a lot of attention paid to West Ham assets I believe Tierney is likely to go under the radar despite the fact the data indicates it could be a good week for him.
Tierney is also one of the league’s most creative defenders, underlined by his assist against Spurs, his 1.28 chances created per 90 for the season ranks eighth of all defensive assets with regular minutes. Although the Arsenal defence is error prone, I would pick Tierney in a free hit side over Cresswell due to the Gunners’ great away numbers and West Ham’s tendency to be risk averse in bigger games. With further weeks in mind the West Ham man is the better asset, but in isolation I really like what Tierney can offer this week.
Ademola Lookman (£5.1m) – A player often guilty of scoring high on the Lamptey scale of xLivelyness, this is perhaps the spot in the team that is the least nailed on. Lookman’s ten SiTB is joint third of all midfielders over the last six gameweeks, suggesting he has enough goal threat to take advantage of the inconsistent Leeds backline. I would always like to have an attacker against Leeds where possible and while there isn’t much to choose between the Fulham mids, Lookman’s numbers have been the most consistent throughout the season.
As mentioned, I am flexible on this spot, it largely comes down to preference. You could go for Lingard, Pascal Groß (£5.8m) or Leandro Trossard (£5.7m) for example. I think it’s hard to split the options at that price for this week and I wouldn’t stress too much going for one over another.
Gareth Bale (£9.6m) – Likely to be heavily transferred in this week, Bale is one of the first names on my teamsheet. As evidenced above, Bale’s per 90 stats over the last six gameweeks are among the very best of the midfielders with over 300 minutes. Spurs have a tendency to be inconsistent, but are also one of the league’s most clinical teams and they play a Villa defence that has been fortunate to not concede more lately.
While Villa have potential to frustrate, the prospect of Spurs playing on the counter against a team in the bottom half for SiTB conceded and xGC over the last six gameweeks is too good to turn down. With Son likely out then I would take advantage of the Kane-Bale double up and hope for an open game at Villa Park.
Raphinha (£5.6m) – Another shield pick, likely to be very highly owned this week and a potential captain option too. The Brazilian has been posting incredible numbers for a while and although he hasn’t returned in three matches you would have to be very brave to go without him this week.
It is worth noting that we don’t have much data on Raphinha without Bamford, so it will be a bit of a mystery should the Englishman been ruled out. Regardless, I would be picking Raphinha to protect against a potential haul as much as anything and his ownership should still be low enough for us to benefit should he deliver a big score.
Patrick Bamford (£6.7m) – A template pick, but a safe pick, like his Leeds colleague Bamford will be highly owned this week. The Leeds triple up is more of a shield than a sword right now, it isn’t worth going against it in case they do explode and given how consistent their attacking threat has been all season it’s not impossible they could overwhelm Fulham.
Should Bamford be ruled out I would possibly pick Antonio or switch to a 4-4-2 and add Lingard, Groß or Trossard. You could even pick Bamford’s teammate Rodrigo (£5.7m) if you are particularly confident about their chances against Fulham.
Harry Kane (£11.4m) – Despite failing to score in the North London derby, Kane is on fire right now and has been an absolute stats monster of late. His xG of 3.85 is the second best of all forwards over the last six and he is top for expected goal involvement (xGI), with 5.07. With his effective ownership (EO) likely to far surpass 100%, not captaining Kane, let alone not owning him, represents an enormous risk.
With such a depth of positive underlying numbers behind him, I believe Kane is the standout pick for any free hit team and will likely be afforded chances against a Villa defence that is showing signs of decline lately. Given there isn’t a viable alternative to the Spurs hitman, I see absolutely no reason to go without him and doing so would be overthinking things massively.
Neal Maupay (£6.1m) – As discussed in my Hot or Not article, I don’t rate Maupay as a long term option. However, in a one off week against a very leaky defence that he has already hauled against this season, why not? Brighton always create chances, it’s more a case of whether they can finish them. Newcastle are the second worst team for xGC away from home this season, with a total of 25.26, a number they have actually overperformed on as well.
My alternative in this area would be Josh Maja (£5.5m), although his absence against Man City has put some doubt in my mind over his starting place against Leeds. Like Lookman, Maja will likely be afforded chances by the often generous Leeds defence and will be a good pick if he ends up starting.
As with any wildcard or free hit draft there are multiple variations or lineups you could go for. I have made my reasons for the above picks clear, but some of the fixtures are hard to call and ultimately it may depend on which side you fall. Going for West Ham assets over Arsenal is certainly fine. Although the data does favour the Gunners just about, there is potential for Lingard, Antonio and co to deliver.
Cresswell is a fine option, if you feel more confident in West Ham’s defence at home then I don’t think there’s much in it between him and Tierney, I’ve simply gone with the data in this case.
As mentioned, Maja over Maupay is an option, if you favour differentials then going for triple Brighton defence and selecting Robert Sanchez (£4.5m) over Martinez may be the route to go.
The lineup I’ve picked is what I would consider ‘realistic’ given the injury news and availability of players for this week. However, there is a possibility that some other desirable options become viable. As such, I’ve included a quick draft below of my ‘all being well’ lineup. The only differences are the inclusion of Son and Aubameyang over Lookman and Maupay, with a switch to 4-4-2.
*Underlying statistics and tables obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Scout*