In the following article, we discuss the upcoming absence of West Ham’s talisman and the options we have to choose from when dealing with his suspension. We assess the best replacements, the value of holding and potential alternative moves for those wishing to be proactive.
After three double digit hauls Michail Antonio’s (£7.9m) momentous start to the season has finally been halted. The West Ham forward drew a blank away to Southampton in gameweek four and further frustrated his owners with a red card in stoppage time.
Seen as a long term hold by many, Antonio represents dead money for a week and as such we all have a decision to make. Ultimately, the question is stick or twist?
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The initial instinct in these situations is usually to sell the affected player as holding requires a significant sum of money to be benched and a less attractive defensive or midfield option to be utilised.
In my own team, for example, I would have to field either Ryan Bertrand (£4.9m) or Josh Brownhill (£4.5m) if I were to bench Antonio. While both players are accomplished in the league, neither of them are particularly threatening from a fantasy perspective.
Bertrand travels to Brighton, a side who’s underlying data has been strong and home for a while, Brownhill hosts Arsenal and carries very little goal or assist potential.
I’m more than likely looking at two points either way, while that’s not the worst thing to stomach in an isolated week it is by definition a passive strategy.
It’s therefore likely that if we take GW5 in isolation that taking Antonio out for a similarly priced forward is the more aggressive and more fruitful play.
With Antonio’s price (£7.9m) being similar to a number of attractive options the leap off the Jamaica striker is fairly straight forward.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£8.2m) had been one of the most promising replacements until Monday night, however his absence from Everton’s win at home to Burnley has now cast doubt over his short term prospects.
The exact severity of DCL’s injury is currently unknown and manager Rafa Benitez gave a vague response when pressed for his pre game thoughts.
“He had an injury the other day to his quadriceps and we have to wait two-to-three weeks, maybe more.”Rafa Benitez
DCL had started the season strongly, posting an expected goals (xG) total of 3.13 (second of all players) and scoring in all three of his appearances. Everton didn’t appear to miss him too much as they swept aside Burnley on Monday night, however his absence removes one of the strongest contenders for Antonio’s spot.
Everton’s fixtures are good for a while longer and DCL’s strong stats, coupled with Everton’s own good performances, lead many to speculate that he could soon become the best forward option around the £8m mark.
With DCL seemingly out of the picture and Callum Wilson (£7.4m) also recently injured, the list of options is perhaps shorter than we would like.
Raul Jimenez (£7.4m) is finally fit after recovering from a fractured skull sustained midway through last season, the Mexican has just begun a favourable run of fixtures and is once again at the forefront of our thoughts.
Wolves have looked better than expected at both ends of the field this season, their xG total of 7.93 can only be bettered by Man City and Liverpool but despite this they’ve failed to score in three of their four matches.
This can probably be in part explained by the quality of the goalkeeping faced in their opening three, with Kasper Schmeichel (£5.0m), Hugo Lloris (£5.6m) and David De Gea (£5.0m) all making notable stops against the Black Country side.
Wolves have also conjured up 45 shots in the box (SiTB) and ten big chances, both totals enough to rank in the top five. However, despite contributing a quarter of the SiTB, Jimenez has received zero big chances so far and as such has only accumulated an xG of 0.82 in 270 minutes.
Conversely, he has the fourth highest expected assists (xA) of all forwards, with 0.59. This is largely down to the league leading (among forwards) ten chances that he has created, although again he has no big chance involvement so far.
With Adama Traore (£6.0m) and Francisco Trincao (£5.9m) contributing close to half of their side’s xG it appears as though Jimenez is very much the link up man in Bruno Lage’s setup. While the fixtures are strong it may be a good punt to take, however the data and Jimenez’s performances don’t suggest he is about to explode and it is probably better to wait and see before taking the plunge.
Teemu Pukki (£5.9m) is another fantasy darling of seasons past, his heroics in the 2019/20 campaign are still fresh in the mind of most FPL managers and many are looking for any excuse to reignite the Pukki party.
Norwich are yet to kick into life, a direct result of the tough start they have had. The Canaries are bottom of the league for SiTB, second bottom for big chances and are in the bottom five for xG, scoring only one goal (a Pukki penalty).
It is tough to put any faith in a team with such poor statistics, however their fortunes may change with their upcoming run.
Norwich are about to embark on one of the best runs in the division, facing two of their fellow promoted sides and only three teams from last season’s top half. If Norwich are to stay up then this run will surely be defining, they won’t have a better opportunity to pick up points.
Pukki is on penalties and is the side’s talisman, if you believe fixtures breed form then at £5.9m there are far worse options to go for. You are obviously backing Norwich to show us something they haven’t yet, their lack of open play goal threat will need amending and with teams in their position there is always the concern that they will favour a more conservative approach in an attempt to get points on the board.
With Southampton’s fixtures not truly turning until GW9, and Leicester lacking any sort of nailed on budget option, there aren’t many options that are viable week in week out.
Odsonne Edouard (£6.5m) wowed Palace fans with a dazzling 12 minute, two goal cameo against Spurs. While eye catching, it has the caveat of the Spurs red card and Palace’s immediate fixtures being rather difficult. Like Adam Armstrong (£6.0m), Edouard looks a good option but one that is probably best put off for three or four weeks.
That leaves us with only one stand out contender, Patrick Bamford (£7.9m). The Leeds man had a breakout 2020/21 campaign and has managed a goal and assist over a steady opening four games.
Leeds don’t quite look their fluid selves yet, posting the seventh worst xG and so far tracking as one of the poorest defences. These numbers are clearly influenced by games against Man Utd and Liverpool, fixtures Leeds had mixed fortunes in last season, but their performances against Everton and Burnley also left fans with a few questions.
Like Norwich, Leeds are about to start their own mouthwatering fixture run that lasts for the best part of ten gameweeks. The Yorkshire side have gathered a bit of a reputation as flat track bullies, with the vast majority of their xG last season accumulated against teams in the bottom half, a good omen ahead of games against Newcastle, Watford, Southampton and Norwich in their next five.
Bamford has so far posted the fifth highest xG among forwards (1.94) and apart from Romelu Lukaku (£11.6m) he has accumulated the highest total without taking a penalty.
Despite Leeds’ mixed start, Bamford’s own performance and data suggests that further returns may be coming. This positive fixture swing could well be the perfect breeding ground for Leeds to hit their stride again.
For those concerned about booking in transfers, Bamford’s run goes on long enough that those that hang on to Antonio are likely to make the switch at some point anyway, meaning those who go early could well be ahead of the curve should the England man perform well.
It has to be noted that Bamford was seen holding his hamstring following Leeds’ home defeat to Liverpool and with no official line from the club it is best waiting before jumping into a decision. Should Bamford prove to be fit then he is comfortably the standout option to replace Antonio based on his upcoming fixtures and Leeds’ historical attacking prowess.
Firstly, I will start off by saying that holding Antonio becomes much easier if you have fires to fight elsewhere. For example, in my own team I had originally planned to look at replacing one of Said Benrahma (£6.4m) or Danny Ings (£8.0m) due to the former’s tough GW5 fixture and fears over future minutes, and the latter’s poor short term run.
The temptation then is to bench Antonio, seeing as he is a player I would likely want back from GW6 anyway, and focus on addressing areas I am less happy with.
The ability to do this is entirely team dependent, if you are happy with your squad and had planned to roll a transfer this week then ignoring the red flag on your bench becomes a lot more difficult.
A lot of the ‘rate my team’ tools will agree that focusing your moves away from Antonio is the optimal play. The assistant manager tool on fantasyfootballfix.com places Antonio on my bench and suggests I look at a variety of moves before shipping the West Ham man.
As shown above, it leans towards upgrading in midfield. While I wouldn’t want Ismaila Sarr (£6.0m) as a fifth midfielder, it does help to give me a sense of where my priorities should lie.
Sarr could potentially be a fine swap from Benrahma given the Algerian’s tough GW5 fixture and the Senegalese’s favourable short term run. Changing the parameters of the optimisation yields the suggestion that I should upgrade Benrahma to Ferran Torres (£7.2m), given the Fix algorithm predicts Torres to be the seventh highest scorer in GW5 it is easy to see why.
Ultimately, it is important to remember to not force transfers where possible. While I look at Benrahma’s game against Man Utd as a bad fixture, I also have to consider that it is at home and his run afterwards is good for a while. Benrahma also accumulated the highest expected goal involvement (xGI) of all West Ham attackers and matched Antonio for number of shots taken (2).
The striker’s absence does create a number of questions, but the answer to almost all of them still has Benrahma starting in GW5 and possibly in a more advanced role should he be chosen to cover Antonio’s absence. Even if one of his attacking colleagues gets the nod up front it still creates space to accommodate the Algerian, rather than drop him.
It is easy to react to Benrahma blanking in a 0-0 draw, but given he is still outperforming his teammates in many areas it is probably premature to move him on now.
Like Antonio, Benrahma faces the inconsistent Leeds defence in GW6 before hosting Brentford in GW7. Taking a step back and assessing the fixtures I’d probably want both West Ham men until GW9, where their fixtures turn, I’d then feel more comfortable about reducing my investment in the Hammers with the likes of Southampton, Arsenal and Aston Villa all hitting positive fixture runs.
To conclude, yes you could take out Antonio and aim for a slightly higher GW5 score, but as discussed each of his potential replacements have something we should be wary of, whether that be possible injury or lack of returns. Forcing a transfer to remain active normally feels wise, but be careful who you are taking out and always ask yourself “do I need to make this move?”.
The likelihood is your team is not in as bad shape as you think it is and showing patience with good assets will normally pay off in the long run. Saving a transfer has value too, potentially saving you four points down the line and should be weighed up against making a move. The upside of moving for Bamford or Torres is alluring, but how will making a move you didn’t necessarily plan for affect your strategy going forward.
As always with FPL, patience is the key and, in my opinion, there is not enough evidence to suggest that rushing Antonio out will yield more points than holding him in the medium term.
My objective for the week is to gather as much information as possible before deciding my plans, although at this stage I am leaning towards rolling a transfer and approaching GW6 with an extra move and more information.
*Underlying data and points projections obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Fix*