It’s late November and we are fast approaching a defining period in every season for FPL managers, the festive fixture pile up. Between Gameweek 14 and Gameweek 21 there are 80 scheduled Premier League fixtures in just 35 days, with 20 separate days of at least 1 fixture being played. An absolute bonanza for those of us who love watching football but a nightmare for managers looking to protect the fitness of their multi million pound players.
At this time of year a lot of FPL managers start to behave like a certain animal beginning with S, no not sheep, Squirrels. Preparing for winter by stockpiling the most rotation proof players possible and gathering a bench full of players guaranteed 90 minutes. Think of that scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory except instead of Veruca Salt being launched down a chute it’s FPL managers ditching Ross Barkley. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it, it will be on at Christmas, it’s always on at Christmas.
Thirteen games into the season and a clear top 5 has emerged in the Premier League. Liverpool and Man City are still unbeaten, Chelsea suffered their first defeat at the weekend whilst Spurs and Arsenal have been consistent ahead of their GW15 “fixture swing”. Unsurprisingly they make up 5 of the top 6 teams for FPL points scored so far this season having scored 33% of the total points and their players represent 47% of the total players selected. Liverpool players currently have 12 million owners, City 10.8 million, Chelsea 9.7 million, Spurs 5.2 million and Arsenal 4.1 million. Rotation amongst these teams over the festive period will have a big impact on the FPL landscape.
Pep is notorious for rotation in the FPL community with managers attempting to second guess his team selection on a weekly basis. However in the 10 league games City played last season between the 26th of November and the 2nd of January three players (Ederson, Otamendi & KDB) started all of them whilst Walker, Fernandinho and Sterling started 9 each. Klopp on the other hand doesn’t seem to have quite the same notoriety within the community but in the same period last year he used 23 different players, no player started more than 8 of the 10 games and 16 started at least 4. Liverpool’s progress from their Champions League group is not assured (at the time of writing) and the final group game with Napoli will likely be crucial thus increasing the chances of Premier League rotation in this period. City’s qualification is secured and given their rivals closer proximity in the league this season the rotation for their premium assets may not be as bad as we all fear.
Chelsea are under new management this season so it remains to be seen how Sarri will approach the winter break-less Premier League schedule. However a look at his time with Napoli may give us some clues. In the 3 years Sarri was at the club Marek Hamsik featured in all 124 league games, while Allan, Callejon and Mertens all joined Hamsik in appearing in every match last season. Reina and Insigne missed just one game and Hysaj and Koulibaly missed three showing Sarri likes to keep consistency in his selections. Seven Chelsea players have started all 13 games this season including all of the back 4. Alonso is owned by nearly half of the teams in the game but a defensive double up over the festive period may be a profitable way to go given the surety of minutes.
The average FPL squad currently has one Spurs player in it but with their fixtures soon changing for the better it’s reasonable to expect those numbers to increase significantly. Tottenham don’t have anyone capable of deputising for Kane so he doesn’t get rotated which means he feels like a safe pick for the busy period and he will likely prove a popular captain choice too. Eriksen and Vertonghen would usually be players you would expect to start the majority of games but given recent injuries they may well be protected over such a busy schedule. Eriksen has already missed more minutes this season than he did in the previous two season combined.
Arsenal are also under new management this season but in contrast to Chelsea have just 3 players who have played more than 940 of a possible 1170 minutes this season. Mustafi (1170 mins) and Bellerín (1125) both seem overpriced at 5.4m given Arsenal have kept just 2 clean sheets in their opening 13 games and Xhaka (1104) is not really an FPL option. The number of different players (21) used by Emery in the Premier League so far suggests he isn’t quite sure of his best line up yet which may continue into the Christmas period. Lacazette and Aubameyang have both missed significant minutes so far but have still managed 5 and 8 goals respectively. Their price point rather than their ability to return FPL points may be what limits increases in ownership for these two with sacrifices elsewhere probably being required to fit them in.
Winter rotation will inevitably impact every FPL manager in some way. It is highly unlikely that all the big players will feature in every game between now and January so a strong bench will be vital during this period. Liverpool and Arsenal are the riskiest investments from a rotation point of view in my opinion whereas Kane, Hazard (if fully fit) and the Chelsea defence would appear the best bets for players that may well feature in every game between now and the new year. Hopefully fear of Pep roulette will drive people away from City assets given that last year’s appearances would seem to suggest the hype around City rotation is exaggerated.