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FPL tips: How do elite managers choose their captains?

FPL Tips
(Image credit: PA Images)

With the business end of the FPL season approaching, captaincy choices are becoming more critical – if you’re unsure how to distribute the armband, who better to learn from than the elite?

By studying 1,000 managers with multiple top-10,000 finishes to their name, we've analysed how the elite have tinkered with their leaders this season.

A graphic showing how elite FPL managers use their captaincy

Big hitters

Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley – Premier League – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Daniel Leal Olivas/PA

While elite FPL managers have tricks up their sleeve, giving the captaincy to a differential is not one of them. In other words, thinking you're being wily by choosing David McGoldrick as captain at home to Manchester City - just because nobody else will have done it - is not something a "good" player would usually do. The stats show they mostly back the big names to earn big returns.

Mohamed Salah has been the elite’s most-captained player on seven separate occasions this season, more than any other player – in gameweek 15, a total of 91.8 per cent of this group of managers handed him the armband.

Kevin De Bruyne has been the top bosses’ next go-to captain, topping their charts on six occasions, but it is Harry Kane who was most popular ahead of GW26, the most recent round of fixtures.

Kane hasn’t been the elite’s favourite captain since GW8, but his selection this time around demonstrates they are as likely to choose a skipper based on fixture difficulty as they are on form.

The England forward is not enjoying a purple patch right now, but fixtures against Burnley and Fulham were enough to see him captained by 63.4 per cent of the study group – he scored against the Clarets, and could return a memorable points haul with a performance against the Cottagers.

No player has been the elite’s top captain for more than two weeks in a row – they don’t set and forget, they tinker and tailor to the occasion. So let that be a lesson to those of you out there who think "things always even up over the course of the season". They don't, so stay focused and make changes if you want to win. 

Captain fodder

File photo dated 03-02-2021 of Fulham manager Scott Parker. Issue date: Thursday February 4, 2021

(Glyn Kirk/PA)

A favourable fixture list can make some players irresistible captaincy choices, and some opponents prove more difficult to resist than others.

Leeds, Fulham and West Brom are the teams our top managers captain against most regularly, with each of them faced by the elite’s most popular captain on four occasions.

With the Baggies conceding on average more than two goals a game, and with a -35 goal difference, that won’t come as a surprise, while Fulham have won just over 15 per cent of their league games this season.

Leeds might seem an odd team to target given their comparatively lofty mid-table position, but it is their chaotic nature which makes them an appealing opponent.

Almost a third of their games have featured a minimum of five goals, and goals mean points.

Does price matter?

Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan warming up prior to kick-off during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture date: Tuesday March 2, 2021

(Carl Recine/PA)

Most of the elite’s captaincy picks are premium players with a proven record and a price tag to match, but on occasion they can be tempted to stray.

Only two players with a starting price of less than £9million have been the top bosses’ most-popular captaincy pick in a single gameweek – Patrick Bamford and Ilkay Gundogan.

Bamford’s consistency in the points has made him an appealing proposition. At just £6.8m he has returned more than three FPL points in 14 of his 26 games - four point being the benchmark for a decent FPL pick, in case that isn't clear. Any less than that, and you can safely say a player is stealing a wage in your starting XI. 

Gundogan meanwhile was difficult to resist for a time, scoring 111 FPL points in just 12 games – he was the elite’s favourite captain in GW21 and GW24, returning three points in the former and 19 in the latter.

The City man had scored a brace before each of those gameweeks however, so if you’re looking to a bargain to take on the captaincy, make sure they’re in form.

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