We’re coming to the end of the 20/21 FPL season. Gameweek 31 is around the corner, and it’s been earmarked as one prime for a wildcard. This is thanks to there being a solid swing in fixtures – some sides with popular players have a rough run of fixtures, while a few other sides kick off a more friendly run.
To keep this short and snappy, we’ll have a look at a selection of the prime options for wildcards in GW31. Players whose fixtures take a turn for the better, those with eye-catching underlying stats, and the more popular picks among the community.
The focus here will be on the new(er) options that are becoming very prevalent and worthy of discussion as many people are wildcarding. The likes of Martinez, Dias, Stones, Cresswell, Raphinha, De Bruyne, et al are all options (well, City rotation makes it very difficult to prioritise them), but we’re looking at the shiny new toys.
Let’s crack on, eh?
Mendy – Chelsea – 5.2m – 9.5% Ownership
A bit of a standard choice in a lot of wildcard teams is Chelsea’s Mendy. In the time that Tuchel has been in charge at Chelsea, they’ve largely been outstanding defensively. The fact that this comes immediately after they were battered 5-2 at home to West Brom isn’t ideal, but they’ve been outstanding outside of that.
They’ve kept 8 clean sheets in the 11 league games he’s been in charge of, and Chelsea have the second-best defence in terms of expected non-penalty goals and assists against; second only to the ridiculous Man City defence.
We’ll get a bit more in-depth into Chelsea’s defensive numbers further on (spoilers), but Mendy represents an excellent set-and-forget option.
Lloris – Spurs – 5.6m – 6.5%
Any Spurs defensive representation may not be the most enticing prospect in the world, but Lloris represents an interesting option. Spurs have a double in GW32 (Everton (A), Southampton (H)), and generally have a great run of fixtures which include Sheffield United, Wolves and Villa at home within the final 5 gameweeks.
In terms of his own performance, Lloris and his Spurs defence have kept 10 clean sheets this season, and the man himself is fourth for, hang on with me here, post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed. Basically, the higher this metric, the better the keeper has done at keeping shots out.
If you want to back the Spurs defence, this would likely be the option. Their back four hasn’t been particularly set in stone this season, with a fair few players being involved.
Leno – Arsenal – 5.0m – 6.8%
Arsenal’s Leno represents a player whose fixtures take a lovely turn. In the next 5 gameweeks, Arsenal play Sheffield United (A), Fulham (H), Newcastle (A), and West Brom (H). They also face Palace (A) and Brighton (H) on the final two gameweeks, two very decent fixtures.
This is an option if you heavily favour fixtures over anything else. Arsenal have been so-so defensively this season, and haven’t kept a clean sheet in the league since GW21. You’ll get a keeper who has very favourable fixtures for the majority of the season, and may well make plenty of saves.
Forster – Southampton – 4.0m – 6.5% (Backup)
With the goalkeeper slot in FPL, rotation isn’t ideal. Having a super-cheap second option is a popular play, and is only aided when they aren’t rooted to the bench of their actual club. Southampton have had issues with their goalkeepers, with the regular number one, McCarthy, simply not being good enough this season.
Forster has started four of their last five league games, keeping a clean sheet in one of them. Having Forster as an enabler is great, and is something you’ll see in the majority of late-game teams this season.
There’s not much to sell outside of the fact that he’s dead cheap and is currently playing, saving you at least 0.5m that can be used in other areas. Southampton have a rough run of fixtures, and blank in GW33. Hopefully, he won’t be needed.
Antonio Rüdiger – Chelsea – 4.7m – 5.6%
A standard pick, and one that’s been involved in many squads in the second half of the season, Rüdiger has been a feature in Tuchel’s Chelsea defence, though wasn’t involved in the 5-2 loss to West Brom, which is probably a good thing for his prospects going forward.
We touched on the strength of the Chelsea defence while covering Mendy. Looking at overall defensive stats, Chelsea have conceded the:
- 2nd-fewest shots on target (85)
- 4th-fewest shots per 90 (8.97)
- 2nd-lowest expected goals against (24.8)
Chelsea have been excellent defensively, and even if you want to shy away from them for a few of the tough fixtures they have, he’s at a comfortable price in terms of rotation, and there are a few defensive options out there.
Chelsea Alternatives: Azpilicueta (5.9m), James (5.0m) are both options, though Azpi is rather pricey and James is a rotation risk.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool – 7.3m – 14.1%
A big name in many different respects, Trent is an expensive option who has massively underperformed this season, going from a genuine shout for greatest ever FPL defender, to someone being in the same bracket in terms of FPL end-product as Michael Keane.
He’s one of several Liverpool players who are fantastic options thanks to their outrageous run of fixtures to close out the season.
Aside from United away, which will probably be 0-0, they have a sea of green.
In the past 10 gameweeks, Trent has racked up 22 attempted assists – the 2nd-most of any defender in that time – with an xA (expected assists) of 2.47. He’s also created 6 big chances in that time, the most of any defender.
After a very poor start, and middle, to the season, Trent’s personal numbers are ticking again, and Liverpool’s run of fixtures is ridiculous.
Phillips – Liverpool – 4.0m – 1.6%
This falls more into the bracket of budget enablers, similar to Forster, but here we have someone with an outstanding run of fixtures, who plays every week thanks to Liverpool’s conveyor belt of broken centre backs, and is available at a bench fodder price.
If you’re not willing to put up the cash for Trent, Phillips is an option who has the same defensive potential, but little-to-no attacking potential. You know what you’re getting here – either 2 points or 6.
In terms of Liverpool’s defensive numbers, we know that they’ve dropped off massively thanks to their injury issues, but they’re not *awful*. They have the 5th-lowest expected goals against (29.8), have conceded the 2nd-fewest shots, and face a raft of sides who haven’t offered much going forward.
Over the past 6 weeks, a rather arbitrary date range, I know, Liverpool have only conceded 4 goals, with an xGA of 6.84. Fabinho moving into the midfield, with Thiago sitting further forward, allows for better protection of the defence, and generally greater control.
To help pour money into other areas of the team, but sacrificing the attacking potential of Trent, Phillips is an excellent wildcard choice.
Shaw – Manchester United – 5.3m – 15.5%
Shaw is in the same bracket as Rudiger in terms of players who are still great options, but were a part of wildcard squads in around GW25/26, providing very good value. In terms of attacking output among defenders, Shaw is:
- 1st for attempted assists (53)
- 4th for big chances created (7)
- 5th for expected assists (3.95)
He’s also been a regular set piece taker for Man United, taking the majority of corners for them. When it comes to defensive numbers, United have kept 12 clean sheets, having an expected goals against of 32.3 (as per FBref), or 33.7 (as per Understat). While different models vary, they sit in the top 4-6 of teams in terms of underlying defensive numbers. United have also kept 4 clean sheets in the past 5 games, if you’re into the “form” thing.
Shaw is a great option, and a nailed-on choice in many wildcards. They have a tough few games throughout the season, but with United, they generally tend to stink out the joint in these games, so they may actually be the safe bets in terms of clean sheets.
Coady – Wolves – 4.8m – 5.4%
Wolves are an odd one to try and sell. They’ve had a poor season by their recent standards, which is fairly expected considering the loss of several key players – Jota and Doherty left, while Jimenez and Jonny have been out with injuries.
You’ll see a few teams with Wolves defenders in them at the moment, largely due to their upcoming run of fixtures. They have Fulham (A), Sheffield United (H), Burnley (H) and West Brom (A) as their next four fixtures. Even without the greatest defensive record, that… is quite enticing.
Coady is the primary defensive option thanks to him being nailed-on every week, and he’s even been crossing the halfway line a bit more often, going up for set pieces and getting the odd shot off. Coady has had 5 shots in the past 4 gameweeks, totalling at around 1.4 xG – completely unheard of from him in the past.
That being said, this is strictly a fixtures pick. If Wolves continue to play a back 4 in Boly’s absence, with Nouri and Semedo at full back, and Coady being far more used to a back 3, it makes this choice a bit less enticing.
Wolves Alternatives: Saiss (4.9) is an option, but we’re just really going for clean sheets here. Coady has increased his attacking potential and is 100% nailed.
Holding – Arsenal – 4.2m – 3.2%
Moving again into the field of budget enablers, Holding is a solid option. Priced in the fodder bracket, Arsenal’s upcoming run of favourable fixtures presents their defenders as solid options in the next few weeks, and Holding’s price leaves him as serviceable bench fodder for when you don’t fancy playing him.
In terms of defensive numbers, Arsenal haven’t been incredible, and they haven’t been awful. They’re around midtable for stats such as expected goals against (35.7) and shots conceded (349).
I mean, the real pull here is the price. Holding should be starting for Arsenal for the next few games with Luiz being out, and he’s managed 14 shots on goal this season – the most of any Arsenal defender, indicating a decent bit of attacking potential from set pieces.
Fofana – Leicester – 5.0m – 0.4%
Looking at Leicester’s assets will be a common theme throughout each of the outfield positions, particularly up front. For now, it could be worth looking at their defensive prospects, with their favourable run of fixtures, which include West Brom (H), Palace (H), and Newcastle (H) within the next 5 gameweeks.
Fofana is back in the side after an injury, he’s seemingly nailed – especially if Leicester stick to a back 3, which Leicester are more comfortable in defensively.
In terms of overall defensive numbers, Leicester have kept 10 clean sheets this season, with 35.2 expected goals against – pretty much part with their actual goals conceded.
This would be a pick solely for defensive intent considering their fantastic run of fixtures from GW32-35, which could very realistically return 3 clean sheets. Fofana doesn’t prodoce much in terms attacking intent, but could still prove to be a very solid option on a wildcard with this run of fixtures.
Check out this thread on Twitter via @FPLFoxy for more info on Leicester options.
Leicester Alternatives: Castagne (5.7m) is seemingly nailed, whether it be as a full back or a wing back in Justin’s absence, and represents a defensive option with much more attacking potential, though a rather pricey one considering the relative potential value available in defence.
Salah – Liverpool – 12.4m – 29.8%
Feels a bit weird putting Salah in here, but it’s worth briefly touching on him as a prospect going into the final stretch of the season. Even with 18 league goals and 182 FPL points, he still feels a bit disappointing and like a player you could go without considering his price.
With Liverpool’s run of games, Salah is a lock in a number of teams, with him being on penalties and playing for a Liverpool side that, for their failings, are only 3 points off the top 4.
His personal numbers, while not exactly poor, are worse than we’re used to seeing. He’s currently:
- 3rd for xG (per FBref)
- 4th for total shots – he’s been head and shoulders above the rest in recent seasons
- 7th for NPxG (per FBref) – below Watkins, Mane and Calvert-Lewin
That being said, it’s hard to go without him with Liverpool’s fixtures.
Jota – Liverpool – 6.9m – 11.6%
A bit more of an interesting prospect from Liverpool, and a possible catalyst for a late-season push, is Diogo Jota. In just 727 minutes he’s managed to score 8 league goals, scoring 3 in the past 2 games. Looking at per 90 stats, Jota averages:
- 3 shots
- 2.34 shots in the box
- 1 attempted assist
- 0.86 big chances
- 0.47 xG
- 0.16 xA
While there is a minor risk of rotation with Firmino, Jota really is an absolute lock in any wildcard team, and is a primary transfer target for anybody not on a wildcard. There’s not much else to say – playing up front for Liverpool, sub-7m price, great underlying stats, just a good time all round.
Neto – Wolves – 5.7m – 7.5%
One of many cheaper midfield options, Neto hasn’t provided a ludicrous amount of attacking returns so far this season, but has seriously stood out for a struggling Wolves side that have had to deal with the loss of the aforementioned Jota, and the unfortunate injury suffered by Jimenez.
Looking at FBref’s model, Neto is currently 7th for expected assists with an xA of 6.1. He’s racked up 60 key passes, the 5th-most of any player in the league. Neto has also racked up a decent number of shots, 60, but the quality of these shots haven’t been particularly high, with a lot of them coming from outside the box or from tight angles within the box.
I like Neto as an option, especially with his price and his fixtures, but the emphasis is on the fixtures. Relying on creativity for points isn’t ideal when there isn’t really anybody to put the chances away. Wolves have the 7th-lowest xG of any side in the league this season, and their two strikers in Jimenez’s absence – Fabio Silva and Willian Jose – have scored 3 goals between them this season.
Lingard – West Ham – 6.3m – 19.2%
Now this is a fun one, isn’t it? Lingard has joined West Ham having spent the majority of the season gathering dust at Man United, and has been a revelation. In his time at West Ham, he’s scored 6 goals and set up 4 more in just 707 minutes.
In the 8 games he’s played, Lingard has had 23 shots with 4 of them being big chances, and created 9 chances, with 2 of those being big chances.
There are two issues with Lingard. One being West Ham’s recent injury issues. Rice is out for a few weeks, and Antonio pinged the remnants of his hamstring at the weekend against Wolves. This could hinder Lingard going forward. Another issue, and one that’s been brought up along within the community, is overperformance.
Lingard has amassed 2.8 xG, scoring 6 goals. A chunk of this xG would be a penalty, which he missed and then scored the rebound from. He’s tallied up NPxG per 90 minutes of 0.35 – not a great amount. There’s also the fact that West Ham play Leicester and Chelsea in the next 3 games, the latter of which are very solid defensively.
With Lingard, his price makes him an outstanding option. If you want to look away from stats, you have someone who’s at the heart of each attack for a team chasing the top 4. He’s also someone who is playing for a move or a permanent place – doing an Adebayor, if you will.
Balancing out potential overperformance looking at his stats, with the flowing confidence and motivation he has, on top of a solid enough run of fixtures and a budget price, is quite difficult. He’s still a fantastic choice for me, despite his poor underlying stats, and is a good choice for any wildcard side.
Maddison – Leicester – 7.1m – 4.8%
Another Leicester option, with there upcoming fixtures in mind, is Maddison. Coming back from an injury, which is a risk in itself, Maddison could be a firm fixture in the team for the aforementioned run between GW32-35.
Even with injury troubles, over the course of the season Maddison has amassed:
- 56 shots (3 per 90)
- 42 key passes (2.3 per 90)
- 8 goals
- 7 assists
The aforementioned run of fixtures, including West Brom (H), Palace (H), and Newcastle (H) within the next 5 gameweeks, we’ve got sides that leak goals, and some of which that don’t fare too well when it comes to defending set pieces – Maddison’s speciality. Palace have conceded 10 goals from set pieces, the 3rd-most of any team.
Son – Spurs – 9.4m – 42.6%
Finally, another pick that’s been very popular throughout the season, but one that has dropped off in recent weeks. Son had an absurd start to the season, scoring 8 goals in the first 6 games of the season, including a 4-goal haul against Southampton. This all brought about questions of sustainability, especially the Southampton game where he basically scored the same goal 4 times. Son has scored once since GW17.
His underlying numbers aren’t incredible, with him sitting in 15th for NPxG (7.8, with 13 goals scored from this). Son has averaged 1.9 shots per game, with 0.31 xG per 90. He’s had 20 big chances, which is joint-5th among all players.
One curious aspect of his game was the increased creative output, particularly when Bale had a run in the team. Son has amassed 53 attempted assists, and has created 13 big chances.
Son is an odd one as he won’t actually be in my wildcard, but he’ll be brought in for GW32, when Spurs have a double gameweek. Spurs then blank in GW33, but have Sheffield United at home in GW34, followed by Leeds away – two fantastic fixtures.
With this GW32 double, and the two fixtures after the blank, the Kane and Son combo will need to be dusted off once again.
Kane – Spurs – 11.7m – 48%
This is just filling out space. You have him. Everyone has him. Just highlighting that he’s probably the best triple captain option for the rest of the season, with a DGW in GW32.
Iheanacho – Leicester – 5.8m – 4.7%
An interesting pick going forward is Leicester’s Iheanacho, someone who has shown promise in glimpses over the years without ever really nailing down a place anywhere. In recent weeks, partly due to injuries to Barnes and Maddison, Iheanacho has come into the Leicester side and has flourished, scoring 5 goals in the past 5 matches, including a hat-trick against everybody’s favourite pinata, Sheffied United.
Iheanacho is averaging 3.08 shots per 90 minutes this season, as well as 1.24 big chances per 90, and an xG90 of 0.53. As per the brilliant Bakar, only Kane has had more big chances than Iheanacho since GW26.
At his price point, and with Leicester’s upcoming fixtures, Iheanacho is a popular choice, and with good reason. Providing he keeps his place in the team, even with Maddison returning, he can provide excellent value.
Vardy – Leicester – 10.1m – 18.7%
Now, onto his much more expensive strike partner. Vardy has been FPL royalty for years now, and has quietly had a good season with 12 goals and 12 (FPL) assists, though these returns have been more heavily weighted towards the first half of the season.
Vardy’s a great option, in part due to the fact that he is Leicester’s penalty taker, and has some cracking fixtures coming up. In terms of underlying numbers, Vardy is:
- 7th for NPxG/90 (via FBref)
- 2nd for xG+xA/90 (via FBref + Understat)
- Joint-1st for big chances (27)
If you’re opting to go without someone like Trent or Bruno, Vardy is a very good premium option.
Vydra – Burnley – 4.8m – 1.1%
Another recently emerging forward option within the community, that primarily works as a budget enabler, would be Burnley’s Vydra. In recent weeks, Vydra has taken up the supporting role to Chris Wood up top for Burnley, and has started the last 6 league games for them, scoring 2 goals and setting up another in that time.
The 0.85 xG he accumulated against Leicester stands out, though outside of that, he’s not racking up a large number of chances, or quality ones at that.
In the past 6 games, he’s had 10 shots, with 6 attempted assists. Not jumping off the page, not earth-shatteringly good, but for someone who’d act as a budget enabler that has Newcastle (H) this week? It’s not too bad of an option.
Based on the primary options that are floating around, here are a few potential wildcard drafts:
Big shouts to the smart folks who gather these stats and put together all these fancy models.