The Zlatan Conundrum

Zlatan Ibrahimović and the GW34 FPL armband

Gameweek 34 promises to be a pivotal moment during the 2016/17 Official Fantasy Premier League season with 3 sides – Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough all set to play twice.

With double points up for grabs for your chosen captain, selecting a player that has 2 fixtures would seem to make most sense. If you’re familiar with our ‘Captometer’ rankings, you will know that we gauge the likelihood of the main protagonists being directly involved in goals, so the latest ratings include the goal expectation for both fixtures of those 3 key sides involved in the double gameweek.

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Zlatan Ibrahimović comes out as the clear top-rated candidate but whatever warning bells he previously came attached with have now been significantly enhanced. A long season had appeared to be taking its toll on the veteran striker, who was left out of United’s starting XI against leaders’ Chelsea last Sunday but Ibrahimović did start for United in the 2nd leg of their Europa League quarter-final with Anderlecht on Thursday, only to suffer what looked like a potentially serious knee injury on the stroke of full-time with the tie deadlocked.

If Ibra was to recover quickly the big question we need to answer is what would the implications be, were he not to feature against Burnley on Sunday regardless?

Well, we can simply use our EPL goal forecasts to see where he would sit in the rankings since we have a figure for both of United’s GW34 fixtures.

Seeing him fail to feature against the Clartets would be a bitter blow for anybody who gave him the FPL armband since he would only just squeeze into the Top 20 armband contenders. However, if he was to play against Burnley then take no part in the Manchester derby, he would still sit a respectable 5th in the above ratings.

But if you give him the armband, you will be banking on him featuring in both fixtures, which now looks somewhat unlikely.

Obviously what happens on the training ground between now and Sunday will have a bearing and any clues from José Mourinho’s post-Anderlecht reaction or pre-Burnley press conferences should be noted but United’s manager will know that 3 points are a pre-requisite at Turf Moor.

The reverse fixture at Old Trafford earlier in the season highlighted the problem that has blighted United’s progress under Mourinho – an inability to convert chances. According to the WhoScored match report for that game in October, United had 38 shots, 11 of which were on target but they still didn’t manage to break the deadlock.

Ibrahimović was responsible for 12 of those shots, 4 of which he got on target but he still couldn’t find a way past Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who was in inspired form, so it’s possible that both him and Mourinho might fancy another bite at that particular cherry.

The Clarets are a very direct team, who play loads of long balls and one facet of the game that Ibra excels in is defending set-pieces, where he uses his physicality to good effect.

If you decide to swerve the former Sweden international, as we suspect many might then Alexis Sánchez or Álvaro Negredo might be your best alternatives. Sánchez, who only plays once has the pick of the Gameweek 34 fixtures but Negredo is arguably more appealing. Middlesbrough need a minimum of 4 points if they are to have any chance of surviving, so they need to make the most of matches against Bournemouth and Sunderland.

While a heavy defeat at Bournemouth would not augur well, at least a North-East derby with the Black Cats should ensure that Boro and Negredo are up for next Wednesday’s encounter, when local bragging rights will be on the line.

Marcus Rashford has just 5 goals and 1 assist from 26 Premier League appearances this season but a lively display against Chelsea might persuade one or two to take a chance on him, especially if Ibra is confirmed as a definite absentee.

The heat is being turned up as the Fantasy Premier League reaches its climax – who will you give the GW34 armband to?