August 11, 2021

We are just two days away from the start of a brand new Fantasy Premier League season. This is the time when we all juggle around our FPL squads before completely dismantling it before the start of the season.

The key to doing well in FPL is having the right mix of template players and differential picks. The template players are easy to pick. However, to have the right options from the latter category is a bit more tricky. But that is why we are here. In this Top 10 Differentials Picks for 2021/22 FPL Season article, we will look at the best differential picks in the long run for that opening FPL team!

Please Note: Player ownerships are from the time of writing and are subject to change as we move closer to the deadline.





#10 César Azpilicueta (£6.0m) – TSB – 3.4%

A lot of managers have looked at Chelsea’s fixtures at the start of the season and chose to ignore their defenders. But the devil always lies in the minute details. It is in these fixtures where Thomas Tuchel‘s side were at their best defensively.

In 11 matches against high-class opposition forwards – Arsenal, Manchester City (x3), Real Madrid (x2), Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, and Atletico Madrid (X2) – the Blues conceded just 3 goals. To put things in perspective, under new manager Thomas Tuchel the West London side conceded fewer goals, conceded fewer Big Chances created and kept more clean sheets than any other team.

And among all Chelsea defenders, Azpilicueta is the safest bet, as he is guaranteed to play the vast majority of games. Despite not registering much in terms of attacking output, the Chelsea captain was the 3rd-highest point scorer among defenders from GW20-GW38 last season. This is largely down to his ability to amass bonus points, only Trent-Alexander Arnold (22) has amassed more bonus points than Azpilicueta (11) in that time.


#9 Kieran Tierney (£5.0m) – TSB – 8.4%

One reason why Arsenal defenders can be a valuable asset in our FPL teams is because of their impressive defensive record. Despite not having any big-name players to shore up the backline, the Gunners only conceded 39 Goals (3rd), kept 12 clean sheets (5th), conceded only 57 Big Chances (4th), while their Expected Goals conceded was at 44.08 (4th).

In only 26 starts last season, Kieran Tierney managed one goal and four assists – pretty sub-par for a player of his qualities. The Scotsman had 15 Shots, three shots on target and four shots in the box. He also created 31 chances, including five big chances.

And with the addition of Ben White to their arsenal (ignore the pun), Arteta‘s men are going to be even stronger defensively and more fluid playing out of the back. Another key factor in Arsenal potentially having a good season is the lack of European football. This essentially reduces the risk of Kieran Tierney suffering from injuries this season.




#8 João Cancelo (£6.0m) – TSB – 7.8%

Cancelo was phenomenal for Manchester City last season, making him one of the top commodities among defenders in FPL. The Portuguese international had 14 clean sheets, two goals and four assists to his name. It is the tweak in the system mid-way through last season that catapulted Cancelo’s attacking influence by ten folds.

While most FPL managers have gone with Rúben Dias as a safe bet, but when it comes to points per game, Cancelo would score more points than Dias all day long, mainly due to his attacking influence in City’s build-up play. Although many FPL managers’ fears are justified to an extent that there might be rotation between him and Kyle Walker, based on last season, Cancelo would be getting more minutes in my view.

City indeed have a tough start to their campaign with fixtures against the likes of TOT (A), ARS (H), LEE (A), CHE (A) and LIV (A), but if there’s something we are fully aware of, it is that City aren’t afraid of any of the aforementioned teams and are capable of beating every single one of them. With Jack Grealish already added to their roster and Harry Kane’s deal just around the corner, City are the team to beat this season.


#7 Illan Meslier (5.0m) – TSB – 4.9%

A goal keeper’s fantasy points are an accumulation of points from Clean Sheets, Saves, Bonus Points and the ‘rare commodity’ of Penalty Saves. The top scorer necessarily is not the one who gets a lot of clean sheets, but the best value GK is essentially the ‘Jack of All Trades’ in FPL.

And this is where players like Meslier can score you up to 150 points while freeing up valuable money to invest in other areas of the pitch. Valued at £4.5m, Meslier registered 11 clean sheets last season, but Ederson was the highest with 19 clean sheets still the Brazilian only ended up with 160 points – 6 points more for a player £1.5m pricier.

As I said, a clean sheet is not the only metric to consider, only Emiliano Martínez (142) of Aston Villa made more saves than Meslier (140) of Leeds. These 140 saves earned him another 46 points. While Bonus Points (BP) play a big part as well. Ederson only scored 3 BP for the 20/21 season, whereas Martinéz scored nine times more with 27 BP. The only other GK to make the cut for Top 15 BP winners is Meslier of Leeds.




#6 İlkay Gündoğan – (7.5m) – TSB – 6.9%

İlkay Gündoğan was one of last season’s most profitable assets, having ended the season as City’s top-scorer with 13 League goals. He was pivotal to the run which laid the foundation to City’s path to the title, as Guardiola’s outfit won 15 consecutive games from Gameweek 14 to Gameweek 29.

But including Gündoğan in your FPL squads can be a two-edged sword in my opinion. İlkay’s rise in attacking output was down to Pep Guardiola’s tactical tweaks. And those adjustments benefitted the German massively as he scored 10 times between Gameweek 14 and Gameweek 25 last season.

While he started all games in the first period (GW13 – GW25) versus six starts in the second period (GW26 – GW38). With that in mind, Gündoğan had 26 efforts in the box over those 13 starts while managing just six between GW26 and GW38. His xG also tailed off significantly, from 7.01 to 1.81.

Guardiola operated with a veritable ‘front four’ of Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez (£9.0m), Phil Foden (£8.0m) and Bernardo Silva (£7.0m) in the final third of the season, with the Belgian occasionally operating as the nominal spearhead of the attack, which limited the German’s attacking influence significantly. Now £2.0m more expensive than last season’s starting price, Gündoğan’s viability as an FPL pick will come down to Guardiola’s set-up once again.


#5 Callum Wilson (£7.5m) – TSB – 6.4%

Callum Wilson can be a very good option as the third striker. At the time of writing this, Wilson is selected by just six percent of the FPL managers. Priced at £7.5m, the Magpies striker is under-appreciated by the FPL managers but can be the shrewdest differential pick based on value per £m.

Despite missing a third of the 2020/21 season through injury, Wilson returned 18 goal contributions with 12 Goals and six Assists. Steve Bruce’s Newcastle have a very good run of fixtures up and till Gameweek 15, with fixtures against top-six opposition evenly spread out.

Callum Wilson is Newcastle’s talisman. It is in these kinds of fixtures that Wilson and indeed Newcastle tend to do well. He is on the end of most of the chances they create. He takes penalties. Moreover, the Magpies are a team that does not score a lot of goals, nor do they keep clean sheets, hence why Wilson gets a lot of bonus points. The Newcastle man also got 22 bonus points, the fourth-best tally among forwards, seventh-best overall.




#4 Emile Smith Rowe (£5.5m) – TSB – 7.8%

The English playmaker had his breakthrough season and filled the creative void which was hindering Arsenal’s progress. Smith Rowe made his Premier League debut in Gameweek 15 versus Chelsea. In only 18 starts last season, the Englishman scored two goals and accumulated five assists. What’s more impressive are the underlying statistics, including 12 shots, nine shots in the box and three big chances.

He also created 27 chances and four big chances without assuming set-piece duties. He ended the season strongly, with two goals in his last four league games and started the majority of matches despite having to compete with Martin Ødegaard.

Despite being just 21-year-old, it looks like the Arsenal hierarchy and Mikel Arteta have full faith in the abilities of their academy graduate by giving him the iconic #10 jersey this season. Even with a tough opening set of fixtures, it was in these matches last season, where the Hale End product announced himself into the limelight and thus remains one to watch out for this season.


#3 Jack Harrison (£6.0m) – TSB – 5.4%

As Leeds United continued to dazzle and mesmerise the EPL faithful with their scintillating football, one of the constant debates that went in the FPL community was to choose between Raphinha and Jack Harrison. The former ended the season with 133 points and the latter with 160 points.

Harrison was a menace down the left-hand flank last season and was the best budget midfielder by a country mile. The 24-year-old had 18 goal involvements last season. He scored six goals and provided 12 Assists, at a rate of one goal involvement every 158 minutes. The Leeds midfielder recorded 1.42 Sh/90 and 1.86 Key passes/90 as well.

Although there isn’t much to choose between the two. We FPL managers tend to get trapped in the eye test too much. Raphinha is more pleasing to the eye while Harrison just goes about his business without much fuss.

Leeds do have a tricky opening set of fixtures and by Gameweek 5 it eases out a little, but that doesn’t mean Harrison won’t be in the thick of the action as evident from his last season’s exploits. With a goal involvement percentage of 48.1% and 10 Big Chances created, Harrison also had an xG/90 of 0.20 and xA/90 of 0.24.




#2 Raul Jiménez (£7.5m) – TSB – 3.8%

Going under the radar somewhat is Raul Jiménez, who has racked up 52 attacking returns in 86 Premier League appearances to date and averages a very respectable 4.9 points per match in doing so. Jiménez would score 13 goals and provide 10 assists in the 18/19 season, before further cementing his credentials with 17 goals and seven assists in the 19/20 season.

What’s more impressive is his expected goal involvement (xGI), Jiménez ranked fourth in the 18/19 season and second in the 19/20 season with 19.19 and 21.73 resp. The Mexican forward has been consistently delivering on the pitch with the amount of, or should I say lack of Chances created by Nuno Espírito Santo’s sides in the last three seasons.

Having suffered a fractured skull in Gameweek 10 of last season, Jiménez returned to full training in July of this year as pre-season began. But not only does Jiménez have to regain form and match fitness after that horrific injury, but he also has to do it under a new manager.

Bruno Lage could potentially be a tonic for Wolves’ attacking assets, with the former Benfica manager having a reputation for playing more offensive football than his predecessor. We will need a few Gameweeks to assess Lage’s impact and Jiménez’s match-sharpness. Moreover, from Gameweek 4 to Gameweek 15 they won’t face any of the top six clubs. So, Jiménez could be worth taking the punt from Gameweek 4 onwards.


#1 Riyad Mahrez (£9.0m) – TSB – 6.6%

Riyad Mahrez is all set to get off to a flyer. Mahrez scored 145 points last season, however, he played just 1945 minutes, which is significantly lower than any other player accumulating similar scores or higher. If we break this down further, the Algerian’s minutes per point is 13.5, which is on par with the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Mohamed Salah.

My confidence in Mahrez to flourish has some solid backing as well. Unlike most other Manchester City players, Mahrez has had a full pre-season under his belt. On top of that, players like Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling might not be heavily involved in the first few Gameweeks.

Not just that, Mahrez established himself as one of the key players in the team last season. He started almost all of City’s big matches in the second half of the season and ended the season strongly with 9 goals and 8 assists to his name. The key is to identify the right time to invest in these explosive Manchester City assets. The start of the season may well be the perfect time to invest in Mahrez. The caveat though is Pep Roulette!

Rahul Saha

An engineer taking the road less taken. I love writing, live and breathe football, and am always up for a tactical conversation.

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