Winter is coming…take heed the words of the House of Stark and brace yourself for the double edged sword that is FIFA Ultimate Team Winter upgrades. Each winter after the January transfer window closes, EA Sports takes a second look at the players across FUT and re-aligns their total rating based on real world performance. Last year over 130 players were upgraded, of the cards rated above an 80 all players received a modest +1/+2 increase except for French striker Alexandre Lacazette who jumped from a 79 to 82. So don’t expect dramatic increases for those already in the 1%. The biggest increase went to Tottenham forward Harry Kane who sky rocketed from a 68 Silver to a 77 Gold but I predict his gain of +9 will be surpassed this year by not just one player but two.

There are always two ways to look at every subject, with pessimism or optimism. The glass half fullers will celebrate the Winter upgrades. They believe a new card brings new opportunity, an opportunity to enhance their team with a higher rated option or even gain access to a bargain as surely the price of the old card will drop. The naysayers will argue that this is all a mechanism for more EA Sports greed by devaluing the existing base cards and forcing users to buy packs & FIFA points to acquire the shiny, new and more expensive upgraded version. Hence the double sword comment made earlier. Much like the Stark’s motto of “Winter is Coming” which is a warning for constant vigilance in the face of impending darkness, brace yourself for the impact on the FUT transfer market because the result can be favorable or unfavorable depending on your view and circumstance.

Below are my list of the 20 most deserving players of upgrades this winter. There will surely be more players in the upgrade release but this group have out-performed their rating more than the rest. Let’s not kid ourselves reputation, community demand and legacy does play a part in FUT ratings, is it any coincidence that cover athlete Lionel Messi has been rated higher than Ronaldo each year since 2011? You can argue all you want who is better but you can’t definitively tell me that Messi has been better than Ronaldo every year for the last six years especially when Ronaldo has won a Spanish La Liga title, Champions League title and 2 FIFA World Player of the Year awards during that span. Anyways, I digress, let’s get to the list of upgrades.

↑ UPGRADES ↑

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Jamie Vardy & Riyad Mahrez

One of the biggest stories in English soccer has been the meteoric rise of Leicester City who sit atop the table in the Premier League. The Foxes are led by Jamie Vardy (71 ST) and winger Riyad Mahrez (73 RW) who both are set for massive increases in the Winter upgrade release. Vardy started the season rated a 71 overall, a relative unknown having just scored 5 goals in 34 competitions last year and playing non-league football for Fleetwood just 3 years ago. The Englishmen not only leads the league in scoring with 15 goals in 16 matches, he broke a Premier League record by scoring a goal in 11 straight BPL matches earning himself a special Record Breaking 82 IF card.

His partner in crime Mahrez is in such high demand that football transfer rumors have the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United vying for his services. Mahrez is 2nd in the league in scoring just behind Vardy with 13 goals, he’s tied for third in assists with 7 completely justifying his three In-Form cards (74-77-80) this early in the season. With all of that said and with their current highest IF cards sitting at 82 and 80, I’m going to predict that both base cards jump to an 83 overall making their upgrades worth +12 and +10 respectively.

Chicharito

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Manchester United didn’t want him, Real Madrid didn’t want him, the Mexican National team doesn’t want him but Bayern Leverkusen is loving life with him. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, the 27 year old Mexican striker, has found a home in the German Bundesliga as a regular starter. Since his transfer in October, all Chicharito (translation means Little Pea) has done is score 16 goals in his first 17 appearances. His former club Manchester United in that same time frame has scored 14 goals and are stuck in mediocrity.

Chich is one of the few players in Ultimate Team to have peaked in earlier years and become less relevant as he approaches his prime. He’s consistently rated between an 81 and 83 with a previous high mark in FIFA 11 reaching 86 via his final In-Form. In the Week 14, he received his first IF card of the year boosting him to an 81 which is a bit insulting. This still puts him behind the base cards for Bundesliga strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (82) and Klass-Jan Huntelaar (82). While Aubameyang is also set for an upgrade, his latest IF being an 84, Huntelaar is having a pedestrian season at Schalke 04 with a mere 5 goals on the campaign.

Mesut Ozil

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Death, taxes and Mesut Ozil assists are the only constants in life. The Arsenal midfielder is always one of the most overlooked players in Ultimate Team. He doesn’t have the shot power and ability like James Rodriguez or Paul Pogba, he’s not a traditional ‘point guard’ like David Silva or Cesc Fabregas, he’s not as quick as Angel Di Maria or Arturo Vidal, he doesn’t have the flashy ratings like some of the other players but he’s the entire package. For the value there is no better CAM than Ozil. Would you rather have Ozil for 27,000 or Pogba for 104,000? He has plenty of chemistry links (Arsenal/Premier League/Germany) and with 86 dribbling and 85 passing traits he’s a lethal player when used correctly. I think Ozil should get bumped two spots, equal to his current In-Form card from TOTW 15.

The Rest

  • If Sebastian Giovinco is the Major League Soccer (MLS) Most Valuable Player then how is he only rated an 81? He’s the 3rd highest MLS rated player behind Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo and tied with Clint Dempsey, Kaka and Didier Drogba. If Gerrard and Pirlo are rated an 84 just based upon legacy alone then Giovinco who was 2nd in scoring (22), 1st in assists (13) and won the MVP must be at least an 84
  • Quick trivia question, which player has received the most IF cards through week 15? If you guessed Luis Suarez then you’re right. Suarez now has four cards above and beyond his original base card of 90. He currently sits at a 94 and while I wouldn’t bump him the whole way tying him with Messi for the highest Non-In Form card I think 92 is justified, one slot behind Ronaldo
  • The only player on Chelsea FC to play above their potential this season has been Willian (82). He received a Team of the Week card via the Group State of the Champions League after he put the Blues on his back with goal after goal from set pieces. As of November 4th, Willian had scored 5 free kick goals on the season including a stretch of three straight games with one. I think in total a +1 upgrade is more than appropriate but hopefully they increase his free kick trait which is currently a 57 out of 100.
  • The days of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney leading the Premier League in scoring are long gone. With Luis Suarez departing Liverpool for Barcelona two seasons ago, the crown was passed to often injured Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero. While Aguero is the cream of the crop, there’s a new influx of strikers already making an impact in England: Lukaku (80), Giroud (82) , Kane (78) and Ighalo (72) are the wave of the future. All of these players are in the top five in Premier League scoring and all deserve FUT upgrades considering the players ahead of them have all vastly under-performed and should be downgraded.
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↓ DOWNGRADES ↓

If FIFA 16 is willing to upgrade players mid-season based upon their real-world performance then why not downgrade as well? MLB the Show’s Diamond Dynasty used a unique flex system where player ratings would fluctuate based on their performance during specific time periods. The card rating would always be variable whether you owned the card or not. You were essentially buying a player like a stock and determining whether to buy low or sell high. It’s an interesting approach, I personally love it but it doesn’t work within the EA Sports model. For starters MLB the Show doesn’t release In-Form cards, their cards are what they are (no new cards introduced into the market) only the ratings change. If a player hit the illustrious top of the mountain he would become a Diamond level card but he could also lose that status if his rating dropped.

EA Sports thrives upon new cards entering the market, pushing the demand and price of the cards up while devaluing the current card you have thus forcing you to consider buying packs. The only alternative to fighting depreciation is to sell high and don’t tie up your coin in high priced cards because the likelihood will be you get burned. I realized this the hard way when I bought an IF Karim Benzema card thinking my French team was complete only for a new IF card to be released a few weeks later slashing the price of my card by 40%. But then the flip side is, what’s the point of playing Ultimate Team if you don’t have IF cards only for the sole fear of losing coin. Is it better to open your wallet, buy packs and chase new cards? That’s for you to decide.

Take a look at the list below and tell me the likeness to the comparable player with the same rating is not ludicrous? The majority of the players I’m downgrading are from Chelsea (my favorite team so don’t think I’m a hater) because they’ve been downright awful this season. From winning the Premier League to hovering above the relegation zone in the matter of six months. Simply stunning. To EA’s defense how did they know Chelsea was going to collapse like this? There was no way to tell that half of these guys who deserved the initial rating they got were going to wet the bed and be abject failures. Guys like Matic and Falcao don’t even play anymore, they never see the field, how can they be rated above an 83? Eden Hazard, while a tremendous talent, hasn’t done a damn thing all season long, an 89 rating is by far the most egregious over rating in this year’s game. The only way to right this ship, institute downgrades.

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As I mentioned in the introduction, reputation, community demand and legacy all play a part in FIFA rankings. These are not decided in a vacuum, they are deliberate, they are thought out and they are calculated. Let’s examine a few of the other downgrades and reasons of why.

The Sturridge Syndrome

Daniel Sturridge is a “cult icon” in the FIFA Ultimate Team community, he’s a fan favorite that is one of the most used players in FUT. You want proof? Go check out FIFA 15’s FUTTIES pink IF cards voted on by 1.5 million users, Sturridge was one of them. Sturridge has a trait that’s rare among Premier League strikers, exceptional speed. Currently he’s one of five gold players in the BPL with 89+ pace, he’s only one of two others (Aguero, Remy) above an 80 rating. Both this year and last year he opened the season with an 83 rating which I believe to be entirely based upon community demand. Last year he only scored 4 goals playing in 12 games and this year just two goals in five games. He’s always been derailed by injuries but I don’t understand how FIFA continues to rate him higher than other players just for what he did in 2013-2014 his lone good season. They were real quick to give him an IF card this year too, waiting until Week 3. For me I’m dropping his rating back to an 82 where his FIFA 14 card was adjusted to in the Winter upgrade. After all he hasn’t really done anything since then to improve upon that rating.

Memphis

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Was it too early to jump the gun on hailing Memphis Depay as the next Cristiano Ronaldo? Yeah I think those Manchester United supporters look a bit silly right about now. While Depay did have a great end to his campaign at PSV Eindhoven, blowing up for 22 goals in 3o games, he has come back down to reality in the Premier League. It’s easy to be a big fish in a little pond but the Premier League (and the Power 5 Leagues for that matter) separate the men from the boys. Since arriving at Old Trafford, Depay has 2 goals in 13 games. He’s only 21 years old and I think he’s going to be very good once he develops but as of right now I don’t know if he’s better than Kevin Mirallas or Ashley Young who are both 80 rated at the same position.

The Old Guard

It’s not too far off to think that Wayne Rooney is going to end up in Major League Soccer in the not too distant future. He may be 30 years old, and look like he’s 40, but he has the mileage of someone who’s 50. He’s no longer the face of the Premier League and no where near a Top 10 player in the world. In fact in the calendar year of 2015 Steven Gerrard has more Premier League goals than Rooney. The time to drop Wayne Rooney from his rankings pedestal is now. His ratings from FIFA 10 to present are: 89-88-90-89-87-86, sure he’s begun slowly decreasing each year but he’s nearing the Frank Lampard treatment. Lampard was sharply dropped from an 87 in FIFA 12 to 83 in FIFA 13 and since he’s faded into the mist 81-80-79. Since Wayne Rooney should be no higher than an 84 next year, let’s start the erosion now.

Johnny Terry’s rating in FIFA 16 is an 85 overall, for the past two years his opening rating was 83 while climbing his way to 90 and 89 via Team of the Season cards. Excluding In-Forms he hasn’t been rated this high since FIFA 12 when he was a truly dominant defender for Chelsea. Now he’s an aging central defender who is playing to that 83 rating which seemed like the right fit. I feel much more comfortable giving a player a more realistic rating knowing they need to earn growth with In-Forms than set someone too high and have them completely over-rated like Nemanja Vidic in FIFA 14 where he was the most worthless 87 of all time.