Having run the rule over the various goalkeepers, budget defenders and premium defenders available in Fantasy Premier League this coming season, we now switch our attention to the cut-price options in midfield.
With so many premium assets to choose from and only £100m to spend, the need for at least one budget option in midfield drives our search for this season’s Luka Milivojevic.
Part of the appeal of these sub-£6.0m players is that there is generally at least one break-out star among them each season; Wilfried Zaha, Josh King and Riyad Mahrez were all, once upon a time, budget gems in midfield.
Not that all Fantasy managers will be overly concerned about unearthing the next Pascal Gross; some FPL bosses will be happy to choose a £4.5m-rated midfielder simply as bench fodder, depending on their strategy.
Budget midfielders can take different forms. Some will be peripheral squad players, others defensive midfielders whose Fantasy appeal is limited, but there are always a handful of assets who have the potential to deliver substantial attacking returns for precious little investment.
The £4.5m Bracket
At the time of writing, 42 players lie at the bottom of the midfield barrel. The most we can realistically expect of the midfielders in this bracket is appearance points and the occasional attacking return, perfectly illustrated by Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tom Carroll last season.
While assets from the “big six” are available for £4.5m, such as Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Ethan Ampadu and Scott McTominay, their involvement with their respective clubs is likely to be limited at best.
One of the eye-catching candidates at this price is Arthur Masuaku. The West Ham United wing-back has been reclassified as a winger this season after his “out of position” performances in 2017/18 further up the left flank. Masuaku attempted twice as many take-ons as any other defender last season and delivered 100 crosses, but the early indications from the Hammers’ pre-season friendlies are that Masuaku will be returning to an orthodox full-back role in 2018/19.
Dale Stephens is a classic “set-and-forget” midfield bench option in this bracket. The Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder started 36 of the Seagulls’ matches last season, chipping in with three assists. Southampton’s Oriel Romeu, who featured in 34 of the Saints’ 38 league fixtures in 2017/18, is another budget alternative who offers the security of starts – if precious little else.
Aron Gunnarsson has the potential to be another reliable budget option who will steadily accumulate appearance points and not a great deal more. Having been out of contract with Cardiff City this summer, the Iceland captain has recently penned a new deal with the Bluebirds and, when fit, was a first-choice pick in midfield for Neil Warnock’s promotion-winning side. Gunnarsson also possesses a dangerous long throw – as demonstrated in Iceland’s 2-1 win over England in Euro 2016 – which could lead to an unlikely assist or two.
Having recovered from a knee injury that effectively ended his season in September 2017, Nathaniel Chalobah is one to monitor at Watford. The former Chelsea midfielder’s early-season form for the Hornets won him an England call-up before his untimely setback.
Jason Puncheon is a nostalgic pick at £4.5m. The Crystal Palace midfielder’s 2017/18 season was ended prematurely by injury but the 32-year-old has returned to action in pre-season, scoring in the 6-1 win over Halmstads. Palace’s fixtures in the opening nine Gameweeks are appealing, but doubts remain over whether Puncheon would feature anything other than intermittently.
The £5.0m Bracket
Ruben Neves is currently proving the most popular pick in this price bracket, sitting in over 15% of the embryonic FPL squads. While the Portugal international is a sure starter for Wolverhampton Wanderers next season, his role as a deep-lying playmaker – similar to that of Jonjo Shelvey at Newcastle United – is the reason for what seems on the surface a bargain price. All six of Neves’ Championship goals came from outside the opposition box last season, as did 90 of his 93 attempts on goal.
Another star in the second tier of English football last season was Tom Cairney. Also available at £5.0m, the Fulham midfielder’s appeal was increased following the arrival of box-to-box midfielder Jean Michael Seri. The athletic Ivorian would seem a great foil for Cairney, allowing the latter more freedom further up the pitch. Cairney’s passing statistics (no Championship player who made more than ten starts had a better passing success rate or made more passes per game) would, if repeated, fare well on the Bonus Points System in FPL. Cairney has also scored 25 goals for Fulham over the last three seasons combined.
Completing our look at the £5.0m-rated options from the newly promoted clubs, Joe Ralls was Cardiff’s first-choice penalty taker in the Championship last season and most regular starter in the centre of the park. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Josh Murphy, meanwhile, would seem to be competing for one of the two wing spots in Neil Warnock’s side.
Elsewhere, Jorginho joins N’Golo Kante as a £5.0m route into the Chelsea midfield. The £50m capture from Napoli, who will likely sit at the base of the Blues’ three-man midfield, is not a big attacking threat, having scored on only two occasions for the Italian side over the course of five seasons. The Brazil-born Italy international will, however, start the majority of Chelsea’s matches, given how integral he was to Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli side and how averse to rotation the new Chelsea manager is.
Arsenal’s new midfield general Lucas Torreira, whose game has been compared to that of Sergio Busquets, is another defensive-minded £5.0m asset whose Fantasy appeal is limited.
A deep-lying water carrier is all £5.0m will buy you at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur too, with Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Victor Wanyama and Moussa Sissoko all available at this price.
A couple of other new faces also feature in this price bracket. David Brooks played on the right of a front three in Bournemouth’s 1-1 draw with Sevilla last week and is a name to monitor, while winger Ken Sema arrived at Watford over the summer from Ostersunds – pre-season should tell us if the Swedish international is anything other than a back-up for Richarlison.
Kenedy‘s second loan move to Newcastle from Chelsea was sealed last week and the Brazilian midfielder is one of the most appealing midfield assets available at the £5.0m mark. Kenedy scored on two occasions and assisted as many goals in his 13 appearances for the Magpies towards the end of last season. Kenedy might be best avoided in the opening few Gameweeks, however: United play Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal in their first five matches.
A tough start to the season for Huddersfield Town and the Terriers’ dismal goal-scoring record last season would perhaps deter investment in Alex Pritchard, but the January capture from Norwich City is one of the most advanced midfielders available at £5.0m.
Jack Wilshere hasn’t made more than 30 league appearances in a single season since 2010/11 and will be hoping a move to West Ham can kick-start his career. One goal and six assists in his last three seasons with Arsenal and Bournemouth doesn’t quicken the pulse, however, and there appear to be better options in Wilshere’s price bracket.
The £5.5m Bracket
There are fewer options available in this price bracket than there are at £4.5m and £5.0m, though still plenty to warrant mention.
Gerard Deulofeu‘s move to Watford from Barcelona was made permanent this summer and the Catalan winger is a short-term option for the first three Gameweeks of the season, with the Hornets facing Brighton (h), Burnley (a) and Crystal Palace (h) in August. The former Everton prospect, who registered nine assists for the Toffees in 2015/16, is also available for a full £1.0m cheaper than Richarlison.
Southampton’s set of opening fixtures (BUR, eve, LEI, cry, BRI) is one of the more favourable in the first five Gameweeks and both Nathan Redmond and new signing Stuart Armstrong are available at £5.5m. Redmond already has two pre-season goals to his name and started the 3-3 draw with Schalke in the Saints’ attack.
While the likes of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner (a combined two goals between them last season) are unattractive options for Liverpool, it is easy to dismiss Fernandinho as just another budget midfield pick. The Brazilian, however, scored five goals for City last season and assisted a further four strikes. The only four matches in which Fernandinho failed to feature in were enforced either by injury or suspension; in a team where rotation will likely be even more commonplace this season (following the arrival of Riyad Mahrez), Fernandinho and the much more expensive Kevin De Bruyne are about as nailed-on picks as any City midfielder.
Granit Xhaka is another whose “dirty work” in midfield disguised his attacking returns; the Swiss international supplied eight assists for Arsenal last season and had more shots on goal than any of the Gunners’ midfield.
Rotation in the wide areas last season meant that Jordan Ibe and Ryan Fraser started only 21 and 23 matches respectively for Bournemouth, but with Junior Stanislas recuperating from knee surgery there will be plenty of interest in the Cherries’ budget wingers with home matches against Cardiff, Everton, Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Southampton to come in the first nine Gameweeks. Ibe indeed has already netted in pre-season, albeit playing at right wing-back.
Robbie Brady started Burnley’s first 15 matches of 2017/18 before injury curtailed his season and the Irishman will be a player worth monitoring in pre-season if he can return to fitness. No midfielder delivered more crosses than Brady in those 15 appearances between August and December.
Speaking of which, only three midfielders (De Bruyne, Gross, Christian Eriksen) whipped in more crosses than Marc Albrighton last season. With Mahrez out of the picture at Leicester, Albrighton could stake a claim to take more set pieces – although the arrival of James Maddison provides competition for Albrighton on that front.
Dead-ball specialist Stefan Johansen and winger Ivan Cavaleiro represent Fulham and Wolves in this price bracket, while Cardiff’s top scorer last season, Callum Paterson, and wide-midfielder Junior Hoilett are options for the Bluebirds.
Finally, a special mention of the magic bean himself: Ruben Loftus-Cheek. On loan at Palace last season, Loftus-Cheek’s form for the Eagles saw him called up to England’s World Cup squad. Maurizio Sarri is due to make a decision on the 22-year-old midfielder in the coming days, with Loftus-Cheek keen to play regular first-team football again next season. The dream, of course, would be for Chelsea’s new manager to blood the England youngster in the Blues’ first-team; a £5.5m-rated midfield asset – with more attacking potential than Kante and Jorginho – in a Sarri side would be a godsend.
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