Having already looked at the stand-out goalkeepers and defenders ahead of the Fantasy Premier League restart, we now move into the middle of the park.
Budget midfielders are our next stop and, for the purposes of this article, we have taken that to mean any asset in this position priced at £5.5m or under.
A whopping 185 players fall into this category although many of them are barely worth a second glance.
We rifle through the defensive midfielders, first-team back-ups and red-flagged fodder to bring you a selection of cut-price gems to consider between Gameweeks 30+ and 38+.
John Fleck and Oliver Norwood
- Price: Fleck (£5.0m), Norwood (£4.9m)
- Ownership: Fleck (5.5%), Norwood (0.5%)
- Next four Gameweeks: avl + new | mun | TOT | bur
Sheffield United’s goalkeeper and defenders will likely be the most popular picks from the Blades’ squad ahead of Double Gameweek 30+, with Chris Wilder’s side boasting the second-best defensive record in the top flight.
There will be more modest interest in their attacking assets, however, with only five teams having scored fewer Premier League goals this season.
The regular rotation up front may also be enough to put Fantasy managers off the likes of Oli McBurnie (£5.7m) but the picture in the centre of midfield is much more settled.
Oliver Norwood (£4.9m) is an ever-present this season, while the only three games that John Fleck (£5.0m) has missed have been enforced by injury or suspension.
Those two players have taken 94% of the Blades’ corners between them in 2019/20, with Norwood in sole charge at direct free-kick situations and seemingly first in line for spot-kicks, too.
While the cheaper asset of the two has the edge at set pieces, Fleck has the definite advantage in open play.
The deep-lying Norwood has only touched the ball twice in the opposition area this season (one of those occasions was his Gameweek 19 penalty), while Fleck has recorded 15 shots in the box – and scored from five of them.
- Price: £5.4m
- Ownership: 5.2%
- Next four fixtures: whu | BOU | avl | ARS
Wolves’ next three matches are hugely appealing, particularly from an attacking perspective.
Raul Jimenez (£8.1m) and Diogo Jota (£6.4m) will likely attract plenty of investment for this run, while we’ll discuss the pros and cons of Adama Traore (£5.7m) in our look at mid-price midfielders.
Further back, Joao Moutinho (£5.4m) is a potential differential.
Goals tend not to flow from the Portuguese schemer but assists do, with 15 of them arriving in less than two seasons as a Premier League player.
Taking the majority of his side’s corners and a share of Wolves’ direct free-kicks, Moutinho is fifth among FPL midfielders for chances created and first when we focus on those in the sub-£6.0m price bracket.
Five of his seven assists have arrived at dead-ball situations, with only two teams scoring more goals from set plays than Wolves in 2019/20.
While a benching is always possible given Nuno Espirito Santo’s recent tendency to flit between a 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, Moutinho has nevertheless appeared in every single Premier League match this season and started all bar two of them.
- Price: £4.7m
- Ownership: 19.7%
- Next four fixtures: SOU | EVE | ars | BHA
The best-value FPL midfielder this season based on points per million, Todd Cantwell (£4.7m) would arguably be the first player to spring to mind when we think of sub-£5.0m assets.
He is perhaps still dining out on his early-season exploits to an extent, with half of his eight attacking returns arriving in the first five Gameweeks.
Despite starting every Norwich league match this calendar year, he has just one goal and zero assists to his name in 2020.
Still, his achievements have to be put in context with other cut-price assets: no sub-£5.5m midfielder has registered more goals, shots in the box or penalty box touches than Cantwell in 2019/20.
Completing 90 minutes on just nine occasions this season and benched twice in the busy run in December, we can expect some minute-management of Cantwell between now and Gameweek 38+.
Still, he has featured in every single Norwich game this season and he can likely expect minutes of some variety even as a substitute, with Premier League managers now permitted to make five changes per game.
Ondrej Duda (£4.7m) is worth a shout here, too, having started all seven matches in the number ten role since signing in January.
The loanee has been heavily involved at dead-ball situations, too.
Norwich’s remaining home matches, against Southampton, Everton, Brighton, West Ham and Burnley, may very well see Cantwell and co return to favour in the FPL community.
- Price: £5.4m
- Ownership: 2.6%
- Next four Gameweeks: SHU + CHE | new | WOL | liv
Jack Grealish (£6.4m) looks set to be a staple of many Double Gameweek 30+ squads but debate will rage over how necessary additional Aston Villa representation is and which other members of Dean Smith’s side are worthy of consideration.
Anwar El Ghazi (£5.5m) has been mentioned in some quarters and will undoubtedly get pitch-time, having played a part in more Premier League games than any of his team-mates bar Grealish.
Nine attacking returns is a very respectable haul, too, and a total that only Grealish can beat among Villa players.
El Ghazi also stepped up from 12 yards when Villa were last awarded a penalty back in Gameweek 22, with regular taker Wesley (£5.4m) out injured.
Benchings in Gameweeks 27 and 29 highlight the rotation risk associated with the Dutchman, however, and he could well be competing with Trezeguet (£5.2m) and even Ahmed El Mohamady (£4.1m) for one spot on the right flank, should Smith opt to use Grealish wide-left.
An alternative midfield option is John McGinn (£5.4m).
The fit-again Scot hadn’t missed a single minute of Premier League football until injury forced him off the field in Gameweek 18.
Granted he hasn’t kicked a ball in 2020 but he had been on the cusp of a playing return in March before the coronavirus pandemic brought football to a standstill, so ought to be as fit as any of his team-mates (if perhaps a tad rustier) after the three-month break.
Smith’s struggles to mould a convincing combination of his other central midfielders during McGinn’s absence would also arguably hasten the need for the Scotland international’s return.
McGinn’s early-season goal threat caught the eye, with the budget asset scoring on three occasions in the first seven Gameweeks, and he was actually joint-top among FPL midfielders for attempts on goal at that point.
The rate of chances slowed thereafter as Grealish was deployed further forward, seemingly at McGinn’s expense, so that perhaps should also be a consideration ahead of the resumption.
READ MORE: John McGinn’s credentials assessed in detail
- Prices: £4.9m
- Ownerships: 0.6%
- Next four fixtures: SHU | AVL | bou | WHU
Pop quiz: who boasts the best points-per-match average among sub-£6.0m FPL midfielders? Fleck, Cantwell, McGinn? Traore or Harry Wilson (£5.8m), perhaps?
The answer, you won’t be surprised to learn given the picture above, is Jonjo Shelvey (£4.9m).
Newcastle United’s deep-lying playmaker and semi-regular set-piece taker averages 4.1 points per game this season, the same as Harvey Barnes (£6.2m) and Ismaila Sarr (£6.4m).
The Magpies are limited offensively, with no club having scored fewer goals this season.
Relatively few of us will be considering anyone from the Newcastle midfield or attack, then, despite Steve Bruce’s side arguably having the best run of fixtures in the first four Gameweeks back.
Allan Saint-Maximin (£5.4m) has really caught the eye with his trickery down the left and on paper poses more of a goal threat than Shelvey, having registered almost seven times as many penalty box touches in a similar number of minutes.
But then Shelvey, like a destitute man’s Kevin De Bruyne (£10.6m), has never really relied on proximity to goal for his efforts.
Two of his five goals in 2019/20 have come from 25 yards out or further, while 25 of his 30 shots were taken from outside the box.
Despite that last stat, he has still scored more than twice as many goals as any other Newcastle player this season.
Shelvey has started 12 of the last 13 games he has been available for, although niggling injuries have littered that run.
Never a Rafael Benitez favourite, Shelvey has been more trusted by Bruce and has created more chances than anyone in the Magpies’ squad – albeit without claiming one assist, which perfectly underscores the issue with Newcastle’s goal-shy attack.
As we’ve noted with Moutinho, Shelvey, Fleck and Norwood, there are a handful of set-piece specialists available in the bargain bin of midfielders.
Ashley Westwood (£5.5m), for example, has supplied six assists this season, with half of them arriving from free-kicks or corners.
The Burnley man is only one booking away from a two-match ban, however.
Currently on the suspended list is Jorginho (£4.9m), although the Italian will soon return in Gameweek 31+.
First in line for penalties at Chelsea, three of his four goals in 2019/20 have arrived from the spot.
Mark Noble (£5.0m) is similarly at the front of the queue for spot-kicks for West Ham United, having converted three of them in the current campaign.
Jorginho’s team-mate, Callum Hudson-Odoi (£5.2m), has plummeted to a tantalising price but with competition fierce in the wide areas at Stamford Bridge and the young winger embroiled in off-the-field issues, he is no more than one for the watchlist at this stage.
Second among FPL midfielders of any price for attempts on goal this calendar year, Stuart Armstrong (£5.2m) has caught the eye as one of two narrow wingers in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s 4-2-2-2.
A starter in nine of the last 10 league matches that he was fit and available for, Armstrong had been an underrated part of Southampton’s renaissance over the winter.
The final three Gameweeks perhaps look to be the optimum time to invest in Saints players, given the fixtures, although their appeal may be dented if Hasenhuttl’s troops don’t have anything to fight for (namely Premier League survival).
Similarly, Brighton’s hopes of avoiding the drop could well hinge on their last three games.
Aaron Mooy (£4.8m), a semi-regular taker of corners and one of the few players to largely avoid Graham Potter’s rotation roulette of late, may factor into our thoughts as a fifth FPL midfielder at that point, then.
Sub-£5.5m midfield assets at Arsenal and Manchester City have limited appeal for their Double Gameweek 30+, with the likes of Phil Foden (£5.1m) and Ilkay Gundogan (£5.2m) probably hoping for one start at the most.
Bukayo Saka (£4.7m), who has spent much of this season at left-back, is now looking less secure, with Kieran Tierney (£5.3m) and Sead Kolasinac (£5.2m) available following injury.
Dani Ceballos (£5.2m) had returned to the Arsenal starting XI in Gameweek 26 and strung together three successive starts before COVID-19 stopped play, meanwhile.
Blanks in 13 of his 14 appearances and a reduced role at set plays may well temper interest there, though.
City are one of a handful of clubs who might soon have little tangible left to play for, with champions-elect Liverpool also in that camp.
Jordan Henderson (£5.3m), who had registered five attacking returns in his previous four appearances, would be a regular starter in normal circumstances but uncertainty surrounds what Jurgen Klopp will do once the title is in the bag, with the likes of Adam Lallana (£5.7m) perhaps in line for some farewell run-outs.
For near-guaranteed minutes and little else, look no further than Declan Rice (£4.7m).
The West Ham United midfield anchor is one of only two FPL midfielders – the other being James Ward-Prowse (£5.7m) – who hasn’t missed a single minute of Premier League football this season.
Given that Cantwell can be snapped up for the same price, however, Rice has little besides security of starts in his corner; his points-per-match average of 2.3 being a testament to that.
The sub-£4.5m fodder warrant a mention, too, given that some managers – particularly those with low team value – will want a dirt-cheap option only for use as an emergency substitute.
It really is slim pickings down that end of the market, with the versatile Leander Dendoncker (£4.4m) looking less nailed than he did earlier in the season given that his services are no longer required at centre-half.
Instead, he will be reliant on Santo choosing a 3-5-2 more often than not – otherwise, it’s a three-way battle with Moutinho and Ruben Neves (£5.2m) for two central midfield spots.
Isaac Hayden (£4.4m) has been a regular starter this season too but with the loan capture of Nabil Bentaleb (£4.9m) and the emergence of the Longstaff brothers, his place looks less secure.
Indeed, he dropped out of the starting XI in Gameweeks 26 and 27, although did reclaim his place thereafter.
Nominated for ‘Best in Fantasy Football – Editorial’ at the Football Content Awards 2020
VOTE FOR FANTASY FOOTBALL SCOUT BY
Premier League Restart
Best players by club
Arsenal | Aston Villa | Bournemouth | Brighton and Hove Albion | Burnley | Chelsea | Crystal Palace | Everton | Leicester City | Liverpool | Manchester City | Manchester United | Newcastle United | Norwich City | Sheffield United | Southampton | Tottenham Hotspur | Watford | West Ham United | Wolves