Fantasy Premier League managers have some tough decisions to make about the premium midfielders on offer ahead of Project Restart.
While some boast excellent Double Gameweek 30+ appeal without much to like about their subsequent fixtures, others can offer excellent runs beyond a less exciting matches in the short-term.
Meanwhile, a lot of the decision making process on these expensive midfielders may come down to which chips Fantasy managers have left.
So to help you identify which of these assets work best for your squad, we have gone through each one to highlight the pros and cons.
That’s a total of 15 players that start off as cheap as Bernardo Silva (£7.7m) and end up as expensive as FPL king Mohamed Salah (£12.7m).
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KEVIN DE BRUYNE
- Price: £10.6m
- Ownership: 46.8%
- Next four Gameweeks: ARS + BUR | che | LIV | sou
Kevin De Bruyne (£10.6m) remains the most popular asset in FPL, still sat in 46.8% of squads ahead of Double Gameweek 30+.
That number could even increase in light of Manchester City’s appealing pair of fixtures over the next few days.
Before we even get onto what De Bruyne is capable of, we have to draw attention to the main element of his appeal for a Double Gameweek: reliability of starts.
Across the whole of 2019/20, the only Manchester City to register more pitch-time than the Belgian is Ederson (£6.0m). De Bruyne has played 2,148 minutes of football this season, just 23 minutes fewer than the goalkeeper. That’s about as nailed-on as it can get, especially in comparison to some of the other City midfielders, who we will mention shortly.
But on top of that important role to the team, De Bruyne remains top of the Premier League charts for assists this season, recording a total of 18 for his colleagues.
Furthermore, the Belgian has had his shooting boots in 2019/20, registering more goal attempts than any other Manchester City player in the first 29 Gameweeks, Sergio Aguero (£11.8m) the only Citizen to manage more on target too, even if just under half of them were outside the box.
Either way, as a result of his busy shooting, De Bruyne has already matched his previous best goal-tally in a Premier League season this year (eight), with 10 matches left to go.
While Manchester City have two tough fixtures in Gameweeks 31+ and 32+ (Chelsea and Liverpool), their run of games beyond that are appealing too.
They travel to Southampton, Brighton and Watford between Gameweeks 33+ and 38+ while Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich are all due to come to the Etihad Stadium.
With all of that in mind, De Bruyne is likely to be almost unanimously owned by active managers for Double Gameweek 30+. Those with Wildcards left at their disposal won’t be put off by the Chelsea and Liverpool matches while those without will need him for the excellent run of games beyond that.
- Price: £9.3m
- Ownership: 4.9%
- Next four Gameweeks: mci + bha | sou | NOR | wol
While a number of the premium options under consideration for Double Gameweek 30+ struggle to offer appealing fixtures immediately afterwards, Arsenal are a different story.
In the wake of facing Manchester City and Brighton in the same round, the Gunners go on to clash with the somewhat questionable defences of Southampton and Norwich.
That is, of course, great news for Nicolas Pépé (£9.3m), who came into some decent form just before coronavirus paused the Premier League season for three months.
Since Mikel Arteta took over, the Ivorian international was best among Arsenal players for assists (three) and created chances with a greater frequency than colleague Mesut Özil (£7.3m). During this period, Pépé registered a key pass every 39 minutes to the German’s one every 41.
The quality of Pépé’s work in this area was also greater than Özil’s, the former Lille man top for big chances created in Arteta’s short reign so far.
Pépé typically fared better at home, especially after Arsenal changed manager, with all his attacking returns after Gameweek 16 coming at the Emirates Stadium (two goals and three assists).
However, that particular restriction could potentially count for less now that the Premier League season will be concluded behind closed doors. Pépé is a player of undoubted technical ability but it is no secret that he struggled to settle into life at Arsenal initially, perhaps on account of the pressure. He could be exactly the sort of player to benefit in a world without fans.
The main question will, of course, be whether or not Fantasy managers can trust Pépé to start or play a significant role in both of the Double Gameweek matches, especially with many possessing the relevant chips to treat this bumper round of action like a daily Fantasy game.
There are just over 66 hours between Arsenal’s trip to the Etihad Stadium and their visit to Brighton, a particularly tight turnaround for a squad that went three months without being able to train together and has not played a competitive fixture since March.
That worry is always going to be a concern for Fantasy managers ahead of Double Gameweek 30+ and all we can do is recount what we know of life before coronavirus.
And what we saw of Pépé in February and March was an increasingly important role in the Arsenal team. He started seven of the Gunners’ last eight league matches before lockdown.
The 572 minutes he recorded in this period was more than any other option capable of playing on the flanks of Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 system, namely Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.1m), Bukayo Saka (£4.7m), Reiss Nelson (£5.3m) and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.5m).
- Price: £8.6m
- Ownership: 17.1%
- Next four Gameweeks: tot | SHU | bha | BOU
Beyond Double Gameweek 30+ Manchester United’s end of season fixtures are indisputably the best from an attacking perspective.
While their first two of Project Restart may be off-putting on paper, there is every reason to believe the Red Devils’ revitalised attack can still perform well.
Tottenham have been far from watertight under Jose Mourinho, registering the joint-highest expected goals conceded (xGC) score between Gameweeks 21 and 29.
Meanwhile, even if Sheffield United are a team that would normally put Fantasy managers off, do remember that the Blades will go into that encounter without Dean Henderson (£5.3m), as he is ineligible to face his parent club Manchester United. The goalkeeper has arguably been the most influential factor on Sheffield United keeping so many clean sheets this season, so they are likely to be more appealing opposition for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s attackers without him.
Investment in this attack from Double Gameweek 30+ seems like an absolute must for anyone going into Project Restart without a second Wildcard with at least one, maybe two worth considering in light of the fixtures.
Bruno Fernandes (£8.6m) proved to be the most important attacking asset for Manchester United in the lead-up to coronavirus.
Between his debut in Gameweek 25 and Gameweek 29, the Red Devils scored eight goals, with Fernandes involved in five of them, more than any colleague.
Crucial to the Portuguese international’s appeal is his ability to score goals and create them. In the period discussed, he produced more shots than any other Manchester United player, dominated set pieces, created the highest number of chances and could be on penalties long-term. Everything you want from a premium midfielder.
It is worth pointing out that Anthony Martial (£8.0m) has a much higher chance of penalty box activity than Fernandes, whose only effort there came from the spot in the Gameweek 27 win over Watford.
But Martial’s appeal does seem largely connected with goal threat rather than creativity, perhaps why in the period mentioned above, he was only involved in three of United’s eight strikes. By no means a bad record, just not the same level of output as Fernandes. That said, the two could make an effective attacking double-up for Manchester United’s appealing run-in. Marcus Rashford (£8.8m) may also be in the conversation, as the third-most-signed player by Double Gameweek 30+ unlimited transfers, but he remains more expensive than both Fernandes and Martial with potentially less involvement in penalties moving forward and fewer points on offer for his goals.
In this bracket, we also have to consider Paul Pogba (£8.3m) who, theoretically, is fit and available to play for Manchester United when the Premier League returns. That said, it will almost certainly be a gamble to opt for the Frenchman over Fernandes or Martial. He could be asked to play a deeper role now that the Portuguese international has locked down the number 10 role and across the whole season, Pogba has just two attacking returns so far.
- Price: £9.7m
- Ownership: 4.9%
- Next four Gameweeks: MUN | WHU | shu | EVE
Son Heung-min (£9.7m) is Spurs’ leading FPL points-scorer this season despite having seen red twice, missed a penalty and spent eight matches on the sidelines.
The South Korean is sure to be a nailed-on prospect for the remainder of the season having started all 11 matches he was available for under Jose Mourinho. He is unlikely to play up-front with Harry Kane (£10.8m) back from injury so a wide berth is likely, but that need not count against him.
18 goal involvements in 21 appearances this season, is a fantastic rate of return and it appears that Son is unlikely to be affected by the lack of fans moving forward either. In 2019/20, 10 of his goals/assists were recorded at home while eight came on the road.
As a result, he has averaged 5.8 points per game in 2019/20, behind only Fernandes, Salah, De Bruyne and Mané for that statistic among midfielders.
Furthermore, Mourinho has helped improve Son’s output, the South Korean’s points per game jumping up to 6.5 when only matches since Gameweek 13 were considered, the best of any Spurs asset.
Dele Alli (£8.3m) is not far behind in this area, averaging 5.4 points per game since Mourinho took the reins at Spurs, the second-best at the club. However, we know that he will miss the first game of Project Restart as a result of a recent FA disciplinary decision.
But outside of that, Alli is likely to be heavily involved, probably as something between a number 10 and false-nine for Spurs given that Mourinho has generally been a fan. Since the former Chelsea and Manchester United boss took over in north London, Alli has started 16 times from a possible 17, managing 90 minutes on 11 occasions.
An upcoming clash with Manchester United is unlikely to tempt too many managers to consider the Spurs attack for Double Gameweek 30+ but Mourinho’s charges may well come under strong consideration beyond that. From Gameweek 31+ onwards, Spurs rank fourth for attacking potential on the Season Ticker.
Going into Double Gameweek 30+, no midfielder has been sold more times than Salah, losing over 100,000 owners as of Friday afternoon.
Lack of interest in the Egyptian, and his colleague Sadio Mané (£12.5m), is certainly understandable considering Liverpool’s upcoming fixtures, and the fact that he missed a recent friendly win over Blackburn with a reported minor injury concern.
When Manchester City and Arsenal’s premium assets have two fixtures in the next week or so, there is unlikely to be much left in our budgets for Salah and Mané.
Then when we consider that Gameweek 32+ presents a challenging trip to Manchester City, the Liverpool assets look much more appealing from Gameweek 33+ onwards when they host the Premier League’s worst defence: Aston Villa.
We should be aware of the fact that Salah and Mané did head into lockdown in encouraging enough form. Between Gameweeks 21 and 29, the Egyptian was involved in more goals than any other Premier League player (seven his own, two assists). Meanwhile, Mané scored in three of the four matches he played in following his return from injury in Gameweek 26 onwards.
Another problematic dilemma facing Fantasy managers is the options in the Manchester City midfield alternative to De Bruyne.
There are now four different players Pep Guardiola can choose from to staff the wide berths of his front-three, namely (in price order) Raheem Sterling (£11.7m), Leroy Sané (£9.3m), Riyad Mahrez (£8.5m) and Bernardo.
Sterling is the most fashionable of these, currently in 15.9% of squads. Furthermore, he has played more minutes this season than the other three (2,018).
By contrast, Bernardo has managed just 1,492, Mahrez 1,382 while Sané has missed the entire campaign through injury, but is back in the fold now.
However, Sterling’s advantage in this area probably doesn’t exactly guarantee reliable returns once the Premier League resumes. While Sané’s comeback will affect the left flank more than the right, it does mean Sterling will have to compete with Mahrez and Bernardo to play there.
Furthermore, Sterling actually played less often than Mahrez did between Gameweeks 21 and 29, the pair registering 353 and 479 minutes during this period respectively.
The Algerian’s frequency of attacking returns is truly exceptional. Despite six of his midfield colleagues registering more minutes than him this season, De Bruyne (178) is the only one with more points than Mahrez (121).
So each of these Manchester City assets carries at least one issue. Sterling’s season had been below his usual best and his starts cannot be guaranteed, and while Mahrez has largely enjoyed a successful campaign, the same rotation threat applies.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear how often Guardiola will deploy Sané considering his long absence without competitive football and Bernardo does not necessarily look nailed-on either. The workmanlike attacker started just four matches between Gameweeks 21 and 29.
Richarlison (£8.3m) is perhaps a forgotten asset for many Fantasy managers with much of the clamour for Double Gameweek 30+ on players with more than one fixture, while Everton host Liverpool.
However, the Toffees do have some favourable fixtures of their own beyond that, not least the trip to Norwich in Gameweek 31+, a visit to a leaky Spurs in Gameweek 33+, while Aston Villa and Bournemouth are the last two teams to come to Goodison Park this season.
All of that bodes well for Richarlison, who found serious form since Carlo Ancelotti arrived at Everton. He produced six attacking returns between Gameweeks 19 and 29, also registering the division’s second-highest total for big chances created. That is an exceptionally powerful statistic when we consider how ruthless Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£6.5m) became during this period, extending Richarlison’s appeal from purely goal threat to both that and creativity in equal measure.
Nominated for ‘Best in Fantasy Football – Editorial’ at the Football Content Awards 2020
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