We are just days away from kicking off the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia!
If you’re reading this article, then you’ve read Chris Manfredi’s goalkeepers picks and David Brian’s defender picks. Those articles have all the links you’ll need to enter official World Cup fantasy game and join our private NMA league.
Eden Hazard. Raheem Sterling. David Silva. Sadio Mane. Pione Sisto. I was hoping at least two of these names would be rated in the official World Cup fantasy game as midfielders. Instead, all of them have been crammed into the forward position.
This is the hand we’ve been dealt, and we will have to get very creative as a result.
Let’s assess our options.
Regardless of formation, you will need to pick 5 midfielders.
Midfielders earn 5 points for scoring a goal (forwards get 4), and 3 points per assist. Unlike forwards, midfielders earn 1 point per team clean sheet (midfielder not conceding while on pitch, 60 minutes minimum).
It makes sense then to target goal scoring midfielders, and it is an added bonus if they play for teams with some clean sheet potential. This also means that there is very little benefit from picking big name defensive midfielders like Sergio Busquets or N’Golo Kante. Plenty of less experienced managers will, of course, as those are big names that are far cheaper than other stars. But they’re no bargain; they’re fool’s gold.
Expensive and Essential
Kevin De Bruyne (€ 10); James Rodriguez (€ 9); Christian Eriksen (€ 9)
These are the best big three midfielders in my book. All three are maestros who can score golazos and dish assists seemingly at will. Of the three, I think James is the most essential for three reasons:
- We’ve seen him do it before in 2014 when he won the Golden Boot.
- He’s been in very good form for both club and country.
- EVERYTHING that Colombia does runs through him.
If I’m choosing between KDB and Eriksen, things become a tiny bit tougher. I expect both of these men to make it to the knockout stages. Denmark will rely on Eriksen more than Belgium will rely on KDB, and being the slightly cheaper option I think I’ll go with Tottenham’s Dane.
Near-Essential but Expensive
Xherdan Shaqiri (€ 8.5); Paulinho (€ 8.5) Piotr Zielinski (€ 8); Aaron Mooy (€ 7); Alan Dzagoev (€ 7)
These four are very good options, but they are just a little too expensive for me. If I were to gamble on one it would come down to Shaqiri or Mooy.
The Swiss Shaqiri arrives in Russia with some very auspicious signs. He had a phenomenal personal season despite playing for a horrendous Stoke club that was relegated from the Premier League. As a result of Stoke’s misfortunes, Shaqiri is very much on display and it is said that some big clubs are going to take a look. If he doesn’t pull a hamstring muscle (muscle injuries area a notorious recurring affliction for the pocket-Hercules-sized player), then I expect him to have a good tournament. But, hoo boy, is he expensive.
Paulinho is a very dynamic player (and goal-scorer) for both Barcelona and Brazil, but he should be a lot cheaper in my book. I’d be tempted if he were cheaper, but I’m passing at this price.
The Socceroo Aaron Mooy also had a very good Premier League showing for Huddersfield — a team that everyone expected to be relegated but improbably stayed up. Mooy was, without argument, a top three player for The Terriers. He’s also growing in stature with the Socceroos. It remains to be seen whether he can displace “Captain Kangaroo” Mile Jedinak as the most influential player in the XI, but this is probably a good bet to make. Mooy is younger, has far better attacking instincts and is an EPL caliber starting player while Jedinak is a part-time player for not-quite-promoted Aston Villa.
Mid-Priced and Essential
Isco (€ 8.5); Gylfi Sigurdsson (€ 8); Emil Forsberg (€ 8); Hakim Ziyach (€ 7);
Isco is a little expensive, but he has breakout potential in the World Cup. The Real Madrid winger is very dynamic and will be looking to prove he is elite rather than very good. Spain, I believe, could struggle for goals unless someone steps up and has a massive tournament. I have a hunch Isco could be that player.
Sigurdsson will be at the heart of everything Iceland will try to do, and he will get three games to rack up a goal and a couple of assists. He’s a little expensive, maybe, given the overall quality of his teammates, so I am a bit hesitant. He’s also coming off a knee injury that robbed him of most of the second half of the Premier League season with Everton. Forsberg is Sweden’s best attacking option and will have a say in most any goal that Sweden scores, be it as the goal scorer or the assister. But between him and Morocco’s Ziyach, I’d prefer the North African Ajax winger. He is terrific! Ziyach has scored 8 goals in just 15 caps for Morocco and has been a prolific goal scorer for Heerenveen, Twente and, currently, Ajax in the Dutch Eredivise. He’s also a very able creator, counting 15 assists for Ajax in 2017-18 and 11 the year prior. At 25, he’s a player destined for big things.
Cheap and Essential (and not just essential because they’re cheap)
Adem Ljajic (€ 6.5); Keisuke Honda (€ 6); Johann Berg Gudmunsson (€ 6); Christian Cueva (€ 6); Anton Miranchuk (€ 5.5); Maximiliano Meza (€ 5.5);
The Serbian midfielder Ljajic arrives in Russia in good form, having scored a goal in the team’s final friendly. He’s less heralded than Southampton’s Dusan Tadic or Lazio’s Boy Wonder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, but Torino’s Ljajic is cheaper than the former and more experienced in the national team setup than the latter. The one caveat with Ljajic is he’s a bit of a notorious hothead in Serie A, so he could be carded or benched for disciplinary reasons.
Honda is arguably a bigger name than he is a performer, but he’s coming off a nice season for Pachuca in Mexico and is Japan’s best overall talent. The Icelandic Gudmundson, coming off a star-making campaign for Premier League wonder boys Burnley, is healthier and in better form than Gylfi Sigurdsson. If you feel that Gettin’ Siggy Wit It is too expensive, then ask your bartender to make you an Icelandic Gudmundson instead!
Cueva is 100% in as one of my no-brainer picks. The Sao Paulo midfielder is Peru’s best goal-scoring mid and is one of the top youngish talents playing in South America. Cueva has been scouted by European teams, including Tottenham, so you can be sure the Peruvian is fully aware that he’s on display and that he can make a lot of money with a good showing in Russia. I’m not as high as most on Peru’s chances to advance in the tournament, but whether my hunch is right or wrong, please give me Cueva — I will enjoy watching him with the ball at his feet and making some sweet attacking runs.
Anton Miranchuk, by all accounts, is very much rising in stature as a key playmaker (read: assists) for a Russian team that will be looking to make good on home soil. He’s bit of an unknown, but at this price, why not take a chance on a youngster whom the Russian papers (thank goodness I speak and read Russian!) are really high on? Just be careful to pick Anton and not his twin brother and Russia teammate Alexey Miranchuk. They’re both good players, but Anton is the one Russians are really excited about.
A similar story to Miranchuk’s applies to Argentina’s Maxi Meza. He’s the least known of all the players on La Albicelester’s 23, but as I’ve posted in my frequently updated comments in my Group D preview, Meza is the hands-on favorite to replace the injured Manuel Lanzini as an attacking midfielder/winger looking to feed Messi and Higuain. At this price, and with Messi / Di Maria / Higuain as attacking mates, why not?
Other nice and affordable options include Brazil’s Casemiro, Argentina’ Giovani Lo Celso, and Costa Rica’s Rodney Wallace because he’s a speedy right-winger going against Brazil’s extremely weak (defensively) left flank of Neymar and Marcelo.
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What strategy are you adopting for your 5 midfielders? How much money are you spending on them? Are you looking for cheap options to enable a killer forward line? Did I overrate or underrate any player? Let us know in the comments below!