When you think of worldwide football, which names come first? Cristiano Ronaldo... Lionel Messi... Neymar. Forwards are sexy, there’s simply no denying it. That’s the inherent bias in the star system, right?
However, in fantasy, midfield may actually be the most vital position to get nailed right. Liverpool’s Mo Salah and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling were #1 and #2 in FPL scoring last season, while Tottenham forward Harry Kane was merely #3. But that’s not all, folks! Five of the top six scorers overall, and 10 of the top 15, were midfielders. Put all of your money into forwards and ignore midfielders at your peril!
WHAT MIDFIELDERS HAVE CHANGED POSITION?
MIDFIELD TO FORWARD OR DEFENDER
Every summer, there is a panic regarding whether the top midfielders will magically be deemed forwards for the next season, diminishing the midfield and furthermore increasing the lure (and congestion) of forwards. This summer, that worry surrounded attacking winger Salah, who was listed at forward in Champions League fantasy last season as well as World Cup fantasy for Egypt. However (thankfully), the Official FPL format still lists the Reds’ star at midfield. (Teammate Sadio Mane likewise stayed put positionally.)
However, a couple of strong midfield performers from 2017-18 did suffer the position change to forward: West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic (144 points in only 2,309 minutes) and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha (136 in 2,549, respectively).
Fantasy managers tend to be happier when players go from midfield to defender (more points from clean sheets!), and that has happened to Liverpool’s James Milner, Manchester City’s Fabian Delph and Manchester United’s Ashley Young, who can now be bought into FPL back lines. Taken together with Arni and Zaha, there are definitely some name players you will not be able to consider this season in your midfield ranks.
FORWARD OR DEFENDER TO MIDFIELD
It hasn’t been entirely about losing players in the midfield. West Ham’s Arthur Masuaku moved from defense to midfield. Should you care, though? No, because he loses clean sheet points and is unlikely to come close to making up for that with offensive returns.
SO THEN WHERE DO THE POSITION CHANGES LEAVE US?
Thankfully, despite the net loss at the position, we still have a wealth of midfielders to choose from. Eight available midfielders scored 175+ points last season, compared to only three forwards, one defender and no goalkeepers who can say as much.
Taking price into account, who at the midfield position looks the most tempting?
MIDFIELD PICKS FOR THE SEASON
PREMIUM (£9.5 - £13.0)
The main question you need to ask yourself (and answer) as you tinker with your fantasy team: Are you are going to fit in Liverpool talisman Mo Salah? Or would it be better to spread your money around? Go ahead and read the competing viewpoints on the subject from the NMA universe (and be sure to prepare yourself for a plethora of Salah-based puns!):
In the pro-Salah movement, MatzyMatz explains how he has assembled his team with Mo Salah; adding in his own two cents, editor Jeff thinks that in a format with a “captain”, buying Salah is like having armbands on two players every week. Instead adopting the no-Salah mindset, K.M. takes a humorous look at why he’s not adding Salah.
My own personal take? Nope, no thank you, no siree Bob. As a miserly bargain hunter, I am not paying £13.0 for anybody! Like most of you, I had Salah for much of last season, and it was wonderful. But while our overall budget hasn’t changed one iota, Salah’s price has increased many, many, many iotas.
Ultimately, what I can’t get past is that in the history of the Premier League (that is, since 1992-93), only nine players have scored 30+ goals in a season. Of those few, do you know how many of them have done it at least twice? Just one: Alan Shearer, who turned the trick thrice (in a row!) way back from 1993 through 1996. Sure, Salah (and/or Harry Kane) could possibly turn the trick again this season. But can we count on it? Of course not! So that’s why I’m looking elsewhere at the position. It’s much more fun to try to find this season’s new-Salah rather than saddle myself with last season’s sure thing at an astronomically inflated cost. (And yes, I fully realize that I may eat my words three or four weeks into the season if Salah has already exploded for a half dozen goals with a couple/few assists sprinkled in for good measure.)
Many of the Premiership’s top midfielders went deep into the World Cup, so unfortunately you may not see them at full speed in the first week or two of the 2018-19 club season. If you’re taking a season-long look, I love Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (£10.5), assuming he stays at Chelsea rather than going to Real Madrid or elsewhere. The Belgian fulcrum is on penalty kicks, and will not have Champions League to take his focus away or tire him out. He slipped to 173 points last season, but that was due to missing time from injury. In a full season, he’s as safe a bet as you’re going to get for top-tier production, with a legitimate shot at 225+ points.
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne (£10.0) is also pretty much guaranteed joy orchestrating the ruthless Citizens’ attack, unlike Sterling where you worry that he may have peaked in a career year, leaving him due for a harsh decline. KDB has notched 21 goals and 49 assists across the past three seasons, and he is the singularly indispensable player in Pep’s midfield, so go ahead and put him down for 200 points.
If you’re a fan of extrapolation, KDB’s teammate Leroy Sane (£9.5) is a fruitful exercise. 179 points in 2,415 minutes translates to 222 points in 3,000 minutes, which would have been the third highest score in the game last season, behind only Salah and Raheem Sterling. But he didn’t play 3,000 minutes, and it’s certainly not guaranteed that he will this season, what with Riyad Mahrez being brought in. Plus, Pep Guardiola will be expected to rotate the squad more in pursuit of a Champions League crown in addition to other competitions. With Sterling having played deep into the World Cup (failing to convert several excellent scoring chances, to boot), Sane should have a chance to shine early in the season and stake his claim to a regular spot in the XI. If he does so, you can pencil in 2,800 minutes and 200+ points from him.
I’m a Spurs fan, so I’m not going to leave out Christian Eriksen (£9.5), who scored 218 points in 2016-17 and followed that up with 199 in 2017-18. Over the past three seasons, he has scored 25 goals and added 46 assists. Tottenham hasn’t been active in the transfer market adding any players in to challenge Eriksen for his integral role in the offense, so there’s no reason to think that the Danish maestro can’t still keep performing at a very high level.
SOMEWHAT PRICEY (£7.5 - £9.0)
In the sub-premium range, I’m a bit reluctant to jump on the Mahrez bandwagon, with concerns over rotation as mentioned. Also at City, David Silva is getting up in years and has not played 2,800 minutes in a domestic season since 2011-12. Over at Tottenham, Dele Alli suffered huge falloff last season, and his failure to do much at the World Cup did not soften that memory. Heung-Min Son has yet to play 2,300 minutes in a campaign, and he could suffer competition from winter addition Lucas Moura. And United’s Paul Pogba has yet to crack 140 points in a season. Hey, there’s a reason why those guys don't cost as much as the guys in the previous section!
I’m more than a bit surprised, but I actually like Arsenal’s Mesut Özil (£8.5) the most at this price point. Sure, he had a terrible World Cup with Germany, but the early exit actually helps him be fresh for the start of the EPL season. All signs point to a positive relationship between Unai Emery and Ozil, raising hopes that the playmaker extaordinaire can return to the glory of his 19 assist, 200 point 2015-16, now feeding the lethal duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette and picking up the odd goal-scoring scraps.
Going down and saving a bit more money, Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson (£7.5) is getting an awful lot of love from the NMA community, and for good reason. Leighton Baines may be the expected primary PK taker, but the Icelandic talisman should get plenty of action from set pieces and open play. While a return to the wonder years of 180+ points may be unrealistic, wouldn’t you take 160 for the cost?
AFFORDABLE (£5.5 - £7.0)
If you like Ozil at £8.5, you’ve also got to dig Henrikh Mkhitaryan at an even more affordable £7.0. After escaping Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United purgatory, Micki thrived at Arsenal with two goals and four helpers in only 11 games. It’s always dangerous extrapolating from such a small sample size, but just like Austin Powers, Danger is my middle name. Tripling that production would give you six goals and 12 assists, which you would take in a heartbeat at his price tag.
After exploding for 21 goals and 12 assists at AZ Alkmaar last season, Brighton’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh is an interesting punt at £7.0. Be wary, though, as the Eredevisie has a recent history of Premier League transfer flops in case you’ve forgotten about Memphis Depay (yeesh!), Vincent Janssen (egad!) and Jozy Altidore (ewww!).
West Ham’s Felipe Anderson (also £7.0) has accrued 25 goals and 30 assists across his past four seasons with Serie A’s Lazio, and after Salah’s smashing campaign coming over from AS Roma, you may be willing to look past the Italian league’s own recent struggles translating success to England.
At £6.5, Diogo “Don’t Call Me Diego” Jota comes in a bit cheaper than a slew of the other transfers into the league at the position, despite being fresh off an outstanding 17 goal, 6 assist campaign in the Championship. If you think that production merely slices in half, you won’t mind. If it goes down by two-thirds or three-quarters, though, he could leave you wanting. So if you would rather play it safer at £6.5, take a run at Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic. He’s unlikely to repeat last season’s feat of double digit goals, but since he’s on penalty kick and free kick duty, there’s no reason to think he will fall off too drastically.
Even taking Salah out of the picture, the Liverpool midfield is ridiculously crowded, with Mane, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner duking it out for a limited number of spots, plus a currently-injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain laying in wait. That leaves me tempted to avoid the Liverpool midfield entirely, but for one avenue. If he starts regularly... and if he is the Reds’ primarly penalty kick taker... Fabinho would be an absolute steal at £6.0.
Those undeniably are a couple of big ifs surrounding Fabinho. But Liverpool paid £40.5m to pry the Brazilian away from Monaco, and I don’t think they splashed that much moolah with a mind to see him warming the bench. As for the PK part, Fabinho has converted 19 out of 20 pens in his career, including 16 out of 16 in Ligue 1. Fabinho is simply an elite penalty taker, a superior option to Salah (6 out of 7 overall, but only 1 for 2 in the EPL) and Firmino (a cringe-worthy 4 out of 8 lifetime, 1 for 1 EPL). Milner is an outstanding PK taker, but will likely not be in the regular XI. Whether that is also how Jurgen Klopp sees things, of course, may be another story. For some unknown reason, he doesn't always listen to me.
There are actually several intriguing options at £5.5. Many are quite speculative, but at this price point, you’re gambling anyway. And if you score a hit, the payoff is glorious! Fulham’s Stefan Johansen has scored 19 goals with 16 assists across the past two seasons in the Championship for the Cottagers, but note that in his article on the key players from the promoted sides, David worries about Johansen keeping his starting spot after the move to the Premiership. In a higher level in Ligue 1 with Nice, new teammate Jean Michael Seri has collected 12 scores with 20 assists over the past three campaigns. If Jota is too rich for your blood, fellow Wanderer Ivan Cavaleiro offers an interesting alternative, having netted 9 times with 12 assists in the Championship last season. Worryingly, though, 11 of Cavaleiro’s appearances came as a sub, as Nuno seems to not rate him as a regular starter, so you may frequently find yourself biting your nails waiting for him to come into the game. Clearly, the less you spend, the more caveats there are.
BARGAIN BIN (£4.5 - £5.0)
Your fifth midfielder might need to be in the cut-rate department to enable fielding a solid team of starters, so get ready to delve deep into the muck. It will surely take some fortune for someone here to pan out, but it’s not hopeless!
At a mere £5.0, there are a few solid choices from among the promoted sides. Joe Ralls netted 7 times with two assists in the Championship for Cardiff last season, and he is currently expected to remain the team’s primary PK taker, having converted on 7 out of his 8 tries, all coming in the past two seasons. Tom Cairney has scored 25 goals with 22 helpers in the past three seasons with Fulham in the Championship. Helder Costa has notched 15 goals with 14 assists in the past two seasons with Wolverhampton, which is projected to be the most explosive of the incoming sides.
In the limited Premier League sample size department, Alex Pritchard demonstrated flashes of brilliance for Huddersfield after coming in as a winter transfer from Norwich City, and perhaps he will flourish after getting his feet wet. Fantasy managers’ radar was on Newcastle’s Kenedy last season after coming over via loan from Chelsea, and he showed some sparks with two goals and assists each in his 13 games with the Magpies. The loan has continued, and any time a young “Big Six” player plays elsewhere, there’s a lottery ticket that could pay off.
At the bottom of the barrel (£4.5), let’s start with the promoted sides. Cardiff’s Danny Ward has 19 goals and 13 assists in the past three seasons in the Championship. Teammate Anthony Pilkington only played eight games last season, but notched 16 goals and five assists in the two prior campaigns. Fulham’s Neeskens Kebano has nine goals and six assists in the past two seasons, while fellow Cottager Rui Fonte nabbed three scores with five helpers last campaign. From a more established club, Crystal Palace’s Jason Puncheon certainly tempts, though he is coming off injury and belt-related controversy. Any of those players would be viable fantasy fifth-midfielders if he can secure a spot in the XI, so you will want to keep an eye on team news in the next week.
WHICH PLAYERS HAVE ATTRACTIVE EARLY SCHEDULES?
Many of you will have a mind to loading up on players with attractive early schedules, and that naturally is a very fine idea, particularly if you are planning on using your first half wildcard once those tasty match-ups turn sour. In that vein, take a look at the seemingly favorable fixture list covering the first half-dozen games for several teams and which players may be able to take advantage. Are you interested in Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Pedro, Milivojevic, Siggy, Theo Walcott, Richarlison, Sane or David Silva?
Chelsea: at Huddersfield, v. Arsenal, at Newcastle, v. Bournemouth, v. Cardiff, at West Ham
Crystal Palace: at Fulham, v. Liverpool, at Watford, v. Southampton, at Huddersfield, v. Newcastle
Everton: at Wolves, v. Southampton, at Bournemouth, v. Huddersfield, v. West Ham, at Arsenal
Manchester City: at Arsenal, v. Huddersfield, at Wolves, v. Newcastle, v. Fulham, at Cardiff
As mentioned, you will also want to take World Cup fatigue into account, as middies who played significant minutes for teams that went deep into the tourney — Alli, KDB, Hazard, Jordan Henderson, Kante, Lingard, Pogba, and Sterling — might be rested for the first game or two. If you are interested in any of them, you may wish to wait and use a transfer on them before the second or third game, using Alexis Sanchez, Mane, Sane, Eriksen or others as temporary place holders.
HEY, WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER POSITIONS?
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out our player picks ahead of the 2018-19 season for keepers and defenders. Which means... coming soon: forwards! Nay, we shan’t forget about those dashing headline hogs.
WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?
To read our primer with all the vital information regarding Official Fantasy Premier League rules, scoring and strategy, click here.
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Which midfielders are you unquestionably all in on? Whom are you still unsure about? Are there any not mentioned above whom you expect to have a big season? How are you prioritizing midfield with respect to the other positions? Let us know in the comments below!