When presented with the choice of “Your money or your life?” by a menacing mugger in a comedy sketch from way back, the cheapskate character played by classic funny man Jack Benny paused before famously deadpanning, “I’m thinking it over!”
So it is in the Fantrax game at present, with an overload of quality cheap options leaving us fantasy misers so many difficult decisions to make. As always in this type of situation, the key to success is not only picking the right cheap players, but also the right number of such players, as well as using liberated funds to buy the right expensive players to mix alongside them. After all, going with too many cheap players leaves extra money doing nothing in the bank. The ultimate beauty of having so many solid budget players is that it affords the opportunity to blend in a nice number of consistent superstars.
Indeed, it’s a delicate balancing act. Which cheap players can provide a strong base for your teams, and which stars should you mix in with the rest of the squad? Let’s attack the issue by price range, beginning with frugality:
[Note: Prices listed below are for the standard (11-man) NMA League. YMMV.]
THE BEST SUPER CHEAPSKATE OPTIONS ($1.00 - $4.99)
If you already have a stud keeper at a big discount (e.g. Alisson Becker at his preseason price), then you won’t bother changing. But if you’re in the market, then Burnley’s Tom Heaton ($2.14) stands out as the best cheapie in goal, having scored 18, 3, and 6 points in his three games. Recovering from injury, Nick Pope will be expected to win the job back somewhat soon, but when that happens, you can simply swap in Pope even more cheaply!
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s recent injury has opened up a precious spot in Liverpool’s defense. Either Alberto Moreno ($1.00) or Joel Matip ($2.77) would be a strong play filling the void until TAA returns. (Midfielders Fabinho or James Milner offer another possibility.) Let’s see what Jurgen Klopp says later in the week.
Among the cheap winter transfers who have seen action thus far, I prefer defender Bournemouth’s Nathaniel Clyne ($1.08). [Hindsight being 20/20, given TAA’s injury, maybe Liverpool shouldn’t have loaned him out!] Clyne put up 7 points in his first effort with the Cherries, after notching 8 points in his only start with Liverpool (with the clean sheet bonus in neither). He looks to be a regular starter under Eddie Howe after coming over on loan from the Reds. That does present a slight hiccup, since he won’t be eligible to feature against his parent squad in Week 26, but at his price, you can probably afford to eat that donut. If not, you can worry about it later and change him out then.
When Bejamnin Mendy got injured, there was a rush to add Fabian Delph. Instead, Manchester City’s Danilo ($1.35) has emerged as Pep Guardiola’s preferred replacement after returning to fitness himself. Danilo has averaged 3.4 ppg, and is coming off a 7 point effort in the 3-0 victory against Wolverhampton. The next two games are away, but traveling to Huddersfield and Newcastle will hardly have the Citizens shaking in their boots.
If you prefer someone who won’t be required to sit out any games in the near future, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny ($1.43) is the way to go. After returning from injury, Koscielny has averaged 3.6 ppg. But that’s far short of what I expect from Clyne, and Koscielny is more of a worry in terms of suffering injury again or having to rest for maintenance sake.
Manchester United defender Phil Jones ($3.09) has notched 7 and 10 points in the past two games. Of course, both have been clean sheets. Still, Jones is averaging 4.9 ppg on the season, and there were no shutouts in the other six games. Jones’ durability has always been a concern, but as long as he stays healthy, he should produce at a nice clip.
Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal ($4.99) has recovered from injury (not an uncommon refrain with respect to Arsenal defenders this season!), and will be expected to start against Chelsea. It is not the best fixture if you want the clean sheet bonus, but Arsenal rarely keep sheets no matter the competition, so you can put that consideration aside. Monreal is averaging 6.3 ppg on the season, so he’s not bad value.
Burnley’s Dwight McNeil ($3.01) [M/F eligible] has averaged 11.3 ppg in the past three games, all starts. He should be assured of another start at Watford and at Manchester United as Robbie Brady serves out the rest of his three-game suspension, though you may have to fret a bit over whether McNeil will remain in the XI thereafter. [Hat tip to David.]
There are plenty of wonderful cheap options in midfield. Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury ($1.98) has started four straight games, averaging 6.3 ppg with no goals or assists and only one shot on target in that stretch. The Foxes next travel to the Molineux where Choudhury should have no problem picking up phantom points against a frisky Wolves side.
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne ($2.46) would ordinarily be a must-have when you consider his brilliant pedigree and obscenely low price. However, recovering twice from injury, he has only started once this season, while failing to feature entirely in Week 21 against Liverpool and playing only 28 minutes against Wolves on Monday. Even so, he has put up 13, 8, and 10 points in his past three appearances. So even if he keeps coming off the bench, isn’t the Belgian star still essential? In the +Bench league where we have cover against absence, KDB is a no-brainer.
After suffering silently in witness protection for the early part of the season, Fabinho ($4.52) has come on like gangbusters for Liverpool lately, notching double digit points four times in his past six games. However, his starting status remains unclear. The Brazilian filled in for the suspended Dejan Lovren in central defense against Brighton, and now Lovren may be available again, which would leave Fabinho back to fight for his place in a crowded Reds midfield. (Though his cause would be helped if Milner took over for TAA in wing defense.) Fabinho has played the full 90 in six of the past nine games, but in the others it has been 0, 28 and 33 minutes. If you don’t mind some downs to go with the ups, Fabinho’s your man. But if you want the comfort of a guaranteed regular starter, look elsewhere (and consider putting spare cash to work).
Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse ($4.83) has long been a board favorite, but he just never clicked under manager Mark Hughes, failing to secure regular playing time. JWP has started the past three games under new skipper Ralph Hasenhuttl, earning 7, 9, and 17 points. 10 of the 17 points against Leicester came due to scoring a PK, which will likely not happen too often in the future when Danny Ings gets back to fitness. As well, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg could possibly replace JWP in the XI when he returns from suspension at the end of January. But Ings being injured is not an uncommon occurrence, and how can you say no to a fairly guaranteed 7-10 points at under five clams?
Midfielders Jason Puncheon ($1.00) and Samir Nasri ($1.00) both started and played significant minutes for their new teams, Huddersfield and West Ham, respectively. But they scored only 3 points each, so they stay on the back burner as barn-door candidates until they show fantasy production in their new roles.
Up front, except for some dual-role M/F players, the pickings are much slimmer, but that’s OK. You probably shouldn’t waste a precious forward spot on someone who can’t reliably bring big point returns, so I’m not going to tout many strikers here in the cheapskate section. I will mention one, though:
With Spurs’ talisman Harry Kane apparently out two months injured, and with Son away on international duty, Mauricio Pochettino looks to be in a pickle. He may turn to forward Fernando Llorente ($1.00) out of desperation. Llorente seems completely washed up (as demonstrated by his pathetically flubbed shot when gifted an easy chance to draw level with Manchester United), but anybody leading the line against Fulham has a decent chance to pay off. Taking this wing and a prayer even further, if Llorente is able to get his confidence back at Craven Cottage, he may be able to keep that momentum going at home against Watford and Newcastle. I’m not exactly recommending it, but if you want to take a bargain basement punt on Llorente, I wouldn’t call you crazy.
THE BEST BUDGET OPTIONS ($5.00 - $9.99)
This is really the most frustrating price point. You feel like you’re overpaying for a generic player, since there are so many others who will likely provide comparable production under 5 clams. But if you have a spot to fill and you only have room for a budget player in this price range, don’t despair... well, do despair, but not completely.
If you don’t have a quality keeper at discount, but you are wary of rolling with a super cheap option, Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka ($6.42) could be a good one-week buy. Why? Because the Magpies are at St. James’ Park to host goal-shy Cardiff. That said, there is plenty of risk in that selection, since Newcastle results have often defied logic this season.
Southampton’s Matt Targett ($5.15) [D/M eligible] is coming off an 11-point effort, and he has averaged 7.4 ppg over the past eight games, all starts. It is uncertain whether he will retain his spot in the XI when Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares are both fit enough to start, which could be this week. My hope is that, with the Saints posting three wins in their past five games, Hasenhuttl will stay with what’s working and keep rolling with the likes of JWP and Targett. Still, you’ll want to keep an eye on team news.
Elsewhere in defense, Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren ($5.23) is expected to return after missing the last game with injury. He should slot back into central defense, where he’s averaging 7.3 ppg on the season. The Reds next four fixtures are quite welcoming: v. Crystal Palace, v. Leicester, at West Ham, v. Bournemouth.
Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof ($5.31) has started the past six games, averaging 5.8 ppg in that stretch. The Red Devils have now kept two straight clean sheets, and have several excellent chances of repeating the feat from their next four tries (v. Brighton, v. Burnley, at Leicester City, at Fulham).
Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard ($5.78) has scored 8 and 12 points in the past two games at Chelsea and at Leicester, and now he goes on a mini-run of friendlier fixtures where the clean sheet bonus could be an occasional boon: v. Everton, v. Crystal Palace, at Burnley, v. Cardiff. However, he is unlikely to start all of those games, as he looks to be a short-term plug-in while Maya Yoshida is away at the Asian Cup.
MIDFIELD & FORWARD
In attack, Tottenham’s Dele Alli ($9.98) [M/F eligible] stands out as the best pick. He has scored double digits in three of his past six games, and Spurs face Fulham’s atrocious defense. The natural, like-for-like replacement for Son in attack is teammate Lucas Moura ($9.75) [M/F eligible], who started the season on fire but has cooled off since. Even so, he delivered a 25-point game in late December as well as an 11-point effort earlier in the month. Midfielder Erik Lamela ($6.26) offers an intriguing option should he earn a start; as with Llorente, keep an eye on team news with respect to how Poch is leaning.
THE BEST SEMI-PRICEY OPTIONS ($10.00 - $14.99)
Manchester United keeper David De Gea ($10.46) is not cheap any more, since he’s coming off a phenomenal 32-point effort in the 1-0 blanking at Tottenham, which followed a nice 16-point return at Newcastle. I’m not going to lie and say that I completely trust the United defense all of a sudden, but now the Red Devils welcome Brighton, so a third straight clean sheet would be no surprise at all.
Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris ($12.60) is averaging 10.1 ppg on the road, and Spurs “travel” (across London) to the last place team, Fulham. He may not make 7 saves as he did against Manchester United, but if you’re looking for comfort in the best bet at the 10 points for a clean sheet win (plus hopefully some extra points for a couple/few saves), gaze no further.
Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier ($12.52) [D/M eligible] is coming off a poor game where his careless pass led to the only goal in the 1-0 loss to Manchester United. Even so, Trippier managed 11 points in that defeat, earning 8+ points in five of his past six tries. He should be free to raid forward against Fulham with aplomb and rack up loads of lethal crosses.
If you have Tottenham’s on-fire winger Son Heung-min at a decent but not great discount in this price range, you’ll be looking for a replacement now as he heads off to the Asian Cup competition.
Spur midfielder Christian Eriksen ($12.44) has scored 9+ points in 5 of his past 6 games and will take more free kicks (as will Trippier) with Kane on the shelf. Of course, Spurs may not get as many free kicks in dangerous spots without Kane helping draw them, so that part may merely even out.
Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino ($11.97) [M/F eligible] has endured a subpar season by his lofty standards, but he has turned things around recently with four goals in the past three games, having earned double digit points in six of his past ten tries, taking over from Sadio Mane as the Reds’ 2nd most reliable offensive player. With Crystal Palace coming to town, he should get plenty of chances to keep his purple patch of form going.
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford ($14.26) continued his fine stretch, scoring the only goal in the win at Tottenham. He has posted 7+ points in each of the past nine games, with five 15+ point performances in that time. The Red Devils have two more extremely winnable games next at Old Trafford against Brighton and Burnley, followed by trips to Leicester and Fulham.
THE BEST EXPENSIVE OPTIONS ($15.00 & UP)
How many slots open do you have here? The more, the better!
Bournemouth playmaker Ryan Fraser ($18.46) [M/F eligible] has been a tour de force this season, leading the league with 17 big chances created, delivering a 2nd-best 9 assists (behind only Eden Hazard’s 10), and scoring 5 goals of his own. The Cherries welcome West Ham to the Vitality Stadium, and Fraser averages 13.0 ppg at home.
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba ($19.02) has been absolutely liberated by new interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following the dog house days of Jose Mourinho, notching 19, 35, 32, 9 and 20 points in the past five games, all victories. As mentioned, the schedule looks quite favorable in the next four games before Liverpool comes to Manchester.
Chelsea attacker Eden Hazard ($23.22) [M/F elibigle] is in the swing of things, delivering double digit points in 7 of his past 9 games. In past years, you may have been afraid of facing the Arsenal defense at the Emirates, but not this season, especially with Hazard averaging 13.7 ppg on the road.
Liverpool superstar striker Mo Salah ($23.93) is the most expensive player in the game. Is he worth it? Absolutely, at least if you can afford him! He has scored 15+ points in 10 of his past 14 games, and the Eagles are certainly going to have plenty of trouble keeping him down at Anfield.
My squad’s spine consists of three players at big discounts:
- GW Alisson (bought at $6.63) [averaging 10.0 ppg, $17.35 at retail]
- D Lucas Digne ($6.93) [11.0 ppg, $17.43]
- M/F Eden Hazard ($13.91) [14.0 ppg, $23.22]
It used to be four players, but I’ve had Harry Kane the past few weeks, and Kane’s injury has forced my hand. So I just dropped Crystal Palace D/M Aaron Wan-Bissaka whom I’d had at $5.80. AWB has been averaging 8.7 ppg, and costs $14.50 at retail. It wasn’t easy, I was really happy with him! (He’s scored 11 points each of the past two games, making it even more difficult to give him the pink slip.)
But I didn’t have enough money to go from Kane to Salah, and I really like the other players in my team. Sure, I could have gone with Fraser instead of Salah, but unsurprisingly I prefer the Egyptian superstar considerably. I figured if I drop AWB and pick up a cheaper defender (such as Targett, Jones, or Danilo), I can get close enough to that 8.7 ppg production to make it worthwhile.
That leaves me with eight open spots that I can rotate as needed. Here’s how I have filled them:
- D Nathaniel Clyne (bought at $1.08) [4.0 ppg, $1.58 at retail]
- D/M Matt Targett ($4.49) [6.5 ppg, $5.15]
- M Kevin De Bruyne ($1.00) [4.4 ppg, $2.46]
- M James Ward-Prowse ($3.03) [6.1 ppg, $4.83]
- M Christian Eriksen ($11.67) [8.3 ppg, $12.44]
- M Paul Pogba ($12.99) [12.6 ppg, $19.02]
- M/F Marcus Rashford ($13.71) [9.5 ppg, $14.26]
- F Mo Salah ($23.52) [15.7 ppg, $23.93]
Left in Bank: $1.04
Overall, at the prices I’ve paid, I currently have four players in the cheapskate department, two in the budget range, four at semi-pricey, and I’m only shelling out for one at an expensive price tag. At retail values, the distribution by cost quadrant is naturally gaudier: three cheapskate, one budget, two semi-pricey, and five expensive.
I’ve had a herky jerky roller coaster ride the past few weeks, finishing first in the NMA standard league with 189 points in Week 19 and with 121 points in Week 22, but much lower down the pecking order in between at #62 with 80 points in Week 20 and #82 with 71 points in Week 21. What’s in store this weekend, a wonderful dream or horrible nightmare? I can’t wait to find out!
How is your team-building coming ahead of Week 23? How many cheap players are you looking to add, and how many premium stars are you trying to fit in? Which decisions are you agonizing over? How does your squad differ from mine? Be sure to answer the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments section!
Who is the best replacement for Harry Kane at forward in Fantrax?
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