As the first deadline of the 2020-21 FPL season steadily approaches, we tender the initial installment in our series of articles that break down the best buys at each position in FPL.
In this edition, we explore our choices in midfield. This is a crucial area of your squad to get right: Five of the top seven FPL performers last season were middies (I’m including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was reclassified for this season). To help you make the best choices at each price point, we’ll start at the dollar store and then work our way up to the biggest, most expensive names in the game.
Let’s get started.
My favorite options at the £4.5 price point are Oriel Romeu (SOU) and Yves Bissouma (BRI). The job of a £4.5 middie is generally going to be bench cover, so what you’re looking for here is security of starts. Both of these guys were regular members of the S11 during Project Restart. Overall, Bissouma was a better performer, returning 0.031 points/minute vs 0.027 points/minute for Romeu. But the Southampton man’s opening fixtures look more favorable for clean sheet points, and the departure of Pierre Emile Hojbjerg to Tottenham could bolster the security of Romeu’s starts.
If you can afford to shell out an additional £0.5, then Mark Noble (WHU), Tomas Soucek (WHU), and Matt Ritchie come into consideration. For the extra half-pound, these guys are sufficiently productive that you might actually start them when the fixture is right.
Although he is now 33 years old, Noble captains his Hammers’ side and can therefore generally be counted on to start. He takes pens and lines up in a creative No. 10 role, so the potential for attacking returns is always there, as evidenced by his return of 0.039 points/minute in the last campaign,
His teammate Soucek has been a revelation since joining as a loanee in the January window. A workhorse who is proud to play for his new badge, no one in the EPL covered more ground than Soucek during Project Restart (nearly 75 km). The 6’ 4” Czech carries plenty of goal threat too, bagging three in the final nine games of 2019-20 and ranking #2 among the Hammers for shots on target and shots inside the box. This all translated into FPL returns: His points/minute return equaled Noble’s. His permanent signing in July is being hailed as West Ham’s most important transfer of the summer, and at £5.0 he could be a good transfer for you to think about too.
Richie was re-classed as a midfielder for 2020-21, so for this campaign his clean sheets will only count for one point instead of four. But he starts, takes set pieces including PKs, and would still have returned 0.038 points/minute last year even if he had been classed as a middie.
My #1 choice in this price bracket is Allan Saint-Maximin (NEW). The 23 year-old Frenchman notched four goals and seven assists in the last campaign despite being limited to 22 starts due to injury. Even so, he returned an impressive 0.049 points/minute and is a terrific value for 2020-21.
Just how much of a bargain is ASM? Well, here are the other names I would consider in this price range:
- Jarrod Bowen (WHU), 0.048 points/minute for £6.5
- James Maddison (LEI), 0.048 points/minute for £7.0
- Jack Grealish (AVL), 0.046 points/minute for £7.0
ASM is every bit as good an FPL producer as these men are, but he costs a full pound less than the least expensive of them. For my money, then, ASM should already be in your team before you think about adding any of these other mid-priced standouts.
But before we move on to the next price bracket, we need to talk about Phil Foden (MCI). Those of us who have followed his progress over the years were already aware of his capabilities, and 2019-20 was the season he finally began to break through. He scored five goals over his six starts after the league re-commenced, producing a staggering 0.078 FPL points/min. If not for Pep Roulette, he’d be a no-brainer at £6.5.
That said, the legendary David Silva has left the Etihad, and Foden seems destined to pick up the Spaniard’s baton. Plus, Foden can also play wide, which increases his versatility and therefore his potential for pitch time. Foden is consequently one to monitor. If we can count on him for starts, he offers explosiveness unmatched by anyone else in this price range.
At £7.5, the easy choice is Mason Greenwood. Manchester United’s 18 year-old rising star featured in 31 league games least season, but it was after the lockdown that he really blossomed into full-flower: Half of his ten goals were scored during Project Restart. The result was a searing 0.079 FPL points/minute. Those who analyze his underlying stats will caution that he overachieved last season. But the two-footed phenom has a nose for goal and scores from everywhere, so I think that at £7.5 he is value-for-money even if his form regresses a bit.
Stepping up to £8.0, Dele Alli (TOT, 0.060 points/min) comes into focus. The 24 year-old Englishman enjoyed something of a revival under José Mourinho before he was once again hampered by the hamstring issues that have plagued him over the last few seasons. Now healthy again, he has been tearing it up in Tottenham’s pre-season tune-up matches, with two assists in one game and a golazo in another. Mou now has a crowded stable of midfielders to choose from, but I think Alli has matured under the Special One, and his improved attitude and work ethic should win him a regular spot in the S11 this season.
Frank Lampard has had quite an auspicious summer transfer window, bringing in Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, with Kai Havertz set to follow. Blues fans are understandably excited about these three attackers, but for now it is Christian Pulisic (£8.5, CHE) who interests me. As talented as the three new boys are, we know that the adjustment from the continental leagues to the EPL can be difficult and time-consuming.
But Pulisic is already flourishing in the Prem. While injuries and form kept him out of the side for much of the pre-lockdown portion of the 2019-20 campaign, he found a purple patch during Project Restart, scoring four goals across seven starts. But even considering his entire season as a whole, he generated FPL points at a rate of 0.074 per minute. That makes him a great choice for your FPL side while you wait to see how his new teammates settle in. (Note, Pulisic suffered a hamstring injury on August 1 and is 50/50 for opening weekend.)
Spurs only suffered one defeat under Project Restart, and Son Heung-Min’s two goals and three assists were a major reason why. There are less expensive routes into Tottenham’s midfield, such as Alli or Giovanni Lo Celso. But right now neither of them is as locked-on for starts as the 28 year-old Korean, and neither was able to match Son’s 0.068 FPL points/min production last season. In fact, although Son is often thought of as a cheaper alternative to Harry Kane, even Tottenham’s talismanic English striker only generated 0.061 points/min. If you have £9.0 to burn and are looking for a Spurs attacker, you can’t find a better value than Sonny at any price.
Once we graduate into the premium bracket, prices get stratospheric. Players like Kevin De Bruyne, Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Raheem Sterling, and Bruno Fernandes are some of the biggest stars in the Prem, and they have FPL price tags to match.
When you’re spending that kind of dough (and you do want at least one, thus maximizing the potential benefit of your weekly captain’s armband), you can’t afford to make a mistake. But how do we gauge the value of these players against each other, when all of them are elite players and apex fantasy assets?
Perhaps we can do it like this:
Premium Midfielders: FPL Returns for 2019-20
|||Points||Minutes||Points/Min||Points/90 Min||Price||Points/90 Min/£|
|||Points||Minutes||Points/Min||Points/90 Min||Price||Points/90 Min/£|
I think Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder in the EPL. Actually, I think KDB is the best midfielder in the world. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he’s one of the best footballers in the world.
But a glance at this table shows us that Bruno Fernandes blew the Belgian — and all the other premium FPL midfielders — out of the water last season. It is hard to over-state the effect that Fernandes had on Manchester United. They have yet to lose a league game since he donned a Red Devils jersey, and the Portuguese won back-to-back EPL Player of the Month awards over that stretch. That’s actually two more POTM awards than KDB has ever won. And Bruno’s eight goals plus seven assists over his 14 EPL appearances translates to a goal-involvement ratio of 1.07 per game, better than even KDB’s crazy rate of 0.94. The importance of Bruno’s influence on matches is also reflected in his FPL bonus points accumulation: 1.36 per 90 minutes, vs 1.13 for his cross-town Belgian counterpart.
His critics, including José Mourinho, will point out that four of his eight league goals came from the spot, as did eight of his 12 across all competitions (in fact his detractors have taken to calling him “Bruno Penandes”). And just as they have with Mason Greenwood, folks who analyze the underlying numbers tell us that Bruno over-performed last season, and that we should now expect a regression. Indeed, Chris addressed this concern in yesterday’s “10 Questions for the Upcoming FPL Season” article.
But over his 14 games we’ve seen enough to know that Bruno is an elite playmaker, a clinical goal-scorer, and a world-class penalty taker (28/30 lifetime, and 100% for United). At £10.5 he is priced far less than his premium FPL peers, leaving plenty of room for him to be worth your money even if his form does cool. While all of the names in this section are genuine footballing talents and marquee FPL assets, Bruno Fernandes is the most compelling value among them. Find room for him. (You know this by now, but Manchester United has a bye in Game-week 1.)
Other observations from the table: Kevin De Bruyne is obviously a stud; you will never feel nervous about having him in your squad (but you may feel nervous if you don’t, especially now that he is on PKs). Salah and Mané are equivalent FPL performers and are identically-priced. Choosing between them is a toss-up; take your pick. Sterling is not quite as productive as the two Liverpool men, but he is an equivalent value based on points/minute/pound.
And perhaps most startlingly, the table seems to expose PEA as a massive under-performer relative to his premium peers. But remember that he was classed as a forward last year. As a midfielder he’ll get an extra point for each goal he scores, and a point for each of Arsenal’s clean sheets. Had he been listed as a midfielder last year he would have earned an additional 33 points, enough to surpass every player in the game except KDB.
But even taking those extra 33 points into account, his points/minute rate would still be 0.076, his points/90 minutes would be 6.8, and his points/90 min/£ would be 0.59. So even with the advantage of his new classification as a midfielder this year, PEA still looks set to be roughly equivalent to Sterling in per-minute production and value/£, and inferior to the other four premium FPL midfield assets on those metrics. Go ahead and pick him for favorable fixtures, but for me he’s not set-and-forget.
Stats and info for this article were sourced from fantrax.com, fantasy.premierleague.com, transfermrkt.com, manchestereveningnews.co.uk, thesun.co.uk, theguardian.com, and 90min.com.
JOIN THE NMA FPL MINI-LEAGUE
The Never Manage Alone “BTB” (“Beat the Bloggers”) FPL league has been automatically renewed, so if you were a member last season, there should be no need for you to do anything (except buying your initial roster of course).
If you are new to the league, first set up your account and pick a squad. You can do so by visiting the Official FPL site and registering. Then you can join by clicking on “Leagues” and then “Private Leagues.”
League Name: Never Manage Alone “BTB”
League Code: btojt9
Do you think midfielders will outshine strikers again this year? What are your favorite names at each price point? Are you more likely to buy PEA now that he is listed as a midfielder? Have any of my recommendations missed the mark? Please share your thoughts in the Comments below.
Who is the most essential FPL midfielder for 2020-21?
This poll is closed
Kevin De Bruyne
Other (specify in Comments)