Pre Season: Mid Priced Midfield Options

Author: James Queralt (@JdotQueralt)

Over the years in FPL we’ve seen a variety of different pre-season trends and approaches, which, even in the most maverick cases, all share one thing in common: the need for sacrifice in important areas of the pitch. When selecting that £13M man as the first name on your teamsheet, inevitably, you’re going to have to balance the books elsewhere. Whether you’re succumbing to your gluttony and rolling out with three big-hitters up top, exercising the discipline of a Shaolin Monk and relying on racking up the points via a sturdy defence, or simply scrabbling around for a few pennies to put towards the Mo Salah fund, something’s gotta give.

One of the biggest pre season challenges for any FPL manager is identifying the key assets who fall in between the superstar and the bargain basement in the interest of building a balanced squad. This player might not bring home as many points as the premiums, but they’ll be doing a lot more than sitting on your bench almost every week. They’re the midfield inbetweener.

Returning to those aforementioned pre-season vogues, it seems that this year there is keen interest in midfield investment – a likely result of the value we were presented with in that area of the pitch last campaign. As such, I opt to focus here on the midfield options that fall within the £5M-£6.5M bracket. Historically, a player or two from this bracket has broken out and become something of an FPL gem each season, be it Josh King and his heroics during the 2016/17 run-in or Pascal Groß proving himself as the talisman of newly-promoted Brighton last time out. So, who this year is the new Riyad Mahrez rather than the new Nathan Redmond? Hopefully, they’re somewhere on this list.

Diogo Jota (£6.5M) Wolverhampton Wanderers

  • First 5 fixtures: EVE/lei/MCI/whu/ BUR

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Speaking of talismans for newly-promoted teams, this man looks like he could fit that particular bill.

Wolves aren’t your average newly promoted side. A close working relationship with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes has seen them involved in a number of eye-opening deals in recent times. Attracting a wealth of sought-after Portuguese talent to the Championship last season – most notably, perhaps, exciting youngster Ruben Neves –Wolves coasted to top spot and automatic promotion to the Premier League. Along the way, Wolves managed an impressive 82 goals in 46 games. Much of that was down to young loanee Diogo Jota. Another signing who raised a few eyebrows when he joined from Atletico Madrid, with most believing him to already be a class above Championship level ability wise, even at the age of 20, Jota certainly fulfilled expectations as he hit 17 league goals in 44 appearances in his first season in English football, leaving him as Wolves’ top-scorer and the fourth highest scorer in the league overall.

Often operating on the left or in the central role of a front 3 for Wolves it’s a wonder that FPL towers classed him as a midfielder. Indeed, Wolves’ official Twitter account also expressed their perplexity at this call, piquing the interest of FPL managers everywhere: 

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Averaging 2.7 shots per game last season – slightly more than Raheem Sterling and Christian Eriksen managed in the PL last season – he firmly established himself as the midlands side’s main attacking force. If he can replicate that sort of output in the top division this season – and his career trajectory prior to his unexpected move to the Championship suggests he has the ability to do so – then he will make a mockery of his £6.5M FPL price tag, and indeed his midfield classification.

James Maddison (£6.5M) Leicester City

  • First 5 fixtures: mun/WOL/sot/LIV/bou

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One Leicester who’ll be looking to step up and fill the huge Mahrez-shaped void in the Foxes’ midfield is last season’s Championship maestro James Maddison. Leicester paid Norwich City a whopping £25M for the services of their star man back in June, clearly believing that the 21-year-old Englishman has the potential to replicate his eye-watering Championship form of last season. Maddison’s WhoScored rating of 7.43 last season is certainly backed up by tangible statistics; he managed 14 goals and 8 assists last season from midfield, contributing to a staggering 45% of Norwich’s goals. Interestingly, that’s the same number of returns as a certain Riyad Mahrez registered in the PL.  Along with that, he averaged 2.8 key passes per game- the highest of any Championship player and around the same level as Kevin de Bruyne in the tier above.

Maddison is not the only player on this list whose caveat is concerned with the question regarding whether he can make the step up from Championship to Premier League level. Indeed, we have seen other notable talismanic Championship figures produce similar stats at that level, only to fail to replicate them in the top flight. The likes of Anthony Knockaert and Tom Ince spring to mind. The difference with Maddison, perhaps, is that he’ll be moving to a now well-established Premier League side that’ll no doubt be looking for improvement in the form of European qualification rather than consolidation. Remember when Tim Cahill moved to Everton from Championship side Millwall under similar circumstances? He managed 11 goals in 33 games in his first season with the Toffees. If Maddison can produce similar numbers – the fact that he proved himself as a competent penalty taker for Norwich last season could also work in his favour – he could well become a must-have at £6.5M.

Leicester’s opening fixtures could also be a lot worse. A home game against Manchester Utd in GW1 and an away match against Liverpool in GW4 aside, 12 out of Leicester’s 15 opening fixtures register as 3 or below on the FDR scale. It’ll be during this run, no doubt, that we’ll see who steps up as Leicester’s creative force in the absence of Mahrez. At these prices, whoever does could become a serious FPL asset this season.

Richarlison (£6.5M) Everton.

  • First 5 fixtures: wol/SOT/bou/HUD/WHU

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Who better to follow new manager Marco Silva to Everton than the golden boy of his short-lived Watford reign. – surely highlighting the extent to which the new Everton boss values the Brazilian youngster.

For the first 13 games of last season, Richarlison, then priced at £6.0M, looked to have established himself as the midfield enabler of choice, and it was difficult to find an active team without him. And with good reason. With 5 goals and 3 assists in 12 starts, FPL managers everywhere thought they’d found the bargain of the season. Much has been written of the dramatic decline in his output immediately after this, but the casual football fan mocking Everton for paying such an extortionate fee often overlooks some important factors. Richarlison’s dip in form coincided with Watford’s own descent into freefall, which itself, considering the timeline of events, seemed to be a direct result of Marco Silva’s continued links with Everton. To round it all off, Richarlison reacted to Silva’s sacking with a not so cryptic tweet containing an angry-face emoji. Reflective of an unprofessional attitude, maybe, but ultimately, it seemed like Marco Silva was someone who got the best out of the player, and someone who the player deeply respected in turn. After a summer of much-needed rest for Richarlison (another potential catalyst for his dip in form is the fact that he moved to Watford on the back of a full season with Fluminense, seeing him go on to play 55 straight games which may have resulted in early burnout), we may see a return to form from the 21-year-old.

While managing to maintain an impressive average of 2.5 shots per game last season – more than Sadio Mane and Marko Arnautovic – the fact that he only scored 5 goals equates to a poor goal conversion rate, and that wastefulness often took its toll in terms of BPS being deducted. Despite that, Richarlison was still easily the best option at his price point when firing, and considering Everton’s extremely favourable fixture run, with just 2 of their opening 10 games rating higher than 2 on the FDR scale, the Brazilian could easily work his way back into the reckoning if he hits the ground running.

Ryan Sessegnon (£6.5M) Fulham

  • First 5 fixtures: CRY/tot/BUR/bri/mci

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Back to the ex-Championship players now with one of the most exciting prospects in English football. Fulham teenager Sessegnon emerged as Fulham’s star man last season, doing a ‘mini-Bale’ as he moved from left-back to the wing over the course of a single season. Certainly, that transition paid dividends from an attacking standpoint as he went on to register 15 goals and 6 assists as Fulham earned promotion through the play-offs. His former position has some FPL managers spooked, amongst fears that he could revert to his old left-back role, with some even hoping before the price announcements that FPL towers would, somewhat gratuitously, list him as a defender in this year’s edition of a game. Considering the youngster’s success on the left side of a front three during the second half of last season, however, along with Fulham’s recent addition of French left-back Maxime Le Marchand to their squad, those fears appear to be unfounded.

Sessegnon managed 15 goals last season despite only averaging 1.2 shots per game, though when you consider that he made 19 appearances at left-back last season, that ratio becomes all the more impressive. He moved to his new role on the left wing on the 20th January, once Fulham had acquired Southampton left-back Matt Targett on loan, and he hit the ground running. That day he scored a brace against Burton Albion, followed by another brace a week later away to Barnsley. All in all, Sessegnon managed 9 goals and 4 assists in 22 appearances from his revised position, which would place him comfortably amongst the best returns-per-game rates in the division. It’s also worth noting that he managed a hat-trick as the left-sided midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation in a 5-4 victory over Sheffield United last November.

As another player who has only appeared at Championship level so far, the risk factor is very much still there with Sessegnon, but it’s pure potential that makes him such an exciting option. The only way is up now, and he’ll be eager to fulfil the huge levels of expectation surrounding him at the highest level, and as Fulham’s best player, will be key to ensuring their survival this season.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson (£6.0M) Burnley

  • First 5 fixtures: sou/WAT/ful/MUN/wol

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After long-term injuries to Robbie Brady and Steven Defour last season, Icelandic midfielder Johann Berg Gudmundsson was tasked with taking on the role as Burnley’s main creative force, and managed to step up fairly admirably. Joining from Charlton in 2014 – along with a certain Nick Pope – it would not be unfair to say that Gudmundsson stands as an example of a player who has successfully made the transition to the Premier League from the lower divisions. A bit-part player in his first season at Burnley – though he still managed a goal and a couple of assists in 10 starts that year – he was able to cement a first-team role for himself last campaign. Whether he’s quite as nailed-on this season with Aaron Lennon now at the club and Robbie Brady set to return from injury remains to be seen, though he seems to be a player firmly favoured by Sean Dyche.

A set-piece specialist, he managed to notch 2 goals and 8 assists in 32 starts last season. A reasonable return, though his involvement in Burnley’s chance creation suggests he should’ve managed more. With an average of 1.9 key passes per game, Gudmundsson was in the top 10 overall in that category, just behind David Silva, Xherdan Shaqiri and Pascal Groß. He also whipped in just shy of 2 crosses per game, putting him second overall behind Chris Brunt, and ahead of Groß and Kevin De Bruyne. With Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes up front hoping to improve on their 10 and 9 goal tallies from last season respectively, and with Sam Vokes always pushing them for competition, it would be no surprise if Gudmundsson’s tireless service is rewarded on a more regular basis this season. That, coupled with Burnley’s highly favourable opening fixtures – only one of their first eight, a home game against Man Utd in GW4, rates higher than a 2 on the FDR scale – could make Gudmundsson’s £6.0M price tag a bargain.

However, Gudmundsson and his Burnley teammates all come with a massive caveat in that they potentially face a gruelling Europa League captain this season, starting with a two-legged qualification round against Aberdeen on the 26th July, then on the 2nd August, with two further qualifying rounds to follow in August should Burnley progress. Dyche has admitted that “the challenge is unidentified at the moment” and has labelled his squad as “skinny” in terms of numbers, with his focus still being on staying in the Premier League and establishing Burnley as a side “you just get used to being around year after year.” European football could hugely affect Burnley’s league form, depending on what Dyche prioritises, as historically sides with limited resources who have tried to balance European and domestic competitions have struggled. There are many factors that make Gudmundsson an interesting punt, but a stumbling block this big might mean it’s wise to leave him as a wait-and-see.

Gerard Deulofeu (£5.5M) Watford

  • First 5 fixtures: BRI/bur/CRY/TOT/MUN

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A familiar name to seasoned FPL players, Deulofeu is largely recognised as a character who has often flattered to deceive despite his huge potential. Still inexplicably only 24, the Catalan winger recently joined Watford on a permanent basis after a typically injury-hit loan spell at Vicarage Road last season. This season in FPL, he’s been priced at a very affordable £5.5M which, given his undoubted ability, has turned the head of many an FPL manager.

When talking about Deulofeu, we’re discussing a player who was initially trusted by Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde as part of his first team side that eventually went unbeaten last season, following the long-term injury sustained by Ousmane Dembele. Deulofeu eventually began to fall out of favour and was loaned to Watford in January with the hope of more regular first team action. Things started well; his most notable performance, his first game at Vicarage Road, saw him pick up a goal and the man of the match award as Watford beat Chelsea 4-1. Unfortunately, he only managed two more games before going down to an injury which saw him miss the next 2 months. He would only make one more start that season.

So what about when Deulofeu has been fit? From an FPL point of view, he’s perhaps best remembered for his 2 goals and 8 assists in 16 starts following his permanent transfer to Everton in 2015 after a previous successful loan spell at Goodison Park, which made him a popular pre-season FPL choice going into the 2016/17 season. He failed to repay the faith, however, failing to register a goal or assist before being loaned out to AC Milan in January. In Italy, he produced some of his most encouraging stats to date. Hitting 4 goals and producing 3 assists in 16 starts, Deulofeu was averaging 2.2 shots and 1.4 penalty area actions per game, which is matching the rates of Roberto Firmino and Eden Hazard last season respectively. With encouraging opening fixtures, including 4 home fixtures out of their opening 5 – the first 2 coming against Brighton and Crystal Palace, but the second 2 coming against Spurs and Man Utd – Deulofeu surely feels he has a point to prove with most of his career still ahead of him and will want to pick up where he left off before his injury last season. If he can do that, a £5.5M outlay could prove a sound investment.

Kenedy (£5.0M) Newcastle United

  • First 5 fixtures: TOT/car/CHE/mci/ARS

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Following a successful loan spell during the second half of last season at Newcastle, Brazilian winger Kenedy has once again joined the Magpies on a season-long deal. Previously joining in January until the end of last season, Kenedy caught the eye of fans, pundits and FPL managers alike with his displays on the left hand side of midfield for Newcastle, managing 2 goals and 2 assists in 13 appearances. Both of those goals came in a particularly impressive display against Southampton in which Newcastle ran out 3-0 winners, which he then followed that up with an assist in the next game against Huddersfield. It was this sort of form, which saw him averaging as many shots per game as Leroy Sane, that made Newcastle desperate to bring him back the following season. This year he comes in as a 5.0 midfielder and a key attacking component in a Newcastle side that will be keen to push onto the next level after an impressive 10th place finish last time out.

An issue with selecting Kenedy, or indeed any Newcastle player, from the get go is their extremely challenging run of opening fixtures. While Rafa Benitez’s men fared reasonably well against the big boys towards the end of last season, seeing off Man Utd, Arsenal and then Chelsea on the final day, it’s easy to see them taking a while to truly get going, certainly in terms of regular attacking returns. After travelling to Cardiff in GW2, they have to wait until GW9 before facing a team which rates less than a 3 on the FDR scale in Brighton. At £5.0M, Kenedy could represent an interesting punt, but expect some frustration as Newcastle attempt to ride the storm before eventually reaching calmer seas.

Other Notable Mentions

Luka Milivojevic (£6.5M) Crystal Palace – Crystal Palace’s penalty king who notched up an unprecedented 10 goals last season, mostly from the spot, might be worth a look with Palace’s favourable early fixture run, but a £2.0M price hike might be tough to stomach when relying on goals solely from spot-kicks.

Mohamed Elyounoussi (£6.5M) Southampton – Norwegian attacker who recently moved to St. Mary’s following the departure of playmaker Dusan tadic. Managing 12 and 10 goals in his last 2 seasons respectively, Elyounoussi could provide an intriguing option if he hits the ground running in the Premier League. See El Statto’s recent ‘Under the Spotlight’ for a more comprehensive preview.

Erik Lamela (£6.5M) Tottenham Hotspur – The injury-hit Argentinean winger has, at times, been one of Mauricio Pochettino’s most valued players, and he’ll be looking to build on his hat-trick on the final day of last season by winning back a place in Spurs’ first team. With question marks over the availability of Eriksen, Dele and Son for the start of next season, Lamela has a chance to stake his claim.

Cesc Fabregas (£6.5M)/Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£5.5M) Chelsea – If either of these two manage to nail down a place in new manager Maurizio Sarri’s side, they could make a mockery of their price-tags. Fabregas is one of the league’s all-time great creators, and his stats never really look like slowing down, even if his output has more recently. Meanwhile, the only way is up for RLC who, after an impressive season on loan at Palace last time out and some glimpses of brilliance at the World Cup, will be looking to push on and get some regular first team football under his belt.

Demarai Gray (£5.5M) Leicester City – Another Leicester player who’ll be looking to fill Mahrez’s boots this season, Gray will be hoping to finally fulfil his potential this season and provide the consistent performances that his ability merits. Whoever steps up in Mahrez’s absence could be a fantastic FPL asset this season, so at £5.5M he’s definitely one to watch

Ivan Cavaleiro (£5.5M)/ Helder Costa (£5.0M) Wolves – Two slightly cheaper routes into the Wolves attack than Jota, though often equally as dangerous, these two managed 9 goals and 12 assists and 5 goals and 6 assists respectively in the Championship last season.

Tom Cairney (£5.0M) Fulham – Fulham’s captain who likes to get forward as part of his side’s midfield 3, Cairney weighed in with 6 goals and 5 assists last season, including the goal which saw his side promoted in the play-off final. Has previously been known to take penalties for his side, and provides a cheaper route into the midfield than Sessegnon.

Will Hughes (£5.0M) Watford – Peroxide-blonde attacking midfielder who managed 2 goals and 3 assists in 11 appearances during an injury-hit campaign for the Hornets last season. Will be looking to becoming something of a creative force for his team now that he’s back to full fitness. Definitely one to watch at £5.0M.

For more blogs, including a reivew of pre season so far, please follow this link: https://fplelstatto.com/blogs/

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