Regardless if your team strategy is built around Mo Salah, No Salah, or I-don’t-know Salah, pretty much every FPL manager has a £4.5m midfielder in their squad, somewhere. Like the able sidekick, they are always there on the periphery should they be needed, but honestly nobody really ever wants to use them. You don’t put the FPL- bat signal in the sky, when your gameweek is going horribly, praying that Robin comes along to try to save the sinking ship. Yet, I think I’ve been able to find a few players who have the potential to step into the limelight and become the hero your fantasy team needs AND deserves.
Cardiff’s midfield Viking recently signed a contract extension with the Bluebirds, despite missing 26 games through injury in the Championship last season, showing his importance to Neil Warnock’s side. Battling through a knee and shoulder injury, he still managed to help Iceland put in impressive displays during the World Cup, typifying his grit and determination. Gunnarsson has two things in his locker that make him a good potential FPL player. Firstly, he has Premier League experience. An essential asset when making the step into England’s top flight, Gunnarsson played for Cardiff during their 2013/14 campaign. Given the turmoil surrounding the squad with managerial changes, and the controversy generated by the owner, Gunnarsson was one of the few players who equipped himself very well. Although not registering the mind-blowing goal and assist statistics, he managed a decent 77% pass accuracy, and only picked up 1 yellow card. These are pretty impressive for a central/defensive midfielder in a relegated side. Further, they are things that tip the BPS balance in his favour. The Second gadget in his utility belt is his exceptional long throw. The famed Rory Delap exploited this tactic when Stoke were first establishing themselves as a Premier League outfit, highlighting the weakness of top tier sides to this type of approach. Although it has gone out of fashion since, I think Gunnarsson could be the man to bring it back into vogue. With Zohore, Morrison, Ecuele Manga, and Bamba all to aim for in the opposition box, there are no shortage of targets for his set-piece speciality. Not to stereotype Warnock (I am about to), but you would expect him to be more reliant on set-pieces, and exploiting Cardiff’s aerial threat in the Premier League than the Championship, hence why I feel Gunnarsson’s prospects are good.
We can all forgive a little bit of spitting, can’t we? Not the kind of dribbling we expect of a wide-midfielder but at times last season, Masuaku certainly had some of us FPL managers salivating. Were he still classified as a defender, I don’t think there would be much debate about having the Frenchman in your squad, especially given Pellegrini’s Premier League track record. Moving him to a midfielder does make him less appealing, as he’s (at best) probably going to be a wing-back. However, I think the chances of him posting an attacking return are arguably greater than a lot of £4.5m midfielders; remember, that is who should be comparing Masuaku to. In the modern game, it is undeniable that a large proportion of a full-backs responsibility lies going forward, much more so than a defensive midfielder. Often, along with the centre-backs, a defensive midfielder is the only player rarely to make forays into the final third of the pitch. When combined with the fact that Masuaku is pretty much guaranteed to be starting every game, I fail to see why he would be a worse pick than the currently most selected £4.5m midfielder Dale Stephens. Masuaku has shown his trickery, pace, and his willingness to put a cross in during the comparatively limited game time he was given last season. An inform Arnautovic adds to Masuaku’s threat, as would the rumoured signing of Lucas Perez, and a re-invigorated Chicharito. Averaging 3.1 successful dribbles per game, he beats Ashley Young and Andy Robertson in that sector. Offensively for a fullback, this is an important indicator, as it shows his ability to get into threatening positions should the team be unable to provide them for him. When you consider the winger-stock pile in the London Stadium at the moment, whoever plays in front of him will provide a good foil. Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson are both good at cutting inside, occupying the defence as well as creating space for Masuaku on the overlap. In a way, his re-classification could take some of the stress of owning him. Should West Ham concede, you aren’t going to be hurt as badly as if he were still listed as a defender. Finishing last season with the joint-worst defensive record in the Premier League, that was a perennial risk with the Hammers. Further, he would have probably been priced at £5.0m, and then you’re stepping into Burnley territory … that way madness (and Sean Dyche) lies.
Although he has a name than when I say it makes it sound like I’ve had too many Sangrias, it’s weird to think that Oriol Romeu was once quite a highly rated young Spaniard, competing for a first team spot at Chelsea. Now plying his trade for Mark Hughes’ Southampton, he has certainly found his home in the Premier League. Since his return to these shores, after impressing in Spain, the imposing defensive midfielder has shown significantly more maturity than he demonstrated in his previous spell and has become a consistent starter, cementing himself in front of the Saints back four. Given their favourable start to the season, I have seen a lot of drafts containing Southampton players, yet there is a slight issue with that. The defence in pre-season has been very poor, with Bertrand priced at an unattractive £5.0m, even the FPL darling Cedric at £4.5m seems a risky pick when compared to the likes of Tomkins, Dunk or Duffy. The goal-scoring options aren’t too attractive either, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if ‘human Duracell bunny’ Shane Long is given a decent amount of starts this season by Hughes. One way, therefore, to make your way into these favourable fixtures is through Romeu. He has shown an occasional proclivity to whack a long distance effort, so there is the occasional chance he might be able to score. Even if that doesn’t happen, he will be getting consistent minutes against players against whom he is unlikely to be forced into rash challenges against, avoiding the dreaded yellow/red card negative points.
It is going to seem like I have something against Dale Stephens in this article, but I promise I don’t. Having said that, Romeu outscores him in some significant statistical areas. He has more key passes, chances created and shots per 90 minutes than the Brighton man, as well as a greater shot accuracy, a better take-on percentage, and wins more of his one-on-one duels. Contributing to BPS, these statistical indicators show if he does score or assist in a tight game, it is likely he will be in contention for bonus points.
He may not seem like the most glamorous pick, but he might be the only £4.5 midfielder in history to boast Champions League, Europa League, and FA Cup winner’s medals. He also played in the 2012 Olympics too, but then again so did Craig Bellamy, and there’s no way I’m selecting him as my fifth midfielder. This isn’t 2008.
The Risky Rest
I might be slightly breaking the very rules that I established at the outset, but there are a few tempting options in this price bracket that, if you are confident you can carry a £4.5m player who isn’t a guaranteed starter, that I think are fun punts. Maitland-Niles looks like he will be starting the season as Arsenal’s de facto left-back, with Kolasinac injured long term, and Nacho Monreal still training away from the main squad. Whilst he will be reversed out of position, the youngster has shown composure beyond his years in pre-season and the few glimpses of Premier League action he was given last year. He put in a very impressive performance away at Old Trafford and was given the nod to start at left back when Liverpool visited the Emirates. Awarded an upgraded squad number and a new long-term contract over the Summer, he was reportedly a player targeted by Emery in his job interview as one whom he would be able to improve. Whilst he is by no means assured of a position in the midfield, an impressive start at left back could see him awarded more game time.
Fonte, Kebano and Ayite all figure into this discussion, all play for Fulham, and all appear to be rotating through the same positions. The latter two both scored in Fulham’s opening pre-season game, but whether any of them will be starters seems to be completely up in the air. As Fulham continue to strengthen their squad, competition in the attacking third is heating up, reducing the likelihood these Three Musketeers might be lighting up Craven Cottage. Ayite was the most consistent starter during Fulham’s Championship run, starting 24 games and scoring 4 goals and registering 2 assists. Kebano scored and assisted 3 times, but both he and Fonte started less than 20 games last season. A bit of a dumpster dive I’ll admit, but I have a sneaky suspicion one of this attackers will register a few goal contributions during the season.
Hudson-Odoi might be the hipster pick of the bunch. The exciting 17-year-old was given an improved contract after being the bright spot of a difficult pre-season for Chelsea. Undeniably he had the beating of Hector Bellerin when the Blues faced Arsenal in Dublin. His pace and trickery tied the Spaniard in knots at times, and he attempted to drive Chelsea forward in their very poor attacking show in the Community Shield. Some might use that performance as an example that proves he is not ready for the top level, but by that logic, Morata should be playing in goal for the Under 12s. With Eden Hazard only recently returning from the World Cup, and Willian likewise, it looks as though Hudson-Odoi will be in contention for Chelsea’s starting left winger for the season. Given they face the very same opponents against whom the youngster performed so well just a week ago (Arsenal at Stamford Bridge), he might be worth putting in your squad for the first couple of gameweeks, on the chance the rest of Chelsea’s attack can match his enthusiasm, determination and drive that typify a successful Sarri style-player.