Stag’s Take – Gameweek 1, Part 2
This is the second instalment in a two part series examining the options available to managers ahead of the coming FPL season. Part 1 considered the Goalkeepers and Defenders available; you can read it here.
This is Part 2, which looks at the Midfield and Forward categories.
For me, there is almost no way to build a squad for Gameweek 1 which omits Mohamed Salah (12.5) or Raheem Sterling (12.0). The pair represent two of the leading contenders for the Golden Boot prize at the end of this season, they are the main threats from two of the PL’s leading sides, and there is nothing to suggest that either of them will fall back on their extraordinary consistency in recent seasons.
Unfortunately, by selecting both players, you do so at the expense of some of the league’s finest talents. Premium priced assets like Sergio Agüero, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mané, and Harry Kane are out of reach. Even the multitudes in the 8.5 to 10.0 region seem out of reach in truth unless you opt for the bargain basement in almost every other position.
I have seen many opt for Kevin De Bruyne ahead of Sterling; my only advice is don’t. Whilst de Bruyne will end the season high on the chance creation and assist stats, Sterling should near him in terms of assists and completely eclipse his goal tally by a magnitude of at least two, more than making up for the price difference between them. I compared “peak” KdB from 2017/18 with Raz and the results back up my claim. De Bruyne’s stats suggested he could expect a goal every ten games and a assist in one in three. Meanwhile, last term Sterling had an xG of 0.4 and an xA of 0.2, anticipating a goal in two of every five games and a assist in one in five outings. Even at his best, de Bruyne was involved in 29% of City’s goals; last season Sterling had a hand in 43% of City’s goals. In terms of important tallies like shots in the box and penalty area touches per game, Sterling was about three times better than KdB. Perhaps if you really want KdB, find the space to put him in alongside Sterling.
When FPL launched (ridiculously early) back in June, Gylfi Sigurdsson appeared in a huge proportion of teams as people were excited by Everton’s early calendar. However, a drab pre-season where they scored just three times in seven games had seen interest in Everton attackers evaporate… right up until Moise Kean signed. The Italian is a popular late addition to the game but I would still argue that “Siggy” will again prove the sound FPL investment in the early weeks of the season. In spite of having a quiet campaign by all accounts, Siggy still made it into the overall FPL “Dream Team” with 182 points from 13 goals and 6 assists; that was the most times he had ever scored in a single PL season. However, instead of the 8.0 priced Toffee, I have so far opted for Mr Assist Ryan Fraser (7.5). The Scot was a sensational FPL pick last team in a season where he fired 7 goals combined with 14 assists. Bournemouth are the only team to kick off their season with two meetings with promoted sides and that has proved impossible to ignore for me. His underlying stats suggest that his results were not a once off. He led the league in terms of big chances created (28); Eden Hazard was the closest to matching him with 18. Crucially, none of the forwards who helped Fraser to his tally (in particular Callum Wilson, with whom Fraser combined successfully 12 times) will be missing come Gameweek 1.
Leicester’s midfielders have been of particular interest to me since FPL launched. James Maddison created the most chances of all players in the PL last term (99; Fraser 92) however just seven of these could be classed as “big” chances. However, I am bullish that his numbers will improve further as Brendan Rodgers moulds the squad into his own. The arrival of Ayoze Pérez (6.5) has definitely given me cause to question whether he would be a better option though. In a poor Newcastle side, he fired an extremely creditable 12 goals, but the vast majority of those came towards the end of the season; in fact, by the midway point of last season he had scored just twice. His record in the PL was similarly patchy the previous year. Whether the late returns were a symptom of Rafa Benitez’s management style of an indicator that Perez struggles to find his footing remain to be seen; a quick comparison of Perez’s stats in the first half versus the second of last season show a player getting about twice as many good chances off the back of slightly more involvement, but certainly not a famine of goal chances followed by a feast. Youri Tielemanns also came towards the end of last season and played about ten times with Maddison under Rodgers. They scored quite similarly in the period but solely because the Belgian was clearly overperforming based on the chances which came his way vis-à-vis Maddison, I am initially opting for the Englishman.
Looking at the list of highly-selected midfielders is an instructive exercise to see how other managers are thinking. Portugal’s Nations League hero Bernardo Silva is very popular at 8.0, but his game time worries are scaring me off. Perhaps knowing too much about and thus fearing Pep Roulette too much, those of us who take FPL a little too seriously will suffer at the hands of the casuals and find ourselves finding space for Bernardo early this season. After his deadline day farrago, Wilfried Zaha is currently out of my mind but even a hint that he is doing his best for The Eagles will put him on a conveyor belt back into my fifteen.
Lucas Moura is also popular but he was already constantly at risk of falling to the bench; Geo Lo Celso’s arrival can’t help that. Son is of course suspended for the first two gameweeks, which should see Moura play the first two gameweeks as one of Spurs’ few goalscorers. Beyond that, we need more time to understand Poch’s plans.
I can see Felipe Anderson getting a lot of joy from playing with Seb Haller ahead of him this season. However, even though the Hammers have a relatively good opening run of fixtures, I have not yet bitten the bullet for my Gameweek 1 side. I need to see how Haller, Fando, Lanzini, and Fornals link up before I make a move for any of them. Based on their play styles, Haller will do a lot of work operating as a sole striker to bring the attacking midfielders into the game. In La Liga, Fornals acted less directly than he did for Spain’s Under 21s at the Euros this year, adding an element of uncertainty to his approach under Pellegrini. I anticipate that he will occupy a role similar to David Silva from an FPL perspective – incredibly creative but too often assisting the assister. Lanzini has had a tough time with injury and thus I want to see his role in the system, whereas with Fando, I think he will predictably come in from the wing and be as attacking as ever. His disappearance in the second half of last season is obviously a cause for concern, but I think that was strongly linked to Marko Arnautovic’s trouble-making in January and little to do with the Brazilian being found-out by the PL’s defences or losing his touch.
Anyone excited by the midfielders available for under 6.0 have a level of optimism within them that I couldn’t hope to muster. There are quite a few “on his day” merchants in there a la Ross Barkley and Roberto Pereyra, but there are also a huge number of unknown quantities and defensive midfielders. Aston Villa’s midfielders, in particular John McGinn, have generated a bit of interest in FPL circles. McGinn scored three times in pre-season, including a recent goal against Leipzig, building on a stellar 16 attacking returns last term. He was also Villa’s best performer in terms of shots on target though he did pick up a worrying 14 yellow cards in Villa’s promotion campaign.
My current fling is Brighton’s Leadro Trossard (6.0). Nothing like a random player coming in from Belgium’s top flight with promising stats to get my pulse racing! He is an extremely creative player who can deliver a mean set piece, supplying two assists of a hat-trick in a pre-season friendly against Birmingham City from set pieces which were met by Shane Duffy. In Belgium, Trossard was no stranger to goalmouth action either, recording more attempts on goal than any PL player did in a season where he scored 11 league goals. “Trossy”, as I will christen him, has been at the heart of Brighton’s pre-season success under new boss Graham Potter, deploying an attacking 3-4-3 formation with Trossard at its heart. He’s my Gameweek 1 punt with an ownership of just 0.8%.
The cheap midfielder bracket is straightforward this season. Leander Dendoncker is the most-owned 4.5m midfielder for a reason as he Is expected to start for Wolves week-in week-out this campaign. I suspect Sheffield United’s Oliver Norwood will be a slightly more productive asset at this price from an FPL perspective. His range of passing is crucial to the game The Blades set out to play under Chris Wilder; you will notice that he really epitomises the expression “makes his side tick”. He should pick up a few assists over the course of the season and deliver consistent two-pointers when he doesn’t.
The most FPL Community thing ahead of this Gameweek 1 is the neglect of the forwards. Harry Kane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have ownerships in excess of 25% yet they are rarely present in the bundles of “Rate My Team” messages I get daily. I’m as guilty as many with my current draft, but I’m definitely worried!
Kane and Auba need to introduction to you all. Kane’s opening weekend meeting with newly-promoted Villa is tantalising; if any side is set to “do a Fulham” then it’s the free-spending Villains who have perhaps added too many players to their starting XI to be ready this weekend. Kane, however, has had an extremely quiet pre-season and thus I’m slow to find space for the two-time Golden Boot winner with an 11.0 price tag.
I have fewer good excuses regarding Auba. He has been quite sharp in pre-season, his pace will always help him land goalscoring opportunities, and his fixture two fixtures are good on paper. Newcastle, in particular, seem doomed for PL failure at this juncture. St. James’ Park may well be the most interesting place in the world to be looking come Sunday. I think if I was to pick up a premium striker, it would be Auba, but right now I can’t see a way to fit him into my own side.
Sergio Agüero has a presence in almost one in five teams. I have Sterling instead, but Aguero consistently shows us his world class talent. Seeing him this weekend without owning him will definitely give me cold sweats.
On paper, Romelu Lukaku’s departure is yet more good news for Marcus Rashford. He should be in United’s front three from the off this weekend, but will United be any good? A fixture with Chelsea will be a good chance to assess United’s assets without an investment for me. Keep an eye on Anthony Martial too though. The Frenchman has started a few pre-season games as The Red Devils’ Number Nine with Rashford coming in off the left; maybe this is the season Tony’s United career reaches a new level.
Of the mid-priced players, Callum Wilson stands out to me because of his first two fixtures. After the season he had last term, Raúl Jiménez would be on my radar if his early fixtures weren’t so tough, but those are too much of a concern for me to draft him into my Gameweek 1 side. I don’t expect I will make it to GW10 without him arriving into my side though. Last season, Jamie Vardy ended the season as the PL’s in-form player and maybe we’re all making a mistake to find space for one of the midfielders who will be working to provide him at his expense. As it stands, I have Wilson in my side as I am hoping to get some early momentum by doubling up on Cherries facing PL newbies.
Of the promoted teams, Teemu Pukki looks like the most exciting prospect. However, he and his Canary teammates have a baptism of fire greeting them in England’s top tier, meeting three of the Top Six in their first five games. Let’s see how he does in those early games and move from there. All the while, I right now find myself making space for a rotating cast of strikers priced at 6.0 or so. On Thursday it was Che Adams, who has exploded by recording three goals and three assists in less than 200 pre-season minutes. At Birmingham City in the Championship last term, he was a revelation too, scoring 23 times in 46 games. He’s quite young and should grow into the PL; he is expected to start alongside Danny Ings for Southampton in GW1, though Ings is expected to remain in charge of spot kicks. By the deadline, I could find myself with Ashley Barnes or Chris Wood, or completely revamping my squad so I can get in Vardy after all.
Mason Greenwood is the popular fodder striker pick after featuring in pre-season for United and a few encouraging words from Solskjaer in the media. He’s in my side because it seems that he will at least get some game time for 4.5m, but holding him strikes me as a one way trip to losing value sooner rather than later.
That’s it folks. If you missed Part 1 of my Gameweek 1 preview, you can click here to read my thoughts on Goalkeepers and Defenders.
Best of luck for the coming FPL campaign. May your arrows be green… and always captain Salah ;)
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.