The budget fifth midfielder is a mainstay of almost any Fantasy Premier League (FPL) side. Typically resigned to warm the bench for long swathes of the year to enable investment elsewhere, we nonetheless rely on these players to step in and save us from the terrors of last-minute injuries, rotation, and other fantasy demons.
Of course, not all budget midfielders are created equal.
So this year are they all filler, no killer?
Some players – whom we will refer to as the proletariat – offer us a security of starting minutes, but little else. These midfielders typically play a Darren Fletcher-esque holding midfield role for lower-tier teams, but their immunity to rotation at least offers us good odds of a point or two during their deputisations.
Then we have the wildcard – the player expected to fulfil a more attacking role, yet whose starting minutes are less than assured. These players offer us greater potential of breaking out into possible third or fourth midfielder options later in the year; but equally, could end up providing us with nothing during the weeks in which we rely upon their services.
And finally, we have the golden goose of FPL – a minimum-priced player with a nailed-on place in the starting XI, and the potential to produce attacking returns in any given week.
This year’s FPL crop contains a number of potential prospects priced at the bare minimum of 4.5 – but which of these players offers the greatest fantasy potential (and reliability) for 2017/18?
Jack Cork – Burnley.
16/17 points: 50 | PPG: 1.7 | PP90: 2.0
Oriel Romeu – Southampton.
16/17 points: 80 | PPG: 2.3 | PP90: 2.3
Nathaniel Chalobah – Watford.
16/17 points: 12 | PPG: 1.2 | PP90: N/A*
These three players represent the classical definition of a fifth midfielder in FPL – each should feature regularly for their respective clubs (and therefore rack up the requisite two appearance points we expect from the position), without offering a lick of attacking potential to satisfy greedier appetites. Of these three, Romeu offers the strongest potential of returning the single point allocated for clean sheets – yet after picking up 11 yellow cards last campaign, he is also most likely to suffer a points deduction. The highest upside play here is probably Chalobah – having migrated to Watford over the summer, he has the potential to be featured in his new side in a way that neither Cork or Romeu can offer. However, we would warn against any manager getting too excited over this batch of players – their role is quite definitively limited to the Fletcher-esque.
*In playing only 167 minutes, Chalobah failed to meet our minimum minutes threshold for per-90 statistics.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Crystal Palace.
16/17 points: 6 | PPG: 1.0 | PP90: N/A
On the back of a pre-season hypetrain that even Luke Shaw would be proud of, Loftus-Cheek is currently the highest-owned midfielder within the 4.5 bracket – sitting pretty in 15.1% of fantasy sides. This buzz was largely driven by the idea – or perhaps, the dream – that new boss Frank de Boer would unleash the loanee in a number 10 role in Palace’s starting lineup. The reality, though, looks different: not only does de Boer seem entrenched in the use of a flat 3-4-3 setup, but RLC appears to be competing with a number of his teammates for a place within the centre of the park. With so many bodies (we count Jason Puncheon, Yohan Cabaye, James McArthur and Luka Milivojevic as rival protagonists in this scene) capable of filling this place, RLC seems like a risk.
And yet, the reward is certainly great. As Etienne Capoue demonstrated last season, a steady supply of goals can come from anywhere (even a 4.5 midfielder) and propel a carefully-curated FPL side towards a hot start. Based on preseason lineups, RLC has made a strong claim for inclusion, starting two of the side’s three friendly matches to date. If he can go on to make the place his own, there is no doubt that he could represent great value this season.
*As with Chabolah, Loftus-Cheek failed to meet our minimum minutes threshold for per-90 statistics.
The golden goose
Tom Carroll – Swansea.
16/17 points: 52 | PPG: 4.3 | PP90: 3.4
Our top tip to fulfil this particular niche within FPL squads this season, though, is Swansea’s Tom Carroll. In terms of meeting our list of criteria, Carroll does it all: he is all-but-guaranteed a place within Swansea’s first choice lineup, rarely picks up bookings, and offers the potential for the occasional attacking return (evidenced by a goal and two assists in just 1300 minutes last season, good for a stellar 4.3 points per game). A further factor in Carroll’s favour is his potential to pick up a share of dead-ball duties, should Gylfi Sigurdsson complete his long-telegraphed move away from the Swans.
On the last pod, the fact he has only 4% ownership at the moment was mentioned, and it’s still surprising that not too many FPL managers have jumped on the Carroll comet yet. We can only assume it’s those on Loftus-Cheek who have yet to move across. However, a hat trick of assists in Swansea’s final preseason game v Sampdoria may now propel him into consideration.
Carroll may lack the high ceiling of Loftus-Cheek, but his FPL floor is so much higher that his safety outweighs, in our mind, RLC’s potential.
And that is why we are backing him as our top tip among budget FPL midfielders this season.