Current affairs: forward thinking midfielders

Propkoptas cast his eye over trends he sees developing in FPL land at the moment; the forward thinking midfielders (and defenders), and what it means to be a “forward” nowadays. 

How do we define a forward?

Historically, this task was simple – the lanky pair of well-coiffed individuals wearing shirts labelled 9 and 10 typically met the bill.

Yet, though the world of fantasy football may continue to delight in discrete units of player classification – forwards, midfielders, etc. – the reality has become far less tidy when it comes to role designation.

From a practical standpoint, forwards generally offer the best chances of striking fantasy gold – their average positions close to the opponent’s goal giving them ample opportunity to either score for themselves, or create chances for others.

With this thought in mind, I’ve been looking through the numbers from the first third of the season, in search of players filling this most important of fantasy positions (often from unexpected sources).

The Numbers

Through thirteen Gameweeks, 9 FPL forwards have currently racked up at least fifty touches in the opponent’s penalty area.

This list contains all of the big-hitters we would expect to find in such a dataset – with Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, and Alvaro Morata occupying the top three positions – as well as some more surprising entries (such as Bournemouth’s Josh King, currently behind only the aforementioned big three and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero).

Yet an identical tally of nine midfielders have also reached this fifty-touch threshold.

Get Rich or Die Tryin’

Indeed, our top-ranked midfielder in this category (Richarlison) has actually surpassed all strikers with 94 such touches so far this campaign. Yet whilst the 20% owned Brazilian is taking no engaged FPL managers by surprise at this point, there are some names on this fifty touch list who have garnered less attention – such as Stoke’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (6% owned) and Palace’s Wilfred Zaha (5%). Indeed Zaha’s place on this list is particularly impressive, given that the Ivorian has been restricted to just 7 appearances due to injury.

Two particularly eye-catching names who are sitting just outside this 50-touch boundary are Aaron Ramsey (48 touches) and Dusan Tadic (46). Both are mid-priced options with track records of posting impressive underlying statistics (often without the real-world production to match, in the case of the Serb). This duo are outperforming many more offensively-deployed players in terms of their potential goal threat. Indeed, Ramsey ranks fifth amongst all midfielders in expected goals – ahead of such stars as Dele Alli, Kevin de Bruyne, or Leroy Sane.

Over the last four weeks, meanwhile, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (priced at just 4.5) has amassed 19 penalty-box touches; the same number accumulated by Harry Kane over this period.

In North London, some defenders have even shown a willingness to get in on the act – Arsenal’s marauding full-backs Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac have produced 47 and 46 such touches respectively, 15 more than their next-nearest rival (Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso, with 31) at the position.

The Takeaway

With confidence in premium forwards beginning to wane, many managers are beginning to look away from a high-priced front 3 in favour of greater investment in the midfield.

A return to the 3-5-2 setup popularly employed for much of last season seems likely – with early-season mainstays such as Romelu Lukaku now making way to free up cash for midfield big-hitters such as Eden Hazard.

Yet, as these numbers show, increased investment in the midfield does not necessitate pooling our resources further from goal. Indeed, as a number of midfielders – and one or two defenders – have already shown, attacking involvement can come from anywhere on the pitch; and, as illustrated by Richarlison’s recent run of form, cheaper midfielders can often eclipse even the most expensive forwards in the world of FPL.