While we saw a pretty good separation among fantasy Premier League forwards, owners are going to have to make some pretty tough choices when it comes to the midfield. Here are two groups of players that I find myself struggling to decide on:
£9.0 - Mesut Ozil, David Silva, Aaron Ramsey, Juan Mata, Steven Gerrard
£8.5 - Adam Lallana, Samir Nasri, Oscar, Santi Cazorla, Raheem Sterling
Each of these players have shown they can be fantasy stars, although they all provide something a little different.
I think Ramsey has the highest goal-scoring upside of this group, but it all comes down to whether he can stay healthy. If he manages to play at least 35 games this season, I think he could be the top player at his position.
Mata is still working his way to the £37 million that Manchester United paid to get him, and while Louis van Gaal's attacking style could benefit Mata, I'm not sure the upside is there as much.
Silva is another one that struggled with injuries last season, although he can absolutely dominate a game when he's fit. Unfortunately, that hasn't always equated to fantasy production, which is really what we're after here.
Could Ozil lead the league in assists this season now that Alexis Sanchez is in town?
Does Gerrard have another double-digit goal and assist season in him?
Of that £9.0 price group, I think Ramsey is the pick of the patch. In my opinion, he made the jump to a truly world-class player at the beginning of last season, scoring 13 goals across all competitions before Christmas. A Boxing Day injury derailed the second-half of his campaign, but he was able to return and score in three of his final four matches, including the FA Cup winning goal. He also chipped in with eight assists last term. A full season could see Ramsey's value skyrocket.
Then, I see Ozil, Silva, Mata, and Cesc Fabregas - another £9.0 priced player - as the front runners to lead the league in assists. I think Ozil will receive the most consistent playing time of the four, since Silva has struggled with injuries recently and Mata and Fabregas will be under new managers. That being said, Ozil probably holds the least goal potential, as he would much rather make an extra pass than shoot.
I'm unsure of what to think about Gerrard. 10 of his 13 league goals last season came from the penalty spot and without Luis Suarez around to draw fouls in the box, Gerrard is unlikely to duplicate that return. However, since Suarez is gone, the Liverpool skipper may venture forward more this season. Ultimately, I'll guess he flirts with double-digit goals and assists, but falls just short.
The £8.5 group doesn't excite me as much, but Nasri would be my preference of the bunch. He won over manager Manuel Pellegrini last season and finished with a goal or an assist in eight of his final 11 games. Also, in games when Silva is out, Nasri moves inside to play City's central attacking midfield role, where he has the keys to the Premiership's highest scoring offense.
Both Lallana and Sterling were much cheaper last season, but are surely talented enough to warrant their new prices. Also, Liverpool's system produces a lot of goals, which Lallana and Sterling should contribute toward. However, with the Reds back in the Champions League, I think some squad rotation could frustrate Lallana's and Sterling's fantasy owners here and there.
Similarly, Cazorla simply isn't going to play as much this season as he did last term. Arsenal has a plethora of midfield options and when healthy, their first-choice attacking midfielders will probably be Sanchez and Theo Walcott on the wings, with Ozil in the hole. Cazorla is still a wonderful player, but I'd be surprised if he matched last season's 30 starts.
On Sanchez, it's a gift to fantasy owners that he's designated as a midfielder in the Premier League's game. He tallied 19 goals and 10 assists for Barcelona last season and will play in more advanced positions for Arsenal, making him my favorite to lead all midfielders in goals.
It looks like the Mike Gottlieb curse has hit again, as just hours after Mike mentioned him as one of his midfield picks on RotoWire TV, Lallana goes down with a knee injury that will cost him at least six weeks.
I am puzzled that Sanchez is considered a midfielder in the Premier League game, but I'll happily take it.
We discussed on the podcast that Remy Cabella's £7.5 price is pretty enticing, and now I'm starting to like that price as well for Ander Herrera and Lazar Markovic, two players that have been quite impressive on their club's respective preseason trips to the US.
Ross Barkley at £7.0 also interests me. He is relatively cheap in the ESPN game too and I can't figure out why he's so undervalued. I realize he's young and doesn't have a tremendous track record, but he has to be one of the top picks to be a breakout performer this season.
Looking at a couple guys I probably wouldn't touch with a 10-foot poll: Marouane Fellaini and Jack Wilshere, both of whom check in at £6.5. Additionally, Fellaini is being heavily linked to a loan spell at Napoli.
Antonio Valencia at £6.0 might be a cost-savings pick, knowing that he'll start as a wingback in Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2, although it's clear he's not going to be a big goal-scorer.
Jonjo Shelvey at £5.5 will be on my team. As long as he stays fit, I think he could be a very productive piece as a reduced price.
Another guy I like a lot down in this price range: Morgan Schneiderlin, especially if he can make the move to Tottenham.
Are there any other lower-priced guys that peak your interest? Maybe Tom Ince at £5.5 (another Gottlieb pick, so maybe we should stay away).
Yeah, I think the latest Gottlieb curse of Lallana will help his teammate Raheem Sterling's stock to begin this season. Like Lallana, Sterling can play multiple attacking midfield positions and enjoyed a sort of breakout campaign last season.
Along with players like Barkley and Cabella, Tottenham's Christian Eriksen at £8.0 is another value I consider worth taking advantage of. The 22-year-old Dane was instantly Spurs' best player last term, finishing with 10 goals and 10 assists across all competitions. Now, Eriksen will play under creative-minded manager Mauricio Pochettino, who could use Eriksen similar to how he deployed Lallana at Southampton.
Speaking of Southampton, they bought Dusan Tadic from FC Twente to replace Lallana, a move with potential to be a steal. Not only did Tadic lead his Dutch side in goals (16) and assists (14), but he also created 46 more chances than anyone in the Eredivisie last season (133). Furthermore, Tadic costs a mere £5.5 in ESPN's fantasy game.
I've also touted Shelvey ahead of this season, but with Swansea City just recently completing a move for Gylfi Sigurdsson, I'm cooling on Shelvey. That's because I think Sigurdsson will play in a more advanced "No. 10" position, while Shelvey fills a deeper role. That being said, Sigurdsson is priced at £6.0 in the Premier League fantasy game, while, as you noted, Shelvey is at £5.5.
Adnan Januzaj (£6.5), James McCarthy (£5.0), and Marc Albrighton (£4.5) are other players I consider to be strong values; however, each player comes with their own question marks.
Januzaj was a teenage sensation at Manchester United last season, but we'll have to see how Louis van Gaal manages his development. Once upon a time, van Gaal once gave then-youngsters Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta their respective debuts at Barcelona, so Januzaj could benefit from the Dutchman's faith in quality over age.
McCarthy played a consistent role in the center of Everton's midfield last campaign and his four assists and 12 clean sheets provide good value for a player still filling out his skill set. However, with the Toffees buying defensive midfielder Muhamed Besic, McCarthy and Gareth Barry could see their playing time impacted occasionally.
Finally, Albrighton is someone whose career has stagnated, but will be among Leicester City's best offensive options and will cost fantasy owners next to nothing.
I agree that I'd like to see van Gaal give Januzaj a run, but I'd be hesitant to spend on him until I know for sure that he's going to start. Shinji Kagawa is another guy in that boat, and he's also £6.5. Of the two, I'd probably pick Januzaj.
You mention Tadic as a potential £7.5 sleeper, but where do you rank him alongside Kevin Mirallas, Jesus Navas, Cabella and Herrera? Andre Schurrle is also at that price but I don't think he warrants it.
Mirallas will be given the scoring responsibility for Everton if they don't find a striker before the transfer window ends. Roberto Martinez seems confident that he'll be able to get Romelu Lukaku, but it's tough to make your fantasy decision based off of that.
It's hard to argue that at $5.5 in ESPN's fantasy game, Tadic is certainly worth a punt; however, when priced equally to players like Mirallas, Navas, Cabella, and Herrera in the Premier League game, things are complicated.
In terms of ranking them right now, I'd probably go: 1. Mirallas 2. Cabella 3. Tadic 4. Herrera 5. Navas
Of the group, Mirallas is the most accomplished in England thus far and even should Lukaku complete a permanent move to the Toffees, the elder Belgian will be expected to be at least Everton's second-leading scorer. Also, he's a very direct player that could arguably be classified as a striker and has proven he can find the net if a chance is created.
Cabella is a classy player that should fit in Newcastle's recent French influx pretty well. He doubled his goal total from seven to 14 last season at Montpellier and has also proven a capable setup man with 13 assists the past couple seasons.
I would rank Tadic third because going from the Eredivisie to the Premier League will take some adjusting, especially as Southampton fosters a new manager amid severe changes in their squad this offseason. Although I expect the Saints to fall in the standings, Tadic should make noise as their best attacking force.
Herrera is a great prospect from what I've seen from him thus far. I think he could really make a name for himself at Manchester United, provided that he adds more regular goals to his game. That being said, he is the kind of creative Spaniard that could serve up tasty opportunities for Wayne Rooney and Robin van Perise to put away, which would add another distributor next to countryman Juan Mata.
Finally, I put Navas at the back of the group since I think he's more of a squad player for Manchester City. With Toure, Silva, and Nasri in the midfield, there's not consistent enough room for Navas to wait for service along the wings. So although he could prove a capable assist man, I wouldn't trust him over the course of a full season.