The best Fantasy Premier League midfielders

Eden Hazard Premier League

Who are the best Fantasy Premier League midfielders? What features should you be looking for in a midfielder? These are difficult questions, but they will be answered shortly. In this article we’ll go through the process of finding the best fantasy football midfielders.

The best Fantasy Premier League midfielders are the ones playing as attackers in a 4-3-3 formation. They get a lot of scoring opportunities and assists. Avoid holding midfielders, even if these players are critical to their teams. Their hard work and tackles don’t pay off in fantasy football. You should also look for set-piece specialists, who are giving free kicks and corners. Manager changes can bring unusual opportunities as well!

Avoid the defensive midfielders

Midfielders differ greatly from other fantasy football players. For example, attackers and goalkeepers have quite static and obvious roles. In defence, there are more differences between centre-backs and full-backs/wing-backs. But midfield is a whole another story.

There are many different roles in midfield, which depend on the formation a team is using. Some of these roles are good and some of them are bad for fantasy football. The reason is that defensive actions are not valued in the Fantasy Premier League.

N’Golo Kante might be one of the most respected midfielders in the world. There’s no question of his value to Chelsea either. But he’s close to useless in the Fantasy Premier League. This is also reflected in his low price. These holding midfielders are the ones you must avoid. There’s just one thing to say about their low price: it’s a trap!

Players like N’Golo Kante, Fernandinho or Nemanja Matic are typically in the bottom of the midfield in a 4-3-2-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations. If a team is playing 4-4-2, one of the central midfielders is more defensive.

These defensive players might be crucial to their respective teams, but all those fine tackles don’t bring you any FPL points. When attacks are being started, these players are usually the ones giving the first easy passes forward. They are not finishing the attacks. That job is done by one of the more advanced midfielders.

There are some daily fantasy football games with more advanced scoring systems. In such games even players like Kante or Fernandinho might be valuable.

The best Fantasy Premier League midfielders are attackers

Let’s look at the best possible midfielder roles then.

The best fantasy football midfielders are the ones playing as attackers. In practice this means teams, which operate with a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 formation. There is no better example than Liverpool.

At the 2018/2019 season just one of the Liverpool starting XI forwards is an attacker in the Fantasy Premier League – Roberto Firmino. Mohamed Salah is still a midfielder with Sadio Mane. The goal threat is practically equal for these three and they all play as forwards finishing Liverpool attacks.

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Midfielders like this are getting so much more scoring chances than your average guy in other formations.

Manchester City is another fine example. They are often using a 4-3-3 formation, which helped midfielder Raheem Sterling to 18 league goals last season. Manchester United has also used 4-3-3 this season, where players like Alexis Sanchez are practically attackers.

This kind of “gifts” are sometimes removed during the summer break. For example, Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha were originally midfielders. Now they are attackers in FPL.

Set-piece takers : the hidden gems in fantasy football

There are only so many midfielders-playing-as-forwards in the Fantasy Premier League. So, what kind of midfielders are the next best thing?

Set-piece takers are one group, which you should focus to. Set-pieces include penalties, free kicks and corner kicks. Sometimes a midfielder is responsible for all of these, but typically the duties are shared by one to three different players.

Penalty takers should be your number one choices. Penalties are almost certain goals and the takers are rarely changed. Usually a penalty taker is also responsible for free kicks, which can lead to direct goals or assists.

Examples from Premier League: Pascal Groß (Brighton), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

It’s not difficult to identify these players. There are also set-piece taker lists, which will help you to identify such players in smaller clubs. Usually there is at least one left-footed and one right-footed player named for set pieces.

A midfielder playing as an attacker and shooting penalties is a King Midfielder. This is the player you want in your team.

Playmakers and wingers

Not that long time ago, the 4-4-2 formation was used by almost all Premier League teams. Wingers were responsible for a lot of creativity in this formation. Their task was to pump crosses to the penalty box for attackers to head in. Nowadays a 4-4-2 formation and direct-ball style have both almost disappeared.

Wingers are typically used, when the team is playing a three-man defence line (3-5-2). In this case the wingers are called wing-backs and they are often defenders. The traditional winger type is nowadays used in a 4-3-3 formation.

Finally, we have the playmakers and other attacking midfielders. These are typically players behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. As mentioned before, you don’t want to touch to those defensive and holding midfielders. You want more attacking players, who are giving the final assist leading to a goal.

The 4-2-3-1 formation is the most commonly used, which means there’re almost half a dozen options in each team for this position.

How can you filter out the best choices out of this bunch? Keep reading, because now the stats come into play.

How to use stats to find the best fantasy football midfielders

Arsenal is a classic example of a team using the 4-2-3-1 formation right now. In a normal situation, Unai Emery is going to pick Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the lone striker and fill the three positions behind him with Özil, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi or Ramsey.

Let’s look at Arsenal stats then. Go to whoscored.com website, pick Premier League and click Arsenal. Then browse to Arsenal squad and select Offensive stats. In this example, we look at the stats from last season to have a bit more data visible.

The data is sorted by KeyP, which means key passes per match. As you can see, there is clearly one stand-out midfielder. Özil has made over three key passes per match. Every one of those presents a goal-scoring opportunity.

Drb means dribbles. This indicator is difficult, because dribbles might happen in all kinds of situations. They aren’t necessarily dribbling in the penalty box, which would lead to dangerous goal-scoring opportunities.

SpG means shots per game, and this is a very important number for a midfielder. It’s no surprise Aaron Ramsey has scored seven goals in just 21 appearances. His SpG number is very high for a midfielder. Shots will eventually lead to goals, so this number might reveal a midfielder, who is going to score many goals in the near future.

You can next move to the Passing tab. This information might reveal some hidden gems. We look at the Tottenham squad in this example.

The data is sorted by ThrB column, which means through balls per game. A through ball is a pass, which releases a forward to a breakthrough situation against the opposing goalkeeper. Scoring a goal from such a chance is very likely. Hence, midfielders giving through balls will eventually get assists.

You can also look at the crosses column. In a modern football, it’s often the full-backs who are giving the most crosses. But if you find a stand-out midfielder here, he’s also a solid source for assists.

Average passes (AvgP) and Pass success percentages (PS%) are not that important. Holding midfielders and playmakers in a 4-2-3-1 formation are usually the ones making the most assists. They are making the easy passes back and forth. We are only interested in key passes, because those are the ones leading into goal-scoring opportunities.

Same goes for the pass success percentage. It doesn’t really matter in fantasy football.

Manager changes

Let’s look at one final thing: manager changes. These situations might change any team dramatically. When a manager/head coach is removed from his position, the team might start to use a different formation. Not only that, but also player roles could change significantly.

These are great opportunities for smart fantasy football managers. A new head coach might move some previously favored top player even to the bench. He could also change their main set-piece taker, if the previous guy is not looking confident enough.

The formation changes bring the biggest opportunities. If a team moves from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, there could be some new midfielders playing as forwards available.

Premier League teams are not changing managers THAT often these days. If you go one league level lower to Championship, you see typically 20 manager changes per season.

In Premier League the changes are usually done over the summer. Chelsea and Arsenal changed their managers during the summer break of 2018. Arsenal are still using the same formation, but Blues moved from Conte’s 3-4-3 to Sarri’s 4-3-3 system. This changed the midfield roles significantly.

If there is a manger change during the season, it’s usually because the team is performing poorly. These can be great opportunities for fantasy managers. A club might get a significant boost out of nowhere. New midfielder roles might arise as well. Spend time on watching teams like this – it’ll pay off.

Image: Shutterstock / vlad1988