This season, Fantasy Premier League managers have been crying out loud for a mid-priced midfield option. Have the Fantasy Gods finally heard us, in the form of Wilfried Zaha’s return? I explore his prospects in this article.
The 17/18 season has seen a divide between the good midfield picks. Either they’re in the premium bracket (>£8.0m), or in the budget bracket (<£6.2m). There has been little in between, with the best performer in the £6.2m-£8.0m bracket being Aaron Ramsey, who has delivered at only 3.85 points per game. The most popularly owned one, Willian, has been outscored by the likes of Nemanja Matic and Ngolo Kante. With no good mid-priced option, many managers have also had to shift to a 4-3-3 instead of the conventional 3-4-3.
However, with Wilfried Zaha’s return from injury, perhaps our calls for a mid-priced midfielder may finally be answered. At £6.7m, he comes in at a cut-price from his initial £7.0m. He showed just what he is capable of, despite just returning, with a well taken goal against champions Chelsea this weekend. Despite having started only 2 games, he became the only Crystal Palace player to score this season. Perhaps that is an indication on how reliant they’ll be on him going forward..
Zaha – the ad-hoc striker
Zaha also has the enticing prospect of being an out-of-position prospect, at least till mid-November. With Christian Benteke’s injury last week ruling him out for at least 6 weeks, Palace have no recognized senior striker in their squad. Connor Wickham is already serving a long-term stint on the sidelines. Their options now read Zaha, youngster Freddie Ladapo, who has only played 24 minutes in his fledgling Premier League career, and Bakary Sako, another converted winger coming off a long spell on the sidelines. Zaha started as a striker against Chelsea, stationed up top with Andros Townsend in a 4-4-2. Old timers know all too well how valuable a player classified as a midfielder playing up top is in Fantasy terms, having a direct correlation with increased returns.
A confidence player
Looking at his past record, Zaha is certainly a streaky player who relies on confidence. Last season, between GW9 and GW15, he went on a run of 2 goals and 7 assists, scoring 51 points during that 7 game interval. This was followed by 1 goal in the following 9 games. He then returned with 2 goals and 3 assists during GW28-32. The winger earnt 35 points in a 5 game spell where he scored 11 pointers against Arsenal. Succeeding this, he ended the season with 1 goal in the last 7. From a Fantasy perspective, this is a goldmine. This means that Zaha’s returns can easily be predicted, as he tends to go on hot streaks. What can boost his confidence more than goal against the champions, turning the tide for his misfiring team which were goalless for the season before the weekend?
The ideal fixtures
Another boon to Zaha’s case is strong fixtures, all the way till Boxing Day. Here’s a look at their fixtures leading up to then.
Having faced Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea in their last 3, the Eagles have had the tough fixtures move out of the way. They now only have one game against a top 6 side all the way till GW18. Their run also includes 4 plum fixtures, plus a home fixture against woeful Everton. Palace’s fixtures only turn ugly again between GW19 and GW23, where they face Arsenal twice along with Man City and Southampton away in a 5 game period. With fixtures this kind, Zaha could feasibly be a pick for the medium to long term.
Zaha is perhaps now the best choice in the sub-£8.0m midfield category. With premium assets firing, he seems to be a great enabler to move funds elsewhere, such as from the out-of-form Henrikh Mkhitaryan, or the ideal upgrade from a misfiring budget pick such as Robbie Brady. Playing as a striker, with some form and great fixtures ahead, at 2.9% ownership, he looks to be a fantastic midfield punt.