- Ashutosh Welankar
With the big guns firing up front, and starting to fire in midfield, budget options have become as vital as ever. In midfield, there has been little choice in the £6.1m to £8.0m bracket. However, there is a huge variety of choice in the £6.1m and under bracket. So far, there has been no clear answer in this area. With every team requiring one, if not two of these midfield enablers, I aim to solve the budget midfielder conundrum for once and for all. I look into every single midfielder under £6.1m worth consideration – Richarlison, Matt Ritchie, Xherdan Shaqiri, Pascal Groß, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Robbie Brady, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Christian Atsu and Marouane Fellaini.
The top overall point scorer of the segment so far, Richarlison does also have the underlying stats to back it up. Watford’s summer signing is also 5th on the overall midfielder standings. His shooting stats are right up there. Only Fellaini, with his considerably smaller sample size, beats him in goals and xG, while only Choupo-Moting beats him in shots and shots in the box per 90. His shot accuracy is the poorest, but the fact that a majority of his shots are in the box shows that he’s not just shooting for shooting’s sake. His xG (expected goals) is also not very far off his actual goals, another positive sign.
He doesn’t lag behind much in the creation department either. His xA (expected assists) are second highest – and higher than his actual assists, which means there’s more to come in that regard. His 1.58 chances created and 1.41 key passes per 90 are both the 4th highest amongst the lot. Playing on the wings, he’s also a lot more involved in attacks than some of his competitors, who are deeper midfielders. His average position is usually the second most furthest forward for Watford, after the striker. His constant attacking threat is shown by the 4.41 dribbles per 90, the highest. At just 6.3% ownership, he still remains a differential.
Ritchie has the most assists of the lot – 4 – but his output so far hasn’t been the best, with only 4.01 points per 90. Perhaps that could be put down to tougher fixtures against Liverpool and Spurs. Without those fixtures, Ritchie would average 6 points per 90. Perhaps it could also be put down to his 3 yellow cards in the first 4 games. It seems like he has cleaned up the act a bit now, with none in the subsequent 3. His shooting stats are found wanting, with no goals so far. His xG of 0.05 per 90 doesn’t offer much optimism there either. Neither does the fact that he doesn’t take a lot of his shots in the box, pointing towards more hopeful punts. But he does have an arrow in his quiver he hasn’t used yet – penalties, which could help him out in that regard.
The Scotsman’s monopoly on set-pieces have helped him amass some decent creation stats. He has the highest assists, and the highest xA of the lot. 2 of the 4 assists have come from corners, and it’s no surprise Newcastle are at their most threatening from those situations. His goal involvement % of 57.14% is also remarkably high – he has had a direct involvement in over half of Newcastle’s goals, pointing to his influence in the team. There have been concerns about his fitness, with reports of a thigh injury. However, it may just be a typical “international” injury, with the winger not on best terms with Gordon Stratchan, Scotland boss. Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez has confirmed that Ritchie is expected to be fit for their clash against Southampton.
Shaqiri’s output may not have been the best, with 4 points per 90 so far, but there’s been an improvement. With 1 goal and 2 assists in the last 4, he may be putting fears about his inconsistency to bed. Even more impressive is how it has come in a tough fixture list. Stoke have faced as many as 5 of the last season’s top 8 in their opening 7 fixtures. With the fixtures easing up, there’s more promise in the man also known as the Alpine Messi. His shooting stats are quite poor, with his 0.16 goals per 90 being twice as many as his xG. He does take 2.24 shots per 90, with 1.28 of them even on target. But with the lowest shots in the box – 0.32 – it seems like they’re just weak efforts from distance which don’t test the keeper much.
His appeal lies in the creation stats, however. 3.04 chances created, 2.72 key passes and an eye watering 9.29 crosses per 90 all rank the highest. His xA also aren’t very far off his actual assists – always a promising sign. With 61.81 touches – higher than all but Doucoure and Fellaini, both defensive midfielders – he also shows how influential he is to Stoke. That is also seen with his 42.86% goal involvement – just a little under the majority.
With a 13.6% ownership, Groß is the most popular pick in this bracket. His stats, though, aren’t necessarily the best. He may have scored 2 goals, but it is worth noting that his xG is a mere 0.05 per 90. The German has only taken 5 shots so far, the lowest amongst midfielders in this comparison. Out of those, only 2 of them have been on target – he has scored with both. This points to an unsustainable conversion rate, backed up by his xG.
His chance creation stats don’t stand out either, with them being fairly middling in most regards. The stand-out stat regarding the summer signing from Ingolstadt is his 80% goal involvement %. He has been directly involved in 4 out of the 5 goals Brighton have scored so far. But that raises the question – how many goals will Brighton score? The side don’t have a striker who you’d expect to score even 10+ goals a season. They’ve lacked a cutting edge so far, and with Groß relying on assists more so than goals, it comes to his detriment. This lack of a lethal striker to support him also explains why his chance creation and key passes – both only second to Shaqiri – are respectable, but his xA very low. Tomer Hemed’s 3 game suspension has only made it worse.
Despite the same tougher fixtures Shaqiri faced – 5 of last season’s top 8 in the first 7 – Choupo-Moting has some promising underlying stats. His shooting stats point to more coming from him – he has the highest shots and shots on target of the lot. His xG too points towards more, being marginally higher than his actual goals. Even though his creation stats are quite poor – near the worst in all regards, his shooting stats make him one for more than worthy consideration. His 4.03 dribbles per 90 also show how he has been threatening so far. With Saido Berahino having missed yet another penalty this week, the Cameroonian forward could also find himself on those duties. He has a good record of those in the Bundesliga and for his country – scoring 11/13.
One of the top choices a few weeks ago, Brady seems to have regressed a lot in the past couple of weeks. He had 29 crosses in the first 3 weeks – that has gone down to 22 in the next 4. His 10 key passes in the first 3, have regressed to only 3 in the last 4 – with none in the last 2. You could try to put that down to tougher fixtures, but that’s not the case either. Oddly enough, Brady seems to enjoy the bigger games better than the smaller ones.
Against Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool, he has made 11 key passes. In the other games, against West Brom, Huddersfield, Crystal Palace and Everton, that regresses to only 2. The Irish international made 13 accurate crosses in the tougher 3 games – but only 4 in the easier 4. Somehow, it doesn’t bode well for Brady that Burnley have only one top team in the next 5. The dip in creation stats really hurts Brady’s prospects – that was all he had, with poor shooting stats. He ranks near the bottom in almost all the shooting stats. Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise – the damning indictment, that he has the lowest points per 90 and the lowest ownership amongst the lot.
If you remember Etienne Capoue’s antics from last season, he has seemingly taken rebirth in his Watford teammate and French-born compatriot Doucoure. Doucoure may have the second overall highest points of the lot, but there’s unsustainable returns and regression written all over him. His actual goals are considerably higher than his xG. His shots, on target and in the box are all near the lowest. He has scored with every shot on target he has taken, which he simply can’t keep up. The Malian international doesn’t even have good creation stats either. It’s not really a surprise, as he’s a defensive midfielder. Take a look at the below average position map from Watford’s last game against West Brom, and compare Doucoure’s average position to the other Watford man in the mix – Richarlison.
The only thing going for Atsu, really, is his price being on the lower end of the spectrum. He’s fairly middling otherwise – no spectacular stats. His shooting stats all rank middle of the tree, while his creation stats are on the lower end. Only 37.67 touches per 90 really put into perspective how less influential he is, along with the lowly 28.57% goal involvement %. An injury he’s picked up just further adds to the trouble. He is missing Ghana duty in this international break, with a recurring knee problem. A surgery on his knee – which would rule him out for 3 months – is being delayed. Although he is expected to be fit for the next game, the pending surgery might rule him out as a long-term option in our sides.
Fellaini is perhaps the most statistically odd player in Fantasy Premier League right now. On the face of it, his shooting stats seem off the charts. But per 90, he has only played 3.5 games, which means the sample size is lower, and his data must be considered with a pinch of salt. He has the highest goals, shots on target and shots in the box – but let’s investigate that further. One noteworthy observation is that all of his shots have been on target, and in the box, which might seem unsustainable. He has also scored with 3 of his only 4 shots. But all of them have also come inside the 6 yard area, which means they might well be more high percentage shots than normal. His xG is also the highest, which do point towards the fact that his goals so far haven’t been mere fluke.
He has the poorest creation stats, but the shooting stats more than make up for it. The Belgian international seems to have nailed his position in Jose Mourinho’s side, till Paul Pogba is back from his injury, which could be as far as December. Even though Ander Herrera is lurking, Fellaini has played every minute since Pogba’s injury – even in the easier games, while you’d expect him to play the tougher games anyway. His goal involvement % might be low at just 14.29%, for when he has been on the pitch, it rises to a slightly better 26.66%. At his price, it’s hard to go wrong too. It does lead to the once unthinkable – Fellaini might actually be a good option for our teams, till he elbows someone and gets suspended for 4 games.
I have decided to include Kolasinac in this comparison, as there has been a case for switching for 3-4-3 to 4-3-3. Some argue that a £6.0m attacking wing-back defender and a £4.5m midfielder may be better than a £6.0m midfielder and a £4.5m defender. Kolasinac’s stats certainly lend credence to that argument. Although his shooting stats may be poor, his creation stats are up there. He has the highest assists and xA of the lot, with respectable stats elsewhere. And that’s the thing about Kolasinac – he doesn’t need to blow the rest out of the water. He has the huge advantage of 3 extra points per clean sheet, the bonus point benefits that come with it, 1 extra point per goal, plus playing for a top team – something only Fellaini has amongst these. He’s basically a £6.0m defender with creation stats up there with the best of similarly priced midfielders.
The Stoke duo are perhaps the most fortunate in this regard, with 5 bottom half teams after a clash with Man City – 3 plum clashes. Groß, with 5 easier fixtures – 3 of them at home, isn’t far off either. The Watford boys have two tough fixtures up next, but it gets easier after that. Fellaini – with 3 games against the top 6 sides in the next 4 – perhaps is the least fortunate in the fixture schedule. But Liverpool are a side with known frailities against set-pieces, what Fellaini thrives on. He also has 3 plum clashes against the promoted sides to go with it.
I’d actually go for the Kolasinac alternative here. The clean sheet points are a big plus, and his assist potential is up there with the midfielders. I think he and a £4.5m midfielder will get more points than any £6.0m midfielder and a £4.5m defender, and 4-3-3 may well be a better choice than 3-4-3 this season.
If you already own Kolasinac/need a midfielder for your structure, it’s a tough one. I’d say Richarlison, Ritchie, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Fellaini are all good picks, while I would advise not going for Groß, Brady, Doucoure or Atsu based on the stats. Between the 5, it’s hard to pick. I’d go with Richarlison, but only just. He has both shooting stats with creation stats going for him, and despite the tougher fixtures in the next 2, I think he’ll do the best in the mid-term. If money is a constraint, in the <£5.7m bracket, Choupo-Moting’s the man for me. With great shooting stats and easier fixtures, he should deliver more goals. If you’re really short on money, in the <£5.3m bracket, Fellaini looks to be the go-to pick.
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