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FPL Draft

FPL Draft - Midfielder Ratings and Analysis

by Neal Thurman
Updated On: August 25, 2020, 3:26 am ET

I’m trying something new this season. Rather than starting from scratch with rankings, I’m going to start with each player’s performance last season and analyze what may change that could move the player’s performance up or down. Clearly, injury is always a potential but unless a player has a history of chronic injuries (see Wilshere, Jack or Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex), I’m not going to mention that here as it is similar for all. Ultimately, this is about ability increasing or decreasing with age and the opportunity for more or fewer minutes compared to last season.

So far, I’ve covered goalkeepers and defenders. Now we move on to the midfielders. The dominant theme in midfield this season is forwards being reclassified into midfield. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marcus Rashford, and Mason Greenwood all join the ranks of premium midfielders. With the PL.com game dictating squad construction at 5 midfielders and 3 forwards, it will mean stronger-than-usual depth in midfield while reliably excellent forwards will be at even more of a premium than usual.

As stated, the PL.com game requires everyone to have five midfielders in their squad so here are my thoughts of the top 40 midfielders based on scoring from last season plus some notes on others who could jump into the mix this season.

Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City (2019-2020 Points = 251; 2019-2020 Minutes Played = 2790) – With David Silva and Leroy Sané both leaving the Etihad this summer there’s no reason to predict a star in his prime will either regress or lose minutes. He could even have a little upside as it regards minutes. Holding steady as the presumptive top overall pick (although I don’t think he’ll finish with the top point total).

Mo Salah, Liverpool (233; 2879) – It’s hard to quibble if someone wants to go with Salah over De Bruyne as the top overall pick. Regardless, Liverpool haven’t yet brought in any serious competition for their attacking triumvirate so it is reasonable to expect similar results this season.

Sadio Mané, Liverpool (221; 2745) – See Salah, Mo. Holding steady as a top five overall scorer in the PL.com fantasy format.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal (205; 3136) – The move to midfield will help his points total as will what appears to be an overall improvement at Arsenal. It wouldn’t be a shock to see a forward classified as a midfielder taking the top overall fantasy scoring spot.

Raheem Sterling, Manchester City (204; 2615) – Similar logic to De Bruyne above. Sterling will likely see a similar number of minutes and is in his prime in a great attack. Holding steady as a top tier midfielder.

Marcus Rashford, Manchester United (177; 2645) – Rashford is likely to see more minutes this season and a better fantasy return even if the results are similar due to being reclassified as a midfielder. I got him in the second round of a mock draft and it felt like an absolute steal.

Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City (175; 1934) – I’ve tended to stay away from Mahrez since he came to Manchester City due to the fact that he seems to get even fewer minutes than counterparts like De Bruyne and Sterling. With Silva and Sane gone and a new wide attacker to be trained in Pep’s ways, I expect to see Mahrez closer to 2500 minutes than 2000. A 25% bump in minutes could easily see a 25% bump in production as well which would put him firmly in the top tier of midfielders rather than at the top of the second tier where he finished this past season.

Hueng-Min Son, Tottenham (169; 2478) – As scintillating as he is when he’s on form, this seems to be who Son is. He’ll play in the low 2000s minutes and score between 160 and 180 points. A great second midfielder but unlikely to explode into a challenge of the 200+ point club.

Willian, Arsenal (168; 2595)Willian’s role at Arsenal has been much discussed as part of his move across London this summer. My expectation is that he plays centrally more often than not in the role the club would have loved Mesut Ozil to embrace. Similar production to this season seems like a reasonable expectation with some risk of injury (this is Arsenal after all). I’d be happy with him as my 3rd midfielder and okay with him as my 2nd midfielder but I’d better have gotten some premium forwards for that to be the case.

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa (149; 3233) – It is very difficult to evaluate Grealish’s season. He started out well and then faded badly over the back half of the season. It could be that he’s just not that great and that caught up to him. It could just as easily be that injuries to key players across the squad made it far too easy for opponents to concentrate on shutting down Grealish. To that uncertainty, add the non-zero chance of a move to Manchester United which would, almost certainly, boost his value. Feels like a low-end 2nd midfielder to me.

John Lundstram, Sheffield United (144; 2452) – Reclassified from defender to midfielder, Lundstram goes from fantasy gold to fantasy afterthought. Midfielders who only register five goals and four assists and play part-time roles just aren’t that interesting. Especially when they play for relatively low-scoring teams and have a full-season of competition for his place (from Sander Berge) rather than just a half-season. Maybe a 5th midfielder but probably not worth drafting.

Mason Mount, Chelsea (137; 2865) – Mount had a fantastic breakout season under Frank Lampard and, yet, I’m down on his value going into 2020-2021. With Hakim Ziyech already on board, Kai Havertz likely to arrive, Christian Pulisic establishing himself as a star, and Callum Hudson-Odoi back from injury there’s a lot of competition for minutes in the Chelsea midfield even after Willian and Pedro have left. Hard to see Mount replicating his minutes total. At Manchester City or Liverpool, 2200 minutes could be enough to be a 1st or 2nd midfielder. At Chelsea, it feels more like a 3rd or a 4th.

Harvey Barnes, Leicester City (133; 2075) – Barnes doubled his minutes played from 2018-19 and tripled his fantasy production. With more minutes to reasonably be had in a potent attack, I like Barnes’ upside. Feels like a worthy 2nd midfielder who you can probably get for the price of a 3rd. He had 6 goals and 10 assists this past season and that included the part of the season when half of the Foxes starting group was injured. Even moderate health for the squad could see him move closer to 170 or 180 points.

Adama Traoré, Wolves (130; 2599) – Given how Nuno manages and the emergence of Podence and Neto, this seems like about the right expectation. Two risks make Traore more of a 3rd midfielder than a 2nd for me. He could lose his partner-in-crime Raúl Jiménez to a transfer to a bigger club and he seems to pick up a lot of muscle injuries (which is fair because he has a lot of muscles).

Ayoze Pérez, Leicester City (129; 1998) – I’ve been a Perez fanboy since he arrived on the scene at St James Park but adequate 3rd midfielder seems to be his ceiling with 4th midfielder probably more appropriate.

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (127; 1717) – Talk about making a move forward. He stared the season tentative and finished it with Americans dreaming of having our own Eden Hazard. He’ll start the season with an injury but reports have him back by the end of September at the latest so you shouldn’t be too worried. Pulisic has a chance to break into the 200-point club. Probably safer to have him in the Son/Willian area but I’d have him at the top of that group due to his upside.

James Maddison, Leicester City (125; 2624) – There was a lot of optimism for Maddison after a good first season in the Premier League. Funny thing is that he didn’t really build on it so much as just hold steady. Nothing wrong with the production level but it’s more 3rd midfielder than 2nd which is where he was drafted last season. Don’t make the same mistake this season.

Dwight McNeil, Burnley (123; 3339) – I like McNeil the player a lot. If he ever gets a move to a more attack-oriented side, I’d jump on his upside. At Burnley, however, the volume of goals just doesn’t make it likely that he’ll ever be more than a solid 3rd or 4th midfielder in 8-team leagues.

Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace (120; 3279) – Without some reinforcements around him, Zaha feels capped out. If Palace can bring in a couple of complimentary attackers and open things up, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Zaha jump up a tier into the 140s or 150s in fantasy points scored. Until you see some evidence of Palace transfer activity, though, Zaha remains a low-end 3rd midfielder/high-end 4th midfielder.

Ashley Westwood, Burnley (118; 3150) – Not much excitement here. Westwood will probably do something similar. He’s an uninspiring 5th midfielder for me. I’d rather pick someone with some upside and then fall back to Westwood on a good match-up on waivers if the stronger upside play doesn’t work out.

Youri Tielemans, Leicester City (117; 2823) – I was high on Tielemans heading into last season based on the half-season he put in after arriving at Leicester City in the January transfer window the season before last. Unfortunately, he couldn’t maintain that pace even when the Foxes were playing well. I still see some upside but I wouldn’t draft him as anything more than a 4th midfielder, more likely a 5th. Once bitten…

Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United (117; 1187) – My pick to finish as the top fantasy point producer this season, Fernandes was exceptional after arriving in January. I don’t think he’s a better player than Kevin De Bruyne but I think he’ll be the only premium midfielder who will eclipse 3000 minutes which means he’ll get more opportunity and it will translate into more points. I got Fernandes with the 7th overall pick in my latest mock draft and that would be exceptional value in my eyes.

James Ward-Prowse, Southampton (117; 3420) – JWP came up with a reputation as delivering a strong set piece. While that may be true, it has never translated to much in the way of fantasy production. At 25-years-old and playing in a deeper-lying role, his primary benefit at this point is the knowledge that he’ll be playing whenever he’s healthy. I see him as a waiver wire pick-up if Southampton have a favorable match-up but not much more.

Dele Alli, Tottenham (117; 1845) – Name recognition…check. Strong points/minute performance…check. Healthy…check. So, why aren’t I higher on Alli? He neither did much nor played much after the arrival of José Mourinho. Feels like he’s in need of a change of scenery but unless there’s an indication that he’s going to play more frequently, he’s a waiver wire pick-up if someone else at Spurs gets hurt. A bit hard to swallow? Sure. But do the math. Behind Kane, Son is playing a lot. Bergwijn is going to get his chances. Lucas Moura played more under Mourinho. Gio Lo Celso is going to pull the strings. Where does Alli fit in the preferred Spurs line-up?

Jordan Henderson, Liverpool (116; 2234) – A solid 4th midfielder who boosted his goal and assist totals this past season and has room to play significantly more minutes. Not sexy but not bad.

Bernardo Silva, Manchester City (116; 2021) – The remaining Silva seems likely to see a bump in minutes with his fellow Silva, David, heading back to Spain after a spectacular decade at Manchester City. Seems reasonable to expect a bump to about 2500 minutes and 140-ish points which makes him a solid 2nd midfielder.

Joao Moutinho, Wolves (113; 3105) – Moutinho is what he is after two nearly identical fantasy seasons in the Premier League. The only mild concern is his age and the need for Wolves to start grooming a replacement which could see his minutes total diminish. I have him as a very nice 5th midfielder but not much more and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him as the best midfielder not drafted in many leagues as managers use the draft to try out higher upside options.

Miguel Almirón, Newcastle United (109; 3020) – There’s probably not a lot of minutes upside here given that Almiron is one of the few top 40 midfielders from last season who went over 3000 minutes. There is some hope, based improved goal/assist rates over the second half of last season, that both the player and Steve Bruce have figured out how the parts fit together best. I could see taking a shot on Almiron as a fifth midfielder but not much more than that.

Georgino Wijnaldum, Liverpool (107; 2933) – Like Henderson in that he’s a good player in a high scoring system, the difference is that he doesn’t have much minutes upside and could have downside if Naby Keita finally stakes a claim to significant minutes. Fifth midfielder or, more likely, a solid waiver wire claim.

Nathan Redmond, Southampton (107; 2763) – We keep waiting for Redmond to establish himself as a consistent 3rd midfielder type but he’s alternated good, but not great fantasy seasons with pretty poor ones. Coming off of one of the poor ones, maybe this is his season but we’ve been fooled before. Fifth midfielder with upside for me.

Pepe, Arsenal (106; 2004) – You have to strike the transfer fee from your head when evaluating Pepe’s fantasy prospects. Many Arsenal supporters were frustrated that he wasn’t an immediate star after the sum the cash-strapped club paid for the former Lille man. Once Arteta arrived, Pepe was actually pretty productive. I could see a boost to about 2800 minutes and a slight increase in production efficiency yielding a very good 3rd midfielder or even a fringe 2nd midfielder. If you can get him as your fourth best midfielder (7th round-ish) then that would be some very good business.

Jonjo Shelvey, Newcastle United (105; 2118) – The production rate is usually good but the minutes are routinely low so probably best left as a waiver wire claim if he seems to be in favor with the manager at the time you need a waiver wire pick-up.

Mark Noble, West Ham United (105; 2675) – It surprises me that Noble is still playing regular minutes given that he looked spent about 3 seasons ago but a move higher up the pitch seems to have given his career new life. I’m not suggesting anyone draft Noble but it is worth tracking his progress as the new season begins to see if he’s still playing as a 10 and if the production sticks.

Declan Rice, West Ham United (105; 3420) – Unless he moves to Chelsea and is reclassified as a defender (which wouldn’t happen until next season), I don’t see Rice having a great deal of fantasy value. He played every minute and his points/minute rate was uninspiring.

Diogo Jota, Wolves (105; 2278) – Yet another of my fantasy crushes from last summer that didn’t pan out as hoped. Any shock that I didn’t have a particularly good draft/auction fantasy season last campaign given how over-subscribed I was to Jota and Tielemans? Anyway, there’s certainly some upside here with Jota moving to midfield (more points for goals and clean sheets) and even reverting to his previous season of 9 goals and 8 assists would see him as a solid 3rd midfielder verging on a 2nd midfielder. The case against is last season’s performance and the emergence of Adama Traoré, Daniel Podence, and Raul Neto as alternatives. I have Jota as a nice upside play as a 5th midfielder but not a great 4th midfielder option.

Leandro Trossard, Brighton (104; 2004) – The arrival of Adam Lallana likely dampens Trossard’s already modest value. Seems like a waiver wire claim if he makes a leap forward in minutes played or points/minute.

Mason Greenwood, Manchester United (101; 1303) – One of the breakout stars of the restart. He was intriguing before the pandemic halted play but upon resumption he was a star. The only thing preventing him from being a low-end first midfielder or high-end second midfielder is Manchester United’s pursuit of a big name attacker of the Sancho/Dybala variety. As the least proven of the group, Greenwood would likely become an exceptional substitute rather than a starter if a star were to arrive. When he goes and how his season unfolds feels like one of the things upon which draft league titles will rest. If he’s drafted in the first couple rounds and ends up as a substitute for the Red Devils then those managers are going to struggle mightily. If he falls and plays starter minutes then those managers are likely going to thrive. I’d be looking to the late 3rd round/high 4th round as the right place to start thinking about taking the risk. If someone else wants to go 2nd round or high 3rd, I say let them.

John Fleck, Sheffield United (101; 2515) – Not likely going to be drafted as the Blades will likely look to upgrade their attack for their second season in the Premier League. A worthy waiver wire pick-up for a good match-up but not much more than that.

Lucas Moura, Tottenham (100; 2235) – It looked like Moura and Mourinho was a match made in heaven as the Brazilian scored three goals in the first month the Portuguese was in charge at Spurs. He didn’t score another goal in the Premier League for the rest of the season. Moura certainly has scoring upside as his 2018-19 campaign shows, Mourinho has never been kind to wide attackers (see De Bruyne, Kevin; Salah, Mo, Martial, Anthony, etc.). If available with my final midfield pick, I might take a flier on Moura comfortable in the fact that I could drop him for someone who emerges over the first month of the season.

Leander Dendoncker, Wolves (100; 2790) – The Belgian will chip in with the odd goal but he’s in the unenviable position of playing center back just less than half the time which sees his clean sheet points limited. Like Declan Rice, if he’s ever reclassified as a defender, he’d be very interesting. As it stands, he’s not worth drafting.

 

Rising

Among players who didn’t finish in the top 40 overall, there are some who have the upside to emerge as draft-able, start-able, or even as stars. Here’s a quick rundown:

Gylfi Sigurdsson – He’s been cast aside before only to see his fantasy fortunes reborn. His game should age nicely but it might take a move back down the table to make him worth drafting.

Allan Saint-Maximin – The Newcastle winger played well down the stretch but it could just be a small sample size thing. For me, then value of Newcastle’s attacking midfielders is entirely dependent on them finding a competent center forward. If they solve that then I can see Saint-Maximin (and Almiron) being worthy starters in an 8-team league. If we’re seeing a steady dose of Dwight Gayle again, then not so much.

John McGinn – McGinn’s upside is probably the Dwight McNeil profile. They’re not similar players but if healthy, he’ll play a lot of minutes and chip in his share of goals and assists but not at a terribly efficient rate. A solid 4th/5th midfielder.

Adam Lallana – This will be one of the fascinating stories of the season. Once an excellent fantasy option while at Southampton, Lallana is now 32-years-old and barely broke 1000 minutes combined over the past three seasons. If he can summon the 9 goal, 9 assist form that earned him his Anfield move, he could be one of the bargains of the draft season. If he’s closer to 5 and 5, he’s still likely worth a spot as your fifth midfielder. On the upside, I’d consider him as a 4th midfielder in the 7th/8th round.

Phil Foden – Will he get his big breakthrough? It sure looks like he will. If he breaks 2000 minutes he should be a low end 1st midfielder, high-end 2nd midfielder. I’d be thinking about him in the 5th round of drafts. I wouldn’t be upset about him as a 4th round pick but any higher than that any you’re paying for all of the potential upside and might as well pick a surer bet.

Gio Lo Celso – On pure productivity, Lo Celso isn’t draftable. Any interest here is purely about his improvement toward the end of the season when he yielded two assists in his final three matches. Not much of a sample, I understand, but with Harry Kane back healthy, there should be more opportunity and it’s hard to imagine that Spurs won’t have someone picking up the slack for Erikson’s assists. Call it a hunch that he’ll end next season worth having drafted.

Paul Pogba – What will we see from Paul Pogba this season? Last season was a disaster but the noises coming out of Old Trafford plus the partnership we saw with Bruno Fernandes after the restart speaks to a return to the good things we saw the season before last. As the fifth most interesting fantasy attacking option on his own team (behind Fernandes, Rashford, Greenwood, and Martial), I’m not going to consider Pogba in the first three rounds but I’d be happy to pick him up in the 4th or 5th.

Jarrod Bowen – A goal and four assists in 11 starts and two substitute appearances after coming over in January is nothing to sneeze at. He passed the eye test on the occasions I watched the Hammers in June and July as well. It is a small sample size so he’s no better than a 4th or 5th midfielder but he’s got the upside that guys like Moutinho and Wijnaldum don’t.

Steven Bergwijn – With 43 fantasy points in 699 minutes, Bergwijn established himself as a potential second tier midfield option similar to opposite number Son. Given the uncertainty around his role, I’d make him more of a late-4th/high-5th round pick vs the 3rd for Son.

Tomas Soucek – At 41 fantasy points in just over 1000 minutes, Soucek looks like the second fantasy coming of peak-Everton Marouane Fellaini. He’s not quite as awkward but he’s similarly powerful. You could see him tripling his minutes total and being a slightly low-efficiency starter in fantasy midfields. If he’s your 4th midfielder at that rate, you’re pretty happy. If he’s your third then probably not as happy.

Ryan Fraser – One of the big wildcards of next season. Where will he play? How much of his form of two seasons ago will he recapture? At the moment, he isn’t available to be drafted so the point is moot but I’d be happy with him as a 4th midfielder if he lands mid-table in a spot where he’s likely to start every week.

Bukayo Saka – Classified as a defender, Saka would be interesting. As a midfielder, there are too many questions about where and how often he plays for me to recommend drafting him at this point. It’s just too easy to see Kieran Tierney moved back out to the left wingback role with Saliba and Gabriel manning the middle. That would make Saka the presumptive first reserve behind Tierney, Aubameyang, and Willian but that doesn’t imply enough minutes to be draft-able.

Daniel Podence – Not draft-able unless Adama Traoré is sold but, if the Spaniard is moved for big money, Podence looked very much a capable replacement late in the season.

Hakim Ziyech – I’m wary of Ziyech for two reasons. There’s the up-and-down nature of prolific Eredivisie attackers coming to the Premier League and the proliferation of young, capable attacking midfielders at Stamford Bridge. Even if Ziyech is as good as advertised, the worry is that he only sees 1800-2200 minutes with Pulisic, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, and (likely) Kai Havertz all competing for time behind Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham, and Olivier Giroud.

Matheus Pereira – One of the stars of the Championship last campaign with 8 goals and 16 assists as a 23-year-old. That’s the sort of profile that has a better-than-average chance of translating to the Premier League. I’d be thrilled with him as my 5th midfielder and okay as my 4th if I had a strong set of options ahead of him. Pereira is the only newly promoted midfielder who looks to be worth drafting.

 

There will be twists and turns as the transfer window continues to churn out new acquisitions between now and when your draft happens but, hopefully, this analysis will help you adjust your valuations accordingly as players come and go.

Neal Thurman

Neal Thurman manages the NBC Sports Edge's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.