Here at TSZ we know as well as anyone that, as the new Premier League season fast approaches, FPL managers will be sweating over their opening 15-man squads, tinkering away in the pursuit of that perfect team. Much to the dismay of many, it simply isn’t possible to fit all the players you want into your team without exceeding the £100.0m budget, so wave good bye to that dream front six of Alexis Sánchez, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Harry Kane. We know it hurts, but it’s time to start balancing your squad with some budget buys. We’ve taken a look at some of the cheapest players available in each position and analysed their performance in last year’s Fantasy Premier League. Let’s start with goalkeepers and defenders priced 4.5m or less:
Note: this analysis focuses purely on players who competed in the Premier League last season, and does not take into account promoted teams or transfers from clubs outside the Premier League.
For the majority of FPL managers, a goalkeeper at this price will be considered their second choice between the sticks, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Rotating keepers based on fixtures is a common tactic amongst the top players, so what you’re looking for is a definite starter who isn’t shy of a clean sheet. Looking at the stats from last season, Artur Boruc comes out on top with an impressive 108 points, including seven clean sheets for his resolute Bournemouth side. However, look a little closer and you’ll see that Crystal Palace shot stopper Wayne Hennessey’s stats are just as impressive considering he played less minutes. Boruc is expected to continue as the Cherries’ first choice this season, but some doubt hangs over Hennessey’s place due the arrival of the experienced Steve Mandanda from Marseille, so it may be wise to hold back and monitor the Palace situation to see how it pans out.
It’s not always about clean sheets for these keepers though; playing for a team in the bottom half tends to mean you will face more shots on your goal, which can equate to save points if the keeper is on form – Vitor Mannone of Sunderland and Costel Pantilimon of Watford (and formerly Sunderland) are particularly known for this. Of the two, Mannone is a more assured starter.
It’s a close run thing for the title of best budget defender, with only four points separating the top four players. Of this group, Watford’s Craig Cathcart and Gareth McAuley of West Brom clocked the most minutes last term, which enabled them to keep 10 clean sheets apiece. Swansea’s Federico Fernández reigns supreme with 98 points, and is one of the few budget defenders to register both a goal and an assist during the course of the 2015/16 campaign.
When choosing a cheap defender for your squad, it’s always worth looking at those players who carry an attacking threat, and if we look a little further down the list we will see that the statistics of Bournemouth full-back Simon Francis are notable for the four assists he provided last season – more than any other player at that price.
Unlike with the goalkeepers and defenders, we see a real range of players in the budget midfield bracket (£5.5m or less), with some coming from the top teams and others from clubs who finished in the bottom half of the Premier League. With an impressive haul of 130 points, Spurs man Eric Dier's stats need to be taken with a pinch of salt as he was categorised as a Defender last year, meaning he was able to pick up more clean sheet points and benefit from an extra point for a goal; he just edges out Leicester City title winner Danny Drinkwater, but both make a strong case for being included in your squad given their attacking stats.
An interesting proposition is £5.0m rated N'Golo Kanté who, following his big money move from Leicester – will now ply his trade at Chelsea. How this will affect his fantasy output remains to be seen, but he’s been by far and away the most popular budget choice for FPL managers so far.
If you’re in need of the ultimate bargain, then West Brom’s Darren Fletcher represents excellent value for money at £4.5m; the Scot bagged a goal and three assists last term, and may represent the perfect budget player if you only plan to use him as a last resort.
Many of the stronger budget forwards from last year have naturally been priced up, so we’re left with a crop of players you wouldn’t exactly put your house on scoring. Having said that, if you purchase one of these thrifty options you can more than likely afford two strong forwards who will lead the line for your FPL team, with your cheap striker warming the bench to be called upon if necessary. The pick of the bunch of forwards priced £6.0m or less is Shinji Okazaki, who managed five goals and two assists in Leicester’s title winning campaign, amounting to 88 FPL points. It’s also notable that the Japanese International started for the Foxes in their Community Shield loss to Manchester United on Sunday, indicating he’ll continue to feature in Claudio Ranieri’s plans this season. What makes Okazaki so appealing is the number of minutes he played – remember, your men have to be on the pitch to earn points!
Arouna Koné and Enner Valencia could both become more attractive budget options should a couple of rumoured transfers come to fruition. Both Romelu Lukaku and Diafra Sakho appear to be on the verge of leaving Everton and West Ham respectively, paving the way for Koné and Valencia to fill the void; both will cost you a mere £5.5m.
Benik Afobe could be one to watch. The Bournemouth striker hardly played last season after picking up a nasty injury but he did well when he did play and will be the main attacking threat for Eddie Howe’s men. If you’re prepared to take a flier on, Afobe could well pay dividends.
As mentioned previously, due to the nature of our statistical analysis there are some budget players who have not been taken into account, but we wanted to give you as much information as possible so we've picked out a few key players.
In the goalkeeping department, a big name in the form of ex Barcelona and Manchester United man Víctor Valdés made the surprise move to Middlesbrough this summer, and represents an interesting choice at £4.5, as does Burnley's Tom Heaton at the same price; the 30-year-old has Premier League experience from the 2014/15 campaign and earned an England cap this year. Completing the promoted teams is Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City, who is shaping up to be possibly the only £4.0m rated keeper who may start for his club, although Swansea's Kristoffer Nordfeldt may have something to say about that.
In defence, Boro's attacking full-back Kevin Friend has seen some interest so far at £4.5m, but this pales into comparison to the popularity of £4.0m rated Juan Carlos Paredes of Watford, who boasts an ownership level of almost 20%.
There are a couple of interesting options in the middle of the park, with new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka available at £5.5m, whilst the same fee will earn you the services of Jordan Ibe, who will be looking for regular first team football following his capture from Liverpool.
As alluded to earlier, decent forward options are difficult to come by in the budget bracket, but other than the strikers we've already mentioned, Middlesbrough's Jordan Rhodes (£6.0m) is the pick of the bunch; the 26-year-old has a history of prolific goal scoring but will be making the leap to the top-flight for the first time. His game time is in question following the arrival of Alvaro Negredo, but he'll be itching to make the step up in quality; best to keep an eye on him.