The third segment of the squad filler series will focus on midfielders, a vital position in fantasy football and one which can make or break any team's fantasy season.
The unquestioned bargain last season was Stephen Ireland, who at 5.5m, finished as the 5th best midfielder, ahead of the likes of Ashley Young, Cesc Fabregas and Deco. As we are looking for squad fillers I have set the maximum price at 5m, and it is therefore unlikely we will find such a fantasy stud within. However, the value of Danny Murphy or the first 4 months of Geovanni last year cannot be underestimated and many-a-championship was won with these bargain studs on board. With that in mind, the top squad fillers for the upcoming season are below:
Phil Neville (5m)
This one is totally inexplicable to me, and apparently to many of the early registered players (of whom 27% have selected Neville). Neville is the Everton captain and so should be a lock to feature in 35 games+ save for injury. Granted, the former-United man didn't score last year and notched just 3 assists and 4 bonus points, however, he gained an impressive 140 points, more than teammates Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta (both 8.5m). With a very talented midfield beside him (Cahil, Arteta, Steven Peinaar and Marouane Fellaini) and a solid defence behind him (5th best in the league last season) Neville should benefit from plenty of clean sheets and could improve his assist total by a couple. This should translate to another 130+ season which could easily top 150 points with a bit of luck. This would equate to a 0.789 points per million spent (PPMS) which is far better value than almost all of the other midfielders available in the game.
I think Neville is the ideal bench player in that if you are forced into a last minute sub, or auto sub you are almost certain he will provide you appearance points, and will likely throw in a clean sheet or assist now and then.
Javier Mascherano (5m)
This recommendation is based on Macherano staying at Liverpool, and preferably signing the improved contract on offer, and Xabi Alonso leaving the club. If the Argentinian midfielder can play the majority of games for Liverpool this season (he managed 27 last year despite playing in the Olympics, so he might still be consistently present even if Xabi stays) then I think he can easily top 100 points and be a solid contributor to a fantasy team. He failed to score last season and only contributed one assist, both totals that should be higher for a player with a good shot and quick feet. He did add 13 bonus points though and this is encouraging for the coming season.
If everything comes together for Macherano, I think he could top 34 appearances, with 2 goals, 2 assists and 16 bonus points which after allowing for 7 yellow cards translates to 108 points, and a PPMS of 0.635. This is a very nice return for 5m and I think Javier is a solid choice for the coming season.
Fabrice Muamba (4.5m)
Muamba is another of the 'dependable' central midfielders who are unlikely to win you the league but should be very valuable as a sub throughout the fantasy season. The Congolese hard man featured in all 38 games (starting 35) last season though failed to notch a single goal or assist. However, the arrival of Sean Davis provides a more solid midfield partner for Muamba and he should be able to track forward more often knowing that he doesn't have to cover for the ancient and incompetent Gavin McCann. To get an every week starter for 4.5m is great value and any increased production in the goals/assist/bonus department would be even sweeter.
Sebastian Larsson (5m)
In Birmingham's last season in the Premier League, Larsson performed well, notching 6 goal, 5 assists and 11 bonus points. Last season he managed just 1 goal in the Championship though did add 6 assists in the year. The former Arsenal man figures to be Birmingham's best forward option from midfield and may handle some corner and free kick duties. I always liked the strategy of getting the best player on the lower ranked teams and for 5m Larsson could well be that man, and at a bargain price.
Luis Jimenez (5m)
This is a bit of flyer based on reputation rather than concrete analysis. The Chilean playmaker is on a season's loan from Inter, where he featured in just 6 games last term (partly due to injury). Jimenez captains his national side and was Chilean player of the year in 05-06. He demonstrated his goalscoring prowess during his time with Ternana, when he scored 24 in 88 appearances, before getting his move to Serie A. West Ham lack a player with 'El Mago's' creativity and under the direction of Gianfranco Zola, Jimenez could become the focal point of the attack, servicing the useful partnership of Ashton and Cole. What more can you ask for 5m?
As always, any opinions or comments are welcome and don't forget you can follow my updates on twitter @plfantasy