Sometimes it pays to build a squad of 15 good players, sometimes you have to go with a 'stars and scrubs' approach and hope to find just enough talent at the bottom of the barrel to allow you the freedom to pack your side with Rooneys, Agueros and Silvas. So far this season, we are well and truly in the latter situation. Just look at the top 5 midfielders and forwards. The forwards are packed with 10m+ players while in midfield you have yet more 10m+ guys and then a group of players who've enjoyed one big week and then average production (good luck guessing which player that will be each week). In previous years we've had players like Charlie Adam, Andy Carroll and Steve Ireland emerge as elite options for mid-range price tags, thus freeing up a couple of million to use elsewhere. No one has really emerged like that this term, so we need to dig deeper and find some players who may not be ideal, but may have a part to play this year. I'll be honest, I'm probably not going to come up with someone you never heard of here, but hopefully I can help you get your plan in order by shedding some light on some of the better options out there:
Vorm (4.2m) - If you look at the league table, Swansea don't look like a very good defensive option. 9 goals conceded in 6 games is nothing to excited about, but if you look closer you see a side quickly developing into an elite home option (3 clean sheets) which is all you need for a rotation keeper. Swansea aren't scoring goals so they're going to need to keep it tight at the back, making Vorm delicious value at 4.2m. I have some concerns regarding the teams Swansea have kept out, but again you are only looking for a keeper who can do well in the easy games. I'd be hesitant to pair him with another high risk pick but if you match Vorm with someone like Schwarzer or Begovic, I think you have the makings of a great and cheap partnership.
Kenny (4.5m) - Take out the GW1 disaster and this defense have been very useful. The new arrivals have all settled quickly and the back line should be fairly settled going forward (unless Traore keeps getting sent off!). The appeal here is that - unlike Swansea - QPR have been able to perform well away from home with impressive clean sheets at Everton and Wolves already. Kenny doesn't have the save totals to boost his points on off days, but realistically this should only boil down to a handful of points at year end. As with Vorm, I would like to pair him with a reliable option, with Schwarzer and Begovic again looking like good matches.
I noted this week some thoughts on de Gea's save totals but with options like these available, I see no reason to depart from the GK rotation strategy.
There's very good depth in the cheap defender pool this year and you could probably grab three, or even four of them and still generate enough defensive points to be competitive.
N Taylor (4.0m) - not much to add here that we didn't say for Vorm. This Swansea defense looks legit (at least at home) and Taylor seems to be locked into the first team. I like Rangel's (4.5m) attacking prospects but seeing as you'll be using these guys in a rotation, attacking points become even more dangerous to predict and you might find yourself benching him when he finally earns that assist or goal. When in doubt take the money.
D Simpson (4.1m) - I think Steve Taylor outscores Simpson on the year but now the difference is up to 0.8m I like the cheaper option more. Newcastle are yet to concede more than a goal in a single game and have already racked up 3 clean sheets (including 2 on the road). Tiote and Cabaye provide good protection for the backline, which has outperformed expectations already. There is some threat from Santon, who is now close to full fitness, but you have to think he slots in at left back, displacing Ryan Taylor who has been playing out of position this year. It might be worth holding off here for a week until you can be sure who will start (if Santon gets the nod then at 4.3m he too becomes interesting).
Gabbidon (4.0m) - I like this defense but with three of the back line coming from other Premier League teams, you are paying a premium, thus making Traore and Young way too expensive for this team's worth. Gabbiddon looks like a sure thing to play, and as noted for Kenny above, this defense has looked very good since the new signings were brought in. You aren't excited about signing him but 4.0m defenders with clean sheet potential are hard to find and he makes a great bench option.
Woodgate (4.5m) - The injury history is a concern and if you have money to spare then Shawcross (who also brings a better goal and bonus point threat) might be worth looking at. That said, Upson has been available for a few weeks now and Woodgate has held his place so the only threat is injury and you can deal with that if (or when) it rears it's ugly head. Stoke have some pretty good looking fixtures on the horizon and Woodgate could become a borderline every week starter over that period.
Evans (4.5m) - his time is probably done for now, but with Ferdinand unable to stay healthy for a sustained period of time and Vidic now suffering too, you should keep Evans in mind such is the unmatched value he can deliver at 4.5m for one of the best defensive teams in the league. Be ready to pounce at the first sign of long term injuries to Ferdinand or Vidic again.
In truth the options here are limited and you really need to be targeting mid-range options like Taarabt or Murphy, but that's a separate post for another day.
Faurlin (5.0m) - the QPR midfield is looking pretty stacked and Faurlin has really been lost in the shuffle thanks to big name arrivals and reputations. I'm generally reluctant to back a player with the majority of his points from one game, but the underlying stats for Faurlin are very impressive, ranking 10th in key passes (13) and 5th in passes in the opposition half while providing at least some goal threat (5 shots, 3 on target). He doesn't have the free role of a Taarabt or the advanced play of a Wright Phillips but if you're stuck with 5.0m and no wiggle room, Faurlin gives you a player with the potential to contribute in every category which might at least buy you time to find some better upside.
Moses (4.9m) - I liked Moses in the pre-season and while the returns haven't come yet, I'm not ready to abandon the Wigan winger just yet (though I'm getting closer each week). With as many shots as Ashley Young (11) and as many key passes as Yaya Toure (5), the potential is still there and he probably holds the highest potential of all these budget plays. That said, I am always keen to point out that I'd prefer to be a week late than several weeks early so my patience with Moses is very much waning. If you're strapped for cash though, you're not likely to find a sure thing so Moses remains interesting.
Dyer (4.8m) - I did Dyer a disservice last week, suggesting his good play had been for nothing, as he did of course find the back of the net in GW5. Dyer has impressed to the naked eye but his underlying stats disappoint a bit and I am souring on his prospects, especially given his 13% ownership. He's managed just 4 shots this year (2 on target) and while his 5 key passes are okay, Moses has the same number but brings a significantly better goal threat. I still like Dyer but of the two popular wingers, I still like Moses a touch more.
Di Santo (5.7m) - Di Santo has been a revelation so far this year, and with great underlying numbers there is little reason to think he can't keep it going. His shots on target for the year (7 from 12 shots) rank him 6th among forwards after Rooney, Van Persie, Aguero, Dzeko and Suarez: impressive company. Based on historical data he isn't going to continue to score a goal every 2 shots on target but if he keeps up this shooting pace he should add another 8 goals or so, which in a side like Wigan will often bring bonus points too (based on the fact that the majority of goals they score tend to influence the result of a game as opposed to, say, Dzeko, whose effort may the 3rd of 4th goal of a contest). He doesn't bring too much of an assist threat and Wigan have only managed 5 goals all year so his scoring is going to be up and down. If I plan to sit a player most weeks I'd like to spend a little less than 5.7m but given the market this year, this might be as good as it gets.
Best (5.3m) - I hate to just pick the obvious players but there really isn't much else to look at. Best has been good when he's started and my concerns with him are less about him and more about his place in the side. With Ba starting to come round after a slow start and Ameobi close to full fitness, Best's place in the team is no guarantee and even at this price, starting minutes are a must. I like his assist potential (6 key passes) to supplement his goal scoring and his strong aerial presence (13 aerial duels won) will always give him a chance to score from set pieces and win flick ons for his teammates to convert. Straight up I would take Di Santo but 0.4m is not to be ignored and if Best can secure his place in the starting lineup he makes a nice addition to any squad.
Hoilett (6.0m) - The thing I like most about Hoilett is his ability to contribute in every category, which gives him the potential for consistency that the above players lack: a valuable attribute for a bench player who will be forced into action off your bench at unknown times. His total shots (5) are a concern, though he has been accurate when shooting (4) thus making his goal/shot rate about at the league average. His key passes (10) are elite and Yakubu's presence increases the chance that these shots are converted into goals. If he was 5.5m or less I'd probably slap a buy sticker on him but until he starts getting into consistent goal scoring positions it's hard to get overly excited a 6.0m man who will struggle to hit 8 goals for the year.
Yakubu (5.5m) - This is premature but color me intrigued. Two appearances, two shots, two on target and two goals tells you all you need to know about Yakubu. Bill James used to say that once you exhibit a talent it's yours to lose, and Yakubu's previous goalscoring exploits could be categorised in this way. True, he's probably lost half a step and he's no longer a threat to touch 20 goals but double digits wouldn't blow me away, which at this price cannot be ignored. With 25 passes in two games, he clearly isn't going to be involved in everything Blackburn do, but as a comparison, Darren Bent has only averaged 17 passes per game, such is the way they play the game. I haven't seen Yakubu play aside from highlights this year so I am personally hesitant to recommend buying him on stats alone, but there's something here and we should at least monitor him over the next few weeks (when the fixtures are tough) to see if we want to bring him in for their nice run of games between GW12 and GW17.
Check back shortly for the weekly preview, which will focus on captain picks, with the weekly forecasted goals conceded and scored given above. In the meantime, please post your comments/questions below or @plfantasy and I'll try and answer as many as possible before this week's deadline.