Kevin de Bruyne is this season's FPL enabler - but do the rewards outweigh the risks?

7:59pm Jul 6 2019

We all want an FPL team full of premium superstars, but this season’s player-prices won’t allow that, so what are the options?

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Article written by @aidanfawkes

FPL has been active for less than a fortnight, but already there is strong evidence to suggest what this season’s “template” will be.

The factors for this are two-fold. First is the rise of the full-back as an indispensable asset.

Traditionally among the cheaper options, the nature of modern football and the popularity of the 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 formations have transformed the way they are used.

No longer resigned to defending the back corners of the pitch, full backs are urged to push higher, create width and make overlapping runs.

We’re more used to seeing them up past the halfway line than camped on the edges of their own 18-yard box. They’re punching first-time balls across the box and floating in crosses from the sideline.

From an FPL perspective, where managers are always hunting for defenders who deliver attacking returns, this has made them cut-price gold.

Initially, Marcos Alonso became an FPL hero as Chelsea experimented with 3-5-2, but last season, it was Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Lucas Digne, Matt Doherty, Ricardo Pereira, Kieran Trippier and Patrick van Aanholt who provided regular returns at a bargain price.

And, of course, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a nailed-on starting full back for just £4.0m – the first name on many a team sheet.

But the folk at FPL HQ have finally caught up with this football trend – and herein lies the second factor in this season’s “template” team: Price.

Robertson and Alexander-Arnold will now set you back £7.0m each. Alonso £6.5m. Digne, Doherty, Pereira and Manchester City pair Kyle Walker and Ben Mendy £6.0m.

Van Aanholt, Trippier, Emerson, Seamus Coleman, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ben Chilwell £5.5m. Wan-Bissaka, too, is a £5.5m outlay.

They don’t come cheap, but they remain indispensable. All it takes is an assist and a clean sheet and you can guarantee three bonus points and double-digit returns are coming your way.

Team building

The necessity of having premium full-backs, combined with their drastic price hike, has major impacts on the rest of your team.

Fantasy Premier League managers are now unable to fill their midfield and forward lines with top talent, enabled by bargains at the back. Instead, they’ve got to be more selective.

So, let’s start building a “template” team, locking in three premium full backs – Robertson, Alexander-Arnold and Digne. There’s £20m gone already.

And let’s also lock in the two highest-scoring players from last season, Mo Salah (£12.5m) and Raheem Sterling (£12.0m) – we’ve already spent £44.5m.

We can’t go big on goalkeepers. Brighton pair Mat Ryan (£4.5m) and David Button (£4.0m) will have to do. That’s £53m used and eight players to choose.

At this point, how you fill the rest of your team will depend on personal preferences.

Do you want a strong XI and little emphasis on substitutes?

Do you have a favourite formation or would you rather flexibility to switch between two or three?

Do you want a fourth premium defender or two rotating budget options (CRY-NOR, BUR-AVL)?

For the purpose of this article – to investigate the compelling nature of KdB – we’re going to opt for flexibility.

That means setting up a 4-4-2, with viable subs to make it a 5-4-1, 4-5-1 or 3-5-2.

Strictly speaking, Zinchenko (£5.5m) isn’t a premium defender, but he’s an avenue into the City defence should he start ahead of Mendy and saves us £0.5m. Martin Kelly (£4.0m) rounds out our defence.

Gylfi Sigurdsson (£8.0m) is a set-piece specialist and if VAR sparks more penalties, he’ll be likewise essential. In he goes.

Joining him are Wilf Zaha (£7.0m), one of a plethora of £7.0m-7.5m midfield options, and Leander Dendoncker (£4.5m), a budget midfielder who should start for Wolves.

We’re up to £82m with three to pick

Just like modern football has changed the role of full backs, it’s done likewise to strikers.

Robert Firmino offers the perfect example – a No.9 who pushes towards the midfield, dragging defences high and allowing Salah and Sadio Mane to race in behind.

Of last season’s top 15 goal scorers, seven were FPL midfielders – yet FPL is yet to respond to this trend.

Forwards still receive one less point (four to five) for every goal. Midfielders are scoring as often, getting better rewarded for it and also snag another point for a clean sheet.

The insinuation here is that premium forwards have high price tags but don’t provide the same value they once did.

So, we’re going for mid-price options – Josh King (£6.5m) and Troy Deeney (£6.5m). Their appeal lies in that both are likely penalty takers.

Connor Wickham (£4.5m) is our final pick but we doubt he’ll see many minutes. With the emphasis on defence, formations with three forwards are out of vogue.

FPL template team - Gameweek 1

Our 442 is set: Ryan; Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Digne, Zinchenko; Salah, Sterling, Sigurdsson, Zaha; King, Deeney. Bench: Kelly, Dendoncker, Wickham. We have £0.5m left over.

Of course, this squad isn’t perfect. How we’d like a suite of premium defence options.

How we’d like a better fifth midfielder, perhaps Ryan Fraser (£7.5m), Felipe Anderson (£7.0m), James Maddison (£7.0m) or Ayoze Perez (£6.5m).

How we’d like an improved forward, say Jamie Vardy (£9.0m).

Perhaps there is a way? Enter de Bruyne

There are two obvious ways to fit de Bruyne into your team – alongside Salah and Sterling; or instead of Sterling. Both ways can strengthen your squad, but also come with risks attached.

Play Salah, Sterling and de Bruyne and you’re short-changing yourself elsewhere. You’ll be limited to one mid-priced striker (King) and a budget midfielder (Dendoncker).

That’s a great team on paper with a strong midfield – Salah, Sterling, de Bruyne, Sigurdsson and Dendoncker.

FPL Template teams - Gameweek 1 options

Tweak it a little and you can squeeze in Raul Jimenez. Tweak a little more and there’s room for Vardy.

But the drawback of this approach, and it’s a big one, is that you’re forced to play 4-5-1/5-4-1.

Supersized midfield, but no flexibility – it’s a gamble which could pay off if City score heavily.

The alternative is to swap Sterling for de Bruyne, pocket the £2.5m, and suddenly your options are everywhere.

Take our original “template” team. Sterling to de Bruyne gives us £3m to spend.

Alternate FPL linesups

That’s Deeney to Vardy in attack. Or Deeney to Harry Kane/Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by downgrading King to Greenwood.

That’s Dendoncker to Fraser in midfield. Or Zinchenko to Laporte down back, with cash spare to upgrade Ryan in goalkeeper.

£3m could do wonders for overall strength and balance.

Tantalisingly, there’s one formation in which you can have Aguero, Salah, Sigurdsson, de Bruyne, Zaha, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold and Digne – although you’re stuck playing a 4-5-1/5-4-1.

Whichever area of your team you want to improve, choosing de Bruyne over Sterling gives you the freedom to upgrade.

But you don’t have Sterling. And if he bangs, your overall rank will plummet due to his likely high ownership.

And this is why Kevin de Bruyne is the most compelling player in FPL this season.

Not because of what he brings to the table, but because of the consequences for the rest of your squad.

The Belgian was largely injured last season but scored 209 points in 17-18 (eight goals, 18 assists) and 199 points in 16-17 (six goals, 21 assists).

He’s a proven FPL performer priced at £9.5m whose presence in your team comes with huge risks and potentially huge rewards.

Whichever way you fit him in, you’ll be throwing out the handbook, drastically altering the structure of your squad and paying scant regard to this season’s “template”.

It’s a bold move – you’re either ruling out Sterling, or keep Sterling and give up flexibility – but it’s one which could pay off in a big way.

Be sure to give @aidanfawkes a follow on Twitter if you’d like to ask him any questions regarding this article, or simply to continue to discussion.

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FPL Differentials – Goalkeepers
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> FPL Set Piece Takers – 2019/20
> Gameweek 1 Draft Team – Salah captain?
> Reaction to the FPL Launch
> Favourable starts for Liverpool & Man City
Favourable FPL Fixture Pairings

Thank you for reading ‘Fantasy Premier League Tips – Is Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne an FPL must own this season?’ which was written and produced by @aidanfawkes