Our position-by-position analysis of the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) options for 2021/22 continues as we scrutinise the handful of premium forwards on offer this season.
From goal threat to expected stats, you can find Opta data on the players listed below in our Premium Members Area.
NINE TO FIVE
Back in the ancient mists of 2018/19, FPL offered no fewer than nine forwards in the premium £9.0m+ bracket. The following season this was cut to seven as Álvaro Morata was whisked away from Chelsea to Atlético Madrid on loan and Romelu Lukaku tumbled in price just before being sold to Inter Milan when Ole Gunnar Solskjær preferred to play Marcus Rashford (£9.5m).
There were seven in the premium class again last season. Arsenal lost both of their members as Alexandre Lacazette (£8.5m) slipped straight from £9.5m to £8.5m and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.0m) left to join the ranks of midfielders on a season-long loan. Anthony Martial (£8.0m) went the other way and moved up in price to £9.0m while Timo Werner (£9.0m) arrived at Chelsea from RB Leipzig with expectations of goals galore after his exploits in the Bundesliga.
This time Aubameyang is back, but Sergio Aguero has left Manchester City to ‘wind down his career’ at Barcelona, his former team-mate Gabriel Jesus (£8.5m) has finally completed his long, slow slide out of the premium zone that he first joined in 2017 at £10.5m and an injury-plagued campaign has seen Anthony Martial’s value move back down to mid-price territory.
Of the five that survive, Werner is the newest recruit with only a single season under his belt, but the ‘father’ of the group has been doing this since 2014…
For the last five years there was a real ding-dong when the bell went for the annual FPL price announcements. Who would be the most expensive striker in the game? In the last five campaigns, that accolade has gone to either or both Harry Kane (£12.5m) or Sergio Aguero.
Kane started 2019/20 at his lowest price in five years, having not kicked a competitive ball from New Year’s Day until June because of a thigh injury and then the enforced break.
From being top in December, Tottenham Hotspur’s season gradually sputtered out until they were left with nothing but seventh place and the dubious honour of qualification for the Europa Conference League play-off round.
The experience of also losing another final, this time the League Cup to Manchester City, seems finally to have stretched Kane’s patience to breaking point with the club he clearly loves. Management insist he is not for sale, but while it seems probable that he will line up for Spurs’ opening weekend fixture as they host City, there is a lot of doubt as to which dressing room he will get changed in.
For the first time since his goal-scoring rivalry with Aguero began, nobody can be certain at which major club Kane will start the season, whether or not that club will be in the Premier League or abroad and, if he really does step into his old sparring partner’s boots at the Etihad, whether or not Pep Guardiola will have turned him into a wing-back by the time the teams run out for the Community Shield.
In terms of premium FPL forward pricing, when the list was published Kane couldn’t have been more alone if he had been Daniel Levy at the mid-summer barbecue of the League Managers Association.
Kane costs a clear £2.0m more than Jamie Vardy (£10.5m) and is back up to the £12.5m valuation he had after his two earlier peak seasons between 2016 and 2018. However, he does not make it to £13m as Aguero did five years ago.
Last season’s personal best of 242 FPL points, second by only two points behind Bruno Fernandes (£12.0m), demonstrates emphatically that serious injury concerns are behind him and that Kane is an asset to be feared if you don’t own him.
Yet such is the gap between his price and other strikers, the uncertainty over his future and the awkwardness of his opening fixture both on and off the field that we can see him actually being a differential when the season begins as managers play safe and make their big spending splurges on more reliable-looking premium midfielders.
If England’s captain remains with Spurs then, after City, he would get Wolverhampton Wanderers, Watford and Crystal Palace in the next three. Under Pep Guardiola, he would get Norwich City in Gameweek 2 with Arsenal and FA Cup holders Leicester City to follow.
Any sort of move would be bound to cause disruption and it would be unwise to assume that Kane would justify being the joint-highest priced asset in FPL from the off, even if where he lands is exactly where he would like to be. It would be prudent in that case to keep a watching brief on him at least until your first Wildcard.
In the event that he ends up staying with Spurs, and seems nevertheless to be comfortable and focussed rather than agitated and frustrated, then he might just be in the mood to give your FPL season the kind of kick-start he delivered for his owners last autumn.
Every season since he came to prominence in the Premier League with Leicester City in 2015, Jamie Vardy has been involved in at least 20 goals. Twice he’s been involved in 30 and last season it was 29.
All of those campaigns were better than two of Harry Kane’s last three, but Vardy has never threatened to burn up the league to the tune of 220+ points which Kane has now achieved twice.
Looking at the underlying statistics for Vardy’s last two campaigns what’s really striking is how similar they are. Averaged per appearance his penalty area touches, goal attempts in the box, number of big chances, chances created and attempts from set plays are all only either 0.1 different or unchanged.
A pair of touch heatmaps are never going to be exactly the same, but these two, with 20/21 on the left and 19/20 on the right, are pretty close:
The most prominent difference seems to be that a bit more of his activity is on Leicester’s right, and generally a little deeper, but there’s nothing here to suggest he’s suddenly become a very different player.
Nevertheless, his goals scored is down from 23 to 15 while his assists are up by almost the same amount, doubling from 7 to 14, the most he has ever provided in a season. 2020/21 marks the first time he has not been Leicester City’s leading scorer across all competitions (he was leading scorer in the Premier League) since he finished a distant second to Leonardo Ulloa in 2014/15.
What seems to be happening is that Vardy is essentially the same player, but Leicester have changed around him and that’s having an effect on his end product. This is perhaps best illustrated by Vardy’s chances created heat map for last season (again, on the left) versus the season before (on the right):
That ‘boomerang’ shape around the left corner of the six-yard box is an area where in 2019/20 Vardy was taking shots, but he’s now more often making a decisive pass to, or towards, Kelechi Iheanacho (£7.5m) as in the first and fifth goals at home to Sheffield United when Vardy also provided an assist to his strike partner for the third, but from further out. The chances he made two seasons ago led to half as many assists as the ones he’s now making, but the number of key moments he’s involved in has remained constant.
Jamie Vardy is more expensive in FPL than he has ever been. Whichever angle you look at this from, it’s hard to see how it makes sense. Vardy will be 35 in January (Kane will be 28 next month) and it’s hard to envisage him having a significantly better season than either 15/16 or 19/20 after which he was valued £0.5m lower than he is now.
The imminent arrival of Patson Daka (£7.5m) at the King Power Stadium also suggests that Leicester are starting to plan for a future without Vardy, who has two years left on his current contract, although we’d be surprised to see a significant changing of the guard before the end of the coming campaign.
Vardy is known to be managing some long-term injury problems, but they didn’t stop him making 34 league appearances last season nor performing at the same kind of level that he always has. There’s little doubt that if you select him you’ll be getting a reliable asset that should return at least 175 FPL points, and probably better, in the season to come.
However, when you’re paying this much you really want to feel you could captain him reasonably often and be fairly certain that his much-cheaper striking partner isn’t going to score more points than he is. Vardy is always a solid acquisition, but this season the asking price looks about £1.0m too high.
Since his arrival at Arsenal in January 2018, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has always been viewed by the denizens of FPL Towers as an elite asset, and until 2020/21 it was easy to see why.
Priced originally at £10.5m, he scored in his first league outing within four days of joining and went on to reach double figures by the end of the season. He followed that up with 22 goals for 205 FPL points in only 80% of the available minutes and then, almost as if to make some sort of statement about consistency, he scored exactly 205 FPL points and 22 goals again in the following season (though it took him 400 more minutes on the pitch to get there).
Worried, perhaps, that Aubameyang might break the game by giving managers absolute certainty of outcome, FPL’s overlords made the dramatic move to change his position designation from forward to midfielder, simultaneously increasing his price to account for the 22 extra points for goals he seemed destined to acquire along with some clean sheet returns.
Sadly, we’ll never really know how that might have turned out. The Arsenal captain’s season began with striking the winning penalty in the Community Shield and scoring the crowning goal in an opening day victory as a prelude to signing a new contract. However in January he needed to take time off to help look after his ill mother and in April he was himself poorly, spending several days in hospital fighting a bout of malaria contracted on international duty with Gabon. In between, he stormed out of the Emirates in March only 30 minutes after the final whistle of a north London derby where he’d been relegated to the bench and was an unused substitute in a 2-1 victory for the Gunners after he had reported late to the ground.
The club’s season was no less turbulent, with the Gunners finishing 8th (one point behind Spurs) and just short of any chance at European football having been top after the first round of fixtures and 15th for a while just before mid-season.
Entire end-of-season post-mortem articles about the Gunners roll past without so much as a mention of Aubameyang, however. Instead, there’s a lot about the directorial management of the club (and the ‘Super League’ turmoil that brought fans out onto the streets), the coaching, the recruitment and uncertainty surrounding youngsters breaking through or the fate of loanees in or out such as Martin Ødegaard, William Saliba (£4.5m), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£5.5m) and Joe Willock (£6.0m).
If Aubameyang, the club captain nine months into a new contract, is mentioned among Arsenal fans at all it seems to be with a resigned shrug and a belief that the 32 year-old should probably be sold to save on his wages and make way for players like Bukayo Saka (£6.5m), Gabriel Martinelli (5.5m) and Nicolas Pepé (£7.5m), who scored as many league goals (10) as Aubameyang this season. Alexandre Lacazette was the leading league scorer with 13.
Last season was the first since 2014/15 at Borussia Dortmund where Aubameyang had failed to score at least 22 goals (he scored 13 in Germany before arriving at Arsenal mid-season in 2017/18 and scoring more). To see him register as few as 10 you’d have to go back a decade to his time in Ligue 1 with teams like Dijon, Lille, Monaco and Saint-Étienne.
In his Dortmund and early Arsenal days he was regarded unquestionably as a striker. His rate of scoring has been declining ever since he joined Arsenal, but last season it fell particularly sharply:
The drop-off in scoring rate has correlated with the number of matches per season in which he has been playing predominantly as a left-sided attacker cutting in rather than as a more traditional centre-forward. His change in designation to midfielder last season and then straight back again is indicative of how that split between the two roles has become close to a 50-50 time share.
For FPL managers considering Aubameyang his status as a forward frees up a premium midfield slot, but his goal scoring goes back to being the be-all-and-end-all of his value given that his contribution to assists has always been limited to a handful.
£10.0m is Aubameyang’s cheapest starting price ever in FPL. For a striker coming off a ten-goal season with an uncertain future and starting position at a club in a great deal of flux it is probably still too much for most managers to swallow, especially with second and third fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City.
However, for those willing to gamble that he’ll get plenty of chances against promoted Brentford in the first game he could be a rewarding differential captain. By the time Arsenal welcome Norwich City in Gameweek 4 we’ll have a much better idea of whether last season was just an outlying low point or whether Aubameyang’s elite FPL status is genuinely ebbing away.
Unlike Aubameyang, Roberto Firmino (£9.0m) was classified as a midfielder in FPL when he arrived at Liverpool from the Bundesliga in the summer of 2015. It took two years for him to be reclassified as a forward.
Firmino’s 15 goals and eight assists in 2017/18 kept his FPL points at the same level as when he had been considered a midfielder and duly prompted a £1.0m rise in his starting price. Despite that valuation remaining unchanged for three seasons the points have never made it back to those near-elite levels. A lowest-ever FPL return of 141 points has finally seen his pre-season price fall, but only by the slimmest margin available of £0.5m.
Liverpool’s recent worldwide success has been built around the potency of their attacking triumvirate of Firmino, Sadio Mané (£12.0m) and Mohamed Salah (£12.5m). A constant concern has been what might happen to the team if any of those three were to be missing for any length of time. Players such as Xherdan Shaqiri (£6.0m) and Divock Origi (£5.0m) have made important contributions here and there, but it’s never felt as if one of them could slot in and keep the goals coming until the arrival last season of Diogo Jota (£7.5m) from Wolves.
Jota made such an impact that, not only was it felt prudent to allow Firmino’s existing backup Takumi Minamino (£5.5m) to look for some game time at Southampton, but some even suggested that Jota might become the first choice instead of Firmino. A knee injury for the Portuguese midfielder just before Christmas curtailed that debate just as it was picking up steam, but for the first time since the trophies started rolling in the top trio have serious competition for starts when all four of this group are available at once.
Firmino’s price has been the most stable of any of the established premium forward quartet. For the first time this season he is priced at exactly £9.0m, rather than £0.5m above or below, hinting that FPL’s price-makers believe he is unlikely to repeat the 180 point campaigns that are now three years in the rear-view mirror.
Nevertheless, Firmino finished as the sixth highest points-scoring forward in FPL last season. With 180 points he would have finished fourth behind only Kane, Vardy and Patrick Bamford (£8.0m). But that last name brings up one of two significant problems with selecting Firmino for your Fantasy team.
The Brazilian has not made fewer than 34 league appearances in the last five seasons, which is great for those with short benches, and he is very likely to put around 150 points on the board, which is a valuable commodity in an FPL forward, but there are alternatives around that will probably do that job more cheaply.
Thirteen forwards bettered Firmino’s return of nine goals and eight assists last time out including Callum Wilson (£7.5m), Danny Ings (£8.0m), Chris Wood (£7.0m) and Michail Antonio (£7.5m). That Firmino finished ahead of them all in FPL points is down to his typical absence of injuries and his 33 starts, which was more than all but three of those other 13 forwards (Kane, Bamford and Ollie Watkins (£7.5m)).
What you’re paying extra for is stability and predictability and for FPL managers who take a long view and like to set and forget as far as possible that might be attractive, except for the other main issue in selecting Firmino which is that it limits your choice of his team-mates.
Salah, Mané, Jota, Andy Robertson (£7.0m), Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m), the returning Virgil Van Dijk (£6.5m) and even Alisson (£6.0m) are all players at Liverpool that managers might well think of choosing before giving even a moment’s thought to Firmino. A steady diet of 4.5 points per appearance is unlikely to promote him in their consideration above players capable of returning 20 points in one game, perhaps with a captain’s armband on them for good measure. Opening fixtures against Norwich and Burnley only serve to emphasise that distinction.
In his last full season at RB Leipzig, Timo Werner scored 28 league goals in 34 appearances. He was expected to start the last campaign at Chelsea as their main striker and was priced at £9.5m in FPL.
In his best (not his final) season at Hoffenheim, Roberto Firmino scored 16 goals in 33 matches and came into the game as an £8.5m midfielder. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, in his last full season at Borussia Dortmund, scored 31 goals in 32 games and when he joined Arsenal six months later after a further 13 goals in 16 league appearances FPL priced him initially at £10.5m.
Given those precedents, Werner’s initial pricing last season actually looks a little generous. He was much closer to Aubameyang’s Bundesliga numbers than Firmino’s, so an opening price of £10.0m or even £10.5m wouldn’t have looked ridiculous in that context.
However, despite all the help his play gave to Chelsea in their very successful season, his FPL haul of 128 points from 35 appearances, featuring a mere six goals, made him look like he had been hugely overpriced. Accordingly, his transfer value has fallen towards the top end of mid-price, though only by £0.5m which keeps him in line with Firmino.
Werner was bought under Frank Lampard’s management and now works under Thomas Tuchel, but, Chelsea’s approach to the employment of head coaches being what it is, it wouldn’t be that astonishing for there to be someone else again selecting the team by next May.
The adjustment already seen of how Werner is used by his club means most observers don’t really think of him as a central striker one year on from his transfer. In his 35 league appearances he has often been deployed at least theoretically as a centre-forward, but the outworking of this on the pitch has tended to frame him more as a wide attacker cutting in from the left, which may sound familiar.
These touch heatmaps for last season show just how similar the roles of Werner and Aubameyang have been for their respective clubs. If you compare their expected FPL return involvement statistics the resemblance is even more (excuse the pun) striking:
The comparison splinters at the point of delivery.
As highlighted by the first and last statistics in that table, it’s Werner who gets the majority of the chances, but it’s Aubameyang who puts them away.
The aura around Werner and his goal scoring in the Bundesliga was such that many FPL managers who eventually abandoned him after his poor statistical start to the season nevertheless went back at some point on the assumption that, crudely put, he couldn’t go on being this bad, especially in a side that was doing well and where he was still regularly being picked.
Sadly, that faith wasn’t really rewarded as, between November 8th and the end of the Premier League season, Werner scored precisely twice (once in February and once in April). What, perhaps, has gone under the radar is what he was doing to help his team score even if he himself wasn’t.
Twelve assists on the season was third best amongst strikers behind only Kane and Vardy on 14 each. His 10 big chances created was also third behind Kane (again) and Roberto Firmino. Somebody else contributed six goals and twelve assists in FPL last season. It was Kevin De Bruyne (£12.0m).
Now, we’re not suggesting Werner is primed for a huge breakout, especially as it looks as if Chelsea will continue to use him in that Aubameyang-style wide attacking role, backing up a more conventional striker going through the middle (for which there at least currently four candidates).
What we are saying is that he is still almost certain to be featured heavily at the sharp end of the attack of the current European champions, he has already posted a dozen assists in a season finding his feet under two new managers and if he can just regain something close to his Bundesliga composure and bring his goal conversion storming up to average (from shocking) you could be looking at a dozen goals to go with the assists.
That would put him in the top five strikers in FPL and, with persistent blanks for Werner unlikely, that has to count for something in these days where multiple points-harvesting titans no longer roam the Premier League’s penalty areas.
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