Fantasy Football Tips: How to set up your midfield now that Zlatan is essential

Team 33's Fantasy Premier League co-presenter Eoin Sheahan on Gameweek 3

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Manchester United

Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture by: Nick Potts / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Sometimes the realities of life just hit you in the face on a Friday night. The sort of realities that your parents try to shield you from as a kid, the sort of realities that wake you up in a cold sweat each and every night but, crucially, the sort of realities that force you to spend almost a quarter of your fantasy football budget on two players.

Last Friday night, Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived as a near-essential fantasy football player. As I pointed out before Gameweek 1, there was always a chance that Zlatan would become robotic in his goalscoring rate that it may never matter how well he’s playing or what he’s contributing outside of the penalty area. Paul Pogba’s arrival has rubber-stamped that opinion as fact.

In the space of five days, Ibra went from a centre-forward willing to do a little bit of work further back the field to a man who went up to Paul Pogba and asked "can I play too?" only to be told "stay where you are and put the ball in the back of the net. There are fantasy managers counting on you."

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The man is a machine. Twenty-four hours later, we realise we’ve got two machines on our hands. Basically, you now need Ibrahimovic and Aguero in your fantasy team. How do you do that? Well, the mid-price midfield category is suddenly a whole lot more important now and that’s where we’ll begin with our Gameweek 3 preview.

THE ATTACK

Ross Barkley (7.7) is the prime option here if he fits into your price range. He’s already notched a goal and assist in the first two weeks and has the fixtures to suggest that the early form will continue to roll. Stoke at home this weekend means an influx of owners already. The hottest non-Zlatan bandwagon right now.

Erik Lamela (7.1) didn’t manage to match those back-to-back returns but it was far from a disaster in Gameweek 2 from the Spurs man. This is thanks, in part, to the continued woes of Dele Alli and, to a certain extent, Christian Eriksen. He seems to be the best of that Spurs midfield and looks just as threatening even with Vincent Janssen in the side. Liverpool this weekend precedes three excellent fixtures and would be an excellent target to enable those Zlatan funds.

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If you need to drop another notch on the price ladder, Nathan Redmond (6.1) might do the trick. Like Lamela, he failed to follow-up on his Gameweek 1 goal but there was far from enough evidence in last week’s match to suggest that the first weekend was a fluke. Fixtures-wise, Redmond also looks good - particularly in the short term. Southampton have Sunderland and Swansea at home in the next three.

Michail Antonio (7.0) showed good assist and goalscoring potential last weekend. A bench option this week for the test at the Etihad, West Ham’s fixtures are about to pick up considerably. If he scores again this weekend, be prepared for the bandwagon to kick into gear.

To the left-field there is Adnan Januzaj (5.5). After plenty of involvement in the Sunderland attack last week and a thunderbolt in midweek, Fantasy Premier League returns look imminent. His next three fixtures are tricky, but then faces a nice trio of games where Sunderland take on Crystal Palace, West Brom and Stoke. One for the watchlist at least.

While his arrival makes Ibrahimovic a glorious fantasy option, there is a real argument to be made for Paul Pogba (8.5) himself. The Frenchman had as many shots as the big Swede last Friday and is already central to everything Man United do, it seems. There have been comparisons made by fantasy football enthusiasts between Pogba and Yaya Toure / Aaron Ramsey in their FPL peaks. That comparison seems tantalisingly accurate.

At a cheaper price, you’ve got Raheem Sterling (8.0) who, positionally, looks as threatening as any other midfielder out there. Returning back-to-back assists is already a decent start, but the sooner he takes that shot instead of squaring it for a teammate, the sooner he’ll explode into a real fantasy option. Could still be a very shrewd acquisition this weekend, though.

Elsewhere this week, Eden Hazard (10.1) has made a very encouraging start to the season and is the man you need to try and ditch if you’re looking for Zlatan money. In fact, I would suggest taking a four-point hit ahead of transferring out the Belgian. He’s at home to Burnley this week and offers a great chance of points.

Up front, the Andre Gray charge from the FA is keeping us on our toes. Gray owners might soon have to join those who began with Andy Carroll in looking elsewhere in that price bracket. Alvaro Negredo (6.7) leads that pack. A goal and two assists in his first two games give him brilliant form. With West Brom and Palace up next, he’s also got brilliant fixtures. Expect that price to rise again.

Christian Benteke (7.4) should be hot on all our radars right now. This weekend’s home clash with Bournemouth gives him the perfect opportunity to go and rediscover that legendary Aston Villa form. A glorious run of fixtures follow and we can assume that an influx of followers will also soon arrive.

It’s about time we start to get encouraged by Olivier Giroud (9.0) again. Arsenal have an excellent set of fixtures all the way through to November. However, if you want to wait and see, Gameweek 7 is where it gets really interesting as they start a run of four fixtures, taking in Burnley, Swansea, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Returns at Watford this weekend are very possible, though, and the bandwagon may get started earlier than we might expect.

Finally, hats off to everyone who is persevering with Jamie Vardy (9.9). The temptation is there to shift him to Zlatan. In fact, it’s not temptation, it’s common sense. With Swansea at the King Power this weekend, though, there might be life in the Leicester man yet. Some of you stubborn folk might well be vindicated.

THE DEFENCE

I’m willing to maintain my faith in the West Brom rearguard after a disappointing showing last weekend. With Middlesbrough the team now coming to the Hawthorns, Ben Foster (4.6) will surely be started by countless managers.

In front of him, Gareth McAuley (4.6) has seen a price rise since his goal last week. That attacking threat has always been present and, with Jonny Evans now a doubt, seems by far the best defender in that setup for fantasy purposes.

Luke Shaw (5.6) really came to the forefront last week. After a Gameweek 1 where Antonio Valencia won the full-back battle, Man United feat. Paul Pogba appears to be good news for Shaw. Those multiple forward runs will continue and so will the clean sheets. A brilliant defensive option, but don’t write Tony V off just yet.

Crystal Palace host Bournemouth this weekend, so a first clean sheet is certainly on the menu. With a few injury doubts in defence, Papa Souare (4.5) seems the best way into that backline at a reasonable price. The fixtures that follow are brilliant, too, so some Palace coverage in that area of the pitch looks a shrewd ploy at the moment.

With their fixtures, the Arsenal defence should also come into our thinking. Petr Cech (5.5) could be played in every game up until Gameweek 12, thanks to that excellent schedule.

In the backline, Nacho Monreal (6.0) matched Hector Bellerin’s (6.5) nine-point haul last weekend and has that value edge on the right-back. There are more clean sheets to come from this Arsenal team and they’re going to come quite soon.

If you simply cannot trust Arsenal (understandable), then Spurs might be the perfect tonic. Kyle Walker (5.6) has got things off to a flyer this year with an assist and clean sheet to his name already. The strong fixture list continues after Liverpool so don’t be surprised to see him sit atop the defenders’ leaderboard going into October.

Southampton’s home clash with Sunderland has brought their entire rearguard into view. Simply put, Virgil van Dijk (5.5) is the premium option, but if you’re willing to sacrifice that goal threat for something cheaper, then Matt Targett (4.5) should be on your radar.

Finally, the captain pick this week is as much a coin toss as you might expect. Man United have the easier opposition, but Man City have home comforts. Also, let us not forget Aguero was coming off the back of a midweek fixture when he scored twice last week. He might just be that tad fresher this weekend, then, and captaining him at home to West Ham is probably the safer bet.

Also, as a final, final thought, let us all hope that Zlatan and Sergio continue to dominate. Should another heavy-hitter start to plunder the points (I’m looking at you, Harry, Jamie, Alexis), then we’re in a spot of bother. But let’s deal with that after the international break.

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