At 12.5 and 11.5 million respectively, Kane and Lukaku represent two of the most premium forward options in this year’s FPL. The price tags are undoubtedly warranted, in that both have consistently scored freely over the past few seasons and both are now spearheading the attacks of teams in the top six. However, the prices clearly represent a huge investment – just getting one of them consumes over a tenth of the budget, and to have both requires almost a quarter of the allotted hundred million to go on just two players. Given that there are more viable mid-range forwards this season than in the past couple of years, is it actually essential to get at least one of these elite strikers into your team?
The answer actually lies in the midfield. This is where the savings from passing on Kane and Lukaku can be invested: my side currently features neither of the two strikers, and this has enabled me to field Alli, Salah and Mane together. All three of these players found the back of the net in Gameweek 1, meaning I was able to start off the campaign with a respectable 74-point return. The question thus becomes a relatively simple one: can three premium midfielders outscore both Kane and Lukaku? In the alternative, can two premium midfielders outscore one of Kane or Lukaku? This second query is not quite as black and white as it appears, in that by somewhat decimating the rest of the squad it is possible to shoehorn in one of Kane and Lukaku as well as two premium midfielders, making the battle for value a straight shootout between a premium midfielder and Kane or Lukaku. However, putting to one side this radical approach to balancing the budget, these are the questions that need to be addressed. At this stage in the season, they obviously cannot be answered definitively – those who do answer it correctly will have the key to success this year.
For the time being, my answer is that the premium midfielders are the way forward. Kane is not the only man at Spurs with a proven record of FPL returns – Alli has established himself as the consummate goal-scoring midfielder, and Eriksen has been returning good assist numbers for some time now. Both continued this trend in GW1, with the Dane notching two assists and Alli scoring the opener. Lukaku’s new club, too, showed signs of offering great midfield value: Mkhitaryan is cheap in the premium bracket at 8.0, and he returned two assists against West Ham. The clincher, however, is Liverpool. Salah and Mane are both playing in a front three where goals and assists are shared pretty much evenly – and there are plenty to go around. Just as Spurs picked up where they left off, Liverpool showcased all of their classic strengths and weaknesses on the opening weekend. The defence was shambolic as ever, but the attack looked even more lethal than last season; this is quite some feat given that the team is still waiting on the reintroduction of a creative midfielder into the middle of the park, be that Coutinho (transfer speculation) or Lallana (actual injury). The fluid, rapid front three are clearly capable of creating a lot of goals for themselves, but when normal service is resumed from the middle of the park the attacking returns will simply go through the roof. Coupled with Mkhitaryan or one of the Spurs midfielders, the dynamic duo of Salah and Mane in the FPL team is worth the sacrifice of abandoning Kane and Lukaku.
This is particularly true given the wealth of budget alternatives to Kane and Lukaku. Last year saw a real dearth of viable forward options, but this time around there seems to be a lot more choice. Just a small step down from the two mercurial strikers brings top players such as Lacazette and Jesus into the mix: the new Arsenal man scored after just two minutes and looked dangerous throughout, and Jesus blanked but was unlucky not to have about four. Further down the price list, great value may well be offered by the likes of Firmino, Benteke, Hernandez, Rashford or, based on Gameweek 1, maybe Mounie! None of these are likely to match Kane or Lukaku, but they should all be capable of providing steady returns which, coupled with the points of the premium midfielders, will be enough to make up for the absence of the Spurs and United forwards. Firmino got off to a very strong start, and is even more appealing now he seems to be on penalty duty. Benteke had a couple of good chances, and will surely start taking those kinds of opportunities before long. Rashford recorded an assist, and looked dangerous throughout with his direct running. Mounie, of course, shone on his debut with a brace to secure an unlikely 3-0 win for Huddersfield. Hernandez was disappointingly anonymous, but the strength of the opposition means that he can be cut some slack – West Ham will have to offer a lot more going forward in future matches if he is to remain a viable option, however. Nonetheless, the point clearly stands that Kane and Lukaku do not stand alone as forwards who will all but guarantee decent returns: neither have reached 13/14 Suarez levels of must-have, and as such their cheaper understudies may be the way to go.
It is worth noting that even if heavy investment in the midfield does indeed turn out to be the better option, opting against Kane and Lukaku will make for a very long season. Gameweek 1 gave me a stark taste of what I’m letting myself in for: Spurs and Manchester United both played on the Sunday, so following a strong showing on Saturday I was left to watch on powerlessly as the two big hitters went out to determine if I would finish the week in the top 100k or outside the top million. In the end, one delivered and one did not – Kane’s blank ensured I remained comfortably above the average, but Lukaku’s brace meant my ranking took a beating in the last game of the weekend. Cheering on blanks for two of the most prolific forwards in the league is not a fun existence – I may cave before long for the sake of my mental wellbeing! For now, though, it is exciting to see whether my sizeable risk will pay off: early signs are promising enough for me to conclude by cautiously suggesting that it is possible to get by without Kane or Lukaku.
- James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013