Everyone looks to have the obvious Fantasy Premier League names in their squad such as Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne and Harry Kane.
The key to a good team, though, is having a few players that fly under the radar and are only picked by handful of others, like getting in early on the likes of Joao Cancelo or Jarrod Bowen last season.
To help in this quest, The Athletic’s club reporters have recommended those who could be the differential player this season.
The obvious answer here is Gabriel Jesus for £8m. The Brazilian has hit the ground running at Arsenal with four goals in four pre-season games and truly seems to have added a new dimension to their attack. His sharpness has been the main takeaway from the summer, and the 25-year-old appears primed to take that momentum into the Premier League.
Elsewhere, Gabriel Magalhaes may be a more astute signing at £5m. While full-backs are usually safer bets in FPL due to their assist tallies, Gabriel was the highest-scoring centre-back in the league last year with five goals and was part of a team who kept 13 clean sheets. If his aerial prowess flows into this season and Arsenal stay as sturdy, if not more, than last campaign, he could pick up points under the radar.
Martin Odegaard may also be good value for money at £6.5m. The 23-year-old contributed seven goals and four assists last season, but ranked fifth in the Premier League for shot-creating actions (134). With a new striker, it is fair to expect more of those chances to be converted, especially as the Norwegian’s influence on the pitch continues to rise. Bukayo Saka (£8m) will be hoping for the same as his 142 shot-creating actions (third in the Premier League) resulted in seven assists last season.
Art de Roché
Leon Bailey is a £5 million FPL snip.
Take a look at his goal in the pre-season draw with Manchester United and start to get excited.
At the start of the summer he returned home to Jamaica with a clear mission: to forget about last season and make this forthcoming campaign one to remember.
There’s a freshness about him. For starters, he’s actually fit and available after so many setbacks in 2021-22.
Steven Gerrard will also consider using him as a striker as well as a winger, so he’ll be heavily involved in attacks, and as a corner-kick taker there may be some assists, too.
Bournemouth’s squad is a little thin on the ground and so new additions can’t be ruled out that may change the picture on the south coast. But there are some assets here who could offer a differential.
Dominic Solanke was the complete package in the Championship last season, both providing (7 assists) and scoring goals (29 goals). His confident form means he will be vital to their survival hopes. At £6m, he represents a cheaper budget option to Aleksandar Mitrovic.
One other element worth considering is how Scott Parker’s Fulham played in the Premier League two years ago. Defensively, they were very good in spells, and over three months between December 2020 and early March 2021, only Manchester City conceded fewer goals. Whether Bournemouth switch to a back three like Fulham did then remains to be seen, and they will need to recruit to do that, but it does make goalkeeper Mark Travers (£4.5m), defender Lloyd Kelly (£4.5m) and wing-back Jordan Zemura (£4.5m) possible budget options.
Let’s start with the obvious – Ivan Toney should be going straight into your FPL team. The 26-year-old, who was directly involved in 17 goals last season, represents exceptional value at only £7m.
There are lots of exciting alternative options to choose from in Brentford’s squad who will fly under the radar and could potentially give you the edge over your rivals.
Josh Dasilva has missed the majority of the last 18 months with a complex hip injury, but has looked impressive in pre-season and will switch between playing on the right wing or in an advanced attacking midfield role. At just £4.5m, the former England Under-21 international could be a cheap and smart bench option.
Club captain Pontus Jansson, who costs £4.5m, only missed one match in 2021-22, helped record eight clean sheets and chipped in with three goals and two assists.
The real ace in the pack, however, is Yoane Wissa. The DR Congo international plays on the left wing in a 4-3-3 or as a support striker in a 3-5-2 system yet has been classified as a midfielder. Wissa only started 12 games last season, yet still managed to score seven goals at an average rate of one every 181 minutes. It seems absurd he will only set you back £5.5m.
Brighton & Hove Albion
The ideal attributes for a value-for-money defender (£4.5m) for a healthy haul of points are somebody who plays regularly, contributes to clean sheets and can pop up with a few goals.
All of which are there with Brighton’s dependable 30-year-old skipper Lewis Dunk.
Last season was unusual in that Dunk was out for two months with a knee injury as he’s normally indestructible. He was back to his best by the end of the campaign, leading Brighton to a strong finish and ninth in the table.
Dunk has a combined average of more than three goals/assists across his five top-flight campaigns and over nine clean sheets.
He’s a bargain.
If you’re looking for someone to give value for money, then signing Reece James for £6 million is arguably the best you will find in the Chelsea squad.
You only have to look at his numbers from last season to see what he can bring to your team. Despite starting just 22 Premier League games (and making 26 appearances overall) last season, the England international accrued the third most amount of points at Chelsea (141). Only Mason Mount (169) and Antonio Rudiger (150) collected more.
There is the question mark over whether he is able to play a full league season — James has yet to play over 30 times in the first XI since breaking into the senior side.
However, coach Thomas Tuchel will pick the 22-year-old when fit and he provides a triple threat. As a defender he should collect clean sheets, but playing as an attacking right wing-back, James will also provide a good tally of goals and assists.
Last season you might well have opted for Conor Gallagher. A key part of Palace’s team under Patrick Vieira, his energy and ability to find spaces led him to eight goals and five assists. But that’s in the past now.
Michael Olise might be an appealing option instead. An exciting young winger, he scored four times and claimed seven assists in all competitions last year. But he has also suffered with injuries, and is not necessarily a guaranteed starter every week.
The obvious answer, really, is Wilfried Zaha. Forget about how much he costs and look at what he provides — 14 Premier League goals and a single assist. He is likely to continue taking penalties, particularly with Luka Milivojevic out of favour in midfield and, unless injured, he will start the overwhelming majority of games in a team that is relatively attack-minded.
It makes sense, therefore, to pick Palace’s talisman.
Everton are not blessed with many obvious FPL must-haves, but Nathan Patterson could be something of a hidden gem. Priced at a measly £4.5m, Patterson, who would have made his Premier League debut last season had it not been for an ankle problem that required surgery, has impressed during pre-season, showing attacking endeavour, invention in tight areas and an at times wicked delivery.
With Frank Lampard seemingly set on using a three-man defence with wing-backs and Seamus Coleman struggling with injury, Patterson could use the opening weeks of the season to cement his place in Everton’s starting line-up and follow in the footsteps of the Irishman, Lucas Digne and Leighton Baines — attacking full-backs who made themselves staples in many FPL sides courtesy of their exploits at Goodison Park.
The big FPL question at Fulham is whether Aleksandar Mitrovic is worth the punt this time.
His last season in the Premier League was a write-off after he fell out of favour under Scott Parker, but that is unlikely to happen this time around.
He has reached new heights under Marco Silva, and is set to play a key role again this year. Silva is unlikely to compromise on his attacking style and while Mitrovic may not get close to his record-breaking 43 goals of last season, he should at least get to double digits — if he avoids injury and Fulham avoid crisis. It is worth noting too that Mitrovic picked up a career-best seven assists last year, and has more of a role in Fulham’s build-up play. At £6.5m, that makes him a good option.
Another excellent value pick from Craven Cottage is Andreas Pereira, who has already provided two assists in three games for Mitrovic in pre-season. Both were from corners, and Fulham scored the most from set plays (25) in the Championship last season. Pereira is valued at £4.5m, less than fellow dead-ball specialist Harry Wilson at £6m, who provided 19 assists last year and 10 directly for Mitrovic. If he and Fulham start well, he too could be worth considering.
It is unwise to start your FPL season with too many Premier League debutants, so while we recommend keeping an eye on new boys Luis Sinisterra (£6.5m) and Brenden Aaronson (£6m), you may want to give it a week or two in order to watch Jesse Marsch’s starting XIs congeal properly.
While you wait, and while Marsch monitors the health of the injured Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling and more, may we recommend Jack Harrison. He remains a dependable attacking option (he registered 117 points last season) and is a relative snip at £6m.
Allow us to some process of elimination for this choice.
Jamie Vardy (£9.5m) is too expensive for the points haul he brings in (133 last season).
Youri Tielemans (£6.5m) is a cusper. Not cheap enough to be a discounted must-have. Not quite consistent enough in goals/assist to fit in congested FPL midfields.
If you can time a James Maddison (£8m) purple patch just right it can be glorious, but he’s just a little too streaky at that price point.
This brings us to Harvey Barnes, who costs £7m, is a quietly consistent attacking option, and has that “possible England place at the World Cup” incentive to start the season well. Barnes is Leicester’s best “differential” option. Most FPL players will pick one of the three players we already eliminated. Go for the dependable Barnes.
Mohamed Salah will tell you to choose him. He’s right — you should. He’s the most expensive player at £13m but, like a supermarket loyalty card, he guarantees points every week.
Assist makers Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) and Andy Robertson (£7.0m) will already be on your radar. Or maybe you’re thinking about taking a punt on new boys Darwin Nunez (£9m) or Fabio Carvalho (£5.5m)? They are two exciting picks, as is Harvey Elliott for £5m.
My ultimate pick though is Luis Diaz at £8m. He is going to have lots of fun in his first full season on Liverpool’s left wing and you might want to be part of that.
To understand my pick you first need to know that I do not participate in FPL, so you would be smart to ignore my tips on this subject.
I am wisely informed, however, that Jack Grealish could prove to be a snip at £7m, which is £93m cheaper than what he cost City in real life so, yes, an absolute bargain. And as that person knows what they are talking about, I suggest following their advice.
The quality at Pep Guardiola’s disposal means it is unlikely that Grealish will play every game, but it is his second season at the club and you would expect him to show everyone what we had become accustomed to seeing at Aston Villa.
It is widely acknowledged that players need a year to get used to Guardiola’s demands, so let’s sit back and watch the England international fly.
And if it turns out to be a terrible pick, I refer you to my opening paragraph.
A good rule of thumb for an FPL XI is creating a side with two defenders who will earn you a clean sheet each, two midfielders that will earn you an assist apiece, and two attackers who will get you either a goal or an assist.
Create a team that can get 2-2-2 and you’ll be well on your way to way to 60 point+ hauls in your Gameweeks. Manchester United don’t quite have players with that bankability. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the wind and too expensive at £10.5m. Bruno Fernandes at £10m is a decent “second most expensive player” option for your FPL team, but we need a week or two to see how the playmaker will operate under Erik ten Hag.
As such, we’re going to recommend a full-back, because United’s centre-backs are a little odd, and the Ten Hag wants his left and right-back to invert and overlap more this season. Diogo Dalot costs £4.5m and is likely to start the majority of games this season. In you go, lad.
It would be easy to go for the obvious and pick Jesse Lingard, given the fact that he was an established England international in the not-too-distant past.
But — as intriguing and exciting a signing as he is — there remains a slight doubt over whether he will play the majority of games for Forest this season. Lingard only has 27 Premier League starts to his name in the last three seasons, even including his rampaging loan spell at West Ham in 2020-21.
The same is not true of Brennan Johnson who, including the play-offs, started 47 Championship games and made a further two sub appearances. It will be a big step up for the Wales international into the Premier League. But don’t bet against him adding to the 18 goals and 10 assists he registered last season, even amid more challenging surroundings.
At £6m he feels like a solid investment as somebody who is likely to be one of the main men once more under Steve Cooper.
Allan Saint-Maximin would be the obvious answer here and, at £6.5m, he is available at a snip, while Callum Wilson (£7.5m) will provide a solid goal return when he is on the pitch, but injuries are a concern.
Instead, Kieran Trippier, at just £5m, is a genuine bargain. Not only is Trippier a guaranteed starter, and likely to skipper the side with club captain Jamaal Lascelles probably dropping to the bench, he is also designated free-kick taker and scored two in just four starts before breaking a bone in his foot in February.
As a set-piece specialist who is almost certain to chip in with a few assists along the way, and given Newcastle boast a mean defence under Eddie Howe’s tutelage, keeping seven clean sheets in their final 18 games of last season, Trippier is an astute right-back option.
No zany suggestion here I am afraid. James Ward-Prowse is one of a few Southampton players who you know will play every week and deliver, especially when he is valued at just £6.5m, having picked up 159 points last season.
Of course, the well-worn description of a “set-piece specialist” rings true, but he is so much more than that — the leader of the team, key to starting attacks and regaining possession high.
With Ralph Hasenhuttl adopting a back three in pre-season and a more rotational midfield, the captain looks to have been given licence to get in the box more; this could prove particularly useful in picking up those extra points.
I don’t need to recommend to anyone the merits of having Harry Kane or Son Heung-min in their Fantasy League team. If you’re reading this article, you know how many points they will get you.
But how about Dejan Kulusevski? He arrived from Juventus in January last season but still managed five goals and eight assists in the Premier League during the second half of the season. He will be even better this year, with a full Conte pre-season in his legs, and I expect his final third productivity to improve further. Even better, he is listed on FPL as a midfielder, so at £8m, he should be a points machine.
And if you have room for one more Spurs player, remember that they got eight clean sheets in their last 14 league games last season, conceding just eight goals in that run. Eric Dier and Cristian Romero at £5m are good value, and Ivan Perisic at £5.5m could chip in with goals and assists too.
Jarrod Bowen was FPL gold last season, but that means the cat’s out of the bag, and you may struggle to fit him in now his starting price is £8.5m — a full £2m more than his starting price last season.
New signing Gianluca Scamacca at £7m is exciting — if Bowen can match his 17 FPL assists from last season, you can expect the Italian forward to be on the end of a lot those.
In a game without a huge variety of top forwards to choose from, West Ham’s new signing could be the differential pick that crowns you champion of you mini-league.
Fantasy Leaguers from outside the Wolves bubble may have forgotten about Pedro Neto, but Wolves fans certainly haven’t — and at £5.5m he represents an FPL bargain.
Last season was an injury-enforced write-off for the Portuguese wide man, but in 2020-21 he was Wolves’ joint leading goalscorer with five and the top assist-maker at the club by a distance with six.
More importantly, he has looked back to something close to his best in pre-season, so there is every reason to believe he can recapture top form now his fitness issues are hopefully behind him.
He is listed as a midfielder but will operate in Wolves’ forward line. At the same price as Neto, Morgan Gibbs-White and Daniel Podence also look good value as midfielders who play advanced roles, but Neto is a better finisher and goals equal big points in FPL.
(Top image: Getty Images)