These articles are dual-focused, analysing a player’s role at their club from a footballing perspective before considering whether that information translates into them being a viable consideration for our FPL teams. Today’s instalment discusses Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic.
Luka Milivojevic is the type of player every club wants. The club captain was as reliable as ever in 2018/19 and along with Ben Mee and Conor Coady, was one of just three outfield players to play every minute of Premier League football last season.
As should be expected from a player in his position, Milivojevic performed very well in the defensive side of the game. His 73 interceptions was only surpassed by six players, including teammate Aaron Wan-Bissaka (84), who had a stellar season of his own. Both Eagles’ players also made the top ten for tackles although the gulf was more pronounced with Wan-Bissaka on 129 compared to Milivojevic’s 89, leaving him tied for ninth place with Felipe Anderson.
As well as Milivojevic’s defensive contributions, just 12 players have managed more than his 22 goals across the last two seasons with penalty duties across 74 appearances the key factor behind the holding midfielder’s success in front of goal. Crystal Palace’s 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 setup rarely gives the sitting Serbian licence to join attacks, as indicated by him having just 14 shots in the box – 11 of which were penalties (10 scored, 1 saved).
The regularity of penalties between 2017 and 2019 is largely due to the personnel in Crystal Palace’s squad. Tricky dribbler Wilfried Zaha won six of the 11 spot-kicks last season and his ability on the ball ensures that high number is no fluke. VAR’s introduction into the Premier League should help Crystal Palace and Milivojevic, especially in the short-term. There are articles out there which argue the contrary, concluding that the total number of penalties across the season will not drastically change based on data in leagues such as La Liga.
However, any new ruling with a subjective element (i.e. not a 100% yes or no like goal-line technology), will always have a settling in period. This was seen in the Premier League three years ago when referees became more stringent over grappling in the penalty area and 11 penalties were given in the opening 30 matches. Although a very small sample, that average of one every 2.73 games dropped to one every 3.58 games across the season.
Similarly, the 2018 World Cup saw 24 penalties given during the 48 group games, with 10 of those involving a VAR review. Defenders took the equivalent of five rounds of Premier League matches to get to grips with the new rulings and by then, three-quarters of the tournament had elapsed. If there is an increase in the number of penalties, past evidence suggests it will occur during the early part of the season and if there is a player who looks set to take advantage of that, it is Luka Milivojevic.
From an FPL perspective, this is crucial for those considering whether or not to include Milivojevic in their Gameweek 1 squads. As with most defensive midfielders, direct goal involvements are very few and far between from open play, which the attacking side of the scoring system is of course based upon. With this in mind, he has the potential to be one of the standout mid-priced midfield options, perhaps up until first wildcard territory. As one of very few fixture-proof players, away trips to Manchester United and Tottenham should not be too much of a concern. The hope is he would manage to score two or three penalties during the first five to seven games.
Having slightly outperformed his 2017/18 return of 144 points and with VAR in mind, a small price rise should be expected. However, it would be dangerous to price a player that relies so heavily on penalties too highly as there will be periods of the season that he offers the value of a £5.0m midfielder. Therefore, a valuation of around £7.0m alongside James Maddison seems about right, an increase on last season but with his limitations and the reliance on Wilfried Zaha in mind.
To summarise, Luka Milivojevic’s contribution to Crystal Palace should not be underestimated, both offensively as their top scorer across the last two seasons and defensively as a screen in front of the back four. The regularity with which the Eagles win penalties will determine whether he is a worthy FPL asset next season. Nonetheless, the 2016/17 Premier League and 2018 World Cup data suggests that he should be in for a good start to the season.